Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Gastroenterologists Unite

Yesterday I finished My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist by Mark Leyner.

I am now reading Factotum which has no plot (disclaimer: I'm only a quarter through... I've read other Bukowski) but MC,MG goes beyond that by having no scenes and no characters (at least in the same sense F has no plot.) It was a puzzling book, at times simply fascinating... but never at any point did I sense any narrative, I found no story arc.

This makes me want to read it again to see what I missed, partially because I really like things that appear to be nothing but are, upon further review, just as full, intricate and carefully wrought as widely acknowledged classics of old.

Curious, the book title on it's Amazon page is "My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist: A novel" but the Editorial Review from Publisher's Weekly starts "These 17 loosely linked short stories...." so I guess I'm the only one that's confused.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Props to Shadegg

The Arizona Republic reports that Representative John Shadegg refused funds for his home district and then voted against the highway bill it was to be a part of.
In fact, both Shadegg and fellow Arizona GOP Rep. Jeff Flake said they refused a House leadership offer of $14 million in earmarks for each of their respective districts, money that Shadegg could have steered to the I-17 and Happy Valley Road reconstruction, among other projects.
The $284B bill, which passed overwhelmingly, included more than $12.4B in earmarks.

The problem with attacking pork is that you have to start by giving it up yourself. Which leads to people complaining that you're not helping your home state.

I did not vote for Shadegg back in November (I was one of the 20% (~36,000) who voted for Mark Yannone, LIB) but this makes me more likely to vote for him in 2006. Unfortunately if he keeps voting against spending bills and refusing pork for Arizona he's going to run into trouble with the Republicans 'round here. (To be fair he'd run into just as much trouble with the Democrats were he one of them.)

March is almost over...

and I probably will have only finished my 8th book for the year. I am more than 2/3rds of the way through Leyner's My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist.

I've been to 10 shows (some discussed here, others were the Shemps, the Thermals, Modest Mouse, Mates of State [with Lovers of Guts as an opener], Bettie Serveert and Fatigo/Half-handed Cloud/Bunky) and three Phoenix Symphony concerts.

April looks to be less full that previous years. I've tickets for one PSO concert (Sibelius/Shostakovich) and am planning on seeing Low on the 1st and attending the first day of Coachella on the 30th but inbetween days I'm not sure what's going to happen. Local H is coming back and so is the Good Life but I'm not sure how much this will affect my life. Minus the Beart are opening for somebody but I'm still not sure I like them.

Aww, nuts. I was hoping to catch the Stiletto Formal after the PSO concert but the latter show starts at 6pm. It looks like there are four bands so it's still possible I could make it (let's see, I leave downtown around 9:30; ehh, I could get to Neckbeards by 10. The 6pm may be a Doors anyway which might mean that I could catch them. As long as they play last.

At any rate that's still only three shows for April and - even though one of them is a 12 hour 40 band thing - that's way too few.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Building this blog

Let's see. Yes, this blog is going to have more than just recaps of shows and other music discussion. At least probably. Those are up now because I'm still not used to regular (my meaning is closer to "daily" than to "normal") blogging and those kind of posts are easy for me.

I have, however, decided that I'm not going to link negatively to anything except in aggregate - that is unless I can find (and link to) a large number of people saying the same thing (in different ways, with different sources.) By this I mean I'm not going to point out bad arguments and logical fallacies. I do not mean that I will refrain from linking to anyone I disagree with, I just won't be linking to the ones that come off (to me) as being written incompetently. I will allow myself to link to things I find well written, well thought out and reasonable - even (or especially) if I disagree with the conclusions.

That first Social Security post I had had another example of what I'm not going to do, which is take a quote from someone and try and show how/claim it's wrong. That's just bad, lazy writing. If I can't make a good point without using someone I disagree with as a launchpad then it's not worth going ahead with.

The main reason I'm setting these rules for me is that there are so many opinions out there that you can find basically anything you want and it's far to easy/tempting to imply/pretend that this is how everyone who disagrees with you (or everyone on the "left", etc.) sees the issue. The problem is attacking weak arguments because they're not quite strawmen.

The other reason has to do with is not increase traffic to bad articles, posts, etc. Don't get me wrong, I have no illusions about traffic generated by this site, it's just that that doesn't seem important.

