Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Writer learns craft by running on and on in letters

Letters were my apprenticeship: I used them as my commonplace book, as tryouts for characters, to get a purchase on what mattered to me and how I might articulate what mattered. I wrote weather reports and geography lessons, how snow touched the black waters of the Bosporus, how the sun bore down on Lindos, what a ninth consecutive day of rain did to Vienna. Hundreds of these letters, most unanswered. What was the recipient to say? This was not correspondence (as my amused brother now realizes); these were finger exercises, and just about as welcome to my audience as a sixth, ninth, fifteenth run-through of "Heartaches" by a first-year student of the tenor sax.
Geoffrey Wolff, A Day at the Beach: Recollections, 2d ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2013), p.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Young man believes in bookishness . . .

I was skeptical of all faiths, save bookishness; I was bone-idle, except around books. Around books I worked like a Turk, reading with a pencil in my hand, reading three or four things at a clip. I had read headlong and helter-skelter since I'd plowed as a kid through Albert Payson Terhune simultaneously with the Hardy Boys. To read compulsively and to write about reading were my only appetites (of too many appetites) sanctioned as virtues rather than condemned as vices.
Geoffrey Wolff, A Day at the Beach: Recollections, 2d ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2013), p. 7.

Monday, July 25, 2016

People have valued meat through history . . .

Nearly every society has placed a high value on meat. . . . Although humans can satisfy all their nutritional needs by eating plants, most of us prefer not to. Instead, we feed plants to animals and then eat the animals, and we do not seem to mind that this process is costly and complicated. People have fought wars, conquered lands, destroyed landscapes, and exchanged great wealth to satisfy their deep hunger for meat. When it is scarce—and in large societies meat has been scarce until recent times—only the wealthiest eat it. When poor people begin to earn a bit more money, they spend it on meat. "Those who could, gorged themselves," one historian has written of early modern Europe. "Those who couldn't, aimed to."
Mark Essig, Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig (New York: Basic Books, 2015), Prologue (quoting Eugen Weber, A Modern History of Europe (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 202)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Outside aid distorts local economy

The economic distortions that aid caused went beyond the discrepancy in living conditions. Suddenly, productive and educated members of the workforce were being snatched up by NGOs. I met a local judge who was now working as a driver for an NGO because his new job paid him twice what his old one did. School principals worked as administrative assistants for international agencies. One day in Sri Lanka, I arrived at a temporary school to monitor a teacher training session with Arjun, my translator . . . . [T]he student spilled out of the classroom and flocked to greet him. "I used to teach at this school," he explained.
. . . A job at an NGO—almost always the biggest employer in town—was a lucrative position for a person who lived there, and we poached some of the best and brightest right out of the very civil society we were trying to support, luring them into what were essentially temporary positions. We weren't going to be here forever, and when we were gone the jobs would be, too.
Jessica Alexander, Chasing Chaos: My Decade in and out of Humanitarian Aid (New York: Broadway Books, 2013), pp. 234-35.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Tsunami aid outweighs aid for other needs

The amount of money donated to the tsunami was also disproportionate to what the rest of the country had. The needs outside of the affected areas were great, too; in both Indonesia and Sri Lanka, conflicts had been brewing long before December 26, 2004. . . .

After the tsunami, donors earmarked funding specifically for tsunami programming. Some of the camps for tsunami victims that I visited were replete with flushing toilets, regular electricity, and hardwood floors. A few meters away were the camps where people displaced by the enduring domestic conflicts had been living. Their age showed: the tents were tattered, the alleyways lined with sewage, the latrines daunting, odiferous cesspools. 
"We've been getting complaints. It's really causing a lot of problems," one of the local leders explained to me. . . . "People from the conflict camp are asking, 'Why can't we have what they are getting? Because we didn't lose our house in the tsunami? We we lost our house long ago!'"
Jessica Alexander, Chasing Chaos: My Decade in and out of Humanitarian Aid (New York: Broadway Books, 2013), p. 232-34.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

College boys worshipping Fred Astaire (you could do worse!)

Our only god was Fred Astaire. He was everything we wanted to be: smooth, suave, debonair, dapper, intelligent, adult, witty, and wise. We saw his pictures over and over, played his records until they were gray and blurred, dressed as much like him as we dared. When any crises came into our young lives, we asked ourselves what Fred Astaire would do and we did likewise. We though we were hot stuff but we were very young in those days.
Patrick Dennis, Auntie Mame (New York: Broadway Books, 2001), pp. 160 (orig. pub. 1955)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Children need a chance to learn to amuse themselves.

