Farewell, Dear Readers

Fakename regrets to inform you that there will be no more discussions on politics, animals, food, and books … and the occasional insect here. She has departed this mortal coil, a victim of pancreatic cancer. Her last day on this Earth was Friday, June 12, 2015 and she left while in the company of her dear friends, Brenda and Lebron.

I, Fakesister, penning this note for her, will miss the weekly sharing of solving the Saturday New York Times crossword and many other things besides. Fare thee well.

Reading With Fakename: In the Garden of Beasts

It’s been a while since I brought back the regular feature Reading With Fakename.  But this book deserves it.

Pretty much everyone has read books about the horrors of Nazi rule, but this is the first book I’ve ever read which describes what was happening in Germany in the first years of the Nazi takeover.  And that really is the question, isn’t it?  How could this have happened?  The book begins in 1933, when Hitler has first been named Chancellor.

Essentially four things were happening within the U.S.  First, the U.S. was in the midst of the Great Depression.  Immigration and immigrants were highly frowned upon, since the perception was that immigrants would take or compete for the few available jobs left to existing citizens.  How timely does that seem now?

Second, it wasn’t just any immigrants, it was particularly Jews.  Jews were viewed as a stereotype: always rich and controlling, particularly controlling the banks and the media.  This may have been dismissed as ignorance, if it weren’t for the fact that two of the most powerful people in the State Department agreed.  There were quotas for how many people were permitted to emigrate from any particular country.  These quotas were set by the Department of Labor, but it was the State Department which actually issued visas for travel.  They quietly and unofficially reduced the number of visas issued to persons from Germany (especially Jews) to 10% of the quota.  Even though they knew that Jews were being killed and persecuted inside Germany.  Treatment of the Jews in Germany was dismissed as a domestic problem that the U.S. had no right to interfere in.

Third, it was about the money.  (Isn’t it always?)  The U.S. didn’t want to piss Germany off, because Germany still owed a lot of money as reparations from WWI.

And fourth, there was zero appetite for becoming involved in another war after WWI, which was a horrendous conflict.  No matter how despicable Germany began to behave, it was viewed as a “European problem”.  Isolationism was the mood of the day.  Bear in mind that the reason the U.S. entered WWII was that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and had nothing to do with the noble cause of saving the Jews.

The book is told as the story of William Dodd, who became the U.S. Ambassador to Germany in 1933, after five other much smarter people had turned it down.  Dodd was a history professor at the University of Chicago, but was unhappy in his job.  First, he felt he had not been given the recognition he deserved, which I think means he thought he should have been offered the Chairmanship of the department.  Second, he was trying to write a book about the Old South, but his teaching schedule was so heavy, he had no time or energy left to write.  So he began a campaign to be named an Ambassador.  What he wanted was someplace sleepy, where he wouldn’t have to work too hard, like the Netherlands.

When Dodd went to Berlin, he took his entire family with him; his wife and his grown son Bill Jr. and grown daughter Martha.  Much of the book follows the escapades of Martha, who was, to put it in a family-friendly way, a party girl.  She was generally sleeping with four or five men at a time, including a couple of Nazis, one of whom (Rudolf Diels) was the original head of the Gestapo.  Diels was ruthless, but somewhere along the line developed a conscience, and actually testified for the prosecution in the Nuremberg trials.

One of her lovers was a guy named Boris, who was an attaché to the Soviet Embassy.  Unbeknownst to Martha, he was an agent for the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB.  The two of them fell in love, but it was a doomed relationship.  Her last letter from him arrived after she had already returned to the U.S., after her father was recalled.  She didn’t learn for many years that that letter was written at gunpoint, and that after writing it, Boris was executed by the NKVD.  He was apparently seen as too friendly to the West.  Ironically, the letter was intended to keep Martha’s feelings for Boris alive, since the NKVD was trying to recruit her as a spy.  It wouldn’t have done for her to know that they were about to execute Boris.

Dodd was initially a milquetoast.  He took to heart FDR’s advice that he should set an example of freedom and American values, rather than “meddling” in the internal affairs of Germany.   (This meant, don’t say bad things about how they’re treating the Jews.) Dodd was more than willing to believe that attacks on Jews, and Americans, and others, were isolated incidents, not condoned by the leadership.  But eventually it began to soak into his thick skull that he was being duped, and he began to speak out, making him even more unpopular with his superiors than he already was for a number of petty reasons.  Upon his death, he was viewed as almost the lone voice in government, warning of what was to come.  He was the American Cassandra.  If he had any doubts about his assessment, those doubts were erased by the infamous “Night of the Long Knives”.

