Monthly Archives: August 2020

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's BerlinIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book follows U.S. Ambassador William Dodd and his family, especially his daughter Martha, through his term in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis. Dodd was a Midwestern professor of history, unlike the wealthy, flamboyant subordinates in the embassy who were products of Ivy League schools and long dynasties. He was thus often at odds with the clubby “boys” who saw him as a cheapskate who embarrassed the U.S. with his mild-mannered and penurious ways. Others saw him as heroic, one of the few who saw Hitler for what he was and who sounded the early alarm. Hitler’s rise is eerily similar to that of Donald Trump, with the cult of personality, the bigotry against minorities and other ways. I learned a lot about Hitler and Germany than I hadn’t known.

At least as much time in the book was spent on Martha, a free-spirited, lustful literati who had multiple affairs with prominent men including Nazis and a Soviet spy. Her memoir and other writings provide must of the grist for this mill.

Stylistically the author made some odd choices. He has a penchant for exaggeration and dramatization that detracts from his credibility. Many of his descriptions are belied by photographs. For example, reading his descriptions Goring comes across as absolutely enormous, but in photos, and statistically, he’s just a large, overweight man, not all that huge. Similarly, he makes out many of the men and women, including Martha, to be either extremely beautiful or handsome, yet photos of them make them seem rather ordinary. Other descriptions were excessive, such as cerulean skies, bordering on purple prose that might be appropriate in a romance novel but not a historical non-fiction work. Some, perhaps most, of this probably comes from his reliance on Martha’s writings. She comes across as a flighty romantic.

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Our Ignorant Newsies – wife edition

My wife sent me these news bloopers while I’m out of town. I’ll paste her email in without change.

The local news guy just said that Uber was being asked to reclassify their drivers as passengers.

Earlier today on the radio, a person was being described as being a thorn in the back of another person.

And some very tired emergency services spokesperson said that CPU was performed but the victim died.

The Other Wife by Claire McGowan

The Other WifeThe Other Wife by Claire McGowan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t had a lot of luck with Amazon Prime free reads, but this one was an exception. It wasn’t so much a mystery as a suspense story, although a dead body is hinted at early on. The format was somewhat original. Every chapter was headed with the name of a female narrator: Suzi, Elle, Nora, etc. for a total of maybe six or seven, rotating in no particular order. The thrust, if you’ll excuse the word, of the story line is pretty much that men are lying controlling SOB’s who use women merely to … uh … thrust with. Not all of them, of course. It’s a regular good girls vs. bad guys story, only the girls aren’t all that good themselves.

It takes place mostly in a remote often snowbound area of England. The author keeps the action and suspense going throughout. There’s no arcane UK police procedural argot to master. As mysteries go, it’s a bit of fluff, but it kept me entertained on my plane to Texas to visit my new granddaughter, so it did its job quite satisfactorily. Bang on. Pip pip. Cheerio and all that.

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We all make mistakes, but some of them are Freudian. I cadged this from the New Zealand Herald.

Donald Trump has done it again, stumbling over another commonplace name in a speech during a campaign event.

This time, it was the southeast Asian country of Thailand that proved a problem for the US President, who pronounced it “Thigh-land”.

“Shifting production to Thigh-land,” Trump said during the speech at a washing machine factory in Ohio, before correcting himself. “Thailand and Vietnam, two places that… I like their leaders very much.”

Twitter users didn’t hold back in mocking Trump, leaping on the opportunity to post a series of gags and memes after video of the gaffe went viral.

Thighland is my favorite country after Assganistan.
— Alexis Boucher (@alexis_b82) August 6, 2020

thighland and hondurass are nice but I’m more into titaly
— kilgore trout, new tone haver (@KT_So_It_Goes) August 6, 2020

A little afternoon trivia: The chief executive of Thighland is the Lord of the Thighs, not the prime minister.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) August 6, 2020

Thighland is just off the coast of Crotchatia.
— (((Josh Malina))) (@JoshMalina) August 6, 2020

Thighland sounds both incorrect and delicious.
— Troy Johnson (@_troyjohnson) August 6, 2020

“shifting production to Thighland” is how I refer to leg day
— Drew Goins (@drewlgoins) August 6, 2020

The Pioneers by David McCullough

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal WestThe Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re a fan of history, you’ll probably enjoy this account of the first white Americans to cross the Appalachians and form settlements in the Ohio Valley. I’m not such a fan. McCullough writes well, and there were many anecdotes I enjoyed, such as the disastrous campaign by General St. Clair, the visits by Aaron Burr and John Quincy Adams. However, the bulk of the book is merely describing the day-to-day life of the settlers. Person A cuts down trees to plant corn, person B plants a fruit tree, a fire burns a cabin, someone drowns, and so on. I’ve read very similar stuff doing my own genealogy and found it boring then.

I feel McCullough displays too much pride and enthusiasm for these European-Americans forcing their way onto Indian lands and subduing and eventually expelling the natives, whom he often calls savages (or quotes those who do). He calls it a heroic story (see subtitle). Heroic or tragic depends on one’s biases. My own ancestors were among these very first “pioneers.” I am neither proud nor ashamed of them. I might have done the same things in their shoes. Some good people fought hard to keep slavery out of the newly opened territory, but many others kept slaves and threatened the abolitionists. All in all it’s worth a solid three stars.

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Varsity Blues update – Will Trump pardon them?

I’ve been posting updates on this blog from time to time on the latest defendants to be convicted and sentenced in the college entrance cheating scandal known as Varsity Blues. Sentenced just last month was Karen Littlefair, described by the L.A. Times as a Newport Beach socialite who “who has hosted fundraisers for high-profile Republican politicians.” She got five months in prison, fines, and community service.

Now that we know from Mary Trump’s book that Donald Trump paid Joe Shapiro to take his SAT so that he could get into Wharton, I see some pardons coming. It’s clear that Trump doesn’t see anything wrong with paying a smart person to take a test for him and he has also shown that he is happy to pardon some pretty low-life criminals (Blagojevich [Dem], and Roger Stone [Rep.]) and favors rich people especially, I can’t see any reason for him not to pardon his imitators once the election is over. Win or lose, he has no more incentive to even pretend to be law-abiding or honest. These criminals are all rich and all have shown a willingness to use their money to bribe people for illegal favors, so I suspect Donald or his kids will be getting some big paydays from this presidential power. He’s already used it to benefit himself, buying Stone’s silence.

I always wondered how Trump, who talks and writes (tweets) like a drunken dyslexic third-grader, got into Wharton. He could only get into Fordham at first, a decent, but second tier, private school known as a pay-to-play second choice on the east coast, much like USC out here in California. Wharton, however, part of the Ivy League Penn, is much more demanding. As soon as we heard Michael Cohen’s sworn testimony that he was directed by Trump to threaten the universities and the ETS with lawsuits if they revealed his SAT scores or grades, I knew his admission had been fishy. Now we know the details. I’m sure that if we saw the initial scores he had when admitted to Fordham and the one from Shapiro for the second time around, the disparity would have been so great it would have been clear there had been fraud.

Maybe I’m wrong. After all, he is a stable genius. Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV. As for the pardons, of course I’m only speculating, but if it happens, I’ll enjoy the I-told-you-so-moment.