Barack Obama is off on vacation and the White House dutifully published the president’s annual summer holiday reading list. How great, I thought. I too would like to have a reading list. And a summer and a vacation to go with it.
Unfortunately, there is little I can do about the summer (apart from growling ‘go away, London rain!’) or about getting a vacation (‘everyone else is away, Julia, we need some human meat in the office’). But that did not stop me. I did a trip to the bookstore and - tada! - can now present to you My Summer Vacation Reading List Without Summer or Vacation:
Top of the list is David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, a collection of hilarious short stories about his childhood, including one about a midget guitar teacher and another about a mean speech therapist. Having bought Sedaris I just had to also get David Rakoff’s Half Empty, his latest collection of poignant essays. I have high hopes for Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad after a lot of friends told me it’s great. Problem is that the guy in the book store said it sucks and told me to read Gary Shteyngard’s Super Sad Love Story instead, which I just had to get anyway because I love the title so much. And finally, there is David Carr’s autobiography The Night of the Gun. Even if the Page One movie had some terrible reviews (I haven’t seen it yet) I am nevertheless intrigued by the drug and alcohol fuelled past of Mr. Carr, one brilliant journalist.
Do let me know if you think there are others that should go into my suitcase, which I am not packing.
— From London.
Peter Costello, US credit rating downgrade could be a blessing in disguise.
My point exactly. You can rail and rant about how credit rating agencies are scumbags who like nothing more than to inaccurately evaluate the state of your debt for the sole purpose of throwing international markets and the global economy into disarray, or you could just bite the fucking bullet, listen to Mr. Buffett, and fix your goddam finances.
The Economist has a chart about how the US debt (and debt projection) compares with other AAA countries (especially France, who is said to be next on S&P’s list). However you put it, it is not glorious. And as hard as it may be to justify a downgrade for the US, it is just as hard to argue against it.
— Thanks to indefensible, from SF.
PS: you are all following The Economist’s Twitter feed, at the very least, right?
As I walked down Victoria Street yesterday afternoon, I saw shops closed at an unusually early hour. Many had notes on their doors apologizing to customers for the inconvenience caused but because of recent events they had decided to close already. In Victoria station, two policemen stared at a large plasma screen with flickering BBC headlines that said how the government was deploying thousand more riot police in London that night.
Ever since I saw the first pictures of houses on fire and vandals breaking into stores in Tottenham last weekend, I asked myself why. Roaming around the newspapers and blogs for the last two days, I didn’t find much in terms of answers. In a way it seems that even the perpetrators didn’t quite know. One young man, kicking a trash can into the street, was asked by a NYTimes reporter why he was rioting. He just shrugged.
As attempts to understand the reasons behind such violence and destruction go, they can easily be misunderstood for excuses. But it’s important to say at this point that there is a big difference in understanding the reason for an action and accepting it as inevitable. Here is a collection of explanation attempts:
1: The lost society. “They project anarchy in public because it is what surrounds them at home.” (The Centre for Social Justice)
“Savagery is a possibility within us all. Some of us have been lucky enough not to have to call upon it for survival; others, exhausted from failure, can justify resorting to it.” (Camila Batmanghelidjh, social worker)
“Many of the people involved are likely to have been from low-income, high-unemployment estates, and many, if not most do not have much of a legitimate future.” (John Pitts, criminologist)
Louis James was one of the looters. “’No one has ever given me a chance; I am just angry at how the system works,’ Mr. James said. He would like to get a job at a retail store but admits that he spends most days watching television and just trying to get by. ‘That is the way they want it,’ he said, without specifying exactly who ‘they’ were.” (NYTimes)
2: No fear of consequences. “It’s a glorified mugging, in other words, conducted by people who ask not what they can do for themselves, but what other people should have done for them and who may have mugged before, on a smaller scale, and found it to be without consequence.” (Guardian)
3: Materialism. “I heard two girls arguing about which store to steal from next. ‘Let’s go Boots?’ ‘No, Body Shop.’ (…) The girl came out of the shop nonchalantly as if she’d done her weekly shop at 4.30am.” (Guardian)
@Mslulurose tweeted: The Youth of the Middle East rise up for basic freedoms.The Youth of London rise up for a HD ready 42” Plasma TV #londonriots
“How can you cease to believe in law and order, a moral universe, co-operation, the purpose of existence and yet still believe in sportswear? How can you despise culture but still want the flatscreen TV? Alex Hiller, a marketing and consumer expert at Nottingham Business School points out that there is no conflict between anomie and consumption: ‘If you look at Baudrillard and other people writing in sociology about consumption, it’s a falsification of social life. Adverts promote a fantasy land. Consumerism relies upon people feeling disconnected from the world.” (Guardian)
— From London.
“In Clapham Junction, the only shop left untouched was Waterstone’s, and the looters of Boots had, unaccountably, stolen a load of Imodium. So this kept Twitter alive all night with tweets about how uneducated these people must be and the condition of their digestive systems.”
The Guardian’s Zoe Williams takes a stab at explaining the “psychology of looting”. (Waterstone’s is a book store chain, Boots a chemist and Imodium treats diarrhea.)
It’s a laudable attempt and funnier written than many others I read but doesn’t make understanding what happened in London and the rest of Britain any easier. I’m working on a collection that I hope to post later today.
— From London. Sad but safe.