Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why Does American Airlines Hate America?

Texas National Guard member, en route to training camp and then deployment to Iraq, is charged $100 excess baggage fee by American Airlines for his required gear.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wednesday Food Section

Many newspaper editors across the country have apparently decided that Wednesday is the day to run articles about what to eat, and what to drink. Why fight a trend? Here goes.

First, what to drink. Recently Jonathan Yardly of the Washington Post reviewed Drink, A Cultural History of Alcohol by Iain Gately. According to Mr. Yardly, Drink is a thorough and entertaining look at the history of alcohol-use in society from the Ancient Greeks to the Brits gin-binge in the 1700s, and from America whiskey soaked 1800s through to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Next, from reading about it to imbibing it. The July 26 broadcast of The Splendid Table had a discussion of cool wines for hot days. As is set forth in the above link (scroll to the end of the page or listen to the podcast), now is the time for drinking young wines from cool climates. One recommendation in the story is Chilean pinot noir from the Casa Blanca Valley. This wine is relatively inexpensive. We tried two, one priced at about $13 and one at about $7. (after all, it's just for chillin' on a hot day so why not try a bargain bottle). The $13 bottle, a slightly chilled Veramonte 2006 Pinot Noir, was good and I'll purchase it again. The less expensive, from a different winery, was really pretty awful. Nonetheless, I'll definitely keep an eye out for more nice Casa Blanca Valley wine.

Now, to food.

Currently, my favorite food blog is Rachel Rappaport's Coconut and Lime. I recently made her Smoky Spicy Sloppy Joes and they were the best ever Sloppy Joes (I did make one change to her recipe. I omitted carrot and substituted a 1/2 can of diced tomatoes). Don't think of this as being like the Sloppy Joes you ate as a kid, which, all due respect to mom, were not so good. Rappaport's version is for grown-ups and perfect for Saturday lunch or an easy, breezy weeknight meal. Check out her blog for more good stuff.

Monday, July 28, 2008

University of Wisconsin Law School Professor Victoria Nourse Scheduled Guest Tomorrow on The Diane Rehm Show

Victoria Nourse, professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, is scheduled as a guest on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show tomorrow, July 29. Professor Nourse is to discuss her book, In Reckless Hands, Skinner v. Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenics.

In Skinner, a 1942 decision by the United States Supreme Court, the petitioner challenged the constitutionality of Oklahoma's law authorizing sterilizaiton of certain felons. The court agreed with the petitioner, identified marriage and procreation as a fundamental rights, and launched a new era for constitutional analysis.

Tomorrow, the podcast of the show can be found here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

John McCain: Mistake-prone Warmonger with a Flash Temper

If part of the presidential package is character, then Bob Herbert's analysis of Senator John McCain's character is required reading.

Highlights: McCain's frequent mistakes when speaking about international affairs. His notorious, vicious temper that gives even his fellow Republicans pause. His fanaticism towards the war in Iraq, insisting on defining it as a matter that can and must be "won".

McCain has even stated as recently as 2003 his belief that the Viet Nam war could have, and should have, been won. If John McCain doesn't even know know that one of the classic blunders is getting involved in a land war in Asia, then he truly lacks the capability to lead our nation (and he needs to watch the battle of wits scene from The Princess Bride).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Bottlemania" by Elizabeth Royte

The Economist reviews Bottlemania by Elizabeth Royte, in which Royte examines the pros and cons of this $60 billion global business.

Notes The Economist in its review: "[Bottled water] costs between 250 and 10,000 times more than tap water and in blind tastings people cannot usually separate the fancy beverage from the ordinary stuff. Then there is the environmental cost: according to one estimate, the total energy required to make and deliver each bottle of water is equivalent to filling them a quarter of the way with oil." Yet where no clean water is available, bottled water easily fills a critical role by providing potable water.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mysteries: Macavity Awards

From Library Journal, a list of the Mystery Readers International's nominees for the 2008 Macavity Awards.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fresh Water is the New Oil

If the troubles caused by oil dependency aren't enough for you, The Financial Times today has an article outlining new economic and political pressures flowing from a future where fresh water will be scarce. The article cites one financial group's estimate that by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population could be living in conditions of water stress.

Below: Lake Monona at sunset. Monona, Wisconsin.

Killer Countertops?

The New York Times reports in an article today that granite countertops may emit elevated levels of high levels of radon and radiation. Radon can cause lung cancer. "It's not that all granite is dangerous," the paper quotes one expert as saying, "But I've seen a few that might heat up your Cheerios a little."