Finally I'll point out that neither of these reasons/goals would be universally good - stupid arguments need to be shot down too and people need to read and be aware of bad arguments so that they can shoot them down themselves - but it seems to me like that market it well covered.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dvorak

Last Thursday the Phoenix Symphony played the overture to The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetena and two pieces by Anton Dvorak, the Cello Concerto (in b) and his 9th Symphony (in e).

I remember the first time I heard his 9th - yes, this was a long time ago, NPR station in Tucson - what went through my mind was "this is good but if afterwards they say what it was and it was Beethoven I'll be disappointed" (yes, long enough ago that could've mistaken somebody that far off for Beethoven, long enough ago that there were Beethoven symphonies that I didn't know.)

Hearing it again, directly after hearing his Cello Concerto (well, after the intermission after the concerto) made me realize that I've greatly overrated this symphony.

The Cello Concerto is odd; it has a lot of beautiful passages for the cello but I find the orchestra uninteresting; I see no logic, no movement, no cohesion.

The 9th symphony is better - it has better high points (like the opening of the finale) for one - but it still doesn't sound like these cool parts fit together in that way.

I don't know. I need to listen to it a few more times - I need to hear again how Mengelberg handled the piece before I'm really going to be happy with my assessment.

That's the fun part, isn't it: I decide I've overrated a piece/composer and that means I need to listen more.

I hate being sick

I missed Erase Errata because I was recovering from being sick. That sucks.

Then I found out that ASU was hosting the Arnold Schoenberg International Conference March 20th - March 22nd, which included three concerts featuring his works (and others like Webern and Kirchner.) I misread when the concerts were so I missed all of them.

Sunday was bad anyway because Erase Errata would take precedence. Monday was bad because I thought the Sunday program was on Monday and when I realized my screw-up it was far too late to go into work early so I could leave early enough for the concert. The problem with today was that I expected to be stuck at work late... which didn't happen - I was able to leave just after 7pm, but there was no way I was going to get to ASU by 7:30pm.

Instead I went to the Old Brickhouse to see Autolux and also Ambulance. I really like Autolux, bought the CD and am hoping to catch their set at Coachella. They play Sunday so it should be chill as long as they're early-ish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Roundup

I've been to three shows since Saturday... and I wanted to wait until after tomorrow's Phoenix Symphony concert but part of me sees that as merely an excuse to put this off... partially because it'll just be another few days before Erase Errata and who knows, for various reasons I may go see Ambulance LTD/Autolux and/or Ash.

At any rate Saturday was the Violet Burning. Michael said that sometimes one was in the mood to just play slow space-rock songs... which is what we got... which is not at all a bad thing. I had not heard any albums since their self-titled in 1996 but that self-titled is one of my favorite albums ever. They opened with 3 songs from there (actually the show began with Mike alone playing Blind) and closed with another (Goldmine) so it didn't really matter what else they played; I was happy. The openers were the Love Blisters (fronted by the cousin of one of my sister's friend that I'd seen before (I had seen my sister and her friend, not either the band nor the cousin)) who had several pretty good songs and a few alright ones. Next came Everett who I think is the house band (the show was at a church; as a friend I ran into the next night (who thought about going to the Violet Burning show but didn't) pointed out, it had been a long time since I've seen a show in a church... and that's not a bad thing.) They played a short set but what I got from them was that they were your basic post-Prickett Vineyard-esque P&W band. They covered Radiohead's Creep, though tellingly they used the lyrics from the radio version and - more damagingly - they played the last chorus loud.

Sunday night was the Futureheads. The opening band were the Lashes from Seattle... I think I actually like them best of the openers. I didn't really pay attention to the High Speed Scene (what I heard didn't catch any interest) but I got a promo CD so I'll try to give it a listen to see if I missed anything. The third band was the Shout Out Louds, a Sweedish band a friend described as sounding like New Order b-sides. They weren't bad. The Futureheads played, according to them (and it makes sense) every song that they know... which lasted around 45 minutes. They were fun enough.

Pretty Girls Make Graves were at the Old Brickhouse Grill on Tuesday night; I went over directly from work so I had a burger there, which was surprisingly good. The only problem was I had it during the opening band, the Stiletto Formal, a local band who probably got the best reception of the night. I'm not sure who to compare them to right now but they have a cellist much like Cursive did when they were around and at times they made think of the Mars Volta in that their music and live show were wild... for now those two points of reference will have to do... but I'll see them again so I can refine my comments. Kill Me Tomorrow were next; they were almost entirely post-guitar expermental rock... or at least post-guitar leads. It was all very rhythm-based with no real lead... the guitar was most often used for weird accents and noises. Dios were next; I have now seen them 5 times. This was the most aggressive mix for them I've heard and I can't remember hearing Nobody's Perfect (their closer) with an outro guitar solo like that before.

