Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pretty fucking awesome

No, really.

More Books- tale of the Erics

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Eric Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation- you've probably read it- an eminently readable expose into the food behind fast food. If you haven't read it, you should. Then he wrote a book called Reefer Madness which I have not read. His most recent book, Command and Control, is about the nuclear weapons system, told through the story of the serious accident in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980. This book is a little longer and a little less eminently readable than Fast Food Nation, but it's still a good one, and it's quite disturbing. Where Garry Wills walks us through how the bomb has changed America's government (for the worse), Schlosser tells us just how perilous the bombs (plural) are.

You may have known, but I did not, that nuclear weapons were designed with no thoughts about safety. As in, bombmakers were concerned only with ensuring accurate eruption, not how to keep them from explosion when they weren't supposed to, like in the middle of a flight over non-enemy territory, or when a mission had been aborted, or if a switch was accidentally switched when it wasn't supposed to be. Then there were little details that were overlooked like communications between warring powers during the Cold War. At the height of the Cold War, there was no red phone like we see in movies for Russia and the United States to communicate with each other. Nuclear war could be accidentally triggered well, basically anytime- by a swarm of birds flying over the radar or the wrong disk being put into the computer system that implied that warheads had been launched. It could take hours for the communications telling the other side that it was a false alarm to arrive. Also, planes carrying live nuclear warheads were constantly in flight over Siberia, just in case. Basically, it was a miracle that there were no accidental nuclear explosions during the Cold War. Although safety measures have since improved, it's not clear (Schlosser's book stops in 1980) just how much, and honestly, I'm too scared to look. This book is a force- a little long- but worth a read. Just be warned- you might not sleep well at night afterwards.

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According to the back of the book, Eric Ambler "invented the modern suspense novel." I'm not sure how I found this book (THB?), but it is quite a suspenseful book. Written in 1939, this isn't a suspense book or a thriller like any other suspense book I've read or you've likely read- the old timey language and scenarios are more like reading Sherlock Holmes than John Grisham. There are all kinds of European shenanigans and parties and cross continent trips. There are fig pickers and faked passports and investigators in uniforms. The book is both a trip down a nostalgic (in the sense of nostalgia that you haven't lived) lane and a sweet, suspenseful read.

Friday, October 17, 2014

When I am a highly paid and well respected librarian...

I won't make things like this, because I'm shy.
BUT! I will wish I did.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

More Books

Doris Kearns Goodwin- Wait Till Next Year. This book was highly recommended to me, and I understand why. Goodwin was raised by a baseball fan dad who taught her to score when she was young. Her memoir is as much of a memoir about growing up with the Brooklyn Dodgers as it is about being a kid. It's sweet and a little bit salty (just a little bit) and I should like it. But I don't. I remember trying to read something else by Kearns Goodwin and finding it unreadable, and, although I slogged through this one, the subject matter wasn't enough. It's a great story, and I love my dad and how he taught me (indoctrinated me?) baseball young just like she does, but some sappy writing just can't be overcome.

Melissa Mohr- Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing. I was really looking forward to reading this book. I requested it at the library months ago. And the first half did not disappoint. Mohr romps through the history of our most taboo words, which have, of course, changed over time. The "holy" in the title refers to the fact that swearing used to actually mean taking God's name in vain in various ways. "By God's bones" is one of Mohr's favorite examples- talking about God's various body parts was actually dangerous- you could injure God's bones by cursing in this way. Words that we consider exceptionally offensive (nasty words for our body parts, for example), were, at various points in history, quite inane words, used in dialogue and literature like no big thing. The thing is, Mohr's book goes on for way too long. I gave up when she gets to about the 1920s. Each section includes about 50 examples, and really could do with 25. I liked the book, but could have done with 200 pages, not 275. Sad, because 275 isn't even a long book.

Edward Achorn- The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. The best book of the bunch, Achorn tells the story of the 1883 season and, he says, the popularization and salvation of baseball as the American pastime. The National League (the only professional league at the time) was a stodgy place in the 1880s: no drinking, expensive (50 cents) tickets and no baseball on Sundays. Along came a German immigrant by the name of Chris Von der Ahe who wanted to make some money. He probably liked baseball, too. He owned a beer garden in St. Louis and realized that baseball could be highly profitable if gate fares were lowered, the game was played on a day when working class people could make it and beer was sold. So he founded a league- the American Association, which eventually merged with the National League- and, as in the Field of Dreams, they built it and they came. Achorn's lively book is a pretty awesome book for those interested in baseball (duh!) and also Americana. Baseball as capitalism and history and beer, well, not bad. Readable and short- maybe I should have saved this for the offseason (tomorrow!) to liven up the dull, sad days of winter.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Notes on a Head Injury

