Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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100 Books While 40: The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusac
Published:  2005

Relevant. Thanks Donald Trump, you shitty, shitty human being.

The young man wandered around for quite some time, thinking, planning, and figuring out exactly how to make the world his. Then one day, our of nowhere, it struck him-the perfect plan. He’d seen a mother walking with her child. At one point, she admonished the small boy, until finally, he began to cry. Within a few minutes, she spoke very softly to him, after which he was soothed and even smiled.

The young man rushed to the woman and embraced her. “Words!” He grinned.


But there was no reply, He was already gone.

Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will  never fire a gun,” he devised. “I will not have to.” Still, he was not rash. Let’s allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attach was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.

He planted them day and night, and cultivated them.

He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen through Germany…. It was a nation of farmed thoughts.

While the words were growing, our young Fuhrer also planted seeds to create symbols, and these, too, were well on their way to full bloom. Now the time had come. The Fuhrer was ready.

He invited his people toward his own glorious heart, beckoning them with his finest, ugliest words, handpicked from his forests. And the people came.

They were all placed on a conveyor belt and run through a rampant machine that gave them a lifetime in ten minutes. Words were fed into them. Time disappeared and they now Knew everything they needed to know. They were hypnotized. – The Book Thief

I’m sure Hitler really enjoyed his freedom of speech. We have to believe one of two things, but they both cannot be true at once. Either words are power and freedom of speech needs to be carefully monitored and considered, or words are powerless and freedom of speech isn’t important. But I see people want to lay claim to both. They hide behind freedom of speech while throwing their hate words and simultaneously suggest words are not power when asked to to be accountable. Check out this for more on this topic.

The young man was a Nazi; his father was not. In the opinion of Hans Junior, his father was part of an old, decrepit Germany-one that allowed everyone else to take it for the proverbial ride while its own people suffered. – The Book Thief

Make America great again. What does that mean, exactly? Donald Trump actually answered this question and said it’s the boom years during WWII. Trump seems to identify this time period for economic reasons-which I think is past and will stay that way mostly due to robotics and other ways in which manufacturing will require less and less labor while maintaining or increasing productivity-back to my main point. But Americans interpret that based on their age. And this phrase allows people to coddle their irrational nostalgia for some time in the past that they perceive to be better in some way than now.

I think many Trump supporters do not interpret this first as an economic statement. I believe they interpret it first culturally. That’s the root where some of the racist and sexist portions of his following comes from, the basket of deplorables, so to speak. They are thinking of a time when blacks and women knew their place. They are thinking of a time when men with no education could hold unilateral power over women and minorities. Let me repeat that statement in a slightly different way, a time when white men with zero achievement or intelligence could wield power simply by being born.

That time is at its end. White men for the most part are going down swinging. And we have to watch it. And it’s painful.

I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate. – The Book Thief

Reading this book about a child caught up in Nazi Germany was painfully relevant. I have had this theory for years, that we all have the capacity to be Germans in 1939. I just didn’t think I would live to see concrete evidence of it during my lifetime.


100 Books While 40: A Brief History of Time

Title: A Brief History of Time
Author: Stephen Hawking
Published: 1988

Science is so stinking cool. Check this out.

I had a dream a few days back that I ran into Jeannine. She got my attention and identified herself as though we hadn’t seen each other in some time. I was simultaneously aware of my feelings in the dream and outside it. My heart burned at seeing her as a stranger outside the dream knowing that the beautiful moments we have shared do not exist in that reality. Inside the dream my heart jumped at seeing her.

I woke with the sensation of being completely in two different worlds. And encountering the link above filled me with wonder about the nature of our world. This sense of wonder is the same that I experienced reading Stephen Hawking.

My mind would swim at some of the concepts in the book barely grasping their implications. But the discomfort of being out of my depth was secondary to how incredible the ideas are. Time is not independent of space. Black holes are current manifestations of the same singularity that might have been the start of the cosmos. These ideas make the world a more shocking and vast place. There is no better reading to cure all cynicism and instill a sense of wonder at every moment.

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100 Books While 40: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

Title: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Author: Erik Larson
Published: 2003

I am not going to summarize how the Chicago’s World Fair came and went, but the details of it are relevant to my impressions of the book. For more information on that Wikipedia has good page on it. Check out pictures of The White City. They are really remarkable. 

