Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Marketability Of [dim-witted] Chaos

Prediction: Get impeached, hand off the reigns, write a book, reality-show spinoff.
Seems like a lucrative strategy.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

David Beckham Completed the 22 Push-up Challenge on Top of a Piano in His Underwear

Taking awareness to bizarre extremes.
The 22 push-up challenge (find more about the cause here) has reached a certain caliber of British male celebrity. These men, like Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham, carry out their charge while gently ribbing their fellow wildly famous peers. It’s Internet boyfriends joking with each other while doing feats of physical strength for a good cause. How can a person even top that? It seems like a person couldn’t even top that!
Well, David Beckham, former footballer, current underwear model, and love-at-first-sight subscriber, did top that. He accepted an invitation from Ritchie to do 22 push-ups for 22 days. The first day he completed his daily allotment in the aisle of an airplane, which showed ingenuity. Visually, it was nothing to write home about, except to say, maybe, that David Beckham is raising awareness while 30,000 feet in sky.
On the second day, however, he finished 22 push-ups in his underwear next to some wine on top of a piano, while his friend David Gardner played something soothing. Now, that‘s how you get attention. He set a high bar early on, so we’re left to wonder what he’s going to do on the seventh day? Or the 12th? Or the 16th day for that matter? Hopefully more weird stuff at high altitudes all in the name of raising awareness. Feel free to dream up your own scenarios.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Journal Report worth sharing - can you imagine if apple made stuff here? unless there's major overhauls in tax laws forget it
Thought it timely to repost this from a Journal Report that came out the other day:
June 7, 2016 10:05 p.m. ET
After a long decline, manufacturing is returning to the U.S. Now it may be time for U.S. policy makers to give it an extra boost.
Insights from The Experts
The Auto Industry Goes on a Diet
3-D Printing’s Next Frontier: Metal
China’s Changing Manufacturing Strategy
Smart Technology Meets Old Machinery
Help Wanted: Manufacturers Seek Millennials
The U.S. shed 5.7 million manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2010—more than a third of the manufacturing workforce—as companies abandoned plants and workers in favor of low-cost foreign countries. But in recent years, manufacturing employment has grown slightly as the auto industry rebounded and domestic plants became more cost-competitive with those of other countries where manufacturing expenses have escalated because of higher wages.
Now researchers, politicians and business leaders are coming forward with strategies to accelerate job gains and investment in manufacturing. Their ideas range from pruning regulations that raise the cost and effort of running a manufacturing operation to imposing a value-added tax on imports to beefing up training programs so companies have an easier time finding skilled workers.
Reviving the manufacturing sector won’t be easy—but, these advocates argue, it’s crucial. Manufacturing is one of the best generators of wealth for an economy, requiring processes, materials and work skills that create employment and profits at each step in an assembly. Countries that don’t make anything eventually start to lose their edge in research and product development.
“Manufacturing and design drive each other,” says Steven Schmid, an aerospace and mechanical engineering professor at the University of Notre Dame. “If you lose one, you’ll lose the other, too.”

The U.S.’s reliance on foreign-made goods provides a conduit for trillions of dollars to leave the country. The U.S. trade deficit—the difference between what is imported and what the U.S. exports—amounted to $500 billion, or about 3% of total U.S. GDP last year.
That money is used by foreign investors to purchase assets in the U.S., such as real estate or stocks, or to lend to Americans who are increasingly willing to become debt-saddled consumers. Left unchecked, the trade deficit will continue to soak up the country’s wealth and manufacturing know-how, with little more than IOUs to show for it.
Here’s a look at some of the proposed strategies for getting U.S. manufacturing back on track.
Make exports more valuable
Under a plan promoted by investor Warren Buffett, companies that export goods from the U.S. would accumulate certificates equal to the value of their exports. But companies that wanted to import goods would have to purchase certificates from exporters.
The certificates, the thinking goes, would create two desired reactions. U.S. exporters, with a cash cushion from the sale of their certificates, could offer U.S.-made goods to foreign customers at lower prices, making them more competitive and shrinking the trade deficit over time. Meanwhile, foreign-made items imported into the U.S. would become more expensive to reflect the cost of import certificates, making U.S.-made goods more cost competitive with cheap imports.
Maker MeasuresThe state of manufacturing in the U.S. and its importance to the broader economy and trade balance
Economic Engine
Manufacturing has a big impact on the U.S. economy. Each dollar of value added in these areas generates the following amounts of additional transactions:
Chronic Condition
The total U.S. trade deficit, and the trade deficit in goods, mostly from manufacturing, which has more than offset a surplus in services.
Sluggish Output
U.S. manufacturing production turned up quickly after the recession, but growth has slowed. Quarterly figures, seasonally adjusted, 2009 = 100.
Fewer Hands
U.S. manufacturing employment (monthly figures) was trending lower before plunging during the recession. Recovery has been slow.

