Wednesday, March 10, 2010

back to the old powerbook for a week or so

I'm at the SOHO Apple Store where I just dropped off our sick Macbook; fortunately it's still under Apple Care's extended warranty. They can't fix in in-house so they're sending it out for repair, and we should get it back in a week or so. Shoshana and I are a one computer family again, and that one computer is our 4 year old slow poke Powerbook. At least I have an excuse to postpone starting our tax return. It's also lucky that the Macbook chose to get sick after I emailed my book review to my editor Tuesday and that I have a good novel to read (which I will review when I finish reading it in several weeks).

Now back to Brooklyn to pick up our car with new rear brake pads, rotors and caliphers (the things that push the break pads into place when one applies the brakes). Last week we bought new tires and the urgency of the brake problem was brought to our attention. We declined to do the brake job at the tire shop, and after a bit of comparison shopping our garage guy Gus turned out to have the lowest price for the job, $200 less than what Midas charges. After I pick up the car I'll head to Midwood or Boro Park to do our Pesach shopping.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

MEDIA BEFORE YOU: Sex, death ... and Reading

That got your attention, didn’t it? It snatched mine—not because I had never seen the advertisement from Sinclair Institute (“helping you achieve a better love life since 1991”), but b

ecause there it was, incongruously, on the back of the Mar. 7 New York Times book review. That real estate is usually claimed by Bauman Rare Books or Bose, the maker of pricy headphones and speaker systems.

At a time when the book review section looks distressingly cadaverous at 24 pages, any ad beats no ad. Moreover, there’s something bracing about the subliminal suggestion that reading is sexy. That is, until you realize that Sinclair is suggesting that if you’re reading the ad, you’re probably in need of help when it comes to lovemaking—in the way that stroke victims need rehab to learn how to walk again: “These videos show couples how to overcome sexual problems so common with middle age, including: erectile dysfunction … reentering the dating scene … and rekindling passion when sex has become boring or predictable.”

Another reminder, as if anybody needed one, that if you’re the kind of person who reads the book review section, you’re probably… old. It’s the same clap to the head you get while watching 60 Minutes or network news while having to endure all those ads for Cialis and Flomax. What’s next on the back page of the Times supplement, pitches from makers of respirators? Hospices?

What we ageing readers may lack in animal magnetism, we more than make up in marketing muscle. Older folks, 46 years and upwards, buy more books than any other age group. According to a year-plus old study—in Publishers Weekly, citing PubTrack Consumer, a unit of R.R.Bowker, owned by Reed Elsevier, the giant publisher and data peddler—seniors spent $3.2 billion in 2007 for 371 million books; boomers, $4.3 billion for 427 million hardbacks and paperbacks. The same report claims that Gen X shelled out $3.4 billion on 285 million titles; Gen Y, $2.7 billion for 180 million; and teens $655 million for 57 million books. Current and upcoming recipients of Social Security are keeping this dying business alive. Geezers are also taking to e-books faster and in greater numbers than younger folks. The Mar. 7 Book Review also has a full-page ad for the Amazon Kindle.

Still, it’s hard to shake the association between literacy and senescence. No wonder a lawyer friend of mine, who last year turned 50, shrinks from some of the books I recommend to him. Don Quixote, Moby-Dick, Anna Karenina, Middlemarch, Ulysses? “No,” he almost shouts, “they’re too long.” I used to think he was intimidated by their complexity or the sheer weight of lugging around a fat volume. Now I know the truth: He’s afraid he won’t live long enough to finish any one of them.

Far better, I think, to embrace the inevitable with brio. Something very much like the narrator and subject of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67). His hilarious digressions—on his uncle’s obsessions with siege warfare, his father’s theories of how a name and the size of one’s nose determine character and destiny—delay the promised subject of the story (and his own birth) for hundreds of pages. The novel opens with his mother’s interrupting the act of conception to ask his father if he has remembered to wind the clock; everything that follows seems designed partly to arrest time and to keep death, lurking everywhere, at bay.

Still, it’s hard to shake the association between literacy and senescence.

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David Foster Wallace Archive Acquired by Harry Ransom Center

News Release — March 9, 2010

David Foster Wallace Archive
Acquired by Harry Ransom Center

AUSTIN, Texas—The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has acquired the archive of writer David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), author of "Infinite Jest" (1996), "The Broom of the System" (1987), "Girl with Curious Hair" (1988) and numerous collections of stories and essays.

The archive contains manuscript materials for Wallace's books, stories and essays; research materials; Wallace's college and graduate school writings; juvenilia, including poems, stories and letters; teaching materials and books.

Highlights include handwritten notes and drafts of his critically acclaimed "Infinite Jest," the earliest appearance of his signature "David Foster Wallace" on "Viking Poem," written when he was six or seven years old, a copy of his dictionary with words circled throughout and his heavily annotated books by Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, John Updike and more than 40 other authors.

Materials for Wallace's posthumous novel "The Pale King" are included in the archive but will remain with Little, Brown and Company until the book's publication, scheduled for April 2011.

