Books

The problem with Art Buchwald

At one point Buchwald was everywhere with a radio show, a slot on the TV current affairs show 60 Minutes, a Broadway play, lectures all over the country and bestselling compilations of his columns. Yet 15 years after his death at the age of 81, as the torch passed to a new generation including Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and John Oliver, his fame has dwindled faster than expected.

“He’s dropped from the public consciousness and it’s a shame,” Hill laments. “He has, unfortunately, been forgotten. I hope this book will bring him back to life. I hope people in this tough time might get some laughs out of it too.”

He was good, very good indeed. I have a couple of collections of columns (and also read him first time around in the WaPo in the 80s) and dip into them now and again.

But he’s very rooted in the details of the specific time and events that he’s lampooning or satirising.

This is not an absolute but a tendency. An Alan Coren might use a snippet of news as the trigger for a piece that could be set at any time in the past century. The story, the joke, is often a universal. A Buchwald column of – say – Nov 1973 requires a certain familiarity with the details of Nov 1973 to get the joke and setting. His Watergate stuff was excellent, but very of its time. Knowing who Tricia Dean is/was aids for example, and while everyone did then who does now?

This isn’t, at all, to say that Buchwald was lesser but it is perhaps to try to explain why his star has faded. Very rooted in the details of the time of each column and as Tempus does Fugit…..

Definitely worth reading, if you see a book of the columns in a book stall at least try it. Wonderfully done but of a time and place.

Book review: Russian Roulette

Russian Roulette is a relatively new book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. It dives into the web of relationships, rivalry and cyber hacks related to Russia’s infiltration of the 2016 US Presidential Election, which eventually saw Donald Trump take office.

 

Where does the title come from?

 

Roulette is a classic casino game of chance where players bet on numbers or groups of numbers between 00 or 0 and 36. There are a variety of roulette games, but interestingly, there are no Russian versions. The two most popular versions are US roulette and European Roulette, which have minor differences.

 

The term Russian roulette comes from a game with a much bigger risk than the casino game. A “player” of Russian Roulette will take a revolver and load it with one bullet before spinning the cylinder. They will then aim the firearm at their own head or body and fire the gun. They will either fire an empty round or kill themselves. It is known as Russian Roulette because the game was first recorded in a short story written by a Russian poet.

 

The use of Russian Roulette as the title of Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s book is thought to allude to the dangers in modern politics and campaigns, which have become a game of chance in a sea of hackers and spies. This time by the Russians in the USA.

 

Russian Roulette synopsis and review

 

Most people are aware that Russia managed to influence the US presidential Election in 2016. But much fewer people know how it happened and what they were able to achieve. Russian Roulette is a deep dive into the story behind the story, revealing shocking tales, espionage and providing incredible insights into Trump’s relationship with Putin.

 

In short, it’s a harrowing account of how Moscow was able to hack into American democracy, which ultimately led to Donald Trump getting into the White House. The book is arguably the most detailed and thorough account of the events that took place and led to this monumental moment in modern American politics.

 

The book does exceptionally well to weave together a complex web of tales and superpower rivalry. It asserts that Putin trained his country’s best hackers to troll US politics in a way never achieved before, helping Russia to strengthen on the global stage. Information was leaked that could help Trump gain power over his nearest rivals, which proved successful.

 

The story has been referred to as an international burglary on the highest stage. Trump won and perused business interest with Russia, leaving the American public scratching their heads and wondering what the hell just happened. All of the events which unfolded are told against a backdrop of the strange and curious relationship between Putin and Trump, including the relationships of both these men’s inner circles. Particular attention is paid to Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort – and their ties to Russia.

 

You’ll close the book finally with an answer to one of the biggest questions ever asked in modern world politics: How did Russia manage to infiltrate a political process in one of its biggest superpower rivals?

 

Russian Roulette has won over the critics with stellar reviews from the most prominent voices. The New York Times described the book as “the most thorough and riveting account”.

It’s a strange claim

Sell books that teach the poor to do summat, make money. OK, that’s good, making money by doing good. Then claim that it’s libel to be described as making money out of selling stuff to poor people.

