Editor's Choice

A time for renewal

Welcome to the new location of the blog I've been writing at http://marginal-utility.blogspot.com. You can expect to find what will hopefully be daily comment on various aspects of consumerism. Lately I've been letting what The Wall Street Journal reports on set my agenda, but my subscription has run out, so I may be left to my own devices. That is, if the paper ever stops coming to my apartment. Despite having allegedly run out last week, it's still there on my doorstep when I leave in the morning. Presumably this is because the Journal's subscription service expects my renewal form any minute now, and it doesn't want to inconvenience me with any interruption in service. The nice people at the Journal wouldn't want me to miss out on any Forex reports or any breaking news in the credit markets or the latest from the courtroom in the never-ending "Executives on Trial" column. Maybe I'm supposed to feel guilty or be so impressed by the paper's magnaminity, by its faith in me as a reader, that I finally break out my checkbook and do the inevitable. But I'm currently hewing to a run-out-the-clock strategy, daring them, as it were, to stop delivering it.

Not that the entreaties to renew haven't been entertaining. They've come disguised as surveys. They've tried to be pleasant in e-mails, and stern in very official-looking letters, and they've tried to bribe me by reminding me how I can deduct my subscription as a business expense, providing receipts prepared in advance for my tax records. Their pleas often revolve around how much more powerful I'll be then the poor saps who don't read the Journal -- it's all very pragmatic, no sense that anyone would be stupid enough to read it just to remain informed, for the sake of it. Of course, the plan is to make money, to dominate, to weaponize information and use it to smite one's financial enemies. This is one of the lessons for which I am most grateful to the paper: that information is always leverage, and if you haven't sensed the profit angle inherent in a piece of data, then you don't really know it. You don't even have to read the noxious opinion page to feel like yo uare seeing through the dead eyes of capital itself as you read the B and C sections. It is, as they like to say, "Capitalism's user's manual" and indeed, it shows you how to become capital's instrument, to think with its cold, dead brain, reinforcing the stultifying manner of corporate thinking required to manage a capitalist system; it encourages you to think in the reductive "rational" thought processes presumed by neo-classical economists. The utter lack of sympathy with consumers, who are routinely rhetorically evoked as wily enemies if not fickle children, is palpable and instructive. So maybe I should be insulted that the renewal service tries those same tricks on me to sell me the very paper that tries hard to convince me to view such things from a lofty height, to make me feel immune to them. In the slew of flattering advertising and pandering pleas for your money, (well dissected in the semi-regular Advertising report in section B) it can be easy to forget what corporations really think about you.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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