At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Friday, August 06, 2004


Ferling, John. A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic. Oxford, $30.

Choice: “the best single-volume narrative of the American Revolution available. General audiences will delight in the book’s readability and will be entranced b the author’s vivid descriptions…Professional historians will marvel at Ferling’s ability to clearly describe difficult concepts…His ability as a biographer and his eye for interesting detail and anecdote are among the best assets of this superb volume. Lay readers and experienced scholars can learn much about what the principals of the period thought, and what happened to them after the Revolution. Highly recommended.” Library Journal: “intriguing…This book should be purchased by all academic and most public libraries.” Booklist: “A scholarly but accessible work for large collections.” American Historical Review: “lively and engaging…One might expect an author who neglects social history in favor of politics to devote a great deal of space to the military conflict. But Ferling is not much more interested in battles than he is in women, slaves, and Indians…the bulk of Ferling’s arguments concern the 1790s…On issues where Ferling takes a stand, he sometimes neglects opposing viewpoints. Ferling has set himself a modest goal—to narrate the political history of the American Revolution with a slightly greater than usual emphasis on conflicts between elite and ordinary whites—and achieved it.” New Criterion: “for an author dedicated to undercutting the hagiography of the founding, Professor Ferling is rather devoted to a few myths of his own…This soft spot leads Ferling to place his thumb on the scale of history…As personalities, Ferling hardly does [the Federalists] justice…Astonishingly, Ferling’s treatment of the role of slavery in the formation of the constitution takes less than three pages, because, he suggests, slavery was not an issue to the Framers…” History: Review of New Books: “Ferling’s command of primary sources and secondary literature is impressive. Yet A Leap in the Dark is oddly disappointing. For a book on the Revolution stressing contingency, there is remarkably little written about the chances of war…The focus on American leaders causes Ferling to neglect French, Spanish, Native American, and British peers…Then too there are peculiar errors, such as the claim of a French ‘settlement’ at Albany in the sixteenth century. Another problem is an explicit but unexamined progressive assumption that ‘pecuniary considerations’ are the best explanation of ‘political behavior’…On the whole, this is not a bad book, but given the vast and excellent literature on the American revolution, it is hard to see why anyone should read this one in particular.” Journal of American History: “The Revolution rewrote the rules that governed the lives of Indians, free and enslaved black people, and white women as well. They deserve more than passing mention or, in the case of women, no mention at all."


NYT: Russia discovers beer. "When you walk around Moscow, it is hard to avoid groups of teenagers guzzling beer in amounts that would set a world record in a Munich beer tent."


Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, etc.) says show's been going downhill the past few years.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


On Thursday night I stayed up watching movies until 3:00, then showered, packed, and drove through the moonlit plains to Lubbock. I was in the airport so early that even the security checkpoint hadn't yet opened up. The flight was pretty smooth, and I whiled away the 2 hour DFW-Midway leg of the trip by talking to (or listening to) the adjacent passenger, a chatterbox Chicagoan with stereotypically flat accent. We touched down early so I was able to grab my luggage quickly and get out to the passenger pick-up area outside, where I waited for my friend Estevan, the groom, to drive up. It was interesting to see in the bustling crowd visibly diverse cultural groups one doesn't encounter very much in white bread West Texas: Lubavitcher patriarchs with their quasi-Amish garb, grizzly beards, and large families in tow; Franciscan nuns in full habit; Islamic women wearing hajib. After forty minutes or so of waiting curbside, though, the novelty wore off and I began to get worried that Estevan had broken down on the freeway. I walked back inside the airport a couple of times to look for him near the baggage carousel. Eventually I called his cell phone and left a message without much hope, but in a few minutes he pulled up to the curb. It turned out he had been waiting inside all the while and we had missed each other.

We spent hours over the weekend crawling along in sluggish big city traffic. First we drove from Midway to Estevan's old neighborhood in Bucktown (he now lives in California) to get lunch at a sandwich shop, and then we took another long, slow drive north to the suburbs to pick up our tuxes, and yet more driving to poshWinnetka, where I gaped at the tree-shaded manors. We had the rehearsal, led by a kindly but somewhat disorganized Lutheran pastor, at the city Community Center. Then the wedding party and family members walked a few blocks to the quaint downtown for a rehearsal dinner at an upscale barbeque restaurant; there were probably forty of us occupying three long tables. The Yankees did a surprisingly good job at the barbeque; the pork ribs were tender and there was plenty of wine(!) to wash it down. I remember mostly talking about pop culture with Estevan's brothers (one of whom I hadn't seen since he was a skinny middle school kid and who, recently graduated from college, now looks like a quarterback). I got back to the hotel about eleven, I think.

