Friday, December 31, 2021

Books Read - Q4 2021

Previously: Q1 2021 book reviews, Q2 2021 book reviews, Q3 2021 book reviews, our 2020 Book Review Compendium, 2019 book compendium and 2018 book compendium, and pre-2018 book compendium

  • Going Down Tobacco Road: R. J. Reynolds' Tobacco Empire: The Gold Leaf and North Carolina (3/5) Written by Gene Hoots, who worked as a financial analyst for RJR in its heyday before the leveraged buyout (which is chronicled in a great book, Barbarians at the Gate). Starting in the late 19th century, "smoking slowly replaced chewing as the tobacco product of choice. America's transformation from a rural to an urban society accelerated this change. As population density increased, spitting tobacco juice became unacceptable; in addition to being unsightly, the public began to associate spitting with the spread of tuberculosis and other diseases." On Tsar Alexis' attempt to ban smoking in 1634: "He obviously didn't have much success, and current regimes aren't having much luck either. The main reason for their failure is no secret, but hardly ever mentioned: What else? Money. The industry makes money for so many people that the world in general, and governments in particular, refuse to kill it." A big day in tobacco history: "On April 1, 1970, tobacco advertising was banned from radio and television beginning in 1971. The year before the ban, cigarettes were the biggest television advertisers, spending $230 million. Now they would be limited to print media. An era had ended. Removing the ads from the air affected Americans' smoking not at all. The ban had a surprising positive effect on the cigarette companies' finances. Without television advertising, it would be nearly impossible for a new company to enter the business; even an existing company found it challenging to introduce a new brand. And since the companies all quit advertising at the same time, existing brands' market share were not relatively disadvantaged. Also of great help, this retreat from advertising reduced the anti-smoking advertisements on television as well. Cigarettes became even more profitable. Advertising savings flowed straight to the bottom line. RJR's profit margin on cigarette sales was 19.5 percent of sales from 1966 to 1969. The margin leapt to 24.7 percent in the years 1970 to 1974." Similarly with the increase in federal excise tax in 1983, which doubled from 8 cents to 16 cents per pack: "The industry was not totally displeased with higher taxes on cigarettes. Tobacco people knew that the more governments relied on tobacco revenue, the less likely that they would discourage cigarette sales. For decades to come, many would seek to fill their coffers with tobacco money while also condemning smoking, a love-hate relationship fostered by obscene amounts of cash." Starting in the early 1960s - when the Surgeon General report came out - RJR management had a big problem with worrying about the fate of the tobacco business, and attempting to diversify away by buying other businesses. The result: "RJR bought six companies totally or in part with common stock [...] that yielded a very low or negative return, handing out stock that eventually controlled 40 percent of the company. The shares provided their new owners $1.6 billion in dividends and $9.9 billion more when the leveraged buyout" took place. "Management was wrong twice - first paying up for not very good companies, and second using stock and trading away 40 percent of one of the most profitable businesses in the world." There were some skeptics at the time, like RJR's CFO in the early 1970s, who said, "I would rather own half the cigarette business than all the acquisitions we ever make." RJR traded at a low valuation (like 10x earnings) during the period in which it was making acquisitions for stock, and the "better" companies that they were buying, with stock, were acquired at higher multiples and mostly performed worse than the tobacco business. RJR management was afraid of being taken over, but there is no explanation for why they didn't just buy back their own stock to return capital and keep their shares too expensive for an acquirer. Quoting an RJR employee: "Sad to see a once great company with all its rich one hundred year plus southern heritage being reduced to this [...] set in motion years ago when the management shifted from tobacco men to outsiders. From then on the company, it seems, has been used and abused by its various holding company management for personal gain and glory with all their chest pounding adventures funded from the tobacco money they were publicly embarrassed to identify with..." The KKR buyout of RJR was incredibly leveraged. Into a $30.2 billion LBO, the GP put in $16 million and the LPs of KKR put in $1.48 billion, for a total of only $1.5 billion of equity (5%). The rest was financed with debt and preferred stock. While RJR was buying unrelated companies and then in an LBO debt service cash crunch, Philip Morris was focusing on tobacco. The result: "Philip Morris had a golden opportunity. While [RJ] Reynolds