Dateline: Redwood City, California (In the Business Section of the 23 February 2013 Economist)!

The article is called “The Price of Reputation.”  It’s about a Redwood City-based company called which “has 1.6m customers.  For $99 a year or more they get a basic ‘reputation starter’ package, which monitors when they are mentioned online and alerts them if anything sensitive comes up, such as ‘your real age, name, address, mugshots, legal disputes or marital problems.’  For $5,000 a year, the firm will ‘combat misleading or inaccurate links from your top search results’ (most people do not look at results much below the top page or two).”

Reputation’s founder, Michael Fertik, is 34 years old (Crikey!).  His goal is “to launch a data vault —  like a bank vault containing all the data that constitute a person’s reputation.”  According to Fertik, the current internet “business model” is one where “giant firms give customers something free, collect data on them without their knowledge and sell it to third parties to do with whatever they like.”  A firm like would let “the consumer . . .  decide if they want to sell information about themselves to companies that want to get to know them.”

The article ends with the characteristic British tongue-in-cheek utterance: “has the advantage of that most valuable thing, which it must protect at all costs:  a good reputation.”

OK, so how does this square with Law # 41 of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power?

Establish your own name and identity by changing course.  Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy, and gain power by shining in your own way.

In self’s humble opinion, you can only slay the overbearing father once.  Because after that, there will be no more overbearing fathers (to slay).  Naturally.  And, what then?  Your reputation is trash, you’ve bitten the dust, you’ve revealed your moral turpitude, you’ve — Self, cut it out!  Right this minute!  Whence all this negativity?  You ought to enroll in a course about letting the sunshine into your life!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Economist Obit: André Cassagnes, Died January 16, Aged 86

Only The Economist could devote a whole page to the life of a man whose “day-job, until 1987 when he retired, was as an electrician for an interior-decoration firm based near Paris.”

He was “the son of a baker from Vitry-sur-Seine.  Had he not been allergic to flour, he might have stayed in the shop.”

In true Economist fashion, what earns this man a place in the pantheon of luminaries graced with Economist obituaries is not revealed until almost halfway through the piece.  A third of the way through, we learn that Cassagnes, “at the ripe age of 50,” developed a passion for kites.

Just when self thinks this is going to be an illuminating article about a designer of kites, The Economist springs the Ultimate Surprise:  Cassagnes was the inventor of the Etch-a-Sketch, a toy that has “sold more than 100m units worldwide in 50 years and earned a place in America’s National Toy Hall of Fame, alongside Barbie and Potato Head.”

It was licensed in 1960, so neither our grandparents nor our parents likely had the opportunity to play with this fascinating invention (And nowadays, could the Etch-a-Sketch hold a candle to video games?  Self thinks not!).

Self did have one, though.  And she is so old-fashioned that she actually purchased one for sole fruit of her loins.  But at the ripe old age of five, The Man went over all of self’s strenuous objections and bought son a couple of video games.  That was it.  That was the End:  all the Legos and train sets and kites and matchbox cars in the world could never compete with the magic of the video game!  Self might as well have hung up her boxing gloves.  Instead, she trudged on for seven or eight more years, stubbornly insisting that son put aside those video games and read a book or go to the park, which was only an inviting two blocks from our humble abode.  But no!  Video games ruled!  Self can tick off the names:  World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy Vols. 1 – 7, Grand Theft Auto.  Thank goodness he never went in for the horrific ones like Silent Hill.  All those crawling ghosts and incubus would have presented serious challenges to her equanimity, not to mention her sleep!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Science Article, The Economist (Dec. 22, 2012): The Fist, or: Why the Human Hand is Superior

Well, then, dear blog readers.  Self has had a very, very interesting evening.  She read a gardening book, and then she read The Economist.

Flipping through the latter, self encountered an article on p. 123 called “Making a Fist of It.”  Here are the points the article made:

  • The hand is the only appendage on the human body “that has different names, depending on what it is being used for.  Employ it to hold something, and it is called a hand.  Employ it to hit someone, and it is called a fist.”
  • “Most primate hands . . .  are suited for climbing.”  Not human hands.  With their “short palms, short fingers and long thumbs,” human hands are useful because they allow two types of grips:  a) the “precision grip, in which an object is held between the pads of the finger tips” and b) the “power grip, in which all the fingers and the thumb are wrapped around what is being grasped.”  Both these grips make the human hand superbly equipped for “tool-crafting,” widely believed to be “the driving force behind the modern hand’s proportions.”