PGMG was actually disappointing. I've seen them play much better before, even while rather drunk. The main problem was that their setlist didn't seem to interest the crowd. They played the first 5 songs (that have vocals) from The New Romance, This Is Our Emergency, four or five new songs and closed the main set with The Get Away... and while that is a great song it isn't a powerhouse live. They walked off and the crowd walked away. Andrea kept looking back holding up a finger trying to tell us that they were going to come back and play another song... and eventually the remaining crowd was able to work up some noise... and went crazy when the band came back and played Speakers Push the Air.

I don't mind playing new songs live - it has been a while since their latest album - but especially when you haven't been to a city for over two years (they tried last year but the show was cancelled; I've seen them elsewhere) you don't ignore the old material. I mean, sure, whatever, it's their band, but I don't get it. I can understand being sick of playing the old songs over and over and having the crowd only want to hear the old stuff ("Shine is dead") but that's the business. Hardcore fans who've seen the live show plenty and are themselves sick of the old songs are few and far between... especially in a city you never visit. I'm not going to say that the new songs weren't good... but I really don't remember them.

I am totally serious when I say that I want bands to do what they want, what makes them happy - this is the best way, in aggregate, to get a large supply of new, interesting music - but inevitably this will, in some cases, lead me to be less interested in an artist. If that's the kind of music Liz Phair wants to play now then good for her... but damned if I'm going to listen to it. If that's the kind of live show PGMG wants to put on, good for them... that just means I'm less likely to drive to San Diego again to see it (though who knows, the show probably would've been much better had I heard the songs beforehand... we'll see once the album comes out and I listen to it via Rhapsody.)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Creative

I recently bought a portable digital audio jukebox (err... like an iPod but a Creative Nomad Zen Xtra instead) and I'm quite happy with it. It wasn't the cheapest thing around but it's a good size at 30GB. I wanted the 40GB or 60GB but since neither of those were big enough to hold my music collection as it currently stands I didn't see it as worth the extra money. As it stands I'm going to have to get a new hard-drive to fit everything.

At any rate it has thus far it has worked out just like I planned; I have been working more overtime because I have had something to listen to. My portable CD player recently broke and instead of spending another $70 on a new one I got this - which is much easier to carry back and forth than a pile of CDs.

I don't have a CD changer in my car because I don't listen to music like that; I couldn't pick six (or 10) CDs for the week and leave it at that. As it stands rarely a day goes by without me bringing a couple CDs to the car or back in from the car - and my commute it only 15 minutes each way.

Thus my stack of CDs at worked changed daily - if not more frequently. One thing I will miss is not being able to listen to newly released CDs bought while on lunch on Tuesdays.

UPDATE: Well, I guess I cut the part about how I listen to music: generally by albums, almost never at random. There are times, however, when I am feeling overwhelmed by any number of things (including amount of music I want to listen to right now) when I do go to a random. For this I created a playlist with the cream of the crop... except that I can't seem to make myself leave fantastic songs off of it. This play list (The Cream) currently has 562 tracks, which is 15% of the 3693 total tracks... though the 15% figure is misleading as there are all sorts of fantastically amazing tracks that I have left off (examples: Right Off by Miles Davis, Mogwai Fear Satan by Mogwai and the Adagio from Bruckner's 8th symphony.)

At any rate my point was I worked two hours extra today because I was able to listen to J Church's the Drama of Alienation, Bikini Kill's The Singles and the Kills' No Wow (yeah, now I have to wait until the day after to hear a new CD at work, not a real issue.)

I do, however, have a question: How am I supposed to refer to this thing in, say, casual conversation? "Creative Nomad Zen Xtra" is a mouthful and meaningless to most people; lopping off any set of those words shortens the name but leaves nothing that is actually any better. "Portable digital audio jukebox" is ridiculous and the acronym isn't any better. I almost want to call it an "iPod" - the pros being recognizability and subtle erosion of Apple's brand name; the main con being that it reinforces the idea that iPods are the only option out there. "MP3 player" has much the same pros and con of "iPod" but it makes me think of a ridiculously small (in capacity, mainly) item which is therefore insignficant to one's basic listening life (i.e. something one'd just use while at the gym or some such.)