Tobacco's cash went to pay off junk bonds, the big rival plowed its profits back into the business. It beefed up its sales force, plastered the Marlboro Man on more billboards, and cozied up to wholesalers with incentives. By 1991, PM had grown its market-share lead to an impressive five points in only three years, to 43% vs RJR's 28%. PM tormented RJR mercilessly." Then, on "Marlboro Friday" (April 2, 1993), PM cut the price of smokes by 20%. A price war. In 1999, RJR Nabisco breaks up. Its Tobacco International subsidiary got sold to Japan Tobacco. Nabisco Foods was spun off - and then sold to Philip Morris. Then, in 2002 Tobacco started acquiring tobacco companies - Natural American Spirit. In 2003, it merged with Brown & Williamson, a division of British American. In 2014, Reynolds bought Lorillard (Newport cigarettes). That left Reynolds with Newport, Camel, Pall Mall, and American Spirit, plus Vuse for vapor. In 2017, BTI bought the part of Reynolds that it didn't own, ending the independent Reynolds name after 142 years. He ends with a thought experiment: "What if Bowman Gray and then Alex Galloway had said, 'We know the tobacco business. We don't know anything about food or any of this other stuff. We are first, last and always tobacco men. Let's just see how many cigarettes we can sell, and let's not stop in America. Maybe we can sell Winstons, Salems, and Camels in other countries. It's worth a try. We aren't tied to Forsyth County or even America."
  • The Devil's Playbook: Big Tobacco, Juul, and the Addiction of a New Generation (4/5) Read two books about vape startup Juul, this one was bigger and better than the other (Big Vape). One interesting find is that the founders of Juul, two Stanford graduate students in product design, were smokers who wanted to create a safer nicotine alternative for themselves. When they were starting, they mined a treasure trove of research, which was the document collection that was made public as part of the Master Settlement Agreement - "internal emails and handwritten letters, scientific studies and business plans, patents and product research, all of which opened an incredible window into a secretive industry that had spent billions of dollars over nearly half a century trying to develop a new, noncombustible cigarette." "Somebody had tried to disrupt the cigarette before: the tobacco companies themselves! [They] had simply failed miserably in their years' worth of attempts." Understanding the tobacco business today means understanding the regulatory and litigation history since the 1990s. In 1996, the FDA attempted to regulate tobacco products by declaring them drugs and drug-delivery devices. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 (FDA vs B&W) that Congress never delegated authority to the FDA to regulate tobacco. Since FDA's mandate is to approve products that are safe and effective, and cigarettes aren't, "the inescapable conclusion is that there is no room for tobacco products within the [agency's] regulatory scheme. If they cannot be used safely for any therapeutic purpose, and yet they cannot be banned, they simply do not fit." This was a moment that really saved Big Tobacco, and Big Tobacco responded very shrewdly by switching to a strategy of regulatory capture instead of denial and fighting. "Philip Morris had announced that as part of its 'realignment' with society it would support FDA regulation rather than thwart it at every turn. This wasn't simply an act of goodwill. Under Parrish's tutelage, Philip Morris was masterfully positioning itself so that instead of locking horns with government regulators, it could work in concert with them to shape the details of any bill... The company had warmed up to the idea of FDA regulation, so long as the agency treated cigarettes as a complex product that, no matter how deadly, still could be accessed by smoking adults for continued legal use." So, in 2000 the Supreme Court punted the issue of tobacco regulation to Congress. Nothing happened for a decade, until the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act during the Obama administration. "[T]he new law was not a hands down triumph for public health. Instead, it was a compromise between the demands of public health authorities and tobacco companies, which lobbied heavily to shape the bill to their liking. For example, while the FDA was given new powers to control levels of nicotine in cigarettes, the agency was expressly forbidden from executing an outright ban on cigarettes or requiring the total elimination of nicotine in them..." Plus, "despite the FDA's new tobacco framework, e-cigarettes appeared to be in a legal grey zone. They weren't clearly enumerated in the new tobacco control act, and it wasn't evident they could be regulated under the agency's separate drug authority." A federal appeals court upheld an injunction against the FDA in 2010: "the FDA couldn't regulate electronic cigarettes as drug devices unless they were being marketed for therapeutic smoking cessation purposes." The Juul founders experimented