Saturday, July 14, 2001

Where was I?
At some point this week I want to comment on the Meyer article in the Atlantic Monthly (alas, not on-line at This article was referenced by the PW booksellers e-mail I get every day, so I went to check out what Meyer had to say in his "passionate" response to pretentious writing. I haven't finished it, but the section on Delillo comes straight out of Bruce Bawer's take on Delillo in the New Criteria ten years ago, and even then it was pretty much crap. At least, however, one can respect Bawer as a reader (for a recent article by Bawer, check out Salon's book section,, for /2001/06/28/) I suspect that since the Atlantic's editorship was taken over by Michael Kelly, we might be seeing more articles arguing, as Myer's does, for a basically conservative aesthetic.

But more on that later, as I say.

Thursday, July 12, 2001

Ah, as I wait for my lunch to warm up in the oven, I can do my log for the day.
As you'll remember, I signed off last with the promise that I would tell the long saga of my writing career, such as it is - truly, a cinescopic story. But today I am going to diverge from that fascinating subject and address Andrew Sullivan and the Giant PharmaCos. - which is not a children's story by Roald Dahl, but a little conflict of interest snare Mr. Sullivan has entangled himself in. You can go to - Jim Romenesko's Media News and see the links there, as well as my brilliant little letter.
To see A.S. defending the drug companies, you can go to Slate - dialogues dated 01-04-09.
Now, aside from the conflict of interest question, I've always wanted to have my say about Sullivan's position on this issue, which reflects a contradiction in the conservativism I've seen in many other conservative thinkers. So I'll have it here.
Here's the deal. Conservatives will often say, about something like the price of drugs, that the choice is between the Government and private enterprise. Slicing the discourse up neatly like this, however, isn't quite right. Because at the heart of Sullivan's position is an unanalyzed but powerful dependence on the State by the drug companies. By pretending they are rivals, the issue of monopoly power is masked.
For what is it, essentially, that pharmaceutical giants do? The patent pharmaceuticals. They might develop them, or they might not, but the end process is to patent them. This means that they apply to have monopoly control over a certain product. And their success depends on the state taking up arms for them - by, essentially, allowing them to forbid other companies from manufacturing and selling a particular drug for a particular season.
Adam Smith cast a pretty cold eye on monopolies, even when celebrating free enterprise. Here's a quote from Wealth of Nations:
"A monopoly granted either to an individual or to a trading company has the same effect as a secret in trade or manufactures. The monopolists, by keeping the market constantly understocked, by never fully supplying the effectual demand, sell their commodities much above the natural price, and raise their emoluments, whether they consist in wages or profit, greatly above their natural rate. The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got."
The Andrew Sullivans of the world are essentially arguing that there is a flaw in the system of competition. Whereas they believe competition for, say, electricity is a good thing, they are in effect saying that the state should nurse businesses by granting them a preliminary season of non-competitiveness - so they can get a fair return on their investments.
Notice the word "fair" here. If I were to argue, for instance, that companies should be forbidden to fire employees because it is unfair - if I were to argue, in other words, that employees be granted monopolies to their positions - conservatives would buzz like angry hornets. And their argument, after you peel off the rhetoric about freedom, would be that employing people at high rates of pay which aren't determined by competition in the labor market hurts the rest of us by upping prices. Apparently they are willing to concede that hurt in the case of intellectual property, however - perhaps because they have more invested in the concept of intellectual property.
But beyond the motives of unconscious self-interest, there is something else going on here - a sort of automatic servility before power. Although conservatives are quick to pounce on liberals for worshipping the nanny state, the genuflection before big corporations is, of course, of the same family of response: the awe of the clerk before his master.
I should say this, right away: I'm no libertarian. I do, however, have great respect for the empirical and logical arguments for competition, even if I think there are other social factors which lead me to support socializing power, healthcare, etc. I have no respect, however, for the argument of a "fair return." There's no empirical data that links a higher profit, due to monopoly, to more innovation. If there were, in fact, it would knock all the other conservative arguments on the head. When Penicillin was invented - I mean, after Fleming had diddled away his experiments with it, and it was taken up again at Oxford - the scientists who made it DIDN'T PATENT IT. Why? Because at that time, quaintly enough, it was considered unethical. If you read James Le Fanu's wonderfully cranky book, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine (and Le Fanu seems to be conservative), the picture of modern medical innovation he draws has nothing to do with BigPharma making tons of profit on drugs they are magically spewing out.
