Worth

The thing you find worthy

A clever insult
A conversation that displays your intellectual superiority
A poem alluding to an obscure 17th century philosophical treatise which only you understand

There was once a time I admired people like you
But now I realize the truth

Your greatest fear is that someone will call out your bullshit
Because you realize you have no defense
You have never had an original thought your entire life
Your intellect is bound by the patience of academics

Who never really cared much for your arguments
You were never anything more than ATM for them
They were glad to give you the receipt of your diploma
Because newer machines require less maintenance

I find worth in

The effort
The journey
Laughing at the failed experiment

You will never understand the value of trying
Because you’re only comfortable mocking the failures of others

I do not want your apology
What I really want is your humiliation

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1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler

The two-decade period between the world wars fascinates me. A devastating conflict and worldwide pandemic (the misnamed Spanish Flu accounted for far more fatalities than the war) was followed by an explosion of wealth in developed countries, and then an implosion of financial markets across the globe. Technological advances were balanced with a growing interest in eugenics; life expectancy increased, but working conditions deteriorated.

Tobias Straumann’s 2019 book focuses on the economic instability of Germany. Straumann is not the first historian to blame the Treaty of Versailles for Germany’s inter-war financial crisis, but his in-depth investigation of the numerous attempts to alleviate the Germany’s war-time debt obligations is insightful. Hitler of necessity has to play a prominent role in the narrative, but Straumann’s use of him is adept, almost literary; as he does in the cover illustration shown on this post, the Nazi leader lurks in the margins, only occasionally stepping forth to be quoted, but when the Germany economy collapses at the end of the book, his rise to the chancellorship seems inevitable.

In his introduction, Straumann states he was inspired to write this book by the European debt crises in the early years of the current decade. While it would be interesting to compare the economics of the 1930s and 2010s, no comparison is actually made. It’s an unfortunate omission, as seeing how the two decades responded could have made studying the 1930s seem more relevant.

The prose style is scholarly, and aside from Hitler no memorable characters emerge from the text. Fortunately, the audiobook reading by Nigel Patterson moves at a clear and brisk pace, giving life to the often dry text. Overall, if you share my interest in this era, or are intrigued by international finances, this book is definitely worth your time.

Kinesiology Tape

I don’t make a habit of writing product endorsements on this blog, but I simply have to relate my recent experience with a particular sports medicine device.

As I mentioned on becoming a right-handed fencer again, my left elbow started aching over the winter. I wore a brace over my forearm for several months, and while the brace did alleviate some of the discomfort, I never felt my elbow was healing.

Last month, I visited my sister, who happens to be an experienced physical therapist. She took one look at my brace, and went straight to her supply cabinet. She then cut a strip of kinesiology tape and attached it to the back of my forearm, as shown in the above picture.

From what little I understand of the science, the tape relieves pressure from over the inflamed tendons, allowing them to heal. Personally, I never felt any tugging, so when I first started using the tape I wondered if it was actually doing any benefit.

I’m glad I kept my cynicism at bay, because after only three weeks of using the kinesiology tape, my elbow pain disappeared. As in, it doesn’t hurt any more.

In case you’re curious, the tape is applied like a very large bandage, only with stronger adhesive. The edges of the tape start curling up after a couple of days, and after around five days it’s time to tear it off and apply a new strip of tape. You can shower and bathe over it without having to take it off.

This relief for my left elbow forces me to choose between Renny and Lenny again. Perhaps Renny will appear in some tournaments, and Lenny in others. (You can switch fencing arms during a tournament, so long as all the gear for both arms has passed pre-competition testing. But no, you can’t go full Inigo Montoya and switch arms in the middle of a bout!) But if either of them develops an elbow problem, I now have a solution for them.

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)I’m generally not a fan of mysteries, as they tend to overemphasize plot at the expense of characterization. Stieg Larsson’s 2005 thriller, however, showcases complex relationships among the cast of characters, in particular the two leads, the brilliant yet awkward Lisbeth Salander, who is also the novel’s title character, and unlucky but determined journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

Mikael and Lisbeth are hired to investigate a decades-old mystery involving a wealthy Swedish family. The more they find out, the deeper in trouble they find themselves in. The pace is perfect, a steady stream of action that never bogs down or goes too fast. The mystery is intricate, but not overly byzantine, and the resolution is satisfying.

The subplots involving the two characters are just as compelling, and complement the main action well. Mikael seeks redemption for a libel case he has lost, while Lisbeth struggles with sexually exploitation and assault. The experience is like having two good side dishes along with a very good entree; instead of overpowering the meal, the sides make you appreciate the entree more.

After completing the audiobook, I realized that I probably would have enjoyed more as a reader than a listener. The performance by Simon Vance is good, although there was one section that drove me absolutely bonkers: during a long email exchange, Vance reads the full header of each message, with the To and From (including the full email address of each, including the domain name) as well as the Subject, complete with the RE:. “Enough already!” I screamed at my car’s speaker after the third or fourth message. It was an unnecessary and distracting part in an otherwise solid reading.