with various nicotine salts (alkaline nicotine plus acid equals salt) and found that using benzoic acid gave vapers satisfaction equivalent to cigarettes. They filed a patent: "certain nicotine salt formulations provide satisfaction in an individual superior to that of free base nicotine." Juul also made its pods very strong: "Its five percent nicotine concentration was by far the strongest e-cigarette on the market. It would always amaze people [that] a single tiny Juul pod delivered an amount of nicotine equal to an entire pack of Marlboro Reds. Even with Juul's proprietary benzoic acid-nicotine salt formulation that made its hits smoother compared to others, its potency delivered a powerful zing." Here's something interesting about the vape business compared with cigarettes: "the Juul had no beginning or end [unlike a cigarette] so people could ingest large amounts of nicotine without even realizing it." "People were taking deeper and longer puffs the longer they had the device." In 2016, the FDA passed a rule "deeming" cigars and e-cigarettes to be tobacco products. Vapes that had been for sale before 2007 (very few) were grandfathered in, other vapes were allowed to keep selling while preparing premarket review applications (PMTA) to the FDA showing that the products met the standard of being "appropriate for the protection of public health." The applications were lengthy, costly, and onerous, which was a big advantage for large companies. The acquisition of Juul by Altria is easier to understand in light of this regulatory history. No tobacco product could be introduced, and no existing product modified, after August 2016. "By the time the company realized that Juul was an actual threat, any hope of actually innovating on MarkTen to make it better, or more appealing, had slipped away. The FDA's deeming rule had made it all but impossible. Companies were no longer allowed to introduce new products to the market, and they were forbidden from improving on any existing device." Altria's vape product, MarkTen, could not compete: "it had 1.8% nicotine, and it was in the inferior, harsh freebase form. Juul had 5% nicotine, and it was in the superior, smooth salt form. It was nearly a scientifically proven fact-Juul would hook more users than Elite." In other words, "Juul found a way to shoot more nicotine into the human body than anyone had ever thought possible." Like your typical SV startup, Juul cut corners - regulatory arbitrage, low product quality - to outmaneuver industry incumbents. Big tobacco was just very conservative because of the pummeling it took in the 1990s. This led to a "frustrating pattern" for Altria: "When little cigars started doing a brisk business, Altria started work developing its own branded product but wound up springing to buy John Middleton Inc., the maker of black and mild cigars, for nearly $3 billion. When smokeless tobacco grew in popularity, Altria tried to innovate with its own Marlboro branded smokeless products - Marlboro Snus, Marlboro tobacco sticks - before giving up and paying $10 billion for the leader in the category, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company. No matter how many Clayton Christensen or Klaus Schwab books its executives read or John Kotter consulting sessions they attended, Altria simply couldn't move much beyond rolling tobacco in paper."
  • Big Vape: The Incendiary Rise of Juul (3/5) This was pretty redundant after reading the longer, more thorough Devil's Playbook covering the same subject. Note that both authors were pretty hysterical about the "vaping crisis." Why should I care if rich high school students use their parents' money to buy nicotine? Why do we need nationwide legislation and registration to control what goes on in these absentee parents' homes? Some highlights. When the Juul founders gave a presentation about their idea in their Stanford class in 2005, it said, "What if smoking were safe? And even better, what if smoking were actually not offensive to others?" They wanted to "create a whole new experience for people that retains the positive aspects of smoking, the ritual and everything, but that makes it as healthy and socially acceptable as possible." That's re-nicotinization. Again, it was the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed in 2009, that gave the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products. But it was focused narrowly on cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and loose-leaf tobacco, and for the FDA to "deem" something else a tobacco product, it needed to write a rule regulating that specific product. They didn't get around to doing this for almost seven years, which left a loophole that Juul (and others) drove a truck through. Altria, meanwhile, was too timid and inept to follow them. They never even tried to match the nicotine concentration and salt formulation of Juul. On the other hand, R.J. Reynolds (which is now owned by BTI) did figure this out, and they used a nicotine salt in their Vuse vapor product. (And also a high concentration, like Juul.)
