There's a part of me that wants to tell her to calm down and get a hold of herself. Every tragedy is this unique snowflake that is experienced differThere's a part of me that wants to tell her to calm down and get a hold of herself. Every tragedy is this unique snowflake that is experienced differently by everyone, and I wonder how this would have played out if it only was a mundane awful event like a car accident. But then I think about the magnitude of her loss and... yikes. I have no idea how I'd react to something like that, but I'm a moper so I imagine I'd probably act similarly. Some pretty funny parts when she harasses the Dutch family or puts on blast the guy who assumed her husband left her and assured her that this wouldn't have happened if she found a nice Jewish guy....more
As a food memoir, I liked it, the barbecue section made my mouth water and the bread section made me want to move back to San Francisco and eat TartinAs a food memoir, I liked it, the barbecue section made my mouth water and the bread section made me want to move back to San Francisco and eat Tartine and their bread (and morning buns) all day. But as a look at our food culture, there's something about his writing that I find grating.* I can't identify it, but maybe this paragraph can give a clue:
Given what a classicist once called "the Homeric horror of formlessness," it's not wonder that roasting is the only kind of cooking ever described in Homer. The pot dish, lidded and turbid, has none of the Apollonian clarity of the recognizable animal on a spit; it trades that brightly lit, hard-edged object and its legible world for something darker, more fluid and inchoate. What emerges from this or any other pot is not food for the eye so much as for the nose, a primordial Dionysian soup, but evolving in reverse, decomposing forms rather than creating them. To eat from the pot always involves at least a little leap into unknown waters. (p 159)
In all his books, Michael Pollan really drives home the point that food is a universal experience shared by all cultures, but it really feels like he's really writing to a very elite subset, and to me it gives him this breezy let them eat cake attitude. Gee, was there any doubt that the bread made at the Hostess plant is not going to compare to the artisanal bread meticulously made by a master of the craft? But there's the reality that the Hostess plant makes 155,000 loaves a day while Dave Miller bakes 400 loaves a week (p 266), so we'd need ~2,800 bakers (will they all be adept as Dave Miller at making bread? Probably not) to match the production of just one of the Hostess plants, plus the distribution needed to get the fresh bread to the 150k-odd households (yes, preservatives suck, but they do serve a purpose), plus those Austrian and Swiss artisans probably have to work overtime to make those stone wheels in handsome cabinets and old-timey pink-painted contraptions (p 272) to supply those 2,800 said bakers. Yes, modern life sucks because we have no time, and because of that we have to take shortcuts, and our eating habits especially suffer for it. But it's still ridiculously better than what life was like before, when eating meat was still considered a luxury and famine still loomed large as one of the four horseman of the apocalypse. The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler was a good look at how a simple chemical process allowed us to escape the Malthusian trap by massively increasing yields and ushering the Green Revolution-but led to problems of it own, including some that Michael Pollan rails against.
If Michael Pollan can write a book with practical tips for single mothers working multiple jobs, I think it'd be a spectacular book that I would give five stars and all the accolades it deserves, but as it were I really don't think they have the time or energy to cultivate their own live cultures for bread or to sit around for hours making the perfect braise.
*I studied chemical engineering, so I'm probably less receptive to his ideas. One of my professors had a picture of a Kix Cereal ad with the caption "no chemical engineering," and below, a letter from AIChE, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, saying that Kix, as well as the entire food system is nothing but chemical engineering. ...more
There's always a touch of fascination in revulsion: Could that happen to me? The less likely the terrible
Really makes me think about mental illness:
There's always a touch of fascination in revulsion: Could that happen to me? The less likely the terrible thing is to happen, the less frightening it is to look at or imagine. A person who doesn't talk to herself or stare off into nothingness is therefore more alarming than a person who does. Someone who 'acts' normal raises the uncomfortable question, What's the difference between that person and me? which leads to the question, What's keeping me out of the loony bin? This explains why a general taint is useful.
Some people are more frightened than others.
'You spend nearly two years in a loony bin! Why in the world were you there?' Translation: If you're crazy, then I'm crazy, and I'm not, so the whole thing must have been a mistake.
'You spend nearly two years in a loony bin? What was wrong with you?' Translation: I need to know the particulars of craziness so I can assure myself that I'm not crazy.
'You spend nearly two years in a loony bin? Hmmm. When was that, exactly?' Translation: Are you still contagious?
