Friday, October 12, 2018

Booknote: The Artificial Kingdom

Celeste Olalquiaga, The Artificial Kingdom: a Treasury of the Kitsch Experience. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998. ISBN: 0-679-43393-7.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: pop culture, history, critical theory
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

I thought this book would be more interesting than what it turned out to be. The book is billed as "the first book to provide a cultural history of kitsch. . . " (from the book jacket). The author presents some of that cultural history. However, the author drowns the cultural history, and anything else interesting in dense and somewhat overdone critical theory. If you lack background in critical theory, some of the material may go over your head. If you do have that background (which I do from my previous life as an English major), you may or not appreciate it. Personally, I felt I got enough theory in graduate school, so it bored me in this book.

The parts I found interesting were the various historical examples such as the Crystal Palace, aquariums, Chinese rooms, salons, and other decorations. Those stories, many from Victorian times, were interesting, especially since some of those images and objects survive today. Unfortunately those interesting parts get lost in critical theory and her thesis.

In the end, the book was barely OK for me. It does feature some nice illustrations and photography, but not even that is enough to save this pretty forgettable book.

2 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading  notes:

The increase of image making in the 19th century. Also, image making became more accessible outside of the Church and the wealthy:

"The nineteenth century witnessed a multiplication in image-making techniques that transformed Western culture's optical unconscious. Mechanical reproduction not only altered the proliferation and affordability of images, but also enabled a particular, modern sensibility based on the preeminence of looking and collecting. Although this sensibility may be  traced back several centuries, what emerges at this moment is the unprecedent democratization of the practices of looking and collecting" (13).

On a side note, the footnotes in the book are often more interesting than the main text. The footnotes often go deep into specific small details and provide sources, in case you want to learn more.

A definition of kitsch:

"Kitsch is the attempt to repossess the experience of intensity and immediacy through an object. Since this recovery can only be partial and transitory, as the fleetingness of memories well testifies, kitsch objects may be considered failed commodities" (291). 

And here I thought kitsch was about collecting, making memories, perhaps keeping a bit of happier times. And given things like souvenirs and collectibles of various forms can sell very well, I would not rush to call them a failure. Certainly not to those who enjoy and collect kitschy things. It basically takes a high fallutin' academic to rain on our common people parade. So if kitsch is your thing, enjoy it in peace and skip much if not all of this book.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Signs the economy is bad: October 5, 2018 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.

We've gotten quite a bit of fuckery this week, and that is not counting the spectacle that is the confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh, who I still think will make it to SCOTUS as of this post. Anyhow, the bad economy continues despite other things, so let's have a look at what has been happening.

Big news this week

The big news this week was Amazon "gracefully" giving a raise to $15 an hour to its warehouse workers. Story via Daily Intelligencer. According to the Daily Intelligencer report, "it came down to "Bezos likely concluded that his company stood to benefit from exploiting its workers a little less than the American labor market would let him get away with." Let's be honest. If Bezos and other companies could get away with slavery, they would be happy to employ slaves. So while everyone has been gushing over what amounts to a public relations move, the reality is the move is not really that generous, and Amazon still continues with all other sorts of fuckery:
  •  Amazon consistently gets cities and states (and their dumbass residents) to rob the local citizens via excessive breaks on taxes, land, and other practices that anyone else would call a bribe. Story via TruthDig
  • Amazon's couriers are often forced to drive shoddy vehicles. Story via Salon. When you think about it, it may be a miracle your packages got to your door safely. In this case, Amazon naturally passes the buck to the couriers to claim they have nothing to do with it. But keep in mind those couriers DO work out of Amazon warehouses. The article also links to stories of how Amazon also exploits the drivers of those shoddy trucks. 
  • Because there is no shady practice Amazon will not try, turns out the company is using "private labels" it owns to sneak in their own products into the website. This also has an effect to undermine third party sellers, which they also host and make money from even as they do not police them adequately. It is basically a matter of Amazon doing all kinds of shady things to see which one makes them the most money. But hey, as long as people keep double clicking and buying from them, it is all fair, right? Story via Boing Boing

In assorted corporate fuckery

  • Starbucks is not much better when it comes to corporate fuckery. In fact, the labor conditions at so-called "Starbucks certified" plantations are so bad they are basically slavery. As you can see, corporations are happy to have slaves if it helps the bottom line. Story via Truthout

