Not Much Fun In Leningrad

I read Leningrad: State of Siege by Michael Jones recently. This is the tale of the city’s epic resistance to the Germans during WWII in a siege that lasted almost 900 days. The author skillfully weaves a gripping historical narrative and punctuates it with diary excerpts and interviews with survivors. I have read accounts of this before but always as part of larger works. It takes a full book to really portray the horror of the siege and to tell some uncomfortably truths that Stalin and his successors suppressed for decades.

The Germans were frighteningly clinical about the whole thing. They decided they were going to starve the population into submission and then wipe the city from the face of the earth (as it was the “birthplace of Bolshevism”). Scientists advised the army on nutrition and calculated how long the mass starvation would take.

Stalinism made everything worse. Stalin, much like the Bush administration of today, rewarded loyalty over competence. So it was that one of his old cronies from the Russian Civil War, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, was in charge of Leningrad’s defenses. As the Germans raced across the Soviet Union, Voroshilov failed to disperse Leningrad’s food supply. He left it all in a group of old wooden warehouses that were packed closely together. The Germans knew exactly where they were and firebombed them, destroying vast quantities of food before the siege even began. Heckuva job, Klimie. Later the Soviet trade minister rerouted a train full of food to Leningrad. The area it was originally sent to had already been overrun by the Germans and he rightly thought Leningrad could use the supplies. Voroshilov intervened and turned the train around. He would not accept the food because he did not want Stalin thinking he needed the help. Better that thousands starve to death (and they did) than Stalin get the idea that he was incompetent (which he was).

Oh, and did I mention the gangs of cannibals? Yep, at a certain point in the siege it became dangerous to leave your house alone because desperate people were killing and eating stragglers. When winter ended many corpses with breasts and buttocks hacked off were found in the melting snow. Not much fun in Leningrad.

Leningrad: State of Siege is not a cheery book, but it’s compelling history and I recommend it.

Enemy Action

With the economy in danger of blowing up and the biggest government bailout in history in the offing, you may be wondering exactly what’s going on. I know I was, which is why I was glad I came across an essay called “Three Times is Enemy Action.”

This piece traces the history of Republican deregulation efforts from the Reagan era on and looks at the S&L; Scandal, the Enron Scandal, and now Bush’s “One More Scandal Before I Leave Office” Scandal. Without too much jargon, the essay breaks down what happened and who we have to thank for these crises. Worth reading, particularly if you are undecided on your presidential pick.

Here’s the money quote: “Um, sirs? Is it altogether a good idea to run up debts exceeding all the assets it’s even possible to hold?”

At Flying Lab I’ve done some research on the South Sea Bubble, a huge economic crisis in Britain in 1720 (coincidentally, the year Pirates of the Burning Sea takes place). It started as people rushed to buy stock in the South Sea Company and based on the crazy speculation that followed all sorts of companies formed, trying to attract the frenzied investors from all social classes. Here are just some of the ventures floated:

For supplying the town of Deal with fresh water.
For trading in hair.
For assuring of seamen’s wages.
For insuring of horses.
For improving the art of making soap.
For insuring and increasing children’s fortunes.
For a wheel for perpetual motion.
For importing walnut-trees from Virginia.
For making of rape-oil.
For paying pensions to widows and others, at a small discount.
For the transmutation of quicksilver into a malleable fine metal.
For carrying on an undertaking of great advantage; but nobody to know what it is.
I laughed at the idea of people investing in a perpetual motion machine or an unknown undertaking of great advantage. Oh, those silly 18th century people; we know better today.

No. No, we don’t.

Avast Ye!

Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. This is, of course, our favorite holiday at Flying Lab and in fact Pirates of the Burning Sea is the official video game of TLAPD. We’ve actually put Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket, the holiday’s founders, into the game and they have some special missions on them right now. In one you have to teach a parrot to talk like a pirate, which is pretty funny.

If you have not played Pirates of the Burning Sea before, now is the perfect opportunity. We’ve just started offering free trials, so you can play for two weeks without spending a doubloon. It’s more fun than dancin’ the hempen jig, mateys.

Talk Like a Pirate Day also works for Freeport, of course. If you haven’t picked up Buccaneers of Freeport yet, today is the right day. Yar!