This review only scratches the surface of the incredible amount of information in the book, but I wanted to include a story that made a huge impression on me, the story of a guy named Fritz Haber.  Haber was a German scientist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1918 for inventing the Haber process, a method of synthesizing ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen gasses.  He is also known as the father of chemical warfare, starting with the development of chlorine gas.  His wife begged him to stop doing this kind of work, to which he replied “Death is death”.  Nine days after chlorine gas was first used against the French at Ypres in WWI, his wife committed suicide.

Haber had just one problem–he was a Jew.  He was allowed to continue in his post as director of Germany’s institute of chemistry, even after laws were passed that essentially made it illegal for Jews to be employed at all.  Nevertheless, he began to see the handwriting on the wall.  He came to Dodd, asking to emigrate to the U.S. Dodd told him he couldn’t help, because that year’s quota had already been filled.  This of course, was not true., although Dodd believed it was.  Haber ended up emigrating to Great Britain, and died within six months.

In what has to be one of the most tragic ironies of history, one of the things Haber invented was a pesticide called Zyklon-A.  The Nazis tinkered with it and made Zyklon-B.  This is the gas used to murder a million people, most of them Jews, in the gas chambers of the concentration camps.

The Joy(s) of Cooking

Next to my computer keyboard, I have three pamphlet-style cookbooks.  One is the 21st Edition of the Calumet Baking Powder Company’s “Reliable Recipes”.  Today I learned that cookbook was published in 1922, and is a minor collectible.  The second is a publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1950, called “Family Fare: Food Management and Recipes”. Both these I got from my mother; it’s likely that she got the Calumet cookbook from her mother.

The third is a Greek cookbook I bought sometime in the mid- to late 70’s, at a Greek Festival at the Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis.  That one is where I got my recipe for moussaka, and there has never been a better recipe.  I remember the first time I made it–I was a little shocked that there was cinnamon in the meat sauce, and even more shocked to find that it makes the dish.  And I’m not even a fan of cinnamon.  At Greek Fest here in Tallahassee, they don’t use cinnamon in their moussaka, because “most people don’t like it”.  Wimps.  It takes forever and a day to make it, but it’s worth it.

One of my favorite cookbooks ever was one called “Good, Cheap Food”, which I can’t seem to locate.  It has my recipe for black beans and rice.  Like the moussaka, it takes forever to make.  First you soak the dried beans.  Then you boil them for a couple of hours with spices.  Then you combine them with a meat sauce and bake them for another couple of hours.  As an aside, I always serve them with yellow rice.  White rice reminds me of maggots.

I’ve saved the best for last.  The Calumet cookbook has the recipe for bread pudding that I still use, with tweaks.  I’m a fanatic about bread pudding.  I loved it as a child, and was delighted to learn it’s one of  the signature desserts in New Orleans. I tried it everywhere.  The worst bread puddings are those that add things like raisins, and God forbid, fruit cocktail.  Bread pudding should be plain, enhanced with a sauce.  The best bread pudding I ever had was at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.  They bake it in individual serving dishes, topped with meringue, and just before you eat it, the server pours warm whisky sauce on top.

Here is the bread pudding recipe, complete with tweaks.

1 small loaf stale bread, 1 quart milk, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 level teaspoons baking powder, 2 eggs well-beaten, 1/2 level teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup melted butter.

Remove soft part from loaf and grate on coarse grater.  (No, no, no.  Don’t do this, use French bread and keep it in small chunks, crust and all.)  Scald milk, pour over bread.  Let stand until cool.  Beat eggs, add sugar, salt, and baking powder, mix well.  Add to bread/milk mixture.  Add vanilla and butter.  Bake in a buttered baking dish 1 hour, in a slow oven (whatever that means.  My guess is 250-300).

You’re on your own for the whisky sauce.  You can use rum, but I prefer whisky.

How To Be A Good Customer (And Get What You Want)

All businesses are customer service businesses, whether you’re selling widgets or repairing plumbing.  You can’t do business in a vacuum.  You need customers, therefore, it goes without saying that it’s in your best interests to make them happy.  However, here’s a tip: you don’t necessarily need all of them.

I’ve been a manager in the business world for something like 30 years, 22 of them in the business I’m currently in, which makes me the Complaint Department.  But I’m also a customer of many other businesses, and my own customers have taught me everything I know about how to be a good customer, mostly by behaving badly.  I’d say my success rate is much higher than theirs.

Locally there is a business consultant named Jerry Osteryoung.  Here are a few of his qualifications:  Jim Moran Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship and Professor Emeritus of Finance at Florida State University; book author; newspaper contributor; consultant to over 3,000 businesses.  He used to write a weekly column for the Tallahassee Democrat, primarily about how to deal with customers and employees.  His viewpoint was a breath of fresh air.

