Sunday, August 31, 2008

Author Freeman Dead after Fall in His Home

It seems that this critical piece of life saving advice cannot be repeated enough: do not fall down.

According to the New York Times, on August 17 Dave Freeman, co-author of 100 Things to Do Before You Die, died after he fell down in his home, hitting his head.

Occasions to fall lurk everywhere. This week while carrying a bag of top soil from the car to the garage, a little dog darted across my path. A fall was avoided only by executing a ballet move that sent me spinning onto the hood of the car. It seems that those years of childhood dance lessons may have saved my neck - thanks mom and dad.

In any event, Mr. Freeman's sad and untimely death at age 48 presents another opportunity to say it out loud: Don't Fall Down.



Sunday


Read, relax, enjoy!


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Saturday, August 30, 2008

NYT Op-Ed Columnist on the Palin Pick

Gail Collins wrote an interesting Op-Ed piece about the selection of Governor Palin as GOP VP nominee.

Highlights
:

"John McCain has a low opinion of the vice presidency, which he’s frequently described as a job that involves attending funerals and checking on the health of the president. (Happy 72nd birthday, John!)"

"I do feel kind of ticked off at the assumptions that the Republicans seem to be making about female voters . . . The idea that women are going to race off to vote for any candidate with the same internal plumbing is both offensive and historically wrong. When the sexes have parted company in modern elections, it’s generally been because women are more likely to be Democrats, and more concerned about protecting the social safety net. “The gender gap traditionally has been determined by party preference, not by the gender of the candidate,” said Ruth Mandel of the Eagleton Institute of Politics."

"This year, Hillary Clinton took things to a whole new level. She didn’t run for president as a symbol but as the best-prepared candidate in the Democratic pack. Whether you liked her or not, she convinced the nation that women could be qualified to both run the country and be commander in chief. That was an enormous breakthrough, and Palin’s nomination feels, in comparison, like a step back."

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Governor Palin Selecton

I don't understand all the discussion about whether or not Governor Palin's selection as GOP VP candidate will draw women's votes, particularly those women who supported Senator Clinton, to McCain-Palin. Can that really be the analysis by Republican strategists? How completely silly.

There are so many reasons why this line of thinking is off the mark that it's almost exhausting. Where to begin? Here are the two easiest.

First, assume that a serious chunk of Senator Clinton's most dedicated female supporters are pro-choice. Pro-choice women do not vote for anti-choice Presidential candidates. McCain and Palin are anti-choice; or to use the their terms "pro-life". There is a possibility that the next President could appoint up to three new members to the United States Supreme Court. There is zero chance these women will vote for the GOP ticket. End of story.

Second, apparently the GOP completely misunderstood the Democratic Presidential primary. On issues of policy, and with respect to the choice between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, the candidates essentially agreed on almost every point. So, some voters thought, 'I get the same policy from either one. I'd like to see a female President. I'll vote for the Sen. Clinton.' That just isn't the case with the GOP candidates McCain-Palin in comparison to Senators Obama and Biden.

So, who does that leave? Pro-life women who will only vote for the pro-life candidate if it is a woman? Who is that? If the voter is really motivated by being pro-life, that voter was always going to vote for Senator McCain. Thus, choosing Gov. Palin gilded the lily, but didn't bring in any new voters.

For these and many more reasons, the mere selection of a woman as his running mate will not cause women voters to move toward voting for Sen. McCain.




T.G.I.F., Enjoy the Weekend, and Be Sure to Eat Your Vegetables





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Labor Day Weekend: "We have been oxen long enough"

"We have been oxen long enough" is the view of O.I. Richardson in his article contained in a fascinating booklet published in 1900 by the Milwaukee Trades Union Label League, and preserved and published on the web by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The booklet, titled End of the Century Labor Day Souvenir, was published as part of the festivities on September 3, 1900. It's an interesting snap shot of the economy and politics of that time, including a pitch for Eugene Debs, candidate for President of the United States on the Social Democratic ticket (pages 10, 11, and 34).

