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review 2016-12-14 15:37
Made my All-Time Top Five History Books list~ !
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty - James A. Robinson,Daron Acemoğlu

I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. I would place it in my all-time top five history books, along with Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Will and Ariel Durant's Rousseau and Revolution, Carroll Quigley's Tragedy & Hope, and Norodom Sihanouk's My War with the CIA.

What it is, is a very simple thesis about what it is that nations require to materially prosper. I'm not sure why the title dwells on nations which fail, as the title could just as easily be "Why Nations Succeed." Simply stated, Robinson expounds that the winning formula for prosperity is merely this: (1) a government sufficiently powerful to enforce private contracts and adjudicate private disputes; (2) a process of political and economic decision making sufficiently inclusive that the productive class (as opposed to the ruling or landowning classes) believe it is in within their power (by means of some combination of hard work, ingenuity, and judicious investment) to improve their lives; (3) institutional respect for the ownership and accumulation of private property. In the terminology of the book, systems which fulfill the above criteria are called Inclusive, and those which do not are called Extractive. You may or may not agree, but the heart of the book isn't much more than this.

What is fantastic is how the authors view selected histories through the lens of this very basic premise. I still haven't bothered to learn the authors' backgrounds, but they are well versed in a wide range of interesting world history. It turns out that contrasting the pre-colonial and colonial periods of Sierra Leone supports the thesis perfectly. Likewise, contrasting a history of the Spanish colonies in South America with the British and French colonies in North America. The history of the Republic of South Africa (Extractive) and Botswana (Inclusive). India, North Korea vs. South Korea, etc... there are ample examples provided.

Are these examples cherry-picked? They may be, but I have not been able to come up with anything to refute the general principles. Delving beyond the simple demonstration of examples, the mid portion of the book examines situation which superficially appear to contradict the thesis, but then shows how in fact they support it. The rapid economic growth of the Soviet Union between 1926-1960, for example. The USSR stands firmly in the camp of Extractive systems, but enjoyed robust growth, and even some innovation (the Soviet space program and Sputnick, for example) during this time. It was a limited run, and an aberration, it turns out... driven by borrowed technologies (efficiencies) from external sources, cannibalization of wealth created from the preceding Extractive-but-slightly-less-Extractive-than-the-USSR political and economic institutions of the Czars, and limited growth which can sometimes be engineered by converting from one Extractive system (feudal agriculture) to another (Soviet collective farming) which enjoys slight benefits of efficiency-of-scale.

The same analysis is applied to the apparent belle epoque of Argentina from 1870-1910, when Argentine economic growth was the envy of the rest of the world, and the phrase "Rich as an Argentine" was used in American and British circles. The growth was self-limited, because it was mostly a reflection of the entrenched dominant landowning families developing previously-undeveloped land, not the sort of "creative destruction" one sees from true innovation and wealth creation in an evolving and progressing economy. This idea of creative destruction comes up again and again.

More relevant to modern day: the author argues convincingly that the impressive economic growth we now see in China is doomed to sputter out, if Chinese political and economic institutions remain Extractive.

The final third deals with case histories of those rare systems which have broken out of the Extractive natures and transcended to Inclusive: England's Glorious Revolution of 1688; the French Revolution (which led to a conversion of many other European systems from Extractive to Inclusive), and the slow evolution of the American (US) South from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Act.

It's a wonderful book, and I'm not doing it justice here, but please read it.

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review 2015-10-11 21:49
Daron's Guitar Chronicles: Reunited and It Feels So Good (for a bit, anyway)
Daron's Guitar Chronicles: Volume Seven - Cecilia Tan

I am not sure what there is left to say about volume 7 that I haven't said before about volume 1 through 6 before. Except that these books are so effing good and Daron is so effing real and that is still just as true for volume 7, and that is really quite a feat. Most series I quit because they get boring and repetitive and they start feeling like fanservice (or like milking the fanbase) rather than that the author still has a story to tell. This is nothing like that.

So Daron and Ziggy are finally reunited in this book, something we've been waiting for since.... book 2, really. And it's intense. And it stays intense, because if there is one thing for sure, it's that these two will never end up in the complacent domesticity that passes for an HEA in most m/m romance. They've got too much shit to work out, for themselves and together, they are too different, they've got too much water under the bridge. But they're trying. Hard. And it's a beautiful thing to witness.

So rather than trying to dredge up more superlatives and repeating myself, I'm just going to leave you with more quotes.

