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Showing posts from August, 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 DoBefore 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!


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…

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 i…

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

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…

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 y…

"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 c…

The Last Monday of August is Over

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.




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.










Sen. McCain Confused about his Real Property Holdings

From Politico: Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain "'said in an interview Wednesday that he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own. 'I think — I'll have my staff get to you. . . .'"

What a unifying moment for the country as we can all agree with either one or both of the following: a) John McCain has too many homes if he can't keep track of them, or b) John McCain isn't competent to be president if he can't even remember how many homes he owns.

Here is some cogent commentary on the matter form Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.





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

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.






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 Califo…

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 dur…

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 clu…

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…

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 ma…

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 communi…

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.





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 I…

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.















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).


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

Rest, play, read . . . enjoy!


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.

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…

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 sto…

Electric Kool-Aid Garden

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 …

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.



Recommended Reading: The Back Nine by Billy Mott (2007 Alfred A. Knopf).

TheBack 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 &…

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.




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…

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 G…