Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Best. Website. Ever.

MSN had a link on the front page that said, “Should Online Courses Go on Your Résumé?” Inasmuch as I am in an online degree program, I clicked on it and thought, “And why the hell not?”

Oh. Because there are no grades. No accountability in the courses they describe.

But what is this? Academic Earth? Never heard of it. Click.

Oh. My. God.

It is a library full of lectures. Some are one-shots, and some are complete courses. Complete meaning there are the 27 lectures, there is the reading list, there is the syllabus, there are the assignments. Free for anyone with a laptop to use.

I watched the intro lecture to a course on the Civil War, by a Yale history professor. I love him. I love him! And look at all the books he assigns!

And look at this! The American Novel since 1945!

This website is only six months old and I have already found five courses I want to take. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why they invented the Internet.

Monday, June 29, 2009


When did the one-named "Ozzie" become Guillen and not Osbourne? When he started talking like this (excuse me for printing a Chicago Tribune article in its entirety):

Looks like Ozzie is being Ozzie again.

After Cubs manager Lou Piniella pointed out the spike in attendance from 22,000 when the Dodgers faced the White Sox last week to a full house when the Cubs visited U.S. Cellular Field this weekend, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was asked why attendance was so low for the Dodgers series."Because our fans are not stupid like Cubs fans," Guillen said. "They know we're [expletive]."

Guillen said Cubs fans will watch any game at Wrigley Field because "Wrigley Field is just a bar."

We are generally Cubs fans in my family, but we like the Sox well enough. I guess that makes us odd. This weekend, my brother Scott was teaching his son Alex the rules for rooting for the Sox:

We can root for the Sox anytime they are not playing the Cubs.

Wait, I guess he only has on rule. I think my mother would say:

We root for the Sox anytime they are not playing the Cubs. But if they are playing the Cubs and it is important for the Sox to win, and the Cubs are in last place anyway, then we can root for the Sox. Or maybe if the Cubs are in first place by a whole lot and the Sox need the morale booster, we can root for the Sox. Or sometimes, if the Cubs just deserve to lose, we can root for the Sox.

Seriously, you need a flow chart to follow her sports logic sometimes.

Anyway, with all of the headlines that Ozzie gives the Trib, you'd think they were paying his salary.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Downside of the Charity Resale Shop

I have been vaguely looking for something nightstand-like for several years. Actually, something bigger than a nightstand and smaller than a dresser to replace the canvas thing I bought from Bed Bath & Beyond 10 years ago. I didn't want something crappy, but I have a hard time spending real money of a piece like that, that I am bound to destroy in some manner.

Thursday afternoon, I was early for my dentist appointment so I wandered into the new charity resale shop next door. I had about made the full loop of the store when I saw this:

It does this:

And this:

$42 and it is real wood. The little drawer sticks terribly, but whatever. Bought it. When I brought it home, I opened the cabinet and found the catch - smells like cat pee.

That cabinet is not big enough to have held a litter box!

I was going to take my time, do some research and try to rearrange some stuff in my room before taking the leap and bringing it upstairs. Then my brother was over today, all helpful and stuff, and put it in my room while I wasn't looking.

OK, then. I will deal with it tonight! What does the Internet say I can do about this right now, without using bleach or ordering something that will take five days to get here? I Googled Cat Urine and Wood and found Nature's Miracle is the one product that everyone mentions. Hm. I went around my house, thinking I might have an old bottle from when we had two elderly cocker spaniels in the house. Didn't find it, but I did find what the Internet suggested was the next best thing: Kids and Pets.

I find the name a bit offensive. I mean, we spilled our share of Kool Aid as kids, but I do not recall that we smelled bad.

Anyway, the directions say to not even wipe it up, but let it soak in to the surface. Fine. But it dripped on the floor and don't tell my mother, but I didn't see it in time and it has ruined the laminate in two places.

Ugh. This had better work.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

That's My Congressman

The Chicago Tribune is reporting on how some Republican Congresspeople helped pass The American Clean Energy and Security Act. I know very little about it, but my guy, Mark Kirk, was one of those Republicans.

Kirk has had a rough time the past couple of elections, with the Democratic machine painting him as a lap dog of George W. Bush.

Not true.

Kirk runs more conservative than I, but I pretty well trust him to be thoughtful and edumacated on stuff. He says that he read the entire 1,200 page bill.

"Dork", you say? What of it? If he really read the bill, used his best judgement and voted his conscience, he can make all of the dorky YouTube videos that he likes. And I will vote for him. Of course, the Internets on the Tribune's web site disagree.

The March, by E.L. Doctorow

Book 27

I seem to be going on a Civil War kick, so I read The March, by E.L. Doctorow. It is a novelization of Sherman’s march through Georgia and up through the Carolinas.

My family is a little bit too into the Civil War. My library, mostly sorted by fiction and nonfiction, also has my section of presidential biographies and my mother’s Civil War history. We are generally Fans of Grant, so reading a novel about Sherman was rather interesting.

The cast of characters is large and diverse. Besides the General’s staff and the Union soldiers, there are plenty of southerners and freed slaves and Confederate soldiers. There was even a war photographer. I thought I would have a hard time keeping track of them all, but it wasn’t a problem.

