Friday, September 26, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: September 26, 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.  



The thing about poverty and the bad economy, along with the other bad things like inequality, is that it is self-inflicted. All this bad stuff we talk about here regularly could be avoided if Americans had the will to be serious, be compassionate, and work on it for the benefit of all. However, instead, Americans actively choose to keep people poor on purpose (story via Yes! Magazine. Article looks at Hedrick Smith's book Who Stole the American Dream, which sounds like one to read). No, you cannot blame it all on the politicians since, after all, Americans are the ones who vote those politicians in. There are solutions (story via Common Dreams), but American have to choose to implement them for the good of all. At the moment, I am not holding my breath on Americans developing a sense of decency all of a sudden.

In the meantime, there is a lot of stuff going on. There are many ways to know the economy is bad, so let's get on with it.  

  • I have been saying to a a while that student debt is the next time bomb. Given its exploitative nature, it may take a while longer to explode, but it will likely be seriously bloody when it does. In fact, it is so bad, it follows even the elderly. Yes, odds are good that if you have college loans, the only way you might ("might" being the keyword) discharge them is when you die. In the meantime, it will follow you right into retirement (assuming you make it that far). It is a rigged game, and it does not favor the student trying to make it through a higher education that gets more expensive consistently. This theme continues to make the news. The best explanation of it in recent days may be John Oliver's take on during his show. It does boil down to national leaders and society at large in the United States just decided to say "fuck it," that education is not important enough to invest in. Stories via TruthDig and Inside Higher Ed.
  • When things get bad, college students need to find ways to make ends meet. One possibility is with textbooks. They are expensive; just ask any college student.  It has gotten so bad that some students just turned to online piracy to get their books cheaper or just plain free. Story via Vocativ, with a hat tip to COED.
  • Now before you go blaming professors for assigning expensive textbooks (though they do deserve some of the blame) or complaining they are overpaid, you may want to consider that the fact is odds are good your college student is taught by an adjunct, especially if they go to a big college or university. And odds are very good that adjunct is on food stamps. Because, in this case, the U.S. and its higher education system just said "fuck it," we are not investing in education let alone paying those educators a living wage. Story via AlterNet.
  • Then again, it is not just college loans and colleges exploiting its labor. You could very well show that colleges DO work you over, and no, this is not a good thing. Some of their practices are downright unethical. Story via Washington Monthly.
  • Now, college graduates with student loans likely have it harder because those loans are pretty much rigged. Unlike other loans, which you could, in extreme cases, discharge in a bankruptcy, college loans do not have such protections. However, things are not that much better for folks who may have debt in the bad economy, say for things like a medical catastrophe (which contrary to what some folks say, can happen to anyone). Debt collectors have gotten more vicious in the ways they collect, including taking your wages and even money right out of your bank,  lawsuits and even getting people put in jail (hey, who says debtors' prisons do not exist anymore?). Stories via ProPublica.
  • So, who else has it bad in this economy? Members of the American armed forces. Now this one does anger me because, for one, I have family who have served and serve actively now in various branches of the services. Two, I happen to think they deserve to be paid a living wage at the least. However, it seems the military members (i.e., mostly the enlisted because we all know the officers are not suffering) and veterans are the new face of poverty in the U.S. But hey, keep putting up cute yellow ribbons and claiming out loud you support the military. I guess for you "supporters," it's perfectly fine if families of military members have to go to a food bank to make ends meet. Story via IVN.
  • OK, so we have mentioned some very obvious signs the economy is bad. But let's say you ignore those? How do you know the economy is bad? Well, for one, a lot of people are not sleeping well. According to this piece from Big Think, "being poor results in sleeping less for a variety of reasons." No, it is not because they are anxious about being poor. Here is a sample reason: "one major factor is public transportation and the fact that conforming to bus schedules can sometimes take hours out of one's sleep schedule each day." Another example I can give from experience: if you work a job in fast food, and your schedule is flexible, meaning you may work days one week, nights the next, so on, that does a serious bad number on the sleep cycle. 
  • If you happen to be a gun worshiper, one of those folks who ran out to buy AR-15s because you thought Obama was taking guns away, you did help keep the firearms economy afloat. They have a very nice boom. However, like all economic bubbles, even that one has burst. Makers of the popular firearm now face a slump due to a glut of the guns, layoffs, and a factory after factory just closing down. Here is what happened: "The firearms market is just like every other market on the planet. It obeys the same laws of economics. By creating a surge in the demand of AR-15’s, the arms manufacturers then created a surge in supply. But this in turn caused a glut, which then sated the demand. Now they are facing a major financial loss, with no real solution in sight." I can't say I am sad about this development. Story via Addicting Info.
  • Even cities are facing difficulties in the bad economy. Tax revenues are down. We have seen the havoc Detroit has suffered, for example. Some cities and states try things like legalizing gambling or the lottery. Others get a bit more creatives. In the case of Kansas, they have decided to have a fire sale. Yes, just like you and me, when things get tight, one way to get some money is to sell off items you own. What do they own? A whole bunch of sex toys, and they are putting them on sale for the best offer. According to the article from The Topeka Capital-Journal, "Kansas state government is on the verge of a financial windfall with the auctioning of thousands of sex toys seized by the revenue department for nonpayment of income, withholding and sales taxes, an official said Wednesday [September 24, 2014]." Even the Rude Pundit was asking if anal beads can save Kansas?

