Friday, September 12, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad; September 12, 2014 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  
Bread line, NYC, 1932. From

Let's get on with it for this week.

  • So far, it has not been a good year for American workers as they have seen their wages dropping in the first half of 2014. There is a reason why fast food workers are going on strike in various places. There is reason your buck is just not giving you much bang. "According to new research by the Economic Policy Institute, real hourly wages declined for almost everybody in the U.S. workforce in the first half of 2014. Thanks, so-called recovery." When the pundits say everything is OK, you better check your wallet. Story via AlterNet.  
  • I have said it before: the student loan crisis is the next time bomb. It is a slow one, but when it blows up, it will not be pretty. The folks at Bizmology do not see it as a big threat as the mortgage crisis. They write "however, it does represent a significant risk to consumers’ spending, balance sheets, and their contribution to the acceleration in growth. For example, students burdened by debt are much more likely to postpone purchases of houses, curtailing the number of much-needed first-time homebuyers that could reignite the housing market recovery." One does have to keep in mind that some homeowners did have some bailout options or breaks (albeit little and not everyone), but that may have been better than what many college students who may well be "underwater" (unemployed, underemployed, disabled, so on) may get. And bad comes to worse, homeowners could always declare bankruptcy and likely keep their house. Former college students get none of that since college loans cannot be discharged by bankruptcy, and they (lenders) can do things like garnish wages, tax refunds, and other earnings. It truly brings in questions such as the value of a higher education and whether even young people today may have a future or not, let alone an ability to help lift up the bad economy. 
  • Meanwhile, Mother Jones highlights how tuition and fees for college have increased 1,112 percent since 1978 (yes, you read that number right). And that is not all. They also point out how student debt is outpacing all other debt in the nation. That seems to me a bigger deal than the mellow outlook from the Bizmology folks. Add to this the previous story of wages actually going down, and I think the trouble speaks for itself.
  • Students head back to school this month, and Robert Reich explains how they head into greater income and social inequality and disparity. In this piece, Reich reminds me of some of Jonathan Kozol's writings. They both share this idea in common; Reich writes, "
    Money isn’t everything, obviously. But how can we pretend it doesn’t count? Money buys the most experienced teachers, less-crowded classrooms, high-quality teaching materials, and after-school programs. Yet we seem to be doing everything except getting more money to the schools that most need it." 
  • Meanwhile, Texans love to brag about how the recession passed them by and their Texas miracle. However, the so-called miracle is nothing more than a mirage as the state leads in things like poverty, high teen pregnancies, and poor (but well armed) schools.  The so-called miracle has often left people choosing between rent and electricity. Read all about it here at the Texas Tribune
  • Who else suffers in the bad economy? Military families. Via The Nation, a new report from Feeding America finds that 620,000 U.S. military families rely on food banks to make ends meet (article includes link to the Feeding America report).  Because, as I have said before, the U.S. is real good about sending soldiers overseas and doing nation building, but heaven forbid it properly takes care of its own soldiers and their families.  
  • Very often, in the bad economy, people have to get creative to make ends meet. Via Yes! Magazine, read about a group of women who have set up bartering economies to help each other out.
  • In the bad economy, some things you have to let go. Many people like making bucket lists (having nothing to do with that ice bucket thing), but let's be honest. For many of us, when it comes to a bucket list, we may as well say fuck it. I mean, why feel bad if you can't even afford the bucket? Having said that, it does not mean you stop trying for the little things. Story via AlterNet.
Now, some are making out like bandits in the new economy. Let's have a look at how the uber rich are doing this week: 
  • If you happen to be a military "contractor" or one of those shady special ops who do the outsourced work of the U.S., odds are good you may be doing better. Because the U.S. may pay a pittance to its own soldiers, but "the U.S. government is paying private contractors billions of dollars to support secretive military units with drones, surveillance technology, and 'psychological operations,' according to new research." Story via The Intercept. Story includes link to the report that notes this and more.
  • If you are a lobbyist, you are certainly a member of the uber rich. The Center for Public Integrity takes a look at "How Much Money Can a Lobbyist Make?"

Booknote: Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron-- Blood and Honor

Michael Stackpole, Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron-- Blood and Honor. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 1999.  ISBN: 9781569713877.

This is the story of Baron Soontir Fel. Fel is an Imperial TIE fighter ace, feared by the Rebel Alliance. He then gets captured by the Rebels, and he is faced with the decision to defect to the Rebellion.