Sources: Daniel J. Meckstroth, MAPI Foundation, and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (Economic Engine); Bureau of Economic Analysis (trade deficit); Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED Economic Data (output); Bureau of Labor Statistics (employment)THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.
As exports increase, though, more certificates would flow into the market, and their cost for importers would fall. The price could eventually slip to zero if a trade surplus was achieved.
The appeal of this approach: It’s a more decisive way to knock down the trade deficit than waiting for U.S. exports to become more desirable over time, perhaps from a weaker dollar. And unlike standard tariffs, which typically penalize a specific product from a particular country, the certificates provide a direct and immediate benefit to U.S. companies that export.
The downside, initially at least, is that Americans would face higher prices for imported consumer items. So, the plan would likely be a tough sell in Washington.
Impose a value-added tax
A similar idea for lowering the trade deficit is imposing a value-added tax. The tax, which is used by more than 130 countries, is applied to each step along a production chain as a product or material increases in value or is consumed. How does this help domestic manufacturing? Almost all countries with VATs waive them on exports but impose them on imports, at an average rate of about 17%.
“Right now we’re the sucker, because everybody else is charging the tax on [U.S.-made goods] coming into their countries, but we don’t charge it on their stuff coming to the U.S.,” says Harry Moser, president of the Reshoring Initiative. He figures a 17% tax on $2 trillion a year of imports could generate more than $300 billion a year in revenue. And a VAT would make imports more expensive, boosting the appeal of U.S.-made goods with consumers.
A VAT would need to be coupled with an elimination or reduction of existing taxes on businesses, including payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Likewise, consumers would need tax relief to make up for the higher prices they would face for most purchases.
The rap on VAT, as with state sales taxes, is that it’s a regressive tax on essential, everyday items, like clothing, that every buyer faces regardless of their ability to pay. The upside: A VAT would put the U.S. on the same kind of tax system used throughout the rest of the world. In theory, that would make our exports more attractively priced because they wouldn’t be taxed twice—once in the U.S., as they are now, and then when they enter other countries.
Deal with an overvalued currency
The U.S. dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency is killing demand for U.S.-made goods in global markets. Because foreign governments and foreign private investors prefer to use the greenback to pay off debt, invest in financial markets or purchase commodities, economists say, the demand for the dollar intrinsically keeps it 10% to 15% above the value of other currencies. That makes U.S.-manufactured goods more expensive in other countries, but imports are cheaper in the U.S., giving foreign governments an incentive to keep their own currencies below the dollar.
Lowering the value of the dollar is difficult, especially as long as foreign investors keep pumping their dollars into U.S. investments. John Hansen, a former economic adviser for the World Bank, has a solution that he says could keep a strong dollar from further swelling the trade deficit and discourage high-frequency, speculative trading by foreign investors in U.S. financial markets.
The idea: market-access charges. A base-rate charge of 0.5% could be applied on all foreign-originated inflows of money into U.S. investments. The rate would gradually climb to about 2%. Further increases would be linked to increases in the trade deficit, which is about 3% of U.S. GDP. If the deficit remains unchanged even with the fee, Mr. Hansen anticipates 0.25% increases in the fee every six months. When the deficit retreats, the fee would fall. The fee revenue could be used for government-funded research to help manufacturing.
Critics contend the fees would make U.S. capital markets more expensive for foreign investors, driving down trading volumes and prices. In turn, that would hurt U.S. investors.
Look at the true cost of offshoring
When companies decide to offshore production, they often simply seek the lowest initial price per unit. If they were required to take into account the hidden costs of foreign production, U.S.-made goods would become more cost-competitive.
Manufacturing overseas carries dozens of uncounted expenses and consequences. Companies often don’t weigh costs for transportation, as well as expenses for dealing with reduced product reliability, undependable supply chains and the need to hold more inventory in case overseas deliveries are delayed. “Going to China doubles the amount of inventory held, and the hidden cost within that inventory is the risk” of products becoming obsolete before they’re sold, says Fernando Assens, CEO of Argo Inc., a business consultancy in Chicago.
Meet the New Manufacturing Robots
Washington’s Misplaced Jobs Focus
What’s Behind Germany’s Success
The Manufacturing Jobs of the Future
Advocates argue that the government should amend the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies conducting mass layoffs to provide workers 60 days’ notice. If the layoffs are the result of companies’ moving production overseas, companies should have to analyze the total cost of offshoring. While this wouldn’t stop companies from moving, it would require them to provide an explanation of their expenses. Supporters say the requirement would raise awareness of the total costs of offshoring.