So, how are the uber rich doing and who is still doing well in the bad economy this week? 
  • Now you know things are bad when even the uber rich are crying they are broke. The reality in this is not as bad as it sounds. For the most part, these "rich broke" people are just wealthy people who apparently decided to spend way beyond their means. Why is this first world problem a sign of the bad economy? It's getting reported in the mainstream press. Poor people are rarely seen in the mainstream press;  you will notice I often dig in the alternative press for such coverage. But some pendeja "who made $200,000 a year but managed to amass $300,000 in credit-card debt" gets covered in the regular press, and it becomes a "big deal." I guess they discovered that just because you have money, it does not automatically entitle them to a certain lifestyle. Story via New York Magazine
  • Now, for the uber rich, all these bad news of a bad economy may get them down. It may get them a little depressed. Maybe they want to perk up a bit with some music. And what better way to listen to music than with some speakers in the shape of dictators' heads?  "The speakers come in three sizes. The 10-inch model costs about $1,200 and is appropriate for use with a desktop computer. The largest is the 43-inch model, which runs roughly $39,000 and will instantly become the most attention-getting object of almost any room. . . . " Story via Dangerous Minds
  • Now, for some of those with a bit of money to burn, especially men, if the old ball and chain is getting out of date, they may want to get a newer model. Using one of those dating sites may be an option. However, even that dating site may need a little extra money, so for the men with some dinero who cheat, if they want to delete that profile (and thus clean their tracks), it's an extra $19 bucks or so. It's tough out there in the bad economy.
  • In spite of the recent domestic abuse scandals, the NFL is doing fine. People keep going to the games, buying their merchandise, and overall supporting them. Seeing an NFL team in person is not exactly cheap, especially if you are a Dallas fan. Story via Business Insider
  • Going abroad, the Chinese are doing well. One area of the economy the Chinese are doing well in is making and selling torture devices. In fact, they are doing so well, they are even selling their products to the U.S. Story via The Week, which includes a link to the full Amnesty International report on the topic.
You know, at the end of the day, if you somehow manage to have some money leftover that you could save or invest (as if, but work with me here), things are so bad you may as well let a rodent manage your money. I mean, to be honest, the rat is doing better than most human money managers. Story via New York Magazine.

Booknote: Came the Dawn

Wallace Wood, et.al., Came the Dawn and Other Stories. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2012. ISBN: 9781606995464.


A very good read, this is part of Fantagraphics' series of EC Comics compilations. Wood did work in horror and suspense, but most of his focus was on crime and small town stories. He really could bring small town people and their sins to life. Most of the scripts are by Al Feldstein, and together they created some very daring comics in the 1940s and 1950s.

It is significant that at a time when Jim Crow and racism were going strong in the United States, some of their comics highlighted these wrongs and questioned them. Comics such as "Blood Brothers" and "The Whipping" clearly condemned Jim Crow and racism. A favorite tale of mine in this collection was "In Gratitude" where a G.I. coming home from fighting in Korea has a lesson for a town more interested in jingoistic expressions than actually honoring its veterans. This is a tale that definitely has relevance even today.

This is a solid collection that I am giving 5 out of 5 stars as it does a great job of celebrating Wallace Wood's genius and legacy.

Booknote: Good Advice from Bad People

Zac Bissonnette, Good Advice from Bad People: Selected Wisdom from Murderers, Stock Swindlers, and Lance Armstrong. New York: Portfolio/Penguin 2014. ISBN: 978-1-59184-689-5.


This is a collection of quotes and bits of advice from all sorts of bad people: murderers, stock swindlers, preachers, ministers, and athletes from O.J. Simpson to Lance Armstrong. The book is organized into six parts with topics such as money and wealth, integrity, and relationships. Yes, sometimes even bad people can offer tidbits of advice that are actually pretty good. The book exemplifies the old saying, "do as I say, not as I do." The book itself is also a serious comment on people in general. As the author writes in his introduction, "these kinds of charlatans rise to the top because in our desperate need for motivational figures, we make almost no effort to vet them" (xi). Or, as often attributed to P.T. Barnum, "there's a sucker born every minute," and those suckers are buying a lot of self-help and motivational books.