Summoning Cthulhu One More Time

If you are in the Seattle area this weekend and you missed seeing the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets at PAX last month, you have another chance to see the masters of Cthulhupunk. On Saturday night the Thickets are playing at the Funhouse, a punk club on 5th Avenue located right near the Space Needle. Toren and Warren will be thrilled to discover that the Funhouse is also about a block from the Scifi Museum/EMP, so they can gaze upon Kirk’s command chair if time permits. Also on the bill is Seattle’s own Bloodhag, a metal band that sings about scifi and fantasy authors to promote literacy (no really). I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet they are gamers too.

Show starts at 9:30. Shoggoths away!

So That’s the Hualapai Legacy

Nicole and I are in Vegas for the Diamond/Alliance Open House. We had yesterday free, as our set-up took all of half and hour and we did that today. We’re feeling rather done with Vegas, except for the fine dining. If we were super rich, it’d be another story, but we’ve pretty much done the stuff we are interested in and can afford. We decided to be spontanteous, so we rented a car and drove to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon yesterday instead of hanging out town.

Our initial plan was to just go to the Hoover Dam, which is indeed quite impressive. The 500 hundred mile drive to the Grand Canyon seemed too much for a day trip, but then we heard that the West face was much closer. After touring the dam, we decided to continue into Arizona and check it out. Normally, Nicole and I do a lot of research before taking trips. Grand Canyon West is a case study in why that’s a good idea.

So we drove over the Hoover Dam and into Arizona. Less than an hour later we turned off the highway and started following a local road through some depressing small towns. Signs told us it was only 39 miles to Grand Canyon West. “This is a lot better than driving 500 miles,” I said.

The next turnoff was on to an unpaved gravel road. One car in front of us went about a hundred feet and then turned around. Having come this far, we decided to push on. The road snaked through the desert for 14 miles. Cars kicked up gravel and clouds of dust and I began to wonder if the rental car would take any damage we’d be liable for. Finally we reached pavement again and a sign informed us we were on Hualapai Indian land and parking there cost $20.

At last we reached Grand Canyon West, or rather the parking lot for Grand Canyon West. Here we discovered that the $20 parking fee was just the beginning. You couldn’t just park and go see the canyon. You had to buy a $30 “Hualapai Legacy” package that would allow you on a bus that took you the final distance to the canyon. There were, of course, a bunch oo add-ons like helicopter rides and a hummer “off-road adventure.” The big attraction was the Skywalk Glass Bridge, which lets you walk above the Grand Canyon. That was another $30. I said to hell with that, but Nik decided to go for it. Now I have been to tourist traps before but this one really earned the name. Once you’ve driven all that way, you either suck it up and pay or turn around and admit you have wasted your day.

The first stop on the bus was Eagle Point. The view is not that great unless you go out on the Skywalk. Nicole went out while I looked at sample Indian dwellings and the construction site for the resort that’s coming soon. Nik found out that you aren’t allowed to take pictures on the Skywalk. That’s something else they want to charge you for.

The next stop was Guano Point and it had a much better view than Eagle Point. You could walk out onto the point and look down the canyon in either direction. There were no guard rails, so you to be careful. We climbed to the top of the point, away from the noise and the tour buses. Out there on the rocks, with muddy Colorado River far below and beautiful rock formations in every direction, I finally got what I wanted. I didn’t think it would be such an ordeal or cost that much money, but at least Guano Point delivered the goods.

I would rarely recommend this when traveling, but if you are in Vegas and you want to see the Grand Canyon, you’re better off just going on a charter bus than driving. Other than the Hoover Dam, there is nothing to see or do on the route so you won’t be missing much in the way of the road trip experience.

The exhibit hall at the trade show opens in an hour, so I must dash. One more state and one more site checked off my list.

Low Energy Friday

I need to be up early tomorrow for yet another trip. This time it’s Vegas for a trade show. I must admit I am real low energy at the moment and I do not feel prepared. Lately I have not been traveling with my laptop but I think may need to bring it this time. I’ve got a lot of things to do and I don’t think I can just defer everything until the middle of next week.

Meanwhile I find myself wishing the presidential election was tomorrow so we could get it over with. The right wing slime machine is getting itself into gear and it just sickens me to watch it. November can’t come fast enough.