The book has basically two parts. First part is Fel's story. During his interrogation, Fel tells his story: how he gets an appointment to the Imperial naval academy, his graduation, rise through the ranks. Fel's fortunes rise, and fall, and rise again as he is a hard worker, a good officer, and devoted to serving the Emperor. The second part deals with Fel's defection. He will defect on the condition the Rebels rescue his wife from the Empire before the Empire gets her. It falls to members of Rogue Squadron to do the rescue.

I found the first part to be interesting for the point of view of an Imperial pilot. Fel manages to become more than an expendable basic fighter pilot. You also get to see how some of the Imperial military works, including its frequent hypocrisy and corruption, elements that Fel despises. The second story seemed a bit convoluted at times. A child of the Fel house is kidnapped by mercenaries. However, the plot has some layers, which I don't think were as well executed. Keeping track here was not as easy, but there is some action.

Overall, I am giving this 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Booknote: The Killer, Volume 4

Matz, The Killer, Volume 4: Unfair Competition. Los Angeles, CA: Archaia, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-936393-69-5.

This series continues to be a pleasure to read as we follow the unnamed hitman (see my review of a previous volume). He decides to retire to Mexico, but his business is not far behind. With his cartel friend Mariano and another partner, he finds himself one of three shadow owners in a new oil company. This may appear to be foreign territory, but even in the corporate world, the Killer finds that his skills are still very much in demand.

The deep character development and study that I discovered and enjoyed in the previous volume continues here. The Killer is a complex man with depth and practicality. The plot of the story in this volume has substance. This really reads like a good geopolitical thriller with good character. I keep saying this would make an excellent film, but I'd rather not have the film knowing how bad Hollywood tends to ruin good things. Jacamon's art continues to be excellent as well. Good use of color, and it has a way to capture the essence of the setting that makes me feel like

I am definitely a fan of this series, and it is one I highly recommend. As noted before, it has a "mature" rating, so this is not for children; besides The Killer's profession, there are some sex scenes. For adults, this book is just fine. It is a good buy for public libraries and academic libraries with recreational reading collections.

I am giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

I borrowed this one from the Madison County Public Library, Berea branch.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Booknote: Read Me

Dwight Garner, Read Me: a Century of Classic American Book Advertisements. New York: Ecco, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06-157219-7.

I borrowed this one from Madison County Public Library, Berea branch.

This book shows advertising for books how it used to be. For readers like me, the book highlights the contrast with today's book advertising juggernauts to a simpler time. I noticed as I read that some things do not change: tone, use of images and photos, blurbs, so on. The media and tools have changed. For instance, we have bloggers like me (and certainly more famous bloggers) who write book reviews and do other book promotion work. Still, much of the messaging when it comes to selling books remains the same. As a very humble book blogger, I can see that some of the old advertisements can still teach us a useful thing or two.

The book starts with a foreword by Dave Eggers reminding us of our role as readers to keep literacy alive. He does so with some light humor as he also argues that this is a book about "the most essential undertaking ever by mankind-- the creation of ads promoting books. . . " (xiv). After all, if reading is essential (and I will certainly agree it is), then book publishers and authors have to get their books in our hands so we can read and do our part.

Next, the author provides an introduction that gives an overview on the history of book advertising. Garner writes on the history of book advertising. Garner writes on publishing a book:

"In reality, getting a serious book published and into a potential reader's line of sight is a long, difficult, sometimes anguished process, involving an intellectual and commercial conga line of dozens of people" (1). 

Nowadays, thanks to technology and various self-publishing options, many authors and their books can bypass much if not all of that conga line. The debate whether some of those who bypass the conga line are "serious" or have quality is neither here nor there. The fact is we have come quite a distance, and book advertising has changed as well. This book is like a time capsule showing us what used to be.

Another fascinating thing is that many of the ads are for writers who we know as classic, canonical, famous, etc. Even folks like Steinbeck, Updike, and Kerouac had to start somewhere. We see the big shots of today "at moments before their careers were ensured, before their personae had hardened into those of 'famous writers'. . . " (2). The author has chosen ads  from old newspapers, journals, and magazines. We see authors and works that may be classics, but we also see quite a few now forgotten works and also a popular book or two that may not be a "classic" but is certainly well-known. We get a very diverse sampling in each chapter; the book features ten chapters, one for each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s.

