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Politics and Wonderland

1417948221_425035fc8dWith election season in full swing, the word “caucus” has become ubiquitous in the news.  I first learned the word when I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, many, many years ago.

‘What I was going to say,’ said the Dodo in an offended tone, ‘was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race.’

‘What is a Caucus-race?’ said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

‘Why,’ said the Dodo, ‘the best way to explain it is to do it.’ (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (‘the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no ‘One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, ‘Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

‘But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked.

‘Why, she, of course,’ said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, ‘Prizes! Prizes!’

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out a box of comfits1, (luckily the salt water had not got into it), and handed them round as prizes. There was exactly one a-piece all round.

‘But she must have a prize herself, you know,’ said the Mouse.

‘Of course,’ the Dodo replied very gravely. ‘What else have you got in your pocket?’ he went on, turning to Alice.

‘Only a thimble,’ said Alice sadly.

‘Hand it over here,’ said the Dodo.

Then they all crowded round her once more, while the Dodo solemnly presented the thimble, saying ‘We beg your acceptance of this elegant thimble’; and, when it had finished this short speech, they all cheered.

Alice thought the whole thing very absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare to laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed, and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could.

I didn’t really understand what a caucus was until quite a few years later, when I started following politics.  And it wasn’t until some time after that — I think it was 1988 — I actually watched the proceedings of a session of the Presidential caucuses in Iowa, covered by C-SPAN, and saw for myself how they work.

Not all that different from Wonderland, really.


Give Blood, Save Life. Be Mad!

2015-07-15donationselfieThe very first time I donated blood (right after my 18th birthday), one of the other donors arrived wearing a sweatshirt with “Dracula” emblazoned on the front.  (I think it was the logo from the 1979 movie starring Frank Langella, but thirty years on, I can’t be certain.)  I shared my amusement and admiration with him, and he told me he always wore that particular shirt when he came to donate.

I’ve been a pretty regular blood donor for my entire adult life, and I have always wanted to have a special shirt to wear when I go in, like that young man from so long ago.  Now, at long last, I have one, and here it is. I’m off to the Red Cross Bloodmobile later this afternoon.

And if you don’t recognize the reference, Mad Max: Fury Road is still in theaters.  Get out and go see it.  Seriously.  Go now.

And then, if you are able, get yourself down to the blood bank.

Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City

bookreadSo I’ve actually started reading books again … and I thought it might be fun to share thoughts on what I’ve read, for anyone who might be reading this blog.  There will be a pretty wide variety of books reviewed here, from history to horror to graphic novels to maybe even the occasional cookbook.  Enjoy!

The Girls of Atomic CityI am very fond of history, particularly of the last 150 years or so.  In grade school, I was always fascinated by the stuff at the back of the history book which we almost never got to. (Maybe it was because that if we ever did, it was in June, when the school year was almost over. Or maybe not.)  In any case, when I happened to see Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City  in the supermarket, it was something that appealed to me at once.  I bought it and started reading almost immediately.

The book is about the development of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the “Atomic City” of the title; it was here that the uranium-235 for the first atom bombs was enriched to make it usable in the bomb, or “the Gadget,” as the author refers to it.  Throughout the story, the secrecy of the project is constantly emphasized, and the author uses the euphemisms and code words that were used at the time (offering a glossary at the front for reference).

The story focuses on a small number of women, whose jobs varied from chemist to secretary to statistician to janitor, weaving together their lives before, during and after the war years.  In a series of asides (marked not only as separate chapters but in a different typeface than the main narrative), aspects of the development of the atom bomb are discussed, focusing on several women whose contributions were often under-appreciated if not ignored in the day, and largely forgotten until now.

Kiernan writes in a very engaging, narrative style, relying on extensive interviews with her subjects to get into the heads of the women whose story she tells.  We get to learn on a very personal level how each of them thought and felt about the many challenges of life as part of the biggest secret project the world has ever seen — challenges as mundane as the ever-present mud of Oak Ridge, psychological as being asked to spy on fellow workers, social as the segregation and racism which was as present in Oak Ridge as anywhere else in the America of 1943.

My only complaint is that in a number of instances, Kiernan builds up a story, leaves the reader hanging at a climactic moment, and then resolves the story in an offhand and incomplete fashion several chapters on.  It’s a small disappointment in an otherwise excellent book.

If you have an interest in World War II, Americana, or women’s history, The Girls of Atomic City  is well worth your time.

My rating: turqpaw turqpaw turqpaw turqpaw   out of 5.

Buy The Girls of Atomic City from Powell’s Books by clicking this link!


Word of the Day

A little something to get me in the habit of posting more often.  Enjoy!

Today’s word for the day is


From Wikipedia:

[Cuauhtémoc] Blanco remains remembered for the Cuauhtemiña (also spelled Cuauhteminha), or Blanco Trick, which he performed notably at the 1998 World Cup. In the trick, when two or more opposition players are trying to take the ball from him, he traps the ball between his feet and jumps through the defenders- releasing the ball in the air and landing with it under control as he leaves the opposition players behind. The trick is easy to perform but is eye-catching and has been incorporated as a special skill into the FIFA series of football video games.

“The trick is easy to perform …”  Yeah, maybe if you’re Cuauhtemoc Blanco it is.  🙂

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