Sunday, November 30, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
In an 1863 proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln wrote, "I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving . . ." and thus an annual day of national thanks was launched.
What a terrific idea to have a national holiday of thanksgiving. Giving thanks is the secret to a life that is easier and more joyful. It may sound "Pollyanna-ish", but it's true: A mind that is looking for the positive and a heart filled with gratitude is better prepared both for happiness and for hard times.
Enjoy the day, and the good things that happen every day.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The myth Mr. Davis addresses is that the Mayflower Pilgrims were the first Europeans to arrive in America seeking religious freedom. Davis writes about a group of French Calvinists, or Huguenots, who arrived in Florida in 1564 to escape from the sectarian fighting between Catholics and Protestants that had been going on in France. This was much earlier than the arrival of the Pilgrims celebrated in our Thanksgiving story; the Pilgrims did not depart for the 'New Word' until 1620.
Things didn't turn out well for these early French colonists. In 1565, Philip II, the Catholic King of Spain, "issued orders to 'hang and burn the Lutherans' (then a Spanish catchall term for Protestants)" and the group was, accordingly, wiped out in what Davis calls "a holy war".
In his column Mr. Davis notes other episodes of religious intolerance in America's history, including the executions of Quakers between 1659 and 1661, anti-Catholic laws, and anti-Catholic "Bible Riots" in 1844 that killed more than a dozen in Philadelphia. "Our history," he writes, "is littered with bleak tableaus that show what happens when righteous certitude is mixed with fearful ignorance."
On Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, as this nation pauses to reflect on where we are and where we are going, Mr. Davis' article is a good reminder of the importance of vigorously defending two principles: First, allowing individuals the freedom to either practice the faith of their choice or none at all. And second, the critical importance of keeping separate church and state.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Some years ago we were invited to Thanksgiving dinner with a group of friends. The hostess informed me that I was assigned to bring cranberries. My experience with cranberries at Thanksgiving to date had been watching one relative or another open a can of the jelled stuff, slide it onto a dish, and cut it into slices. Somehow, this "family recipe" seemed wrong; but how to proceed?
Two lucky things occurred. First, I had access to The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham which had a cranberry sauce recipe. Importantly, the simple recipe in this book had good advice about the technique to follow in making the sauce.
Second, I happened to read a USA Today article that also had a cranberry relish recipe. This recipe called for orange juice, which sounded good. I combined the two recipes and, after a bit of shopping, 15 minutes in the kitchen, and a few hours cooling the berries in the refrigerator, I had a dish. Here it is:
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar (I've used less, 3/4 cup. The dish is tart, but tart is a good counterpoint when it accompanies mild foods such as turkey).
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup orange juice
(optional: 2 tsp. grated orange zest)
Rinse the cranberries. Combine all the ingredients in a large sauce pan. Bring to a simmer, and simmer uncovered over medium heat until the berry skins pop and the relish is somewhat thickened. Remove from the heat. Use a large spoon to carefully skim off the white foam, pour the cranberries into a serving bowl, and cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
The finished product may not look like much in terms of quantity, but remember it is a relish not a main dish. This is probably enough for six people. If you double the recipe, be sure to use a good sized sauce pan and carefully watch to prevent boiling over.
(Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and a recipe from USA Today).
Berries on the simmer. Keep an eye on this mixture; don't let it overheat and boil over as that would create a tremendous mess. Trust me on this
Monday, November 24, 2008
From the San Francisco Chronicle, coffee table books for the holidays.
From Publishers Weekly, best books of 2008.
From the Austin Public Library, best fiction of 2008.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
A picture of Raft, in fact, appears in Havana Nocturne, How the Mob Owned Cuba . . . And Then Lost It to the Revolution by T.J. English. And it turns out that there is much more to know about the mob.
This lively and well-researched book is a fascinating look at organized crime in the 1940s and 1950s, its activity in Havana, Cuba, and at Cuba itself. English weaves together the gangsters' story of gambling and greed with an examination of life and politics in Cuba and the rise Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.
The book is an excellent description of the ferment that was then happening in Cuba. As the saying goes, 'if you don't know the past, you can't know the future'; and with the aging of Fidel Castro and his brother, the President of the Cuban Council of State Raul Castro, it is a good time to read Havana Nocturne.
(Turn up the volume on your speaker for the music accompanying this video!)
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Critics of Beaujolais Nouveau contend that most of it tastes like grape juice. Forgetting about the Nouveau, and purchasing instead plain-old Beaujolais, is the recommendation of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher in their Wall Street Journal column "Tastings".
Real Beaujolais, as they call it, arrives one year after the harvest and "is one of the most perfect wines around: easy to drink, versatile with food, and inexpensive." Purchase the 2007 vintage now. While there is some Beaujolais that can successfully age a bit, you need to do some research to find that product. What is essential is avoiding ". . . an old Beaujolais that has been sitting on a market shelf for two years because it would likely be a tired, bad example of an older Beaujolais," write Gaiter and Brecher. So when in doubt, stick with 2007.
