Showing posts from December, 2008

"Chocolate, Wine and Tea Enhance Cognitive Performance"

Important news from Science Daily, and just in time for crafting a New Year's resolution: Researchers report that in a study of 2,031 people between the ages of 70 and 74, those who consumed three common foodstuffs that contain flavonoids (chocolate, wine, and tea) performed better on various cognitive tests.

The science is there. Act now to protect your brain.

Go ahead, finish that chocolate Santa.

Forward to 2009

This is the most exciting New Year's Eve I can remember in years because early in January, 2009, George W. Bush's term as President of the United States of America is over. Over. Over. Over. Accordingly, while our nation faces many challenges, we can start 2009 with excitement for the future.

I hope you, too, approach 2009 with a spirit of optimism, gratitude and joy. And if you are still considering a New Year's resolution, here are two ideas that will make your life easier and more enjoyable every day:

1) Subscribe to a daily national / international newspaper, and
2) Read more books!

Happy New Year!

George W. Bushisms

"I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office."—President George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., June 26, 2008.

Heavens to Betsy! Abducted from the Oval Office! Security will surely improve when Barack Obama is President. Wait. No Oval Office abduction. It was just the ramblings of that silver-tongued decider, your President, George Bush. For more quotes, check out The Complete Bushisms on Slate. Depending on your mood, you will either laugh or despair.

"We want our teachers to be trained so they can meet the obligations, their obligations as teachers. We want them to know how to teach the science of reading. In order to make sure there's not this kind of federal—federal cuff link."—At Fritsche Middle School, Milwaukee, March 30, 2000.

Bestseller Round-Up

Yippie-ki-yay, cowgirls and cowboys! Here are the books coming in at number one today from various best seller lists. Caveat: Just remember what your mama (might) have said: Popularity isn't everything.

Washington Post
Washington Area Best Sellers for the Week Ending 12/14/2008.
1. Fiction Paperback: The Appeal by John Grisham.
2. Fiction Hardcover: Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell
3. Nonfiction Paperback: Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama.
4. Nonfiction Hardcover: Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.

The New York Times
For the week ending 12/20/2008.
1. Fiction Paperback (Mass Market): The Appeal by John Grisham.
2. Fiction Hardcover: The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck with Kevin Balfe and Jason Wright.
3. Nonfiction Paperback: Marley & Me by John Grogan.
4. Nonfiction Hardcover: Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.
5. Fiction Paperback (Trade): The Shack by William P. Young.

The Los Angeles Times

The Thin Line Between Crying and Laughing

From today's New York Times: The misery of these tough economic times produces comedy. "Did you hear the one about the stockbroker who’s been sleeping like a baby? Every hour, he wakes up and cries. That was before he read that Somali pirates were issuing a new ransom-backed security to buy Citigroup. Moody’s rated it AAA, Henry M. Paulson Jr. deemed the pirates “fundamentally sound,” and Bernard L. Madoff will safeguard the returns." (more)

Snow on the Santa Rita Mountains.

Recommended: "1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die" by Tom Moon

Perhaps you are of an age that can recall the effort it took to make a "mix tape" from a collection of long playing (LP) record albums. By contrast, with today's technology it is a breeze to put together a collection of favorite songs on an MP3 player, or burn a CD of particular music for a road trip or other special occasion. This ease of access to the world of music makes 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, by musician and music critic Tom Moon, a book to read now.

1,000 Recordings is an A to Z listing of music Mr. Moon identified as ". . . a peak experience, music so vibrant it could lift curious listeners out of the mundane and send them hurtling at warp speed in a new direction . . . ." It includes special indexes sorting the music by genre (Blues, Classical, Folk, etc.) and occasion (such as "Play This for the Kids" and "Lazy Sunday Morning").

This is a fun book, triggering reminders of music that you know and enjoy but may have …

More Holiday Hospitality: Aquavit

This weekend is a good time to entertain friends. Given the wintry weather, party hosts may want to check out Table Matters where Jason Wilson writes about Aquavit.