Purge duplicate regulations
When federal agencies impose new rules, they rarely repeal old ones or check to see if another agency has a similar or conflicting regulation. Over decades, this has resulted in layers of rules for environmental protection, workplace safety and financial reporting that are often redundant or outdated. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that regulatory compliance costs manufacturers about $139 billion annually.
Executives say complying with federal mandates wouldn’t be so onerous if federal agencies culled redundancies. Analysts say agencies are often hamstrung by statutory limits or are reluctant to disrupt their own operations for fear of having their budgets cut.
Legislation pending in Congress would create a special commission appointed by the president and congressional leaders that would comb through regulations looking for redundancies and reforms. Congress would eventually vote on the panel’s recommendations for rules that need to be modified or repealed.
Look at more than jobs
State and federal governments typically view manufacturing as employment generators. But economic-development policies that place too much emphasis on boosting head counts risk missing the broader trend coursing through manufacturing even in low-cost locations: automation. Countries that give short shrift to robots and other manpower-reduction technologies won’t be desirable destinations for manufacturing in the future.
Analysts say policy makers should do more to encourage investments in manufacturing technology and automation, even if it initially seems to undermine manufacturing-employment growth. U.S. incentives for investments in factory automation and research generally lag behind other countries’ efforts.
From 1995 to 2014, U.S. companies’ stocks of factory-floor production equipment per worker fell 30% to an average of $10,500, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The U.S. National Robotics Initiative has spent $153 million on projects since 2012, or about 13% of the applications for funding submitted by researchers. A 2012 study ranked the U.S. 27th out of 42 countries in research-and-development tax credits.
Boosting tax breaks to the levels of other large, developed nations is crucial, advocates say. “There is evidence that these things work,” says Robert Atkinson, president of the innovation foundation.
Turn community colleges into career factories
Despite low manufacturing payrolls in the past decade, companies continue to have difficulty finding welders, machinists and other skilled craft workers to replace retiring employees. While community colleges offer programs for skilled trades, businesses executives complain the course work is often too generalized to suit companies’ needs. So companies must put new hires through on-the-job training and aren’t able to quickly increase production through additional hiring.
Some companies are collaborating with community colleges to design job-training programs specifically for the companies’ needs. The Labor Department has doled out about $2 billion in recent years for community colleges to design courses for job requirements. The department also is distributing $100 million in grants this year for apprenticeships for workplace training of employees.
A plan pending in Congress would double down on those efforts by authorizing the creation of 25 “manufacturing universities.” The Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology would award selected schools $20 million over four years to implement plans for improving manufacturing in their states. The universities would emphasize manufacturing in their research, engineering and business curriculum, forge partnerships with companies and increase student internships with manufacturers. The bill has strong bipartisan support, interest from universities and support from business groups.
Spend more on manufacturing R&D
Training workers isn’t enough, advocates say. The government also needs to spend more on applied research to solve specific problems in manufacturing and bringing new products to market. Most government funding for research is directed at developing new ideas and theories. As a result, early research breakthroughs that often occur in the U.S. are turned into new products such as flat-screen TVs and lithium-ion batteries in other countries.
The fledgling National Network for Manufacturing Innovation is the U.S.’s best attempt so far at closing the gaps in homegrown applied research. The Obama administration wants to start 15 regional institutes that combine the research capabilities of universities and corporations on developing solutions and new technologies for specific industries, including 3-D manufacturing, lightweight metals, composite materials and textiles.
Eight of the 15 institutes have opened, with the bulk of the funding coming from corporate participants. A ninth one will likely be announced soon. Early reports have been encouraging, though actual research successes will likely take several years. Nevertheless, questions remain about long-term support. The federal government has committed about $600 million over five years to the institutes started so far. Funding for future ones could become a casualty of the budget standoff in Congress.
Create regional centers of expertise
The U.S. won’t be able to produce high-tech, high-margin products if it continues to cede the ability to perform more basic manufacturing work, advocates argue. The U.S. has already relinquished whole industries such as garment manufacturing and consumer electronics to other countries.