There is so much to respond to in this book that chronicles the improbable success of The World’s Fair and the hospitable context it provided for a prolific serial killer. I picked only a small bit to write about.

This election cycle exposes the stark differences between our attitudes about civic pride and our collective ability to achieve greatness today and the attitudes that enabled The Columbia Exposition, The 1893 World Fair. That a small group of people were willing to put their money and effort into a prospect that was utterly ridiculous is completely unthinkable today. This was our bold past.

What if one of the unintended consequences of turning us into consumers is that we cease to value productivity for its own sake? I genuinely believe that it’s a basic human need to be productive or creative. The truest expression of our best selves builds and creates. What if many of us lack the self-discipline to engage in this vital part of ourselves?

One of my friends was telling me of her encounter with a couple of children managing their ninety year old mother’s care. They filmed everything they could while in the hospital and appeared to want to capture some instance of mistreatment that would get them a hefty settlement. They were living out of their mother’s home and eating off her social security checks. They were middle-aged not yet eligible for SSI, lacking in marketable skills due to their life long failure to participate in the workplace, and overweight with health issues.

The part of me that is sensitive to justice felt a twinge of anger at their self-created helplessness. But what came more potently was how sad their wasted potential is. Here are two people who will most likely live and die without a single productive act.

Some would say this is evidence of our entitlements run amok. But I am wondering if it isn’t only that. I am wondering if when elevating our primary role to that of consumer has sapped us culturally of our will to create and be. I am wondering if our social media makes this even more difficult, where everyone can criticize those with the courage to create. I am wondering if Daniel Burnham would today be sending snide tweets rather than building something magical.

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100 Books While 40: Interpreter of Maladies

Title: Interpreter of Maladies
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Published: 1999

What a lovely read. At our very best we are inconsistent in our dazzling displays of love and joy and humble in our weakness and quirks. Lahiri deftly reveals how just minutes of interaction can change the trajectory of one life while leaves no impression on another. The same three sentences for one is all and the other nothing.

These stories are so gorgeous. They tell stories of Indian immigrants as they negotiate their past and their futures. But more broadly they speak of how the landscape of our lives is painted in what we share with others rather than what we earn.

Read it. It’t lovely. It’s joyful, wistful, heartbreaking, funny, sweet, sad, sublime. It’s life.

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100 Book While 40: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Title: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Author: Michael Lewis
Published: 2003

We aren’t logical. Take a gander at this list. If there’s one thing this list should make plain, it’s that we often have gaps in judgement.

Baseball is a big money business. And it’s one that provides ample statistical data. And yet, this book narrates the challenges analysts had in getting baseball insiders to accept that the data tells a more accurate story than men who have spent a lifetime scouting for new players.

This idea, our failure to think logically, and our failure to acknowledge it, started swimming around my head after 9/11. While that was a terrible event, I grew puzzled that not only were citizens of the largest cities fearful of a terrorist attack but those from the most remote and sparsely populated areas were equally distressed. They weren’t just mildly concerned either. The entire population was so scared that they willingly sent even more Americans to die on bits of desert that figure in their lives in no tangible way what so ever. Not only were they behind putting our soldiers in harms way, but they also supported the extravagant 4-6 trillion dollar price tag to support this military action.

Just as a point of reference, the national debt is currently clocking in around 19 trillion. So, the wars account for about a quarter of that. With just the costs of the Iraq War alone we could have paid off half of every American’s mortgage. We could have given every American child access to preschool 40 times over. We could have installed a national light rail system 8 times over (for more shit would could have done check this page).

In retrospect, I can’t say what Americans envisioned as the outcome of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, but I am supposing living with ISIS wasn’t it. Yet even now I am hearing an alarming number of Americans advocating for more military action in the Middle East. Did we learn nothing? The apparent answer is yes.

One constant from September 11th 2001 until now is our fear. Today Americans are just as scared that they will be victims of terrorist attacks as they were then. And yet, the probability of dying in a terrorist attack is stunningly remote. We are talking on the level of lightening strike or becoming shark bait here. Yet here were are, a significant number of us want to bomb Syria.

This problem with our inability to be logical? The founders were aware, even while we continue to seem blissfully ignorant of it. The judicial branch is there to prevent the tyranny of the majority. AKA, you guys can be stupid, and not just a few of you, but MOST of you at once. Plus, there’s this from a fascinating article in The Atlantic.