Overall, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is an outstanding novel, and is a perfect companion on a long road trip, even with the excessive reading of the emails.

 

Persistent Metaphors

PHOTO PROMPT © Penny Gadd

“When was the last time you watered this plant?” Reginald asked, rubbing a withering branch between his fingers.

“Years ago,” Celia replied. “I tired of it, and intended to kill it by neglect. But it’s held on, with neither sunlight nor air. If I were to bag it and vacuum out the air, it would likely survive that deprivation also.”

“You could toss it in the trash.”

“Ah, but it’s, pardon the pun, grown on me since then. It’s become a metaphor for the persistence of life.”

George Orwell would be proud.”

“Orwell is dead, but aspidistras, and metaphors, endure.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest with a photo prompt and 100 word limit.

Seasonal Work

As the decapod saw it, there were only two choices: casting its peers to their doom, or surrendering itself to the boiling cauldron.

A memory came from before captivity, scavenging on the sandy ocean floor and being attacked by a much larger lobster. Only an eel’s sudden appearance had aborted the attempted cannibalism.

And the work would be no morally worse than humans who profited by exploiting each other. The potential of continued employment even after being boiled made the decision even easier.

The crustacean pushed the screen door open with its claw, and crawled into the seafood market.

This is the first in a new series of posts. FlashFotos are 100-word stories inspired by interesting photos I’ve taken with my camera.

Saving Paradise

Mike Bond’s 2012 novel takes place in the Hawaiian islands, and moves at a fast pace from the first page, when a corpse drifts in to the Oahu surf. At times the pace seems a little too fast; the first-person narrator, a professional surfer and Special Forces veteran named Pono Hawkins, hops between islands with the ease of a superhero.

Hawkins is a passionate defender of Hawaii’s natural beauty, and expresses justifiable outrage over America’s treatment of the land and its people. There is a wholly appropriate disdain for the missionaries who “civilized” the Hawaiians that was sorely lacking in the James Michener and Sarah Vowell books about the state.

The plot revolves around an alternative energy project called Big Wind, which was also the name of an actual proposed project in Hawaii from the early years of this decade. Big Wind would have installed hundreds of windmills on the islands of Molokai and Lanai, and provided power to Oahu (the state’s most populous island, home to Honolulu and Pearl Harbor) through an underseas cable. This absurd idea was eventually abandoned after citizens rallied against it, and “Saving Paradise” adds sinister elements to its version of Big Wind, making it a viper’s nest of criminal business and political corruption.

And while it’s always dangerous to assign authorial intention to a work of fiction (back in my graduate student days this was called the “intentional fallacy”), there’s more than enough circumstantial evidence to suggest “Saving Paradise” is partly a personal diatribe against wind power. Enter Mike Bond windmills in a search engine, and one of the first links will be to the author’s blog, where he claims wind power actually increases fossil fuel usage, has devastating ecological impacts, and are only touted as “green” projects by politicians bought off by multinational corporations. Bond’s arguments rely more on invective and innuendo than on data — in the unlikely event of his reading this review, he’ll likely respond that my last statement shows how I’ve been brainwashed by the corporate media — and their appearance in in this novel represent an unfortunate and unnecessary distraction. Hawkins’ struggle against corruption and intimidation would have been just as poignant if the author had chosen to, quite literally, battle windmills.

Yet the novel’s positive qualities outweigh flaws such as its ending, which comes out of nowhere, as if the author was facing an inflexible word count limit. Pono Hawkins is an engaging guide to Hawaii, and his humanity and innate goodness make the reader hope for his success. His personal relationships are a mess, but he treats his male allies and his female love interests with equal respect. And the action is brisk, as stated previously, and the writing polished and highly descriptive. Overall, “Saving Paradise” is a good thriller which can be enjoyed by any fan of the genre, so long as that fan doesn’t take the author’s overt agenda against wind power too seriously.

The Race

PHOTO PROMPT © Linda Kreger

Wheelchair racing has apparently become quite competitive. When Estelle challenged us to a sprint, I assumed we would jog beside her, but when she started pumping her arms and her chair propelled ahead of us, we all started running, laughing at our miscalculation.

Estelle waited for us at the finish, her back turned and the smile of a contented victor on her face.  Jed reached her chair first and collapsed on the handles, as Thaddeus and Mirabelle staggered onto his back. I was the last to arrive: very exhausted, somewhat embarrassed, but happy Estelle proved she was anything but disabled.

Animal Instincts

Two weeks ago, I should have posted about my upcoming vacation. I intended to post while I was away, but yeah, that didn’t work out. As a way of announcing my return, I’m sharing Arpita’s observation on how animals have adapted to life in the bustling city of Bangalore. As humans have become more adept at tasks, we’ve lost touch with our instincts, which means that when navigating our way across a heavily-trafficked street, we may be better off following a dog’s lead.

Sussuration

At thirty minutes before the start of the tournament’s first bout, the gymnasium floor bustled with activity as fencers ran laps, stretched on the floor, and engaged each other in practice bouts, the buzzing of scoring machines rising on occasion above the susurration of voices.