Note 1: I'm fine.
Note 2: Don't try this at home.
Note 3: When you're about to use a ladder, especially when you're alone, make sure the ladder is securely fastened in an upright and locked position. This should be obvious, but sometimes it is not. Make sure the ground is level and that all four feet of the ladder are on this level ground. Make sure the safety bars between the legs of the ladder are locked.
Note 4: Wear shoes when going on a ladder. Especially wear shoes if you have recently had an incident on a ladder in exactly the same place on the exact same tree where you were not wearing shoes and were specifically warned about this. You should know better if this incident involved clipping an electrical wire with shears while you were standing barefoot on said ladder, barefoot, especially if you were lucky enough to have clipped the neutral wire, thus not getting shocked and falling to a certain death. Don't worry, it only cost you $3500 to get your house rewired.
Note 5: If you are going to climb a ladder AND use a sharp cutting implement (see Note 4), you should wear gloves or have someone else do it, especially if you have recently used the ladder in exactly the same place on the exact same tree. Sometimes sharp shears and being on ladders can lead to injuries to the fingers and resulting blood loss. Although gloves will not prevent this, they will provide a buffer between you and any potential shearing.
Note 6: If you fail to do any of this, it is wise to stay off the ladder altogether. If, however, you must use a ladder, you might consider putting padding under the ladder, should the tree in question be planted on a hard piece of cement.
Note 7: Sometimes you are stupid, and fail to do all of these things, and the ladder falls out from under you, leading to your head crashing onto the cement from a height of maybe 8+ feet. That really hurts bad.
Note 8: You are lucky to be alive and writing this!
Note 9: Although many friends claim to be clumsier than me, I think I win. However, I did *not do this to win! Sheesh!
Note 10: The body is amazing. As in note 5, when your finger healed miraculously quickly from a deep shear-wound, a lump the size of a tennis ball or baseball or other sportsball springs up immediately from the skull. What is this lump made of? Where did it come from? Not surprisingly, it hurts like hell. Also, glasses made of plastic are awesome. They can fly through the air and land 5+ feet away and not break. Nicely done, inventors!
Note 11: Ice and tylenol are the way to go. Don't take Advil. The advice nurse will tell you that, but I'm telling you now.
Note 12: It's important to have a friend sit with you. Thank you to M, who is awesome, for sitting with me, even though we were supposed to go to the baseball game. Thank you to C, who is also awesome, for waking me up all night and feeling my eyes when I thought they were doing weird things.
Note 13: You are not allowed to drink alcohol, even though this is the one thing you will really want to do. Falling off a ladder (or more accurately, the ladder falling out from under you) is fucking scary, and having a beer will sound really good. The advice doctor will tell you no, because it will make determining what a symptom of a head injury and what alcohol is very difficult. DAMMIT.
Note 14: For days, you can use this head injury as an excuse. The NIH tells you to tell your coworkers and friends and family that you will be irritable, noise sensitive, slow, unable to do important things, etc. It is absolutely true. Tell them, because it is true. And then use the excuse. Because even though you might be all those things all of the time, no one will buy it any other time.
Note 15: Your neck will start to hurt the second day. I'm guessing this is related to whiplash, but maybe it's because your head is carrying an extra 1/3 of the weight. You can't take advil or another anti-inflammatory, and that just sucks. Moving the ice to your neck kind of helps.
Note 16: Strangely, you will learn how to sleep on ice and other hard frozen items. Do not over-use frozen vegetables, especially peas. When they melt, the bag will leak and you will stink like melted frozen peas. Take it from me.

Note 17: I am fine. I hurt like hell, but I have amazing people who have been amazing. Seriously, don't try this at home. I may remove the cursed rose tree that has caused 3 major problems in a little over a month. And no, I won't go on a ladder when I'm home alone again.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Yes, she still reads books.