The Framers worried about demagogic excess and populist caprice, so they created buffers and gatekeepers between voters and the government. Only one chamber, the House of Representatives, would be directly elected. A radical who wanted to get into the Senate would need to get past the state legislature, which selected senators; a usurper who wanted to seize the presidency would need to get past the Electoral College, a convocation of elders who chose the president; and so on.

In baseball, the data eventually won. But when I am watching Trump at the RNC tell America that we are all in danger, I am dubious of data’s power here. In the case of baseball, there are clear and expensive consequences to ignoring the data. In politics, although the consequences are even more expensive, the relationship of cause and effect is cloudy.


100 Books While 40: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Book: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Published: 2014

How many times can someone starve? I am just wondering, because Louis Zamporini starts off his trip to the Japanese POW camp at less than one hundred pounds. And yet he loses another 20 pounds at least 5 or 6 times before is rescue. By my calculation Zamporini, while there are many remarkable things about the man, shockingly survived a weight of zero pounds.

Added to his miraculous weight loss, he also survived brushes with death. He barely survived it when his first plane was shot up. He barely survived when the plane nearly crashed due to holes shot through the gas tank. He barely survived when they crash landed on the deck of a air craft carrier. He barely survived when his next plan was shot down. He released his ankle in the wreckage nearly missing drowning. In his barely conscience haze after surfacing he managed to swim after and capture two life boats. He barely survived dehydration. He barely survived starvation. He barely survived insanity while lost at see. He barely survived being shot at by a Japanese plane. He barely survived circling sharks. He barely survived circling sharks attacking simultaneously with a different Japanese plane. He barely survived drowning or becoming shark food when the life rafts where shot through with bullets.  We aren’t even into the Japanese prison camp yet.

When I finally put the book down, I noticed that my empathy account was overdrawn by decades. The last twenty pages giddily wrap up the book with Louis’s conversion to Christianity, as though this is some remedy for the last 980 pages of smothering misery. It was not.

The unabridged version of this book could be improved with a thesaurus. Really, it could have used more imaginative prose. Really really, the unabridged version could have not existed at all. Or maybe someone with less talent for turning a fascinating story and an honorable man into a book painful to slog through should have authored it.

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100 Books While 40: Kitchen Confidential

Book: Kitchen Confidential
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Published: 2000

I miss the predictable rhythms of the restaurant business and the way they are made new by human quirks and foibles. Each dinner rush is the same plot just carried out by a new cast of characters. The peculiar composition of the waitstaff and the customers combine in endless ways to make each night have its own degree of efficiency and tone.

My first serving experience wrenched open my eyes to this world in unceremonious fashion. On my first day at The Old Spaghetti Factory, I got my apron, my first server book, and my first look at people, the kitchen staff to be specific, doing lines of coke. After inviting me into his office, the walk in, for my first interview, the chef invited me to have a line and to stay the fuck out of his way.

At a wide-eyed twenty, I was terrified and fascinated. And although I didn’t yet know it, that introduction to the service industry was most appropriate. Later in the evening I would have all of my family lineage insulted in a kaleidoscope of four-letter words capable of peeling the grease soaked beige paint over the grill as I learned what getting in his way meant.

The rest of the wait staff was only slightly less abusive. One of the servers appraised me one eyebrow slightly raised and flatly gave me a week and started organizing bets. In that same service I watched this same server make one of the other new hires cry over her failure to accomplish a task as basic as brewing coffee. That hire lasted until exactly that moment causing a shuffling of cash between the staff.

In that first week, I had only dreams of basic survival and reworking my budget in some way to give me time to look for a new job. But rent was due and I had no alternatives. So I did my best to work hard and avoid attracting attention.

It was somewhere in week three or four that the waitstaff bothered to learn my name. And although I initially assumed this was part of the hazing, I learned with experience that it’s more a reflection of how quickly people get and lose service jobs. At least half of the new hires would not last out their first month. With a staff of 60 people who are always in flux, it’s just a matter of economy to wait the newbies out until they’ve self sorted.

And in another month I would be thinking the rest of the staff part of my family, a weird boozy, occasionally abusive family. They would turn into the people I would call to bail me out or pick me up from the hospital. They would at once hug me fiercely and refuse to suffer a spec of my bullshit. And together we would survive the most asinine and generous extremes of customer behavior.