In 1900, workers were losing their jobs to a cheaper manufacturing source: machines. Some of the frustration of that job loss is reflected in the opinions of one writer: "'Can't a man who is replaced by a machine turn to something else?' Well, shall he turn to shoemaking? But the machine is there. Shall he turn to furniture making? The machine stares at him there also. Shall he turn to farming? He has neither land or capital, and capital is required to get machinery to compete with the bonanza farms. Wherever he turns his hands, he finds thousands striving for the same thing." (page 26).

These frustrations from 1900 sound like the frustrations of today as workers lose their jobs to cheaper labor markets in other countries.

Labor Day is also a time to rally people to make further efforts. In the booklet, workers are are urged to continue to fight for a better life and not simply be content with their lot. Ella Wheeler Wilcox writes in her poem: "Prize what is yours but be not quite contented; there is a healthy restlessness of soul by which a mighty purpose is augmented, in urging men to reach a higher goal." (page 24).

If you are enjoying a three-day vacation from work this weekend, thank the people who weren't content, who demanded safety in the workplace, dignity for the worker, and fair compensation for working people's labor. And in looking to the future, demand the same for yourself and for future generations. Reach for a higher goal. Strive for a better future. We are not oxen.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Food and Drink

The Splendid Table, a public radio program that is both entertaining and informative, had a particularly interesting episode this week (August 23). To begin, there was discussion about at what temperature to serve red wine (short answer: warmer than you refrigerator, but cooler than room temperature if the room is at 65- 70 degrees).

In addition to that discussion, the big idea from the broadcast is instruction on the correct method to steel a kitchen knife from Chad Ward, author of An Edge in the Kitchen, The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives. Listen to the program - the directions are very simple (frankly, it would take me longer to type it out than for you to listen to the broadcast). Go to the link above and scroll down to Kitchen Knives.

Finally, there is a discussion about Japanese scotch. It sounds delicious.

Check out the complete broadcast - an easy but delicious idea for pasta is presented during that portion of the show where folks call-in with questions.



Per usual, close your eyes, and recall how it sounded when the late, great, Julia Child said the following: bon appetit!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a novel by Junot Diaz. It has won important awards and glowing reviews. The book received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award. Here is an excerpt from a review by Michiko Kakutani, writing for the New York Times:

"Junot Díaz’s “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets “Star Trek” meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West. It is funny, street-smart and keenly observed, and it unfolds from a comic portrait of a second-generation Dominican geek into a harrowing meditation on public and private history and the burdens of familial history. An extraordinarily vibrant book that’s fueled by adrenaline-powered prose, it’s confidently steered through several decades of history by a madcap, magpie voice that’s equally at home talking about Tolkien and Trujillo, anime movies and ancient Dominican curses, sexual shenanigans at Rutgers University and secret police raids in Santo Domingo."

As is often the case with books that have a rich pedigree of prizes and praise, I was concerned that I would not like it. And my concerns were realized; I didn't like it. Unlike Michiko Kakutani, I didn't find this story "funny", "madcap" or the prose "adrenaline-powered". The book does have a set of interesting elements but, for me, they didn't add up to something great.

We follow the story of Oscar, an overweight, uncool, and unpopular young man. This is not new ground in fiction. More interesting are the book's additional story lines concerning Oscar's sister and mother, Dominican culture and history. Together, all of these features are readable, but not particularly absorbing.

Junto Diaz's book is written in the style of present day hip fiction, complete with use of lengthy footnotes that could well have been within the text. Frankly, footnotes are annoying in all styles of writing, and certainly as a device in fiction. Diaz's language and word choice - Spanish slang is used throughout - is fresh, but sent me all too frequently to the internet to obtain a translation.

In the end, The Brief Wondrous Live of Oscar Wao didn't satisfy the elements of a must-read, recommendable book.