"The Ransom Center is delighted to be the home of this remarkable archive," said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Ransom Center. "Wallace was undoubtedly one of the most talented writers of his generation. His works are intricate, complex, often humorous, sometimes challenging, but almost always brilliant, and his archive not only records his creative process but also demonstrates the dedicated choices he made in his works. I will always remember Wallace's description of a topspin forehand shot in one of his essays on tennis. It was the most accurate description of a tennis shot that I have ever read. This same acuity and perception pervades all of Wallace's works. We are delighted that his papers will be preserved and made accessible here."

In addition to offering fellowships to support scholarly research in the collection, the Ransom Center is planning future programs and events related to Wallace's work and the archive.

Manuscript. Click to enlarge.

First page of a handwritten draft of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Harry Ransom Center.

"The work of David Foster Wallace, so vitally and fearlessly attached to the culture around it, will be a source of exploration for generations to come," commented novelist Don DeLillo.

Wallace's materials at the Ransom Center will reside alongside the papers of contemporary writers such as DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Doris Lessing and James Salter, as well as those of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

Wallace's publisher Little, Brown and Company is donating its editorial files relating to the author to the Ransom Center. Wallace worked with Little, Brown and Company beginning in 1993.

"Little, Brown and Company is happy to donate all of our correspondence and internal memos relating to 'Infinite Jest,' 'Brief Interviews with Hideous Men' (1999), 'Oblivion' (2004), 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again' and 'Consider the Lobster' to the Ransom Center," said Michael Pietsch, Little, Brown and Company's executive vice president and publisher and Wallace's longtime editor. "David's letters are delightful to read in themselves, and we hope that scholars will benefit from finding his notes to his editors and copy editors in the same archive with his draft manuscripts, journals and other correspondence."

The Wallace materials are being processed and organized and will be available to researchers and the public in fall 2010.

Some items from the archive can be viewed at, and a selection of materials will be on display in the Ransom Center's lobby through April 9.

High-resolution press images from the collection are available.

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more March NYC Jewish culture events

To read the article click here

Another chance to see the film "A Matter of Size", discussion on the concept and feeling of "home", and "Jews and Spain" (worth checking out, especially if you missed December's symposium & music festival).

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Friday, March 5, 2010

James Galbraith "In Defense of Deficits" (thanks, Jayne Lyn Stahl)



The Simpson-Bowles Commission, just established by the president, will no doubt deliver an attack on Social Security and Medicare dressed up in the sanctimonious rhetoric of deficit reduction. (Back in his salad days, former Senator Alan Simpson was a regular schemer to cut Social Security.) The Obama spending freeze is another symbolic sacrifice to the deficit gods. Most observers believe neither will amount to much, and one can hope that they are right. But what would be the economic consequences if they did? The answer is that a big deficit-reduction program would destroy the economy, or what remains of it, two years into the Great Crisis.

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  • Private borrowers can and do default. They go bankrupt (a protection civilized societies afford them instead of debtors' prisons). Or if they have a mortgage, in most states they can simply walk away from their house if they can no longer continue to make payments on it.

    With government, the risk of nonpayment does not exist. Government spends money (and pays interest) simply by typing numbers into a computer. Unlike private debtors, government does not need to have cash on hand. As the inspired amateur economist Warren Mosler likes to say, the person who writes Social Security checks at the Treasury does not have the phone number of the tax collector at the IRS. If you choose to pay taxes in cash, the government will give you a receipt--and shred the bills. Since it is the source of money, government can't run out.

    It's true that government can spend imprudently. Too much spending, net of taxes, may lead to inflation, often via currency depreciation--though with the world in recession, that's not an immediate risk. Wasteful spending--on unnecessary military adventures, say--burns real resources. But no government can ever be forced to default on debts in a currency it controls. Public defaults happen only when governments don't control the currency in which they owe debts--as Argentina owed dollars or as Greece now (it hasn't defaulted yet) owes euros. But for true sovereigns, bankruptcy is an irrelevant concept. When Obama says, even offhand, that the United States is "out of money," he's talking nonsense--dangerous nonsense. One wonders if he believes it.

    Nor is public debt a burden on future generations. It does not have to be repaid, and in practice it will never be repaid. Personal debts are generally settled during the lifetime of the debtor or at death, because one person cannot easily encumber another. But public debt does not ever have to be repaid. Governments do not die--except in war or revolution, and when that happens, their debts are generally moot anyway.

    So the public debt simply increases from one year to the next. In the entire history of the United States it has done so, with budget deficits and increased public debt on all but about six very short occasions--with each surplus followed by a recession. Far from being a burden, these debts are the foundation of economic growth. Bonds owed by the government yield net income to the private sector, unlike all purely private debts, which merely transfer income from one part of the private sector to another.

    Nor is that interest a solvency threat. A recent projection from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, based on Congressional Budget Office assumptions, has public-debt interest payments rising to 15 percent of GDP by 2050, with total debt to GDP at 300 percent. But that can't happen. If the interest were paid to people who then spent it on goods and services and job creation, it would be just like other public spending. Interest payments so enormous would affect the economy much like the mobilization for World War II. Long before you even got close to those scary ratios, you'd get full employment and rising inflation--pushing up GDP and, in turn, stabilizing the debt-to-GDP ratio. Or the Federal Reserve would stabilize the interest payouts, simply by keeping short-term interest rates (which it controls) very low.