One proposed solution is to create regional centers of expertise. In this approach, a region looks to leverage an existing set of skills or an industrial legacy, such as machining or casting metal. Even though these manufacturing hubs, which are often in the Rust Belt, fell on hard times in the 1970s and 1980s, they still have considerable manufacturing talent and expertise that can form the foundation for manufacturing innovations and new businesses.
These centers typically start with an intermediary group—a chamber of commerce or a regional development agency—that assembles businesses, schools and government agencies into a network that can work together to attract new businesses, nurture innovations and, in general, improve the competitiveness of businesses. “Cities need to get better at what they’re good at,” says Bruce Katz, a Brookings Institution vice president and urban-affairs scholar. “We’re not fully leveraging our potential right now.”
Mr. Tita is a Wall Street Journal reporter in Chicago. Email

Monday, 12 October 2015

From Jonathan Franzen's Lunch with FT conducted by Lucy Kellaway

I thought it relevant now and well worth sharing; I'll be buying his new book.

The below was published in the Financial Times Saturday October 11 2015 by Lucy Kellaway:

I sit alone at a reproduction antique table under a fake chandelier in the dining room at the Gore Hotel in Kensington. There is no sign of Jonathan Franzen; nor of anyone else. The place is entirely empty.
While I wait, I look at what people are saying about Franzen on Twitter. There is a Times columnist moaning thatPurity is a load of tripe. Someone else points out that Franzen has no black people in his novels. Others are incensed by his recent performance onNewsnight, in which he did what he often does — disparage the internet.
All this loathing is baffling. I have read and loved The Corrections (2001),Freedom (2010) and now Purity, the latter billed as a cross between Charles Dickens and Breaking Bad. It has kept me up every night for a week, and now that I’m done, I’ll miss its wit, its messed-up characters and its emotional complexity. It is a mystery how the man who wrote it could have become, in the words of the Los Angeles Review of Books, “with the possible exception of Kanye West — the most bitched about artist in America”.
It is nearly 2pm when the door opens and the great American novelist makes a modest entrance. He’s in an old navy fleece. His dark hair is tousled and even though it is going grey he looks closer to 40 than 56. He is wearing the same heavy black glasses that, last time he was in London promoting a novel, were snatched from his nose by a prankster who proceeded to jump into the Serpentine lake, just minutes round the corner from where he stands now.