Eh?

Comments off for obvious reasons.

Fear? No not quite – bored by perhaps

Men fear ‘chick-lit’ and read far fewer books by female authors, says Women’s Prize judge

You know that demand that men should talk more about their feelings? Some goodly portion of chick lit is folk talking about their feelings.

Of course this is a stereotype but the one great truth of the social sciences is that there’s always a nub of truth to a stereotype. Blokes talk less about their feelings than birds do, are interested in reading about people talking about their feelings less than birds are. Plot, shoot ’em up and the villain’s guts hanging out on the last page – not “and then she considered her feelings for the brute”.

Yes, yes, spectrums and all that. But gender differences in a sexually dimorphic species? Gerraway!

Crappy jobs again

Writing Rates: Earn up to $2,000 a month, depending on word count and the number of projects you work on simultaneously. Ghostwriting service rate is US $13 to $15 per 1,000 words.

Umm, yeah. That’s for writing whole books for other people. Given the toss you do get confronted with when writing for other people – no, I don’t want to say that, I wouldn’t say it that way, change this bit – that’s below minimum wage that is.

I have done ghostwriting and we did reach an amicable working method. I’d write it then tell Nigel what he’d said. The rate was better too.

So, academic access

Anyone?

The standard self-Google (necessary to find out who has been slagging me off as a journo) tells me that book has me in the index. Quite why and over what would be interesting to find out. Not massively, agreed, but slightly…..

This is darkly amusing

Jane Austen has been replaced on a university literature course to help “decolonisation of the curriculum”.

The author of Pride and Prejudice has been replaced by Toni Morrison, an writer known for works about the African American experience, as the focus of an English module at Stirling University.

Morrison is rather that colonialism experience of slavery and racism. Austen isn’t. So, drop the one not talking about it to de- it?

Tu quoque

Progressives are resisting rightwing book banning campaigns – and are winning

It wasn’t the vicious righties who started combing the shelves in the first place tho’ was it? Replacing Huck Finn with something that didn’t use the word “nigger” for example…..hey, maybe that was right and maybe not (I think not, I think the use by Huck about the escaped slave is one of the great scenes of redemption, the triumph of empathy over propaganda) but that did come first….

Not, really, quite true

“Spike wrote 250 episodes of The Goon Show in a 10-year period,” says Newman. “In every series, there are many, many references to the war. Pretty much after that, he stops – and in his later work, hardly mentions it again.”

Sorta missing the books there, no?

Good grief woman, look at the society around you

I write ‘women’s commercial fiction’ – why is my work still seen as inferior to men’s?
Emma Hughes

Blah, blah, romance isn’t seen as being as serious as other books etc.

Discrimination!

Well, yes, but have a look at the society around you for the Lord’s Sake:

romantic novels are one of the backbones of the industry, flying off the shelves in their millions. “We make profit,” she wrote. “No one gives us publishing deals because they feel obliged to.”

Indeed so but the sort of upper middle class and declining aristocracy that run British publishing still have that innate hatred of trade. Which is why you’re at the tradesmans’ entrance of the industry – the nobby nobs who write those things that sell 300 copies get the front door because they’re not profitable trade, d’ye see?

Oh, how amusing

Review of the latest Matt Ridley:

Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19 by Alina Chan and Matt Ridley pretends to be agnostic between the two while pimping the lab-leak scenario for all it’s worth.

Neither author, it is reasonable to note, is a virologist or epidemiologist. Chan has a PhD in medical genetics and is a junior research scientist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Ridley has a DPhil on the mating habits of pheasants; in April 2020 he declared himself confident that a cure for Covid-19 would arrive sooner than a vaccine, and a few months later he was arguing against any second lockdown.

Chan rose to Twitter fame in May 2020 by releasing a paper direct to the internet, written with two colleagues, claiming that Covid was already “pre-adapted to human transmission” when its first cases were detected, implying it had been deliberately engineered to target people. This book says that hers was “a scientific paper yet to be peer-reviewed for publication”, which seems at best disingenuous since it has never since been peer-reviewed for publication either.