As the article points out at its end, there could be a batch of litigation cooking in the kitchen.

Mixing Politics and Books

Sometimes I am not interested in knowing other people's political opinions. For example, back in the day, I liked many of my law school classmates until they started making known their political views (not their partisan views, but their conservative or liberal views) in torts and criminal law class.

Political bumper stickers are also uninteresting, although they help identify lunatics on the highway.

Should booksellers make their political views known? Sure, if they do so in a manner that will allow them to continue to make enough dough to keep the doors open. A bookstore can be more interesting if it presents an editorial position, similar to the way a newspaper will adopt a conservative or liberal position in crafting its opinions on the editorial page.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Senator Obama Meets with the Troops in Kuwait

Perhaps you've seen this before, but I dig it so here it is again: 30% Off Coupon; Public Library Books Still Free has a deal for 30% off the list price of one item. The discount offer lasts until August 17. Shipping is free with an order of at least $25. The coupon does not apply to in-store purchases.

Eric Asimov: Sauvignon Blanc for Summer

Today in the New York Times, Eric Asimov discusses drinking chilled, refreshing sauvignon blanc on these hot summer days.

With respect to wines made in the United States, sauvignon blanc is sometimes called fume blanc. There is supposedly a difference in style between, on the one hand, wine made with sauvignon blanc grapes and called sauvignon blanc, and on the other hand, wine made with sauvignon blanc grapes and then called fume blanc. Whether that difference is put into effect at a given winery, or whether the label is simply a marketing decision, may vary. But in the end, fume blanc is sauvignon blanc.

"The Oxford Murders" by Guillermo Martinez

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martines (2005) (Published by Penguin Books 2006).

Fans of mysteries in the Agatha Christie style, or of the various PBS/BBC British mystery programs, will likely enjoy a contemporary twist on that genre in The Oxford Murders.

It’s 1993 in Oxforshire, England, and an elderly woman is found murdered in her sitting room. The story’s narrator is the woman’s tenant, an Argentinean graduate student working in mathematics. The student and Arthur Seldom, a mathematical genius and Oxford don, become the amateur sleuths investigating the crime after a note is sent to Seldom containing the words “first of the series” and a small drawing of a circle.

More deaths occur and more symbols are revealed. Polygons, paradox, and theorems abound as the mystery deepens. The discussions of logic and mathematics throughout the book are entertaining and accessible. And the story has a nice twist, one which ultimately makes the book one to recommend for a light, pleasant read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

L.A. Times Book Coverage Shrinking

The Los Angeles Times plans to stop publication of its Sunday Book Review section at the end of this month. Book reviews will now appear in various sections of the paper, with the majority included in the Calendar section.

Book editors protest cuts at the Times.

Hunter S. Thompson and First Lines From Novels

This artwork sits before a bridge to the Thai Pavillion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin. The work, like the fist sentence to a novel, sets up what is to come for the visitor.

I bumped into a page on the American Book Review web site collecting the 100 best first lines from novels. I've always been partial to the first line of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." What a perfect first line to start to that particular story.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

McCain: Media are mean to me, too!

The McCain for President camp was apparently envious of the attention and free media generated for Senator Barack Obama by last week's New Yorker magazine flap.

Seeking to get into the spin, Senator McCain submitted to the New York Times an op-ed piece containing political boilerplate. The Drudge Report published the op-ed piece in full. The newspaper said, 'no thank you, but please try again after you fix some problems,' giving the McCain people an opportunity to gnash teeth and pull hair over the injustice of it all.

Getting rejected by the NYT could be the just the boost Sen. McCain needs to show his conservative chops.

A.P. report: New York Times defends not running McCain op-ed

Fox News' 'fair and balanced' coverage of the matter: McCain Campaign: New York Times Blocked Op-Ed Response to Obama.

"All The Way Home" Author on Public Radio Today

Today on the Diane Rehm Show, Ms. Rehm interviewed David Giffels. He is the author of All the Way Home, a book about the Giffels family's adventures rebuilding a crumbling home. Download the podcast here.


Highly Recommended Reading: "The End of Manners" by Francesca Marciano

The End of Manners, by Francesca Marciano (2008 Random House).

At age 32, Italian photojournalist Maria Galante is burned-out after a relationship failed and her job photographing sad stories made her "feel like a thief, intruding on people's grief ." She takes professional refuge working as a food photographer until a surge of competitive adrenalin pushes her to accept an assignment working in Afghanistan with reporter Imo Glass. The story the two want to get is on Afghan women and arranged marriages.