“Mills is the one who wants to break up the band, not me.”
Ziggy’s spine straightened. “What did he tell you?”
“A load of crap so far as I’m concerned. What did he tell you?”
“That while I was in rehab you whored yourself out to a lot of other bands, looking for a new job, and in the end you re-joined Nomad.”
I should not have been defensive, but I was. “That’s called making a living.”
“Oh, so you did what you had to do? How’s that different from me?”
“For fuck’s sake, Ziggy, I’m a professional musician. So are you. You are not, however, a professional professional.” I couldn’t bring myself to use the word “whore” again, not even though–or maybe because–he’d just used it.
“I’m an entertainer,” he said.
“Fine. Entertainer, actor, celebrity, fine. That doesn’t mean you have to have sex with whoever’s in charge.”
“But I like the sex.”
“Is that why you do it? Honestly? You just like it?” I had a sudden feeling of deja vu. Didn’t we have this conversation once before? Or had I imagined it? In the time we were apart there were so many things I wished we’d said I wondered if I were mixing fantasy with memory. “Let me be clear about this, Ziggy Ferias.” Yes, I was using last-name level vehemence. “I get jealous. I do. But I could live with you sleeping with whoever you wanted if that’s all it was about, freedom and being yourself and enjoying sex for the sake of sex. But when it’s this control-game bullshit? It makes me want to run far, far away. If you’re lovers with Richard Whatshisface, the director? Okay, fine. But you just told me he’s a closet case you control with his joystick.”
To which Ziggy had only three little words to say, in a very small voice. “You get jealous?”


***
 

And then I had one of those weird moments of clarity, as if the rules of a game had suddenly presented a loophole to me. I didn’t care so much whether it was “true” that he had, or had not, tried to kill himself. What I actually cared about was that he knew that I worried about it, and I wanted him to do something about it. Not to “tell me the truth” necessarily, but to acknowledge that I felt the way I did. And you know what would have to happen for that?
I would have to tell him how I felt. Fuck.
I let my own eyes close for a second while I drew a breath. When I opened them, he was looking right at me. Here goes. “I really worried you tried to kill yourself. And I really worried it was…” My throat got so tight I could barely choke out the last two words. “…my fault.”
Shit. Ziggy cracked like a second-rate aquarium and like that he was projectile crying. I don’t know which one of us had the bright idea to hug the other. Maybe it was spontaneous. We ended up pressed together, me cradling his head while he wept into my shirt and I dripped tears into his hair.


*** 

 

“Okay, hang on, if we’re going out I’m changing my clothes,” Ziggy said. “Five minutes.”
He ran up to my room. I resisted the urge to follow him and watch him undress because–come on, people–I’d just been listening to him sing for an hour. If you didn’t expect it to be like an hour of foreplay you haven’t been paying attention.


*** 

 

Her: I’m not saying don’t be upset. You have every right to be upset. But… but you’re getting paid for not lifting a finger.
Me: For my life’s work.
Her: Listen to yourself. You’re twenty-four years old–
Me: Twenty-three.
Her: –Even worse. You’re only twenty-three and you’re calling two albums and an EP your life’s work?
Me: Okay, I misspoke. Life’s work is… I can’t explain it.
Her: I can. You wrapped a huge amount of your ego and your self-esteem and your identity in the band. Come on. Isn’t it obvious? You named the band after your persona. But maybe it’s time to stop mixing up the band and you.
Me: …
Her: Daron? Are you there?

 

***
 

“I knew I could never do it alone. I knew I wanted to do rock and I’ve always known that would mean finding a singer.” I found myself sucking in a breath, then, pulling myself back from the edge of tears, feeling like this was turning into a breakup conversation before I gave it a chance. “When you find the one, you know.”
He got to his feet suddenly, and I watched him beat back his anger, stuff it back down inside himself so that he could tell me something instead of screaming it at me. “You know how you said I should have asked you about it before I signed the contract?”
“Yeah?”
“Maybe you should have said that sooner, too.”
Shit.

 

***
 

“Label shmabel. It’s just another fucking hand of conformity trying to crush me, Sarah. Every time I think I’ve escaped it, wham, another one comes down!”
“Is that all it is? Rebelling against your suburban upbringing? Wow, that’s really fucking original. Not a cliche at all. You know what says angsty whiteboy pain better than anything else? Anthemic guitar solos. That’s so so much less of a cliche than a big Broadway number, oh yeah right.”
Oh shit I’m in trouble, I thought. I’m having a fight with a friend, like a serious, we’re-both-mad-and-upset kind of fight, and on top of that, fuck, if she’s right, and I think she is… something in the bedrock of my self-identity is crumbling away.
And that always sucks.
Even if it’s necessary.
Even though I was putting the brakes on in my brain, my mouth was still going, which goes to show how upset I was. “I don’t do those piece-of-shit anthem solos and you know it.”
“Tell yourself that if you need to, but I thought you were over lying to yourself. I think you’re saying all of that to justify what’s happened and the choices you made that led to it.”
“Oh yeah? I’m pretty sure you’re saying what you’re saying because you’re about to hit the road with a fifty-person entourage, wearing a rhinestone-studded bra.”
She slapped me. I deserved it.