The narrative on the experience of the freed slaves was well done. Not heavy handed, but sensitive to the complexities. Should they stay or should they leave? Can they trust this “freedom”? Because they sure don’t feel safe. I really appreciated the complicated relationship between Pearl, the daughter of a slave and her master, and the guy’s wife. All this resentment, but a sense of responsibility, and even a weird sort of affection for this person that was her one present link to the only life she ever knew before.

I loved Sherman’s thoughts on Grant:

“He had secret thoughts, Grant, you always felt that about him. Such private feelings of presumed depth that an ordinary mortal could only aspire to. Sherman had a respect for Grant akin to worship, but t here was the assured thing about the man, that his private mind harbored no ill intent. He had no guile and no self-interest in this war, and that’s what was unsettling.”
I can buy that.

Lincoln himself made a brief appearance at the end. And I must say that I wasn’t expecting it, so the majestic effect really hit me. Smooth.

My only disappointment was the many loose ends. Where did the doctor go? Did Miss Emily really stay in Columbia. What happened when Pearl delivered Lt. Clarke’s letter?

Alas, the book was only about the March.

Stupid Aspergillus

Last month, when we had the painting done downstairs, the painter said there was some mold behind the wallpaper in Kiwi's Room, formerly know as the dining room.


Birds in general, and African Greys in particular, are really sensitive to mold. Aspergillosis, an infection caused by the aspergillus fungus, can be fatal.

Kiwi is no no way symptomatic, but two weeks ago, when she was at the vet for her annual exam, I mentioned the mold in that room. It was dead mold, and she had only been living in that area for a few months, but I was paranoid. The vet checked her out and she looks great. He checked her white blood count, which was perfectly normal. But because she is a Grey, we ran the labs.

$200 labs that has to ben sent off to the University of Miami. BTW.

It came back positive.

The bad news is this is scary stuff with long term treatment. And Kiwi is decidedly displeased with taking medicine. The good news is that we seem to be pretty far ahead of the game in diagnosis. My lame Internet research suggests that often, the reason aspergillosis kills the birds is that the symptoms come so late. In fact, now that I am thinking about it, I don't remember if Dr. Sakas said she actually has aspergillosis, or just that the aspergillus spores were present in her system.

Whatever. It is war on the fungus now. I happen to be allergic to aspergillus, so we are having an inspector come out to the house so that we can obliterate it.

In the meantime, Kiwi is going to have to learn to take her meds.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Other MJ

I was in the car on the way to the library. I flipped radio stations and The Mix was playing Billie Jean.

Weird, but cool. So there I am with the windows down and the sun roof open in the 95 degree heat and all summertime happy playing Billie Jean in the car.

Of course, you know by now what happened next. The song ended and Brian the Whipping Boy informed me that Michael Jackson was dead.


Of course, Jackson had gotten so weird and I hadn’t listened to his music in so long. I remember buying the HIStory cds in college. I played them once and didn’t look at them again until I went on my digital storage binge a few months back.

So I parked across the street from the library and headed into the building. There was a Jeep stopped at the light. Windows down, roof open, blaring Beat It.

I had a little moment. Maybe it was just the Gen X time warp back to 1983 when MTV was MTV.

My dad asked me not long ago whether I thought Michael Jackson was a child molester. My answer was something like, “I believe that he believes he is innocent. But clearly, something is not right.”

I think of that now because before I start reading all of the Internet gossip (I admit, when I heard that he was in L.A. at the time, my first thought was a botched plastic surgery), I would like to say that I hope when the drama is over we will all just remember that the music was good, the videos were great and that Michael Jackson was once a very talented young man.

And this is how I would like to remember him (of the things online that will still embed):

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

You Guys Aren't Going to Believe This

Kiwi the Grey was just sitting right there, on that perch, in my bedroom, looking out the window. I was on my bed, fooling around online. She said, "Shadow go outside?"

I got up and walked over to her. The dog was in the backyard.

I have heard Kiwi say these words before, but always when I could attribute them to mimicking somone. This was an unprovoked and in context statement.

How much does that rock?
Posted by Picasa

Cooking with Alex

The weekend before last, Scott brought his family over for lunch. We had originally planned on going out, then figured it was easier with the baby and the goofy weather to stay in and make something. Because I happen to eat like a four year old boy, I happened to have stuff to make pizza. And because I sometimes pretend to be a grown up, I had the stuff to make a chef salad. I thought I might talk Alex, age four, into helping me. And if not, it was easy enough to throw together myself.

He totally went for it. All “good listener” and everything. Once the pizzas were in the oven, he even helped put together the salad. When they were finished, he was all proud of himself. Then Scott and I debated using a cookie sheet versus dropping the pizza on aluminum foil for extra crispyness.

Ha. Aunt Anne wins.

Alex’s sister Ainslie is seven months old and Scott is finally taking his wife out for a date or whatever. They are bringing the kids back for the afternoon on Sunday.