    About James K. Galbraith

    James K. Galbraith is the author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. He teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and is a senior scholar at the Levy Economics Institute. more...

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

March NYC Jewish culture events

Kudrow Explores Her Roots and Takes Other Friends With Her –

Kudrow Explores Her Roots and Takes Other Friends With Her

‘Who Do You Think You Are?’: Lisa Kudrow, of ‘Friends’ fame, travels to Belarus to learn about her family’s experience in the Holocaust.

By Curt Schleier

Published March 03, 2010, issue of March 12, 2010.

A simple monument stands outside the town of Ilya in what is now Belarus. It is in memory of the hundreds of Jews taken from their home to this very spot, shot two or three at a time and pushed into a pit that had served as an ice cellar.

Lisa Kudrow — best known as Phoebe Buffay from the TV show “Friends” — stands in front of the monument and puts a rock atop its head, and as the camera pulls in for a close-up, you see her tears. What you can’t see is her rage.

From ‘Friends’ to Family: Lisa Kudrow gets a genealogy lesson that changes her outlook.

There are actually two stories behind this image — one simple, and one moving and complex.

The easy tale to tell is that Kudrow was in Ireland some years ago, where she watched and was drawn in by a show called “Who Do You Think You Are?” In it, celebrities trace their ancestry.

Kudrow pitched, and sold, an American version of the show. (It premieres March 5, at 8 p.m. on NBC.) The program is part documentary, part reality show — all with the added appeal of a little celebrity dish. Sarah Jessica Parker, running back Emmitt Smith, Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon are among those who delve into their respective histories. Kudrow’s episode, the third of seven in the series, airs on March 19.

During a telephone interview with the Forward, Kudrow was asked if anything on the trip surprised her. She seemed puzzled at first by the question, so the Forward prompted her: “You’d mentioned your rage at the Holocaust before. Did that surprise you?”

“That wasn’t a surprise,” Kudrow said, “that’s what I was afraid of. I was also wondering if I’d feel a connection with Belarus. My family had been there for hundreds of years. Culturally there must have been some impact [that] I might feel some familiarity with.”

That didn’t happen. “I couldn’t get it out of my head that the country was one unmarked grave after another.… Going there and seeing everything only confirmed what my greatest fears were,” she said.

Kudrow’s interest in genealogy comes from her father, David. The elder Kudrow grew up extremely poor in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. His father — Lisa’s grandfather — died when David was 3. As David grew up, he was told various stories about his father. “He wasn’t sure what was fact and what was fiction,” Kudrow said.

As an adult and a physician practicing in Los Angeles, David went to a Mormon church in L.A. — the church is a repository of all kinds of genealogical information for people of all faiths — to do research. He gathered enough facts to fill out a 46-page family history, but was unable to come up with anything further about a vague memory of his childhood.

He recalled that while he was still a child, his family was visited by a Polish Jew, Yuri Barovden, who was working, after the war, on a ship then docked in New York. Barovden grew up in Ilya, and from the vantage point of nearby woods he saw his family and members of the Kudrow family, including Lisa’s great-grandmother, murdered by the Nazis. The man felt so sorry for the poverty he found the Kudrows living in that he left $50 for the family.

When Kudrow undertook this journey for her show, the goal was to find out what happened to Barovden. (Spoiler alert: She finds him, alive and well, living with his son and grandson. “Lisa Kudrow in my home and not my TV,” the son says.)

The experience has made some lasting changes in her outlook. Growing up in a secular household, she remembers watching Holocaust documentaries on TV with her father. She took Jewish history classes in high school and college. But, she said, she never felt a personal connection to it. “It was never my family’s story,” Kudrow said. “Yes, they may have been rounded up and shot, but they weren’t in the camps.”

Interviews with celebrities are typically micromanaged. The deal was for 10 minutes, but Kudrow seemed reluctant to hang up. She gets a phone call and has room service delivered, handy excuses to interrupt the conversation. But the 10 minutes turns to 20 and then a half-hour, almost as though she’d been waiting for an opportunity to discuss this aspect of her show and life.

She talks about the reaction of her father, who expressed his pride in her accomplishments. “He told me he knew it” — going to Belarus, seeing the graves firsthand — “was hard. It got pretty emotional for him, because it was seeing me in pain. But he said, ‘You went through all that and brought back all this information.’”

She mentions, as well, that her 11-year-old son has seen parts of the episode on his ancestors. His response: “I wish I could go back in time and beat the crap out of Hitler.”

Contact Curt Schleier at

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Photos from 3/1/2010 DC trip - a set on Flickr

Apologies to DC area friends we didn't get to see (and didn't advise of our travel plans--we drove down on Sunday and returned home today). We both had business meetings in Washington DC on March 1, and with what little free time was left over we saw some art.

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