Enter two scientists from the University of Utah, Messrs. Michael Morgan and David Carrier.  They postulate a theory “that the exact geometry of the hand is probably the result of its destructive rather than its constructive power.”

The two scientists set out to determine “what makes the fist such an effective weapon.”

  • “A fist presents the knuckles first.  That means the force of a blow is transmitted through a much smaller area than would be the case for its alternative, an open-handed slap.”  In addition, “a closed fist delivers 15% more force than an open-handed strike . . . “
  • “All this suggests that fists are indeed proper evolutionary adaptations, with their own history of natural selection, rather than being just the coincidental by-products of humanity’s handiness with a tool.”

In conclusion, humans “prosper” because the hand not only enables them to make things, but because it can be made into a very effective weapon, simply by making a few adjustments to the tool grip.  Relying on the fist makes it possible to “take what the makers have made,” which is wonderfully opportunistic and practical —  precisely the kind of thing that enforces compliance.  Oh, those early human fist-fighters!  No doubt this is part of the reason why humans were eventually able to assert dominance over the entire animal world.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

R.I.P Naguib Mahfouz: The Economist Obit of 2 September 2006

The photo on the cover of the Sept. 2 –  Sept. 8, 2002 issue of The Economist shows a gripping image of smoke billowing over lower Manhattan.

The cover article is “Five Years On.”

In the same issue, self discovered, is an obituary for Naghib Mafouz, the great Egyptian writer.  He passed away Aug. 29, 2006; he was 95 years old.  The obituary begins:

Great writers often seem to haunt their cities.  Joyce and Kafka remain ghostly figures on the streets of Dublin and Prague, and the elfin presence of Borges is still glimpsed, through cigarette smoke and tango sweat, in the cafés of Buenos Aires.  In the ancient city of Cairo, it is Naguib Mahfouz who does the haunting.

Reading further, self discovers that Mahfouz wrote “35 novels, more than 20 film scripts and a dozen collections of stories, essays, anecdotes and dreams.”  She reads about how Mahfouz chronicled “the bruising, raucous, chaotic human anthill of Cairo.”  Mahfouz’s “wry wit could be scathing, and his social satire bit to the bone:  Si El-Sayed, the authoritarian father figure of his most ambitious work, The Cairo Trilogy, has become an Arabic byword for monstrous male chauvinism.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

And Now, Reading About K2

A few days ago, self began reading Three Cups of Tea:  One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations . . .  One School at a Time.  She’d read the review in The Economist, years ago.

She was confused as The Economist had described the book as a memoir by a mountain climber named Greg Mortenson, but the book turns out to be told in third person, by a journalist named David Oliver Relin.

Thankfully, Relin turns out to be a very good writer.

In the book’s first 20 pages, self learns that Greg Mortenson nearly died during an attempt to reach K2.  He and another man had become separated from the rest of their group.  In a case of rare good luck, Mortenson encountered two men who had worked as porters for a Mexican mountain climbing team.  The porters had completed their work and were now on their way home, unladen.  They agreed to carry Mortenson’s stuff back to base camp, for a fee of $4 a day.  One of these porters, Mouzafer, would later become instrumental in helping to save Mortenson’s life.

Mouzafer, the reader learns, “was a Balti, the mountain people who populated the least hospitable high-altitude valleys in northern Pakistan.  The Balti had originally migrated south from Tibet, via Ladakh, more than six hundred years ago, and their Buddhism had been scoured away as they traveled over the rocky passes and replaced by a religion more attuned to the severity of their new landscape —  Shiite Islam.  But they retained their language, an antique form of Tibetan.  With their diminutive size, toughness, and supreme ability to thrive at altitudes where few humans choose even to visit, they have physically reminded many mountaineers climbing in Baltistan of their distant cousins to the east, the Sherpa of Nepal.  But other qualities of the Balti, a taciturn suspicion of outsiders, along with their unyielding faith, have prevented Westerners from celebrating them in the same fashion as they fetishize the Buddhist Sherpa.”