But I don't have time to write book reports anymore. It's sad. So you get the short version. (And I can keep track of what I've read.) So, in no particular order, the books I've read and forgotten to write up:

  • Thomas Peele- Killing the Messenger. If you have lived in Oakland for at least 10 years (ish), you know "Your Black Muslim Bakery." (If you came too much later, the Beys were on the decline, though more recently they seem to be coming back.) If you follow Oakland politics, you know the Bey family. Peele has written this amazingly fast read- true crime- of the history of the Black Muslims and what happened leading up to the murder of Chauncey Bailey in 2007. YBMB is Oakland, and maybe Oakland is the only place that YBMB could have happened. OPD is so tied up in the murder of Bailey, as is West Oakland and even East Oakland. I couldn't put it down. That said, the facts are a little murky, but maybe that is the nature of working with an insular religion that sees itself as constantly being persecuted. Which leads me to the next book. Recommended: very readable nonfiction. Also good for people interested in Oakland.
  • Lawrence Wright- Going Clear. I read Killing the Messenger months ago, but finished Going Clear a couple of days ago. Wright, author of the Looming Tower, has written what is apparently "the" academic book on Scientology. If all you know about Scientology is the front of the tabloids about Tom Cruise, then basically you're just like me. Wright has written a book that aims to put Scientology in the context of other new American religions. He explains the draw of the religion to people, especially celebrities. And the comparison to the Black Muslims is one someone could make (maybe I'm making it). The difference? YBMB employed unemployable dirt poor young black men and women, often straight out of prison, in Oakland who felt they had nowhere else to turn. There was often sexual abuse by whichever Bey was in charge at the time. And by employed, I mean provided housing and food and promised money that often never came. YBMB was in the business of getting rich, often through shell games. They didn't really get rich. Scientologists, in the meantime, employed middle class white young people and budding celebrities, often in Hollywood. Many of these signed up to do work for one billion years (literally) for little or no money. The Scientologists, also in the business of making money, were wildly successful at it. And once again, the insularity of the group make the facts a little unclear. Wright's book makes heavy use of accounts by people who have left the group, and of course those still in vehemently deny these accounts. And contrary to the article linked above, I actually appreciated the even handedness. Recommended (also readable nonfiction) for those interested in this bizarre religion and those who like to read about religion.
  • Melissa Gira Grant- Playing the Whore. Now for something completely different. This little tiny book took a very long time to read. A very important and not particularly readable book on the discourse of sex work, Grant urges us to stop panicking over sex work and start listening to sex workers themselves. It would be nice if we stopped talking about the terrible horrible trafficking that happens and started discussing what really happens, the way the people involved in the work really wanted us to.
  • Marc Perleman- Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague. I was so excited to read this book. I had been waiting to read it for years, it seems like. They never had it at the library and Link+ didn't have it. I finally got it. It was also a tiny book. And I never finished it. Perleman is a Very Enthusiastic writer, and from the beginning I could tell that, as my boyfriend likes to tell me, he was taking things too far. I agree with him that many large-scale sporting events are quite cruel to the host countries (see this year's World Cup in Brazil or the Olympics in China) and that often teams are as much about other-ing as the are about inclusivity, but if I wrote this book review as emphatically as he wrote his book, you would have given up, too. Unreadable nonfiction. Oh, and translated.
  • Brittney Griner- In My Skin. Leading me to the next book, which is not a traditional themacinator read. Griner wrote In My Skin to tell her story as one of the first (the first?) out professional athletes. Out since high school, Griner played basketball at Baylor University, which has a specific anti-homosexuality clause in its rules. She's never quite convincing in saying that she didn't know about that rule when she committed to the school as a sophomore, though it is believable that Coach Kim didn't tell her. Because as Perleman argues, sports are about winning, not about inclusivity. Fast read, ghostwritten, interesting (but now old, which is good!) story about growing up gay and forging your path. Unsurprisingly, the WNBA seems accepting of lesbians. 
  • Sudhir Venkatesh- Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy. This is the worst book that I've finished this year. But I'm on vacation and it's one of only 4 books that I've got with me. Meanwhile the Kindle readers with me keep reading and reading and reading and reading. Pro-Kindle argument, for sure. Venkatesh seems to have written a popular (as in audience- no idea if this book is popular or not- I doubt it) book about how he is searching for what to write about in order to fulfill the needs of his academic writing requirements as a professor at Columbia. I kept waiting- he kept finding and discarding topics and then saying "aha, I've found a topic" and then finding another. This seriously was a book without a plot or a topic. I learned some stuff about the "underground economy" in New York while feeling like Venkatesh, rather than having written anything sociological, was doing some sort of voyeuristic nonsense. Yuck. Don't touch it.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Atlanta: Where it’s perfectly okay for 23,000 white people to be racist in public.

