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I went to see Susie Bright tonight at Brookline Booksmith, on tour for the 2008 edition of Best American Erotica - she's been the editor for the entire 15 years of the series. It's part new stuff, part best-of reprise, and a couple of other additions, like some author statements about the best-of ones, which are pretty good in their own right. She read a bit from her introduction, one of the author statements, and parts of two stories.

However, this is the end of the road for BAE, due to some publishing-industry inside baseball. It may be revisited some day, by a different editor and maybe a different publisher, but the series as we've known is has ended. This is kind of sad, but it's had a good run. Susie is very excited about internet-related stuff, and wants to do more online projects with other authors, but concedes that how to get paid for these things is still kind of a problem.

As usual, I got my picture taken, and then when I got home I got a picture of the set that I have. I thought I had all of them, but it seems that 2007 slipped past me.

In which there is cleavage and books )
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I went to see William Gibson at the Coolidge Corner Theater tonight. He read from Spook Country, answered a few questions, and signed books. The general theme of the Q&A was about the future, and the way that he found himself writing about roughly the same point in time as he imagined when he started - the early 21st century - but how it was different to write about it as it occurred and as the truth out-weirded the fiction.

The book's pretty good; I'm about halfway through it (having picked it up a week ago, not tonight).

The long-neglected photo with the author )
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I'm reading Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. Since I've been reading up on oil issues for a while now (I'm just the latest guy to hop onto the peak oil bandwagon), the general picture the book is painting isn't much of a surprise.

What is coming across as rather strange is that (in the first quarter of the book) there is a character that is treated as a victim, and for whom I believe we are supposed to develop sympathy: the poor, abused, over-exerted Saudi oil fields. It's the nature of the book that they get more detailed characterization than any of the actual humans involved, but the near-anthropomorphizing that's going on is bizarre.
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I just finished reading The Two-Income Trap. It's an interesting book, crammed full of interesting statistics that I am only marginally qualified to evaluate. The basic points it makes seem simple enough, but there are a lot of questions and assumptions left unanswered, as well as some frightening habits, like comparing averages against medians for what I can only assume is rhetorical benefit.
Long discussion behind the cut )
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1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

"The output waveform in Figure 4-4 is created by writing PWM_PERVALn[PV] with a decimal value of 10 (11 clocks) and PWM_DUTYn[DCYCLE] with 6."

(Stupid computer books with N-M page numbering. It's not like word processing and publishing can't do better....)
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I just started reading The Price of Loyalty. While I want to be sympathetic to the generally negative portrayal of the Bush administration, and I understand that the author has many reasons to be grateful to Paul O'Neill, his primary source, the first chapter is entirely too positive about the guy. It spins him as a complete Renaissance man of corporate and government policy; a free thinker and seeker of solutions outside the usual left-right cycle; public-interested, a budget hawk, an environmentalist, and an all-around good guy. It's being laid on far too thickly. I'm sure there are negative things that have been left out.

It's hard to take the author seriously when he's spending his first pages performing literary fellatio on the main character.
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  • Nickel and Dimed
  • Fast Food Nation
  • Reefer Madness
  • Bowling Alone
  • The Two-Income Trap

What am I missing? I note that only Reefer Madness addresses sex or drugs, nothing addresses rock&roll, and health would appear to be missing entirely.
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This week's book event was at the Harvard Coop, where David Loftus read from his new book Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond To Pornography. I like the premise of the book - that both the anti-porn and pro-porn movements in this country have hypothesized and made accusations about the thoughts and actions of men (the primary consumers of porn) without doing much research into the validity of those hypotheses. In particular, he singles out the feminist movement that he once identified with as asserting a women's right to define reality for herself, instead of having it defined for her by the patriarchy, and then turning around and (rhetorically) denying that right to men who use porn. So far, though, what bothers me about the book is its entirely anecdotal nature. It admits up front that it is not a scientific study or a statistically representative sample, but I fear that its bias toward the more affluent and educated (90% of the interviews were conducted by email) undermines many of its points, or at least calls out for more research. I do hope that it will bring out some behavior options that were considered not to exist, or at least demonstrate that there is a demographic that can and does enjoy porn without apparent ill effects on themselves or their relationships.

I was a bit surprised by the audience. It was a full crowd (which at the book-reading area of the Coop is about twenty people, and the Coop staffer running the event told me that even filling that out was unusual), and I had expected a generally positive reaction. Apparently I have been hanging out too much at Grand Opening! and their porn events at the Coolidge; possibly a quarter of the audience was openly hostile to the idea that porn was anything other than woman-destroying trash. To stereotype a bit, all the people in that category appeared to be Harvard undergrads, with a feminist bent. Their complaints were based on the idea of "objectification of women" and supposed links between mainstream porn and the worlds of sex slavery and sexual tourism. They didn't have a lot of backing for those ideas; they fell back on a lot of "everybody knows". I had a discussion with one of them afterward, and we had a difficult time establishing common ground. Part of her concern involved the fact (undisputed by me) that most porn does not flesh out (nyuk nyuk nyuk) the characters portrayed by the actors, and hence she concludes that the male viewer perceives the female performer as a piece of meat, with no possibility of humanity. I don't agree that the failure to explain a character implies a total non-existence of character or humanity. We also had a disagreement that was difficult to figure out about the relationship between thoughts and actions; she seemed to be angling for the idea that sexual thoughts about unknown people (the girl on the street) are inappropriate, independent of the behavior of the thinker, and that since porn encourages thinking sexual thoughts about random people, it is therefore bad. I don't buy that, either. The book's preface actually cites Judith Martin on this tricky philosophical issue, firmly on the side of judging by behavior rather than thought.

Mr. Loftus, however, said afterward that he had hoped for an even more hostile audience (including "I wish the Christian Coalition would picket my condo"), because it helps sales :)

Picture with the author )
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This evening I went to Harvard Square to see an event on Paul Krugman's book tour, for his new book The Great Unraveling. The form of the event was an interview by Christopher Lydon (formerly of The Connection). It went pretty well; it was at the First Parish Church, which was totally packed (I'd estimate 650 people) and somewhat stifling in tonight's heat and humidity.

Mr. Krugman is not as polished at public speaking as some people, and he stumbled a bit, and from my balcony seat it was hard to see him unless I stood up. The interview and the Q&A that followed were mostly stuff that should sound familiar to any regular reader of his work; it was all on current politics rather than economics. It's sensible, since it's the reason why he's become a minor celebrity outside of the world of economics, but I would love to hear something more meaty and technical. There was one good question, wondering about the role that opening foreign markets to US corporations played in setting the administration's foreign policy; his response was that there doesn't seem to be any Grand Corporate Conspiracy, but that individual corporations with the ear of the administration are having influence as individuals. I think the questioner was fishing for some more generic anti-corporate propaganda, and was disappointed by not getting it.

(On the way down from the balcony I was spotted by deberg (you should read [ profile] electdeberg if you don't already)).

About a sixth of the crowd stuck around to have books signed. Unfortunately, he was not really sociable throughout this process, and was just signing books as quickly as possible. I had wanted to ask him what he considered good resources for learning basic economics (given that I can't just sign up for 14.01), but I didn't get the chance.

He's not really aware of me, is he? )
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Alton Brown had a book-signing event in Burlington a couple of days ago. He's just as cool in person as he is on Good Eats. He also made a point of properly introducing himself to and having a conversation with each person who came up to get a book signed.

Picture in which Nathan and Alton look surprisingly similar )

If I somehow wound up doing something that cool in ten or fifteen years, that would be just groovy.


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Nathan Williams

May 2017

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