  • H. L. Mencken: Prejudices Vol. 2 (LOA #207): Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Series (4/5) Read this back in 2018, was just rereading it for fun. Still his best pieces are the anti-chiropractor and anti-farmer ones. "[T]he only thing that keeps [farmers] from reducing us, at intervals, to actual famine is their own imbecile knavery. They are all willing and eager to pillage us by starving us, but they can't do it because they can't resist attempts to swindle each other. Recall, for example, the case of the cotton-growers in the South. They agreed among themselves to cut down the cotton acreage in order to inflate the price - and instantly every party to the agreement began planting more cotton in order to profit by the abstinence of his neighbors. That abstinence being wholly imaginary, the price of cotton fell instead of going up - and then the entire pack of scoundrels began demanding assistance from the national treasury - in brief, began demanding that the rest of us indemnify them for the failure of their plot to blackmail us!" "It was among country Methodists, practitioners of a theology degraded almost to the level of voodooism, that Prohibition was invented, and it was by country Methodists, nine-tenths of them actual followers of the plow, that it was fastened upon the rest of us, to the damage of our bank accounts, our dignity, and our ease. What lies under it, and under all the crazy enactments of its category, is no more and no less than the yokel's congenital and incurable hatred of the city man..." On Prohibition: "Perhaps the chief victims of Prohibition in the Republic, in the long run, will turn out to be the Federal judges. I do not argue here, of course, that drinking bootleg liquors will kill them bodily; I merely suggest that enforcing the unjust and insane provisions of the Volstead Act will rob them of all their old dignity." "That contempt of court should be an offense standing outside the purview of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments - that a judge should have the power to punish summarily all deliberate floutings of his dignity - this may be reasonably argued, though there are many sound considerations against it. But that it should be lawful to convert some other and wholly unrelated offense into contempt of court by a legal fiction, and so get around the Fifth and Sixth Amendments by a swindle - this is surely more than any sensible man would soberly maintain. When it is maintained, it is only by persons who are trying to put men into jail by processes that any average jury would revolt against - mill owners eager to get rid of annoying labor leaders, coal operators bent on making slaves of their miners, Prohibitionists lusting for the punishment of their opponents." On chiropractors: "[T]he doctrine that all human ills are caused by the pressure of misplaced vertebra upon the nerves which come out of the spinal cord - in other words, that every disease is the result of a pinch. This, plainly enough, is buncome. The chiropractic therapeutics rest upon the doctrine that the way to get rid of such pinches is to climb upon a table and submit to a heroic pummeling by a retired piano mover. This, obviously, is buncome doubly dammed." "To-day the backwoods swarm with chiropractors, and in most States they have been able to exert enough pressure on the rural politicians to get themselves licensed. Any lout with strong hands and arms is perfectly equipped to become a chiropractor. No education beyond the elements is necessary. The whole art and mystery may be imparted in a few months, and the graduate is then free to practice upon God's images. The takings are often high, and so the profession has attracted thousands of recruits - retired baseball players, plumbers, truck drivers, longshoremen, bogus dentists, dubious preachers, village school superintendents."