Monday, August 25, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Gmail Security

Attention Gmail users: Check out this post from Webmonkey's Monkey_Bites concerning the importance of making sure your connection is secured by SSL (secure sockets layer).

Remember, safety first! Below is a picture of what can happen when you're careless.



Author David Rhodes Profiled in "Poets and Writers"

The current edition of Poets and Writers features a profile of Wisconsin author David Rhodes. As a young man in the 1970s, Rhodes was extremely successful novelist, publishing The Last Fair Deal Going Down, The Easter House, and Rock Island Line. Then a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the sternum down.

Rhodes kept on writing. Now he has a soon-to-be-released new novel, Driftless. An excerpt from Driftless appears in Poets and Writers.





Additionally, a new paperback edition of Rock Island Line is being released. More information about both books, and the author, is available from Milkweed Editions.

From what I've read, I'm looking forward to checking out David Rhodes work.




Friday, August 22, 2008

The Water Cube at the Beijing Olympics

From the New York Times: A panoramic video of the Water Cube from the 10-meter diving platform. This is not your municipal pool.

Wine Prices




















At a loss as to whether the cost of a bottle of wine is either reasonable or a rip-off? Check out wine-searcher.com. This site is reportedly used by industry insiders to check-out retail wine prices.










Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sen. McCain Confused about his Real Property Holdings



Highly Recommended Reading: Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller.

Ms. Mueller's work is my poetry touchstone. Not over-worked or over-wrought, her writing is clear and sophisticated; beautiful and interesting in the first reading, with lots more to give with each re-reading.

In addition to enjoying Alive Together at anytime because of its great writing, I like to read from it before turning to work from other authors. Ms. Mueller's poems tune my ear to the correct pitch, and when I then turn to material by a different poet, I can recognize by contrast that new work's sharps, flats or perfect pitch. Ms. Mueller's work is simply terrific.






Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Food and Drink

There is a lot of bad, over-priced pizza in this world. Fortunately, making pizza at home is easy. One critical ingredient for delicious, homemade pizza is olive oil.

Last August, Tom Mueller wrote an article for The New Yorker about wide-spread fraud in the production of Italian extra-virgin olive oil. Mueller wrote that the mechanics of simply substituting cheap ingredients - soybean oil, for example - for real olive oil were quite easy, and the economics of olive oil production made it worthwhile to do so. Check out this link to NPR, where you can click to The New Yorker article and also listen to an interview with Mueller.

After reading Mueller's article, I decided to forget about buying Italian olive oil - I'm not in a position to get to know any producers of Italian olive oil, and I'm not interested in sifting and winnowing between the various brands of Italian oil on the supermarket shelves to determine who is a cheat and who is not. Instead, I turned to California.

I began with the California Olive Oil Council. Olive oil certified by the COOC is 100 percent extra virgin olive oil. There are many producers to choose from and they are listed at the COOC's site. I've just begun mining this terrific source for delicious oil, but I can say that one of the first choices is a winner: Pasolivo Olive Oil.


Pasolivo is for occasions when the flavor of the oil is the focal point: it is for dipping, for drizzling, for brushing and basting. You don't need to use this top flight oil for more ordinary tasks, such as sauteing onions and garlic; a 'lesser' olive oil will do for that. But where olive oil is the star, try this brand. On NPR, Tom Mueller described the flavor elements of real olive oil, and those elements describe Pasolivo. It is peppery, and appropriately pungent. It evokes fresh olives and has just the right touch of bitterness. Wonderful!

For that dish where the flavor of olive oil is a leading player, consider exploring Pasolivo and other California olive oils.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jonathan Yardly Reviews "Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson" by William McKeen

In his look at Outlaw Journalist, Jonathan Yardly of the Washington Post gives a sympathetic review of Hunter Thompson's life. As to Outlaw Journalist author William McKeen, Yardly writes: "A professor of journalism at the University of Florida, he is susceptible to moments of Hunter-worship -- his preface is an embarrassment -- but manages to tell Thompson's story in a straightforward way. Certainly, he gets it all in: the boozing and drugging, the histrionics, the womanizing, the violence, but also the intelligence, the loyalty, the inherent decency."

