At first, I thought that the torrent of cash that the Citizens United decision would unleash would further erode our democratic process. However, the Republican cage-match that all that money enabled has been more entertaining and informative than any presidential campaign that I can recall. In the past, all we have been able to see of our political candidates were the carefully managed interviews, contrived county-fair appearances, and cash-brushed advertisements. Finally, we have a forum that allows us see them rant and writhe under the gaze of the cameras; warts, forked tongues, horns and all. The show must go on.
Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts is not the worst book I have read recently, but it is certainly the most disappointing. Having heard nothing but great things about The Devil in the White City, and having that book near the top of my to-be-read list, I was excited that our book group chose In the Garden as our January selection. However, the book was so stultifying that I have found myself asking strangers who I see holding a copy of The Devil in the White City to reconfirm that I should in fact keep that book on my pending list.
What In the Garden of Beasts gives us is a plodding account of the U.S. ambassador, William E. Dodd, and his wanton daughter Martha’s, exploits and affairs in 1933 through 1937 Germany. From the formulaic physical description of Professor Dodd on the first page I got the impression that the book would be a relatively mundane historical account. Yet, I still had hopes though that there would be some informational gems, some enlightenment, that would make the book worthwhile. There was nothing of the sort.
Not only was the recounting of events written in a monotonous style that sucked any spark from incidents, but the writing and editing also made the work even more tedious. Early on the Dodds meet George Messersmith, the one truly interesting character in the book, and we are told that, “Martha and her father liked him immediately.” Six paragraphs later upon meeting representative of the American Women’s Club of Berlin we are told that, “Martha and Mildred liked each other at once.” Liked? Can’t Larson come up with something more inspired than just “liked”? Did they find these people honest, endearing, admirable or charming? Frankly, this kind of writing wouldn’t even pass muster in a 10th grade English class.
I have read my share of history books. Naturally, I tend to choose the best representation of the period or event I am interested in. By this I mean a book that combines a captivating and informative subject with a writing style that, at the very least, doesn’t detract from the narrative. In the Garden of Beasts fails to do any of this.
The only positive note that I took away from the book is that it helped me resolve a confusing memory I had from my childhood. When I was little, five or six perhaps, I used to go for walks in the woods with my relatives outside of Kaiserslautern, Germany. One area had a Wildpark containing a very informal collection of local animals, such as wild boar and deer. Another animal that I remember clearly from the Tierpark was bison, although I could never reconcile why these “American” animals were there. Now I know that there is actually a species of European Wood Bison, or Wisent, that is very similar physically to the American bison. I guess the book wasn’t a total loss.
This morning, at 7:10 am, I received a text message from AT&T that I had exceeded my 200 mb limit and would be charged an additional $15. Two minutes later, at 7:12 am, I received a text message informing me that I had used 90% of my data plan. AFTER I had been billed for exceeding my limit.
I had only once before reached the 90% level of my plan and dutifully cut back usage until my billing cycle date (which would be tomorrow in this case). In this case I never had a chance to do so since AT&T’s “system” did not send out a notice until after I had exceeded the limit. Looking at my daily usage limit it seems that I reached the 90% level on Monday, November 14, but AT&T’s self-vaunted customer service system waited until the morning of November 16 to notify me – after I had been charged the additional $15 for exceeding the limit. This behavior echos the practice of banks bouncing a customer’s largest check first, and then subsequently bouncing all the smaller ones that would actually have sufficient funds available, merely to rack up insufficient-funds charges.
If AT&T can not provide timely notification that a customer is reaching his usage limit, they should not claim to provide such notices at all. To provide untimely information under the guise of helping a customer manage his usage is deceptive, if not outright fraudulent.
During the last mayoral election I had very strong doubts about Jean Quan’s ability to run the city. Because of that she was my third choice in the ranked balloting, thinking her the lesser of the remaining evils. I think her performance so far, and especially after the past 36 hours, puts even that latter consideration into doubt.