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Franzen has barely sat down when the waiter, evidently excited to be given something to do at last, is bearing down on us, pad in hand. “I would love some still water if I may, please,” says Franzen, all politeness and diffidence. “And maybe something along the lines of a Diet Coke?”
Does he know about Lunch with the FT, I ask. “I think my eye has literally fallen on it.” Franzen speaks slowly and sounds so uncomfortable, I conclude he’s trying to be nice but is a rotten liar.
I make some disparaging remarks about the restaurant’s frumpy decor but he declines to join in. For him its unpopularity is an advantage. “There’s a certain sameness to high-end restaurant experiences, at least in New York, I’m kind of nauseated by the clientele. They’re total 1 per centers and they’re doing it every day and there’s something kind of just disgusting and like the pigs in Animal Farm about the whole thing.”
But since the rip-roaring success of The Corrections 14 years ago, isn’t he a 1 per center himself? “I am literally, in terms of my income, a 1 per center, yes,” he says, his eyes not on me but on the empty table next to us. “I spend my time connected to the poverty that’s fundamental to mankind, because I’m a fiction writer.”
He doesn’t write about poverty, I protest. He writes about the angst of people like him and the people he knows. Franzen gives the neighbouring table top a weary look. “That’s a quotation from Flannery O’Connor, by the way.”