Gaiter and Brecher's article has recommendations for putting together a case of Beaujolais, including white Beaujolais. Whether its a case or just a bottle or two, check out real Beaujolais.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
As in Dawn Patrol, the hero in California Fire and Life is a surfer and former law enforcement officer. In Dawn Patrol, the hero worked as as a private eye; in California Fire and Life, the main character is an insurance claims investigator named Jack Wade. Jack Wade's specialty is investigating fires. As the story begins, he is looking into a fire that occurred at an expensive home overlooking the ocean, filled with antiques - and one dead body. Jack's company has the policy on the home, riders for the antiques, and the coverage on the life.
From there the story takes off. Winslow covers a tremendous amount of ground in 400 or so pages, including the anatomy of a fire, the ins-and-outs of the insurance business, claims of bad faith when coverage is denied, crime in California, Soviet spying, the Russian Mafia, mock jury trials and more. The number of corrupt characters in the book is staggering, but makes for entertaining reading. And throughout it all our man Jack Wade is set on pursuing the truth.
In sum, California Fire and Life is a good airplane book or beach read.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
"Electronic devices dislike me. There is never a day when something isn’t ailing. Three out of these five implements — answering machine, fax machine, printer, phone and electric can-opener — all dropped dead on me in the past few days."Now something has gone wrong with all three television sets. They will only get Sarah Palin. . . ." (Link to the rest of this piece.)
Friday, November 14, 2008
The first music I purchased that included work by Mr. Young was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Deja Vu. All the lyrics from that album are firmly implanted in my memory's permanent storage. And while it is not my favorite song from the album, for some reason, Almost Cut My Hair is a tune I often find myself humming.
In the years since Deju Vu, Mr. Young has produced an amazing catalog of work. The one (1) and only DVD that I own is his Heart of Gold (2005). Directed by Jonathan Demme, this is beautifully filmed musical experience featuring Mr. Young, his wife Peggy, Emmylou Harris, and a huge cast of musicians and back-up singers concert. If you haven't seen it and are looking for something good to watch this weekend, consider checking it out.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Shared Items contains links to posts from other blogs that are funny, informative or that look particularly useful, such as a tech tip or coupon (like today's link to a 50% off coupon at Michaels, which is great place to purchase matting and framing materials).
A Morning Mashie Pickup sounds quite . . . bracing; certainly it would have some sort of impact on a golfer preparing for an early morning round. (A mashie is a wooden-shafted, typically pre-20th Century golf club, equivalent to a 4-iron.) At the link, Wilson also provides a recipe for an Aviation Cocktail.
Cocktail scholarship was not an official course of study when I was an undergraduate, although many who, like me, attended the University of Wisconsin - Madison certainly undertook it as an informal, undeclared major. No word on what proportion of cocktail scholars were liberal arts majors; one suspects that it could be significant.
Say gin and absinthe are not your thing. During the November 1 broadcast of The Splendid Table, host Lynne Rossetto Kasper talks with wine guru Josh Wesson about affordable wines. Mr Wessons's recommendations:
Feudo Monaci Primitivo 2006, an Italian red.
Quinta de Pancas Parrotes 2006, a red from Portugal.
Columbia Crest Two Vines Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Gran Sarao Brut NV and Grand Sarao Rosé NV, cavas from Spain.
The Splendid Table is a terrific radio program for everyone who loves good food and drink. Ms. Rossetto Kasper's new cookbook, The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper, is loaded with great recipes. As the inevitable march to the holidays continues on, it is a book to absolutely consider for someone on your gift-list who is interested in cooking and eating delicious dishes.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
A blogger in Myanmar has been sentenced to 20 years and six months in jail for publishing a poem that contained a disguised criticism of Myanmar's military dictator. The poem's author received a two year sentence. Even the lawyer who represented the two men before a court in Rangoon received a four month sentence for 'contempt of court.'
According to the TimesOnline:
"Mr Saw Wai’s poem, entitled ‘14th February’, was ostensibly a Valentine’s Day verse published last January in a popular weekly magazine. “You have to be in love truly, madly, deeply and then you can call it real love,” it read. “Millions of people who know how to love, please clap your hands of gilded gold and laugh out loud.”
"But the first word of each line spelled out a pithier message about the leader of the country’s military government: “Power Crazy Senior General Than Shwe”. Mr Saw Wai was arrested the next day and charged with harming “public tranquility”.
What a terrifying time for people in Myanmar. There can hardly be a greater contrast than that between what happened to this author and publisher over one poem and all the political speech that occurs daily and freely in the United States.
It's worth repeating: Our First Amendment; It's a Good Thing.
Veterans Day began in 1919 as, of course, a commemoration of Armistice Day, the end of World War I - "the war to end all wars." The horrors of World War I have been expressed in some amazing, and well-known, literature. For example, Dalton Trumbo's 1939 classic Johnny Got His Gun. It is the story of a World War I soldier who awakens in the hospital with his mind intact, but his body destroyed, no arms, legs or even a face. Written as an anti-war piece, it is chilling and absorbing.
A famous poem from a soldier of World War I was written by a physician, Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae. His poem, In Flanders Fields, was one of my favorite poems to read when I was a kid, browsing through my mother's books of poetry:
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Thanks to all who have served, and particularly my dad, who served in the United States Navy during World War II.