Normally, I would throw Alex into the car and go to Noodles, because he loves it as much as I do. But two of them are not so easy to take out. Then I think I should do Cooking with Alex again. Eh. It is never going to work twice. But let’s ask The Internet:

Cookingwithkids.com had this:

Chinese "Barbecued" Pork

A Cooking with Kids Original Recipe

Preparation time: 10 minutes or less 2 hours or overnight, refrigerated Cooking time: 30 minutes Yield: 10 servings as a small main course; more when used as a seasoning

Seriously? Alex wouldn’t even eat that, let alone prepare it and wait two hours for it two marinate or whatever.


Make your own sno cone syrup.
Happy faced sandwiches.
Teddy bear sundaes.

I don’t think so.

Screw it. I’ll Tivo Backyardigans and make popcorn and he will be perfectly happy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Public Service Announcement - Airline Fees

MSN Money pointed me to an awesome USA Today piece on airline fees. Bookmark this, please. It took the USA Today staffer, aided by airline PR people, a full week to compile this chart of airline fees so that we all know what we are really paying.

Unfortunately, United has about the worst fees. You know how tricksy they are? I didn't even notice the change because I am all online. But if I don't check in online, there is an extra $5 to be paid for checking a bag. Why is that necessary?

I must say that I complained long and loud about the fee for checking bags. My thought was that people were already animals fighting for overhead space, and this would only make it worse. The truth is that I haven't noticed that it is worse. I suspect that the gate agents are getting better at gauging the need for "gate checking" bags and getting ahead of it.

From the article:

"The airlines justify fees as letting customers choose the level of service they're willing to pay for and say passengers are getting used to them. And ultimately, as aviation consultant Michael Boyd says, "It's business, and they (airlines) have the right to charge for whatever they want.""

I guess. But the first U.S. airline that tries to charge for using the bathrooms that they can't even keep clean - well they deserve whatever they get.

More About School Reading Lists

The Chicago Tribune is reporting a story about one of our suburbs in a tizzy over the freshman reading list. Apparently, a whole seven parents found the language in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian to be “vulgar”.

Here is the gist of the argument:

“Andersen said she understands kids use profanity, but if it is part of the curriculum, the students will believe the school condones it.

"That is like saying that because Romeo and Juliet committed teen suicide, we condone teen suicide," Whitehurst said. "Kids know the difference. Like it or not, that is the way 14-year-old boys talk to each other."”

Ms. Anderson, who the article makes a point to say has a teaching degree, wants to “start a national conversation” on warning labels for books. (rolls eyes)

There are labels. They are called Reading Levels. Oh, and the label on this book? Says that it won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

The solution to the drama seems to be that there will be parents allowed on the committee that chooses the reading list for this high school.

What. Ever.

What Ms. Anderson has done here is made absolutely certain that every kid in that school reads the book to find the “vulgar” language. Wait. Maybe that was her point. Maybe she is a genius!

Somehow, though, I doubt it.

I haven’t read this book, so I can’t actually speak for the language. But I can pretty well guarantee that it doesn’t have any words that the average 14-year old hasn’t heard before.

Not any swear words, anyway.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Book 26
I am pretty sure I had to read Fahrenheit 451 in high school, but I didn’t much remember the details. Picked up a student copy (obvious from the cover page notes) at the Library Used Book Store.

There isn’t much left to say about this one that hasn’t been said a million times before. It was a way better read as an adult. Some of the “future” details are uncanny. My favorite was getting cash in the middle of the night because there were robot tellers available 24/7. Also, the part about the presidential election:

A good looking guy named Noble vs. a runty guy named Hoag. Who is going to win? And the quote was something like, “Why would they even run a guy like that?” Which, of course, we hear regularly - who “they” run for office.

The only disappointing thing is that the world view is so small. That is by design, I understand. But some expanded stories from that universe might have been interesting.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What I Learned at the Pharmacy

My mother sent me to the pharmacy to pick up some Valium for the dog.

I will wait until you are done laughing....

So. I hate the way people bark (ha! bark) at those behind the counter, so I would normally step up and say:

"Good Morning, my name is Anne and I believe my doctor has called in a prescription for me."

You know, complete sentences and stuff. I was too embarassed for such an exchange in this case, so I imagine I was looking all shift-eyed when I mumbled my last name. While the lady was looking up the order, I thought I should grab some Claritin for my mother.

She finds the order. "For Shadow?" she asks, loud enough for every shopper in the Plaza to hear.

"Yes," I practically whisper.

"Any allergies?" Loud again.

I hesitate. I think...sensitive stomach...smelly fish oil for his coat...wasn't that weird thing that happens to his paws called an allergic reaction...


"Um...not medicine, no. I don't think."

She puts the pills in a bag and I sign something while she checks with God and the DMV regarding the Claritin. Now that the druggies have required us all to report in to the feds for a damn decongestant, I make a habit of picking some up for her when it is convenient.

The thing is, it was convenient a couple of weeks ago, when I ordered some other stuff from drugstore.com. And I also purchase my own prescription Allegra. Long story short, the reporting took forever and my receipt said:


Apparently, I am banned for the rest of the month from buying any more decongestants.

Also? The Claritin costs more than the Valium.

What has gone wrong with this country?