Education news

  • Turns out that the so-called work a public service job and get your student loans forgiven is mostly a scam. So no matter how many years you put in, you are pretty much screwed. In a nutshell, it is a clusterfuck. Story via Boing Boing
  • Speaking of scams, this college cafe has a new one for college students. Free coffee. Except it is not really free. You pay for it with your personal data, and since most young people these days are stupid enough to give their private information out without thinking about consequences when you dangle a freebie in front of them, the scam is working like a charm. Story via NPR. 
  • Another scam? Students in public colleges are paying more and getting less in return. Story via Truthout. Naturally, part of it is the decision of whiny voters refusing to invest in higher education, voting in politicians, mainly Party of Stupid politicians, who promise lower taxes and austerity. Where the fuck did you think universities would then get funding from to keep operating and teaching your bratty kids?  As usual with stuff like this, as long as it was the low income and people of color kids, no one really cared. Now that it is affecting middle class and up kids, suddenly it is an issue. Imagine that. Why is this a problem? Here is a reason: "Fewer graduates means more workers saddled with debt and without a useful degree. This leaves communities with fewer skilled workers who can attract higher paid employers — and exacerbates inequality" 
  • College students who are parents have more difficulty completing a degree, assuming they manage to complete the degree at all. Story via Inside Higher Ed. This story caught my eye in part because the college where I work at has a significant population of "non-traditional" students who are also parents.

News from the government 

  • Some economists predict that the Pendejo In Chief's trade policies could drive the United States into a recession by 2020. Story via The Week. Oh well, I am sure fine Americans will just whine it is "fake news." I mean, what do a bunch of academic eggheads know, right?  
  • TSA, the kabuki theater airport security people, are notorious for their bad service and just being an overall pain the ass for travelers. Well, turns out that working in the agency is a nightmare as well. According to this note from Boing Boing, "A new report summarizing three years of investigations from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the TSA calls out the agency for its 'toxic leadership culture, misconduct, mismanagement, whistleblower retaliation and obstruction,' citing these as the reason for the agency's 20% annual attrition rates." Sounds like a charming place to work. 
  • Is FEMA racist when it comes to providing post-disaster aid? Turns out yes, it is. Story via Truthout.
  • Meanwhile, in Alabama, the state government and the Department of Health and Human Services are facing a lawsuit from a Black community, "a lawsuit last week alleging the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Lowndes County Health Department both failed to protect black residents from inadequate sewage systems, which has led to water contamination and an outbreak of an infectious disease prevalent in areas without indoor plumbing." Story via Mother Jones.
    • Speaking of places with poor water service, a county in Eastern Kentucky was so bad that it got a mention on NPR. When people laud the "wonders" of privatizing public services, this is a fine example of what happens: shoddy infrastructure, shitty service, and no accountability whatsoever while people suffer. Story via The Rural Blog.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unemployment has fallen. Story via Truthout. That is good, right? Well, not quite. A lot of the new jobs can be labeled McJobs, and let's be honest, salaries and wages are still very poor. So yea, the economy is still bad. You just have to pay attention to the details.

In Other News of the Bad Economy

Finally, for this week, let's do a roundup of a miscellany of signs the economy is bad:

  • Pickup truck prices are pretty much getting unaffordable for the average Joe. Story via USA Today. Why is that? Well, in part because dude bros love their trucks, and they love to put every possible bell and whistle on their douchemobiles. Naturally, dealers are happy to oblige, making the trucks that much more expensive. How expensive you ask? According the article, "Edmunds' data shows, through September, the average transaction price for a full-size pickup is $48,377, a 48-percent boost from 10 years ago and a 19-percent hike from 2013 for the same period. For that price, a person could buy a Mercedes-Benz or BMW luxury sedan." However, a Mercedes or BMW just does not have that uber macho cachet that a pimped up polished pickup truck that is not used for work but rather for show has. 
  • Also via USA Today, Barnes and Noble is looking at selling itself in the hopes of saving itself long term. Folks, I was here to see when big box bookstores like Barnes and Noble, and the now defunct Borders, drove independent bookstores to the brink of extinction only to watch big box bookstores suffer now because Amazon is driving them to the brink of extinction. Meanwhile, independents have been making a modest comeback by offering things Amazon just cannot offer such as better personal service. So I am not feeling a huge amount of love for Barnes and Noble, which these days seems more like a fancy toy store with some books tossed in. 
  • In news you may have missed, Brazil is expected to buy a lot more soybeans from the U.S. As you may know, with the Pendejo In Chief's trade war with Chinese, the Chinese decided to no longer buy soybeans from the U.S., even though it is a high demand product for the Chinese. This drove the price down on soybeans dramatically. The Chinese then decided to get their soybeans from other growers. Brazil is one of those alternate soybean producers, so they started selling as much as possible of their crop to the Chinese. Well, Brazil needs soybeans at home, and since U.S. soybeans are now dirt cheap, they are buying them up for their domestic market, and the U.S. now gets a pittance on the price in comparison. So much winning. Story via Reuters at Successful Farming. Hat tip to The Rural Blog.
  • Did you know that these days $100 dollars bills are outnumbering $1 dollar bills? Story via Quartz, which links to a new report from the Federal Reserve. I admit that this surprised me a bit. The Better Half is one of those folks who often gets a cash advance from her debit card when she shops. She hates when they try to give her a large bill because aside from a few places like Walmart, spending a $100 dollars bill is next to impossible? Go ahead, try to pay with a $100 in places like a gas station, a convenience store, or many other places that flat out refuse to take them. So she always gets that advance in $20s. However, and here is the interesting part in the story, the reason that $100s are getting popular is that people are hoarding them. Why? Well, from the article, "according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the $100 bill is on the rise as a form of savings. With low inflation and a financial crisis still relatively fresh in people’s memories, more savers than ever are choosing to keep some of their wealth in large-denomination banknotes. And it’s not just Americans. The Fed researchers suggest that people across the world are stashing hundreds under their beds as an alternative in case their local currency takes a dive." Add to this that most savings accounts and other savings instruments offer interest that is basically laughable to the point you are better off storing money under your mattress. Yep, the Benjamins are now the poor people's savings system. 
  • Finally for this week, a story that caught my eye. We would not have much of the Internet as we know it if it were not for sex workers. And in typical Internet fashion, the Internet is now telling those who helped build it to basically fuck off. Story via VICE

