Dirty trick by Carousel Books

Because anybody can publish and sell texts that are in the public domain, lots of crap publishers flood Amazon with cheaply printed paperbacks of the classics.  These editions are flimsy, often with odd shapes and ugly typefaces.  If you’re serious about reading a book, it’s worth it, in my opinion, to pay up for the Penguin edition.  (This is especially true of translations, I learned this the hard way when I bought the Dover Thrift version of Chekhov’s The Seagull in college, which seemed like it had been translated by an ape).

The snakes over at Carousel Books, knowing this, deliberately made their cover look like a Penguin classic!  Very sneaky, Carousel.  Look close at the cover, you can see the degraded quality of the image, the shape is all off.  It sucks!

Maybe it’s my fault for imagining Penguin, publishers of Morrissey, would include a clown like Chesterton in their ranks.

 


Guides to New Orleans

 

A medical expert once described the difficulty of surgery on the liver, a soft, fragile organ that can shred in your hands and rip with every stitch.  The heart is a hard lump of muscle, but the liver is delicate spongy tissue.  Manhattan is a rocky island, San Francisco is as solid and situation at the end of a long peninsula; those cities are as clearly defined as a fist or a heart.  But think of New Orleans as a liver, an expanse of soggy land doing some of what a liver does, filtering poisons, keeping the body going, necessary to survival and infinitely fragile, hard to pull out of context, and nowadays deteriorating from more poison that it can absorb, including the ongoing toxins of the petroleum industry and the colossal overdose delivered by the 2010 BP blowout.  

from:

The first thing you notice about New Orleans are the burying grounds – the cemeteries – and they’re a cold proposition, one of the best things there are here. Going by, you try to be as quiet as possible, better to let them sleep. Greek, Roman, sepulchres- palatial mausoleums made to order, phantomesque, signs and symbols of hidden decay – ghosts of women and men who have sinned and who’ve died and are now living in tombs. The past doesn’t pass away so quickly here. 

You could be dead for a long time

so says Bob Dylan in Chronicles

New Orleans is illogical, upsetting.  It makes a mockery.  You start in Chicago, sensible enough, but float down the river and you end in African jungle, a Caribbean outpost of a forgotten empire, ruled by French pretension – but pretending to what, exactly?  No matter, it’s already forgotten.   What the jazz player and the performing drunk act and the crooked politician all act out is the tension: this shouldn’t be here.

Vivien Kent in The Fatback of America (1948, is she cancelled?)

The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week–yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.

Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume

Did not complete my reading of that book — it was too dense!  Every page was packed!  Every bite was sausage and spice, there was no rice.

In addition to the Atlas I had this one:

Books are good for getting ideas, but no information set in as permanent a form as a book should be trusted when it comes to New Orleans.  Whether it’s open, what night is good, intel of that nature must be gathered with by asking somebody, or a phone call, or maybe best of all by walking by.

One of these books gave us the notion to take the ferry to Algiers from the foot of Canal Street.  The book claimed it was free, I believe it was $2.50.  Small price to pay to be out on the river.

This book is just wonderful, I can’t recommend it enough.  What gifts Lee Sandlin left the world!  Lee begins his book by talking about how, when he waits for the bus in Chicago, the water under the grate at his feet is on its way to the Mississippi River, and on down to New Orleans.  This book has it all: Mike Fink, the New Madrid Great Shakes, the siege of Vicksburg.  And my God if he doesn’t make you feel like you’re really in Congo Square, or at one of the true Mardi Gras nights, a candlelight carnival, when the wildness could turn deadly, when they really thought they might summon the dead or the devil or worse.  I keep meaning to devote a longer post to Wicked River, but I shouldn’t miss this chance to recommend it.

New Orleans, populationwise, at 391,006, is about the size of Bakersfield, significantly smaller than Fresno.  Just a hair ahead of Wichita, Kansas.