Book Swap Shelf

A guy at work e-mails me one day, asking if we might set up a Book Swap shelf at the office. He regularly contributes book recommendations to our employee newsletter. I like the idea, so I pursue it. I write some guidelines that are doomed to fall into chaos. Then I send out an e-mail saying that we are going to have a Book Swap shelf and everyone please bring in some books to get us started.

Of course, then I went home and tried to figure out what the heck I should contribute to the Cause. Really – anything I am sure I won’t read again goes to the Library. I don’t want to bring in anything really lame because if everyone did that, the project wouldn’t work. I settled on six books – three popular fiction and three pop culture non fiction – all trade paperbacks.

And all chick books. Which is more lame – that these are the books I pick to contribute or that I ever read them in the first place? And do I pull them out of my LibraryThing? Maybe I will just make a “Donated” tag.

The suggestion guy brought in six books. Mostly guy books. And one lady brought Atonement and The Known World. Both I have read and both I found great and neither are leaving my home library. I sent her an e-mail, to thank her and tell her so. She said these were duplicates or she wouldn’t have given them up either.

So. Ninety employees in this building and fourteen books.

I don’t think this is going to fly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This is Obscene

The AP is reporting that Toledo, Ohio is ticketing residents for parking in their own driveways:

TOLEDO, Ohio - Residents of Toledo, Ohio, are complaining that they received $25 tickets for parking their vehicles in their own driveways.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner says he stands by the citations handed out last week by the Division of Streets, Bridges and Harbor. He says the tickets were issued under a city law against parking on unpaved surfaces, including gravel driveways.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is beyond ridiculous. Every city is trying to find ways to make money, generally at our expense. And sometimes, if we are caught breaking the law through laziness or our presumptuous sense of entitlement, then so be it. But this?

Paving a driveway is not cheap. On, nevermind. I'm just going to get all worked up again.

Letting Them Eat Cake

MSN Money pointed me to an interesting editorial in Forbes magazine. The author is pointing out the plusses to the recession. For people that have money. It is all things we have heard before – the deals are out there, the service is better, etc. My opinion is that she is half correct, and half unbelievably insensitive.

I have said for months that as long as I have my job I will be just fine and I am grateful to have it. I still very much believe that even the people that have done a decent job of saving aren’t much more than one catastrophe away from financial ruin. I have said that I am spending money, probably more money than I would have a year ago, because my house needs work, because I can and because there are businesses that I want to support. And seriously, my house needs work.

For me, the interesting thing about the article was not the points that it makes, but the debate in the comments – both on the Forbes site and the MSN site. Some are trashing her, some just saying “you’ll get yours” and some…are agreeing with her. For a few, it is pointing fingers at people that weren’t (willing or) able to save well. For others, it was just the pleasure of reading a positive perspective. I guess we aren’t so much in this together anymore.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Widow of the South, by Robert Hicks

Book 25

I picked up The Widow of the South, by Robert Hicks, from the Library’s Used Book Store after my Book a Day Calendar recommended it.


It is another “here is the vague historical basis and here is how I imagine the rest” novel. Like Coming Through Slaughter, there are notes at the end containing some verifiable facts. Way more than Coming Through Slaughter, I might add.

The facts are that on November 30, 1864 there was a big battle in Franklin, TN. 9,200 casualties over a five hour period, which the notes say is more than in 12 hours on D-Day and double Pearl Harbor. Just for some perspective. A private home was turned into a hospital. The lady of the manor, Carrie McGavock, had lost three of her five children to various illnesses in the preceding years but she pulled it together and took care of lots of people. 1,500 people are now buried in her backyard.

The novel is written from multiple points of view, which you know I love. And I was pleased with the use of language. This was from a Union officer, a rather minor character in the scheme:

“What I saw was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and I wished to never see it again. In the distance the entire Army of Tennessee stood on line. All of them. We'd been fighting out here in the west, in Alabama and Mississippi and Tennessee, always hemmed in by rivers and forests and tight little winding roads, and I had never thought about what thousands of men would look like if they stood out and faced us. But there they were. They shimmered in the distance, the warming air making them look wavy like a dream, something from another world. There were flags of all sorts flapping in the wind, the red and blue cross on their battle flag, the odd, faded blue and white flags of one of the divisions in the center. Sounds of brass bands, one playing "The Girl I Left Behind Me." I wanted them to stay there always, frozen in their splendor. An odd happiness possessed me then, and I can only explain it by saying that I had fought them so long, and they had fought so hard I was proud to finally see them in their entirety.”

At its heart, the story is about life and death and when we are afraid and when we are numb and how we manage to connect with other people in the middle of it. And Nathan Bedford Forrest was a bastard.

I really love that the connection between Carrie and wounded Confederate soldier guy, Zachariah, was based on mutual understanding (or attempting) between people that otherwise had little in common. It was not about the smoochie-smoochies. It was not about escaping from the hell of the blahblahblah.

It kind of avoided the subject of slavery. In a “Carrie’s servant was a lifelong friend that never left her” way. Franklin had long been occupied by Union troops, so Mr. McGavock sent people south to family to avoid their being conscripted into the Union Army. Zachariah’s attitude was, “I don’t have a problem with them, but did we really fight that war so that this guy could have a cobbler shop?”