Yardly's 'embarrassment' comment is rather unfair to Bill McKeen. Having read Mr. McKeen's preface, I say that Yardly has apparently lost the ability to recognize truthful, plain language describing the gut-punch that is delivered when someone you know, who is really special, dies unexpectedly. Living a thin life, Mr. Yardly?

WSJ on the Quality of Drinking Water

This morning the Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about the quality of tap water. Trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, unregulated chemicals such as industrial solvents, and even the chemicals used to clean drinking water are causing increasing concern.

Bottled water, the story reports, is not the answer because not only is it expensive but, as was reported earlier in the year, much of bottled water is tap water. Filters are useful but not 100 percent effective, and again there is a cost.

Stopping contamination, as opposed to trying to remove it, seems more logical. In this area, states have had to step in because the executive branch of the federal government is under control of people who don't believe in government (recall that these are the folks who wanted to end Social Security), and special interests who oppose new regulations are extremely influential in Washington. California has acted, according to the WSJ, because an ingredient used to make rocket fuel during the Cold War has been found in many of the state's water systems.

Political will can be rallied when rocket fuel is in the water, but let's not wait that long to seriously act to address new challenges to water quality.

"Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink." Above, the Pacific coast, Mexico.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Summer Olympics Trivia

The New York Times covers "The Weird and Funny Side of the Olympics." Highlights:

* The theme from the movie Jaws is played at the water polo stadium.

* At both the water polo stadium and the swimming sites, lifeguards are posted.

* At the volleyball stadium, after crowds were taught how to do the wave, they were taught how to wave their hands around in a spontaneous manner.

You don't have to be an Olympian to enjoy putting an oar in the water or, as here, a kayak paddle.

Recommended Reading: "The Dawn Patrol" by Don Winslow

Yesterday in the Washington Post, author Chris Bohjalian penned a column about comments left on Amazon.com by readers of his books. Not surprisingly, Bohjalian a) read the comments, and b) doesn't like the negative comments, particularly from people who either can't or won't spell/type correctly and who don't proof read.

I don't usually read the comments left on Amazon, but when considering whether or not to read a particular book I often do check out how many stars it has received from readers. Right now on Amazon, The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow has about four and one-half stars. That is a bit on the high side, but The Dawn Patrol is an interesting read.



Set in Pacific Beach, California, the novel's main character is Boone Daniels, a surfer, former police officer, and current private investigator. Boone is working on two cases. In the first, he has 24-hours to track down a stripper, a missing witness who is scheduled to testify against her former strip club boss in a civil trial concerning a warehouse fire. In the second, Boone continues to work on a case that haunts him from his police officer days in which a little girl went missing. Missing girls and tracking down the witness converge, making the last half of the book an exciting read.

I almost didn't get to the exciting second half of the book because the first half, while interesting, is not fast-paced reading. Author Don Winslow spends a lot of time developing Boone's character and the background of Boone's closely-knit crew of early morning surfing buddies, collectively called The Dawn Patrol. Winslow also includes a great deal of information about Southern California, its growth and development. The surfer culture is explored and explained. Again, this aspect of the novel is interesting and fun to read. In fact, I persisted in the book because the material was new and engaging; just don't approach the first 150 pages expecting racing, 'page-turner' content.

In total, The Dawn Patrol is memorable, informative, and has an exciting finish. It's recommended reading. If you read it, consider posting a comment about it somewhere; the author may be interested in what you have to say.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

L.A. Times Covers Candidates Forum; McCain Says You're Not Rich Until You have $5 Million in Income

A Presidential candidates forum was held last night at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. Here are some highlights from coverage of the event by the L.A. Times:

* The standard issues were covered: abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research. Senator McCain promised more of the same old thing as he rattled off the usual GOP/George Bush answers. "I will be a pro-life president," said McCain, "and this presidency will have pro-life policies." McCain used his well worn line that he would pursue Osama bin Laden to the "gates of hell".

