Worth Reading - 4/8

1. How did the Nazi concentration camps work? A somber topic, but an informative read from the New Yorker:

One night in the autumn of 1944, two Frenchwomen—Loulou Le Porz, a doctor, and Violette Lecoq, a nurse—watched as a truck drove in through the main gates of Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women. “There was a lorry,” Le Porz recalled, “that suddenly arrives and it turns around and reverses towards us. And it lifts up and it tips out a whole pile of corpses.” These were the bodies of Ravensbrück inmates who had died doing slave labor in the many satellite camps, and they were now being returned for cremation. Talking, decades later, to the historian and journalist Sarah Helm, whose new book, “Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women” (Doubleday), recounts the stories of dozens of the camp’s inmates, Le Porz says that her reaction was simple disbelief. The sight of a truck full of dead bodies was so outrageous, so out of scale with ordinary experience, that “if we recount that one day, we said to each other, nobody would believe us.” The only way to make the scene credible would be to record it: “If one day someone makes a film they must film this scene. This night. This moment.”

Le Porz’s remark was prophetic. The true extent of Nazi barbarity became known to the world in part through the documentary films made by Allied forces after the liberation of other German camps. There have been many atrocities committed before and since, yet to this day, thanks to those images, the Nazi concentration camp stands as the ultimate symbol of evil. The very names of the camps—Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz—have the sound of a malevolent incantation. They have ceased to be ordinary place names—Buchenwald, after all, means simply “beech wood”—and become portals to a terrible other dimension.
We in the English-speaking world have survived thirty-seven years without “How to Write a Thesis.” Why bother with it now? After all, Eco wrote his thesis-writing manual before the advent of widespread word processing and the Internet. There are long passages devoted to quaint technologies such as note cards and address books, careful strategies for how to overcome the limitations of your local library. But the book’s enduring appeal—the reason it might interest someone whose life no longer demands the writing of anything longer than an e-mail—has little to do with the rigors of undergraduate honors requirements. Instead, it’s about what, in Eco’s rhapsodic and often funny book, the thesis represents: a magical process of self-realization, a kind of careful, curious engagement with the world that need not end in one’s early twenties. “Your thesis,” Eco foretells, “is like your first love: it will be difficult to forget.” By mastering the demands and protocols of the fusty old thesis, Eco passionately demonstrates, we become equipped for a world outside ourselves—a world of ideas, philosophies, and debates.

Eco’s career has been defined by a desire to share the rarefied concerns of academia with a broader reading public. He wrote a novel that enacted literary theory (“The Name of the Rose”) and a children’s book about atoms conscientiously objecting to their fate as war machines (“The Bomb and the General”). “How to Write a Thesis” is sparked by the wish to give any student with the desire and a respect for the process the tools for producing a rigorous and meaningful piece of writing. “A more just society,” Eco writes at the book’s outset, would be one where anyone with “true aspirations” would be supported by the state, regardless of their background or resources. Our society does not quite work that way. It is the students of privilege, the beneficiaries of the best training available, who tend to initiate and then breeze through the thesis process.

3. What's it like to become a joke on the internet? This is one woman's story of how her slightly odd behavior became the subject of derision and how it made her feel. (Note there is some language in this, but it is well worth reading despite that.)

One night, about 10 months ago, I got an email from a friend in Vermont, with the subject line “Is this you!?”

I clicked it open, and the friend had sent me a link to a website called “Youredoingitwrong.com,” which is a site of all viewer-submitted photos of people doing things hilariously, ignorantly wrong in public. The exact page, or image, that this friend had sent was the inside of a Snap Fitness workout center, and the camera point-of-view was looking at the back of a person on a treadmill—looking through and past some pieces of exercise equipment in the foreground, as if, you know, spying.

The person we see on the treadmill is quite large, and though we can’t see her face, she seems to be female because she has long hair in pigtails. She’s wearing denim overalls, big denim overalls, like a farmer, and—this is the important part—she’s not walking on the treadmill. Her big body in her big overalls is sitting in one of Snap’s spindly little red folding chairs, on the treadmill—which is not moving—and she’s looking up above the treadmill display, watching the flat-screen TV that’s mounted on the wall. She is definitely “doing it wrong.”

4. How much profit do corporations really make? It's probably less than you think:

“Someday this will all be yours,” I said, waving my hand across the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly. I was trying to ingratiate myself with my boss, the general manager for the biggest grocery store in Clarksville, Texas. He just smirked and shook his head. “For every dollar in sales, how much do you think this stores earns in profit?”

At the time I was taking high school economics and considered myself something of a financial savant because I knew the difference between stocks and bonds. Still, I was in full-on toady mode and thought it best to undershoot what I believed the true profit margin to be. I went with a safe number that I knew must be far too low. “About forty cents?” I asked.

“One cent,” he said. “For every dollar we put in the cash register we keep about one penny in profit.”