My dad and I just got back from the world’s fastest baseball trip: 3 days, 2 nights, 3 flights and 3 baseball games. Two of these games were in Atlanta, Georgia, home of the Braves.  You can guess about the origination of the name: braves, like the racist, un-PC name for Native American chiefs. Those of you who are baseball fans already know about the Tomahawk Chop. Those of you who aren't, this is when the fans “chop” their hands and chant this sing-song-y “oh, oh oh oh oh” thing. I tried to take a video. I failed. Here's someone else's. 

I thought it was a spontaneous utterance, but no, the PA system actually tells the fans that they need to Chop. They tell the fans to chop and they put it up on the big screen. And the fans chop away. Not only that, the stadium is unabashedly full of choppy puns. The Chop Steakhouse, the Chop Bar, etc.

(This history of the Tomahawk Chop credits/blames the fans and Florida State and ... Neon Deion for bringing the Chop to the Atlanta. The pride!)

To make matters worse, the fans at Turner Field are almost universally white. The first game we went to had an announced attendance of about 38,000. We estimated that this was pretty close to accurate, but let’s say it was actually 35,000. I’d guess that no less than 30,000 of these fans were white. And if I had to guess, I’d guess that at least 25,000 of these did the Tomahawk Chop when instructed, and a good 23,000 did it with gusto. The icing on the cake: at least 95% of stadium employees were black. These choppers were chopping away while black employees stood in the sweltering heat and humidity (I almost died), making somewhere around minimum wage.

It gets even more complicated. I think that the Braves organization is TRYING to get rid of the racist overtones of the “Braves” name (is that possible?) by aligning “Braves” with “brave” as in “bravery.” They’re doing this by emphasizing the red/white/blue color scheme and, in a perfectly awful combination, tying it into patriotism/nationalism. The first game that we went to (Tuesday night), we were treated to a 10 minute ceremony honoring veterans from Vietnam and the Korean war. We stood (in the sweltering heat and humidity) and heard about each veterans’ amazing feats of Bravery (one of them had killed 13 enemy fighters). Each strikeout by a Braves pitcher was followed by fireworks. There were lots of other flag and Amurica moments: basically, Braves Country was not just about the braves, but about the Brave men who killed off those same braves. Viva Racism!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Anthony Diener and Joshua Hagen: Borders

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Oxford University Press publishes an adorable little series of "Very Short Introductions." They're maybe 7" tall and 4" wide with simple abstract covers and they're just satisfying to hold in your hand. I stumbled on the collection by finding the book about borders (no surprise). The book is a round up of the what scholars of borders have found, and, while it's not news to me, it's nice to read the background and be reminded that there are borders beyond the US/Mexico border that I'm obsessed with.

Anthony Diener and Joshua Hagen start with an historical overview of borders and territory. Borders weren't always the way we think of them now. Without romanticizing hunter/gatherers, there had to be states to have borders, and even with states, borders weren't always the rigid territorial markers that we now think of them. Further, and this seems obvious, they weren't always the SAME borders that we have now. One of the things about borders is that we assume that they are natural and obvious, when in fact they are (usually) arbitrary and always, by definition, exclusionary. Not until absolute state sovereignty in Europe became a thing (16th and 17th century) were the means and requirements there for borders to be fixed. (Of course this practice spread well beyond Europe with colonization of Africa and the Americas.) Diener and Hagen explain the three implications of this: states were free to govern their territories without interference; states alone could legitimately engage in either diplomacy or war; and monarchs needed to mark borders of territories, people and resources to include and exclude in order to rule. Game on. 

Diener and Hagen raise important questions about borders beyond the physical aspects: "Do good borders make good neighbors or are borders impediments to international cooperation? Will state sovereignty continue to be prioritized over national independence? Will nation-states remain the primary global political/economic actors? Is a borderless world possible or even desirable?" (59) They discuss globalization and its myths and realities: can this concept (so popular in the '90s and early 2000s) really eradicate the need for borders? Are democratic states, demarcated by borders, possible? Borders, they argue, are not the result of democratic processes, as evident by the treatment of minority and indigenous populations who were trampled by the lines drawn. Is there a democratic way to create borders? As they write, "Ironically, democratic politics are expected to emerge from democratic institutions tied to modern states despite the fact that there cannot be democracy until democratic institutions and state borders are established." (70) Is it possible to overcome this tension? Do borders actually provide security or do they cause instability? Is there a way to balance this? This is a dense, important little book. It's dry and not the best written of books, but it's a good one and meets its goal: a short introduction.