Bistro One Ninety, Gore Hotel

190 Queen’s Gate, Kensington, London SW7
Pre-theatre menu (tortellini, grey mullet) x 2 £49.90
Fruit £8
Diet Coke x 2 £7
Mint tea £4
Total (inc service and VAT) £77.50
While I smart, he goes on: “I’m a poor person who has money.”
Franzen doesn’t spend anything. The fleece he is wearing is 10 years old. He doesn’t like shopping and hates waste. Upstairs in the fridge in his hotel room are the leftovers from meals, all of which he will eat in due course. His only luxury is expensive kit for birdwatching.
“I don’t like to hire people to do work that I can do,” he says. So that means he does his own dusting in the New York apartment he shares with his girlfriend? Franzen looks slightly shifty. “We do have a cleaner, although even that I feel some justification because we pay her way more than is standard and she’s a nice Filipino woman who we treat very well and we’re giving her work.”
In a way this middle-class guilt is sweet. But it’s also absurd. By the same argument he should be employing as many people as possible.
“Something doesn’t sit well. It seems to me that I don’t want to lose touch with . . . Like I repainted our guest room this summer in our rather small house in Santa Cruz.”
Bingo, I want to shout. I love decorating too and start trying to interest him in my thoughts on masking tape, but he continues deadpan: “If I had hired someone, it would’ve been done better, and I was very sick of doing it by the end, and yet it seemed important. The first two coats I enjoyed and the third coat I was getting tired of it and the fourth coat was just sheer torture.”
 . . . 
While he has been talking we have each been given a large white bowl with a pair of tiny, shrivelled pastries in them and a jug of tepid, cloudy liquid on the side. Franzen eats his without comment, and I ask: does he understand why he makes people quite so cross? “Well, I have to acknowledge the possibility that I’m simply a horrible person.”
He recites the line with a practised irony. Evidently he acknowledges no such possibility at all.
“My other answers would all be sort of self-flattering, right? Because I tell the truth; people don’t like the truth.”
He tells me about a piece he wrote in the New Yorker in March about climate change and bird conservation in which he managed to alienate everyone, including bird watchers. “I pointed out that 25 years after humanity collectively tried to reduce its carbon emissions, they reached an all-time high last year; further pointed out that the people who say we still have 10 years to keep the average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius are, charitably, deluded or, uncharitably, simply lying. And, therefore, maybe we should rethink whether we want to be putting such a large percentage of our energies into what is essentially a hopeless battle.”
His idea of himself as a truth-teller is only partly why people find him so aggravating. There is something about the man himself, and his variety of superior maleness, that also annoys. Purity — which has a clever, lovably sarcastic woman as its heroine — has, nevertheless, enraged some feminists because there is a mad manipulative wife in it who makes her husband wee sitting down. The journalist Jenni Russell, for example, writes about how all Franzen’s books have dutiful men trapped in relationships with manipulative women. “It’s, like, where do you even begin with stuff like that? People who don’t know how to read fiction, they just shout words like ‘loathsome’ and ‘misogynist’ because they can’t deal with it. I fail to conform to the brutish, white, male stereotype and that is actually more enraging than the brutish, white, male stereotype. It’s the middle ground which is precisely what’s upsetting to people on the extremes.”
Our starters have been replaced by an almost entirely grey dish. The grey mullet lies on a grey bed of puréed artichokes with some whitish almonds.
This tastes weird, I say. “I’m not fussy about my food,” he says, taking a forkful. “It’s not bad.”
I ask if he saw the review of Purity in the Financial Times , which called it “middlebrow”. He says he never reads what people write about him. “I don’t know what ‘middlebrow’ even means. I think it’s threatening to commercial writers that someone who’s selling well is also getting literary respect, and it’s threatening to literary writers who don’t sell that somebody who’s literary also is getting commercial success.”
People who don’t know how to read fiction shout words like “misogynist” because they can’t deal with it
The thing that bothers me about his prose is not the popular bits but the clever-dick ones. In Purity, I took exception to a bilingual acrostic that allows Franzen (a Fulbright scholar in Berlin in the 1980s and translator of the work of obscure Austrian satirist Karl Kraus) to prove he’s smarter than his reader. “My agent didn’t get it, either,” he says. “Many, many people didn’t get it, and yet if the whole book were like that, you could say the writer’s being insufferable. But I think you have to have a few things that you have to kind of chew on to get.”
As if on cue, a loud cracking noise comes from his mouth. “Teeth hitting each other sort of sideways, glancing, catching,” he explains.
I ask if his teeth are bad, but he says they are very good. “I’m an American.”
He laughs and at once the ponderous gloom lifts. I get a glimpse of what are very good teeth indeed.
The levity doesn’t last: have I read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, he asks? When I say I haven’t, he explains how the agrarian revolution was a mistake and argues we were happier as hunter-gatherers. With the internet, he implies, the same may apply. Is he really saying people were happier before the internet? He ducks the question and says instead: “I wasn’t. But I didn’t start feeling happy, really, until my forties.”
