rivkat: Dean reading (dean reading)
([personal profile] rivkat Mar. 12th, 2012 02:08 pm)
Once Upon a Time:
I didn’t wince at the dialogue! More importantly: well played, Regina! That smackdown of Emma went well, even if it was coming from a bad place. Ruby: I didn’t see that coming, but loved pretty much every aspect, from the supernatural sense of smell to the self-realization that coming home could work for her too. I’m choosing to read Snow’s boneheaded “it doesn’t matter what you did in the past” line as a panicked instance of an actual character flaw, which is brightsiding even when that’s not exactly justified, rather than something I’m supposed to believe.

Of possible interest:
Please tell PayPal not to decide for us what to read.

Just found out a friend of mine was once a bone marrow match for a woman with leukemia, but wasn’t allowed to donate because he was gay—and still wouldn’t be in the US. Here’s a petition about the blood donation rules.

Interesting article on the psychological poverty trap: Bad decisions are contextual.

Very smart post on When Libertarians Go To Work, and relatedly if you’re interested in why contracts often don’t matter at all, until they suddenly do, and why that’s an important justification for the liberal state.

Aaron Bobrow-Strain, White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf: Free LibraryThing Early Reviewer book. This was a very enjoyable variation on telling a story of social transformation through a single commodity. Bobrow-Strain argues that, both in the US and outside, commercially produced white bread has stood in for and inspired various fantasies about progress—purity, scientific advance, a retro desire for handmade bread that ignores gender and socioeconomic constraints on a “good, natural” diet, national security, and so on. E.g., “while critics in the 1970s and today have noted the gendered contradictions of nostalgia for the lost days of Grandma’s cooking, less has been said about the vision of America smuggled in with the aroma of fresh bread. When counterculture food gurus … imagined the American past, they saw a halcyon world of independent cabins filled with nuclear families. Grandma didn’t slave in cotton fields or garment factories, nor did she struggle to save the farm from creditors…. [W]hen immigrants or people of color appeared in this America, they were scrubbed of actual history, eagerly waiting to share exotic new ingredients or a bit of ancient wisdom with their white audience.” The account of the rise of white bread (no pun intended) is also interesting, but I could have used more science, since a big part of the story was taming yeast and making unpredictable bubbles etc. tractable and entirely uniform, which here appears as undifferentiated “technological advances” allowing a highly processed, sliceable and tasteless loaf.

Marc Levinson, The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America: Largely hagiographic account of the rise and fall of A&P, which became and stayed the biggest retail chain in America for years in large part by taking advantages of economies of scale—making its own stuff and also negotiating deep discounts from wholesalers, a la Wal-Mart—and passing many of the savings on to customers, until the folks who’d run it since the 30s died and the successors took their profits and didn’t reinvest in adapting the stores to changing times. The founding family was anti-union but paternalistic, and ran the stores on the theory that too much profit was a sign that they were setting prices too high; almost unbelievably, they also didn’t believe in getting involved in politics.

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs: Steve Jobs loved design, and built a massively valuable company on that love (also Pixar, a large success on its own). People, he had more problems with—as recent revelations about the human impact of that love of design have shown, with workers suffering massively to make beautiful things at acceptably low prices for Apple. Isaacson doesn’t cover that, though he does discuss how Apple demanded price concessions and sited production in China in order to keep costs down—its beautiful products were already expensive, after all. Jobs seems like he was a nightmare to work with, from insisting that keeping to weird diets meant that he didn’t need to bathe to taking credit for any idea he didn’t conclude was “shit” to deliberately saying the cruelest things he could think of to people who’d disappointed him. Also, though Isaacson doesn’t come out and say it in so many words, he favored his son over his daughters (not just the daughter it took him years to acknowledge, but the younger ones—he took his son to business meetings and on a trip of his son’s choice, but reneged on the same promise to his next youngest daughter a few years later). Random thought—it’s hard to imagine a huge biography about a major female figure that acknowledges in passing that she had an eating disorder (even using that term) that contributed to her early death, and doesn’t spend any time psychoanalyzing the source of same. Actually, it’s hard to imagine a woman getting away with half of the crap Jobs pulled. One might be left with the question “was it worth it?” but I’d also want to ask “is that really the tradeoff?” Now I want a biography of Bill Gates, who is increasingly rising in my estimation simply by contrast—he shows up here mostly to get pounded on and occasionally to snap back about design v. openness.

Nassim Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and in Life: Like The Black Swan, this is a book by/about a self-evidently nasty man (I guess it’s a theme!) with a message to send. We aren’t good at assessing risks, and we fool ourselves that we are. Though he doesn’t use the term “value at risk,” the concept that helped overleverage and then explode the economy, he viciously and presciently critiques the mentality that led to greater and greater risks for smaller and smaller percentages of return. Though published earlier, this book is shorter and contains less inside baseball score-settling than The Black Swan, though I might recommend just reading a couple of things from his website instead of either, especially if you’re already familiar with behavioral economics and the various heuristics that distort our decisionmaking.

My First Time: Gay Men Describe Their First Same-Sex Experience, ed. Jack Hart: I imagine there’s a fair amount of variation in the accuracy of these stories (especially about penis size), but the continuity and change over time was interesting to read. There was something very Foucauldian about the way men describing experiences in the first half of the twentieth century often suggested that, at least for their partners, getting off was getting off and didn’t make you gay even if you did it with another dude, whereas post-Stonewall teenage experimentation was off the table because it made you/meant that you were gay. There was a fair amount of underage—even extremely underage—content, almost but not invariably with agemates, though the extreme underage too decreased over time (perhaps for similar reasons as Americans got simultaneously more open and more concerned about sex; there’s only one non-American story). I also thought, as I read these, that slash writing vocabulary has increasingly converged with the way these writers talk about gay sex; as for content, there were a lot of blowjobs, a fair amount of many other activities, and a wide variety of tenderness, love, lust, confusion, disappointment, bliss, and simple physical release.
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