Quan has been a very good organizer at the neighborhood level where she needed to convince people to work together toward her, and their, goals. As the New York Times article points out, she can have an impact in a limited, localized area when she actively puts her organizing skills to work. However, that is not something she can do for the city as a whole, nor are the efforts self-sustaining once her attention shifts away.
As mayor she seems unwilling or unable to function in a position which gives her actual power. Rather than following the suggestion of her previous police chief Anthony Batts and supporting teen curfews and gang injunctions, actions that are strongly supported by Ignacio De La Fuente and Larry Reid, council members from two of the hardest-hit districts, she chose to kick the ideas back to committee for more study. Quan expressed doubts that the polices would work. Of course, they would not have made the mayhem any worse and could have been rescinded if shown to be ineffective. Meanwhile, the Fruitvale district and East Oakland continue to burn.
When I think of the amount of real policing and crime fighting that the expense of yesterday’s actions could have paid for, it confirms to me that she is unsuited to the job of being mayor of Oakland. At this point, recalling her is a very real and much needed action.
Email comes into your life for a reason, a season, or usually because it was simply sent to the wrong email address. Sometimes email comes into your life for a reason, often to impart some important, at least to the writer, information. Work email usually falls into this category. So do advertisements encouraging you to refinance your house, enlarge your penis or win a free iPad; usually all from the same bank. Unless the email is from your boss, or sometimes because it is from your boss trying to be your friend, these emails can usually be deleted without reading them. If they contained anything important the sender will follow up with a phone call.
Some email comes into your life for a season, or at least the mental season, of the person sending it. Summer emails are usually hilarious jokes and video links intended to spread the sender’s mental sunshine. These are emails that you immediately want to share. Such an email is the electronic equivalent of the sender shouting, “Watch my video of me doing a nude cannonball off the hotel balcony!” Summer emails are always welcome.
Spring emails are just like summer emails except that they are not as good. They are the equivalent of cheap pick-me-up bouquets rather than roses. They are the jokes that fall flat, the dumb cat videos and the unfunny cartoons. Sometimes spring emails are sent to you by people experiencing winter in their souls but are trying to will the sun to shine. It is best to just quietly delete these emails and not reply. Unless, you think that lying to your friends about their taste is ok.
Winter emails are the trickiest of the emails. They should not be emails at all. Never, ever, ever reply to a winter email with another email. Responding with an email of your own will cause you to spin out on the black ice of relationships. You will be lucky to avoid the two large oak trees and come to rest in the barren, snow-covered field of a needy friendship without any permanent injuries. A winter email is a very long, roundabout way of saying, “call me.”
Nothing catches people by surprise more than a fall email. Fall emails reflect the sender trying to harvest your friendship and love. Often an excess of estrogen on the part of the sender triggers them. The biggest problem with fall emails is that they usually reach people experiencing different seasons. Fall emails bring summer people down because they are busy enjoying day-to-day life and don’t have time for introspection and tea. Spring people are still struggling to forget what their winter of discontent feels like. And winter people have enough on their minds, what with the recent tragic news about Michael Robert Wyatt, South African health problems and Yvonne.
Like harvest festivals, fall emails are public undertakings. Despite their implied personal nature, fall emails are usually sent to large groups of people asking them to celebrate together. But unlike true fall festivals, beer is not served. Fall emails usually ask you to send it back to the sender (doesn’t the sender have a copy in his or her sent folder?) as well as to forward copies to at least ten of your friends, especially since you would not be inclined to do so on your own.
Finally, some emails come into your life by mistake. They don’t count. Unless they contain extremely embarrassing stories or pictures about total strangers. In that case you have the opportunity, nay the obligation, to immediately turn these emails into summer emails by forwarding them to as many people as you know. The only exception to this rule is if the emails contain revealing stories, pictures or videos of real celebrities. In this case you can retire by selling the contents to the National Enquirer.
Clearly missing any sort of pain feedback during the treatments that would confirm that something is actually happening, Mike decided to take matters into his own hands. Today at noon, Mike had his back waxed.