However, Zachariah had a moment after the war. Working on a train line or something, he saw a young black man that had been enslaved, for “crimes” and chained outside the camp. After awhile, he makes an appeal to Forrest, of all people, and the guy is set free. Zachariah and a bud know they are screwed so they bolt. The young man is caught and drowned. So what would have been the right thing to do?

The book begins and ends in 1894, with most of the story told in flashback. I would have appreciated more time spent in 1894. But I liked that the story didn’t drag on, so I can’t really complain about that. The best part is that it looks like Franklin Tennessee is prime territory for a road trip.

Road Trip!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Little City Book Sale 2009

Various libraries have various used used book sales all the time - you can find one almost every weekend. None come close (in suburban Chicago) to the Book Sale Formerly Known as Brandeis. It runs for over a week in a tent, in the parking lot of Old Orchard Shopping Mall in Skokie.

My strategy is to go on the second Saturday. On that day, the books are half the listed price. The most serious of the bargain hunters will go on the second Sunday, when all of the books are 50 cents. Read as: it is a mob scene that is not worth the trouble to me.

If you went to the web site, you would see that Little City is expanding it "merchandise" to attract more buyers from the general public, rather than the dealers. The "Dealers" as I know them are people that attend the sales with scanner guns and buy big piles of books to resell on the Internet. On one hand, they bring in a lot of cash. On the other, they arrive early and take a lot of the books that I would call great finds. Some book sales just ban the scanner guns altogether.

I had lunch plans with my brother's family yesterday - Alex and I made pizza, which was pretty fun - so I didn't get to Skokie until the afternoon. There seemed to be fewer books than last year. It might be because last year I arrived earlier in the day, but I suspect it was fewer donations. The prices were also lower than I remember.

Because I was clearly not in need of any books, I used all of my tricks:

  1. No shopping carts, no baskets. Only what I can carry in my own two hands. This trick works better at this sale than most because carrying around seven books for the hour or so that it takes to browse all of the tables is tiring. Anyway, I hate the carts.
  2. No buying anything that I can be reasonable sure will show up at my own Library's Used Book Store. I would rather give the money to my own group.
  3. Wait. I didn't use my third trick, which is that I only spend what I have in cash. That usually works because I don't carry much cash, but I had been to the ATM too recently. And anyway - Little City takes Amex.

The final take was seven books for nine dollars. Now I just have to figure out where to put them.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lesley Castle, by Jane Austen

Book 24

Lesley Castle is actually three short stories in one book written by Jane Austen at age 16. No kidding, it reads exactly as you think Jane Austen would at age 16.

The first is a story told in letters. It is a satire of appearances and incredibly self-absorbed people - as Austen perfected when she was all growed up. One young lady tells her friend of an accident suffered by her sister's fiance the day before they were to be married:

"Imagine how great the disappointment must be to me, when you consider that after having laboured both by night and by day in order to get the wedding dinner ready by the appointed time..."

So laying it on kind of thick, but funny.

The second part is a short, funny history of England. Under a heading for Mary I:

"This woman had the good luck of being advanced to the throne of England in spite of the superior pretensions, merit and beauty of her cousins, Mary Queen of Scotland and Jane Grey."

It is all like that.

The third is a novella of Catherine, which reads more like the Jane Austen we really know. But sort of lame.

So yeah. Jane Austen as written by a sixteen year old.

A Life in the 20th Century, by Arthur M. Schlesinger, jr.

Book 23

I have had a copy of Schlesinger's journals on my to-be-read shelf for months. And his Pulitzer Prize winning The Age of Jackson has been there for about ever. Then I found A Life in the 20th Century, his memoir, at some used book sale or another. I think it was meant as the first volume of a memoir, because it only goes up to 1950, but Schlesinger didn't live to finish it. The journals were published by his kids after he died.

In any event, Schlesinger was a professional historian who just happened to be in President Kennedy's inner circle. Of course, we are barely introduced to Kennedy in this book. Instead it is really about the study of history. Schlesinger's father was a history professor at Harvard, and there are plenty of stories and name dropping.

Half the book is taken up with WWII and fascism and communism. I really love what he has to say about his Greatest Generation:

"We call it the Good War at the millenium and smother it in sentiment. Of course, no war is any good, but occasionally a few, like the American Ciil War and the Second World War, are necessary. Still, even the few Good Wars can be corrupting and murderous."

He notes that while we were all united the war effort, many people thought of it as payback for Pearl Harbor, rather than fighting the fascist dictator trying to take over the world. He was pointing a finger at the midwest. He also called out the war profiteers.

After the war, as he went back to the study of American History, Schlesinger writes about "revisionism". In the 1940's and 50's there was a view of the Civil War, being published by the generation before his. It denied the Civil War was inevitable and denied slavery as the cause. This made Schlesinger nuts, but as he wrote, he noted that the perspective of the writer is very important. The generation before his was shaped by WWI. By virtue of those experiences, these men thought no war was inevitable. His own generation, shaped by WWII determined that some wars were necessary (as described above). I could talk about this forever.

