Saturday, May 23, 2015

I Am a Terro-ist

We've had more ants in our house than usual this spring. They created an ant superhighway along our kitchen counter to the sink. If I reached up to the cupboard wearing a loose shirt, a few would hop on. Eventually, I started thinking every little itch I felt was an ant crawling on me. Before I went insane, I decided it was time to end this. It was time for Terro Ant Killer.

Look at those poor bastards lapping up that sweet, deadly sauce. Within two days, our ants have virtually disappeared.

Friday, May 22, 2015


They scraped the deteriorated asphalt off our street this morning to prepare for resurfacing. This will be the second time our street has been repaved since we moved in, and that makes me feel old.

We've owned this house for 17 years. I am old.

Confession: the main reason I am posting this is because those machines are really cool and I was excited to photograph one in front of our house.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

2015 Books Part IV

The Gospel According to The Fix: An Insider's Guide to a Less Than Holy World of Politics by Chris Cillizza - I rarely read about politics these days because so much is dreadfully slanted (both ways), but this is a pretty good book that doesn't choose sides. It's about politics itself rather than ideology. Although it was published three years ago, the material has a longer shelf life than most books about politics (the opposite of what one might expect from a political blogger). 4 stars

How to Get Divorced by 30: My Misguided Attempt at a Starter Marriage by Sascha Rothchild - This quick and funny read has a clever format: 30 chapters as "steps" such as "Date a Jerk in Your Early Twenties", "Resent Each Other", and "Marry an Actor". I bought this during Borders' pre-bankruptcy glory days, when each store had a slightly different collection of recent $2.99-$3.99 remainders and sometimes they would be on sale for only $1 (as on the receipt tucked into this book). 4 stars

Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground by Jonathan Kay - The title is misleading. It's about conspiracy theories in America more generally and mentions a lot of groups. I expected to read more about the Truthers as people, but Kay includes just a few character sketches. Much as Anti-Semites blame the Jews for all the world's problems, Kay blames Anti-Semites for all conspiracies, which I find rather dubious. From the clever cover design I expected this book to be more entertaining, but it took me a long time to plow through it. 3 stars

Where Is the Mango Princess? A Journey Back from Brain Injury by Cathy Crimmins - This heart-wrenching memoir is by a woman whose husband was run over by a boat in Canada and recounts his recovery. Although he was rather successful in becoming functional again, he was not the same person he was before the accident. Everyone thinks of brain injury affecting memory, but personality can change as well. Crimmins had a tragic life, medically. She wrote another book a few years later about her daughter's medical problems, and then she died at 54 due to surgery complications. 4 stars


Tuesday, April 07, 2015

2015 Books Part III

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin - I wanted this to be a five-star book. I love music and I enjoy books about the brain. But somehow this didn't quite work for me. Levitin begins with a lesson on music theory, but I never really "got it" and struggled through the book. 4 stars

Ticket to Ride: Lost and Found in America by Sarah Darmody - Aussie Darmody wins the visa lottery and the opportunity to become an American. After spending some time in Florida with her father, she sets out to see the country she has won.,, via Greyhound. This is a great story packed with experiences around the Lower 48 and all-too-vivid details of riding the bus. Along the way, she examines what America and being American are all about from a balanced, thoughtful perspective. 5 stars

Thin Is the New Happy by Valerie Frankel - This is a memoir I shouldn't have even bought. It's a total "chick book" about a lifetime of body image issues. Then I almost never read it.* But Frankel is a talented writer (she wrote 14 novels before this memoir), and I breezed through this entertaining though narcissistic book. 4 stars

Life Is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America by Bruce Weber - Ostensibly about a bike tour, this book is really more of a memoir than a travelogue. Throughout his journey, Weber delves into various aspects of his 57-year life past and present. After all, there is a lot of time for reflection on a solo bike trip. This isn't necessarily a great bicycle touring book, but it is excellent nonetheless. 5 stars

* Much like Frankel and her body image, I have had a long and complicated relationship with this book. I bought it for $2 in the clearance section of Half Price Books (Minneapolis in 2010, IIRC). Several times I put it in my "read soon" pile, and once I even took it along on a trip but didn't read it. Eventually it lost favor and wound up in The Boxes, an attic exile for unread books that I doubt I will ever read (ultimately headed to Open Books, but perhaps not until I die). Then I bought Frankel's follow-up memoir a few months ago from (which was odd since I had previously examined and rejected it in a store, but this time it was a good deal—gee, how did I end up with so many books?). Several weeks ago I revisited The Boxes and fished out a few dozen books for another chance, replacing them with an equal number banished from the "unread" bookcase in our library (which also includes half a dozen stacks in front of the bookcase—I am awful). When I finished Ticket to Ride, I decided to choose one of the formerly exiled books and settled on this one.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 Books Part II

