gall and gumption

Monday, October 25, 2010


1. High Heels and High Jinks
Matilda works in publishing in a big city and she has lots of clever and well-connected friends but she can't find a husband! No, it's not that one again. Honestly!

2. The Yellowstone Chronicles
Ben takes a road trip with his charmingly quirky average middle-class parents and learns a lesson about the true meaning of family.

3. Grandma's Papadums
Ganesh learns that becoming American means learning to appreciate his immigrant family's rich Indian heritage.

4. Night Sweats
This dazzling stylistic tour de fource is set in a dystopic near-future AnyCity, America. A logorrheic serial killer is driven on a mysterious mission by a muddle of subplots involving literarily allusive and prophetic street people.

5. The Jane Austen Sells Anything Pie Club
Five strong female characters meet to make pies and talk about life and Jane Austen. One of them has an exotic fatal disease. They learn the true meaning of friendship.

6. Grandma's Pork Buns
Li learns that becoming American also means learning to appreciate her immigrant family's rich Chinese heritage.

7. Angels in the Corn
When her husband Jedediah dies in a gruesome farming accident Sarah, a strong female character, must raise the crops and her three children, Obadiah, Ezekiah, and Jeremiah, alone. A man with a mysterious past comes to town. He turns out to be an angel. A heartwarming tale about the true meaning of--oh, did I spoil it? Sorry.

8. Pearl
Pearl, a simple girl, is raped, murdered, chopped up in pieces and thrown down an abandoned well every Saturday. By simple faith, humility, and hard work, she triumphs over her circumstances and eventually buys a small neat little house with a porch where she sits and shares her memories and her special homemade lemonade.

9. Girl With A Pomeranian Dog Collar
Hidden in this famous painting are clues to a 17th-century murder and a jewel robbery shrouded in international intrigue, solved by Elsie, the model, a strong female character and an artist in her own right.

10. Grandma's Tamales
Maria learns that becoming American means learning to appreciate her immigrant family's rich Mexican heritage.

11. Seasoned in Tuscany
An American couple buy and renovate a Tuscan villa, which leads to hilarious misadventures as they encounter the quaint old-world eccentricities of the local villagers who are a wacky assortment of English professors and food writers.

12. Gloria Has Had It Up To Here With These Men
Gloria, a senior vice president for marketing at a big corporation, has three men in her life--a brain surgeon, a jazz musician, and a tycoon--but none of them will commit. What's a girl to do?

Update: Added one of mine, and thanks kindly to monkey.dave in comments. If I've left out any others please post them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Take the Money and Run

Total indulgence in the purchase of the Library of America's new John Kenneth Galbraith. I read The Great Crash in the months leading up to the Financial Crisis (it really needs a name, this one, and I'd supply one if I could think of one that wasn't R-rated). I'm looking forward to reading it again, but now I'm reading The Affluent Society, a book that was very influential once upon a time. He coined the phrase "the conventional wisdom" and in his introduction to the edition that's included in the Library of America volume he jokes that he should have taken out a patent. The irony of course now is that people who use the phrase "the conventional wisdom" are either a) totally innocent of even the remotest acquaintance with any other kind or b) savagely hostile to any other kind of wisdom when they do run into it.

Reading Galbraith is a bit like reading Edmund Burke. Most people who claim Burke as a conservative hero are usually referring only to what amounts to a few pages of his Reflections on the Revolution in France. They misunderstand his theory about tradition, too, thinking it is a defense of their view of tradition. And then liberals who haven't read Burke think, oh, if the conservatives like him he must be a wingnut too. Why conservatives like David Brooks or William F. Buckley should be trusted to be accurate in their representation of Burke when they can't be trusted to be honest intellectual brokers on anything they touch I don't know.

If I were to give the shortest possible summary of what Burke meant by tradition in the relations between the ruler and the ruled, it would be this: he believed that this relation should be founded in love, the kind of love that makes you love the dignity of the other. This is in a sense a sort of a formality, a fiction that becomes true because people commit themselves to acting as if it is true. They are loyal to the principle. It is only paternalistic in the sense that liberals are accustomed to speak scornfully of if you are prepared to deny the possibility that love can be based on respect for the dignity and rights of the person whatever their social standing or their means.