Ideas?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

My Queue

Note: This post appeared originally on 01/01/05 on the Down With blog. I updated it there for a while but since I'm going to keep at it I'm going to clean it up a little and transfer it here. And I'm going to work on including more comments on what I'm reading (in new posts.)

I was inspired by this post from the Smart Bohemian:

Keeping track of Books Bought and Books Actually Read .... [and] not allowing myself to buy new books (with few exceptions), thus forcing me to read the ones I already have. This could be combined with another gimmick, say, starting from authors beginning with A and seeing how far I get.

My first response was that it's impossible to not buy new books in order to force yourself to read the ones you have in the queue (or, at least, it is impossible for me to do that because I have no self-discipline.) I love browsing bookstores (especially used bookstores) as much as I love browsing CD stores (especially used CD stores)... but inevitably I end up wanting to buy a few souvenirs... I mean, what fun is it to just find F/32 if you can't take it home with you to commemorate the event? Then I decided that... well, it might be worth a try anyway. Or, rather, making overtures in that direction should produce more results than just hoping for the best... thus I shall list, for all to laugh at, my queue.

This list is going to be all fiction (including dramatic fiction, i.e. plays) mainly because that's the brunt of my reading.

For plays I'm only going to include books with a single play... I'm not going to, for example, list plays in Six Plays of Strindberg I have yet to get to; there are a number of collections like this that I'm cycling through non-linearly... which makes tracking difficult. I also read a lot of poetry but it's more difficult to deal with. Also there are about 9 books of poetry that I'm semi-actively reading through (cycling through non-linearly) and a few others I haven't started. I'm not going to include philosophical or religious texts because I'm not going to. I'm not going to include Durant's Story of Civilization series but I am going to keep soldiering on through. I'm not going to include any other historical partially because there are almost none and partially just because. I'm not going to include anything else because that's all I can think of.

As of 01/01/05 I had no in-process novels. I'm in the middle of 60 Stories by Donald Barthleme but since it was started in 2004 it won't go on the list.

Yikes. Oh, well. Here goes nothing:

