Showing posts from September, 2008

Learning Spanish

I am attempting to become at least nominally competent in speaking Spanish. Thus far, I've reached the point now where, in both Spanish and English conversations, I'm unable to think of the word I want. Perhaps my efforts in Spanish are one reason I find the bit by comedian Brian Regan, below, so hysterical.

Comedy Central occasionally runs an hour-long show featuring Regan. He's very funny. And in these times, a chance for a good laugh is a good idea.

Bush, Palin, the Economy - and Snow in the Forecast

Odd things are going on. As with all things unpleasant, I blame George Bush because he can always be found somewhere in the causation chain. Here are a few of the oddities:

Conservatives, who typically decline to argue among themselves in public, are arguing among themselves in public over Sarah Palin according to a story by James Rainey in the Los Angeles Times.

Economic instability continues. Although yesterday former Labor Secretary Robert Reich was on MSNBC with the most sensible comments of the day.

And, it's going to snow on Mars.

For English Majors: A Literate Explanation of the Current Financial Crisis

News coverage of Wall Street's melt down illustrates again that many business people talk in clunky jargon which communicates nothing concrete. If you are looking for a literate explanation of the financial crisis, the Book Doctor offers one in this weekend's Financial Times.


The photo above was taken at Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. It is a pleasant place to visit. They try with their wines but, frankly, better wine for the same price can easily be found.

While the world's wine producers have little to fear so far from Wisconsin wine, with respect to fabulous artisan cheese, Wisconsin rules. One example: Hook's Cheese. Hook's Tilston, a blue cheese, is a current favorite but all of their cheese is excellent.

Some Tilston and a glass of good wine on a lazy Sunday sounds about right.

Read, rest and relax today!

Recommended Reading: "Play Dead" by David Rosenfelt

Sometimes all the brain can handle is a breezy mystery novel. In those circumstances, Play Dead by David Rosenfelt fills the bill.

Set in New Jersey, the story begins with defense attorney Andy Carpenter using the law to prevent a dog from being put down. The dog turns out to be the key to reopening another case, one involving a man Andy believes to be wrongly convicted of murder. Andy and his team set about getting Richard Evans a new trial, and finding the evidence to show that Evans didn't kill his fiancee -- or his dog.

Rosenfelt puts a lot of material into 300 pages. Golden Retrievers, mobsters, thugs, reporters, conspiracies, shootings, kidnapping, explosions, government cover-ups, and what must be one of the shortest closing statements ever in a murder trial, are all part of this fast moving story. There are some bumpy elements to the writing. But for simple escapism, Play Dead is a fun book to read with a plot that will keep you guessing.


"Tell me when its over."

Unlike Tiger, above, who has decided to check out of current events, the rest of us have to pay attention, and it's been a long week. The financial system crisis, John McCain in grid-lock, and Sarah Palin uttering nonsense on t.v.

At the L.A. Times, James Rainey has a review of Governor Palin's performance during her interview with Katie Couric. Mr. Rainey succinctly, and fairly, identifies the the Governor's knowledge gap. Her very real absence of the knowledge required to lead the country in the event that 72-year-old John McCain could not is disturbing.

McCain reportedly will participate in tonight's Presidential debate. It will be interesting to watch. Then we can turn to something more relaxing: Big Ten Football.


Bill Clinton: America's Most Selfish Adult

You may be asking, "How could Bill Clinton be America's most selfish adult?" What about all those financial industry folks whose greed has corrupted politics and made hash of the financial system? What about obsessive leaders of religious cults? Sure, those folks are selfish, too. Here's the difference.

Bill Clinton puts himself into roles in which he is to act for the public good. For example, take his oath as a lawyer. A lawyer's advocacy for a client is tempered by one thing: upholding the integrity of the judicial system, which really means putting first what is in the best interest of the community. Another obvious example is Bill Clinton asking the community to put him into positions of public trust as Governor of Arkansas (yeah, yeah, Arkansas, right -- nonetheless!) and, of course, as President of the United States of America.