  • H. L. Mencken: The Days Trilogy, Expanded Edition (LOA #257) (3.5/5) Three autobiographical works by Mencken - his childhood in Baltimore, his work as a newspaper reporter, and his life as a public figure. Mencken was born in 1880, the same year as Douglas MacArthur, George C. Marshall, W.C. Fields, and Oswald Spengler. His father owned a cigar business in Baltimore, so Mencken is a part of American tobacco history in a way we never realized before. "On September 26, 1890, as I find by my father's bill-file, he bought a Swiss repeater watch paying $200 for it in cash - a strange transaction for him, for he commonly preferred barter, and settled most of his major bills in either cigars or leaf tobacco, or both." "My father and his brother and partner, like most reasonably successful American businessmen of the eighties, always had plenty of time on their hands. The business they were in had not yet been demoralized and devoured by the large combinations of capital that were to come later on..." "They drank straight whiskey straight, disdaining both diluents and chasers. I don't recall ever seeing my father drink a high-ball; the thing must have existed in his day, for he lived on to 1899, but he probably regarded its use as unmanly and ignoble. Before every meal, including breakfast, he ducked into the cupboard in the dining-room and poured out a substantial hooker of rye, and when he emerged he was always sucking in a great whiff of air to cool off his tonsils. He regarded this appetizer as necessary to his well-being. He said it was the best medicine he had ever found for toning up his stomach." "When the [cigar business headquarters] was built, in 1885, he simply hung out the sign, sent for the city councilman of the district, and gave him $20. This was in full settlement forevermore of all permit and privilege fees, easement taxes, and other such costs and imposts. The city councilman pocketed the money, and in return was supposed to stave off any cops, building inspectors or other functionaries who had any lawful interest in the matter, or tried to horn in for private profit." "In the matter of polygamy among the Mormons, which kept all the moral theologians of the country in a dither down to 1890, he was a champion of the Saints, and argued that it was nobody's damned business how many wives they had, so long as they paid their bills, which seemed to be the case." Mencken was a tobacco user: "[E]very reporter had a desk, and every desk was equipped with a spittoon. This was a great convenience to me, for I had acquired the sinful habit of tobacco-chewing in my father's cigar factory, and am, in fact, still more or less in its loathsome toils." "My father had brought me into the business in the hope that I would stay in it and follow him, for he had no confidence in his brother. I had not smoked as a boy, but when I went to work he suggested that I had better begin, for I could not learn anything about tobacco if I didn't. I soon developed a taste for its better and more expensive varieties, and used to sneak into the cellar, abstract a few leaves from a Havana bale, and make myself some smokes." "As we drove home to Mt. Washington on Summer afternoons he would launch into long lectures on the characteristics of different kinds of cigar tobacco, the management of labor, the vagaries of drummers, the elements of credit, and other such pertinent matters."
  • The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds (3.5/5) This young married couple from Alaska (author Caroline Van Hemert and her husband) did a 4,000 mile journey across Alaska, first paddling through the Inside Passage from Bellingham to Haines, AK, then crossing the coastal mountains (Saint Elias Range) on foot and skis, and packrafting down the Yukon River. A long portage through Tombstone Territorial Park takes them to the Mackenzie River, which they packrafted to its delta at the Arctic Ocean (Beaufort Sea). (Through the mosquito ridden delta!) They paddled and hiked along the Arctic coast through Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, then crossed the Brooks Range (Gates of the Arctic National Park) and floated down the Noatak River in a borrowed canoe to end their journey at Kotzebue. They were in their early 30s, passionate Alaska outdoor adventurers, and this was their last hurrah before settling down to have two children (so far). It took from March to September, and it sounds like they were pushing the season a bit late at the end with the cold. They must be kind of liberal because they went through thousands of miles of bear country with just bear spray, no guns, and towards the end actually got chased by a menacing black bear. (The bear spray was ineffective.) But they are impressive people, look at their off-the-grid cabin in Haines. She and her husband split their food rations based on body weight (60/40) which is a rational and fair system. They did get hungry at the end when a bush pilot was late making their food drop because of disorganization and weather. This trip seemed to be enough to quench her restlessness: "Suddenly, I feel the first real pull towards home. I realize now that staying in one place is not the same as being stuck. We've seen so much in the past five months, covering ten or twenty or forty miles at a time. But this isn't the only way of seeing. Here, it's the seasons, the animals, the shadows and sounds that change. In the series of paintings Francesco had shown us before leaving, every view of the lake looked slightly different; each cloud, each shade of green, each reflection on the water's surface colored by the mood of the day. It takes much more than a visitor's eyes to uncover such subtleties."