UPDATE: At the end of 2005 there are 58 books are currently in the queue (this includes no in-process) and there are 6,558 pages of finished reading through 23 books (12/31/05.) Also, yes, I understand that "pages" sucks as a counter - for example Pattern Recognition was about 75 pages longer than F/32 but the latter had more words and took longer. Oh well, I'm not going back to estimating words in a book, I don't care that much. Yet.
  • Acker, Kathy: Don Quixote - I've read two books by her (Empire of the Senseless; Blood and Guts in High School) and like both. I don't see her stuff used very often so I tend to pick it up when I do.
  • same: Great Expectations - (continued from above:) Hence two books from that same author where neither is exceedingly high in the queue. Other than alphabetically, that is.
  • Barthleme, Donald: The Dead Father
  • same: The King
  • Cervantes: Don Quixote - Bought at the same time as Acker's take-off. It's very long.
  • Conrad, Joseph: Lord Jim
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor: The Idiot - I've come a long ways from reading one chapter of Crime and Punishment for senior (high school) English.
  • Eco, Umberto: Foucault's Pendulum - This was recommended to me (sort of) like 8 years ago when I jokingly wrote a rather paranoiac analysis of the lyrics of Dream Theater. This book isn't mine; a friend loaned it to me... uhh... a year ago (to the day.)
  • Faulkner, William: Soldiers' Pay - My favorite author, hands down.
  • same: The Reivers
  • same: The Hamlet
  • Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Short Stories of... - Almost 800 pages yet still only a collection.
  • Fo, Dario: Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas - I think I have one or two remaining in a separate book of plays that I'll read before getting to this one.
  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von: The Sorrows of Young Werther - his plays are good.
  • Ionesco, Eugene: Killing Game - Of the books on this list this may be the one I've had the longest. I've read a lot of Ionesco, have not yet gotten to this one (duh.)
  • Joyce, James: Finnegan's Wake - I also have A Shorter Finnegan's Wake as edited by Anthony Burgess.
  • Lem, Stanislaw: The Star Diaries
  • Mamet, David: The Cryptogram
  • Nabokov, Vladimir: Bend Sinister
  • same: Ada
  • Proust, Marcel: Swann's Way - I figured eventually I need to get to A la recherche du temps perdu ... but not in French.
  • Rand, Ayn: Atlas Shrugged - OK, I hated We the Living but... I don't know how to finish that sentence.
  • Robinson, Kim Stanley: The Years of Rice and Salt - He has a newer one that I, surprisingly, have not yet bought (because I haven't started this one.)
  • Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - I haven't read any of these books. And I've only seen one of the movies (the 2nd one, because my sister had seen the first one and was kind enough to stick around while I was drugged up after having my last wisdom teeth out. I may read the first one first, I may not read any of them; occasionally it's nice to rip right through a long book - which is what I expect here.
  • Shaw, Bernard: Man and Superman - I haven't read any Shaw. There, I've admitted it.
  • Steinbeck, John: The Grapes of Wrath - I have, however, read Steinbeck. Just not this one.
  • Sturgeon, Theodore: The Cosmic Rape - I need to go back to Ellison's intro to Angry Candy (which was better than any of the shorts) and see what other sci-fi authors he lamented. The two Alfred Bester novels I read were necessary and I liked the first Strugeon novel I read. Here's another.
  • same: Starshine - And here's some short stories.
  • Queneau, Raymond: Zazie in the Metro - Louis Malle directed a film adaptation of this book. I haven't seen any Malle. There, I've said it. As much as I'd like to end this little note on that I don't have any more Queneau in the queue so I need this space to say that Queneau is an odd one.
  • Welsh, Irvine: Filth
  • Welsh, Irivine: Marabou Stork Nightmares - Trainspotting was brilliant, I tried to start... I think this one. Several years ago. I need to try these again.
  • Woolf, Virginia: Jacob's Room - I bought this one to get The Waves (two novels in one volume.) Now I'm trying to figure out if I liked that one more than To the Lighthouse. Her prose is just gorgeous... Nabokov (when he tries for that sort of thing) and Faulkner are the only I know that are in the same class.
  • same: Orlando
  • same: A Haunted House and Other Short Stories - I've actualy read 3 (of 18) so this could count as in-process (along with the Dick and Barthelme.)
    • New Addtions (bought in 2005 - I didn't even last two weeks before the first lapse)
  • Burgess, Anthony: A Dead Man in Deptford
  • Lawrence, D.H.: The Complete Short Stories (volume 2)
  • Mamet, David: Wilson
  • Colette: The Collected Stories - OK, I'm not sure where I heard about her or why I figured I needed the book when I saw it... but... oh well. It's here. Five books (i.e. this one and the four that follow in this list - the Collected Stories is not in five volumes) cost me a total of $9.95 so I'm not real worried.
  • Heinlein, Robert: Assignment in Eternity
  • same: The Menace from Earth
  • Johnson, Denis - The Name of the World
  • Jones, Terry - Douglas Adams' Starship Titanic
  • Durrell, Lawrence - Mountolive
  • same - Clea
  • Celine, Louis-Ferdinand - Guignol's Band
  • Egan, Greg - Permutation City
  • Gates, David - Jernigan
  • Mamet, David - The Water Engine and Mr. Happiness (plays)
  • Smith, E. E. - Triplanetary
  • Stephenson, Neal - The System of the World [I didn't buy this.]
  • Acker, Kathy - In Memoriam to Identity
  • Garland, Alex - The Coma
  • Johnson, Denis - Resuscitation of a Hanged Man
  • Bukowski, Charles - Septuagenarian Stew (Stories and Poems)
  • Niven, Larry and Jerry Pournelle - Lucifer's Hammer
  • O'Brien, Flann - The Third Policeman
  • Morgan, Richard - Altered Carbon
  • Marcus, Ben - The Age of Wire and String

Now what I'd really want would be for people to comment upon these works; which one's should head the list, which ones I should not bother with, what's missing, how long I you think I can hold out before breaking.

Also: This color means I have yet to read the book, let's say I'll use mauve (or whatever that is) for what I've finished and green for short comments on what I thought (longer comments will have their own blog post.)

UPDATE 03/28/05: I've decided to list the completed books down here. Also I've realized that I'm not doing very well at being consistant with the color scheme. Oh well.