L Ron Hubbard is a weird dude, but can't say that he did not have an uninteresting life. The book doesn't really explain where all this money is cominL Ron Hubbard is a weird dude, but can't say that he did not have an uninteresting life. The book doesn't really explain where all this money is coming from, especially before they were really involved in Hollywood and celebrities. Hubbard doesn't seem like he has the organizational skills to assemble the real estate empire and business side of Scientology, but still had the means to buy boats and sail around for years with hundreds of people and fund campaigns to harass people with private investigators and endless lawsuits. And while he was very charismatic to his inner circle, it doesn't seem like the Sea org people who sign billion years contracts and do all the menial labor were the ones donating the money. It's crazy the accounts of what goes on, how much absolute control the leaders have over their lives and how they let him control them like that. ...more
Love listening to Wait, wait don't tell me on NPR and Roy Blount is one of the panelists. Maybe not as funny as the show, but really entertaining, andLove listening to Wait, wait don't tell me on NPR and Roy Blount is one of the panelists. Maybe not as funny as the show, but really entertaining, and the chapter on food in New Orleans, especially the part on fried chicken, made me really hungry. It's eerie that he wrote this in 2005, a year before Katrina, and talks about "the big one" that everyone knows is coming. I wonder how much has changes since then....more
Really thought provoking and makes me think about our society and it's relationship to water a lot more. It's obviously hubris to create Las Vegas witReally thought provoking and makes me think about our society and it's relationship to water a lot more. It's obviously hubris to create Las Vegas with fountains and golf courses in the middle of the desert, but never thought that since California takes 4 times more water from the Colorado River, it's that much more conceited to think that we can grow alfalfa and rice and walnuts in whatnot in California's Central Valley. The book makes me very pessimistic, if we can't find solutions to local water problems that have immediate effects on the community, I have no idea how we can find solutions to global problems whose impact may not be immediately felt....more
More zany David Sedaris stories, I think his earlier books were better (the stories about his family growing up are my favorite, and there were less oMore zany David Sedaris stories, I think his earlier books were better (the stories about his family growing up are my favorite, and there were less of them in this book), but still an entertaining read...more
Fun stories to read, but the whole theme of the book boils down to the fact that that in certain contexts some weaknesses are actually strengths and vFun stories to read, but the whole theme of the book boils down to the fact that that in certain contexts some weaknesses are actually strengths and vice versa, which when I think about it, is generic to the point that it really doesn't say much at all. After all, most of the time, strengths are strengths (if David's victory wasn't so improbable and miraculous, why did people continue to fight like Goliaths for a thousand years afterwards instead of adopting to David's new mode of warfare? If Malcolm Gladwell lived 2,500 years ago, he could have ruled the world!), for every Nazi defying underdog story, we get the White Rose and Tiananmen Square. ...more
It's like the anti-The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, both discuss an emerging concept in football (the emergence of the left tackle in The Blind SiIt's like the anti-The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, both discuss an emerging concept in football (the emergence of the left tackle in The Blind Side, the growing awareness of concussions is this book) and relate it to a personal story, except that the stories iin this book are awful. Reading the stories of Iron Mike Webster and Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest, leaving a suicide note that begged for his brain to be donated for study, are just heartbreaking:
"My mind slips. Thoughts get crossed. Cannot find my words. Major growth on the back of skull on lower left side. Feel really alone. Thinking of other NFL players with brain injuries. Sometimes, simple spelling becomes a chore, and my eyesite goes blurry ... I think something is seriously damaged in my brain, too. I cannot tell you how many times I saw stars in games, but I know there were many times that I would 'wake up' well after a game, and we were all at dinner."
And then on the last page, it's almost as if he had remembered something that he had forgotten: "Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL's brain bank."
No surprises here, anyone who knows basic economics can guess what happens when enormous companies try to maximize profits - pricing drugs based on abNo surprises here, anyone who knows basic economics can guess what happens when enormous companies try to maximize profits - pricing drugs based on ability to pay instead of efficacy (anticancer drugs costing >$40k/yr), patient marketing (in 1999, Merck spent more than $160 million to promote Vioxx, more than what PepsiCo spent to promote Pepsi or Budweiser spent to advertise its beer), hiding data on clinical trials (Vioxx), lobbying the government for enormous concessions (medicare Part D), etc. Just another day in the office in Milton Friedman land. I wish I read a book was written later (so much has happened since 2004) and one focused on the US instead of the UK, but was still interesting to read.