Mr. Wilson reports that he developed a taste for Aquavit while in Copenhagen, drinking it "ice cold in small frozen shot glasses, accompanied by smorrebrød, the traditional open-faced, rye-bread sandwiches piled high with smoked salmon, pickled herring or smoked eel." Sounds delicious. His post includes a recipe for an interesting Aquavit cocktail, too.

Salmon on rye? Aquavit cocktails? Let the winter winds howl.

"Money for Nothing"

From Bill Dixon, an attorney and former Wisconsin Banking Commissioner, comments on the Bush-Paulson giveaway.

Food and Drink: Baklava

It was Sunday night, late.

The lights twinkled on the Christmas tree. Satellite radio played holiday music softly in the background. I was on the couch, reading, and thinking that if yet another dang burn version of Little Drummer Boy aired I'd . . . . when it hit me like a thunder bolt: Baklava.

I sat up straight. My arms tingled. Heart attack? Probably not. No other symptoms. Was this how Saul felt when he fell off his horse? Who knows. But the angles of baking had certainly sent me a direct message. I glided over to the computer and started searching: Baklava.

After checking out a few web sites, I bookmarked two: A five-star rated Baklava recipe at Allrecipes that had been reviewed by 650 people, and, Mediterranean cooking with helpful videos. The ingredients looked simple enough: butter, sugar, honey, nuts. Phyllo dough. I'd never worked with phyllo dough. How hard could it be?

On Monday, I assembled the ingredients and read thorough the recipes a …

What is Hollywood Reading?

What book is Hollywood buzzing about? According to the Los Angeles Times, it's Malcolm Gladwell's nonfiction piece, Outliers, The Story of Success. In Outliers, Gladwell writes that success comes to people who have talent, work hard and persistently, and experience a bit of luck by being at the right place at the right time. Gosh. So, that's how success happens. Who knew. Who could imagine.

Inspired by Outliers, I'm considering writing a diet book for the new year: "Drop It, Buddy: The Story of Permanent Weight Loss", in which I will reveal how people lose weight by eating less and doing more. Radical, eh? It should definitely crack the Hollywood book market wide open.

How cold is it?

Daniel Engber, writing for Slate, says it's time for weather forecasters to stop reporting the wind chill. I like hearing about the wind chill factor. It's adds Steven King-like elements of dread and horror to the story of winter weather.

Two horses, seen over the rail fence, are unconcerned about about Bernie Madoff, bear markets, or wind chill.

Recommended Reading: "People Who Walk in Darkness" by Stuart M. Kaminsky

People Who Walk in Darkness by Stuart Kaminsky is a perfect little mystery. This should be no surprise. Kaminsky is a prolific and successful author.

According to his web site, Kaminsky has had published a staggering number of novels, biographies, textbooks, and short stories, and he has an extensive list of screenwriting credits. He has won an Edgar and the Prix De Roman D'Adventure of France, and he has been nominated for a Shamus Award and a McCavity Readers Choice Award.

Within this body of work are several lines of mysteries: the Lew Fonesca mysteries (six books after the 2009 publication of Bright Futures), the Abe Liberman mysteries (11 books), the Toby Peters mysteries (24 books), and the PorfiryRostnikov novels (15 books). People Who Walk in Darkness is an Inspector PorfiryRostnikov mystery.

People Who Walk in Darkness reflects the author's experience and competence. Readers are quickly and capably drawn into a very satisfying puzzle. In Moscow, Inspector PorfiryP…

The Maddoff Affair and Other Schemes

"In confusion there is opportunity," an up-and-coming, young professional told me one time. Years later, this same fellow was convicted on a federal felony charge and incarcerated. Apparently he had crossed the out-of-bounds line in the field of opportunity.

Nonetheless, that fellow's maxim is proving out as we see arising from the confusion of the Madoff Affair new opportunity for authors and publishers. Bernard Madoff, of course, was arrested last week on a charge of securities fraud. The alleged fraud may involve as much as $50 billion. The Wall Street Journal today reports that at least two publishers have acquired rights to a book about Mr. Madoff.