  • Stephenson, Neal: The Confusion - Speaking of ripping right through a long book.... Just borrowed this one (from the same guy I got the Eco from - yes, he's willing to loan me another book) and this is the next one I'm going to start. Then, eventually, someone else will loan me The System of the World or, who knows, I could give in and buy it myself. Only having read the first one of the cycle I'm figuring that it all could easily be considered one 2700 page book; we'll see how that turns out. Eventually. I predict I'll be done with this one before the new moon. - Wow. I do need a break before I go and get The System of the World but.... Anyway F/32 is next.
  • Eurudice: F/32 - OK, fine, I didn't find this in a used bookstore; I bought it on eBay for about $4 which still shocked me... I didn't expect to find this. Ever. It's been on my notification list at Powell's for a while but I had started to doubt that there were enough copies out there for that to yield anything. Also I forget why, exactly, I wanted this one - that is to say where I got it in my head that I needed to read this. I finished this while camping and went fairly directly into the Gibson. This book was, well, odd. This is one reason I wanted to read it. Anyway the bit with Jessey Norman was just sublime.
  • Gibson, William: Pattern Recognition - Done. Less than seven days, this one. See comments in their own entry on 02/19/05. I don't know what's next. [Note: comments were posted to a different blog.][Bought in 2005]
  • Calvino, Italo: The Baron in the Trees - I liked this book but it was a little too effective at aping and 18th century styles and conforming to their conventions for me. I mean, it's clever but it's still, in the end, a little silly.
  • Aldiss, Brian: Supertoys Last All Summer Long and other stories of Future time - Short stories, now complete. They were interesting without striking much of a chord. The titular story was similar enough to that portion of A.I. but the other two short stories in the cycle and Kubrick/Spielberg's movie have little in common (tone, plot, purpose, etc.) The stories were filled with environmenal and other typically leftist themes (I don't remember the Westerners in A.I. mentioning their surgically inserted bioengineered tape worms) though many would not see that as fair. [Bought in 2005]
  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von: Egmont - did I mention that I adore Iphigenia auf Tauris?
  • Card, Orson Scott: Shadow Puppets - Done. This one was real quick. Very light, very much like the other books in the Shadow series (a subset of the Ender series) in that clever things are going on but you don't have to worry about understanding anything because Card is very eager to have everyone understand how clever his characters are. [Bought in 2005]
  • Leyner, Mark: My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist - See the seperate entry. Also I'll note that I' m counting the "About the Author" bit at the end (in the page count) because it, at least, was brilliant.
  • Bukowski, Charles: Factotum - Not much different from Ham on Rye... excpet with less plot development. Interesting though. I liked the end, the last chapter was built nicely and appeared to be gearing up for something... yet it ended anticlimactically (Err, sorry, but I'm serious about being impressed by this.) [Bought in 2005]
  • Wright, Richard: Native Son - See the seperate entry.
  • Egan, Greg: Diaspora - See the seperate entry. I've been doing more seperate entries because this post is hidden in the archives of this blog. [Bought in 2005]
  • Durrell, Lawrence - Justine - When I found out what Durrell was doing with these books I had to have them. I am about halfway through this, it is very, very good. And no, it hasn't taken me 20 days to get this far; I worked on some non-queue reading before starting Justine. - I don't have a whole lot to say on this one. The prose was beautiful in a very dense way. I'm guessing that I'll have more about this one once I've read the others; that plan is certainly still on... well, at least the reading them all before too long part. I plan on finishing all four this year... but I'll probably read more than a single book inbetween days [Bought in 2005]
  • Palaniuk, Chuck: Diary - What can I say? Chuck is Chuck. Invisible Monsters feels like a first book (it's not entirely shocking that it was rejected... though I'm not knocking it) but he hasn't really stopped since he got mad and wrote Fight Club. [Bought in 2005]
  • Farmer, Philip Jose: Father to the Stars - See the seperate entry. [Bought in 2005]
  • Carson, Ann: Glass, Irony and God - I keep liking Carson's work. I also keep needing to reread everything she writes because it is generally so short. [Bought in 2005]
  • Mishima, Yukio: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea - Not sure what to say. I'm not yet ready for The Sea of Fertility - his quartet on 20th century Japan - but I certainly want to keep reading his books. I have not seen them around much, however. [Bought in 2005]
  • Saunders, George: Pastoralia - Short stories. This author - along with Ben Marcus and Judy Budnitz were recommended by someone who's name I didn't get with whom I talked at the Electrelane show. From the Boston Globe quote on the back cover: Saunders is "a master of the self-flagellating interior monologue." Very good, modern fiction. [Bought in 2005]
  • Durrell, Lawrence: Balthazar - started near the end of the Midwest trip. See the seperate entry. [Bought in 2005]
  • Palahniuk, Chuck - Haunted - When I bought Diary the clerk pointed out that they had first edition copies of his new one available. "That's a bunch of short stories, right?" I was talking about Haunted, I was just mistaken. I hadn't realize it is a novel - in much the way Pale Fire is considered a novel. [I - do I really need to say this? - don't mean to imply that Haunted is (anywhere near) as good as the Nabokov. For one I have no idea, I haven't read the former, for two, there are less than a dozen books as good as Pale Fire so the odds that any single book is in that neighborhood are miniscule, and for three, that whole bit about mentioning two things in the same sentence automatically implying that you're wholly equating the two is ridiculous. Godwin's rule is practical/useful but only because people are stupid about such things.] - There are comments on this book included in a seperate entry.
  • O'Brien, Flann - At Swim-Two-Birds - Quite delightful. There are comments elsewhere, but yes, I did finish the book; it just took me a lot longer than I had expected. [Bought in 2005]
  • Cooper, Kim - 33 1/3: In The Aeroplane over the Sea - There are comments elsewhere. [Bought in 2005]
  • Le Guin, Ursula K - The Left Hand of Darkness - My first Le Guin book. It was strong; there was a lot going on that was left unexplained. That is to say she didn't fall into the OSC-ian trap of explaining all the cool things she was doing. The universe was interesting and the story was good. There was a long stretch near the end that moved a bit slowly but I think that was on purpose, preparing the reader for the big and glorious ending. [Bought in 2005]
  • Fante, John - Ask the Dust - In looking for info on Bukowski I heard Fante mentioned as an influence. This is clearly correct, though CB lays it on a little thicker. And this was a better story than anything I've read from CB. [Received in 2005]