Schlesinger quoted his own writings throughout the book and I really liked his self-commentary. Every once in awhile, he admits to being wrong. More often he maintains the truth of his statements while admitting to writing like an arrogant punk.

I like arrogant punks. I will be reading him again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Public Service Announcement - Father's Day Gifts

I have no idea what to get, or rather, send, to my father for Father's Day. He and I had a great system for several years. For birthdays and Christmas I would send him stuff for his dog and he would send me stuff for Kiwi the Grey. Then he re-married and that just seems weird. But I know what not to send him:

These are the shelves in the Library's Used Book Store dedicated to Sports. Do you see all that green? Golf books. We get an obscene number of donations related to golf. Many are clearly not opened. My conclusion? People are buying them for their dads, who are not interested in golf. Or maybe reading. Seriously, do you know anyone that would by himself (I suppose it could be herself) a book on golf? Really?

Look, I realize that dads are
difficult, and personally, I have no idea what mine has seen on TV, read or listened to on his iPod lately. Actually, I don't even know if he has an iPod. But I have to do better than a book on golf. Something funny, or nostalgic, or suprising, or clever. I am not above spending 50 bucks on a joke gift, either.

Heh. I just figured it out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stupid Facebook and Stupid Blogging

USA Today had a fun article about how everyone on Facebook and Twitter is boring:

"We all have to go to status-update charm school," jokes Hal Niedzviecki, author of The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, who joined a slew of online social networks to investigate how they are changing the definition of privacy. "Just one in every million status updates is worth reading, maybe one in every 5 million if you're looking for poetics."

I agree. And I am glad that they are not picking on traditional blogs today.

Scalzi wrote not long ago about how people blog (or start blogs, anyway) for different reasons, which is why many have defected to Twitter. Some are trying to count their friends. Some want to post pictures of their babies. Few are more annoying to me than the people that think they are going to get famous.

Personally, I am in part meeting people and keeping in touch, part journaling (because I don’t keep a real one anymore) and part practicing the art of writing for purposes of putting out a half-decent employee newsletter. I should really start working on that now. Oh, and giving my mother the joy of correcting my English.

If I could only use this blog for one thing it would be keeping track of the books I have read and what, exactly I thought about them at the time. But my Facebook updates? They suck as much as the next guy’s.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Book 22

I found Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin at the Library UBS after hearing raves about it. The Amazon description:

In 1993 Greg Mortenson was the exhausted survivor of a failed attempt to ascend K2, an American climbing bum wandering emaciated and lost through Pakistan’s Karakoram Himalaya. After he was taken in and nursed back to health by the people of an impoverished Pakistani village, Mortenson promised to return one day and build them a school. From that rash, earnest promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our time—Greg Mortenson’s one-man mission to counteract extremism by building schools, especially for girls, throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban.

The first half of the book was fabulous. In describing the climb, the region and how Mortenson came to know the people of Korphe, a village in Pakistan, we are made to care about the quest. Then came the story of a total novice trying to raise the funds for one school, and finally finding a sponsor that has the cash. Then they talk about how having the money is only half of the struggle for a foreigner trying to navigate the socio-cultural issues of the country he is trying to help.

Then comes the story of trying to build an organization that can do it again and again.

Mortenson seems to be a pretty humble guy. He went so far as to print the complaints of former members of his Board, which takes some courage. He has no problem retelling and analyzing mistakes that he has made, which is fabulous for people who are making similar efforts. The weird thing, though, is that it is written entirely in the third person so that Mortenson is actually quoted in the text. As in “Mortenson says”. That was distracting to me since he is a co-author and this is his story.

His description of 9/11 – he had started trying to build schools in Afghanistan at the time – was rather unnerving. His aftermath involved the first hate mail he had ever received from people that didn’t appreciate his message: that we should be spending money on helping rather than bombing. And his own experience being detained with a passport problem. He was actually asked where Osama bin Laden was hiding. I am not criticizing the government here, but I must say that I completely understood Mortenson describing his urge to laugh at the absurdity of that question and knowing that he would be totally screwed if he did because these people were dead serious. So he summoned all of his willpower to keep a straight face and say, “I hope I never know a thing like that.” It was cinematic.

Finally, one must assume that a major reason that Mortenson bothered to write a book was for the fundraising potential. The least I can do is put in a link to the website for his organization, the Central Asia Institute. Also, I must add that I the web site shows Mortenson’s speaking schedule. It confirms that his wife is a saint.

Monday, June 8, 2009


My friend Jenny has a theory, first formulated in college:

Women meet the right guy and decide they want to get married. Men decide to get married and ask whomever they happen to be with at the time.

I have always found this a plausible theory, but the men I know continually deny it. MSN had an article called “Why Men Dump Girls They Dig” and I clicked it to see if there was any insight. And oh my God, there it was, number 1 on the list:

“Women get serious when they meet the right man. Men get serious with whomever we happen to be dating when we're finally ready to settle down. That means after every other aspect of our life is in order — whether it's finishing grad school, finally pulling down a good-size paycheck, owning a car outright — or when our friends start dropping like flies (that's guyspeak for getting married).”