The other interesting fraud story today is that of Matthew C. Devlin. Devlin pleaded guilty to stealing confidential information from his wife, whose work involves deals concerning major Wall Street mergers and acquisitions. He used the stolen information to run a $5 million insider-trading scheme with a group of fri…

A Year in . . . Cookbooks

For months I've been reading that publishers expect to do big business selling cookbooks this holiday season. On the one hand, this seems difficult to believe. Who needs another cookbook when the internet provides a treasure trove of recipes and cooking information?

On the other hand, folks who enjoy cooking also enjoy reading and collecting books about it. A good book or two is always welcome, especially when venturing into new areas of cooking. This year I started experimenting with Indian cooking and bought two excellent books by Madhur Jaffrey: Quick and Easy Indian Cooking and From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail.

If cookbooks are on your reading list, or holiday shopping list, check out the Washington Post which recently published a collection of some of the best cookbooks from 2008. Two of the books on its list are also in my own 'to read' file.

The first is BakeWise by biochemist Shirley O. Corriher. Ms. Corriher's previous book, Cook…

Food and Drink: Gifts of Wine

Thinking of giving someone a bottle of wine as a holiday present? Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of public radio's The Splendid Table, a fabulous program about food produced by American Public Media, and her guest Joshua Wesson, Senior Director of Wine, Beer and Spirits at the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, recently discussed what wine to give as a gift.

Mr. Wesson's recommendations are below. For an explanation on each item, check out the podcast. I particularly like Mr. Wesson's suggestion of giving a bottle of Hardy's Whiskers Blake Tawny Port NV. This is good port and a great idea for a present. For someone special go one step further: Add to the port a chunk of nice Stilton and a package of walnuts and you have created a fantastic gift.

For your supervisor/boss/partner: Estancia Meritage 2005, a California Bordeaux blend "Meritage" in a tall, heavy bottle. In the $25 to $30 range.For the parking attendant or mail carrier: An Argentinean red …

Serious Internet Explorer Security Flaw Reported

From BBC News via Lifehacker: "Users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer are being urged by experts to switch to a rival until a serious security flaw has been fixed. The flaw in Microsoft's Internet Explorer could allow criminals to take control of people's computers and steal their passwords, internet experts say. "

Slate's Best Books of 2008

From Slate: More ideas for your books-to-read list.

Michael Pollan on Bill Moyers Journal

Just bumped into this: Bill Moyers interviews author and Knight Professor of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley Michael Pollan.

Patricia McConnell on The Diane Rehm Show This Wednesday

Patricia McConnell, adjunct associate professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be on The Diane Rehm Show, WAMU 88.5 FM, on Wednesday, December 17 at 11 a.m. EST. Patricia has a new book out, Tales of Two Species.

For many years Patricia and Larry Meiller have hosted Calling All Pets on Wisconsin Public Radio. Wisconsin Public Radio has now decided to cancel the show.

Highly Recommended Reading: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Could a novel have a grimmer title? My expectations for this book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows were lower than Rob Blagojevich's approval ratings.

How wrong I was. It turns out that it is absolutely wonderful; a funny and engaging story.

The story, set in 1946, takes place in London and on the island of Guernsey, a Crown Dependency located in the English Channel just off the coast of Normandy. Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The book is structured as a series of letters between the protagonist, writer Juliet Ashton, and residents of Guernsey. One of the islanders initiates the correspondence after finding Juliet's name on the flyleaf of a book by Charles Lamb. This islander, Dawsey Adams, tells Juliet how The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came about as a spur of the moment invention to prevent a number of its members from being arrested by a Nazi patrol.

More correspondence…

Washington Post: Ten Top Books of 2008

Tiger is on the alert for news of good books.

The Washington Post selects five works of fiction and five nonfiction in its list of top books from 2008.