What happened in Arkansas can stay in Arkansas. As for the White House, from a policy standpoint, am I glad that a Democra…

For Your Lunch Break: David Letterman Rips On Senator McCain

When newspapers were the dominant medium for mass communication, the old saying was never antagonize folks who buy ink by the barrel (the actual old saying was a little saltier). Today, never antagonize folks who are on t.v., and subsequently YouTube.

Here is David Letterman's reaction to John McCain canceling his appearance on Letterman's show.

Washington Post Fall Book Preview

From the Washington Post, 116 books to consider reading this fall.

Everybody is for Obama - You Should Be Too.

Bumper sticker spotted this week in Wisconsin.

National Book Festival

Those who are in the Washington D.C. area next Saturday, September 27, may wish to check out the National Book Festival on the National Mall.

For everyone else, the Festival's official web site has information about authors, podcasts, and other resources.

Highly Recommended Reading: "City of Thieves" by David Benioff

City of Thieves, by David Benioff, is excellent. Read it right now, or at least put it at the very top of your reading list.

The novel starts with a thirty-four year old writer named David traveling to Florida to visit his grandparents. For a week, David meets with his grandfather, recording stories from World War II.

The grandfather talks particularly about one week in 1942, during the Nazi siege of Leningrad. This is the week when a then 17-year-old Lev Beniov met his wife, his best friend, and killed two Germans.

Lev meets his friend, Kolya, in prison, where they feared that they would be executed. Instead, the colonel in charge gives the pair an assignment: find a dozen eggs in five days for use in the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. This is a Herculean task because Leningrad is suffering through a severe famine.

And this task is the story of the novel. The two young men, in search of eggs, negotiate the dangerous world of a city under siege and a countryside popula…


It's Sunday. Read, rest. and relax.

And on a sporting note for tonight: Go Packers! Beat those Cowboys!

Author James Crumley Dead

Author James Crumley is dead. Of the crime novelist, Margalit Fox in the New York Times writes, "If Mr. [Raymond] Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson had collaborated to produce a literary offspring, Mr. Crumley would unquestionably have been the result."

I've had a lot fun reading Mr. Crumley's work over the years. As a tribute to his life and work, I'm going to re-read The Last Good Kiss, which has the famous opening line: "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

Note: If you are a fan of famous opening lines to novels, check this NPR page.

More Buzz about Author David Rhodes

The Wall Street Journal today profiles author David Rhodes and his new novel, Driftless. He was previously profiled in Poets and Writers.

Royal Opera House Production of "Don Giovanni" Free on the Web

From today's New York Times: A performance of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" by the Royal Opera House in London will be available in full, and for free, on the web beginning October 5. The opera company is providing free access to the performance in an effort to publicize its web site,

This opportunity is yet another way that the internet is changing the world.

Big Problems. Little Problems.

There are many big problems right now. Our military is still engaged in a war in Iraq. Crisis is striking the nation's financial markets due to unfettered greed combined with the chowderheaded, anti-government, anti-regulation platitudes and attitudes of Congressional Republicans and George Bush and his administration.

If that isn't bad enough, the GOP has also nominated an incompetent person for vice president and an unprincipled person for president, John McCain. John McCain has for decades promoted the environment from which today's financial crisis has emerged. And the federal government that these Republicans have demonized and cannibalized must now step in and fix everything. This situation is . . . aggravating.

Yes, things are a mess. And in the middle of all this, small problems remain. Those leaves outside the house will fall, and the gutters must be cleaned, a job the New York Times calls "one of the dirtiest and most dangerous chores around the home.…

Food and Drink

Quick: Who would be a more competent leader of this nation, Sarah Palin or Martha Stewart?

My answer is Martha Stewart. Martha has that little felony conviction issue, of course, but should that disqualify her? (I don't know if there is any statute prohibiting the President or V.P. from having a felony conviction; shoot me an email if you do know). The conviction may make it impractical for her to be VP. Wait a minute. What am I thinking? With the selection of Sarah Palin it's clear that there are no barriers when it comes to becoming a GOP nominee!

The point is that American knows more about Martha Stewart and her decision making process than we know about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. And based upon Ms. Stewart's record, we know that she just would not endorse something, such as war, unless it met her rigorous standards.