Kitchen Confidential had me reliving every insane, beautiful moment. I loved it. Bourdain refers to his kitchen staff as a band of pirates, this is the most apt description I have ever encountered for the weirdos who are attracted to restaurant work. They are people who for various reasons are not cut out for cubicles.

Some of them are ex-cons and don’t have access to the white collar world. Others are night owls and the discontented who eschew the confines of the nine to five. Still more are following a poorly paying passion and find waiting the most efficient way to supplement their income. Still more are steeped in gin, tattooed, and just too odd to be day walkers.

I miss that alternate reality. This book let me feel at home there once more. It reminded me that although I like what my nine to five affords me my heart belongs with the pirates.

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100 Books While 40: Little House on the Prairie

Title: Little House on the Prairie
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published: 1935

It was that Indians didn’t have a concept of land ownership that brought them to living huddled on reservations. This one thing encouraged white people to believe they were entitled to it and drove the Native people to shrug as pioneers erected their fences and structures.

The word entitlement has been seeing a lot of mileage recently. In the 80’s it was often used to deride welfare recipients. It’s been used more recently to describe the way that men behave around other people’s bodies and how they touch them with or without consent. It’s been used to describe millennials and what they expect to have.

Here’s the thing to focus on when that word is trotted out. Who has the power? Because it seems that word is used to both point to or obscure who has it. In sexual assault cases, the man involved usually has it. Welfare recipients have little to no power in the 80’s or otherwise. Here the word misdirects what would otherwise be legitimate income inequality concerns toward those with the least responsibility and power. When directed at millennials, it often functions the same. A generation of people who got full time jobs with benefits and enough income to buy a house at 21 level this at a group of new workers who will have none of those things.

The book is remarkably kind to the Native Americans, and yet completely unconscious of the land grab that was actually taking place. They rationalized that the natives weren’t using it. But I think by using it they meant farming it like they do. The natives were using it, just in a different way.

Who had the power? The people with the most guns then. Now it’s little more subtle but still pretty easy to sort out.

The remainder was an interesting look at pioneer living. Holy Moses was that rough. The next time I feel like whining about… well, almost any niggling thing in my cush life, I will swallow that feeling right down.

Here’s a link to my book list.

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100 Books While 40: Diary of a Whimpy Kid

Title: Diary of a Whimpy Kid
Author: Jeff Kinney
Published: 2007

Breathe a sigh of relief. This batch of kids’ books will keep the all the big problems of the world away for a few posts. Until I turn the last page on Lolita and then God help us all.

Two hundred pages of comic sans seems a mild form of torture. Jeff Kinney’s illustrations made up for it as did the very premise of the book as a journal of a middle schooler late to puberty. Reading it while looking over a white Florida beach contributed to my warm regard, no question.

When experiencing trauma our brains insulate us from ugly reality. And then after the fact our brains put out of our reach the gory details of that terrible car accident or the specifics of getting mugged. All adults fail to recall years 12 to 15 because of this exact phenomena.

There is some exquisite confusion at that age. No one explicitly says as much, but all the rules change. I blended in swimmingly with all the boys until then. I had a crash course in being feminine in three months the summer I was thirteen.

This was a little tour into a place I forgot. I now feel a little more charitable toward the snotty thirteen year-olds I run into. And I am happy to remember that the worst moments are always temporary.

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100 Books While 40: Silent Spring

Title: Silent Spring
Author: Rachel Carson
Published: 1962

People with lady parts cannot science. That was the defense chemical companies launched against Rachel Carson. She’s a hysterical woman.

Rachel Carson documents the link between pesticides and bee die offs. She documents the link between pesticides and cancer. She documents the link between estrogen mimicking chemicals and lady parts cancer. This was all based on research from the 50’s.

And where are we now? Are we judicious about our use of chemicals on our food and in our water? Have we been considerate of the blunt force trauma we inflict on ecosystems when we introduce foreign chemicals and medications.

Well. There’s organic food, I suppose. There’s also a medical system that is raking in billions and billions of dollars on treating cancer. Cancer prevention doesn’t line pockets nearly as well. There’s Monsanto pumping lobbyists full of cash to buy politicians and government agents. And there’s the 80 percent of our antibiotics that are pumped into our livestock.

What had changed? We were busy making sure chemical companies made money in the 50’s. After years of data collection we still are busy making sure chemical companies make money now. Women’s words were discounted then. And women’s agency is discounted now, as evidenced by the Turner rape sentencing. What has changed?