*     *     *     *

Another climber, Fosco Maraini, who was part of a “1958 Italian expedition that managed the first ascent of Gasherbrum IV, a rugged neighbor of K2” wrote this about the Balti:

“They connive, and complain and frustrate one to the utmost.  And beyond their often-foul odor, they have an unmistakable air of the brigand.  But if you are able to overlook their roughness, you’ll learn they serve you faithfully, and they are high-spirited.  Physically they are strong . . .  You can see thin little men with legs like storks’, shouldering forty kilos day after day, along tracks that would make the stranger think twice before he ventured on them carrying nothing at all.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Economist Reviews Junot Diaz

From an Economist review of Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead), 8 September 2012:

The men cheat on their women; the women usually vanish, never to be seen again.  Most of the tales are narrated by Yunior, the alter ego who forms the backbone of much of Mr. Diaz’s fiction, circling around one relentless question:  Is he, as one girlfriend asserts, “a typical Dominican man:  a sucio (pervert), an asshole?”

These are stories about the difficulty of love:  how hard it is to recognise or hold onto.  In one, Yunior tries to save a relationship he has torpedoed yet again by cheating, on a beach vacation to his homeland.  In another, he seeks solace from his brother’s death with an older woman, and wonders if she ruins him for girlfriends his own age.  Some are bittersweet accounts of the fragile relationships between other recent immigrants.

On the next page is a review of a very different book:  A Very English Hero:  The Making of Frank Thompson, by Peter Conradi.

Frank Thompson was killed in 1944 aged 23, younger even than Rupert Brooke had been when he died in 1915, and in similarly futile and tragic circumstances.

Peter Conradi first became interested in Thompson while researching his acclaimed biography of Iris Murdoch.  The two had been contemporaries at Oxford the year before the war.  Thompson fell in love with the future novelist and with communism in the same week:  “two flights of irrationality . . .  two simultaneous conversion experiences.”  Their love could never be fulfilled.  But for Murdoch, “Frank grew to combine the roles of heroic martyr, potential husband and lost soulmate.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

THE ART OF THE RESTAURATEUR, Reviewed in The Economist, Sept. 1, 2012

Here are a few things self learned from reading the review, in The Economist of 1 September 2012,  of The Art of the Restaurateur, by Nicholas Lander:

  • “Making the customer truly happy is the job, often unsung, of the restaurateur, who risks his money (and sometimes health, marriage and sanity) in one of the most stressful jobs in the world.”
  • “Around 60% of American eateries close or change ownership within the first three years.”
  • “Getting on with neighbours is essential:  their objections to noise, smell and crowds can doom a place, even if the customers adore it.”

Among the 20 iconic restaurants mentioned in the book are:  Hazel Allen’s Ballymaloe House, in rural Ireland; Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café in New York City; Gilbert Pilgram’s Zuni (The Economist mentions that it’s “in California,” which is strangely non-specific, since every other restaurant mentioned has a specific location.  And we all know that California is soooo large, don’t we, dear blog readers?)  and “St. John —  a British nose-to-tail restaurant that specialises in serving the animal parts that most chefs disdain;” Russell Norman’s Polpo in London, which serves cicchetti (Venetian side dishes).

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Best Writing, Economist Business Section, June 2 – 8

Okay, okay, self knows:  Today is July 27, and she still hasn’t caught up with her reading of The Economist.  She is almost two months behind.

But, really, who cares?  Self only reads The Economist to trawl for examples of good writing, not to glean any actual news.  Come on, people!  For news, there’s the web!

The Business section has mention of the following:

“Why American firms cannot do deals without being sued.” — The article begins with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut.  Oh, how very erudite are these Economist business writers!   Here’s the quote:  “Kurt Vonnegut wrote that, “in every big transaction, there is a magic moment during which the man who is due to receive it has not yet done so.  An alert lawyer will make the moment his own, possessing the treasure for a magic microsecond, taking a little of it, passing it on.”  Like so many novelists (quoth The Economist), he was “talking bosh.  No alert lawyer takes only ‘a little.’ ”

“The sound of discord at HP” —  Few people, if any, can sing two songs in different keys at the same time.  Yet the boss of a troubled company often has to belt out an upbeat number about how brilliant the firm is while simultaneously wailing a lament about how hard it will be to knock into shape.  Thorstein Heins (Self’s immediate thought:  What kind of parents name their kid “Thorstein”???), the newish boss of Research in Motion, has been getting plenty of practice:  on May 30th the enfeebled maker of Blackberrys told investors to expect a quarterly loss.  And Meg Whitman has been singing both major and minor since September, when she became Hewlett-Packard’s third chief in less than 14 months.