* In contrast to McCain, Senator Obama gave more lengthy, thoughtful, and personal answers. He quoted from the New Testament to answer a question about what had been America's greatest moral failure. "We still don't abide by that basic precept of Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me," Obama replied.

* Senator Obama said he would not have nominated to the United States Supreme Court either Clarence Thomas, who he said was not a "strong enough jurist or legal thinker," or Antonin Scalia, though he said he didn't doubt "his intellectual brilliance."

* When asked to define "rich", Senator Obama said that ". . . if you're making more than $250,000, you're in the top 3% or 4% of the country, and you're doing well." Senator McCain's answer: "I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million?" (emphasis supplied).

Five million?? Think how those with only $3 or $4 million in income must suffer.

Friday, August 15, 2008

T.G.I.F.


"Living well is the best revenge." George Herbert (poet, clergyman, 1503-1622).

Right now, the financial ability of many Americans to live well is getting tougher. Home values keep falling, the stock market is dragging down savings, and inflation is giving workers a de facto salary cut. "In July, rank-and-file workers — those in production or nonsupervisory roles — earned 3.1 percent less than they did a year ago, after adjusting for the rising cost of living," the New York Times reports.

While domestic matters in the U.S. are stressful, international events this week became more difficult as Russia decided that since it has always been an imperial empire (with its imperialism at times called Marxist globalism), it would continue to act as one.

What can be done about these problems? I plan to do what I can to help elect the candidate of my choice for President, Senator Barack Obama. I'm going to ask my representatives to Congress to do all that they can to make sure that the current occupants of the White House don't do anything extreme, anything that we will all regret deeply, during the remainder of their term.

Beyond that, I am going to do as George Herbert advised to do in the face of difficulty: live well. Enjoy the beautiful weather this August in Wisconsin, enjoy time with friends and family, read good books, ride a bike to the local public library and get movies for Saturday night, and feast on the bounty now available at the local farmers' market.

Let's all try to live well this weekend! T.G.I.F.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Big Business Says 'Trust Me' ; I say 'I Don't Think So'

To the extent possible, I resist wearing clothing that turns me into a billboard for the manufacturer. If a major corporation wants me to advertise for it, then I want to be paid to do so. Why should they get a free ride?

Another place business attempts to get a free ride from consumers is on the web. Today in the Financial Times, John Gapper writes about how online advertising companies tack cookies on your browser and track your movements on the internet. You can find out what companies are tracking you by going to www.networkadvertising.org. The information collected by these companies is ostensibly used to target advertising to particular consumers. But as Mr. Gapper points out, this activity raises serious privacy issues.

Do we trust business to do the right thing while shadowing us on the web? I don't. The health care community couldn't be trusted with our medical information, so Congress had to enact an extensive privacy law known as HIPAA. If the medical community, whose key participants are physicians who have professional standards for patient confidentiality, can't be trusted then why would we trust advertisers?


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Food and Drink, Part II

Coffee. We need it.

Where is the national discussion about the importance of a strategic coffee supply? While this national security matter is disgracefully ignored, at least the health aspects of coffee are well studied.

Jane Brody, writing for the New York Times, busts some myths and shares some good news about the benefits of drinking coffee. Highlights: Coffee might lower the risk of getting Parkinson's Disease and Type 2 diabetes.





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Food and Drink

I went to our neighborhood Asian grocery store for unsweetened, shredded coconut. This store is wonderful; it has everything imaginable for Asian cooking. When I asked an employee for what I needed, she took me to the frozen food section and gave me an icy packet of coconut. "It's the best, " she said. "Everybody buys it."

Having never heard of frozen coconut, I was briefly startled. But, honored to be included in the ranks of those who should know about this culinary secret, I thanked her and bought it. She was right.