But Burke spent most of his long parliamentary career trying to raise the alarm about unfettered, unregulated multinational capitalism and the dangers of corporate lawlessness. He was fighting against the management of the East India Company that was basically running a vast, vicious extortion racket in India, using the power of law, and violence, to extract immense wealth from the small regional governments all over the subcontinent. Remember Jos Sedley in Vanity Fair, with the awesome title "The Collector of Bogley Wallah"? What do you suppose he was collecting? You need to remember that colonialism was not established in places like the Caribbean or India for the sake of spreading democracy or Christianity. The religious and historical and moral justifications came later. Adventurers, desperate characters, speculators, people with no better prospects at home, went there and got as much loot out of them as they could or died trying; they set up just enough government to help you do it. Preferably, as in India, the looting business was the government. Government, in the sense in which people think of it now, a set of institutional and organizational arrangements for the support and management of society and community, came much later. In the Caribbean you had the plantation owners working the land for sugar, and you had garrisons to protect them from other colonial powers who wanted to steal the islands back and then also protecting the plantations from the slaves too. Only after it became a matter of financial interest--only after there was clearly something to lose, was there any need seen for government. And if you found something there already, like in India, a whole civilization and a culture that had been managing its own affairs at least as well as, say, France 150 years before, these arrangements meant nothing, you could tear them to pieces at your convenience in the service of the great wealth-making project and the irresistible destiny-like glorious advance of capitalism. Individually, the plan was childishly simple; you extorted as much wealth out of the Pasha in India so you could go and live like one in England. And Burke saw it for what it was, saw the destructive potential.

BP in Iran, Texaco in Nigeria, the United Fruit Company in Central America; the conflation of national interest with corporate profit, at the expense of any other basis of value. That was what Burke saw coming, and he fought it, for twenty-odd years, mostly alone and not at all understood by reasonable moderate centrist people who couldn't see what the problem was when everybody was getting so rich. He lost friends over it. But the danger was so clear to him that he could not compromise on the seemingly narrow point at issue which was the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the East India Company's man in India. Hastings had connections and resources and influence to keep himself out of the hot seat for so long that the whole affair began to seem like Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. But Burke never let up because he never lost sight of the point.

Burke's prose is harsh, as if it was hacked into shape with a rusty axe. And then in the middle of it you find something said that could never be said better, things that can move you to tears. Because although it is rough and harsh it is truthful, it is the sound of a mind that is discovering things.

The interesting thing about Galbraith as a writer is that he was just about the last living practitioner of the Grand Style of formal English prose. The only other great one I can think of in the twentieth century is Bertrand Russell, and Russell died of course years before Galbraith stopped producing. In writing, too, Galbraith sounds original. That is, he took this very literary and artificial style and somehow made it into his own voice, on first acquaintance a somewhat stilted voice, that warms up into this wonderful lucidity, sparkling with humor--this was a man, you can tell, who could probably reduce you to helpless giggles at the breakfast table by just reading out loud from the newspaper--and the narrative drive of a good storyteller.

There are a zillion cheap imitations of formal English, to say nothing of the ghastly failed attempts at it that you find in academic prose. Mutant monstrosities, really. And don't even get me started on the kind that takes its tone from the French. I imagine that in 30 years or so no one will claim responsibility for ever having written those horrors: "I wasn't there, I was out bowling with my friends, I was in a coma, I was rescuing small children from abandoned wells, I was sitting at home quietly reading Ernest Hemingway, I don't remember anything about it and I never met the lady."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I, Twit

I've joined the Army of the Undead. Follow me!

Comments Fixed

One of my small but select readers informed me that the spam-prevention gizmo that requires commenters to type some twisted letters is broken, so comments couldn't be left. I checked and it was true. I've turned it off. You may see more comments of the weight loss/pay to write your dissertation/amazing vitamin product/make millions in real estate variety. I hope not though.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I Scare Myself

So tonight I had a long talk with an old friend in California and it was midnight when I got off the phone. Took the dogs out for a trip round the block so they could have a comfortable night and when we reached my building I saw a guy get out of my father's truck and start walking down the street. My father was asleep in his room. The guy had a hood over his head. I watched in disbelief for a couple of seconds and felt that same creepy feeling I had when the apartment was burgled. So I chased him. I just followed him down the street with the dogs a good way in front of me, calling out, "What were you doing in that truck? WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN THAT TRUCK?" Until he stopped and turned around and assured me that the truck door had been unlocked and he hadn't found anything to take. "But if you had found something you would have?" "Yes," he said. But he hadn't found anything. Did I mention that usually I take my cell phone with me in case something happens but did not take it tonight? "I could call the cops, you know," I said, which was more of a half-truth than a fib, strictly speaking. I mean, I just couldn't call them just exactly right then in that minute. He expressed the hope that I wouldn't let loose the dogs on him. Misha was of course barking and putting on a decent show of menace, but by the time I finished cussing the guy out I believe that she had undergone her usual conversion and was regarding him as someone who might need her protection and care.

I had no plan when I chased him. I mean, I could have started yelling for someone to call the police, but it all just seemed so pathetic, this kid just seemed pathetic and confused, and I hated the thought of all the commotion and I hated even more the thought of this kid going into the criminal justice system for something so lame as trying and failing to find anything valuable in my Dad's old truck. So instead of raising the alarm I told him that he had no right to go into people's vehicles even if they were unlocked, and that it was shitty to steal from people, and I pointed out that the people in the neighborhood weren't rich, that he was just creating hardship for people when he took their stuff. And then I told him that if I ever spotted him around there day or night he'd be in deep shit.

I felr little guilty about letting him go. The neighbors might not agree with this judgment call. Well, next time, though...