In this enjoyable novel, author Francesca Marciano successfully lays out more than just the expected tension arising from the difficulties faced by two professional women from the west seeking to photograph and interview women in conservative, war-torn Afghan society. Marciano captures the camaraderie that arises among professionals doing a job under difficult and dangerous circumstances. She provokes new thinking about large, but well-worn issues, such as the roles of men and women in society. In addition, Marciano's story makes effective use of the small tensions that exist within an individual, such as the excitement of travel and the longing to be home, and the press of universal worries about love and life, even when living in a country where kidnapping and violence may be just around a turn in the road.

Marciano's writing is a pleasure to read. The plot of The End of Manners moves briskly, with delightful and vivid descriptions seamlessly integrated into the narrative. This book is highly recommended reading.

A small bug makes its way on a big flower. Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, Wisconsin.

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L.A. Times Review of "How Fiction Works"

A review of How Fiction Works, by literary critic James Wood, appeared yesterday in the Los Angeles Times.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"For the Love of Animals" by Kathryn Shevelow

In today's Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley gives a positive review to For the Love of Animals, The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement by Kathryn Shevelow. According to Mr. Yardley, the book is "exemplary in every respect."

Animal protection continues to be a growing area of interest in the law. This story from the District of Columbia Bar Magazine looks at the topic: Animal Law by Kathryn Alfisi. In another law link, Gary Becker and Richard Posner discuss trusts for pets in the July 13, 2008, post at The Becker-Posner Blog.

Friday, July 18, 2008

New Yorker Magazine Cover Controversy Cont.

With consensus building this week that The New Yorker's cover depicting the Obamas as terrorists is a complete flop as satire, satire strikes back: check out this post from The Huffington Post.

T.G.I.F. and More Talk About Brett Favre and the Packers

It's Friday. Time to again think a bit about sports. The New York Times covers the Brett Favre situation, this time from the perspective of fans living in Green Bay. Professional sports is in many respects like Hollywood. In Hollywood the most sought after answer is 'yes'; the second most sought after answer is 'no'. It is the time hanging out there, waiting for a decision that is maddening. I'm ready for finality on the issue of Favre playing football.

Highly Recommended Reading: "Caught Stealing" by Charlie Houston

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Caught Stealing
moves with speed and excitement, like this wind surfer on Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin.

A good book to consider escaping into this weekend is Caught Stealing by Charlie Houston. Set on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Caught Stealing rolls along at a fast pace after protagonist Hank Thompson agrees to take care of his neighbor's cat. From this seemingly insignificant decision, mayhem ensues for Hank as he deals with mugs and thugs, violence and murder. Throughout this wild ride of a plot, you'll be rooting for Hank, the semi-down-and-out but likable hero. If you are a fan of movies by Quentin Tarantino, you will definitely like Caught Stealing (2004 Random House).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kay Ryan is New Poet Laureate

The country's 16th poet laureate is Kay Ryan. A profile of Ms. Ryan in today's New York Times makes a strong case for seeking out her work, which is described as "highly accessible poetry" that takes what is familiar and transforms it into something deeper.

The story quotes Ms. Ryan as stating that she "so didn't want to be a poet" but ultimately "I couldn't resist." Artists such as this, who are driven to live a life pursuing their one particular talent, are interesting and their work definitely worth checking into further.

NPR 2008 Summer Book Recommendations

From NPR, a list of books to consider reading this summer.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Orleans Cocktails Unraveled

In The Pour, a column by Eric Asimov in today's New York Times, Asimov writes: "I've been trying to figure out the logic of the Louisiana legislature, which, apparently having finished its work with the Hurricane Katrina cleanup, has moved on to the pressing business of selecting an official cocktail for the City of New Orleans."

Mr. Asimov apparently does not closely follow how many state legislative bodies operate. He does, however, provide an interesting discussion of the sazerac and Ramos gin fizz; recipes are included for those folks looking for a cocktail to help beat the heat and humidity today.

Wisconsin's official state beverage is milk.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Off in the distance is the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin. A better photo would have been produced, but your photographer was being heckled by a turtle (see yesterday's post).

Friend Liz reports that Loving Frank, a novel by Nancy Horan, is a good airplane-read. The novel is a fictional account of the real life affair between American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Martha (Mamah) Borthwick Cheney, which began in the early 1900s. Mr. Wright had three wives; Borthwick Cheney was not one of them.