Defrost it, drain it and cook: it tastes delicious. And it even looks delicious, particularly in contrast to the stuff on the supermarket shelf that looks plastic. I toasted a batch in the oven. The results are above.

The toasted coconut was then added to granola, which I put together using a recipe published by Mark Bittman in the New York Times.















The finished granola.

Easy access to a good Asian food store is a bonus because I enjoy cooking Indian food. In the United States, the doyen of Indian cookbooks is Madhur Jaffrey. She has written many cookbooks, but if you are just starting with Indian food at home try Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. I've made a lot of the dishes in the book and they are very delicious.


A cookbook I am anxious to start cooking from is by Claudia Roden, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon. Flipping through the pages of recipes there is roast chicken with couscous, raisin, and almond stuffing; dates rolls in honey syrup; stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce - perfect for these zucchini-burdened times. The pictures of the food are very motivating.



Per usual, close your eyes, and recall how it sounded when the late, great, Julia Child said the following: bon appetit!

Wall Street Journal Reviews "For the Thrill of It" by Simon Baatz

The Wall Street Journal published a positive review of a new book about the chilling 1924 murder of a 14-year-old boy by the notorious Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr.

The book, For the Thrill of It, by Simon Baatz, is described by reviewer Joseph Epstein as ". . . impressive in its research, even-handed in its tone and immensely readable." Loeb and Leopold were defended from receiving the death penalty by Clarence Darrow.

The world is a mix of predators, like Leopold and Loeb, and butterflies, like the one pictured above, found hanging out in a street-side garden.















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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summer Olympics Trivia

Do you listen to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me on NPR? If you are a news junkie like me, and want a good laugh, listen to this show or subscribe to the podcast. The program is consistently very, very funny. The August 9 show has a segment with Olympic trivia. If you missed it, click here and then scroll to the link called "Not My Job"; better yet, listen to the complete show.

Other trivia: In was in 1968 during the Olympics in Mexico City that the I.O.C. began testing to confirm that the athletes who claim to be men were men, and the athletes claiming to be female were actually female. (NYT, August 2008).


Monday, August 11, 2008

Books on the Olympics

From last weekend's Wall Street Journal, ESPN's Jeremy Schaap suggests five books on the Olympics. One book that jumps out from this list is The Amateurs by David Halberstam. The book is about the competition to crew on the men's 1984 U.S. Olympic team.



Halberstam, of course, was a great writer which is what makes this book one to consider reading.

Another book about rowing that is worth looking into is Red Rose Crew, A True Story of Women, Winning and Water by Daniel J. Boyne. It's an exciting story about women's athletics in which you will also learn about America's finest woman rower, Carie Graves. Click on this link to read a 1975 article from Time magazine about the famous Red Rose Crew.



Highly Recommended Reading: 'The Forger' by Cioma Schonhaus.

The Forger, An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin by Cioma Schönhaus (2004, translation copyright 2007).

It's 1942. Author Cioma Schonhaus and his family, who are Jewish, live in Berlin. We know that this is dangerous. And indeed, Schonhaus' memoir is sad; but it is also exciting and witty. His writing style is contemporary. It is a very good book.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday


Rest, play, read . . . enjoy!


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Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer Olympics Trivia

Swimming, where new equipment - the new Speedo swimsuit - is based on NASA technology.

T.G.I.F. and it's Finally 8/8/08

It's Friday It's August. Anyone who can do so is on vacation today. If you are working in an office, you won't be able to get anything done if it involves other people.

Instead, start plotting your early departure from work. You may want to stop at the store for weekend supplies after reading this important breaking news from The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inquirer tells us how to make ice cubes that contain booze. So make your next margarita on the rocks with ice cubes made with tequila; or a mojito with ice cubes made with rum; or your next martini on the rocks . . . okay, you get the picture.