We can count on Martha Stewart. For example, are you looking for an excellent lemon meringue pie? Her recipe for Mile High Lemon Pie, found in The…

Abstain: "Harry, Revised" by Mark Sarvas

Harry Rent, the protagonist in Harry, Revised, is a white, middle-aged physician. His wife Anna, wealthy in her own right, has just died while undergoing cosmetic surgery. Eating at a diner before his wife's funeral, he develops a crush on his waitress, Molly.

During the remainder of the novel, we watch Harry try to get the attention and affection of the 22-year-old Molly by intervening in the life of another waitress, Lucille. In contrast to Harry's wealth, and Molly's youth and education, Lucille is old, poor, and has health problems. Interspersed with this are flashbacks on Harry and Anna's marriage, and scenes of Harry attempting to come to grips with being alone, and with his sister-in-law's anger over Anna's death.

Harry is selfish, aggressive and insecure. There isn't any charm in his character that could take the edge off his boorish and embarrassing activities.

I can't remember what prompted me to pick-up this book. Today, I read a review it…

Water is the New Oil

New stories about water. The Financial Times reports that sales of bottled water are decreasing. In a companion story, the FT reports that companies manufacturing reusable bottles are gaining.

With respect to water quality, Associated Press updated its report on drugs in drinking water. Last March, AP reported that approximately 41 million Americans are affected by trace amount of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. AP's new story is that the number of affected individuals is now up to 46 million. Hospitals and nursing homes contribute to this problem, according to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal. Generally, there appears to be no legal prohibition to treating the water supply like a trash can.

David Foster Wallace

Author David Foster Wallace, 46, was found dead at his home last Friday night. Wallace reportedly committed suicide. Here is one summary of his work from the New York Times:

"David Foster Wallace used his prodigious gifts as a writer — his manic, exuberant prose; his ferocious powers of observation, his ability to fuse avant garde techniques with old-fashioned moral seriousness — to create a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification, and to capture, in the words of the musician Robert Plant, the myriad “deep and meaningless” facets of contemporary life."

The only work by Mr. Wallace that I've read is a collection of essays in Consider the Lobster. I enjoyed the book (even with its extensive use of footnotes).

It's a sad end to the life of Mr. Wallace, who was successful in a difficult field.

Maureen Dowd Today

Good column from Maureen Dowd this morning: "The really scary part of the Palin interview was how much she seemed like W. in 2000, and not just the way she pronounced nu-cue-lar. She had the same flimsy but tenacious adeptness at saying nothing, the same generalities and platitudes, the same restrained resentment at being pressed to be specific, as though specific is the province of silly eggheads, not people who clear brush at the ranch or shoot moose on the tundra."

Mexico. It's right there. Or, maybe a little to the left. Anyway it's near by.

Dowd continues, "Asked by Charlie Gibson what insight into Russian actions her Alaskan proximity gave her, Sarah blithely replied: “They’re our next-door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.”

Wow. Sometimes I can actually see Mexico from Arizona. Sometimes when I'm in Buffalo, N.Y., I can actually see Canada. I have so much international-viewing experience, and am so ready to lead…

The Governor Palin Interview. Here She Is. Cue Bert Parks.

Governor Palin's voice sounds very familiar. It reminds me of a voice from a sketch on the Garrison Keillor radio program: the Minnesota dialect. I'd like to hear her say, "Let's have a cup of coffee."

While watching the YouTube clip, above, I was so hoping that that the former beauty pageant participant would tell us that what she really wants 'Charlie, is world peace.'

And, gosh, this is not to put down the Gov's participation in beauty pageants. From what I understand, these pageants are all about the scholarship money. Why bother with attempting to fill out financial aid forms when you could instead just fill out a swimsuit!

Another Look at E-books

According to The Independent, it doesn't look good for paperback books.

McCain: Man of No Integrity

I said it in August: in this race for the Presidency, John McCain is throwing away the reputation that he spent his adult life building. Andrew Sullivan repeated that sentiment yesterday in Writes Sullivan: "McCain has demonstrated in the last two months that he does not have the character to be president of the United States. And that is why it is more important than ever to ensure that Barack Obama is the next president. The alternative is now unthinkable. And McCain - no one else - has proved it."