  • The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America (3/5) Reaching the point of diminishing returns in the tobacco reading program. It is funny to read these anti-tobacco books that have a mindset of late-1990s moral panic against smoking, when two decades later we have seen that there are worse outcomes than diseases caused by cigarettes, such as the ill health and disfiguring obesity caused by seed oils and refined carbohydrates (the hyperpalatable snack foods). When is the trial lawyers' playbook going to be wielded against snack food and seed oil manufacturers? Some highlights: the Camel billboard in Times Square from 1941 until 1966 that blew smoke rings. Designer Douglas Leigh called his billboards "spectaculars". Others involved in the promotion of cigarettes were Raymond Loewy (redesigned Lucky Strike package and did tons of midcentury logos), and Edward Bernays: "a relatively undifferentiated product, it traded on identities fashioned not through any intrinsic qualities but through advertising, public relations, and design. With these techniques, the rise of the cigarette closely followed the articulation of a mass consumption culture." Between 1880 and 1920, cigarette consumption per capita grew 10x. It doubled again over the consecutive decades. By midcentury, it had all but replaced alternative forms of usage like chew and cigars. This book has extensive history of the scientific debate over the connection between smoking and cancer. "The issue of causal criteria would be debated for decades. Absent some clearly articulated physical mechanism, was a statistical argument sufficient to prove that A causes B? Although their criteria would be refined and expanded, Doll and Hill brilliantly and explicitly outlined the basis for a systematic epidemiological approach to determining causality in noninfectious chronic disease. In this sense, modern epidemiology was constructed around the problem of determining the harms of smoking." In 1951, Doll and Hill began a prospective study of 60,000 British physicians. The study ran until 2006, but after only a few years a connection could be seen between smoking and cancer as well as mortality from other causes. The medical research into tobacco culminated in the release of the U.S. Surgeon General's report in 1964. What is interesting is that cigarette sales fell 15-20% in the first half of 1964, but the industry rebounded in 1965 and reported record sales. "Reports of the demise of Big Tobacco had been premature." One thing that did change after the report was much greater prevalence of filter tips on cigarette, which reached 90% by the mid-1970s. But, as a tobacco executive wrote, "the illusion of filtration is as important as the fact of filtration." Good info in here also about regulatory capture and the Baptist and bootlegger problem. The FTC mandated warning labels on cigarettes, but the upshot was: "it allowed the industry to insist - in court if necessary - that claims against the companies for negligence and deception were now moot. Every smoker would be repeatedly warned that 'smoking may be hazardous to your health.' The legislation would substantially assist in the industry's principal legal argument that smokers knowingly assumed whatever risks might be associated with the product." When tobacco ads were still legal to air on television, the FCC mandated a ratio of one antismoking announcement for every three cigarette advertisements. But in 1971, TV ads for cigarettes were banned. The industry actually benefited from this because the broadcast stations no longer had to provide the free time for antismoking announcements. The advertising ban saved the companies money and made it very difficult for a new company or new brand to ever launch. Divestment as a buying opportunity theme: "Industry spokespersons and other supporters of tobacco were always quick to remind the public that the cigarette was a legal product. But from a social and cultural perspective, the makers of that product had come under the kind of legal and moral scrutiny that they had scrupulously avoided for four decades. As the social and political status of the industry deteriorated, a number of institutions took actions to reduce the influence of the companies. Some universities, pension funds, and state governments divested their holdings in tobacco stocks." Buying opportunity! An investment in PM compounded at ~20% annually from that point through today. The Master Settlement was a victory for the industry, too: "attorneys general with little public health experience and their high-rolling trial lawyers eager to cut a deal might accomplish nothing except pull the companies back from the brink of obliteration." "The settlement preempted any future litigation brought by any 'settling states subdivisions (political or otherwise, including, but not limited to municipalities, counties, parishes, villages, unincorporated districts, and hospital districts), public entities, public instrumentalities, and public educational institutions.' This preemption did not apply to individual and class-action suits, but it eliminated a wide range of legal vulnerabilities for the industry." "The MSA, for all intents and purposes, was principally a new excise tax on cigarettes," and the four major tobacco companies raised their prices, passing the costs on to smokers. The states became financial partners with the tobacco industry: "there's no doubt that the largest financial stakeholder in the industry is our state governments."