Then I saw the article was originally printed in Cosmo. (Ugh.) But still – validation for Jenny.

American Express - Reviewing the Rewards

I have completed my first year using the American Express Blue Card. You may recall that I applied for this card after I dumped Bank of America for being a pain in the butt. Because I pay my cards in full each month (except when I have a 12-month no interest at Best Buy or something), I did some homework on rewards programs before settling on this one.

The cash back formula is:

1% on gas, groceries and drugstores and one half of one % on everything else on the first $6,500 spent each year. After that, 5% on gas, groceries and drugstores and 1.5% on everything else.

I used this card for everything, everywhere that takes Amex, including two dollar purchases at McDonald’s and most travel expenses for work. I used my Mileage Plus Visa as a backup. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Amex is accepted most places. Notable exceptions were:

1. School tuition. Part-time students can pay by credit card, but BU doesn’t take Amex.
2. Doctor’s offices. Veterinarian’s offices.
3. Hair salons and spas are iffy.

Hidden perk – Costco only takes American Express. So I was able to start buying my gas there. I don’t do it all the time, but it is a nice option to have.

The bottom line? $703.65 was my cash back for the year’s purchases.

The web site analysis told me that the average card user manages the 5% return on 15% of her purchases. My 5% return was on 25% of my purchases. I attribute that to two things:

1. I pay for groceries on my credit card. That makes some people squeamish.
2. My prescription drug program has me making the initial purchase and then being reimbursed by BCBS. So I am getting 5% back on all of those allergy drugs.

There is some fine print to note regarding the rewards program. For one thing, if you pay your bills late, you may forfeit the cash back altogether. That would suck. Also, there is a limit to the single-visit cash back for that 5% return ($500?). Neither of these things is an issue for me.

At the close of the year, American Express says that it will pay the reward after 30 days. Mine posted to my account over the weekend, so I was pleased.

Where I am not-so-pleased:

The web site shows earnings of 1.25% rather than 1.5% for the next time around. I am disappointed, but the talking heads warned us that these benefits were in jeopardy as banks tried to stabilize. So I am not crying about it.

Especially since that $736 that I spent in New Orleans was pretty well covered by that cash back. So my “free” vacation just became free again. Almost.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Required School Reading

I was reading an article not long ago about the high school reading lists. It was one of those great debates of the value of the "classic" versus something to which the kids might better relate. Or for which there is a modern message. Whatever.

I was in Barnes & Noble today and spotted the Required Reading table:

OK, there was no way to get a good picture here.

In addition to Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Harper Lee, we find The Kite Runner, Tuesdays with Morrie and Reading Lolita in Tehran. On the other side of the table were The Joy Luck Club (which my brother actually read in high school, which is how I discovered Amy Tan) and Wicked. The Lovely Bones was there, along with The Memory Keeper's Daughter. While I wouldn't call either great literature, they were good reads that had...themes...and stuff.

Mostly, I am loving this - with the hope that these modern titles will encourage more reading in general. But I also appreciate the other side of the argument - there is only so much time in the school and the classics are classics for a reason. And shouldn't there be some books that we all read in high school? I suggest that the closest we come to "everyone was assigned these books" was Hamlet and To Kill a Mockingbird. And I am sure you will all recall that I didn't read the latter until I was 30. I do remember being assigned one modern novel. It was one of Anne Tyler's and I hated it. The way I remember it, the writing just seemed so...middle aged.

In Ian McEwan's novel, Saturday, the grandfather paid the granddaughter to memorize poetry. She grew up to be a published poet. I swear I am going to pay my nephew to read books.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Randomness

At the Office:

Summer hours have started in my office, which means Fridays are really quiet. I plan to spend a bunch of time in our mail room.

A dozen years ago, when I first started here, my boss told me that our mail room was overwhelmed with the new business brought in by our new affiliate company and if I had any spare time I should go help out there. I did, and it was fun. To this day I will maintain that the best way to learn the names of everyone in the company is to work for awhile in the mail room. Of course, as years went by (and my job changed and changed), I spent less and less time down there. And since we moved to the big-bad office complex I am rarely there at all. The equipment has evolved and I am afraid to touch anything, but I think it will be fun.


Many years ago, I asked my mother to pick up some oatmeal at the grocery store. There is only one flavor of oatmeal allowed in my house: Maple & Brown Sugar. I thought she also understood that there is only one brand: Quaker Oats. She brought home the Jewel brand, saying it was on sale and was exactly the same thing.

It was not.

This morning, I wanted something hot for breakfast and picked up some oatmeal at the deli. It was not Quaker Oats. It was not the same thing:

It isn’t bad exactly. It just tastes wrong.

Ongoing Search for the Perfect Hand Cream:

This is hardly worth reviewing because I don’t think it is made anymore. However, I was running low on hand cream at the office, so I brought this one from home:

Breathe:energy from Bath & Body Works has shea butter, so for work I’ll have to be careful what I touch after applying it. But that means it does last for the entire time between bathroom breaks/hand washings. The scent on this one is ginger verbena, which I really like. It was pretty expensive at $12.50, but I bought it at 75% off at the last clearance sale.