This is a very easy book to read. In each chapter, you get the quote, then a small biographical and commentary passage providing context on the quote and the person who said it. The author's selections range from very current figures to some older ones that need a bit of background for today's readers. The book is well written so the stories remain accessible. In many cases, you get a nice sense of dark humor in reading many instances of hubris and arrogance gone bad.

The book includes a bibliography listing works by and about the bad folks featured. As the author mentions, "the bulk of these books are, quite rightly, long out-of-print-- and the better managed libraries have gracefully removed them from circulation" (193). You do get the full citations so if you are seeking out the former bestseller by Creflo Dollar or Donald Trump, you can rush to Amazon or the nearest Salvation Army thrift store or Goodwill store to find them.

I really liked this book. It is the kind of book the blends a bit of humor and a little learning that I enjoy.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.


Disclosure note: So we keep The Man happy, I am supposed to tell you that for this book I received a review copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Booknote: Wolverine Classic, Volume 3

Peter David, Wolverine Classic, Volume 3. New York: Marvel, 2006.  ISBN: 0-7851-2053-X.


This volume compiles issues 11-16 of the Wolverine comic run by Peter David. It covers "The Gehenna Stone Affair" story arc. In this story, Wolverine is taking some time off in Madripoor, trying to keep his identity hidden. However, trouble is not far behind when a friend needs some help. Soon, they are being attacked by what appear to be vampires, and then they get caught up in the quest to keep the Gehenna Stone out of the wrong hands.

This was a light and quick read. Not a whole lot of depth, and it did have a bit of fun silliness here and there with Burt's character who, among other things, believes he is Indiana Jones. In the end, I liked this volume as light piece of fluff.

I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Booknote: Star Wars: Blood Ties-- Jango and Boba Fett

 Tom Taylor, Star Wars: Blood Ties-- A Tale of Jango and Boba Fett. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2011. ISBN: 9781595826275.


This was a good read with a pretty satisfying ending. And yes, even Boba Fett has his moments when it comes to honoring the legacy of his father and making a dead man proud.

The story begins shortly before the Clone Wars. Count Dooku sends Jango Fett on a bounty to kill a man. That the man has some information that Dooku does not want exposed is all that Jango knows. Jango completes his mission, but unknown to anyone, his decision has an impact on his son Boba many years later.

The tale has a good blend of action and intrigue. Fans of the Fetts will probably enjoy seeing some of the interactions between Jango and Boba; we see a bit more of their relationship beyond the snippets from the films. In addition, Chris Scalf's art in a realistic style with good use of shadows makes this worth reading. It brings out the underworld that the Fetts inhabit well. For me, this is one of my favorite tales of the man in the Mandalorian armor.

A 5 out of 5 stars for me.


Booknote: The Public Library

Robert Dawson, The Public Library. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-61689-217-3.


This is a beautiful book, and it is one that will likely go on my list of best reads for 2014. For librarians, especially public librarians, and for fans of libraries, this is a book that will warm the heart. The book is the result of an 18-year project. The author went around the nation documenting libraries--wealthy, poor, urban, rural, big, small, open, closed, repurposed, etc. He does present a very diverse image of libraries.

The book contains some essays by various famous writers like Dr. Seuss, Amy Tan, and Isaac Asimov. The essays were selected by the author for inclusion; they were not written for the book itself. The essays provide context and inspiration for the readers.

The main attraction of the book is the photography. Dawson's work, whether in color or black and white, is excellent. These photos make this book a pleasure to read and browse. Some of the photos leave you in awe, and others are very moving and poignant.

We learn a few things about libraries from the book, or as librarians, we are reminded of these things. Libraries unite our nation. They change and evolve, yet they remain a constant as the commons for the people. Their greatest advantage and challenge is that they let everyone in. They keep the mission of gathering information and people. They inform and educate, embodying the values of democracy and the freedom of expression.

For me, it felt very appropriate that I borrowed this book from my local public library. It is a book that I think belongs in every library, and it is one that I think as many people as possible should read. Fans of libraries and fans of books about reading and books will want to add this nice photo book to their collection.

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

# # # 

I would like to jot down some quotes from the book that I would like to remember:

By Ann Patchett:

"So I know this-- if you love your library, use your library. Support libraries in your words and deeds. If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy your own books, and you have your own computer with which to conduct research, and you are not in search of a story hour for your children, then don't forget about the members of your community who are like you but perhaps lack your resources--the ones who love to read, who long to learn, who need a place to go and sit and think. Make sure that in your good fortune you remember to support their quest for a better life. That's what a library promises us, after all: a better life. And that's what libraries have delivered" (183).

By Chip Ward:

"We enjoy a democratic culture--not because we are like-minded, but because we realize that although we are not like-minded, we have common interests and needs that trump our disagreements" (137). 

and

"A library is a place where dissent is respected, tolerance is shown, and open-minded behaviors modeled" (137). 


 




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 archives.gov


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.