Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Gold Ring: Wall Street's Swindle of the Century and its Most Scandalous Crash - Black Friday, 1869 by Kenneth Ackerman

So I was at my daughter's house last weekend, ostensibly for coffee, although whatever it was she served me came out of this little pod that she popped into some futuristic machine, and on top of that she refused to let me put any whiskey in it, on account of it being 8:30 in the morning, so it goes without saying that we were off to a rough start. She was talking to Tina, my granddaughter, in the next room, and they were discussing Black Friday. "You know about Black Friday, right grandpa?," says Tina. "Of course!," I reply, thinking to myself, "Oh shit, here we go again." After the debacle with the planets, the last thing I wanted was for Tina to have another I Told You So moment, so I excused myself by claiming that I had a pickling emergency to attend to, and I hobbled up to the library and got this book.

In case you were unaware, the story of Black Friday is a couple of rich assholes trying to get richer at everyone else's expense by cornering the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange. The market collapsed and the country was temporarily fucked. Sound familiar? Anyone? Jamie Dimon, perhaps? 150 years later, and it's the same old shit. God Bless America. At least I learned enough to put Tina in her place this time.

Here's the kicker, though. I called her up and asked if she would be kind enough to stop by with a real coffee (made from beans, by a human), and I started talking about what I had learned, and she explained that Black Friday is actually a holiday where - I shit you not - everyone spends the whole day shopping. Can you believe this bullshit? Can anything be less of a holiday than that? Is there a holiday where we spend the day sticking forks in our eyes? Or listening to my son-in-law talk about jazz? No, Gerry, it is not the goddamn notes that he didn't play! Tina talked about going shopping with her mom as if it was a recreational activity! Like fishing! Or drinking!

My philosophy on shopping is that you only go shopping when you know what you need, then you go in and get it, and then you leave. No wandering around like mindless sheep, impulsively buying whatever strikes your fancy, as if money grew on trees or expired if you didn't use it. I think I'm less offended by the idea of some rich asshole trying to steal all my money (looking at you, Bezos) than by a holiday devoted entirely to shopping. So sorry Tina, you may know more about Black Friday than I do, but you get no points for this one.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Hamartia by Raquel Rich

You know, even after everything that happened, I still do love Canada. It's a shame that there seems to be a tacit agreement between my family and the Canadian government that I am no longer allowed in the country. Because I keep finding more things to love - including this young Canadian's riveting debut novel about time travel, soul stealing, and parenthood.

I have talked to you about time travel before, but instead of revisiting my ever-growing list of people to kill and pickle recipes to steal, I want to discuss something else that this book really gets right - deference to authority! The schmuck responsible for everyone's souls dying only gets away with his nefarious deeds because people will basically do anything they're told by someone in a fancy suit. Even I am not immune! Just listen to what happened to me at the dentist!

First, I have to admit that I am no longer in peak physical condition. I have hypertension, bunions, hair loss, a bad eye, a worse eye, chronic osgood-schlatter syndrome, orneriness, sleep problems, pickle breath, arthritis, pumpkin spice allergy, and a wart - and these are just my G-rated symptoms! But I have always been told that I have wonderful teeth. And so I was a little peeved at my last check-up when I was told that there was a cavity developing that I should probably just take care of. Quick and easy, they said. But it's not bothering me at all, I argued. It will, they said. And that was the only verifiably true thing I was told that day.

If only I had read this book before that appointment, I would have told them exactly where to stick their rotating buzzy toothbrushes, but no, I just acquiesced like a good lemming. Predictably, it was a total shitshow. The young dentist (maybe just some kid who happened to be there for take your child to work day?) couldn't get the spacer in (whatever the fuck that is - that's just what they told me later), and he ended up scraping half the enamel off one of my teeth. I will never forget him staring down at me, frantically working this metal thing into my mouth, sweating bullets like the guy in Total Recall who is trying to convince Arnold Schwarzenegger not to shoot him because it's all just a dream. If only. You know, I have sometimes fantasized about living out parts of that movie, but not that part! Or the part where he pulls the giant tracking device out of his nose, for the record.

Anyway - now what have I got? One mangled tooth, with a "successful" filling that creates pain and cold sensitivity where it wasn't before. An angry message threatening a law suit that hasn't been returned. And a breakfast that consists of pickles on one side of my mouth and gin on the other, which is quite inconvenient. But at least I learned something. Which is, never go to the dentist. And also, question authority. And also, I'm sure that they would never do something like this in Canada!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I am a big fan of statistical anomalies. When something happens that defies the laws of chance, it temporarily creates in me a false belief that anything can happen, and that there is still a chance that the remainder of my life will not be a combination of meaninglessness and soul-sucking boredom followed by being spoon-fed soup. Of course, that idea is illusory, but on the upside, I do like soup.

Statistical anomalies even got me to watch the World Series last week! Now you know my feelings about baseball, so it took something special to convince me to waste a whole week of my time that I would have otherwise spent doing absolutely nothing. More than a week, if you count the time they spent on video reviews. He was out, for Christ's sake - just get on with it! Or safe - who fucking cares? It's baseball! The point is, the away team won every game of the World Series. Do you know what the odds of that are? If we assume that the home team has a 5-10% greater likelihood of winning any single game, and I break out my abacus here to compute this, the odds of 7 straight away wins are like who fucking knows? I can't do math like that, but it never happened before, so it can't be that likely. And just imagining 50,000 fans going home unhappy day after day after day tickled my funny bone enough to make it through all the games, with a healthy serving of gin for all the pitching changes. And congratulations to whatever team it was that won - I'm sure that was great for you.

Numbers can definitely be surprising sometimes - like the time I was shocked to discover that many items at Dollar General are priced higher than a dollar! Talk about some bullshit! People are afraid of the truth though. When I picketed Dollar General, did they lower their prices? No, they did not. Did I end up with a ticket for disturbing the peace? Why yes, I did. There is no justice in this world.

Anyway, this book has lots of practical information, like why professional hockey players are all born in January. That's an interesting anomaly, and a fact that is sure to make you popular with the ladies. I particularly liked the part of this book about the 10,000 hour rule, which basically says that it takes 10,000 hours or practice to achieve greatness at something. I don't know if I would have come up with that number, but it does explain why I am now the world's foremost expert at telling my son-in-law what an idiot he is. Jesus, Gerry - look what you turned me into.