A Gentleman in Moscow

Presumably, the bells of the Church of the Ascension had been reclaimed by the Bolsheviks for the manufacture of artillery, thus returning them to the realm from whence they came. Though for all the Count knew, the cannons that had been salvaged from Napoleon’s retreat to make the Ascension’s bells had been forged by the French from the bells at La Rochelle; which in turn had been forged from British blunderbusses seized in the Thirty Years’ War. From bells to cannons and back again, from now until the end of time. Such is the fate of iron ore.

—Amor Towles

Homegoing

As Sonny passed the projects that filled the distance between his apartment and Willie’s, he tried to remember the last time he’d really spoken to his mother. It was 1964, during the riots, and she had asked him to meet her in front of her church so that she could lend him some money. “I don’t want to see you dead or worse,” she’d said, passing Sonny what little change hadn’t made it into the offering plate. As he took the money, Sonny had wondered, What could be worse than dead? But all around him, the evidence was clear. Only weeks before, the NYPD had shot down a fifteen-year-old black boy, a student, for next to nothing. The shooting had started the riots, pitting young black men and some black women against the police force. The news made it sound like the fault lay with the blacks of Harlem. The violent, the crazy, the monstrous black people who had the gall to demand that their children not be gunned down in the streets. Sonny clutched his mother’s money tight as he walked back that day, hoping he wouldn’t run into any white people looking to prove a point, because he knew in his body, even if he hadn’t yet put it together in his mind, that in America the worst thing you could be was a black man. Worse than dead, you were a dead man walking.

—Yaa Gyasi

The Invention of Wings

“How can you ask us to go back to our parlors?” I said, rising to my feet. “To turn our backs on ourselves and on our own sex? We don’t wish the movement to split, of course we don’t—it saddens me to think of it—but we can do little for the slave as long as we’re under the feet of men. Do what you have to do, censure us, withdraw your support, we’ll press on anyway. Now, sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks.”

—Sue Monk Kidd

FTFY, Internet

As anyone who’s stood within earshot of me for more than 45 seconds can tell you, I tend to be supremely annoyed by “when I was your age” anecdotes about how much things used to cost, particularly when people use nominal dollars instead of real dollars. Since I’ve seen half a dozen instances of this stupid image over the past couple of days, and I expect to see it about a billion more times as the new year approaches, I thought I’d fix a few things.

While most of the figures on this page seem spurious at best, I went for the low-hanging fruit and just adjusted the prices for inflation to give some context. Feel free to contact me with correct data (sourced, of course) and I’ll be happy to update this internet nonsense.

For what it’s worth, I found it vaguely interesting that Mechanical Engineers make a lot less now than they did way-back-when, but I’m sure there are a butt-ton more engineers competing in the marketplace these days. And dentists make a lot more, which makes sense considering high-tech dental equipment in 1915 consisted largely of a shot of whiskey from a dirty glass and a length of twine attached to a horse.

Also, after a century, sugar is still about $1 a pound, except now I can clickity-click and have it delivered to my frigging front door in less than an hour by a beardo in a Prius. Now that’s what I call progress.

P.S. See edits below image…

 

Edits as of 29 Dec 2015:

  1. Life expectancy in 1915 was 54.7 years
  2. The first fuel filling stations popped up in 1906-1907
  3. By 1915 approximately 30% of homes had telephones
  4. The US flag had 48 stars as of 1912
  5. As of the 1910 US Census, the population of Las Vegas was already 937
  6. The earliest forms of crossword puzzles date back to the 1790s
  7. Iced tea dates back to the 1870s
  8. The high school graduation rate in 1915 was approximately 15%
  9. The homicide rate in 1915 was 5.9 per 100,000 residents. With a US population of 105 million, that works out to about 6,195 murders

Bring Up the Bodies

You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it’s like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you’re thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws.

—Hilary Mantel