The Idiot by Elif Batuman

1

Friends, this book is brilliant, hilarious and compelling.  I recommend it without reservation.

My galley copy there is banged up because I ripped it in half so I could bring the unfinished half on a trip, and what a delightful companion it was.

Come see me discuss the book with Elif herself at the LA Public Library downtown:

Monday March 20th

7:15pm

Free but get a ticket

Here are some choice excerpts from The Idiot:2  3  5

Patricia Lockwood highlighted one of my fav parts on Twitter:

Elif some years ago introduced me to the street cats of Istanbul: stanbul-cat

And showed me where to get corn:  turkey-corn

Now, I can return the favor in Los Angeles and YOU can join the fun:

MONDAY MARCH 20

7:15 PM

Mark Taper Auditorium – Central Library

The event is FREE but get a ticket.

 


Warren Buffett

New Berkshire Hathaway letter is out.  Free insight and humor for capitalism’s cheery uncle, a great read every year, even if I understand at most 1/12 of it.

wb-1

 

Sunny American optimism:

wb-2

The infectious, enthusiastic amateur style of writing reminds me of Bill James:

wb-3

wb4

Some of the companies Berkshire owns:

wb5

coke

9.3% of your Coke is Berkshire’s.

An unlikely hero:

wb6

Jack Bogle founded Vanguard, and created a simple, low cost index fund for everyday investors.

bogle

found that at JL Collins impressive website.

Buffett tells you, in simple terms, how to get rich:

wb7

Why people don’t do that:

wb8

On the other hand here’s the S&P 500 chart since 1980:

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-6-46-16-pm

Doesn’t look like a washtubs moment to me.

Over at marketplace.org, Allan Sloan points out some of the things Buffett leaves out:

Allan Sloan: Two things are missing. One was how wonderful the management of Wells Fargo was, which he wrote the previous year. The second thing is he lavished praise on this company called 3G, what’s known as a private equity company, from Brazil, which manages a company called Kraft Heinz, which is Berkshire Hathaway’s biggest investment. And what it does is it goes around, it buys companies — now with the help of a lot of financing from Berkshire Hathaway — it fires zillions of people, the profits go up, and then after a while, it goes out and buys another company and does the same thing.

Buffett makes me think of Andrew Carnegie, a zillionaire of a hundred years ago who also had some kind of public conscience.  If some percentage billionaires weren’t also lovable characters like Buffett, would capitalism collapse?  Does his dad humor, like Carnegie’s library building, plug a dyke that holds back revolution?

carnegie

At the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders conference, you can challenge table tennis champ Ariel Hsing:


Drudge

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-4-38-41-pm

continues to be a guilty pleasure.


Dune

img_0099

img_0101

Let’s learn about Frank Herbert, author of Dune.

img_0100

In WWII he was a Seebee:

720px-usn-seabees-insignia-svg

I think about the Seabees every time I drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and hit their base at Port Hueneme:

The idea for Dune came from dunes.

He later told Willis E. McNelly that the novel originated when he was supposed to do a magazine article on sand dunes in the Oregon Dunes near Florence, Oregon.

Source. Photo by Sam Beebe.

Source. Photo by Sam Beebe.

He became too involved and ended up with far more raw material than needed for an article. The article was never written, but instead planted the seed that led to Dune.

Source. Photo by Rebecca Kennison

Source. Photo by Rebecca Kennison

Dune was first published by Chilton Company, known for its auto repair manuals:

Sterling E. Lanier, an editor of Chilton Book Company (known mainly for its auto-repair manuals) had read the Dune serials and offered a $7,500 advance plus future royalties for the rights to publish them as a hardcover book.

Great take on writing from a man who generated many books:

A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You’re there now doing the thing on paper. You’re not killing the goose, you’re just producing an egg. So I don’t worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It’s a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I’ve heard about it. I’ve felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I’d much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, “Well, now it’s writing time and now I’ll write.” There’s no difference on paper between the two.[15]

— Frank Herbert
Lifted straight from Wikipedia. A vivid storyteller:

PLOWBOY: So you think our country’s methods of instruction have a lot to do with the destruction of many family values?

HERBERT: Absolutely. By the time you have three or four generations of people who are taught not to trust their families and their families’ knowledge, individuals can really become separated from their roots. The effect is to make people feel like lost wanderers, or to cause them to think of themselves only in the role of their jobs, which is a complete misrepresentation of what it means to be alive.