***
 

“Remo, the guys, they all know about me.”
“And me?” Oh, the skeptical eyebrow.
“Remo knows. The rest have made guesses.”
He came out and said it: “They wouldn’t find the whole fucking-a-bandmate thing a taboo?”
I came right back. “We’re not bandmates anymore, Ziggy.”
He stopped dead in his tracks. His lips parted and his mouth opened slowly and I realized that was his jaw going slack.
I wanted to reach up caress that jaw. Instead I made my voice gentle. “We’re not, remember?”

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review 2015-10-11 21:21
Daron's Guitar Chronicles: The Epic Breakup.
Daron's Guitar Chronicles: Volume Six - Cecilia Tan

So, Volume 6 of Daron's Guitar Chronicles is probably the oddest volume of any romance series ever, since it doesn't feature one half of the couple. At all. He is just not there (except for in the bonus bit). And it is still awesome. I wouldn't have believed it either, if I hadn't just reread it and confirmed it: this book is fantastic.

So what happens is that after the nail biting finale of volume 5, Ziggy goes to rehab for a month. Within that month horrible things are done to Moondog Three by the record company and things come to a head with Digger, Daron's dad and manager. And when Daron goes to pick Ziggy up from rehab before Digger gets there.... well, that'd be spoiling things.

The main part of the book features Daron dealing with these crises, while making a go of living with his boyfriend Jonathan. Safe and sane Jonathan, who has so much to offer that Daron needs in his life. The brilliance of this book lies in how Tan slowly, insidiously, tears their relationship apart until it all comes to a head. If you've ever been in a relationship where both of you really tried to make a go of it and it still just didn't work, you'll be cringing and nodding through big parts of this book. The reason this book is exciting and not totally depressing is that, besides a few overly domesticated Daron fans, nobody is actually rooting for Daron and Jonathan to make it. Because face it: we're totally team Ziggy. It's hard to hate Jonathan, though, so we feel so much for both of them. And that is how a book without Ziggy can still be one of the best, if not the best, in the series. Even though his absence is sorely missed.

By Daron too. This scene takes place towards the end of the book and is set in a karaoke bar in Japan, where Daron is on tour with another band.

I sorted through the catalog trying to find something I knew well enough to sing even if I was potentially too drunk to read the lyrics.

Hey. They had some Moondog Three in the listings. Candlelight, Wonderland, Why the Sky… What was Intensive Care doing on that list? Had it been released as a single here? It hadn’t been in the US, but maybe it had in Japan. We usually did it in our shows. Maybe it had gotten some college airplay and deep AOR…

What the hell. I decided to do it.

The first draft of the lyrics? I’d written them back when I still had that initial crush on Ziggy. Back when I felt so strongly about him, so intense it was painful. It was a love song, but it was about how much love hurts.

I wish I had remembered that before I picked it to sing. Not only did it remind me exactly how much it used to hurt, it reminded me of the exact size of the current Ziggy-shaped hole in my life. I swear I hallucinated him sitting in the audience and then disappearing before my eyes. When you wish hard enough for something, I think you can make yourself see it. But that doesn’t mean it’s there.

And the thing is, I wrote the song, but he’s the one who sings it, you know? I get to stand behind a guitar usually. What the hell did I think I was doing going out there with the microphone? There’s no going back, you know. No matter how embarrassing or ridiculous your performance is. Karaoke, standing there on the stage alone, demands commitment. Songs take on a life of their own.

I did not do something so dramatic as cry on stage. I can hold it together. That’s one of those things, though: when you feel like you’re being sliced up by knives in your chest, holding it all together only makes it hurt even more.

I might have made other people cry, though. I’m sort of ashamed to think I might have and so I’ve never found out for sure. I don’t remember anything else from that night other than learning the word Suntory. (Japanese for whiskey.)

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photo 2015-09-05 05:13
DGC Vol 2
DGC Vol 3
DGC Vol 4
DGC Vol 5
DGC Vol6

Some of my favorite quotes from Daron's Guitar Chronicles, chronologically. 

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review 2014-10-03 22:14
Daron's Guitar Chronicles, Vol 1.
Daron's Guitar Chronicles - Cecilia Tan

This is a collection blog-length chapters chronicling Daron's life in the early 80s, a closeted guitarist trying to make it big. It's a nice read and fairly short, but didn't inspire me to continue on with his adventures. The author has all his chronicles free on her website, but collections after this one are for sale. 

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