Happiness for Franzen is slightly problematical. He has often said the best writing comes from discomfort. He has had his share of pain — he has referred to the unhappiness of his 14-year marriage to writer Valerie Cornell — so I wonder, if he had always been as happy as now, would he . . . He cuts me off. “I was,” he says. “I was a smiling, smart, healthy, straight, Midwestern American male who went to decent public schools, what we call public schools, and an excellent college. I had everything it took.”
I have the feeling he’s playing with me, but still I plough on. Doesn’t he believe that if you haven’t felt pain you can’t write good fiction? “Apparently Paulo Coelho can.” He gives another dazzling smile that manages to be both beatific and slightly nasty. “I’m giving you a hard time. We’re talking about real novelists, who are going to be very sensitive, experience things intensely. That’s basically a recipe for pain. Things that a less sensitive person may experience as nothing create lasting scars.”
 . . . 
There is a lot of scar tissue in Purity. At one point the narrative switches into the first person, and a man and his wife have an exchange on the phone that is so mad, miserable, undignified and perverse, no one could have written it without having experienced something similar. When I read the passage I was slack-jawed with admiration, but couldn’t help wondering what his ex-wife would make of it. “I’m not the only one who’s been in a kind of nutty relationship. And so simply the fact of writing about a nutty relationship is not compromising anyone.”
So it’s fine, then? “No, there’s blood on the floor. It’s never fine. In a way, the thing I feel worst about is writing about my parents, even though I did all my writing after they were dead. It has more to do with their not having had an education that would have enabled them to appreciate what I was doing and why I was doing it.”
Then why betray people he loves? “Well, there’s a utilitarian argument to be made. People feel grateful and feel less alone with what had been a private torment, a private sorrow, a private shame.”
The waiter brings him a bowl of fruit salad so large he looks at it in dismay, as if fearing the inevitable waste.
“Would you like a little bit of this? Even just one bite would help,” he pleads, shovelling fruit on to my plate.
In The Corrections, Albert, who was based on Franzen’s father, was a benign if stern parental figure. In Purity parents get a tougher time of it. One mother shows a seven-year-old son her vagina. Another inflicts psychological violence by manipulating and stifling. I wonder if he would have written anything quite as dark if he had children himself?
Franzen sighs. “I’m sure everything would’ve been different. Maybe I would’ve been retired and working on a historical novel about the civil war and teaching fiction at Portland State University if I had had kids.”
I get the reproach, but it’s only later that I get the snobbery. There was a time, though, when Franzen wanted to have kids. According to the Guardian, for a while he considered adopting an Iraqi orphan so he could get to know young people. Was that true? “The story was the work of a nasty personage,” he says, then tells me what really happened. “There came a point when I was struggling with my fourth novel and I suspected the reason was that I had lost touch with the world, that I came from a strong family, and maybe I was meant to be a family man. But it’s a long way from that to adopting a war orphan to study young people. It fed into what everyone wanted to believe, which is I am an absolutely horrible person.”
He seems so weary of all this that I ask if he finds fame a burden. Has success made him less nice? No; he says it has made him less angry, and much less envious. “Writer’s envy is insane and knows nearly no bounds, but at some point it becomes obviously inappropriate.” These days if anyone else writes a good novel, he doesn’t feel upset; he is glad. The only trouble is that it hardly ever happens.
“I am very grateful to Haruki Murakami for writing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I feel the same way right now about Elena Ferrante. I have trouble finding books that really do it for me.”
Envy is something his girlfriend, the writer Kathryn Chetkovich, is more straightforward about. In 2003, after the triumph of The Corrections, she wrote a devastating essay for Granta, on just how hard it was for her to bear her boyfriend’s success. If the boot had been on the other foot, Franzen says he would have felt differently, partly because he roots so seriously for “whoever I’m living with” but also because he is usually only competitive with men. In any case, he says, if he hadn’t been successful as a writer, he would have given up.
The waiter asks if he’d like coffee. “I’m good, thank you, right now.” It’s only when I see the transcript of our lunch and notice the phrase “I’m good” to mean “No, thank you”, I wish I’d challenged him on it. Franzen has strong feelings about certain words. He has written a whole essay on the evils of “then” as a conjunction, which strikes me as entirely baffling.
I try out a sentence: “Jonathan Franzen leaned forward, then he leaned back again.” What’s wrong with that? “That’s just a run-on sentence,” he says. “What you will find in bad English prose is, ‘He leaned forward then spoke again.’ ”
Sounds OK to me, I say. “Read my essay,” he says.
Lunch is nearly over, and there is one more thing I want to ask him. He has said that all decent novelists are changed by every book they write. So how did Purity change him? He stares at the table for so long with his eyes closed that I wonder if he has gone to sleep. “How I changed was I realised that I really am a fiction writer, I don’t have all that many years, and that I’ve got to find a way to write another couple of novels.”
As he gets up to leave, I tell him that we have covered so much ground in 90 minutes it will be a nightmare trying to write the lunch up. “Ask for more space,” he says. “Maybe they’d let you do a two-parter, the appetiser and the main course. Just saying.”
Lucy Kellaway is an FT columnist

