Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Touche, Robert Gibbs!

Michael Steele: Never take sides against the family again, ever...

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Not Personal, Sonny. It's strictly business: "Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate" by Diego Gambetta.

The Boston Globe interviews Diego Gambetta, author of the new book Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate (Princeton University Press). Gambetta is a Professor of Sociology and Official Fellow at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. His book, according to the Globe, "offers insight on how mobsters, pedophiles, prisoners, and other shady characters earn one another’s trust and prove their mettle. And what he documents is both disturbing and, sometimes, hilarious."

Perhaps reading this book is an offer that you cannot refuse. And remember: Never take sides against the family again, ever...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Senator Franken Takes US DOJ Back to Basics

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) read the text of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution to an assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division who was testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week in support of reauthorization of expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act. Read the story here.

(Via Boing Boing)

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Mrs. Astor Regrets" by Meryl Gordon.

After 19 weeks of listening to evidence and argument, jurors now are in their fourth day of deliberation in the criminal case against 85-year old Anthony Marshall, son of philanthropist Brooke Astor, and estate lawyer Francis Morrissey, who supervised the execution of a third codicil to Astor's will.

The defendants allegedly took advantage of Astor's declining mental state to have documents executed that redirect the bulk of her sizable estate to Mr. Marshall instead of various charities. Marshall and Morrissey are charged with 18 criminal counts, including fraud and conspiracy.

Brooke Astor died in 2007 at age 105. She reportedly suffered from dementia. Her last will, created on Jan 30, 2002, gave an estimated $198 million to charity, but three later amendments instead gave Marshall most of her estate. Defense lawyers say that Astor knew what she was doing when she changed her will.

A year before Astor's death, Marshall's son Philip Marshall asked a court to remove his father as his grandmother's guardian. Subsequently, Susan Robbins, a specialist in guardianship and eldercare law, was appointed to represent Astor. Robbins came to believe that codicils to the will were forged. One clue cited by Robbins: Although Astor's signature on her third codicil was almost perfect, on prior codicils she had trouble writing her name.

For more background on this story, check out Mrs. Astor Regrets, which was published at the end of last year. Author Meryl Gordon covered the Astor story for New York Magazine and has written extensively about that family. NPR's Scott Simon interviewed Gordon last December and a transcript of that interview is available here.

(Via The Telgraph, AARP Magazine, WSJ Law Blog)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

LIFE Magazine at Google Books

Over 1,800 issues of LIFE magazine, from 1936 to 1972, are available to view for free online at Google Books.

(Via PDNPulse)

The Oregonian Reviews Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol"

Author Dan Brown, who penned the popular title The Da Vinci Code, has a new book out this fall called The Lost Symbol. Jeff Baker, writing for The Oregonian, reviews Brown's new work and concludes that "it comes as no surprise to report that Brown has written THE SAME BOOK. 'The Lost Symbol' might as well be called 'The Da Vinci Code Goes to Washington.'" Check out Baker's full review here.

(Via Powell's Books)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Best of National Book Awards Fiction

The National Book Foundation (NBF), the people who bring you the National Book Awards, is celebrating its 60th anniversary. As part of the celebration, the NBF is sponsoring a contest. Six works of fiction have been selected as nominees for being named The Best of the National Book Awards Fiction. Vote for your favorite and your email address will then be entered into a drawing to win two tickets to the 60th National Book Awards on November 18, 2009, and two nights in the Marriott Hotel Downtown, compliments of Marriott.

Voting is open until October 21.

The nominees are:

I couldn't find a link to the complete contest rules at the NBF website. I assume the NBF employs lawyers and, therefore, rules must be out there somewhere. If you find them, please let me know so I can post a link here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Music We Like: The Steeldrivers.

In their self-titled first CD, The Steeldrivers play and sing fantastic bluegrass music that has a contemporary feel. The sound is warm, rich and bright. Committed bluegrass fans: Buy a copy of The Steeldrivers; you will love it. Everyone else: You must have one bluegrass disc in your music collection and this should be it. This is good music.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fashion Week Reads

Even though the 2009 edition of Fashion Week in New York is over, interest in looking stylish continues. For the fashion-minded reader on a budget, NPR suggests a few books:
  • Diana Vreeland.

Check out for the rationale behind each of these picks.

I'd add to this list Style Evolution by Kendall Farr. Farr's book provides useful advice for selecting clothing that makes one look stylish, not foolish. Because after all, a frugal purchase is not a bargain if you don't look nice in it.

"Nest of Spies" by Michel Juneau-Katsuya and Fabrice de Pierrebourg

Someone alert Lou Dobbs: Canada - the beautiful country to the north that you thought was just happily rolling along with its doughnuts, hockey, and universal health care - is apparently full of spies.