NASA - Tonight is the Biggest Full Moon of 2008

From NASA, the people who really know their moon: "No, you cannot see Neil Armstrong's footprint. But go ahead and look: The full Moon of Dec. 12th is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year."

December 12: The Virgin of Guadalupe

December 12 is an important day for Mexican Catholics. It is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. An excellent summary of the history of this feast, including a little insight into the internal politics of organized Catholicism, can be found in this linked column by Maria Elena Salinas for the Arizona Daily Star.

Even if you know nothing at all about theNuestra Señora de Guadalupe, you have undoubtedly seen her image on a plaque, blanket or tattoo. As far as popularity goes, the Virgin of Guadalupe is big. Really big. Bigger than . . . Oprah.

Have you ever imagined living in Mexico? If so, or if you are just looking for a book that will help you escape the cold reality of winter, check out On Mexican Time by Tony Cohan. In this well-written memoir, Mr. Cohan chronicles the journey he and his wife undertook out of the fast lane in California and into a new life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It is a very, very nice read.

Tucson Botanical Gardens

A few photos from today's visit to the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

"Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter" by James E. Caron

Like this Christmas Cactus blooming just as the holidays begin, timing can be everything in the hunt for good books.

The Arizona Daily Star reprinted a Chicago Tribune review of Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter by James E. Caron. The book sounds interesting, but as I was sliding the review into my 'books to read' folder, I noticed its suggested price: $50. Wow. That is a big number.

A check at Amazon shows it listed today at $42.05. The local library system doesn't yet show the book in its catalog. Perhaps it is set at a price that gives them pause, too. I'll keep the review as a reminder to look for the book, but like a stock market trader I will be timing the market (and talking to the librarian about a possible inter-library loan).

Fifty bucks. I wonder what ol' Samuel Clemens would have to say about that.

Food and Drink: The Croissant

My mom and dad have been married to each other for 60 years. What is the key to such a long and happy marriage? I can only tell you what I observe: They both really enjoy eating bakery. And my mother, at least, enjoys baking. Lest you get the wrong idea, I must add that they are both very slender; the baking life need not be an overweight one.

On the matter of baking and bakery, the apple has not fallen far from the tree. I love it, too. I could attribute this interest in part to being given an Easy Bake Oven one Christmas when I was a girl, but I also recall being given a pink, child-sized broom and matching pink dustpan one holiday and I have absolutely no passion for cleaning. It must be genetics.

Whatever the reason, nature or nurture, over the years I've baked cakes, pies, small desserts, breads, rolls, quiche and other delights both savory and sweet. My thoughts finally turned to the croissant one day as I was looking over the weekly grocery store advertisement. Crois…

More Holiday Music: Mary Chapin Carpenter

On the December 3, 2008, podcast of The Diane Rehm Show, Diane interviews Mary Chapin Carpenter. Mary Chapin has released a new compact disc, Come Darkness, Come Light: 12 Songs of Christmas.

A number of cuts from the new disc are played on the show. The featured music was gentle, lovely, and showcased the artist's wonderful voice. In fact, just listening to her voice on the program is pretty cool. Mary Chapin said during the interview that the music celebrates not just Christmas, but also the winter solstice.

On the topic of holiday music, both Diane and Mary Chapin said that they listen each year to A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, the December 24 service held in King's College Chapel in Cambridge, which is broadcast on various public radio stations around the country. Wisconsin Public Radio, for example, is scheduled to broadcast the program at 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve day.

Other notes:

Mary Chapin Carpenter lives on a farm with six (6) dogs.

During the podcast statio…

Cuban Blogger Threatened by Police

From Mother Jones: "Havana-based writer Yoani Sanchez was recently named by Time magazine as one the 100 most influential people in the world, and she won the 2008 Ortega y Gasset award for digital journalism. But that didn't stop Cuban authorities from directly threatening her with jail last week." (more at the link).

Recommended Reading: "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga's excellent novel, The White Tiger, is set in India during the economic expansion it has enjoyed in recent years. The story takes place where the economic boom has not brought prosperity and highlights a vast gulf remaining between the haves and the many desperate have-nots.