Monday, November 10, 2008
The NYRB was born in 1963, during a city-wide newspaper strike in New York. Silvers told the Chronicle:
"'We felt you had to have a political analysis of the nature of power in America - who had it, who was affected," he recalled. "It's hard to sum up a paper. We published thousands of articles of many kinds. But the current running through from the beginning was - here we were, editors of this paper in New York. We had control. We could do whatever we wanted, if we could pay the printer.' By the third year, they were in the black.
"'It struck us that in so many parts of the world - under the Shah or under Brezhnev - people could be punished for publishing what they believed,' Silvers said. In response, the Review has continuously published in-depth interviews with political dissidents, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov and Vaclav Havel."
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Saturday, November 8, 2008
At the beginning, I had high hopes for this book. The title seemed magical. To accompany that magic, the novel is narrated by a dog named Enzo. And in fact the first 20 pages were great. As the book begins, Enzo has reached the end of his life (this alone had me misty-eyed at page eight) and he is telling the story of all that he has seen, experienced, and what he still hopes for. As he sets up the novel, Enzo has witty thoughts and an interesting narrative voice. Alas, the magic disappeared as the book went on.
What follows in the book is a good outline that doesn't get translated into a good story. Here is the outline: The canine narrator lives with aspiring race car driver Denny Swift in Seattle. He tells us how Denny meets Eve. The two marry and have a daughter, Zoe. Life is good until a crisis occurs: Eve gets sick. This puts the brakes on Denny's career. Will his career recover? Will Eve recover? Conflict arises between Denny and his in-laws. More conflict - is Denny making some missteps? Will Denny be happy and live out his dreams? And what of Zoe? In the step between developing these plot ideas and mapping it out, the skillful novelist's art of making magic, of drawing the reader into a a beautiful tapestry of words and story, does not happen.
Where can that magic be found? Anne Tyler's novels have it. Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres was magical (if you haven't read it, please don't judge the book by the movie). While The Art of Racine in the Rain has some clever bits and interesting plot ideas, it didn't have the rich texture of a highly successful read.
There is magic in the two books below:
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
A critical effort that changed cultural norms, and helped 'set the table' for Senator Obama's run for President and subsequent victory, has been the enforcement of civil rights laws in America's work places. At offices and job sites across the country, enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, gender and age has informed and educated many. People have seen harassing and hateful behavior punished. Employers have had to take steps to prevent illegal discrimination. These changes at the work site have helped change how people think and act.
On a day to day basis, it is hard to identify how these individual battles for change have changed our society. However, yesterday's victory by Senator Obama is a moment where those who have worked in the trenches, from the civil rights marchers in 1961 to lawyers today representing detainees in Guantanamo, can now see fruit from their efforts.
Congratulations to everyone who helped change America for the better!
And now, from the L.A. Times, a look back in photos at this past election and the long, and sometimes strange, trip it has been: link.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
In his review Mr. Karl writes, "[the author] makes a convincing case that Samuel Adams is not just the most underrated of the Founders but also one of the most admirable, down-to-earth and principled (he worked to abolish slavery)."
If Samuel Adams: A Life is as interesting a read as Mr. Karl's review of it, it will certainly be highly recommended reading.
Medicus, a novel by Ruth Downie, is set in Britannia in about 117 A.D. In this light-hearted mystery, Gaius Petreius Ruso, the story's protagonist, is an army physician, recently arrived in Britannia from Africa. Ruso has had a run of bad luck, including divorce and a mountain of debts attached to the family estate he inherited from his father. While trying to cope with his own financial shambles, duties at the hospital, and army administration, Ruso gets involved with a mystery concerning the deaths of prostitutes working out of a local bar and the fortunes of an injured slave, Tilla, that he rescues from her nasty owner.
Ms. Downie's book is smoothly written. The story is engaging because of its dry humor and the compelling character she has created in Ruso. While Ruso is solving problems, both medical and murderous, he is often harried and exhausted but is always trying to do the right thing in backwater Britannia. All together, this makes Medicus a pleasant read.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Hulu is, as described by the site, "an online video service that offers hit TV shows, movies and clips at Hulu.com and other online destination sites — all for free, anytime in the U.S."
Buzzillions is a product review web site. A recent article about the site in the Wall Street Journal describes Buzzillions as "a free Web site owned by San Francisco-based PowerReviews Inc. that mainly posts reviews from people who have verifiably purchased the product they are appraising, according to retailers’ records. It also organizes reviews in specific categories, allowing users to search according to how they categorize themselves."
So before buying that holiday gift, consider checking it out on Buzzillions. And after all your holiday spending is finished, watch free stuff on Hulu!
What does this mean for the Obama campaign? Even when you are perceived to be ahead, there is always a way to lose, as many Big Ten fans ruefully saw yesterday. The GOP, who sent you all those nasty mailings and ugly robo-calls, will undoubtedly have a nefarious plan for election day. After the John Kerry and Al Gore experiences, Democrats need to stay focused and execute a successful election day strategy.
It's the end game. There are only a few pieces left on the political chess board.
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