T.G.I.F.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Summer Olympics Trivia

Table tennis (a/k/a 'ping pong' for those of us who played in basement rec rooms) has been an Olympic sport since 1988. When top players are in the game, a table tennis ball can travel 80 miles per hour and make 100 rotations per second. (NYT Sports Magazine, August 2008).

According to the official Olympic web site, table tennis started in England in the 1890s by upper-class Brits looking for an alternative to playing lawn tennis after dinner. Early equipment included cigar-box lids as paddles and carved champagne corks for a ball. Based upon this information alone, the game as originally put together sounds more my speed than its contemporary version. Nonetheless, time marches on, marketing happens, and today players use wood and carbon-fiber rackets and celluloid balls developed by NASA (okay, I made up the part about NASA).

Table tennis is the national sport of China, and the U.S. team members are all from China. If you want to watch the Olympics on your computer, check out this article from Silicon Alley Insider.






Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Food and Drink




These delicious apples were grown at Weston's Antique Apple Orchard and purchased from the Weston's last Saturday at the Dane County Farmers' Market in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Weston's location at the Market can be found by using this interesting, interactive map at the Wisconsin State Journal site.

At the Market now, there is fresh, wonderful garlic to be found. It makes the stuff sold at the grocery store seem like plastic.

To celebrate the fresh garlic season, we attended a party where all of the food served used garlic as an ingredient. I baked spicy cheese bread with garlic for the event. The garlic I used came from Tad Gedko, who sells at the Dane County Market and, last week, was located on the West Washington Street and South Carroll Street corner. The garlic was terrific, with nice, large cloves.

Fresh garlic does not need a lot of fuss. The whole garlic bulb can be roasted and the resulting creamy, mild cloves then spread on good bread from your favorite store (or, if you are lucky, your favorite home baker!). Importantly, save your money and kitchen space and do not buy a special pan to roast garlic. It is absolutely unnecessary. Just use aluminum foil and a pan you already own that works in your oven. Then, enjoy your garlic and bread with a nice German riesling from the Mosel region.

If you want something to read with what you eat, check out Alimentum, The Literature of Food. Alimentum is published twice a year. It is a fun collection of fiction and nonfiction, poetry, illustrations, and other treats about food. The summer 2008 edition has work from 33 authors. The editing of the collection is very well done. (alimentum: a Latin noun for 'nourishment')

Now, close your eyes, and recall how it sounded when the late, great, Julia Child said the following: bon appetit!















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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

Summer Olympics Trivia

The 2008 summer Olympics starts in Beijing, China, on Friday. I was not at all interested in it until I read yesterday's New York Times Sports Magazine, which was devoted to the topic. Now I'm fired up, and plan to publish trivia about the event until I find that doing so is too annoying, run out of trivia, or something else happens.

The date and time of the start of the Olympics are geared around the number 8: 8/08/2008 at 8:00 p.m. According to chinadaily.com, the number 8 is considered lucky in China because when pronounced in Cantonese it is similar to the character 'faat', which means money, status and prosperity. (The link to chinadaily.com contains more info on lucky numbers, in case a trip to the casino is in your future.)

One item from the NYT that somehow struck me as odd: Romanian gymnastic sensation Nadia Comaneci, five-time gold medalist (three in 1976, two in 1980), the one who scored the perfect 10, now lives in Oklahoma. In my memory she seemed so exotic; Oklahoma? not so much.






Recommended Reading: "The Back Nine" by Billy Mott

These turtles don't live at a golf course. Those that do undoubtedly root for players' golf balls to soar over water hazards.
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Recommended Reading: The Back Nine by Billy Mott (2007 Alfred A. Knopf).

The Back Nine is pure entertainment. The novel's author, Billy Mott, is both an actor and a caddy. Mott puts his links knowledge to great use by telling an exciting story centered around the game.

The story's main character is Charlie McLeod. Charlie travels to California, as far away as he can get from Pittsburgh, and his failed marriage and lost dreams. He picks-up work as a caddy at a private club.