Monday, 7 April 2014

You break it you buy it: musings are as cute as any other damaged good

The amount of content a rational  person can ingest in one week, while retaining any of it, can be based, in my opinion (and God knows my opinions have less weight than a stepped on Nilla wafer) on how up to date they are on their Economist and New Yorker subscriptions.

The Economist, thank the Unmoved Mover, is way hard newsy and thus I can enjoy it without obsessing over where clients should be placed. "Oh man there's a story on another third world mud puddle's new Dictator's obsession with Peeps; he used all the UN aid he was getting for Peeps! And now the people are starving... That new Ford model we rep loves peeps; call the fucking editor!"  I can read this magazine objectively and for pleasure.

The New Yorker though, I dunno I oscillate in levels of indulgence in its literary porn, while still wishing Briefly Noted would've covered more than a couple of books..It's still pleasure but how can I keep up with all their content?

Those mags come fast man, and who's got the time for leisure reading? "Fucking Peeps are trending in that dictators empire of malaria and your sitting here fucking reading for fun."

How can two of the best weekly mags in the world start to feel like constant assaulting reminders of my tardiness? On my cognitive abilities to pretend I can live the fantasy of the literary romantic. Who can keep up with these? Rich people who don't have to account to anyone I suppose. Anyway I read em both, a bit behind but I keep on em best I can.

I was musing about my old subculture recently:

The best shows I saw as a kid were the LES Stitches opening for The Queers at Coney Island High in 1996, Sick Of It All and Rancid in 1994 at the Limelight, The LES Stitches and Bouncing Souls at Coney Island High in 1996, NOFX at Coney Island High in 1996, The Pietasters at the NYU auditorium in 1995, Lagwagon at CIH in 96 as well, man.. All those bands at Tramps and The Wetlands as well. ABC Norio was weird in the 90's too.

I had a Motorolla Startec in 1999, boarding school kid style, and my buddy's band was playing at ABC. I was using my cell in front of punk rock kids and we had a laugh about it, and a fight about it, and I puked. That was a good summer vacation, before vacation, and back to school. Everything was younger then.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Peace Out 2013: End of Year Pontification and Predictions for a well formed 2014

End of year shout outs and blogs are always funny; in the spirit of philosophical snobbery I’ll add to the litany of people who think we need their earth shattering insights for the new year.

So yeah I’m really profound like everyone else who blogs, so I thought I’d chime in on awesomeness from 2013 and make some personal predictions in homage to all the other romantics out there who realise the cuteness of this Great Game.

2013 saw my girl Miley Cyrus come through organically, I liked that. Me I’m a prep school punk rocker, having loved contrarianism (RIP Chris Hitchens) and God driven bar chords since I was very young. It’s how I was made, no one taught me to be punk rock and it certainly was not cool or accepted at the schools I attended or the family culture in which I grew up. That’s why I respect people’s own makeup, most of the bands I like diss God and Gov and people like the author I mentioned were avid disbelievers, but I see the God in that too. So Miley touched my heart a bit by doing whatever she wanted and taking a risk, not having to bend to convention or caring if what she’s doing makes sense to anyone else. Like me going to punk shows in the east village in the 90′s as a teen in saxon wool sweaters and pastel khakis, that’s just how it was and I couldn’t explain it to you. Explanations have absolutely nothing to do with love.

So yeah Miley made me proud and I would offer this up for 2014:

Miley Cyrus Does a Song with Matt Skiba. Miley and Matt. Cyrus and Skiba.
Miley, please meet Matt Skiba: he is the handsomest, classiest, coolest song writingest, Ray Ban-wearingest artist in punk rock music right now. He is also the frontman of Alkaline Trio. Check out his solo records like “Angel of Deaf” “All Fall Down” and his cover of The Cure’s “Falling Like Rain”.

This is a 2014 match that’ll have people’s hearts exploding into a billion platinum wrecking balls. Holler at me, we’ll make it happen. Nice job in the city last night, as well.

Besides that – in 2014 I’m stoked for:
A Reality TV Star who’s rebranding through her own personal family experiences and about to become sought after in a whole new market;

A British Defense Editor who has some historical insights in his new book we need to take heed of if we want to quit with the foreign policy blunders, and;

A World Renowned Sports Medicine Doctor who just teamed up with a two-time New York City Marathon Champion to change the way athletes, all over the world, run.

An honorable mention goes to that Diet I never started in 2013, Girl I was so busy you know I’m willing to give this another shot in the 14. C’mon don’t look at me like that, those snicker icecream bars, my mom’s baklava and pizza for breakfast were just flings, they meant nothing to me; I’m joining intramural soccer in the Spring, what else do you want from me?

Here’s to Liverpool winning the EPL (or at least making the Champions league), creative innovation that only the US has really achieved the past 100 years, love, class and  all those other dreams for the new year that give us hope. Except if you don’t follow the Gregorian calendar, in that case, well thanks for bearing with the rest of us sell-outs.

Constantine Panagiotatos