So let me end this spiel on this note: hey, it isn't that we want the State to get into drug dispensing - but to relax its interventions on behalf of big Pharmaceutical companies. Let those generics in there, let BigPharma compete, limit, severely, the term of state-granted monopoly. As Adam Smith once didn't say, let a thousand flowers bloom.
New post. Good.
Now the writing deal. I'm thinking a lot about the writing deal.
Two things happened today.
One, I'm writing reviews for this business site. I'm writing reviews of business books. I used to do that for the Kurson's zine, Greenmagazine - and pause for a moment in memory, please. And I am a regular autodidact when it comes to economics. We are the worst kind of cranks, the Henry Georges, the Hobsons - but hell, it isn't like economics is really a science. I could - in fact I will - post away about the ways in which economics is moved by motives that are more Glasperlenspiel than profit and loss, but that is neither here nor there. I was talking about working for this site that shall be nameless, for this editor who shall be nameless. It looked like a great gig - I got a message while I was down in Mexico, this January, that M. was going to be editing this site. It was for some consulting firm or something, and M. wanted to use a review I'd already done for Green, and she wanted me to do reviews for her, and I thought, they are coming to me now.
This is what you want to happen, when you freelance. You want the e-mail or the phonecall that says, hey, we want you to write such and such for us, and damn, you will do it. A study of bloodsplatter for a hockey magazine, get intimate with your margarine, who cares? Just do the piece. However, I must admit I am stuck up. I don't just do content. I don't just get intimate with the margarine. I have my views, and I put them in my work. That is me, that's how I write.
Well, from the beginning I discovered that M. was more theoretically interested in doing these business book reviews than in reality. This didn't surprise me. So she tossed me some topics, but she never sent me any real galleys to review. In order to do this, and make my cool hundred a review, I had to go out and find some books.
I do, I go out and find some books. But nothing seems to happen. A couple of reviews are published, and then I find this book, I do the review, and I get editorial feedback two months ago, and then nothing. Then it is up again, and I think okay, minor changes - no, I'm sent a draft with all these editorial comments that I thought we had already gone over. By this time, of course, the book is fading in my head - how many books have I reviewed, ten? - maybe ten since the first draft of this thing. And remember, this is for one hundred dollars, I'm not working in the New Yorker zone. Okay, lately my motto is, if it pays, do it - just bend over and do it. So I send in another draft. And then, today, what do I get - another editorial revision, these with what I consider to be pretty ignorant comments. Like M. spent three minutes reading this thing. What I'm describing here should be familiar to any freelancer - it is that dreaded thing, the editorial process with no direction. I mean, if M. doesn't like my writing in general, fine - let's just part. But that she expects me to swallow these comments and do something about them - well, I blew my top. Wrote a nasty, farewell e-mail about the whole thing. This pumped me up. I left this morning, did some research, came back around five, and couldn't wait to see if she had replied. She did - she was amazingly polite about the whole thing. Still, this is one of those incidents that remind me why I want to get something, anything, stable.
Ah, I've written that up in one big rush and still haven't even given you, who read me - haven't given you any picture of why I write, or who I am, or where I come from. And that was what I was planning to do. But it will have to be the next post.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

That was last night's entry. Not exactly portentious - not exactly "stately, plump Buck Mulligan," huh? I'm tempted to change it, but I guess the deal here will be to pour out the spontaneous expression of my heart, and let the devil take the hindmost. Okay, if this is going to work, that is going to have to be a parameter. cool.
When I said I was a writer, I meant that is how I make my living. Mainly, I do book reviews. In the last couple weeks, I have done a piece about the new Robert Mitchum bio, for Kamera, a review coming out in this week's New York Observer, and, let's see, I did this interview of Carol Muske-Dukes recently for Publisher's Weekly.

But I want to delve more deeply into "being a writer." I'm going to do that in my next entry.
I've wanted to do this logging bit for a while. And so here I am, doing it - although this is just the inane beginning, so that I can post this and see what it looks like. But here is the deal. I'm a freelance writer - a breed of Yahoo known for spitefulness, poverty, and the fits of self-pity unheard of outside the fat ringed minds of D.C. politicians. And so that is what I intend to display, here. My spots.

Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...