BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

A little review of a very bad time ...

This was one of those dollar store finds … picked up as much for its brevity (this is definitely a one-afternoon read) as for its topic. Starting Over: Why the Last Decade Was so Damn Rotten and Why the Next One Will Surely Be Better by Fortune Magazine's managing editor Andy Serwer is, as one would guess, a review of the “00's” and all the crappy stuff that happened over those years. The first half of the book is primarily taken up by a year-by-year rundown of the “top stories” from 2000 to 2009 … a decade that has been called “the Decade From Hell” and
“... began with 9/11, ended with the financial meltdown, and had Katrina in the middle. They also had Saddam Hussein, the invasion of Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and Bernie Madoff. Sorry to depress you.”
This part of the book is pretty "thin on content", with an iconic (bad news) photo on one page being paired with a run-down (in 50-60 words or so) of notable (bad news) story headers. These, and the introduction take up 45% of the book, with the remnant being essays on various thematic trends in the decade's news. These are: “In The Beginning” (opening with a pic of one of the jetliners about to plow into the World Trade Center), “The Great Meltdown”, “What Went Wrong”, “Not Just Acts of God”, “Starting Over”, and “The Promise”.

Of course, this all started around midnight on December 31, 1999 when the whole world was holding its breath (and hoarding food, water, and fuel!), expecting the Y2K bug to bring civilization to its knees,
“Instead, it was the American Dream that was about to dim. Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipe-out at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade that Americans have lived through in the post-World War II era.”
Sometimes Serwer does posit answers … in the “What Went Wrong” chapter he lists Neglect (warning signs of Islamicism), Greed (the go-go mortgage years), Self-Interest (labor unions gutted major industries, unwilling to admit to a changing manufacturing landscape), and Deferral of Responsibility (infrastructure decay, contributing to the Katrina destruction). He also cites the undoing of the regulatory Glass-Steagal act in 1999 which then allowed for disastrous mixing of banking functions, and re-writing of rules that allowed firms like Bear Stearns and Lehman to “pile $30 of debt onto each $1 of capital”.

In the “Starting Over” chapter he revisits the same things looked at in “What Went Wrong”, and suggests ways that we're going to address these things in new ways, and then takes a deeper look forward in “The Promise”:
“I tend to think of technologies as waves,” says Peter Bishop of the University of Houston. “My candidate for the next wave is biotechnology.” Bishop believes that “we will finally get our arms around how to manipulate code for DNA, create synthetic organisms as a platform, and then design how we want those things to work for food, for energy, and of course then extending it into human health.”
And the holy grail of this century, finding and optimizing energy sources beyond oil, gas, and coal, will naturally entail technological expertise – think batteries, as well as solar, wind, and geothermal – and likely even biotechnologial prowess. Bishop gives an example: “Biofuels, particularly algae, are probably going to really boom. I think we're going to see large algae farms, where you need three resources – water, sunlight, and a source of carbon dioxide, because grabbing it out of the air isn't efficient enough. So you'll put an algae farm next to a coal plant or a natural gas plant and try to pump CO2 into the algae and then turn the algae into a biofuel.”
Again, this is a slim volume, well under 100 pages all told, and how you like it possibly is a function of what price you find it for … the buck it cost me at the dollar store was not misspent, but if you shelled out the $14.95 cover price you might feel somewhat gypped (as many reviewers of it have). The on-line big boys do have it at a substantial discount (nearly 2/3rds off), which makes it cheaper (as an add-on for an order that will have free shipping) than getting a copy from the new/used vendors, whose lowest priced copies (at this moment) are all hanging just under two bucks … odd for a book that's been dumped into the dollar store channel. Starting Over is an interesting enough read, if somewhat of a major bummer, and largely stands as a reminder of what we've survived on our way into the current maelstrom dragging down into insolvency, tyranny, and societal madness … heck, the way things are going, in another decade those double-zero years might be seen as “the good old days”!

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Tags: book review
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