Kavalier and Clay

by Harry on January 5, 2007

I just finished reading ,The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (UK) and want to recommend it to everyone else who is several years behind the curve. (My next review will be of a book that has today as its publication date, honest). Before Daniel rolls his eyes about “bloody Marvel comics” I should say that initially I had no intention of reading it. Chabon is compared on the sleeve with Cheever and Nabokov, neither of whom I have read; there is no indication of any murders in it, or English detectives solving them; and even I find the idea of a novel about people writing comics slightly silly. What prompted me to read it was the enthusiasm of my wife, a person who holds comics in the kind of contempt that people with a sense of humour reserve for the “humour” pages of Reader’s Digest. (My daughter and I finally made her read some Tintin and Asterix a year or so ago, at which point she relented slightly, but only with regard to French and Belgian comics). And she was right, Kavalier and Clay is a wonderful novel. The central characters (surprisingly enough called Kavalier and Clay) are both realistically drawn – Kavalier is a brilliant obsessive who lives mostly in his head, escapes pre-war Czechoslovakia in a coffin and, once in New York is drawn into the comic business by his cousin, Clay, right in the middle of the golden age. He is determined to bring his family to join him, and, like Clay (who idolizes him) determined somehow to bring America into the war. Their great creation, The Escapist, seems to be loosely modeled on the radio serial character Chandu the Magician. Its hard to say much more without giving too much away, but there are really five central characters, all of them lovingly drawn – Kavalier, Clay, the bohemian girl Rosa Saks with whom both of them become involved, a long-dead New York City, and the world of the comic book production team. Though long, its moves at a fast pace, and I think what I liked best about the novel was the good-heartedness of the author – all the central characters and most of the supporters are flawed but decent people, and none the less interesting for that. I guess I’ll have to read his novel with the word “mysteries” in the title, even though it doesn’t seem to involve any murders, unfortunately…

Flight of the Earls

by Maria on January 5, 2007

2007 marks the 400 year anniversary of the Flight of the Earls, the moment the political leadership of the Irish aristocracy left Ireland and scattered all over Europe. Following an unsuccessful rebellion in 1601 that marked the end of a nine year campaign against the English, the leaders, Hugh O’Neill (an antecedent of Henry’s and mine, I believe) and Rory O’Donnell, left Ireland for the continent. O’Donnell died suspiciously in Rome the following year, and O’Neill’s plans to use his Spanish allies to mount a further military campaign fizzled out. I’m pretty hazy on the details, but I think the Irish colleges in Paris and Louvain have strong connections with the Flight of the Earls.

Learning about the Flight of the Earls in primary school, I remember feeling very sad that the last stand against colonialism ended so decisively, and that its leaders were forever (self)-exiled. But chatting to some Irish ex-pats in Brussels recently, I found myself wondering aloud if the English actually did us a favour. Certainly, the Flight of the Earls opened the way for the plantation of Northern Ireland, a forced colonisation whose implications we’re all still struggling with. But perhaps Ireland also gained something from losing its native aristocracy.

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Flexibility as a zero-sum game

by John Q on January 5, 2007

If you want to see the new flexible workforce, go to Walmart (hat-tip Tim Dunlop). As Tim’s title suggests, there’s nothing new about workers being told, from day to day, whether they’ll be wanted and for how long – look at any old movie about the waterfront for illustrations. All that’s new is that it’s being done by computer now. And flexibility, in cases like this, is a zero-sum concept: the more flexibility our bosses have to direct us, the less we have to run our own lives.

Relative prices

by John Q on January 5, 2007

Obviously, I’m not the only one who gets annoyed by pieces pointing to purchases of consumer goods as evidence that rising inequality isn’t really a problem. As Henry says, this is a tired shtick that lots of us are sick of.

But, as an economist, it particularly annoys me when this claim is put forward by people who claim to understand markets. I’ve been going on about this for yearsand years.

The most important thing that happens in markets is that relative prices change. If prices change, but income and preferences don’t, what we expect is that people will consume more of the goods and services for which prices have fallen and less of those for which prices have risen. So, when Jeff Taylor tells us that

With price points dropping below the $1000 mark, high-end TVs are moving down-market fast with Wal-Mart leading the way.

we can all cheer this renewed verification of the Law of Demand. But, of course, this tells us precisely nothing about what’s happening to inequality.

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