If you are looking for a nonfiction book concerning Mr. Wright, consider tracking down a copy of The Valley of the God-almighty Joneses (1965 Appleton-Century), written by his sister, Maginel Wright Barney. Ms. Wright Barney and Mr. Wright's mother was Anna Lloyd Jones

For even more interesting information, check out the Taliesin Preservation web site, which answers such questions as 'why do Mr.Wright's roof's leak'?

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Best Seller Lists

Spotted in the number seven position of the New York Times list of nonfiction, paperback best sellers: "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, by Tucker Max . . . Reflections of a self-absorbed, drunken womanizer." Hmmmmm . . . pithy book summary, but this isn't a title that will be on my reading list any time soon.

Bestseller lists, compilations of data concerning book sales, need to be approached with caution. As the turtle above knows, the race does not always go to the fleet. That being said, sometimes the lists do contain great reads, like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which is number two on the NYT's paperback trade fiction best seller list. If you haven't yet read it, check out Water for Elephants for an enjoyable summer read.

No turtles were harmed during the production of this post.
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The New Yorker Cover Controversy

The Financial Times today has a story about this week's controversial New Yorker cover. The cover depicts Senator Barack Obama as a Muslim and Michelle Obama as a terrorist. The New Yorker says it's satire.

An item presented as satire can, of course, at the same time be offensive. Given the amount of prejudice and violence in our country, past and present, I think that the cover shows poor judgment.

The FT reports that 19 percent of rural voters believed Sen. Obama was Muslim. If the fact that Sen. Obama practices Christianity cannot penetrate into this group of people, how likely are they to believe that this cover is satire?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rome 1960

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It's a new day, a new week, and you might want to be talking about a new book by Madison, Wisconsin, native David Maraniss. The book is Rome 1960, The Olympics that Changed the World.

Rome 1960 was reviewed yesterday in the New York Times, and is currently number ten on the Washington Post's nonfiction best seller list.

David Maraniss is the author of many excellent books, including They Marched Into Sunlight (2003). This book looks at a battle in Vietnam and at student protests on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, both occurring in October 1967. This, as it happens, was the same time that Jerry Kramer was writing Instant Replay (see yesterday's post).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

In Which We Consider a Former Green Bay Great

Retired Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre is in the news this week as he tells the sporting world that he wants to continue playing football. A time line of this saga is outlined at the end of a story by Jason Wilde in today's Wisconsin State Journal.

What's a Packer fan to do during this time of uncertainty? Escape from it by reading, or re-reading as the case may be, Instant Replay, The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer.
Actually, you don't have to be a Packer fan, or even a football fan, to enjoy Jerry Kramer's story of his life as a Packer during the 1967 season. Kramer's book is an engaging, and often funny, look at adults performing in pressure-filled jobs on a big stage.

In the introduction Kramer writes: "I want this diary to have a happy ending. After all, this isn't Hamlet, and I'm not Shakespeare. I'm a professional football player." Perhaps that's a sentiment to remember when considering Mr. Favre.

My 1968 edition of Instant Replay, left, pictures Jerry Kramer and Coach Vince Lombardi on the dust jacket's back cover. A new edition of the book was published in 2006.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Books on Tibet and China

This weekend, the Financial Times looks at four new books about China, Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

These two Lhasa Apsos, left, hold strong views on the situation.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

This Morning's Storm

I looked up from my reading this morning and saw the weather rolling into town.


It's July. It's Friday.

This is a good time to read about college basketball. Under current NBA rules, prep players can't join the league until they are 19 and a year past their final year of high school. This leads to the one-and-done situation, where elite players participate in one year of college ball before leaving to join the NBA.

The L.A. Times reports that Arizona Wildcats coach Lute Olson, who skipped last season to divorce his wife, is irritated that prep player and McDonald's All-American Brandon Jennings is skipping out on playing for the Cats. Instead, Jennings opted to go directly for the cash by becoming a pro player in Europe. Lute Olson vows to never enter into such relationships again -- with potential one-and-done players, that is.

This weekend I plan to continue reading The End of Manners by Francesca Marciano. This is a novel about two women, a reporter and a photographer, on assignment in Afghanistan. I'm currently about 30 pages into it and so far, so good.

Looking ahead, Monday, July 14, is Bastille Day. Liberty, and particularly our First Amendment rights in this country, is a precious thing and every opportunity to celebrate liberty should be taken. Accordingly, this weekend let's turn up the zydeco music and start the celebration. Summer flies by quickly: laissez les bons temps rouler!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Food in the News and in Books

The Center for Disease Control reports that since April, over 1000 people have become ill from food contaminated by salmonella. It's disheartening that in the United States something so fundamental - getting good, safe food to eat - can be so treacherous.

