Feedlot bloat

Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal’s lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal’s esophagus), the cow suffocates.

–Power Steer by Michael Pollan
(The New Kings Of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass)

Berserkers

The Vikings knew, for instance, that prolonged exposure to combat can goad some men into a state of uncontrolled psychic fury. They might be the most placid men in the world in peacetime, but on the battlefield they begin to act with the most inexplicable and gratuitous cruelty. They become convinced that they’re invincible, above all rules and restraints, literally transformed into supermen or werewolves. The Vikings called such men “berserkers.”

LOSING THE WAR by Lee Sandlin

(The New Kings Of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass)

Internet hatred

how do we run around on the vast field of the internet without being crippled and disfigured by the landmines of hatred that are waiting under every shrub, while still managing to sow the seeds of love, art and awesomeness that blossom ever-greenly?

— Amanda Palmer On Internet Hatred: Please Inquire Within

On America entering WWII

But Life firmly refused to be drawn into a debate about what “freedom” might mean: “Freedom is more than a set of rules, or a set of principles. Freedom is a free man. It is a package. But it is God’s package.”

End of discussion. Hard to believe anybody was moved to go to war by such tripe, but it was typical. When they’re consumed by war fever, people don’t need considered rationales for the use of military force; they don’t even bother with the appearance of logic. As it happened, a purely cynical and cold-blooded calculation of the world crisis could have suggested to Americans that they could easily have stayed out. There were no treaties compelling the nation into the war, no overwhelming strategic or economic pressures; it was self-sufficient in food and raw materials, and it was geographically impregnable. Neither the Japanese nor the Germans would ever have been able to mount an invasion—and, in fact, neither ever seriously considered the possibility; Hitler at his most expansive still thought any transoceanic war was a century away. But when the Germans and Japanese looked across the ocean at America, what they saw was a nation of weaklings and cowards, with no honor or fighting spirit. One of the reasons behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—apart from the obvious military necessity of taking out the American fleet so that the Japanese military could conquer the western Pacific unopposed—was the unshakable conviction that Americans would collectively fold at the first sign of trouble; one big, nasty attack would be enough to get a negotiated settlement, on whatever terms the Japanese would care to name. In the same way Hitler and his inner circle were blithely sure that America would go to any lengths to stay out of the fight. Hitler’s catastrophic decision to declare war on America three days after Pearl Harbor was made almost in passing, as a diplomatic courtesy to the Japanese. To the end he professed himself baffled that America was in the war at all; he would have thought that if Americans really wanted to fight, they’d join with him against their traditional enemies, the British. But evidently they were too much under the thumb of Roosevelt—whom Hitler was positive was a Jew named Rosenfeldt, part of the same evil cabal that controlled Stalin.

As fanciful as that was, it shows the average wartime grasp of the real motives of the enemy.

LOSING THE WAR by Lee Sandlin

(The New Kings Of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass)

Perceptions of WWII while it was on

A Gallup poll taken in the summer of 1941 showed that a large majority of respondents agreed that America was bound to be drawn into the war eventually; a slightly smaller majority even agreed that it was more important to stop the Nazis than to stay neutral. (Japan wasn’t mentioned; even then nobody thought of Japan as a likely enemy.)

Yet “eventually drawn in” really meant “not now.” That was what routinely stunned travelers returning to America from the war zones, even late in 1941: how unworried everybody in America seemed. Crowds still swarmed heedlessly on undamaged streets; city skylines still blazed at night, like massed homing beacons for enemy bombers. But if you’d even mentioned the possibility of an air raid out loud, you’d have been laughed at. New Yorker reporter A. J. Liebling wrote a piece that summer about coming back to Manhattan after the fall of France and discovering just how impossible it was to get his friends to take the thought of war seriously: “They said soothingly that probably you had had a lot of painful experiences, and if you just took a few grains of nembutol so you would get one good night’s sleep, and then go out to the horse races twice, you would be your old sweet self again. It was like the dream in which you yell at people and they don’t hear you.”

LOSING THE WAR by Lee Sandlin

(The New Kings Of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass)

The Koran written in blood

So he has ordered genealogists to construct a plausible family tree linking him to Fatima, the daughter of the prophet Muhammad. (This ancestry is an honor he shares, perhaps, with everyone in the hated West. Saddam sees the prophet less as the bearer of divine revelation than as a political precursor—a great leader who unified the Arab peoples and inspired a flowering of Arab power and culture. The concocted link of bloodlines to Muhammad is symbolized by a six hundred-page hand-lettered copy of the Koran that was written with Saddam’s own blood, which he donated a pint at a time over three years. It is now on display in a Baghdad museum.

TALES OF THE TYRANT by Mark Bowden
(The New Kings Of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass)

Remember death

We think about mortality so little, these days, except to flail hysterically at it with trendy forms of exercise and high-fiber cereals and nicotine patches. I thought of the stern Victorian determination to keep death in mind, the uncompromising tombstones: Remember, pilgrim, as you pass by, As you are now so once was I; As I am now so will you be.…Now death is un-cool, old-fashioned.

— Tana French In the Woods

Attention is like water

But physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. “It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention,” he said. “Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”

A Pickpocket’s Tale by Adam Green

It’s Adam and Steven

“You must be Dave,” she says. (In New England everyone calls you “Dave” regardless of however many times you might introduce yourself as David. I am reminded of those fanatically religious homophobes who stand on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Gay Pride, holding signs that say “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” I have always wanted to go up to them and say, “Well, of course not Adam and Steve. Never Adam and Steve. It’s Adam and Steven.”)

Great line:

The air is as clear and cold as vodka.

Fraud: Essays by David Rakoff