Charlie, who had been out of the golf game for years, finds himself drawn to it again. The golf story builds from here, culminating in an exciting, high stakes match. Along the way interesting characters show-up as caddies, criminals, and guys looking to play an angle or to get just one more chance to score. If life is an 18-hole golf course, then these characters are on 'the back nine'. And golf, it turns out, is a great vehicle for Mott to display the recalibration that goes on in life as talent meets better talent, opportunities appear and vanish, ambition grows and wanes.

The novel's golf scenes are its best. Less successful are the explanations of the interior life of various characters, including the events that propelled Charlie into his journey to California. But it nonetheless works sufficiently to build in the reader an investment in Charlie's success or failure.

Not every novelist is Anne Tyler, and not every golfer is Tiger Woods. Whether it's writing novels or playing in sports, we can appreciate the talent of those at the top of the game while participating comfortably at our own level. In The Back Nine, Billy Mott's writing game is, to extend the golf analogy, strong enough for him to feel comfortable playing at any course. 'Shot', Billy.















Saturday, August 2, 2008

McCain Drops His Reputation Down the Drain

In the New York Times today, Bob Herbert summarizes Senator McCain's disgusting week on the campaign trail. What a fool John McCain is to allow, at this stage of his life, his reputation to be tarnished and sullied as he conducts a crude political campaign that lies and promotes racism. I'd say shame on him, but I know that those who use these Karl Rove-style tactics have no shame.

This McCain campaign is nasty business. But if you live in France, you are faced with a hot debate concerning the fate of the semicolan, as this story from The Guardian outlines.

Grammar. Politics. Conflict is everywhere. Let's put down the reading, get outside, and enjoy this beautiful day.




Friday, August 1, 2008

Wal-Mart's Ruling Elite Articulates its Non-Agenda for Workers







This watch dog is warning you about the latest shenanigans from Wal-Mart. Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WI.








In an overt return to its classic form of labor relations, Wal-Mart is requiring managers and department heads in many states to attend meetings in which the employees are instructed about the corporate-line for the fall Presidential election. The Wall Street Journal.

In essence, the wealthy and well-compensated top tier of the retail giant told its managers to vote Republican or else face the possibility of future changes in the law that would potentially streamline the procedure to unionize a store. Unionization, Wal-Mart warns, would lead to employees making more money and obtaining health care coverage. More employee compensation? Que horrible!

Wal-Mart has a reputation for squeezing down the amount of compensation it expends for employees as tightly as it squeezes suppliers of soap and toilet tissue. For example, The New York Times reported a story in 2005 about a memo written by Wal-Mart's executive vice-president for benefits to the board of directors. The memo recommended that Wal-Mart hire more part-time workers and discourage unhealthy job applicants by making every position require some physical activity.

That leaked Wal-Mart memo noted that 46% of its 1.33 million U.S. employees were uninsured or on Medicaid.

You know who pays the tab for Medicaid, right?

T.G.I.F. and Round-Up of Last Month's Recommendations

Snowball flowers on the hydrangea, not the dreaded icy stuff.


Today is August 1st. How can that be? In four weeks it's Labor Day Weekend. And the day after Labor Day it will SNOW.

Still, there is no need to worry today about winter's gasping, grey, choke-hold that will engulf the nation in just a few weeks. No, instead let's review what we read in July:

Highly Recommended Reading:

The End of Manners, by Francesca Marciano
Caught Stealing, by Charlie Houston
The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by Z.Z. Packer
A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle
My Life in France, by Julia Child and Paul Prud'Homme
The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin

Recommended Reading:

The Oxford Murders, by Guillermo Martinez
Good Calories, Bad Calories
, by Gary Taubes

Abstain:

Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski

And finally, books I've started but haven't finished for one reason or another, and probably won't pick-up again until I'm considering whether or not to take them along for reading on vacation:

The Art of Political Murder, by Francisco Goldman
The Other, by David Guterson