Food and Drink: Moon Festival

A full moon will appear on September 15. In the United States, the full moon occurring closest to the fall equinox, which this year falls on September 22, is called the Harvest Moon.

At this same time in China, and other Asian countries, a major holiday is celebrated: the Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival. On Moon Festival, family and friends get together for a party, to enjoy the fruits of the year's harvest, and to gaze at the full moon.

This year Moon Festival falls on Sunday, September 14. One source states that in U.S. time zones, Moon Festival falls on Saturday, the 13th.

For good luck, Moon Festival celebrations focus on foods that are red. Favorite foods include lobster, salmon, apples, pomelo, sponge cakes (fatt koh), and in particular, moon cakes.

Moon Festival or Harvest Moon: Around the globe people are celebrating the end of summer's labor and the start of football season . . . or something like that. Make plans now to have your own full moon celebration!


Recommended Reading: "Everyday Drinking" by Kingsley Amis

Everyday Drinking is a compilation of three out-of-print publications by Kingsley Amis, Kingsley Amis on Drink, Every Day Drinking, and How's Your Glass. Amis, who died in 1995, was an extremely funny and witty novelist who also wrote poetry, literary criticism, short stories, and essays. One of the first compilations of poetry I purchased as a young adult that wasn't dictated by an English Lit professor's reading list was The New Oxford Book of Light Verse, chosen and edited by Kingsley Amis. (It turns out that very funny things were being written in the 15th century).

Amis was a prolific author, and also a prolific consumer of alcoholic beverages. Christopher Hitchens writes in the book's introduction, "[T]he world now knows what Kingsley's innumerable friends had come to realize, which is that the booze got to him in the end, and robbed him of his wit and charm as well as his health." This is a hard reminder of the potential consequences of alcohol…

Book Recommendations from Library Journal

Summer is winding down. Here are recommended reads for fall from the editors of Library Journal.

Gov. Palin . . . Still and Again

It's Sunday and as much as I try to not think or read about John McCain and Sarah Palin, I'm not able to stop. It's like a mosquito buzzing around your ear or having a canker sore inside your mouth: annoying.

Palin, who could be President of the United States in a few weeks, has thus far not been available for press interviews. Presumably, she is busy memorizing sound bites that she will use at some future date. Huffington Post is reporting that ABC News will conduct an interview with her sometime next week.

If you were preparing someone like Palin to be President in a couple of weeks, what would your candidate need to know? Middle East. Status of war in Iraq. Immigration.

How to spell potato.

The McCain/Palin team isn't wowing everyone. The L.A. Times went to Pennsylvania, a key battle ground state, to get a reaction on Palin from women voters there. Not everyone loved the Gov:

When Palin belittled Obama's history as a community organizer on Chicago's Sout…

Jan Dalley of the Financial Times: "The death of the book, yet again"

Books, like old barns, may be harder to find in the future, but they won't disappear.

This weekend in the Financial Times columnist Jan Dalley writes about her slow conversion to the idea of electronic books or "eBooks".

My concern about eBooks is not the format, but the impact on the price of reading. The format, if properly done, seems ideal. Imagine going on a beach vacation with 10 books to read, all available on one electronic reader. And for the college English major, or law student, the convenience of having all course materials available in one package is appealing - and also a means to prevent back injury from toting a ton of books around campus.

Yet, what about price? One benefit of real books is that they can be obtained for free from the library, or obtained inexpensively elsewhere from library book sales, on-line sources, used-book stores, yard sales, free from your friends and family, and so on. Thanks to the internet, students can search the globe for a …

NYT Columnist Judith Warner on McCain/Palin

Great post today by Judith Warner for the New York Times. "[T]he Republicans, very clearly, believe that real people are idiots." Certainly Republican John McCain and the boys who run the McCain campaign must believe we are all idiots. Check out Ms. Warner's column, and also some of the many interesting postings made by readers.