This is mostly a book to browse. Pick out the ads that catch your eye and read them. Looking through the decades, you get a good sense of American publishing history and advertising history. Different decades emphasized different things in the quest to draw readers to books. In the end, this was a cool book that I really liked.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Booknote: Poetry of the Taliban

Alex Strick van Linschoten,, Poetry of the Taliban. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780231704045.

This is an academic book that collects poetry of the Afghan Taliban. In addition to the poetry, it does contain a good amount of academic material (introduction, essays, and other explanatory items) for scholars and students. I picked it up mostly due to my interest in history and world affairs. I will not rate it as I do others books, but rather offer my reading notes. I do think academic libraries, especially ones with strength in Middle Eastern studies and history, will want to pick up this item. I would not recommend this for public libraries unless it is requested. This is not really a book you read for pleasure, and I do not say that as a bad thing.

"The garden of my imagination was baked in the oven of cruelty,
I am looking for pain in imagination"
--Abdul Basir Ebrat, "Thunder," 1994.

Reading notes:

The book deals with a topic that has received little attention, and from Americans the attention usually comes from military analysts who pretty much lump it into propaganda. And yes, there is some propaganda in the poems, but there is also a human character.

On the type of poetry:
"While it is the tarana or ballad that seems to be the favourite genre of the Cultural Committee's propaganda, a primarily oral form of literature that has also received most attention from those who study the Taliban, it appears to be the ghazal or love lyric whose themes if not always form dominate the movement's unofficial literature. Made up of interlinked couplets that do not have to possess any continuity of narrative or even mood, the ghazal is by far the most popular genre of poetry in the region, which can be sung and recited, but also dominates the written literature that was previously composed primarily by court poets and mystics" (15).
The poetry is overly Afghan in emphasis. There is a debt to Islamic militancy, but little specific mentions of Al Qaeda, bin Laden, or Mullah Omar (one of the Taliban leaders). There are many references to Great Britain, the United States of America, the White House, and G.W. Bush.

More on the character of the poetry:

"Poetry features in all spheres of life: on political occasions, for social change, for religions purposes, at home, for weddings, for funerals, for festivals, and even-- as we shall see-- on the battlefield" (33). 

Often, Taliban poetry is overlooked by those monitoring the Taliban's website, seen as lacking "operational" value when compared to other content.

"Yet it seemed to be such a prominent part of what the Taliban wanted to present about themselves to the wider world" (31). 

On the poetry:

  • "The 235 poems in this collection aim to showcase some of the diversity of thematic and stylistic content as well as offering three dozen older examples from the 1980s and 1990s" (31). 
  • Older poems collated "from magazines, newspapers and casette tapes, transcribed where necessary and then translated" (31).
  • Newer poems mainly from the Taliban website, and they date December 2006 to February 2009. 
  • Authorship varies. The poet and person who performs it on an MP3 are different. Authors often use pen names. Some are propaganda; others are simply submissions from poets and common people. 
  • "There are, broadly speaking, three kinds of Taliban poems in this sense: those with a clear propaganda message, officially sanctioned; those very close to the same line and inciting others to fight, but unaffiliated with the propaganda apparatus; and completely unaffiliated individuals" (46). 
Some themes and topics covered:

  • Pre- 9/11.
  • Love and pastoral
  • Religious
  • Discontent (regarding various topics)
  • The Trench (Taliban war songs)
  • The Human Cost

Signs the Economy is Bad: August 29, 2014 edition.

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

It has been a busy month for me, but the stories keep on coming signaling that the economy is still bad. So, let's just get on with it and see how much ground we can cover this week.