Next day was busy. After lots of preparation, we in the groom's party drove through still more clogged suburban traffic to the bride's parent's house in Mundelein for the Vietnamese ceremony. While assorted relatives clicked their digital cameras, we groosmen filed from the front yard into the house, holding trays of edible/potable gifts wrapped in red cellophane. The most unusual of these gifts from a Western perspective was probably the 35-pound whole roast pig, a pretty disgusting sight actually with the flesh of the skull half burnt away. The gifts were offered at a home altar to pictures of deceased ancestors. The bride's parents lit sticks of incense and bowed to the ancestors, the couple also paid their respects, and then each of the bride's relatives offered words of advice and monetary gifts to the couple. The women were dressed in brightly colored Asian dresses and the bride was distinguished by a gold-colored round headpiece, rather like a halo. The ceremony was perhaps more touching than the usual Western ceremony because lots of the bride's relatives got choked up when talking to the bride. Afterwards there were snacks and conversation. The bride's family is a testimony to the Asian immigrant work ethic; I met an attorney, a couple of physicians, an engineer, and a professional mathematician from Toulouse who is also a virtuoso violinist in his spare time (see below).

Then more driving back to Winnetka for the Western ceremony. It was held in a courtyard bordered by ivy-covered brick archways. A violin-piano duo played classical music. I got to read Shakespeare's "Marriage of True Minds", the Franco-Vietnamese cousin played an intense Bach partita, vows and rings were exchanged and we headed back in to eat. The DJ was excellent, playing good soft jazz (Miles Davis, Antonio Carlos Jobim) during the meal, some Van Morrison ballads during the slow dances, and then some Gen-X pop for the uptempo dancing.

The next morning Estevan and his wife picked me up from my hotel (it’s truly a good friend who would give you a ride the day after his wedding!) and we dropped off the tuxes, ate Japanese food for lunch (I had katsudon and green tea), and headed to the airport. Unfortunately American Airlines had some sort of nation-wide computer glitch, so my flight was delayed about 1 ½ hours. Otherwise the trip back was uneventful.

It’s a drag being back in Texas, but it was nice to experience a brief escape from exile.


Disaster! We're part of a regional consortium that shares a computer up in Amarillo for cataloging and circulation functions. Two days ago the computer went down. Inconvenient but not catastrophic. This morning, however, we received a call from consortial headquarters saying that all the data has been corrupted and that the latest available backup data was from April 4! So four months of circulation statistics have vanished; four months of cataloging is down the drain; students who returned books at the end of the spring semester will now be listed as having items overdue; etc.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Strachan, Hew. The First World War. Viking, $27.95.

Library Journal: “superbly written survey…will provide the scholar and the interested reader alike with a suitable starting point for study…Strongly recommended for academic and public libraries.” History Today: “A clear, well-informed and up-to-date narrative of the war which both broadens knowledge and corrects received wisdom. A lucid and readable synopsis of many years of scholarly engagement.” Booklist: “A concise, well-written account of the causes, course, and effects of a shattering conflict.” Publishers Weekly: “Superior one-volume version of his massive projected three-volume work. Readers already familiar with the sequence of events in strict order will benefit most. But all readers will eventually be gripped, and even the most seasoned ones will praise the insights and the original choice of illustrations. This is likely to be the most indispensable one-volume work on the subject since John Keegan’s First World War, and will draw serious readers to the larger work.” Kirkus Reviews: “A well-conceived and lucidly written survey. The best single-volume treatment of the conflict in recent years.” Atlantic Monthly: “Strachan writes vigorously, but he regularly gets bogged down in his storytelling, which renders the book somewhat bloated and unfocused. Moreover, in an attempt to highlight the global dimensions of this struggle, Strachan devotes considerable attention to the conflict waged in Africa and western Asia, which in a short work serves to underemphasize the war on the Western Front—indisputably the crucial theater.”


Village Voice: New film from Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang features suicidial Japanese librarian.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. HarperCollins.

Library Journal: “Ozment has authored several important works on German history, but his new book may stand as his chief legacy….concise and readable…Both provocative and accessible, this work will have wide appeal. Recommended for most libraries.” Booklist: “Readable and absorbing. While some may be disappointed that Ozment devotes little space to the Nazi era, his analyses of the barbarian and Merovingian periods are fascinating and offer original perspectives on aspects of German history that are often given short shrift. This is an enjoyable and well-done work that is ideal for the general reader.” Kirkus: “Packs a vast amount of information into a comparatively few number of pages. A useful and welcome survey, though some may take issue with Ozment’s generalizations.” National Review: “Much of what Ozment says is thoughtful, though his style sometimes makes for ambiguity or, worse, academic cuteness. And to make his case, he omits evidence that doesn’t suit.” Publishers Weekly: “Oddly unsatisfactory. Ozment’s focus on disunity provides narrative coherence to a long, contentious and complex history, but the costs are huge. Particularly the early chapters read like ‘one damned thing after another’ as a succession of tribal leaders, princes, kings and emperors march across the pages. So many important issues that might grasp a reader’s interest are left out.”


NPR: Entrepreneurs find success with Bubble Tea.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Back in Texas. I'll write about the trip later. In the meantime, here's some good news: Alcohol sharpens your brain, say researchers. Unfortunately I don't have the money or the stamina to drink 4 bottles of wine a week, the dosage which the researchers found to have the maximum benefit.