The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Volume 2 of a book you probably won't read

A while back, I wrote about Volume 1 of H.P. Wilmott's Last Century of Sea Power. I finished Volume 2 a couple of weeks back, and remain impressed. Among other things, how many respected historians do you know of who include the names of their dogs, living and dead, in the dedications of their books? Or use the phrase "beloved woofers" to describe them? Plus, the book contains more of Wilmott's snarky comments on events and people, usually delivered at the end of a paragraph, like a punch line.

More than that, the book is full of delightfully obscure analyses of the first use of this and that to do the other thing; viz, the note to the effect that in August, 1941, the Japanese used aircraft to bomb the house where Chiang Kai-Shek and staff were staying. Perhaps unfortunately for later US involvement with China, they missed, but as Wilmott says, this " ... was the first deliberate use of aircraft in an attempt to kill a head of state." (And by the way, if you're shocked by such an attempt, recall that we, deliberately and successfully, sent a batch of P-38s to shoot down the planes carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto; this was just three years later. Yamamoto, of course, wasn't a head of state, but his loss to the Japanese war effort was probably greater than if he had been.)

Another example? Did you know that prior to WWII, while the Spanish Civil War was going on, the German and Italian help provided to Franco's Fascists sank -- not just damaged but sank -- 11 British merchant ships, on and around the coast of Spain? Britain, the greatest naval power in the world, theoretically, responded forcefully -- by sending the Spanish government bills for the cost (which were never paid, by the way.) Of course, there are no parallels to this shameful appeasement going on these days, none, except, well, there is this place, Somalia, see, where they have a minor issue with pirates ... (or Detroit, now that I think of it, where they're tearing down houses and sending the bills to the houses.)

I closed my bit about Volume 1 by saying that I'd be interested to hear Wilmott's opinion of US Admiral Halsey, the guy who fell for a Japanese decoy of largely aircraftless aircraft carriers and left the Philippine invasion's landing areas virtually undefended. Wilmott did not disappoint:

"(The) version of events in Halsey's autobiography seems to be mendacious and wholly self-serving and one suspects for obvious reason -- to deflect attention from his own ill-considered decisions, which could have had very unfortunate consequences and for which he was never held to account."

Couldn't agree more, although "unfortunate consequences" is a bit mild, considering that except for timidity on the part of the Japanese commander in question, a task force including the Yamato, Japan's biggest, baddest battleship, could have run amok through a huge collection of US transports, tankers, and other vessels with big red targets painted on 'em. Fortunately for a lot of US sailors and soldiers, a handful of Escort Carriers and Destroyer Escorts stood in the way until Admiral Kurita (who, admittedly had seen the Yamato's sister ship, Musashi, sunk by aircraft the day before, lost his nerve and turned back. In most flaming disasters, it's hard to assign blame to a single man, but in this case, had the Japanese wreaked havoc, it would have been Halsey's fault, virtually alone.

Anyway, very nice book, from my perspective. I'm fully aware that among the three or four people who read this blog, I'm the only one who gives a damn about this sort of thing, but as I've said frequently, it's my blog and I'll post anything I want to.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Place your bets, Ladies and Gentlemen

A bit of background: Ann Arbor is a relatively small city, with, in particular, a small footprint of retail space that is suitable for start up, entrepreneurial foodie businesses. This makes it something of a lab for short-lived trends, especially if the underlying business plan calls for walk-in trade.

Over the years, booms have occurred in shoppes selling:

  • High end ice cream
  • Yogurt in a wide range of physical states (frozen, not frozen, gaseous, etc.)
  • By the slice pizza
  • OTC sushi
  • Doggie supplies
  • High end chocolate and other candies
  • Tea

And the list goes on. You can probably think of more that I've missed.
Today, the focus seems to be, for reasons I don't really understand, on cupcakes. The clinical progress of the disease usually follows this pattern: one shop, heralded by articles in the Observer, opens in cheap space somewhere and sells its wares through random channels such as a booth at the Farmer's Market or counter displays in established stores. They gather up some capital and move into a retail space of their own. Somewhere along in there, two or three other enthusiasts jump on the band wagon, and by the end of the opening cycle, have their own storefront efforts going, in their own right. By this time, the public has discovered that, in fact, oversized, over-frosted, cupcakes (or whatever the product is) are kind of a one-time treat, and sales, for everybody in the sector, drop off. Other things are tried to extend the product line (expect savory cupcakes any day now, or perhaps sushi flavors.) After a year or so, only one shoppe remains, surviving (if it does) by operating as a much more mainstream provider of whatever its original category was -- a bakery, for example, instead of just a cupcake joint.

The question, though, is what next? By diligent reading of New York Magazine and mining my own imagination, I came up with the following possible concepts which we could see taking up retail space on Liberty or North Fourth by this time next year:

  • Fancy Fritatas
  • High end sliders (Try the ground lamb and rattlesnake - to die for!)
  • Vampire snax
  • Lobster rolls (trendy in NY right now due to a glut of lobster on the market)
  • Mary's Fabulous locally-raised, organic, free-range Amish fried chicken and fish
  • Side by side, separate but equal kosher/non-kosher hot dog places, where you can sit where your conscience dictates and wave to your friends on the other side
  • Meatballs R' Us -- On a Stick!
  • Glaswegian Vegan: cruelty-free soy based haggis
  • Y'all like locally-raised, organic, free-range kimchi? Korean locovore buffets, franchised as ICBINJRC, or I can't believe it's not just rotten cabbage.
  • No Damn Kimchi, Either, a companion restaurant, next to Fourth Ave's eponymous No Thai.

So take your pick and line up your funding now. The cupcake thing should be over by January, freeing up a couple of storefronts.