Another lesson I learned in childhood is that what people do is just as important as—and maybe more so than—what they say. I had a marvelous object lesson in the difference between words and actions when I was in fourth grade. In those days I was bored to death by school, so I tended to cause a lot of trouble.

One day our teacher, a great big woman who wore eye-glasses that looked like the bottoms of pop bottles, caught me in the middle of a particularly heinous prank. She told me to stay after school and added, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”

Of course, I could imagine all kinds of horrible things she might do to me. Like the bastinado, or worse! But when school was over, she just made me sit and sit while she worked on papers. After what seemed like ages, she motioned me up to her desk, stared at me awhile—I could feel two holes being burned right through me—and then resumed her paperwork.

PLOWBOY: You must have been terrified.

HERBERT: Oh, I was. Finally, she put her pencil down and said, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” Well, it was all too much for me. I started to cry. She put her face right in front of mine then and said again!—”I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” And I said through my sobs, “Why are you mad at me?”

With that, she grabbed me by the shoulders, began shaking me roughly, and cried, “I’m not mad at you, I’m not mad at you!” Well, I now know that teachers get long lectures during their training on the importance of keeping their tempers with their students, so I had said exactly the wrong thing to this woman. I may not have understood that at the time, but I didn’t have a bit of trouble realizing that my teacher—who was repeatedly screaming, “I’m not mad at you!”—was nearly out of her mind with rage.

That incident drove home the lesson that what people say often doesn’t agree with what they actually do. And that discovery played a big part in the shaping my thinking and behavior.

from an interview with Pat Stone in a 1981 issue of Mother Earth news.  Another gem:

I intend to add a solar collector over our swimming pool building to heat its water … and—for a time—I even raised chickens to provide manure for my methane experiments.

Herbert on government:

PLOWBOY: You feel that Kennedy was dangerous and Nixon was good for the country?

HERBERT: Yes, Nixon taught us one hell of a lesson, and I thank him for it. He made us distrust government leaders. We didn’t mistrust Kennedy the way we did Nixon, although we probably had just as good reason to do so. But Nixon’s downfall was due to the fact that he wasn’t charismatic. He had to be sold just like Wheaties, and people were disappointed when they opened the box.

I think it’s vital that men and women learn to mistrust all forms of powerful, centralized authority. Big government tends to create an enormous delay between the signals that come from the people and the response of the leaders. Put it this way: Suppose there were a delay time of five minutes between the moment you turned the steering wheel on your car and the time the front tires reacted. What would happen in such a case?

PLOWBOY: I guess I’d have to drive pretty slowly.

HERBERT: V-e-rrrrrrr-y slowly. Governments have the same slow-response effect. And the bigger the government, the more slowly it reacts. So to me, the best government is one that’s very responsive to the needs of its people. That is, the least, loosest, and most local government.

On the future:

PLOWBOY: But you feel pretty sure humankind will be able to make the necessary changes?

HERBERT: I think they’ll be forced on us. Oh, we’ll make some mistakes. We’ll probably have a number of fanatic leaders and such to deal with in the years to come. I don’t see the future as being all sweetness and light, by any means. Learning from mistakes is a very slow process. It may take us 20,000 or 25,000 years to get to where, I feel, we have to go.

Herbert lived in Port Townsend, Washington for some time, not far from Cape Flattery.  I find this picture on PT’s wikipedia page:

Depicted here is one of the wives of Cheech Ma Ham:

 He has a ferry named after him.
source, photo by Compdude123

source, photo by Compdude123

Jodowarsky’s Dune is a must watch.  Last I checked it was free on Netflix:


His sporting blood turned to horsepiss

portis-eb-white

This interview with Charles Portis, on his days a young reporter, for an oral history project about the Arkansas Gazette newspaper is so wonderful.

Lady stringers:

lady-stringers

On Tom Wolfe and Malcolm X:

portis-on-tom-wolfe-andmalcom-x

They made movies out of several Portis books:

is one and

is another.

What does Charles Portis make of all this I wonder?

mofa

Click on this link for an amazing picture of William Woodruff sailing up the Mississippi with his printing presses.


F Minus

I don’t like to give bad reviews to books on Helytimes.  Why call limited attention to bad books?  However I must condemn this book.

img_8925

Let me admit that I didn’t read it.