In Jurassic Park, the genetics company, InGen, in deciding to build the park, asked the question, "what is the biological equivalent to the Sony Walkman?" Sadly, pharmaceutical companies discovered that the answer lies in lifestyle drugs to treat chronic conditions like cholesterol or depression, with drugs like Lipitor making ~10 billion a year with >80% profit margins. So no dinosaurs. :( ...more
I read The End of Wall Street and that book went over a lot of the machinations of what actually happened during the 2008 financial crisis and how cloI read The End of Wall Street and that book went over a lot of the machinations of what actually happened during the 2008 financial crisis and how close we were to a financial apocalypse. This book added a little color to the personalities of the major people involved; amazingly, none of these people seem too evil or greedy. ...more
The first chapter was riveting. The iconic opera house in Venice, the Fenice, ablaze, and the flames threatening to engulf the entire city! AllegationThe first chapter was riveting. The iconic opera house in Venice, the Fenice, ablaze, and the flames threatening to engulf the entire city! Allegations of corruption, gross negligence, and mafia involvement! It seemed to set up the rest of the book for more awesomeness where the author investigates the events surrounding the fire and the key figures involved, but instead starts to get more gossipy into Venice social life. And while the book had enough colorful and interesting characters (I found the story of the rat man and the scandal with the Ezra Pound estate to be the most interesting), it doesn't compare to the potential story of the Fenice, which is what I thought the book was supposed to be about in the first place. Instead, it dramatically burns down, some politicians scream at each other, and the last chapter brings us back to the restored Fenice, which quietly gets rebuilt while the author was researching this book. I wish the book had pictures, the book vividly describes the Fenice as well as its landmarks and palaces, and it would have been nice to have pictures at hand as a point of reference. ...more
While reading the book, 10% of the time I was learning about the travel industry and its impact, both positive and negative, on the economy, environmeWhile reading the book, 10% of the time I was learning about the travel industry and its impact, both positive and negative, on the economy, environment and labor, but the other 90% of the time, I was just jealous that the author could go to all these cool places to research the book. Makes me want to go travel - with the exception of a Caribbean cruise - especially to the good places that are environmentally conscious and pay the local labor a fair wage, but the bad places still seem like fun....more
The author, an LA Times reporter covering the Middle East, offers a unique view of the impact that the post-9/11 events have had on people living in tThe author, an LA Times reporter covering the Middle East, offers a unique view of the impact that the post-9/11 events have had on people living in the area. The story of Nora, her pro-Western translator in Jordan, and her disillusionment after the Abu Ghraib scandal was haunting:
“It’s pretty bad, huh, Megan.” “Yeah, it’s bad,” I said. “But are you really surprised?” Her eyes flickered. “Of course!” But Nora, it’s war. These soldiers are kids. What do you think happens?” “But Megan,” her habit of repeating my name sounded, now. Like an accusation. “This is the Americans.” … “But Nora…” That sentence fell off in a sigh. All the questions were piled up in my throat: Did you really believe in us? Did you think we came to Iraq to fight a noble war, did you honestly think that? Don’t you see what we have done? … “But Megan,” she said slowly, “that’s the point. We don’t expect anything from the Arab governments. We expect something better from the Americans. That is the idea of America.” (pp 120-222)
It reminded me of the quote from the movie first knight, when King Arthur (played by Sean Connery in full-on awesome mode) explains Camelot: "There are laws that enslave men. And laws that set them free. Either what we hold to be right and good and true is right and good and true for all mankind under God, or we're just another robber tribe." This book really brings home the fact (to the people in the Middle East as well as to me) that especially post 9/11, the United States is acting like just another robber tribe.
