January 27th, 2015



I just can't get away from decline and fall and prole drift and the appeal of Wal-Mart.  It's successful, its political economy might be that of a monopsony, it's the Redneck Universalnya Magazin (or perhaps someplace you don't go to the day welfare checks come out), it's Railroad Salvage on a large scale.  For Book Review No. 3, Charles Fishman's The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works -- and How It's Transforming the American Economy revisits familiar ground.  Mr Fishman's research includes interviews of workers, suppliers, potential suppliers who said no to the monopsony's terms, and members of senior management in Bentonville.  Two conclusions merit mention.  First, Mr Fishman suggests that the company's profitability is the consequence of a lot of small gains on very thin margins, albeit on great volume.  Thus, he concludes, the company has little opportunity to pay higher wages, or to be less vigorous about squeezing "continuous improvement" (read: outsource production to third world sweatshops) without becoming another unprofitable discounter.  That might not sit well with some of the company's critics. "Economists note that if Walmart paid its employees at least $25,000 a year, a million and a half workers would be lifted out of poverty. That would mean more money staying in communities to support local businesses, helping to create at least 100,000 new jobs." Doubtful.

Second, he suggests that the company's business model, which might have been helpful for a Railroad Salvage sort of dealer in remaindered goods, becomes destructive when it's being used to dictate terms to the likes of Procter and Gamble.  His metaphor: the adolescent still engaging in the behavior of a toddler.  Intriguing, and quite possibly true.  But to conclude by suggesting that senior management look outward, falls flat.  For all of Wal-Mart's success, it is possible for consumers to get on, year after year, without setting foot in one.  Perhaps not enough to get the company to change its behavior, not yet.  But lamenting Wal-Mart's symbiosis with the welfare state (selling cheap crap to welfare recipients while fobbing part of the payroll off on the social service agencies) or condemning the corporate culture riles people up to no effect.  Market tests have steeper grading curves.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

book wraith

Book 8: Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Book 8: Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood and Co. #1) .
Author: Jonathan Stroud, 2013.
Genre: Young Adult. Urban Fantasy. Ghosts.
Other Details: ebook. 567 pages.

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive. Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This was my first Jonathan Stroud book and I enjoyed it very much. The tale is narrated by Lucy and begins with the case that goes horribly wrong and then tracks back to give background on Lucy as well as how she came to work for Lockwood and Co.. The central premise is that there is a growing epidemic of hauntings throughout Britain that can have deadly consequences to those who come into direct contact with the ghosts. This has led to strict curfews, special ghost lamps as well as specialist agencies to deal with the deadly hauntings.

Stroud does not pin his story to a particular date though it is assumed to be contemporary with the changes taking place 50 years ago. I started off listening to this on my Audible edition while at the gym but this was a rather slow way so get through such an engaging novel so I switched to its Kindle edition.

I am planning to read the second book and was pleased to see that at least two more are in the pipeline. I appreciated the glossary of ghosts and hauntings at the end.

Book #3: Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

Number of pages: 624

A book that features both a love triangle and an industrial dispute.

It's fairly obvious in this book that the hero, Robert Moore should marry his lover Caroline; however, things get complicated when the eponymous Shirley appears on the scene.

Shirley is a richer, privileged woman, and Robert ends up proposing to her because he needs the money for his mill. Apparently, Shirley was also based on Charlotte Brontë's sister Emily, author of Wuthering Heights, and is a version of her, "If she had wealth and happiness".

The story also involves scenes in which mill workers riot at the prospect of losing their employment to new technology, although it doesn't take up a large amount of the story that mostly looks at the relationships between the three main characters. I remember noticing that a lot of the story involved Caroline and Shirley getting on like good friends, although Shirley does start to become nastier towards the end of the book.

This book felt somewhat different in tone to Jane Eyre, which I have read a few times, feeling less gothic, and making me think of the writing style of Dickens, possibly because of the number of side characters and various plot strands.

At times I found the book hard going, especially as there seemed to be long descriptions of people expressing their internal thoughts; I've also noticed that Charlotte Brontë often stuck several passages of dialogue in French into her novels. However, the main romantic plot is actually quite simple and mostly easy to pick up.

Next book: "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (J.I. Packer)
der Mut
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Rabbit's Man; Tiger's Life

Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas, by Alison Uttley, illustrated by Margaret Tempest (reread)
One of my absolute favorites, which I reread because I picked it up while I was tidying and cataloguing the children's book section of my home library, and then couldn't put it down until I'd read it again.
(26, O14)

Man Alive, by Thomas Page McBee
This was very very difficult for me to read, but it was worth it. Clean and fierce and honest, frequently ambivalent, transformative.

Life, Reinvented, by Erin Carpenter
A book by a therapist, written to help people who've experienced sexual trauma. Straightforward, basic. A good starting point, not too overwhelming despite having survivors' stories in it.
(28, O15)

Tiger's Quest, by Colleen Houck
Oh, dear. The writing improved compared to book 1. The weird, nearly squicky cultural stuff and the weird, nearly squicky approach to romance got worse. The infodumping was equally omnipresent. And yet, I still found it quite compelling and will be reading the 3rd one as soon as I get through the library hold queue. Maybe this is how (some) people feel about The DaVinci Code.
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