Monday, May 27, 2019

Music: Zone 1 to 6000

British musician Nabihah Iqbal's 2017 album "Weighing of the Heart" references ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife, where the deceased's heart was weighed against against the feather of the goddess Maat to see if it was in balance. If the heart outweighed the feather, it was eaten by Ammit, a lion-hippo-crocodile demon.

My favorite track from the album is "Zone 1 to 6000," which references the dreary tedium of London life:

The same old tale repeats itself
9-5 year on year
Thoughts and hopes left on the shelf
Escape on Friday
Get caught on Monday
Escape on Friday
Get caught on Monday

The sun will rise, the sun will set
Seven days, five and two
From this life in to the next
We're all just tryna make it through
We're all just tryna make it through

Books: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - And Other Lessons from the Crematory

In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Caitlin Doughty details her experience as a crematory worker at "Westwind Cremation & Burial," giving the reader an insider's look at the death industry. There are some gruesome scenes: rivers of rendered human fat overflowing from a retort, the tools for keeping a corpse's mouth closed and eyes shut (when all else fails, use super glue), and the inner workings of the Cremulator, a machine for grinding down burned human remains like a macabre Cuisinart.

If gore is what you are looking for, you'll get your fair share of it in Doughty's memoir; the book is definitely not for the squeamish. However, she also conveys a deeper message about the unhealthy ways modern society has isolated us from the realities of death and dying. Doughty makes a convincing case that the fantasy sold by the mainstream funeral industry - that you can be preserved in death forever as you were in life - is unnatural, and hampers us from grieving over the deceased.

Memorial Day

Technically, Memorial Day is reserved for those who have died during military service. But hopefully it's not too much of a stretch to also use it to commemorate veterans who have passed away, like one tough old Marine who left us last year.

Rest in peace, Rudy - and thanks for the ride, neighbor.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Books: On Grand Strategy

I recently read On Grand Strategy, a history book written by Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis.  The book is a meditation on the balance between working toward a single central goal and pursuing numerous unconnected small goals, between being a "hedgehog" and a "fox," in the words of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus. Gaddis looks at strategic thinking from antiquity to WWII, illustrating interesting parallels between far-flung conflicts like the Peloponnesian War and Vietnam.

On the downside, the prose rambles on a bit - it's very much like reading the transcript of a lecture rather than a traditional work of history.  I also thought there were some notable blind spots in the analysis (Gaddis largely glosses over the bloody grand strategic blunders of Lincoln and FDR, for instance). As a whole, though, the book was a pretty good read.