Speed Reading

Pub date August 13, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionLiterature


By Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes

W.W. Norton & Company

192 pages, $22.95 (hardcover)

336 pages, $14.95 (trade paperback available next month)

Since the recent television writers’ strike seemed to have a greater impact on the nation than our two ongoing wars or the frequently floated possibility of a third, maybe it’s money that matters. After all, a trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you are talking real money. In The Three Trillion Dollar War, Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Linda Bilmes try to illustrate what it means to spend $3 trillion on the Iraq war.

Arguing that “money spent on armaments is money poured down the drain,” Stiglitz and Bilmes dismiss the notion that wars are always “good for the economy.” Their arguments are bolstered by the grim reality that during the Iraq conflict oil prices have risen from $25 a barrel to more than $120 a barrel, while household savings rates have gone “negative for the first time since the Great Depression.” Meanwhile, as they point out, the National Guard has been under-equipped in the face of domestic disasters such as Hurricane Katrina due to Iraq deployment.

Unfortunately supporters of Sen. John McCain, who foresees a century of Iraq occupation, aren’t likely to read this book. But it would not be wasted on Barack Obama’s supporters since — much as they might want to overlook it — his presidential plan also envisions tens of thousands of American troops remaining in Iraq after the combat troops have gone. (Tom Gallagher)



By Johnny Ryan

Buenaventura Press

128 pages each

$9.95 (Comic Book Holocaust)

$14.95 (Klassic Komix Klub)

If there were such a thing as achieving the zen of filth — the zero-sum nirvana of willful wallowing in sweat, spunk, excrement, and blood till one has achieved the nihilistic bliss of transgressive freedom — then cartoonist Johnny Ryan might be dubbed our comic book bodhisattva. The evidence is all over two handsome volumes on Oakland’s Buenaventura Press: The Comic Book Holocaust, the cartoonist’s 2006 send-up (and put-down) of mainstream and underground/alternative comics from Thor to Persepolis, and The Klassic Komix Klub, his short, sharp wholesale demolition of literary warhorses à la Ulysses and, hey, Siddhartha (the search for enlightenment ends with a diaper loaded with poo, home to “Osamarexic Slim Laden”).

Sure, the unrelenting butt-violation, mutilation, rape, boner, crap-eating, racial stereotype, and flying vulvas jokes tend to hit or miss — and get monotonous. Reading Ryan panels in, say, Vice offers hipsters the fast, nasty frisson of a chuckle, while reading more than 50 in one sitting can be quease-inducing, which is more than Mad can claim. Ryan’s quick ‘n’ dirty, reductionist aesthetic, absurdist and disgust-centered shit-vision, and all-inclusive takedowns come off as a bit dated for these post-9/11 times — redolent of a ’90s alt-nation, slacker pessimism fed by punk rock, J.K. Huysmans, Howard Stern, and Peter Bagge. Still, at its most effective, Ryan’s work is the funny-book equivalent of watching nonstop war footage. He gives us a dirty-bird cartoon version of the Marquis de Sade, leavened by the occasional chortle at Garfield’s expense. (Kimberly Chun)