I hate when people announce a series. Usually when I announce a series, it just doesn’t happen. Like talking about something you’re writing, it makes it hard to finish, because talking about it makes it exist a little and that means you can move on. I prefer to move on. But I see no way around it: this is the first in a series of Concurrent Events. Hold on to yr butts.
At the crash of a Bank, vague, mediocre, gray.
Currency, that terrible precision instrument, clean to the conscience, loses any meaning.
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I read maybe a weird amount about finance and economics. I’m not entirely sure why: it’s not as if I have the means, educational or otherwise, to evaluate the truth of what I’m reading. Felix Salmon is one of my favorite writers in this area. He and others have been talking up this post by Steve Waldman as uniquely informative and thought-provoking. I read it and I felt that this was fair, and then I started thinking (as I will so-painfully-predictably do) about its applications to writing. You should read the whole thing, but I’ve put together a short version (with most of the assertions and very little of the evidence-by-example, the gold standard of persuasion!).
I’ll summarize in advance: finance in general, and banks in particular, are hopelessly complex and opaque, but this is basically a good thing. It allows us to trick ourselves into investing despite our naturally risk-averse nature by hiding the risk inherent to investment. Economic development requires us to solve a classic collective action problem: nobody wants to be the first to invest, but we need broad investment and many failed enterprises in order to generate returns–and benefits in terms of human welfare. Banks help us to move past this problem by lying to us (though they themselves believe the fiction). They can’t eliminate risk, but they can and do hide it. This opacity allows them to commit fraud and other shady activities, but it’s probably necessary to develop something like modern civilization. My edited-down version of Waldman’s argument, and some attempts to link this to writing and reading, are after the fold: READ MORE >
If you’re related to me, don’t read the rest of this sentence: I got most of the people in my family books this year for Christmas. I don’t usually do that, actually. For a writer, it seems rather hazardous. Because, for one thing, though I love my family and I want them to be happy, I’m not going to intentionally purchase things that I consider truly shitty on their behalf. But on the other hand I’m not going to go out and buy them, say, the FC2 catalogue just because I happen to like it; that would be a Real Dick Move. But even once I’ve negotiated that mess and found the place where my tastes and those of a given family member overlap, there’s still the risk that you’re essentially giving someone homework for Christmas. The fact that I want to read a book someday has nothing at all to do with whether or not I want to read it now. By giving someone a book, you either rob them of that decision or, more likely, give them something that they’re going to feel guilty about for several months (or even years) but likely never actually read. But this post isn’t about giving books for Christmas, really. It’s about ebook pricing. READ MORE >
“The Mona Lisa Curse,” by Robert Hughes. Part one of six.
UPDATE: “Apart from drugs, Art is the biggest unregulated market in the world.”
Over on the Versal blog, one of the editors (Megan M. Garr) talks about the impossible economics of publishing a literary magazine and there’s a great discussion taking place in the comments. Money and literary magazines–there are no easy answers. The whole post is worth reading. After a conversation with some strategy consultants, he writes:
They were appalled by some of the cliches we throw around every day. Like, writers are poor. Like, people submit to journals they’ve never read. Like, bookstores buy the journal at a 40% discount. Like, bookstores don’t even buy it, they just take it on consignment.
I was floating after that meeting. I took a breath, got some perspective, confirmation that we navigate somewhat crazy waters here, that we model ourselves after the socialist university mags or the utopian zines but we’re actually crashing against regular-old capitalist realities. So of course our survival has become rather freaktified and precarious.
The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be “free” because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade. — Julian Assange
2. “Watching porn’s usually like watching a melancholy documentary to me, a documentary about sex as a failed utopia or something, I don’t know.” –Dennis Cooper
3. Similarly, identity becomes fluid: Weems is Ellen is Caden is Weems etc. –an excellent sound-guided review of Synecdoche, NY in a great all-sound issue of Reverse Shot
4. They pierced the envelope of the earth. Or at least found some exit. –from Thy Son Liveth
6. What we call deflation, an earlier culture might have called, “God abandoning the world.” –Sacred Economics, by Charles Eisenstein