Mental: Funny in the Head by Eddie Sarfaty - The author bounces along through funny episodes from his life, then he hits you with a poignant tale. Warning: Sarfaty is gay and there's some hot dude-on-dude action (in case that bothers you). 4 stars

The Urban Hermit by Sam MacDonald - This book wasn't what I expected. MacDonald isn't really a hermit, he just stops going to the bar. His diet is interesting but brutal. Overall the book has its moments, but it isn't great. 3 stars

Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur - As a former fan of pro cycling, I've read many books about Armstrong from the hagiographic to the accusatory (six from this book's Selected Bibliography plus at least two more). Cycle of Lies is exceptional. If you want to know the whole story from childhood to scandal, this is the book to read (though Macur doesn't get into the blow-by-blow of the now-tainted races). Moral of the story: If you are going to cheat, don't be a dick. Armstrong burned too many people who knew too much. 5 stars

Pornification by Andrew Benjamin - Twenty years ago, I was at a bar with a couple of female friends who loved the X-rated movie title Edward Penishands (I don't recall whether they actually saw the film). They challenged me to pornify some movie titles. I remember they said Pulp Fiction and I replied with Pump Friction. Pornification is that game in book form. It's funny sometimes but for the most part I could have written it myself a long time ago if I thought enough people would buy it (in fact, Pump Friction appears on page 37). Maybe it's worthwhile if you find it cheap like I did. 2 stars


Sunday, March 08, 2015

2015 Books Part I

Note: As in 2014, I am going to bundle these reviews in fours. Because the publisher gave me a free copy of Popology, I felt I should give it an entire post of its own. Consider that the fourth book of this post.

The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J. Hand - This book has turned me into a bit (more) of a killjoy. Now when people tell me about some amazing coincidence, I just shrug and say it's no big deal. Also I love the four aces cover design: not only do playing cards figure prominently in probability, but the author's name is Hand4 stars

Little New York Bastard by M. Dylan Raskin - I think I bought this because I read a bitter, judgmental excerpt in the store and thought it was funny. Unfortunately, the whole book is like that, and it gets old. Plus he hates on Chicago a lot. 2 stars

Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet by Mark Adams - I had never heard of Macfadden when I picked up this book. His life story is fascinating, and in it one can find the roots of so many popular health fads. 5 stars


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Popology: The Music of the Era in the Lives of Four Icons of the 1960s by Timothy English

Full disclosure: The publisher sent me a free copy of Popology because I reviewed a previous title by the author.

In Popology, English writes about the musical tastes of John F. Kennedy; Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy; and Thomas Merton. This is a great time for a book like this. Had it been written 20 years ago, we wouldn't be able to follow along by listening to these songs on the Internet.

The first chapter about JFK gets the book off to a slow start. He grew up with "American Songbook" tunes, so I couldn't relate. This chapter also exposes the book's biggest flaw: sloppy typographical errors. Composer Richard Rodgers, famous for co-writing songs for Broadway musicals with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, suffers the indignity of having his last name spelled three different ways!

The Martin Luther King, Jr. chapter is a little more interesting, getting into what most people consider "the music of the 1960s" (the era beginning with the Beatles' arrival in America a few months after JFK's assassination). I was not aware of Harry Belafonte's financial and strategic contributions to the civil rights movement, nor did I know that his Calypso was the first million-selling LP by an individual singer.

My favorite chapter, both musically and biographically, is about Bobby Kennedy. I didn't know a lot about him before, and now I can better understand how devastating his assassination was to many Americans.

I had never heard of Thomas Merton. Even my mom hadn't, and I would expect her to know a prominent 1960s Catholic. Frankly, Merton's inclusion seems a bit forced by the author. His story is interesting and includes 1960s music, but his fame and impact are not on the level of the Kennedys and MLK.

Overall, Popology is new way of looking at the music of the 1960s, and as such is a worthwhile read.