The subject of one of his articles was the meme “The customer is always right.”  His take on that?  Who says?  Whose bright idea was that, anyway?  I almost jumped for joy when I read this article.  He said, the customer is always right, until they aren’t.  Sometimes, he said, the best thing to do is cut your losses.  Part of the old meme was “research” showed a customer who had a bad experience with you would tell 11 people, whereas a customer who had a good experience would tell 3 (if any).  So a lot of attention was focused on bad experiences, out of fear of losing not just one, but eleven customers.  Jerry said, sometimes you just have to say, “Clearly I can’t make you happy, so it would probably be best for us both if you found another provider”.  First, of course, you have to try.  You have to listen.  You have to ask yourself sincerely whether you or one of your employees did something wrong, and even if not, whether you could have done something better.  You have to give the customer the benefit of the doubt.  Neither Jerry nor I are talking about blowing off customers, which would be suicidal.  But it is entirely true that some customers will never be happy unless they are not only made whole for their perceived bad experience, but be in better shape than they were before.  I have two favorite illustrations of this principle, one I only learned of this week.

First,  I have a friend who works in the Customer Service Department for Carnival Cruise Lines.  He once got a call from a customer who wanted the entire price of his two-week cruise refunded, because one night, they served shrimp for dinner.  Not that he’s allergic to shrimp.  He just doesn’t like it.  And there was another option.  The customer’s point was that since he doesn’t like shrimp, that left him with only one option instead of two, so he “deserved” to have his entire fee refunded.  My friend gave him the standard response, “I’m sorry.  We’ll give you a 10% discount on your next cruise”.  The customer demanded to talk to a supervisor.  He got the standard supervisor response–“I’m sorry.  We’ll give you 20% off your next cruise”.  And that was the end of the line for him.  No amount of threatening to call the President of the company, posting evil things about Carnival on Facebook, or telling all his friends and family to boycott Carnival forever was going to get him any further, because what he wanted was unreasonable.

Example #2:  A restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina accidentally served sangria to a toddler, who took two sips before someone realized the mistake.  The family finished their meal, then “rushed” the toddler to the ER an hour later.  Wisely, the restaurant manager went with them.  The manager says the ER said the child was indeed sick, but from an upper respiratory infection.  The family says it was alcohol poisoning.  I’m quite sure the meal was free, since the restaurant acknowledged the mistake.  So what else does the family want.  My guess is, the keys to the restaurant.  They will lose.  But the attitude here and in many other cases is, “It doesn’t hurt to try, right?”  Well, yes, it does.

The impetus for this post is that a friend of a friend person on Facebook has had a very frustrating week with customer service issues.  I sort of half-jokingly offered to post tips, which in fact I will never do, because I don’t think she would like them.  They would work, but she still wouldn’t like them.  Understand, this is a lovely woman, in all the ways we mean that in the South.  Beautiful, elegant, well-educated, a former college instructor, very artistic.  But she is having difficulty navigating the outside world.  She has two main issues.  She can’t find the light bulbs she wants after going to two major hardware stores.  She feels dismissed by them, as they don’t seem to want to help her (they’ve tried to explain to her why, but it’s unacceptable to her).  She feels she has been deceived by ATT, since she accepted a “bundle”, and got a new telephone which won’t work if the power goes out.   Her solution has been to write letters to the Presidents/ Chairmen of the companies.

I may not be able to post these tips on Facebook, but I can do it here.

1.  Lose the entitlement attitude.  No, the customer is not always right, and that may include you.

2.  Ask yourself if you have truly been wronged, or if you want something because you’re special.

3.  If you’ve truly been wronged, make them want to help you.  You ask.  You don’t demand.  You don’t threaten.  “I’m never coming back here!” (Okay, we won’t miss you.)  “I’m writing the President of your company!” (Please do, I want you to tell him how much you hate shrimp.) “I’ll have your job!” (Good luck with that.)

4.  Ask yourself what you would be satisfied with if you don’t get everything you want.  A friend recently asked that question about the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri.  The Justice Department determined that major changes were needed in the police department, and a half-dozen high officials in the city have resigned–but people are still protesting.  So, what is it you want?  When will you know you’re happy?

These are just the bare bones of how to be a good customer.  You can follow them or be permanently outraged, which is an unfortunate way to live.  Life is short.

Must- Have Fashions of the 1960’s

I’m a member of a Facebook group for people who live or once lived in the small town in the mountains of North Carolina where I grew up.

I’ve observed an interesting sociological phenomenon here.  People who no longer live there have fond memories of the town; those who still live there do a lot of whining about how great things used to be, but it’s now gone to hell in a handbasket.  Actually, that applies more to the people who never left.  Many people I know left and then returned by choice.  They love the town and the surroundings, but don’t think it’s the one and only place in the world to be.  Nor do they think it’s been ruined by(pick one) tourists or the government.  I’m not sure what conclusion can be drawn from this, but something surely could be.  All I can conclude is that you have much fonder memories if you left, than if you stayed.  I wonder why?

