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Friday, June 24, 2011

Fat 40 and Fired

This was a book I picked up as another free Kindle download. I'm starting to learn that if it is free, I should probably spend some time reading something else. It's not that this book was bad, it just wasn't good.

This is the story of an Australian chap, who is CEO of a company and decides to take a year off. He spends his year off training for a swim marathon, taking care of his children, and taking some European vacations. Of course his wife keeps her full time job.

The "fired" part of the title is misleading, the author pretty much up and quit. One of his big trials while he was on his extended vacation was fending off the headhunters and resisting the urge to work. Somehow the life of an unemployed elite is supposed to make us look at our own workaday existence and wonder why we're stuck in the rut we're in.

I was not inspired. I'd like to say I was angered or outraged that some CEO was telling me that the reason I feel so out of control and balance in my life is because I take things too seriously. Unfortunately I was just bored. John the Revelator supposedly said "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth". Now I know what he meant.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spice: A History of a Temptation

This was the most dreary dense book I've read in a long time and I've been reading textbooks. This book took me about two and a half years to finish. At one point I thought it was lost and I was actually happy that I had an excuse not to finish. Unfortunately, I live the life of a functional shut in so it was just under a stack of books that I'd stacked in a shopping bag.

The book tells the history of spice from ancient times to the end of the medieval period. There were interesting facts sprinkled here and there. I learned that the commonly cited fact that medieval people used used spice in order to choke down rancid meat is a falsehood. Then there were a couple of interesting narratives such as the story of alewives in England and how they adulterated their beer with chicken droppings and whatever they had around to cover the taste of stale flat beer.

Mostly I learned that all writers are not created equal. This book was recommended by the Amazon system which thought that if I liked Kurlansky's Salt that I might like Spice. They were wrong. If you've tried Salt like I have and want something more, pick up another Kurlansky book, not this one.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I love Malcolm Gladwell's writing. His writing is clear, easy to read and sounds just like you're having a conversation with a good friend. He and Stephen King are probably the best two writers at making you feel as if reading is an effortless conversation.

Outliers is a group of stories about exceptional people. People who either accomplish rare things or are considered outstanding. He shows that even though we tend to think exceptional accomplishment and success come from merit, society actually has systems and rules set up that pre-dispose winners to be the people that we admire and aspire to emulate.

Unfortunately Gladwell is usually long on story and short on solution. He tells the story of how hockey and baseball players born at certain times of year are much more likely to go to the pros. Then he talks about how kids that are born after the school cutoff and thus are older in their classes are more likely to go to better colleges. Then he talks a bit about how wealthy people raise their children to ask more questions than poor people do. Then we're out.

That isn't a complaint about Gladwell, I don't mind a big thought provoking look at our society without a clear cut set of solutions. The only complaint I have is that book stores somehow keep putting his books in the business section. When I read a business book I'm expecting to have a problem diagnosed and a solution defined. I think his books would be better set in the philosophy or biography section. But small complaints about marketing aside, I still enjoy his work and the best part is that a large amount of his longform journalism is online for free!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Happy Birthday Marilyn Monroe

So Marilyn Monroe would have been 85 yesterday. I don't really know why the media is so enchanted by the birthdays of dead celebrities. I guess it makes it easy to find copy to print since nobody really wants to read about the results of for example the capitol hill debate about the debt ceiling or about how foreign regimes are cutting off the body parts of 13 year old boys in the middle east.

Until Yesterday I'd never seen a Marilyn Monroe movie, it was complete coincidence, I'd been watching the movie off and on for about a week and had recorded it two weeks ago. The movie was The Misfits her last film, and also the last movie that Clark Gable appeared in.

I'm not giving spoiler alerts for a 50 year old movie so I'll jump right in. Marilyn plays a woman who is visiting Reno to get a divorce. She and her friend, who is some kind of professional divorce witness, meet up with two men at the local casino and go home with them. Marilyn accepts the offer of one of them to live in his home and Clark Gable ends up wooing her and living in the house with her. She goes out on the town and every man wants her, which causes old Clark to become jealous. Clark is a cowboy bum who hates working for wages for some reason and who decides to go catch some wild horses in the mountains. Marilyn goes along with him and two other men who are completely struck with her and once she finds out that the men are just going to sell the horses for dog food rather than keep them as pets, freaks out and causes a scene. The cowboy and the guy who loaned her the house decide that no woman is worth giving up horse meat for, even though Marilyn's character offers to pay an 80 percent premium over market value for the horses. The movie also includes drunken driving scenes, rodeos and plenty of scenes of Marilyn sighing and being tragically submissive. The movie ends with Clark throwing Marilyn to the ground and then relenting to her demands to free the horses. Then they ride away in his truck, homeless and vowing to have babies together.

What can you say to that? At some point was white trash considered sexy? I would highly recommend a listen to Doug Stanhope's "Drambuie" sketch from his most recent album to go along with a viewing of this movie. The main message I got from this movie is that nothing is more romantic than a jobless drunk homeless man who beats you but afterwards feels so guilty about it that he treats you like the princess you really are. I wasn't around in 1958 so I'm hopeful that this was actually a high art tragedy and not a romance but wow, why star Marilyn Monroe wearing fur coats and designer clothes if it was meant to be a sad movie and why the romantic music as she rides off into the starlight with her homeless drunken beau?

Supposedly, Marilyn was an intellectual who collected literature and read difficult texts on breaks, so maybe this was a tragic screenplay meant to expose the plight of divorced women before the modern feminist movement. Unfortunately I suspect that is is just a sad commentary on where we were at as a society before the 1960s.