4 stars

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Bastard of the Day

Once again, newly minted Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is the bastard of the day. In Wednesday's State of the State address, Rauner looked at our state's economic woes and said, "You know what's wrong with Illinois? Unions!" And then the bastard businessman dared to call his anti-union initiative "employee empowerment zones" as if the employees gain power from rejecting unions.

Let the race to the bottom begin!

Oh well, at least he didn't blame the Jews.

Friday, February 06, 2015

2014 Books Part XIX

Here is the 73rd and final book I read in 2014...

America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom by Michael Ian Black and Megan McCain - A liberal and a conservative embark on a cross-country road trip to talk with Americans. Black is just okay. McCain is more complicated, veering from naive and obnoxious to thoughtful and poignant. They meet a few entertaining characters, but there isn't much substance here. 2 stars

Saturday, January 31, 2015

2014 Books Part XVIII

Yes, I'm still wrapping up last year...

Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola by Mark Thomas - A friend who knows how much I love drinking Coca-Cola told me not to read this book. In the end it didn't really change how I feel about the stuff. I'm just too cynical; I think all multinational corporations are bastards. 4 stars

Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones by Bill Janovitz - This book kicked off a month-long Stones obsession for me. Janovitz offers a musician's perspective on classic Stones songs and puts them into the context of the band's history. 5 stars

50 Licks: Myths and Stories from Half a Century of the Rolling Stones by Peter Fornatale with Bernard M. Corbett - Like Rocks Off, this book tells a chronological story of the band, but former DJ Fontanelle focuses more on tales than songs. 4 stars

Life by Keith Richards with James Fox - I have read a lot of rock memoirs, and Life is one of the very best. Richards has so many great stories, and some are augmented by remembrances from others. 5 stars


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Game Over

Spotted in an alley in Albany Park...

Monday, January 19, 2015


Went to ride my bike on the trainer today, and I had a flat tire! How did that happen?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bastard of the Day

Okay, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, I gave you 24 hours. Now the honeymoon is over. You are already a bastard:
“It’s been clear that there has been some inappropriate decisions, either it’s with appointments or re-classifying employees, what we’re going to do is across the board cancel all appointments, we are going to cancel all hires, cancel all, rescind all, the actions that the governor has taken since Nov. 1,” Rauner said during his first news conference since taking the oath of office Monday.
I hate to break it to you, Bruce, but you did not become governor when you won the election in November. You became governor yesterday. Former Governor Pat Quinn had every right to govern as he did during the intervening two months, and I'm sure you will govern similarly when your term ends (which can't come soon enough).

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Books Part XVII

A Field Guide to Sprawl by Dolores Hayden - Definitions of common suburban/exurban sights/sites are illustrated by Jim Wark's aerial photographs. It's mildly interesting; I would have appreciated it more about 20 years ago (alas it was published only ten years ago). 3 stars

Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank: A Slightly Tarnished Southern Belle's Words of Wisdom by Celia Rivenbark - This is a decent collection of humorous essays about family life, celebrities, and southern culture. For a long time I thought her last name was Riverbank3 stars

Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates - Here is yet another book based on a blog I haven't read. Yates makes snarky comments about cake decoration mistakes. 4 stars

Lab Fever: Living, Loving and Laughing with America's #1 Pet by Bruce Cochran - These single-frame cartoons provide a spot-on portrayal of life with a Labrador retriever. Funny stuff. 4 stars


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 Books Part XVI

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield - Love is a Mix Tape was a good, pop-culturally-oriented memoir, but it was clouded by impending doom. Sheffield's second book is lighter and easier to enjoy, especially for someone familiar with 1980s music. 4 stars

Kinky's Celebrity Files by Kinky Friedman - In this quick read, the legendary Friedman writes about famous friends and their pets. And there are pictures, too. 4 stars

The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse by David Owen - Owen makes a convincing argument that we cannot solve the global warming problem with technology. Along the way, he dispenses with stupid eco-fads like the locavore movement.* 4 stars

The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" by Alan Light - "Hallelujah" has taken on a life of its own. Light writes about songwriter Cohen, performer Buckley, and countless interpretations of the song by other artists. He also examines how this sort-of-religious song has become popular in an increasingly secular culture and how the emotions it evokes as a soundtrack have changed over the years. 5 stars

* The goal is to reduce energy use, but transportation is only a small portion of the energy cost of food. Therefore it is better to grow food in the most resource-efficient location rather than merely the closest. (Of course, some locavores may have other objectives, such as supporting the local economy.)