The Ottawa Citizen recently reviewed Nest of Spies, a new book by Michel Juneau-Katsuya, who served in the RCMP Security Service and Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and Montreal investigative journalist Fabrice de Pierrebourg. Their book, reports the Citizen:
[P]ortrays Canada as the world's No. 1 destination for legions of foreign government agents. Ottawa is crawling with them.

Led by the Chinese but including intelligence officers from at least 20 nations including allies, the book says, the infiltrators are stealing an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion annually worth of cutting-edge research in products and technologies, other scientific, business and military know-how and political secrets.

Others, it says, are infiltrating ethnic communities, suppressing criticism of homeland governments, recruiting industrial spies, stoking political violence among the diaspora and operating front companies and political lobbies aimed at manipulating government policies.

Proportionately, it estimates more spies operate here than in the U.S.

So the guy next to you in line at Tim Horton's could be planning a full day of espionage and political violence. Who knew?

(Via Boing Boing)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stalin Grandson Sues Russian Paper for Alleged Libel of Grandpa

This story has tiny link to Frank Lloyd Wright and Wisconsin. Read on.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, grandson of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, is suing a Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, for libeling Grandpa. The allegedly libelous statements appeared in an article published last April by a historian, Anatoly Yablokov, which said that Stalin signed “death lists” and committed “crimes against [his] own people.” The Novaya Gazeta reportedly stands by its story.

The Monitor's report is interesting not only for its coverage of the libel lawsuit, but also for covering the changing public opinion about Stalin (44 percent say he is not a state criminal), and current Russian government / media relations. On these issues, the Moscow Times reported on September 1st that:
Two significant events occurred last week. The first was the holding of the first session of the presidential commission “for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia’s interests.”

The second was the opening of Moscow’s newly renovated Kurskaya metro station, whose walls once again bear a verse from the 1944 version of the Soviet anthem: “Stalin raised us to be loyal to the nation; He inspired us to work and be heroic.”

This phrase had been plastered over during Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s campaign against Stalin’s personality cult. . . It is telling that so far not a single official has taken personal responsibility for allowing the public praise of Stalin.
A "presidential commission 'for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia’s interests'"? Well.

Returning to the lawsuit, the plaintiff, Yevgeny, is the son of Yakov Dzhugashvili. Yakov, in turn, was the son of Stalin and his first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze.

Now, here is the Frank Lloyd Wright link:

Stalin's only remaining living child is Svetlana Alliluyeva. Svetlana is the daughter of Stalin and his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva. Svetlana was for a time married to Mr. Wright's chief apprentice, William Wesley Peters. She lives in Wisconsin.

Small world.

(Via Wall Street Journal Law Blog)

Technical Difficulties

After several hours on the phone this morning with tech support - a shout-out to Bhargava Raju - issues that had flatlined my computer since Sunday are now successfully resolved.

We now return to the regular broadcast schedule.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Esquire Drinks" by David Wondrich.

It's the weekend, everyone is back in town, and social events are stacked-up. If you are entertaining this weekend, or looking ahead to fall dinners, football gatherings, or even - dare I say it - holiday events, check out Esquire Drinks for inspiration during the cocktail hour or for drinks after dinner.

David Wondrich begins Esquire Drinks with a short look at the history of cocktails and advice on mixology. Then he sets down recipes for the classics, from Old Fashioneds and martinis to highballs, punches and toddies. Each recipe is accompanied by an informative and often amusing little bio.

Important rules are scattered throughout the book such as "Rule #564: Never have more than three cocktails," and "Rule #387: After three cocktails, switch to Highballs." The book's jazzy artwork and photos set a fun mood.

Who among us would not like to be able to offer our guests a Brainstorm, a perfect Sidecar, or a Vera Rush? Check out Esquire Drinks for these and more.

And of course, if you imbibe, do not drive.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Nation's September 21 Food Issue

Check out the September 21 issue of The Nation, which focuses on food democracy, which the editors define as "a transformation of the food industry, so that workers and consumers can exercise control over what they produce and eat." Sounds like good stuff, as long as crunchy Cheetos always remain an option.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Put Away Your White Shoes: Fall 2009 Book Recommendations

Summer is over. Vacation is over. Nonetheless, there are lots of good things to look forward to in the next months, including the release of a bunch of books by big-name authors. You've undoubtedly heard that Dan Brown's new book will soon be available. Below are a few other titles, recently released or available in the next weeks, from a range of interesting authors:

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood.

James Ellroy, Blood's a River.

Sherman Alexie, War Dances.