Media Notes: Roundup for September 2018

 These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during September 2018.

Movies and films (links to for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise):

  • Saw II (2005. Horror. Thriller). TubiTv added some of the Saw movies this month, so I figured sure, why not. This is the second installment in the series where Detective Eric Matthews, portrayed by Donnie Wahlberg, needs to try to rescue eight new victims trapped in a factory. To complicate things, one of the victims is the detective's son. This second installment is still a good entry in the series before the series became more about the traps and gore and a bit less about the puzzles. In this one, if rules were followed, victims still stood a chance. Good twist at the end.

Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes:

  • Supermarket Sweep (Game show. 1965-2003). I continue watching the 1990s run, with some 2000s, hosted by David Ruprecht, which ran on Lifetime Channel and later on Pax TV, on YouTube this month. See the June roundup post for more comment on this show. One thing I find amusing are small details, specially for the shows in the 1990s; it seems like a more innocent time. Plus some of the products featured are no longer on the shelves or as popular as they were back then. Watched 12 episodes. 
  • Iron Chef (Japan). (1993-2001). I keep watching these via YouTube. 
    • Rice Battle. Masayoshi Kimura, a disciple of Chen Kenmin, Chen Kenichi's father, challenges.  
    • Rice Battle 2. This episode marks the 2-years anniversary of the show. It also is the time when the format of judging went from 3 judges tasting to four, and they added the overtime battles for ties. 
    • Pumpkin Battle. Kensuki Sakai, a chef who cooks fine Italian food out of a food cart, challenges Iron Chef Italian Kobe. 
    • Potato Battle 4. Kentaro the food critic challenges Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi. He happens to also be the son of Katsuyo Kobayashi, a female chef and cooking show hostess who challenged previously. She also challenged Chen in her battle. 
  • Sherlock Holmes (1984-1994. Granada Television Series). The main branch of my local public library had the run of the "Return of Sherlock Holmes" part of this series starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, a favorite of mine. The "Return of Sherlock Holmes" set features four volumes, and they start when Holmes returns after the fall at Reichenbach Falls. (On a side note, I have found other episodes online as well, and I will note when I watch those). 
    • "The Empty House." It has been three years since Sherlock Holmes fell in Reichenbach Falls. Watson has moved on back to his medical practice, and he works part time as a police surgeon. When Lord Adair is murdered, Watson and Inspector Lestrade attempt to solve the case. Suddenly, Holmes reveals himself to Watson, and the hunt is on. 
    • "The Abbey Grange." Lord Eustace Brackenstall, a wealthy man and last of his line, is found murdered out in Kent. The local inspector calls in Sherlock Holmes, but by the time Holmes arrives, Lady Brackenstall has given account of the event, describing the men that murdered her husband. It seems an open and shut case, but Holmes is not quite ready to let it go. He perseveres, finding a trail of violence, a burnt dog, and evidence pointing to a culprit other than the local gang that the lady blamed for her husband's murder. 
    • "The Second Stain." When a very secret letter is stolen from a British government official, the official and the Prime Minister enlist Holmes and Watson to find it before war breaks out if the letter becomes public. A suspect is murdered, and now Holmes has to dig deep to find it. However his powers of observation and deduction save the day. A very nice puzzle for the detective to solve.  
    • "The Six Napoleons." Holmes and Watson are asked to investigate a case of murder and the breaking of six busts of Napoleon throughout London. Holmes needs to figure out what the connection is. A classic story well dramatized. On a trivia note, Marina Sirtis, known for her role as Counselor Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation, makes an appearance in this episode.