I'm not doing so well at not buying books but I am, at least, reading the books I buy. Or, at the very least, I haven't read a book bought before 2005 in two months.

UPDATE, December: I shall be rewriting this and reposting for 2006. I'll reorganize the list and probably add a short list of what I actually expect to start up next (when I have ideas on such.) I also may kick myself in the pants for adding 25 books to the queue that were not read (compared to the 16 books acquired in 2005 that were read.) Oh, my. That means that I only actually knocked 7 books off my pre-2005 reading list. That's just terrible.

Introduction

OK, I was kind of acting like a blog squatter at a group blog for our fantasy sports leagues. There really wasn't much that belonged there so I wasn't in anybodies way. But at any rate I was using that as my blog but I figured I wanted some privacy. I'm sure to get it here.

I'll occasionally talk about politics (like the previous post) but more often posts will be on assorted nonsense like music, books, movies and whatever.

Also I'll probably say things like "this post is really just filler right now, it'll get deleted once it is no longer necessary."

This post is really just filler right now, it'll get deleted once it is no longer necessary.

Social Security: The Transition to SSPAMA

You can't throw a brick these days without hitting someone talking about Social Security.

What I haven't heard, however, is anyone commenting on what I think the actual problem is. The scariest part of it all is that I'm actually starting to think that something like the Bush partial private accounts plan would be help things. But I'm not going there just yet.

First off, the problem isn't that the Social Security Board made payments to people who didn't pay into the system. The first payments were made to workers who retired shortly after the Social Security program began. Thus the problem isn't that the SSB started paying out to already retired workers who never paid in. SSA (the name was changed, Board to Administration) is a get what you give program; it is not a pyramid scheme, it is not a Ponzi scheme, it is a mandatory retirement savings plan.

At any rate, at first glance we should expect the SSA to have a huge wad of cash sitting around. There are three main reasons that there is no huge wad of cash.

The first there is administrative costs for all this; issuing cards and keeping track of everyone's earnings. This accounted for $8.5 billion for FY 2004 (numbers taken from the FY 2006 budget, which has 2004 actuals.)

The second is that other benefits are paid out; the total for General Fund payments (mostly Suplemental Security Income (SSI)) was $36.4 billion for FY 2004. One might count Disabilty Insurance (DI) in this category too, that would add $78.6 billion.

I don't consider these first two reasons to be problems. The Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) payouts (i.e. payment to workers, their spouses and minor dependants) were $417.3 billion, or 77% of the total. The SSA Income is still much higher than those Outlays [for 2002 (the last year I can find data for) we have income at $615 billion and outlays t $490 billion; for 2001 it was $597 billion against $465 billion.]