This book seemed to be more of an application of Bayes Theorem and other statistical techniques in various fields rather than some overarching techniqThis book seemed to be more of an application of Bayes Theorem and other statistical techniques in various fields rather than some overarching technique of how to apply these techniques, so it felt more like a collection of anecdotes than a unified thesis. One thing I thought was interesting is that the author drew a distinction between between 'foxes' and 'hedgehogs,' with foxes knowing many things and able to draw different fields who to solve a problems, and hedgehogs knowing few things and draw upon a few governing principles to solve a problem, and Silver favors the 'fox' way of thinking to make predictions. The fox and the hedgehog comparison was made in Jim Collin's book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't, and it's interesting to see how he applies the fox and hedgehog story
Picture two animals: a fox and a hedgehog. Which are you? An ancient Greek parable distinguishes between foxes, which know many small things, and hedgehogs, which know one big thing. All good-to-great leaders, it turns out, are hedgehogs. They know how to simplify a complex world into a single, organizing idea—the kind of basic principle that unifies, organizes, and guides all decisions. That’s not to say hedgehogs are simplistic. Like great thinkers, who take complexities and boil them down into simple, yet profound, ideas (Adam Smith and the invisible hand, Darwin and evolution), leaders of good-to-great companies develop a Hedgehog Concept that is simple but that reflects penetrating insight and deep understanding.
What does it take to come up with a Hedgehog Concept for your company? Start by confronting the brutal facts. One good-to-great CEO began by asking, “Why have we sucked for 100 years?” That's brutal—and it's precisely the type of disciplined question necessary to ignite a transformation. The management climate during a leap from good to great is like a searing scientific debate—with smart, tough-minded people examining hard facts and debating what those facts mean. The point isn’t to win the debate, but rather to come up with the best answers—and, ultimately, to lock onto a Hedgehog Concept that works.
Maybe they're unrelated concepts: be a fox to generate a vision and be a hedgehog to distill that concept into a simple and clear idea, but I don't know how many people have the capacity to perform the mental gymnastics to seamlessly switch between the two. In any case, Silver is very hedgehog-like to take a lot of small ideas in areas like baseball, weather forecasting, and chess to see how they can be improved with these data-driven techniques, but other than saying, "Bayes Theorem...it's great!" wasn't very fox-like in connecting the dots. ...more
The book is presented in chronological order, and the money just rises exponentially to a point where eventually my brain can't summon any outrage anyThe book is presented in chronological order, and the money just rises exponentially to a point where eventually my brain can't summon any outrage anymore. Tens of millions of dollars in arms sales to ex-Nazis? That's a lot of money! A £10 bilion aircraft deal from BAE to the Saudis in which providing a $100 million personal jet to a Saudi prince is part of the cost of doing business? Terrible! Viktor Bout (the inspiration for Nicolas Cage in Lord of War) making millions off all the suffering in Africa and the blood diamond trade? Well, at least it was a good movie. A rigged $40 billion deal for refueling tankers for the US Air Force? Oh well. Spending $1+ trillion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Meh. It really exposes the disconnect of the Republicans advocating free markets and small government while supporting high defense spending when using private contractors can be even more wasteful than if the government programs, and when it leads to stuff like this. Eisenhower originally coined the term military-industrial-congressional complex (the "congressional" part was dropped at the risk of sounding too inflammatory to the legislative branch), and sadly, we don't have presidents like Ike anymore.
“Eisenhower knew the defense budget,” recalled his aide, William Ewald. “He knew where the fat was. He knew were the people were trying to load extras on . . . things you didn’t need. Eisenhower was, in effect, his own secretary of defense. . . . He would periodically sigh to Andy Goodpastor, “God help the nation when it has a President who doesn’t know as much about the military as I do.” Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World p. 314
It was a thin book with large-ish type so I thought it might be a good book to read on the Metro, but it's pretty deep so I don't think I gave the booIt was a thin book with large-ish type so I thought it might be a good book to read on the Metro, but it's pretty deep so I don't think I gave the book all the consideration it required. Some of his arguments seemed anachronistic - his chapter on Friendship, in particular, with its chummy old-boy networks and a man trying to introduce his less cultured wife to the finer things - and it was hard to apply his reasoning to these timeless principles of these different loves. I really like CS Lewis and have really high expectations, so in that regard, I was disappointed. ...more
A look at three people who were minor characters in their day, but provided the intellectual underpinnings for the formulation of an Asian identity anA look at three people who were minor characters in their day, but provided the intellectual underpinnings for the formulation of an Asian identity and development of Asian nation-states in the 20th century. The stories of al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, and Tagore don't really intersect, so without a broader context to place their ideas (besides 'smart Asian guys') the book felt a little incomplete. It's interesting to see how Japan, as the first modern Asian power, played such a large role in incubating these ideas, and yet when it came time for Japan to develop its own vision of Asia, it became just another imperialistic power in World War II. ...more