Now, unless you happened to be at the ILS office on one of the company’s occasional clothing-optional Fridays, you have probably only encountered Mike fully clothed. As such, you have probably not spent a lot of time contemplating the ramifications of today’s activity. However, those of you who know Mike outside of the workplace, in the wild as it were, have already cringed at seeing the words Mike and waxed in the same sentence.
I don’t mean to imply that Mike is particularly hairy, at least not compared to Chewbacca. But those of you old enough to remember will know what I mean when you hear the words Burt Reynolds and bearskin rug. Yep, Mike is the rug. At the beach nearsighted people have puzzled at his decision to wear a sweater while playing in the surf. Why else do you suppose he chose “Silverback” as his computer password?
If you have already seen “The 40 Year Old Virgin” you may think you have an insight into today’s activities. But watching the movie from the comfort of a movie theater, or from your sofa at home, does not do justice to the mayhem which took place. The smells and sounds were like something from an Upton Sinclair novel. Think “Passion of the Christ” – Live, on stage. Car alarms kept going off from the bellowing. Two dozen vultures roosted in the tree behind the salon. In neighboring Arizona, Navajo village elders nodded to each other knowingly. In the end the assistants were worn out from having to use pitchforks to fill their wheelbarrows with hair and wax. But it was all worth it.
He emerged, glistening like a seal fresh from the sea. Only redder. And still hairy in front. Standing proudly in front of us it was clear that Mike knew his place in the animal kingdom; right at the top. Or damn near it.
It is to early to tell what impact the “New Mike” will have back in Virginia. But there is one thing I know for certain and it can be expressed in two words, “razor stubble.” Something to think about as we approach a full moon.
Reposted from November 2, 2006
What stays with me from reading The Thirty Years War is the utter devastation wrought on what was later to become Germany. The Civil War gave us Sherman’s march to the sea, and the premeditated trail of devastation meant to shatter the south’s will to fight. During the thirty Years War, the military leaders Tilly, Wallenstein, Arnim and Gustavus Adolphus subjected the civilian population to 30 years of similar devastation with continuous plunder and pillaging as they struggled to feed and pay their armies. Hundreds of marches, sieges, burned homes and annual destruction of crops. Years and years of famine. Cities in which some 90% of the population was killed or driven away. Wedgwood describes the extent of the plague and hunger:
At Calw the pastor saw a woman gnawing on the raw flesh of a dead horse on which a hungry dog and some ravens were also feeding. In Alsace the bodies of criminals were torn from the gallows and devoured; in the whole Rhineland they watched the graveyards against marauders who sold the flesh of the newly buried for food; at Zweibrucken a woman confessed to having eater her child. Acorns, goats’ skins, grass, were all cooked in Alsace; cats, dogs, and rats were sold in the market at Worms. In Fulda and Coburg and near Frankfort and the great refugee camp, men went in terror of being killed and eaten by those maddened by hunger…
Meanwhile the rulers of Hapsburg Austria, Bavaria, Bohemia, France, Spain, Sweden the Palatinate, Saxony, and the rest of the aristocracy played a grand game with their mercenary armies.
Yet, despite the weight of the subject matter, The Thirty Years War is an amazingly absorbing, readable, riveting book. It will help you understand what was, at its time, the first world war, and the foundation for subsequent battles between Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Poland, etc. At the same time the book will sweep you along with its tale of heroes and villains; a King who fought at the front of his army and avaricious generals who schemed only after personal wealth; rulers who, in the name of their Christianity, declined peace; ministers who waged war and at the same time arranged royal marriages to further their countries’ interests. Great stuff!
The Wall Street Journal reported today that the board of directors of Hewlett-Packard Co. has hired Goldman Sachs Group to
screw protect itself from the owners activist investors that might question the self-serving strategic direction of their fiefdom corporate trustee. All that’s missing is the board’s ability to excommunicate any shareholder audacious enough to question the board’s rule.