Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis (Penguin)

In this stylish account of economic duplicity and incompetence, Michael Lewis introduces us to a handful of hedge-fund managers and bond salesmen who became extremely wealthy by betting against “the interest-only negative-amortising adjustable-rate subprime mortgage” market. They were the first to detect a dramatic decline in lending standards in the banking system, and to predict it would all end in tears, but the terrifying question remains: why didn’t anyone else? Groupthink would seem to be the answer. Lewis likes to write comic stories, he says, but this was a monumental tragedy. The Big Short brilliantly emphasises the virtues of being a loner and not a lemming. The prescient misfits whose tales Lewis tells all tend to confuse and upset the people around them – Steve Eisman is rude and obnoxious; one-eyed Michael Burry has Asperger’s – but correctly believed they were watching a disaster movie unfold. There are no heroes in this compelling book. For the oddballs who bet on a recession happening and won, it’s a hollow victory.

Economic Revolution

If only I'd studied economics . . .

Kick It Over Manifesto

We, the undersigned, make this accusation: that you, the teachers of neoclassical economics and the students that you graduate, have perpetuated a gigantic fraud upon the world.

You claim to work in a pure science of formula and law, but yours is a social science, with all the fragility and uncertainty that this entails. We accuse you of pretending to be what you are not.

You hide in your offices, protected by your mathematical jargon, while in the real world, forests vanish, species perish and human lives are callously destroyed. We accuse you of gross negligence in the management of our planetary household.

You have known since its inception that one of your measures of economic progress, the Gross Domestic Product, is fundamentally flawed and incomplete, and yet you have allowed it to become a global standard, reported day in, day out in every form of media. We accuse you of recklessly projecting an illusion of progress.

You have done great harm, but your time is coming to a close. Your systems are crumbling, your flaws increasingly laid bare. An economic revolution has begun, as hopeful and determined as any in history. We will have our clash of economic paradigms, we will have our moment of truth, and out of each will come a new economics – open, holistic, human scale.

On campus after campus, we will chase you old goats out of power. Then, in the months and years that follow, we will begin the work of reprogramming your doomsday machine.

Students can sign the manifesto here

“We’re all on the Titanic together. If we hit the iceberg, the first-class cabins are gonna sink just as rapidly as the steerage cabins below the water line” ― Professor William Rees, creator of the ecological footprint concept, in the video below:

[all c/o Adbusters]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Culture Crunch (cont.)

Worrying words from Chris Holifield, the Director of the Poetry Book Society, in the latest PBS Bulletin:

“But there is a more sober message too, as small arts charities like the PBS weather the storm of the cuts. Next year we will all have our funding cut. Like other regularly funded organisations we have just applied to the Arts Council for new funding for 2012–15 as part of their new National Portfolio Funding. The future is uncertain but we very much hope that we will get the money which will enable us to continue running the PBS as we have always done . . .”
So if you aren’t one already, why not support the Poetry Book Society by becoming a member? Or perhaps buy something from its bookshop, the only online bookstore specialising in poetry.

Don’t let T. S. Eliot’s dream die.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lighthead by Terrance Hayes

I’ve been meaning to say something about Terrance Hayes’s Lighthead ever since it won the 2010 National Book Award, but all I need really do is point you towards Stephen Burt's review.

So buy it: it’s refreshing to read poems that are funny and intelligent – and effortlessly cool.

And if you don't believe me, here is a clip of Hayes reading “Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy” and “Fish Head for Katrina” (but sadly not “A Plate of Bones” or “Three Measures of Time”, two of my favourites).

According to Lighthead's blurb, Hayes is "a neo-bluesman whispering existential riffs against modern chaos". Enjoy. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Carcanet Catalogue 2011

Very exciting to see Emporium, my debut poetry collection, in the new Carcanet catalogue for 2011. Lots of great books on the way, too, including John Ashbery's translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations.
Hooray for Carcanet! 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pitt the Elder: Man of War, by Edward Pearce (Pimlico)

"I know that I can save this country and that no one else can," William Pitt famously declared a year before taking office, but as Pearce argues in this forthright history, "England didn't need saving". The stark theme of this unflattering portrait is Pitt's overweening ambition and lust for power: "hubris, indeed psychosis", Pearce concludes. Too many historians have taken Pitt at his own estimation, he says, but the tide has turned. "Not to be nice about it, this is rubbish," he thunders early on with regard to Pitt's glorious reputation, and this knockabout approach makes the book a delight to read. Pearce attacks Pitt's "privileged civilian's dinner-table ruthlessness" and shows how "the itch for power ran in Pitt with an almost monarchical presumption". The monarch himself fares no better. George II's refusal to pardon an overcautious admiral who should simply have been retired meant that "Poor Byng" was shot in the head on his own quarterdeck, as recounted in Voltaire's Candide. The sight of Byng's public execution convinces Candide that the English are barbarians.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Who Gets the Best Jobs?

Another excellent BBC programme about inequality of opportunity (and, sadly, of aspiration). Who Gets the Best Jobs? made the obvious point that to get to university at all, students from working-class backgrounds “probably had to overcome greater odds than their wealthier counterparts”. As one interviewee observed, “those that come through that can actually be better equipped ultimately than those who had the easier journey, almost having things on a plate”.

What does Milton’s Satan call it? “Resolution from despair” . . .

. . . And reassembling our afflicted powers,
Consult how we may henceforth most offend
Our enemy, our own loss how repair,
How overcome this dire calamity,
What reinforcement we may gain from hope,
If not what resolution from despair.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Birthday James Joyce!

Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake

(c/o A Piece of Monologue)