The story's protagonist is Balram Halwai. Balram runs a taxi business in Bangalore. His business operates at night, transporting employees home from their jobs at area call centers. Over several nights at the office, he writes a letter outlining his life story to the premier of China, who is scheduled to visit India. This may seem like an odd activity for a small businessman, but a cat may look at a King. Balram, egotistical and worldly-wise from achieving success grounded on criminal acts and resulting in the sacrifice of his family, wants to communicate what he believes is the real scoop on India.

Balram, who is alternately droll, sarcastic, dark and angry, tells an interesting story. H…

Holiday Music: Yo-Yo Ma

Someone recently asked what is my favorite holiday music. My instant answer was Bing Crosby's White Christmas, an album we listened to throughout the holidays when I was a kid.

My new answer is Songs of Joy and Peace by Yo-Yo Ma and Friends. On this CD the outstanding Yo-Yo Ma is joined by Alison Krauss, Spanish guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad, Cuban saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera and others. Great music.

I still love to sing along with Bing, but there is something about a cello . . .


This year is the 50th anniversary of the bossa nova and Chris McGowan, writing for Slate, discusses this music's origin, development and current popularity.

Click through the Elis and Tom Amazon link below and listen to some samples of the bossa nova; perfect Friday afternoon music:


Free Books from Bleakhouse Books

Here is an appropriate item for today, St. Nicholas Eve: Wisconsin State Journal columnist Doug Moe reports that Madison-based Bleak House Books, an independent publisher of literary and crime fiction, is giving away free books.

For the holidays, Bleak House is offering for free over 100 different titles published by Bleak House and Intrigue Press (you pay shipping and handling). Included in the Bleak House catalog are theEdgar-nominated titlesHead Games by Craig McDonald and Soul Patch by Reed Farrel Coleman. Soul Patch also won the 2008 Shamus Award for Best Hardcover.

Food and Drink: The White Russian

Yesterday's story in the New York Times about the resurgence of Kahlua and cream, a.k.a. "a White Russian", as a hip beverage must give people of serious purpose pause: Should a beverage be created from booze mixed with a dairy product?

On initial consideration, some might say no. Alcohol and dairy conjures up images of dipsomaniacs swilling Scotch and milk (with apologies to dipsomaniacs who do not imbibe this mixture, non-dipsomaniacs who do, and Joyce Randolph). Of the White Russian, David Wondrich, drinks correspondent for Esquire, says in the NYT's article, “'When I first encountered it in the 1970s, the White Russian was something real alcoholics drank, or beginners.'”

Wholesale condemnation of the drinks-and-dairy combination should be avoided, however. Eggnog, for example, spiked with a bit of brandy or whiskey, is a fun holiday treat (and according to Wikipeida, a excellent source of magnesium).

Perhaps a drink like eggnog, or a White Russian, simply r…

Book Cover Design

From Boing Boing: Joseph Sullivan, blogging at The Book Design Review, identifies his favorite book covers of 2008.

A few examples from Mr. Sullivan's list:

Recommended Reading: "The Brass Verdict" by Michael Connelly

I've been reading lot of first novels by new authors, and there have been a lot more misses in this group than hits. So when Michael Connelly's book, The Brass Verdict, appeared at the top of my reading pile, I smiled and thought, 'Yee-Ha! This should be good!' And it is.

Michael Connelly is the author of many detective novels featuring Los Angeles Homicide Detective Harry Bosh. In 2005, Connelly introduced a new character in The Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller. Haller is a criminal defense attorney in L.A. who prefers to runs his legal practice from the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car. In The Brass Verdict, Mickey Haller returns, and his legal practice jumps from nonexistent to smokin' after a colleague, another sole practitioner, is murdered.

Haller becomes responsible for sorting out the dead lawyer's clients. The police, including Connelly's famous Detective Harry Bosch, suspect that somewhere in the client files is the answer to not only why the law…