  • 1939: A People's History of the Coming of the Second World War (2.5/5) This is in the fall of 1938 in Berlin: "Dusk began to fall. There was always a bit of a crowd in front of the Chancellery - mostly provincial tourists, hoping for a sight of the F├╝hrer. Today's gathering was larger than usual, reflecting the dramatic international atmosphere and the attraction of a major parade. Directly across the street stood Berlin's oldest, grandest, hotel, the Kaiserhof, where Hitler had lived and established his headquarters in the weeks before he seized power almost six years earlier. In its elegant bar sat two equally elegant women in their thirties, celebrating the end of their working day with one, two, and then three Martinis." Supposedly, after Hitler signed the "Anglo-German Declaration" with Chamberlain, he said that he signed it because Chamberlain "seemed like such a nice old gentleman, and I thought I'd give him my autograph as a souvenir."
  • The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy (5/5) Key idea: wealth comes from frugality. Common denominators: 1) living well below means 2) "allocating time, energy, and money efficiently, in ways conducive to building wealth" 3) achieving financial independence more important as a goal than conspicuous consumption / materialistic status displays. An interesting observation is that people in higher social class occupations are pressured to "spend significantly more of [their] household income to maintain and display [their] upper-middle-class lifestyle." Other highlights: "The longer the average member of an ancestry group has been in America, the more likely he or she will become fully socialized to our high consumption lifestyle." "It's easier to accumulate wealth if you don't live in a high-status neighborhood." Expensive neighborhood means bigger house with bigger property tax, maintenance, utilities, furnishings; also means keeping up with the neighbors' expensive cars.
  • Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (2.5/5) Thesis: "The average human lifespan is absurdly, insultingly brief. Assuming you live to be eighty, you have just over four thousand weeks." People have been talking about this one on Twitter, but it wasn't that good. A few highlights. "Pay yourself first... if you try to find time for your most valued activities by first dealing with all the other important demands on your time, in the hope that there'll be some left over at the end, you'll be disappointed... there is no moment in the future when you'll magically be done with everything and have loads of free time." "Limit your work in progress... [otherwise] each time a project starts to feel difficult, or frightening, or boring, you can bounce off to a different one instead." We read a great essay a few years ago with good arguments for limiting WIP: "[I]t’s a very bad sign to have a lot of projects that are '90% complete'... For any process that makes things, it’s a substantial savings to have a smaller inventory. A manufacturer buys raw inputs, does work on them, and ships them to a customer. Every moment between the purchase of inputs and the delivery of finished goods is a cost to the manufacturer, because of the time value of money. Smaller inventories are what it looks like to have a faster turnaround. If a lot of your projects are 90% complete, that means you’re spending a lot of time having invested a lot of work into them, but realizing none of the value of the finished product." An idea: "we should try to treat every experience with the reverence we'd show if it were the final instance of it." (The Last Time.) "To treat [all] moments solely as stepping-stones to some future moment is to demonstrate a level of obliviousness to our real situation that would be jaw-dropping if it weren't for the fact that we all do it, all the time." Couple other little ideas for device addiction - switching phone screen from color to grayscale, and using single purpose devices (like simple Kindle).
  • War No More: Three Centuries of American Antiwar & Peace Writing (2/5) Checking out more Library of America tomes after reading their Mencken collections. I thought that this would be interesting since I really liked Thomas Woods' We Who Dared to Say No To War, and this LOA volume is much bigger. Surprise, however: there was virtually no overlap in the essays or authors included. Both have speeches by Eugene V Debs, but Thomas Woods used his speech "The Subject Class Always Fights the Battles" and Lawrence Rosenwald used a much less important speech that Debs gave to the jury in his trial for sedition. The essays that Woods compiles tend to identify the wars conducted by the United States as financial scams benefiting the elite, while the Rosenwald essays opposed war for pacifist (e.g. Quaker or pro-communist) reasons. I wouldn't be surprised if Rosenwald supported Israel in the Six-Day War even though he opposed the Vietnam War.