I oppose it because:

1) I was not consulted on it and didn’t hear about it until it was published

2) I was not included in it

3) many geniuses were not included in it, and the selections don’t represent anything like a best of.   

Impossible in an anthology to please everyone.   But I suspect anyone familiar with the Lampoon will find the table of contents to be the funniest part.

(That’s the only part I read.)

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-7-54-40-pm

4) No art?

The Lampoon is full of beautiful art that makes the words tolerable.

Example I happened to find here.

Example I happened to find here.

A mistake to print an all words anthology.

5)  the whole point of the Lampoon is you can write and “publish” dumb bad practice material that no one will ever see.

On the other hand: I was lucky and was given issues of the Lampoon by my cousin when I was a senior in high school.   That gift changed my life.  So maybe this book will do that for someone.

Still, I must grade it an F minus and recommend that you not purchase it on Amazon or your local indie bookstore.  For example The Harvard Book Store:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

found on the website of Dr. Barbara Long

Here’s a funny review by one Helen Andrews of Sydney, Australia in the Weekly Standard.  (Shoutout to Chris McKenna who I guess reads The Weekly Standard?)

I think you’ll get more value for your book dollar in:

treee

available at Amazon or your local indie bookstore.  You’ll enjoy it.


Irish language in Montserrat

found here

found here

One thing leads to another and I’m reading about how there were black people on the Caribbean island of Montserrat who were said to speak Irish Gaelic:

Irish language in Montserrat

The Irish constituted the largest proportion of the white population from the founding of the colony in 1628. Many were indentured labourers; others were merchants or plantation owners. The geographer Thomas Jeffrey claimed in The West India Atlas (1780) that the majority of those on Montserrat were either Irish or of Irish descent, “so that the use of the Irish language is preserved on the island, even among the Negroes”.

African slaves and Irish colonists of all classes were in constant contact, with sexual relationships being common and a population of mixed descent appearing as a consequence.  The Irish were also prominent in Caribbean commerce, with their merchants importing Irish goods such as beef, pork, butter and herring, and also importing slaves.

There is indirect evidence that the use of the Irish language continued in Montserrat until at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The Kilkenny diarist and Irish scholar Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin noted in 1831 that he had heard that Irish was still spoken in Montserrat by both black and white inhabitants. A letter by W.F. Butler in The Atheneum (15 July 1905) quotes an account by a Cork civil servant, C. Cremen, of what he had heard from a retired sailor called John O’Donovan, a fluent Irish speaker:

He frequently told me that in the year 1852, when mate of the brig Kaloolah, he went ashore on the island of Montserrat which was then out of the usual track of shipping. He said he was much surprised to hear the negroes actually talking Irish among themselves, and that he joined in the conversation…

There is no evidence for the survival of the Irish language in Montserrat into the twentieth century.

The wiki page for Amhlaoibh has several interesting quotes:

“February 3, 1828 …There is a lonely path near Uisce Dun and Móinteán na Cisi which is called the MassBoreen. The name comes from the time when the Catholic Church was persecuted in Ireland, and Mass had to be said in woods and on moors, on wattled places in bogs, and in caves. But as the proverb says, It is better to look forward with one eye than to look backwards with two…

Amhlaoibh lived out in Callan, in Kilkenny:

callan

Photo taken from “The Bridge”, Bridge St, Callan Co Kilkenny 2004 by Barry Somers

Nearby was born James Hoban, who designed The White House:

 Elevation of the north side of the White House, by James Hoban, c. 1793. Progress drawing after having won the competition for architect of the White House. Collection of the Maryland Historical Society.


Elevation of the north side of the White House, by James Hoban, c. 1793. Progress drawing after having won the competition for architect of the White House. Collection of the Maryland Historical Society.

On a trip to DC once I brought along this book, which I recommend to any DC visitor:

washington-itself

Applewhite might’ve been the first to put in my head the idea that the The White House is modeled on Irish country mansions:

The entire southern half of Montserrat got pretty messed up by volcanic eruptions and was abandoned in 1997:

montserrat_eruption

The former capital, Plymouth

And is now an “exclusion zone”:

montserrat-map

Montserrat’s national dish is Goat water, a thick goat meat stew served with crusty bread rolls.

found on the goat water facebook page

found on the goat water facebook page

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-6-03-50-pm

for more interesting oddities of Western Hemisphere geography and history, I recommend:

books in box

Available at Amazon or your local indie bookstore.