The good and bad of the food chain in the United States has been the topic of many relatively recent books, such as those by Michael Pollen. I've browsed through these books and found that, for me, this is not the best format to learn about this interesting topic. I'm much more likely to read and absorb this type of information when its published in a newspaper or The New Yorker, or discussed on a public radio program.

Reading about good food, however, can be good entertainment. I vividly recall reading Peter Mayle's excellent and entertaining A Year in Provence. Mid-way through the book, I rushed out to buy brie, crusty bread, and a cold bottle of good white wine to enjoy while I resumed the story of Mayle's efforts to cope in the wilds of the south of France.

Two memoirs by culinary super-stars also provide great reading. The first is My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme, and the second is The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacque Pepin. The stories of how these chefs rose to success are fun to follow.

Finally, the issue of what to eat, but from the perspective of diet and nutrition, is also addressed in Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. Taubes' book, in tremendous detail, essentially argues that there is very little scientific support for many conventional dietary recommendations. The mass of information presented in this book is very persuasive and, while I can't agree with everything the author ultimately concludes and recommends, I have put bacon back on the breakfast table.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

All those in favor say "aye".

Two items on today's agenda: The Whistling Season and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

An "aye" goes to The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig (2006 Harcourt Books). This story about Paul Milliron, growing up in rural Montana in 1909, is charming and beautifully written. Paul's mother has died, and his father and two younger brothers are struggling to keep the household going. In need of help, a housekeeper from Minneapolis, Rose Llewellyn, is hired. When Rose and her brother, Morris, arrive in Montana the story takes off. The conclusion of The Whistling Season is the only part that sounds a bit off-key in this otherwise very good read.

An "abstain" goes to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (2008 Ecco). This book is getting a lot of positive buzz, including a story in this morning's NYT. I wanted to like it for many reasons, one of which being that the author is from my native state, Wisconsin, and the story takes place there. (Note to those familiar with WI: the linked NYT article states that Wroblewski's ". . . family ran a dog kennel in Oconomowoc, in northern Wisconsin . . . ." There are many good natured arguments about where northern Wisconsin begins, but it is definitely not Oconomowoc, which is a mere 35 miles or so from Milwaukee.)

In the novel Edgar Sawtelle, born mute, is growing up in Mellon, Wisconsin, where his family breeds Sawtelle dogs. Edgar successfully learns to communicate with his parents and with the dogs. A sad blow strikes this little family, and at that point I was finished with the book even though I was at only about page 200 of this 500+ page epic.

What I did read was well written and I liked that snippet very much, which is why I'm a bit ambivalent about this book. It seemed at my stopping point that that things were not going to go well for the characters and I wasn't sufficiently hooked by the story to continue working my way through it. I'm interested to hear the views of people who read and loved the entire, massive, piece. What drew you into this story?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Talk on Talk of the Nation Today

Jonathan Karp will be a guest on Talk of the Nation this afternoon. Karp wrote a piece recently for the Washington Post in which he asserts that there are too many books, and many of these books are no good. This is one reason I started What to Read Next: as a means to identify great reading from the huge inventory of books available, many of which are not worth reading. I'll be interested to hear what Mr. Karp has to say. If you miss the show but want to hear the audio, check out NPR's web site.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Highly Recommended Reading: "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" by Z.Z. Packer

An engaging collection of short stories is found in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer (Copyright 2003). Some short story collections disappoint because either too few of the stories grab the reader or the stories seem designed solely to to manipulate the reader's emotions as quickly as possible. In contrast, Packer's vivid and engaging writing is without the obvious emotional manipulation. Instead, it's as though she opens a door to show you the lives of her characters and, upon seeing what she presents, you are engaged, informed and brought to a deeper understanding about the lives of others.

"Humans tend to be very disappointing"

This is a quote from Dr. Joel Gavriele-Gold in a column from today's New York Times that looks at explanations for people's fondness for their pets. (Sit. Stay. Love by Erica Goode)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Welcome to Something Good to Read

This blog has two purposes. First, it is dedicated to the hunt for good reading and viewing material. Second, it is committed to freedom of speech and a democracy which fosters that liberty. "The very aim and end of our institutions is just this: that we may think what we like and say what we think." Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Thank you for visiting.