One idea I really got out of the Snedeker Solnit Atlas is New Orleans as part of the Caribbean.  Bananas were shipped through here.  United Fruit Company, it was going down.  District Attorney Jim Garrison may have been off but he was not wrong to smell conspiracy everywhere.

There actually used to be an overnight ferry between here and Havana.  The mambo figures prominantly in New Orleans piano.  Professor Longhair.  It’s the Cuba Connection.

Steve Zahn’s character says in Tremé.  It was really funny in Treme to have a character whose main quality was how annoying he was about being “into” New Orleans.  If you’re really “into” New Orleans, does that not by itself prove that you don’t get it?  Is that all part of the joke?

Re: the banana connection, The Atlas had me go listen to Lil Wayne’s Six Foot Seven Foot.

Life is a bitch and Death is her sister

Sleep is the cousin what a fuckin’ family picture

This time last year I was in New Orleans.  From The Atlas we learn of the Money Wasters second line.  The WWOZ website confirms the date and a route for the parade, ending Under The 10, in the epic sonic canyon created by the concrete freeway overpass that takes I-10 across the city on its way to Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida.  What a time!  What a place!  When will we feel that free again?

A guy at the second line said to me

if it’s Sunday in New Orleans and you ain’t at the second line you’re either stupid or dumb

When the wind is right it’s said you can see a dead body in the ruins of the Hard Rock Hotel.  A living ghost story: how New Orleans is that?

Commerce

I’ve been thinking about New Orleans, and listening to WWOZ.

 


Yes! Same!

from the WSJ’s obituary of James Sherwood (paywall, prob’ly)

His work with cargoes in France and England exposed Mr. Sherwood to the inefficiencies of loading goods at docks with rigid union work rules. That experience made him an early convert to the use of standardized steel containers, which could be loaded elsewhere and delivered to docks by train or truck.

In 1965, he founded London-based Sea Containers to buy containers and lease them to companies moving goods. His initial investment of $25,000 gave him a 50% stake. When the company went public in the late 1960s, he was suddenly rich, “free to move my life forward any way I wanted,” as he later put it.

Though I’ve thought much and even written about containerization, I never fully considered the union busting aspect.

Containerization is incredible.  That such a simple idea – use a standardized box – took so long to come up with.  That is was willed into reality by one man.  The amount that it changed the world.  Every port city in the world was changed.  The ports became charmless factory zones.  No more On The Waterfront.  Walmart could not exist without containerization.  The relationship of the United States and China is formed by what containerization did to shipping.  We send them empty boxes, they send us full boxes.

Must relocate my copy!


Still can’t believe they did this to us

is the Food Pyramid the greatest conspiracy of all time?

This was EVERYWHERE when I was a kid, firmer and more common than the Ten Commandments.

I’m sure there’s a podcast about it, or a Slate piece.

Maybe my new thing will be “mild conspiracy theories” (the conspiracies themselves will be mild, not the theories.  The theories will be wild).


Coming out of quar

I call this picture “Reflection”

Once I was in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada doing a ridealong with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  In Yellowknife in the winter the sun comes up at 10am and goes down again by 3:15pm.  It’s dark and cold and tough to get through the winter.  But the Mountie sergeant told me the problems happen when spring starts.  It’s the coming out that people can’t handle.

It’s my perception here in southern California that people are beginning to re-enter the world.  Traffic is returning to upsetting levels.  We’re still a long way from where we were, most stores are shut down, but I get the sense people consider themselves done with lockdown.

I wonder if coming out of quarantine will be harder or at least crazier than being in it!

 


What is up with the stock market?

The US unemployment rate is 14.7%, the worst since the Depression.  Here in LA County it’s 24%.  We’re not supposed to leave our houses for non-essential purposes or go to the beach.  Every bar is closed, almost every store is closed.

And yet the “stock market” is not really down that much.  Here is a one year chart of the S&P 500, which The Wall Street Journal often uses as a standard benchmark for “the stock market.”

Actually a little higher than it was same time last year.

How can this be?

There are many explanations offered by people better informed than me.  Here is Gunjan Banerji’s take in WSJ, and Joe Weisenthal in Bloomberg.