The third reason is that the system requires money to be saved. This, in government, does not work. Charles Krauthammer described the situation thusly:
Let's start with basics. The Social Security system has no trust fund. No lockbox. When you pay your payroll tax every year, the money is not converted into gold bars and shipped to some desert island, ready for retrieval when you turn 65. The system is pay as you go. The money goes to support that year's Social Security recipients. What's left over is "lent" to the federal Treasury. And gets entirely spent. It vanishes. In return, a piece of paper gets deposited in a vault in West Virginia saying that the left hand of the government owes money to the right hand of the government.
It is only a "pay as you go" system because the money isn't saved. The surplus goes to the the federal treasury. Money taken in for Social Security goes to fund other government programs. This is the heart of the problem. The surplus is drying up which means less funding for other governmental programs. SSA money is from an established, accepted tax rather than a new and unpopular tax.

The sideshow on whether or not there is a trust fund is a meaningless diversion on accounting. First off, there would be a large trust fund had the surpluses been loaned out to responsible debtors but this didn't happen; the money went to the U.S. government. That $132 billion in 2001 and $125 billion in 2002 was spent on whatever the hell else the government does.

Anyway, if you choose to view the trust fund as imaginary (i.e. that the government is the government) then it doesn't matter that SSA will have more Outlays than Incomes in 2018 (or whenever) as you are ignoring this internal accounting. The "pieces of paper" that matter are not what one part of the government owes to another but what the government owes to it's citizens. That is people have been paying into a system (not by a direct choice) that has promised post-retirement and other payments. The issue is this government debt to the workers of the nation, not intra-government accounting. The money has to come from somewhere (i.e. cuts to other government programs or increased revenues.)

If you choose to view the trust fund as real (i.e. viewing seperate government programs as seperate) then, well, it doesn't really change anything. The money still has to come from other government programs or increased revenues... it's just we have IOUs which explicitly state which programs are going to get cut (or will have to borrow from elsewhere.)

I don't know of any easy solution to the problem that SSA cannot save the money workers pay in payroll taxes. I no longer think that minor changes to SSA are the solution. SSA shouldn't have a surplus if it can't actually save it. I don't want the benefits paid to me to consist of papers that read "The money that would've gone to you was used to fund a national park in Utah" or "Your retirement benefits were used to buy ammunition for the training of Navy Seals" or "A donation was been made in your name to the Human Fund."

Someone said "I will keep Social Security in a lockbox, and that pays down the national debt and the interest savings I would put right back into Social Security. That extends the life of Social Security for 55 years" almost five years ago and got ridiculed for it.

The current plan by the man who beat him calls for allowing workers the option of sending some of their payments into private accounts. I can't find any good details on this but (a) he keeps emphasizing that benefits will not be reduced for those over 55 which says to me that benefits probably will be reduced for those under 55 and (b) the reason benefits will be reduced is that sending money into private accounts will take money away from the general fund.

If these would be literal private accounts it could be a good thing in that the government would have less funds to loan to itself and then threaten to default on. If there cannot be a lockbox then the government shouldn't get the damned money. My quick and dirty attempt at mapping out a solution would go like this (essentially a mirror of the start of Social Security):
  • Starting in 2010 the money the SSA gets in payroll taxes drops to 1.43%; enough to fund SSI, DI and administration (i.e. 23% of 6.2%) with the following exception:
    • Those 50 (as of 01/01/10) and over may choose to continue to pay Social Security taxes at the old rate and receive their retirement benefits as if nothing ever changed.
  • OASI benefits continue to be paid out to those who have paid in with no changes except for the exception noted below. Funds come from general Treasury. This will be a crippling amount for a while it will whittle away to nothing.
    • Those who have paid Social Security taxes for less than 5 (or 10) years (as of 01/01/10) will receive their benefits (accrued over only a few years) as a lump sum paid upon retirement.
  • SSI and DI benefits continue as before.
  • The SSA spawns off SSPAMA (Social Security Private Accounts Managment Administration) and will oversee the private retirement accounts. Workers will continue to get their 6.2% deducted from their paycheck but most of it (4.77% of their paycheck) will be put into a private retirement account. The worker will have some choice as to how to invest the funds but it'll have to be low-risk (in aggregate, at least) so that there's something left upon retirement even if you make stupid decisions.
I'm not, however, sure why I bothered writing that out. I made it effective in 2010 because it has some nice zeros and should give enough time to work out the details of the changes but it's still not going to happen even if someone comes up with a better name.

New, eh

This isn't going to stay here. This is just so there's something here, eh.

UPDATE: OK, fine. This is going to stick around. Whatever. It'll also have my name, John Haveman, so that it's here somewhere.