UW - Madison Law School Professor Ann Althouse and Firedoglake Founder Jane Hamsher

Check out this interesting video of a conversation on between bloggers Ann Althouse and Jane Hamsher about Governor Palin.

Recommended Reading: "The House on Fortune Street" by Margot Livesey

Reading The House on Fortune Street brought to mind one of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's infamous quotes: "[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

In Margot Livesey's excellent novel, we see how known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns drive the characters' actions as they work their way through relationships with friends, colleagues, family, and through the search for romantic love.

The house of the title is in contemporary London. It is owned by actress and budding theater impresario Abigail Taylor, who lives there with her boyfriend Sean, a Keats scholar. Abigail's best friend from college, Dara, rents the lower level flat. Dara is a counselor at a women's center.

The events of the book run from the commonplace, such as love go…

Unscripted Conservative Commentators Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan on the McCain - Palin Ticket

Here is a glimpse into what professional Republicans Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan say when they don't realize the microphone is on:

Modern Classics

Entertainment Weekly compiled a list called the 100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years. Certainly arguments can be made concerning the rankings, what was put on, and what was left off the list. But many very good books are included.

How many books on this list have you read?

Expect Big Negative Campaign from McCain

Brace yourselves. This fall the McCain campaign will be launching a massive round of negative television ads, radio spots, and those oh-so-annoying automated phone calls. Why do I think this? Because John McCain's campaign manager flatly stated that this Presidential race is not about issues.

From the Washington Post:
"Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain's presidential bid, insisted that the presidential race will be decided more over personalities than issues during an interview with Post editors this morning."This election is not about issues," said Davis. "This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.""The only reasonable interpretation of Davis' statement is that since the McCain campaign does not plan to talk about the issues, and they believe that "personality" drives the election, then the McCain campaign plan is to engage solely in negative personal attacks.

What nonsense.

Food and Drink

From September 5 through 14, Wisconsin is running an Eat Local Challenge. The ten-day challenge calls on participants to spend 10 percent of their food budget on locally produced products.

Here in Wisconsin, it's an easy time of year to get into the swing of eating locally grown food. Area farmers' markets are overflowing with vegetables and fruit, in addition to the weekly staples of eggs, chicken, beef, and cheese. For a recent dinner, we pan-fried locally raised trout, and served it with a side dish of baked heirloom tomatoes. Delicious. Tonight, the menu is roasted chicken with a side of mixed beans (pictured above), all from area farmers.

There are many good reasons to support food producers in your area. One of the most important is that locally raised food is fresh and tastes great. Give it a try.

Vinaigrette for Green Beans
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons first cold pre…

"Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi has been on my 'to read' list for a while. This graphic novel (a type of comic book) is the story of a young girl's life under the Islamic Revolution. This weekend offered an opportunity to watch the DVD. The movie is wonderful. Check out the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Working Week Ahead

Just when folks are getting up-tight about the end of Labor Day and the return to work, there is good news. Add zest to your time in the salt mine by starting an office pool concerning the time and day of Sarah Palin's speech declining her nomination as GOP VP due to "family obligations", "obligations to the people of Alaska" and/or other pablum devised by the so-called GOP "think tank".

Why? Professional Republicans are not going to put up with all this nonsense from someone who hasn't earned their chops in the GOP world, and who cannot raise money. For those of you in a news vacuum, here is a round-up.

First, check out Steve Benen's report on Highlights:

* The spin for Palin is that she challenged the allegedly corrupt Alaskan United States Senator Ted Stevens. Stevens, of course, is facing seven felony counts for corruption. The truth is that Palin allied herself with him throughout her brief political career.

* Palin claim to …

Round-Up of Last Month's Recommendations

Many books were read in August, but few made it to the blog. I'm not in this simply to write negative reviews. Accordingly, books that are truly awful, or just not at all worth your time, are not mentioned.

It must be said, however, that the two books listed as Highly Recommended are indeed very highly recommended. A toast to quality!

Highly Recommended

The Forger, An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin by Cioma Schönhaus

Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller


TheBack Nine by Billy Mott


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junto Diaz