“Ah, another Old Sam day.”

So I was on the phone yesterday with Shannon Parks, whom you know as Marguerite Gavin, the narrator of my audio books. She always calls when she’s proofing the audio of the most recent book. Which would be She told me that when she came upstairs from her studio after she finished recording the book,…

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[from the Stabenow.com archives, January 25, 2010]

barbara_tuchman-757098It’s not often you find a good historian occupying the same body as a good writer -- think of any history text you were force-fed in high school -- but Barbara Tuchman was a stellar exception. I’m still mad at her for dying before she wrote more books. Try a A Distant Mirror, a look at the effect on society of the Black Death of 1348-1350, which killed a third of the population between India and Iceland. In the foreward, Tuchman describes this time as a “violent, tormented, bewildered, suffering and disentegrating age, a time, as many thought, of Satan triumphant.”

Sound familiar? The more things change.

mirrorMy favorite Tuchman book is The March of Folly. With the almost parental exasperation that characterizes so much of her writing, Tuchman posits the existance of folly, which she defines as the pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest. To qualify for the definition of folly, Tuchman writes, the policy must meet three criteria. One, it must have been perceived as being wrong in its own time. Two, a feasible alternative course of action must have been available. And three, the policy had to have been that of a group, not an individual, and had to persist beyond one lifetime.

follyHer template is the Trojans taking the Greek horse inside the city walls. Next, the Renaissance popes provoke the Reformation by selling indulgences, elevating illiterate drunks to the pulpit and hosting orgies in the Vatican. The third folly is the British losing America, in which Dr. Samuel Johnson is memorably quoted as saying that Americans were “a race of convicts and ought to be grateful for anything we allow them short of hanging.”

Hard to believe we rebelled, isn’t it?

stilwellThe fourth folly, and I think the one that inspired Tuchman’s conception of folly and the writing of this book, is America in Vietnam.
And then, if you want to understand the beginnings of America in Vietnam, read Tuchman’s Stilwell and the American Experience in China, in which you learn that Americans screwing up in Southeast Asia wasn't exactly a new experience.

A delightfully acerbic prose style, sort of on the order of “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”, combined with an exhaustive but nonetheless easily accessible scholarship and a you-are-there sense of time and place, the Tuchman historical oeuvre makes for seriously good reading, and you'll learn a thing or two along the way.

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The OOD Board

[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007] April 7 Today I sat in on ENS Dan Schrader’s OOD board. He has been standing watch on the Munro for a little under two months under the rotating supervision of all of the ship’s qualified OODs, and today they met to question him about every nautical thing under the…

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Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with RecipesLunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

An American woman falls in love with a Frenchman and moves to Paris. Some great recipes (the chocolate souffle is really easy and pretty tasty, and I'm trying the tagine at the first opportunity) and some interesting observations on French life from an American perspective, as in:

She wonders how her soon-to-be mother-in-law stays so slim. Answer: The French eat at the table, not on the couch, they don't snack, they cook just enough for one serving per person, and they don't go back for seconds even if there are leftovers.

Her fiance is reluctant to pursue a career in film because they just don't do things that way in France. "You will never understand," says Gwendal [the fiance]. "You come from a place where everything is possible." Later, he adds, If you want to do something different, if your head sticks up just a little, they cut it off. It's been like that since the Revolution. You know the saying, Liberte, egalite, fraternite. Egalite, equality, is right in the middle. Everyone has got to be the same."

Encouraged by Bard, he goes to LA and takes meetings and comes home full of enthusiasm, which he then shares over dinner with a French couple. Who are startled and alarmed at his presumption, and whom they never see socially again.

On her mother's attempt to buy a pate pan in which to make cheesecake. In the States, a salesperson would sell you his left foot if you wanted it, and probably gift-wrap it to boot, writes Bard, but the French salesman says, "This is for pate, madame, not gateau...Why do you want to buy somesing when you do not know what it is for?"...In France, the customer isn't always right. On the contrary, the customer is often deeply wrong, and the person behind the counter will not hesitate to tell you so.

There is an eye-opening passage on living through 9/11 overseas, too.

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Now it can be told…

On September 21st, Jane Cleland, of also known as the Nero Wolfe Society, wrote to me as follows: I’m THRILLED to inform you that [Though Not Dead has] won the Nero Award for Best Novel of 2011!!! We’ll disseminate the info via various social media and send out news releases to bookstores, libraries, and the…

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The Noon Approach

[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007] April 6 Today we did flight ops in the morning, followed by a fabulous lunch of grilled mahi mahi, during which SN Stephanie Deck made the noon approach in the wardroom. This is a long-standing, time-honored maritime tradition wherein a bosun’s mate gives the Captain the deck officer’s regards and…

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Flight Ops

[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007] April 4 PO Dorothy Davies, who was one of the Support people serving pizza last Saturday, sends out the XO’s P.O.D. (Plan of the Day), where we find out what we’re supposed to be doing tomorrow, as opposed to what we actually will do, given altered circumstances and alternative tasking…

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