“What the world’s biggest luxury group will do next” —  France’s tradition of making exquisite luxuries dates back at least to the court of Louis XIV.  The sun king financed ébénistes (cabinet-makers), tapisseurs (upholsterers), menuisiers (carpenters) and other artisans who made beautiful and largely useless things for the court of Versailles.  Bernard Arnault might be his heir.  Mr. Arnault is the chairman, chief executive and controlling shareholder of Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), the world’s largest luxury group.  Over the past quarter-century he has transformed a small, nearly defunct clothing manufacturer into a conglomerate that controls more than 60 luxury brands.

“Western nightclubs eye Asia, and clever technology.” — Few businesses are as local as nightclubs (Well, that is just a fabulous sentence, dear blog readers.  And, since it is so fabulous, self doesn’t think the rest of the article lives up to its promise)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

A Review of Richard Ford, in The Economist (12 May 2012) — A Particular Form of American Angst

The husband made self a margarita.  The tequila was Hornitos.  Wow, it was fabulous.

Now, on to the proper subject of this post:  the book review section of The Economist of 12 May 2012 (Self knows it is July.  She’s been traveling, as dear blog readers well know)

In this issue, there is a review of Mark Haddon’s new novel, The Red House, and it is a good one.  Self wants to read The Red House.

Now, on to the review of the Richard Ford novel, Canada.  It so happens that self also read a review of Canada, in The New York Times Book Review.  She thinks The Economist review is the better one.

For one thing, the review begins with reference to the 1986 Richard Ford novel, The Sportswriter:  “As the title suggests, he is a sportswriter, quietly sleepwalking through his suburban life in the wake of his oldest son’s death.  Frank is emotionally ruined but does not realize it, except in post-facto fits and starts.  This is life’s common tragedy:  understanding always comes late, if it comes at all.”

The review also makes reference to Independence Day, calling that novel perhaps Ford’s “most profound and moving work,” as well as The Lay of the Land (2006), calling it “both funnier and considerably more expansive than its predecessors.”  Clearly, the reviewer is a Ford aficionado.

Then it goes on to discuss Canada, and self finds herself less than enthused but also mildly encouraged by the description of a character named Bev, “the kind of good-natured guy who was not quite handsome or charming enough to get by on such gifts, but who never managed to cultivate any other skills.”

And now self thinks it is time to return to her margarita.  Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading Jesse Kellerman in Redwood City

Summer of 2012 will be the summer of the thriller.

Self knows this because the minute she got back from her travels — she read a fantastic thriller, Colin Harrison’s The Finder, while she was in Scotland.  And then the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report when she was in Paris, and that kinda read like a thriller, although we all know the tragic ending to that one.  BTW, self’s first ever attempt to express what she felt about 9/11 got picked up by the web-zine Lit’nImage.  The story, “Wavering,” will be appearing very soon — she rushed to the Redwood City Library and checked out three mysteries:  the book self is currently reading ( Jesse Kellerman’s Trouble), Alexander McCall Smith’s The Miracle at Speedy Motors, and Benjamin Black’s Christine Falls (Benjamin Black is the pseudonym of the Booker-nominated writer John Banville).  Today, self checked out one more, a book about a detective in 1902 Vienna, A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis (recommended by The Economist)

Anyhoo, the hero of Trouble is a sleep-deprived intern who, after some mind-numbing days of no-sleep, happens to kill someone.  On his way home from a rotation.


(At least, self has never yet reached that epic level of no-sleep total breakdown)

Actually, he was saving a damsel in distress.

The section self reads now is a flashback to the intern’s one serious relationship, when his girlfriend became glassy-eyed with depression, sat around all day in their apartment “staring glassy-eyed at the classifieds or craigslist.  She did not call up friends.  She did not go to the gym.  She complained of fatigue.  She would read the same words over and over and over; they had lots of paperbacks dog-eared on page three.  She forgot things.  She did not brush her teeth for days, then a week, then weeks . . . ”

Self doesn’t know why, of all the passages she had to choose to blog about, it is this one, in which anyone can tell the hero is “building a case” or “stacking the deck against” the former girlfriend, to explain why he is lonely and therefore gets entangled with the Lady of the Night, the woman he thinks he saved from being assaulted.

But, the paragraph after the list of crazy behavior is well written:

Hindsight made him into a fool.  But there had been no breakpoint, no howling neon arrow; life provides few exclamation marks.

And BTW, this morning, self managed to send out two stories.  Thank God for Submittable (heretofore known as Submishmash)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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