Certain little linguistic tricks being used there to direct opinion, don’t you think? The reviewer is, I think at least, this Steven Poole:

Steven Poole (born 1972) is a British author and journalist. He particularly concerns himself with the abuse of language and has written two books on the subject.

Been practising, has he?

Yes, I know this is unkind of me

But:

No, it’s not about her looks. It’s about her look. It may well be specific to this one piccie. But the impression is that each and every idea that anyone else has which isn’t agreed with entirely is just so stupid as to not even need comment. Just clearly and obviously wrong because it’s not shared.

BTW, it’s Sally Rooney who apparently is a novelist of some repute.

A book review, of sorts

From Hallowed Be:

When you were talking about your serendipitous 2nd hand book, I almost asked you whether you’d read – down and out in the magical kingdom. (same guy as this post i think) From what i can gather- starts from a post scarcity, post mortality and they have social credit currency called wuffies. Be interested in a book review of that.

Not sure I actually want to read it but:

“Bitchun Society” is the dominant Earth culture in which rejuvenation and body-enhancement have made death obsolete, material goods are no longer scarce, and everyone is granted basic rights that in our present age are mostly considered luxuries.

OK, Marxist post-scarcity economy.

Whuffie, a form of digital social reputation, replaces money and is a constantly updated rating that measures how much esteem and respect other people have for a person. This rating system determines who gets the few scarce items, like the best housing, a table in a crowded restaurant, or a good place in a queue for a theme park attraction.

We’re never going to be entirely post-scarcity, there will always be positional goods. So, who gets them? Why not the Chinese social credit system as a method of allocation?

Adhocracy is a type of organization that is an opposite of bureaucracy that has replaced corporations.

That’s answering Coase on the Theory of the Firm. Some things are best done by permanent organisations – with all their costs and bureaucracy – and so we have firms. Other things are better done by networks which coalesce for a task then disperse. Which things are which depends upon, well, depends. The state of technology being one of them. Better comms will lead to more things being done by networks of short term contracts, for example. Better transport links will allow greater geographic dispersion, etc. It’s not necessarily true that post-scarcity will mean the networks win but why not?

This future history book takes place in the 22nd century, mostly in Walt Disney World. Disney World is run by rival adhocracies, each dedicated to providing the best experience to the park’s visitors and competing for the Whuffie the guests offer.

Markets and competition still exist!

One of my books is to be printed in Farsi

It’s all a bit of a coincidence, in fact a series of them, that this is about to happen. But one of my books is about to be printed in Farsi. The translation is done, the text has passed the censorship committee – yes, this is in Farsi inside Iran.

The advance is $0, the royalty an equally massive $0 so not something I think I’ll be able to retire upon. Still, will have a copy to put on the bookcase which is nice.

And the intro to this edition (first time I’ve been able to even imply that there’s more than one edition to one of my books) is:

The standard definition of economics is that it’s about “the allocation of scarce resources”. We live in a universe where there’s less of many things than we’d like. Food, land, minerals, human labour, the resources with which we can do things. Economics is, in that standard description, how we organise the world so that we can get the maximum out of the system for that limited, even if very large, amount that we can put in.

This is true but it’s also, at a deeper level, not quite so. Economics is really about how we humans react to, try to deal with, that scarcity of resources. In this sense it is not like physics or chemistry at all. If Homo Sapiens were different from what we are then economics would be different. Chemistry and physics aren’t going to change by one full stop let alone one line whatever we believe about them or however we act.

The entire subject of economics therefore rests upon human fallibility – one of those few things the universe has not left us with a shortage of. It’s thus useful to consider what we often or collectively get wrong about that human behaviour. Which is what this book is about. It’s only small attempt, baby steps if you like. But there are things which are widely believed about economics which turn out not to be true in an economics concerning human beings. Things which are believed to be true but which are not are fallacies. So, here are 20 of those things that many think describe our human interaction with that regrettable scarcity of resources but turn out not actually to be so.

By far the greatest cause of poverty in this modern world is bad economic policy. So, best we all get to grips with the ideas that are wrong then, no?