  • You know things are bad when the hobbies the well-off tend to like suffer. It turns out that less young people are playing golf. The horror. How bad is it? Well, it's so bad that Dick's Sporting Goods "recently laid off 478 PGA pros who worked in the company's golf shops." Story via Big Think. And why would young people not want to play golf? The reason is "because golf is a pastime associated with white plutocrats." And we all know who fucked up the economy. I am sure they don't want to be associated with those people. I certainly would not.
  • Now a bad economy can make people depressed. When people get depressed, they often seek some comfort, even it is a small comfort. One such comfort is chocolate. Well, things are getting worse, so even that may soon be out of reach for some as chocolate is getting more expensive. Hershey, Mars, and Nestle all recently announced increases to the price of their products. Why? "The rise in the cost of chocolate is a direct response to the skyrocketing price of cocoa beans and dairy products. Unfortunately for chocoholics, numerous social, economic, and environmental factors suggest the price of sweets is only going to keep rising." Man, can't even catch a break these days, not even from the Kit Kat bar. Story via Big Think.
  • And if things were not bad enough, it was recently reported that more than 35% of Americans are being hounded by debt collectors. Story via The Week. Oh, and here is something to ponder: "Also of note is the fact that unpaid debts are concentrated in Southern and Western states, with Texas in the lead. Five Texas cities — Dallas, El Paso, Houston, McAllen, and San Antonio — have more than 40 percent of their populations reported to collection agencies. In addition, nearly half of Las Vegas residents have debts that are in collections." Hmm, southern and western states. I wonder what party tends to rule in those places. Not to mention that much of the American South ranks high when it comes to poverty overall. But it's not like we are seeing a pattern or anything, are we? By the way, you can read the Urban Institute report on delinquent debt in America here.
  • In addition, more people have difficulty keeping a roof over their heads. Buying a house for many is just not an option. So, the default, other than being homeless, is often to rent a place to live. Yet you can forget about catching a break there as well given that rents keep getting more expensive. Story via Mother Jones. It is so bad even the people who may have money to buy a house are choosing to rent instead.
  • And if you are young(ish) and trying to make a go of it, it is not looking good for you. Via AlterNet, here are "4 Signs Millennial Are Doomed to Dwindling Incomes." I will say that it is not just Millennials. A good number of people in my generation (I fall under Generation X) are not exactly thriving neither, and some of it is due to the reasons presented in the article as well. But if you are just graduating college, boy, I do feel for you. That is unless you happen to be rich, and in that case, odds are good you just inherited it anyhow, so you don't have to lift a finger while the rest of us starve and scrape by, often due to, well, plutocrats who by now are just inheriting old fortunes anyhow.
  • In other news, porn production is going down in Los Angeles. This is due to a new law mandating condom use in productions. Now, regardless of how you feel about porn (and disclosure, I personally have no problem with it, at least the commercial legal kind), this is a sign of a bad economy to come. Why? Well, most people usually think of the glamorous actresses who work in porn, but like any other industry, a lot of people work in small and large jobs often behind the scenes. Less porn making means a few of those folks could be out of work. No work means no money, and that means they won't be spending locally (or elsewhere) to keep the economy going. Anyhow, this is just something that caught my eye.
  • At least someone is staying afloat, and that is General Motors. It is not just due to the bailouts. It turns that they are still selling a lot of those gas guzzling SUVs, you know, the giant monstrosities that guzzle gas for low gas mileage, pollute more, and overall are often driven by obnoxious people. It seems a lot dads with money to burn and who do not give a shit about anyone but themselves are buying them, and by their own admission, "'I didn’t buy the vehicle for the gas mileage,' [Mike Quinto] said." Uh huh.
  • And a last minute inclusion this week. You know the economy is bad when you die in the midst of working four jobs to try to stay afloat. Story via Raw Story.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Booknote: The Annotated Godfather

Jones, Jenny M., The Annotated Godfather: the Complete Screenplay. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007. ISBN: 9781579127398.

This is a book that I found by serendipity at my local public library. Being a fan of the film, I knew that I had to pick it up. This was a book that I definitely enjoyed.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • A short introduction that sets up the book and the context of the film, a film that had many elements opposing its production. We learn that the books looks at various versions of the script, alternate and deleted scenes, modified film releases (done after the 1972 theatrical release), the novel, the production documents, and interviews. The book is very comprehensive in using sources to give a full and more in-depth picture of the film and its times as well as its legacy. 
  • An essay on "Genesis of The Godfather" that goes over how the film came to be and presents those involved in making the film.
  • The complete, annotated screenplay. This was for me the best part of the book. The book offers plenty of annotations with technical details, trivia, comparisons with the novel and adaptation notes, and other details. For fans of the film, the annotations may be much more interesting than the script. They certainly give depth to the film and give us a much better appreciation. This part of the book is definitely must-read. 
  • An aftermath essay that discusses the events after the film and its legacy. 
  • Appendices covering film credits, a timelines, and awards the film earned. 
  • A bibliography. 
  • An index of memorable lines. 
  • An index for the book. 
In addition to the above, the book contains great black and white as well as color photographs. These serve to enhance the book further. Also, the book's layout is good and easy to read; it does not feel cramped, making good use of white space and generous margins.

This is definitely a book I enjoyed reading. I learned much that I did not know before, and I found the book to be very accessible. I borrowed it from the public library, but this is definitely one I will add to my collection when I get a chance. Fans will want this book right next to their DVD or Blue-Ray of the film.

Giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.