In any case, I innocently did a post asking if the women in the group remembered two particular hair care products:  home perms by Toni, and the gel Dippity Do. (They still make that, by the way.) You cannot imagine how that question morphed into all sorts of memories of must-haves of the 60’s.  From hair to perfume to clothes. I’m talking about the early to mid-60’s here, not the later 60’s with the influence of the hippy movement.

Here is a partial list of products and apparel:

Tame crème rinse.  Breck and Prell shampoo.  Breck had “Breck girls” in their magazine ads.  Ordinary girls, just like you and me!  We could be a Breck girl too, picked out of a crowd for our shiny hair!

Sleeping (or not much) in big round hair rollers (sometimes with brushes!) so our hair would be curly in the morning. If your hair was long enough, you could dispense with the rollers and use empty frozen orange juice cans.  Rinsing your hair in beer to give it body.  Using lemon juice to lighten it.

Perfumes:  Interlude.  White Shoulders.  (You weren’t allowed to wear the heavier stuff your mother had–Estee Lauder.  Jungle Gardenia.  Chanel #5). Canoe or Brute for your boyfriend.

Mohair sweaters.

Wraparound skirts.


Bass Weejuns.

These are great memories and have been a lot of fun for everyone who answered.  But, I don’t miss those days of thinking we had to own or use a particular product to be worthy.  I’ve never seen the show Mad Men, but I might watch it.  That was truly the golden age of advertising.  And we were more gullible.  They still make Bass Weejuns, by the way.  I looked.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

You Might Be A Redneck If…

If you’re from the U.S., you probably know that this is the famous hook the comedian Jeff Foxworthy uses in his comedy routine (“If you’ve ever mowed the grass and found your car, you might be a redneck.  If you’ve ever taken a beer to a job interview….”)

The kindest definition I’ve found of redneck is “a working-class white person, especially a politically reactionary one from a rural area”.  Which is actually the most accurate.  But the common usage is from Miriam-Webster, which defines it as “a white person who lives in a small town or in the country, especially in the southern U.S., who typically has a working-class job, and is seen by others as being uneducated and having opinions and attitudes that are offensive”.

I had this conversation today with Yard Guy, who is a certified redneck, only by virtue of being from the South and having a blue-collar job.  He has no objectionable opinions, is not a racist, and is one of the most environmentally conscious people I know.  He probably has little formal education, but as far as I’m concerned, that makes him smarter than a lot of people who do.

I told him I was going away for the week of Christmas, so he said he’d be sure to ask his Mama to keep an eye on my house (she lives around the corner).  Also, my next-door neighbor, Kathy.  While we were on the subject, he noted that his Mama and Kathy have become cranky and hard to deal with in their older years (both of them are about my age, and both are widowed).  I said that probably they were spending too much time alone.  He wanted to know why I’m not like them? I said, because I work.  I’m out almost every day.  I deal with the public.  He said, oh, yeah, well there is that.

While we were on the subject of dogs, he informed me that Mama now has a second dog, which like the first dog does not really belong to her, but to his niece who also owns the first dog.  The first dog is a pitbull mix named “Vicious”.  I swear I am not making that up.  The important thing here is the distinction between “keeping” and “owning” a dog.  It’s the same thing as “living” somewhere and “staying” somewhere.  You get mail at one place (where you live), but you don’t actually live there.  You “stay” somewhere else.  Got it?

Yard Guy went on to say that he hates Vicious, who once tried to attack him, and only failed because he happened to see her coming out of the corner of his eye and swung a Weedeater at her.  He told Mama that if Vicious ever actually bit him then he’s going to kill her.  He said he would patiently go to his truck, get his pistol, and shoot Vicious dead in Mama’s back yard.  Just so you know, Mama.  She said, oh surely you wouldn’t.  He said,  surely I would.

And I believe him.  And he can legally do it.  If I had a gun, I would do the same thing, as much as I love dogs.  So you see?  Yard Guy and I are simpatico.  We think alike.

Yard Guy asked where I was going.  I said, North Carolina, where I mostly grew up.  He said, you grew up in North Carolina?  So you’re a redneck too?  (Well, technically, you can’t be a redneck if you’re from North Carolina, you’re a hillbilly).  I said, I was born in Tennessee.  He was like, well that cinches it.  You’re a redneck.  Who knew?

Then he was off and running into a story about a friend, originally from the mountains of North Carolina, who hates it here.  There are just too many people.  The friend has three little daughters, whose favorite food is frog legs, or whatever else Daddy can catch.  Yard Guy and I are not that impressed.  We’ll eat deer meat (and as far as I know, he’d probably kill it himself), but seriously…feed the girls a Happy Meal once in a while.  Branch out.

While we were chatting outside, my dog Pippin was inside whining furiously.  He “knows” Yard Guy and wanted to say hello. I let him out and Yard Guy and Pippin spent a little bonding time.

I love the South.  The few years I spent outside it, I missed it warts and all.