Both point out:

  • the belief in a v-shaped or “Nike swoosh”* recovery
  • the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates at close to zero
  • the Federal Reserve buying $2.4 trillion in government debt, and indicating it would buy more, making it clear that the government can inject essentially infinite money into the economy, “backstopping” everything.

As an amateur enthusiast on this topic, I’d like to offer some additional explanations.

  • The stock market is rigged to go up.  This is just a sort of understood but rarely stated fact.  The stock market is one of the few measures the President cares about.  Every tool at the disposal of the administration and at the supposedly independent Fed is used to keep the stock market up.

 

  • The stock market by definition is big, public companies.  These are the S&P 500 companiesBig companies are benefitting from the demise of their various small competitors.  Big companies can survive by taking on debt in ways small businesses can’t.  They did a great job getting a chunk of the federal money made available.  Consider if I have Steve’s Burger Stand.  I just don’t have the bureaucratic ability, relationships, time, to get a loan the way Shake Shack did.  If anything, are huge companies are seeing their small scale competitors destroyed?
    • Kind of an addendum to the last one: the federal government gave out the free money via big banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, BlackRock which themselves are part of the S&P 500!  Big boys feed first!

 

  • Money has nowhere else to go.  The Fed’s actions reduce the benefits of alternative investments like bonds or just putting your money in the bank.

 

  • Trading has become free! I feel crazy that this never gets mentioned.  Starting with Schwab (I think?) last fall, and then flowing on to competitors, trading stocks became free.  Instead of $8 or $4 to trade stocks, it’s free!  You might think this might’ve just created more volatility, maybe it did, but once the barrier to entry for the retail investor is zero, it’s as easy to flow your extra money into the stock market as it is into the bank.  This is, in my opinion, a dangerous or at least explosive change that hasn’t really been reckoned with.  See what Robin Hood is up to.  It might be as easy to bet your money on Tesla or Amazon as it is to tuck it away in the bank.  It’s frictionless, it can be done on your phone.  That might be dangerous!

 

  • There’s nowhere else to gamble.  Again, I feel crazy that this is never acknowledged as a factor.  Consider that Americans spend something like $100 billion on gambling a year.  At the moment, there’s nowhere to do that!  Casinos are closed.  Sports are stopped.  I do not think it’s unreasonable to imagine there are billions of dollars in gambling money going into the stock market as simply a place to gamble and trade.  See Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports, who personally injected half a million dollars.

I’m not here to make predictions.  It’s probably a cognitive bias to believe the stock market “deserves” to go down, but that’s what I believe.  Then again, when you think about the stock market, it’s not just rich assholes, it’s like the pensions of firefighters and teachers.

Is it possible that the stock market is not calculating the biggest risk, some kind of massive social upheaval coming from disgust at this system?  The stock market is not built to calculate “what if we ruin society, make things so unequal and so unfair and grotesque that this system no longer functions?”

Maybe that’s “baked in” as they say.

So said Warren Buffett at the annual meeting.  Happened to be reading this speech by Stanley Druckenmiller from 2015 which I found on Valuewalk:

Remember your competition:

This chart is illuminating:

It’s good for me to write about the stock market, because I’m guaranteed to get an email saying something like you stupid clown you don’t understand anything.  But the more I study the stock market, the more convinced I am that sometimes the experts, overwhelmed by information, become blind to the obvious.  Consider this case reported by Bloomberg as a representative example.  Do you really need to use a machine-reading program to determine that things are looking a bit grim?

There’s the famous story about Joe Kennedy knowing it was time to sell when the shoeshine boy gave him stock tips (bullshit, he was insider trading).  What if you’re the shoeshine boy?

* I don’t understand the Nike swoosh recovery idea.  Isn’t the long part of the swoosh roughly equal to the short part?  So in a swoosh recovery, wouldn’t we just take a very long time to get back to where we were?  and that’s the optimistic take!


how . . . ‘flexible’?