Book Report: You Can't Win

Jury duty continues. Jury selection continues. Maybe this is an appropriate time to post this book report which I typed up a while ago...

You Can't Win is the autobiography of Jack Black. Here, by "Jack Black", I don't mean that comedian who looks like Tim Schafer. I mean the Jack Black guy who lived back in what we called "the previous century" in the previous century. He was a "hop-head" (opium addict), "bum" (hobo), and "burglar" (uh-oh). Later on, he became a hardened criminal... but the book doesn't talk about that. It talks about riding the rails, time in jail. Stealing from stores, social mores.

San Francisco bonus: Black lived here for a while. After he was caught for some crimes, folks had a tough time bringing him to trial--after records burned up in the '06 quake/fire.

There's a little mention of Fremont Older--he gets more of a mention in an essay towards the back--a reformer who helped drum the corrupt Ruef machine out of city hall, then experienced remorse and forgave Ruef.

How did Jack Black end up writing this book? Did he write it from prison? No, no. He went straight. Why did he go straight? Because a judge, Judge Dunne, gave him a lenient sentence--and Black felt that he owed it to the judge to live right, so that the judge wouldn't seem to have made a bad decision.

... But jurors don't set sentences, so I won't repeat that experiment.

Labels: ,

Book Report: Planet of Slums

Seriously? They used Erlang? On purpose? What's that you say? The mic is on? We're rolling? We're on the air? Oh! Ahem. It's time for a Book Report.

This book by Mike "City of Quartz" Davis is about slums, shantytowns, favelas. You might think that sounds familiar; this book covers similar territory that Shadow Cities did.

This book doesn't spend so much time in any one community; instead it looks at world-wide trends. There was a huge population movement towards slums. If you think of slums as a good thing (at least relative to rural poverty), you might be hopeful; if you think of slums as a blight, you might despair. But Davis points out that the rate of population shift has slowed. Probably these poor people have already occupied the land that was easiest to adapt; there's fewer opportunities for those who come now.

But of course even the land that's already been taken over is not good. Toxins, lack of clean water, predatory landlords.

Davis is mad at the World Bank for promoting privatization of basic services. Some of this is valid, some seems misplaced. Some of the countries he's discussing are/were kleptocracies. It was dumb of the World Bank to expend effort on privatization in these places, but the citizens of those countries would have been screwed even if the their governments retained control of those services.

It can be a hard slog wading through Davis' rants. Trying to help us grasp the disparity of wealth between the world's rich and poor, he writes

Global inequality, as measured by World Bank economists across the entire world population, reached an incredible GINI coefficient of 0.67 by the end of the century--this is mathematically equivalent to a situation where the poorest two-thirds of the world receive zero income, and the top third receives everything.

...but instead of helping me see the wealth gap, this just suggests that GINI isn't an accurate measure: since the bottom two thirds of the population don't have zero income, GINI must be broken?

Still, an interesting book. Seeing how countries fight their poor citizens with bulldozers and riot police... well, these stories don't usually make it into the news. Where Shadow Cities gave a better idea of what it's like to visit one of these slums, Planet of Slums gives more background on the trends at work, the mammoth size of this change.

Labels: , ,

Book Report: India Unbound

In this book, Gurcharan Das whines about life in India under the "License Raj". For many decades, India's government was over-regulated. The government was in charge of everything. Bureaucrats had great power--but not enough time or enthusiasm to carry out their duties. So anyone who wanted to run a business neeed licenses, and would probably spend about two years (a) figuring out who they needed to bribe, (b) bribing them, and (c) figuring out who they needed to bribe next. Corruption reigned. If you succeeded in business, your taxes were likely to be around 97% and could go over 100%. Perhaps this tax rate was fair punishment--you were probably a criminal if you'd made this much money, considering how many people you'd probably bribed. This state of affairs did not turn out well. In recent years, many of the regulations have gone away. Many new small businesses have sprung up. Mr. Das says this is pretty significant, and makes a good case.

Labels: , ,

[Powered by Blogger | Feed | Feeds I Like ]

home |