Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why the NY Times beats the LA Times

I read the Sunday papers. I found nothing noteworthy in the hometown press. I turned to the NYT. This is why I save the best for last. Here's highlights.

Ben Stein in Business: We are like a drug lord who sells off his family's heirlooms to support his habit. Analogy for how we thrive temporarily by lower interest rates and foreign investment as we hand over control of our nation's economy to the rest of the world eager to outwork us and outsave us until they call due on our largess.

Irvine Welsh reviews a book on Warsaw's underground economy. "Our cultural hegemony has its downside; our imagination is increasingly filtered through the marketing lens of escapist genre fiction, and our so-called literary novels often feel like rehashed classics brazenly trumpeted as original work. Our novels affirm rather than challenge our sense of ourselves in the world."

Tina Brown's book on the usurper Princess of Wales asserts that Diana and Charles were alone only 13 times before the wedding. He previously bedded married women so they'd stay quiet.

Alex Beam reviews "Richistan," into true wealth's realm-- $10 million's the price of admission these days above the merely "affluent" Rolex and Benz owners. In 1985, there were 13 billionaires; now there are over 1000. In 2005, 227,000 became millionaires. North Carolina has more millionaires than India. One millionaire identified as an "inflatable- pool- toy magnate." Due to their often middle-class origins those at the top hate being called rich. Today, most nouveau riche enter Richistan not by inheritance but a "liquidity event," when their company's bought out. Here's hoping it happens to my wife and her five loyal employees.

The NYT Magazine's theme: Wealth-- well, more explicitly than most issues, thinking of the real estate ads that fill its back pages weekly. Since 1979, the top one percent of Americans has increased its share of the take from 9 to 16%. (A day after I wrote this, I open the NYT to find a disturbing update: 2005 marks the top one percent, who average $1.1 million a year, taking in 21.8% of our national wealth-- a figure rivalled last in...1929.) Since Nixon's administration, our average wages, by comparison, have stagnated-- at best.

George F. Will reviewed a book on how postwar abundance transformed the U.S. The average teen's weekly allowance in 1954: $10.55. A family in the early 1940s had this much disposable income. (In 1970, not even in double digits in age myself, I earned 50 cents weekly for my first allowance, had chores daily, and got a nickel raise each birthday.) In 1900 less than 2% of Americans took vacations; funerals consumed twice as much spending as medicine. 1/4-1/3 of income for working-class families came from childrens' earnings. By 1950, there's more college students than farmers for the first time. Over two-thirds of women who turned 18 in the '50s admitted to more than one sexual partner before they were 30. In the '70s, 2% confessed to such restraint. The left, by then, welcomed the mass affluence for its liberating potential, but despised the institutions that created such possibilities. The right supported the institutions but rejected the social dynamism let loose.

Andrew Kuo on a site "Earl Boykins" makes colorful graphs that send up obsessions of fans with indie rock. The NYT sent him to a week of Bright Eyes concerts. Charts reproduced in the Arts & Leisure section. I read them even though I have never knowingly heard a Conor Oberst song or have the slightest interest in him.

Arthur Phillips in the Week in Review gives a well-modulated meditation on his three beagles so far in his life. Averaging 15 years each, he tells how their whole span can be collapsed into a fraction of our own time on earth. Yet, we witness their whole flourishing and their gradual decline. Phillips contemplates how his latest beagle, Hamish, chews a dog toy. The novelist calls it a "gnarled leathery stick." The gal at the shop who sold it assured the buyer it was "100 percent bull penis."

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