David Baldacci, True Blue.

Vince Flynn, Pursuit of Honor.

Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness.

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Sam Savage, The Cry of the Sloth.

(Via The Millions, Decatur Public Library, my3books)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Book Snapshots: "The Manual of Detection" by Jedediah Berry.

The Manual of Detection was not what I expected it would be. The novel was more of a curiosity than a suspenseful read. As I slowly plodded my way through it, intrigued but not really engaged, I wondered whether it was supposed to be a mystery or science fiction. In either case, it is a peculiar story that gave me odd dreams at night, including a dream featuring H.R. Pufnstuf walking a Briard down a street in Grand Case. Yes, it's that kind of book.

The time and location in which The Manual of Detection is set is unknown, but it has a bit of the ambiance of the old 1960s television program, The Avengers. The protagonist, Charles Unwin, is a clerk at a large, mysterious investigative agency that ostensibly works to protect the city from crime. Unwin is promoted after Travis Sivart, a star agency detective, disappears. This promotion is not what Unwin wants, and he seeks to reverse it by tracking down Sivart. Along the way to finding Sivart, Unwin encounters more surreal puzzles: Masses of sleep walking citizens, stolen alarm clocks, and old cases that were thought to have been solved by Sivart found to be solved incorrectly.

Reading The Manual of Detection reminds me a bit of a trip I took years ago to an odd tourist destination in Wisconsin, The House on the Rock: I was glad I went to see it, wished the tour was over well before it was finished, and am lukewarm about recommending a visit by others. Similarly, I'm glad I read The Manual of Detection, but don't insist that you do so.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reduce U.S. Troop Presence on the Ground in Afghanistan

Mr. President:

In politics you've got to dance with the one that brought you. Right now those that supported you in the last election oppose the war in Afghanistan. Further, leading editorial writers, including conservatives such as George Will, also oppose increasing U.S. troop levels in that country. The message is clear: Americans do not want our country to drown in the Afghanistan sinkhole. Accordingly, it is time for the Obama Administration to push hard for implementation of alternatives to increased U.S. troop levels there.

Polls show that liberals and Democrats oppose an increased military presence in Afghanistan. In August, the Washington Post reported:
Although 60 percent of Americans approve of how Obama has handled the situation in Afghanistan, his ratings among liberals have slipped, and majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troop levels.
Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.
Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war's strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama's policies. A narrow majority of conservatives approve of the president's handling of the war (52 percent), as do more than four in 10 Republicans (43 percent).
Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six percentage points since last month and 10 since March. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent).
Recent editorials urging a policy that avoids further troop commitments include:

Committing more of our military on the ground in Afghanistan simply cannot be the only good solution to the global security and peace issues arising from there.

President Obama, in the past election your supporters believed you to be the person capable of implementing smarter, more nimble and creative policy on behalf of this country, both at home and in our nation's international relationships. Your supporters are looking now to see that capability in you.

Music We Like: "A Mad & Faithful Telling" by DeVotchKa

A Mad and Faithful Telling contains absolutely stunning music. Gorgeous and complex, it defies categorization, although NPR reported that DeVotchKa calls itself a rock group. Listening to A Mad and Faithful Telling, I was reminded at various times of the sounds of U2, Richard Strauss, Joan Osborne, Django Reinhardt, Mexican polka and ranchera, and more.

Amazing, wonderful music. Check it out.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell

A piece in the Los Angeles Times yesterday reminded me of a terrific book to consider reading this long, Labor Day weekend: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell.

Mitchell, age 40, has published four novels including Black Swan Green and Cloud Atlas, which was shortlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize. According to the LA Times' book blog, Jacket Copy, a conference on Mitchell's work is being held this week at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Don't know if four novels provide sufficient material for an academic conference, but I do know that his 2006 book, Black Swan Green, is a wonderful read.

Black Swan Green, set in 1982, is about a year in the life of a 13-year old named Jason Taylor, who is growing up in Worcestershire, England. Jason, a budding poet, navigates being a boy at 13 and coping with all that age and that time, Margaret Thatcher's England, brings. Mitchell's writing is superb and the story enjoyable. If you can't jet over to Scotland for the conference, pick-up a copy of Black Swan Green instead and have a great weekend reading an excellent novel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Buzz

Lorrie Moore's new novel, A Gate at the Stairs, was reviewed Sunday by Jonathan Lethem in the New York Times. Last week, Michiko Kakutani reviewed the book in The Times. Today, in the Arts section of the paper, a profile of Ms. Moore appeared.

Other works by Lorrie Moore include Self-Help and Birds of America: Stories. Moore teaches creative writing at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.