Like wild animals raised in captivity who never develop their inborn potential to hunt for themselves, children who are robbed of the opportunity to come up with their own games and entertain themselves at those times in their lives when these capacities are developing may very well become dependent upon others to determine their good times.
Dana Chidekel, Parents in Charge: Setting Healthy, Loving Boundaries for You and Your Child (New York: Citadel Press Books, 2002),  pp. 94-95, quoted in Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 12, note 40.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How many med mal practice plaintiffs win, do you think?

Once malpractice cases go to trial, only about 2 to 5 percent result in verdicts against physicians . . . .
James B. Lieber, Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America's Third Largest Cause of Death, and What Can Be Done About It (New York: OR Books, 2015), Introduction.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Who could have foreseen the French Revolution?

It was too much the way of Monseigneur under his reverses as a refugee, and it was much too much the way of native British orthodoxy, to talk of this terrible Revolution as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown—as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted to be done, that had led to it—as if observers of the wretched millions in France, and of the misused and perverted resources that should have made them prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming, years before, and had not in plain words recorded what they saw. 
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book the Second, ch. XXIV

Monday, July 11, 2016

How do families view kids' activities?

As the first edition of the book notes, the middle-class parents appeared to see organized activities as filled with "teachable moments" that helped cultivate their children's talents. As young adults, most of the middle-class kids articulated a similar perspective, readily linking their past activities to enduring life benefits. Working-class and poor parents who enrolled their children in activities generally did so to provide a safe form of entertainment—"something to do." As young adults, these kids sounded much like their parents, describing their organized activities as a diversion without long-lasting importance.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 13

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Humanitarian aid can't fix the biggest problems

Four years later, the [Sudanese] government kicked out thirteen Western aid groups in retaliation for the International Criminal Court's decision to issue a warrant for the arrest of President Al-Bashir on charges of war crimes. Did the roof that we fixed on the school in block D16 [of the refugee camp] even matter now? Did the covers we put on the latrines to stop the flies mean anything anymore? They were fine solutions to stop the immediate problems, but this war was much bigger than me, than the agency that I worked for, than the countless humanitarian workers running around providing bars of soap. The country needed a government that didn't terrorize its own population, one that was committed to peace and didn't back a militia that ran people off their land. And without this, without a government that worked with the aid community, not against it, our programs could only be short-term solutions.
Jessica Alexander, Chasing Chaos: My Decade in and out of Humanitarian Aid (New York: Broadway Books, 2013), p. 218.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Where are the dangers for kids?

[W]hile Ball limited how far his own children could go after this tragedy, he already sensed that that fear was coming at a price. Despite the horror of what happened to our family, he knew, children were more likely to die from an accident inside the home than to get abducted and killed. "That's where the danger is," he told me, "but that's not where danger is in the minds of the parents."
David Kushner, Alligator Candy: A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), ch. 41.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Furry transitional objects

Dogs make very handy transitional objects because we can use them as outlets for all kinds of different emotions. In my case, Grisby forms a bridge between my inner life and the "real world" out there, toward which I'm increasingly ambivalent. On the one hand, I want to function successfully as an adult in the wider world; on the other hand, I want to stay at home, regress to infancy, and keep the outside world at bay. It's always easier to make this difficult transition with a friendly bulldog by my side.
Mikita Brottman, The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Exceptional Dogs (New York: HarperCollins), ch. 7.

Friday, July 1, 2016

But you aren't arriving until July 1st!

"But why didn't you tell me you were coming today? I'd never have been giving this party."

"Mum, I wired you . . ."

"Yes, but you said July first. Tomorrow. This is the thirty-first of June."

Norah shook her head balefully. "No, mum, 'tis the first, God curse the evil day."

The tinselly laugh rang out, "But that's ridiculous! Everyone knows 'Thirty days hath September, April, June and  . . .' My God!" There was a moment's silence. "But darling," she said dramatically, "I'm your Auntie Mame!" She put her arms around me and kissed me, and I knew I was safe.
Patrick Dennis, Auntie Mame (New York: Broadway Books, 2001), pp. 13-14 (orig. pub. 1955)