Geez. It really feels very Friday today.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Goode Family

If you asked me to name a time when, watching a TV show, I laughed so hard that I fell off the couch, I could name two:

One was when Joey figured out that Monica was hooking up with Chandler. The other was when Beavis and Butthead…ummm...said stuff. Heh heh.

Anyway. During the last couple
of episodes of Lost, I saw the preview for a new Mike Judge show called The Goode Family. It looked kind of like King of the Hill for crazy-green people. I caught the first two episodes last night. And it was kind of like King of the Hill for crazy-green poeple.

Judge does the voice of the dad, who I would describe as the hippie teacher from Beavis & Butthead if he got married and had children. That was a nice dose of nostalgia. The mom was like the mom on Daria, another Judge cartoon on MTV. The grandpa kind of reminds me of Hank Hill’s dad. I guess my point is that I wouldn’t exactly call this new. In fact, I wouldn’t even say I was totally paying attention. But:

Watching the eco-dad trying to get on with the football dads was fun. Watching the dog, doomed for all eternity to eat soy bones, hunting squirrel was fun. I wouldn’t use up DVR space on this show, but it has some potential. And it has to be better than watching reality TV all summer.


I was introduced to David Carradine when he scared the crap out of me as Justin LaMotte in North & South.

Yes. I know that isn't how you knew him.

I did not follow his career particularly closely and I don't know what happened out there in Bangkok, but the guy had Presence and I will miss him.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The End of the "Bring Me a Book" Story

After struggling for a bit, I decided to bring Jodi two books in New Orleans. The first was A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. It is set in New Orleans and I loved it. But because it is rather…weird, with a rat-crazy hero, I thought I had better have a back up plan. So I brought an Oprah book, too. I also had my six back issues of Vanity Fair for the worst case scenario. And I knew where the Walgreen’s is.

Turns out, she was loving A Confederacy of Dunces. I can’t tell you how happy that made me. This reminds me that I saw an actual statue of Ignatius Reilly out in front of a hotel on Canal Street. Sorry about the glare.

Of course, now I can’t expect to get the book back. Which is fine…I am sure I can find a nice hard cover at a used bookstore somewhere.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Free Vacation

I had a whole mess of United miles to burn. I used some for the plane ticket to New Orleans. Then I discovered that because I have a Mileage Plus Visa, I could use more for the hotel. I may have written that it only works for miles earned with the card and that I paid for the hotel with my card and was reimbursed by using the miles. Long story short, I didn't pay anything for my flight or my half of the hotel bill.

So I was checking my Amex card online today. Wow, did I spend a lot of money.

Between eating out, books and gifts, the cab fare (to and from the hotel and from O'Hare to my house) and miscellaneous cash out of pocket, I spent $736.

In my brain, it costs about $1,000 for a person to go on vacation. Did I spend more than that on my last road trip - when gas was $4.00 a gallon? Not by much. This time I spent $736 after airfare and hotels. How the hell does a family of four go to Disney World every other year?!

I daresay I have done my part for the economy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Writers' Theatre - The Minister's Wife

I closed my vacation with the Writers’ Theatre’s last show of the season, The Minister’s Wife, which is a world premiere musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida.

I’ll just let that one sink in for a minute.

Writers’ Theatre has done more than one “world premiere” and I generally enjoy them. It was directed by Michael Halberstam (my one true love) who has directed Candida in the past. In fact, if I understood the story from the playbill, Michael lit the fuse that launched the project in the first place.

I don’t always agree with his choices. And seriously, I didn’t even hear the second half of the first song because my eyeballs had rolled all the way to the back of my head and I was trying to shake them back into focus. But I warmed up to it.

Here is the summary from the website:

Reverend James Morell and his wife, Candida, are happily married—at least so they think. But when Eugene Marchbanks, a romantic young poet aims to rescue Candida from her domestic routine, everyone’s world is turned upside down. This world premiere musical is adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Candida by Austin Pendleton with lyrics by Jan Tranen and music by Josh Schmidt, the highly acclaimed and award-winning composer of Adding Machine. Sharp, witty and tender, A Minister’s Wife explores the fires burning beneath the surface of an ordinary marriage and discovers a secret in the heart.

First, someone please help me with this: When I was in high school, I was taught a term for a particular literary device and I can’t remember it:

When a character is much discussed but little spoken to, when what she does means less than what she represents – it is called something. In class, we were discussing the chick in Cyrano de Bergerac. That is how Candida seems in the beginning of the story. I was all braced for just exactly how much I was going to hate this character when she finally made an appearance.

But as the play progresses and we get to know her, Candida doesn’t suck. I rather liked her. I fancy that I even understood her.

[That sound you heard was my mother fainting dead away.]

The men were the big fools. The climax of the play involves Candida’s husband and the 18-year old punk asking her to choose between them. I laughed out loud as Candida played along. That might have something to do with the actor playing the kid – he was like a big, demented Hobbit. I am pretty sure he meant to play it that way.

The actors were good all the way around. The musicians, huddled backstage, sounded great to my untrained ear. I’m just not sure this one requires singing.

In any event, here goes Writers’ Theatre again, making me go read a play to find out if I really liked it or I just liked this interpretation.