  • Cigarettes are Sublime (2.5/5) Richard Klein, a Cornell professor of French literature, wrote this as "therapy" in 1994 when he was trying to quit smoking. He means sublime "in the Kantian sense of sublimity: beautiful, but counter-purposive." The book "aims to be simultaneously a piece of literary criticism, an analysis of popular culture, a political harangue, a theoretical exercise, and an ode to cigarettes." Good observation on tobacco moral panics: "It is no easy task to praise cigarettes at this time in America. We are in the midst of one of those periodic moments of repression, when the culture, descended form Puritans, imposes its hysterical visions and enforces its guilty constraints on society, legislating moral judgments under the guise of public health, all while enlarging the power of surveillance and the reach of censorship to achieve a general restriction of freedom. The present hysteria concerning cigarettes bears comparison with other moments of violent antitabaginism in this country; it contrasts starkly with times in America's history when great mobilizations of the people were called for - during wars, for example, when cigarettes were deemed to be necessary not only to survive (General Pershing wrote that they were as vital to his troops as food), but to live while surviving..." An interesting point from Pierre Louys, that tobacco was "the only decisive advance in the knowledge of pleasure that modern European culture had achieved over antiquity." Highlights: "Americans today, as always forgetting their own history, aroused to paroxysms of antismoking sentiment, think they invented it. At the turn of the century, as well as in the 1920s and 1930s, powerful political forces combated the 'demon weed.' Then, as know, protests on behalf of the health of the citizenry masked moral objections..." "The beauty and benefits of cigarettes have been repressed and forgotten in America... Nowhere these days does one hear voices lifted to praise cigarettes, as one often does in wartime, for their multiple psychological and social benefits, for their cultural value, or for their aesthetic power. But as time goes by, the circle turns. This book proceeds on the hunch that the present climate may change, perhaps gently as the result of something like fashion - an effect of the turning of an obscure process of cyclical historical development - perhaps violently, under the pressure of widespread social tensions." "It cannot be an accident that cigarette smoking always find propitious conditions in times of political crisis or social stress. It was not, however, until the Second Empire that Louis Napoleon, a compulsive user of all kinds of tobacco, and a fifty-cigarettes-a-day man, legitimized their use by the aristocracy. James B. Duke and his machine made them democratic." Klein calls cigarettes "the most powerful device that universal society has devised for finding prayerful consolation and resolute resignation in the face of danger."
  • The Gilded Leaf (3/5) This was in my tobacco reading stack. It is a history of the early days of RJ Reynolds and the Reynolds family, from the perspective of the grandson of the founder. Birth year determinism: Richard Joshua "R. J." Reynolds was born in Virginia in 1850. James Buchanan Duke (creator of the American Tobacco Company) was born in Durham in 1856. The ATC was dissolved in 1911 for antitrust reasons and RJR was spun back out, selling Camels. ATC sold Lucky Strikes and became part of British American Tobacco in 1994. The two biggest late 19th century American tobacco fortunes were created by RJR and "Buck" Duke. RJR ran his business from the South. Buck, on the other hand, "sensing that the way to the very top required the rubbing of shoulders with those who had the greatest leverage," moved his headquarters to New York. "As with Andrew Carnegie and other great salesmen who moved to New York at decision points in their careers, he was in the lair of the devil to use the leverage of the great financial institutions - to sell his ideas to the men who were crucial to the process of creating the big public companies. To reach them, Buck gave up corn liquor and the spittoon, took up champagne and cigars..." "Buck watched and learned as John D. Rockefeller set up the first trust, the Standard Oil Company, and decided to do the same for the tobacco business." While the ATC trust held together, it made almost all of the cigarettes in America, and RJR was a Buck/ATC employee. RJR the friendly entepreneur: "Nearly alone among the giants, RJ consistently took the steps that would make his relatives, friends, and senior employees millionaires." RJ's biggest mistake was waiting until very late in life to have children. He got married at 55 to his 25 year old cousin and his youngest child was born when he was 61. He died at age 68. His wife quickly remarried and died only six years after RJR. The result was that RJR's four children were orphaned but left with giant trust funds. His oldest son (Dick; RJR Jr) killed a man while drunk driving and had six children with four women. (Patrick is from his second marriage.) His youngest son died at age 20, shot by his second wife. Dick disinherited all of his children. You can read Gilded Leaf, then, as a case study of historic wealth that collapsed into ignominy and dissolution. If Bernie or Pocahontas read books, they could use this as an argument for a confiscatory estate tax on large fortunes.

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