Saturday, March 10, 2007

Counting down to '08

Since January I've been taking night classes in Spanish at the University of Wisconsin. I'm not doing this for any single reason. It's partly because I'm a journalist who covers the city of Madison, and there are more and more Spanish speakers here. It's partly because the karma feels right -- this is an increasingly Spanish-speaking nation, so why not be able to talk with the neighbors?

And it's also fun being back in school, though language courses were not my favorites in college and graduate school. I liked them much more than science and math lectures, much less than literature and history seminars.

Mostly I bring this up because I wanted to tell you about something funny that happened Thursday night. For some reason the topic of landscape greenery came up, including bushes. Our instructor Antonio asked whether anyone knew the Spanish word for bush, and one of my fellow students guessed, in a stage whisper: "Diablo?"

Grinning, Antonio feigned horror and the group of 20 or so of us laughed and laughed -- except for one woman, who looked uncomfortable.

The word, as it happens, is arbusto.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Speak, people

I'm not sure how it happened, but the Milwaukee publication MKE has put this blog in the running for MKE blog of the week. That is an elected honor, and the site for voting is here. You know what to do.
Player one

Read my Daily Page review of "The Joy of Sticks," an exhibit of classic video games at the Wisconsin Historical Museum.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tax time tip

Here's a vocabulary refresher: The tax return is the form you send to the IRS. If the IRS then sends you money, that is a tax refund. Some folks call that the return. It's the refund. Now back to your Form 1120-S (Schedule K-1).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Have you ever felt stuck with a book? For years I have owned a cheap paperback edition of William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and some weeks ago -- or was it months ago? -- having finished another book and not knowing what to read next, I finally started the Shirer. It's very interesting, but I despair of ever completing it. It is 1,599 pages long, counting end notes and index. I am on page 798, and the Germans have just invaded Poland.

In the meantime, I have accumulated numerous other books I'd like to read, and I find myself sneaking peeks at them, even reading a chapter here or there, before I wearily return to the Shirer. I definitely have read too much of it to stop now, and I will be relieved -- and, hopefully, informed -- when I finish. But is it fun to read for leisure with a sense of dreary obligation?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sad to behold, sad to recall

Recently I watched this clip of a news report about the death of John Lennon, in which grown New Yorkers are seen standing in the street and weeping. And I wondered (not to be morbid): the death of which pop star today would result in Americans standing in the street and weeping? I'm at a loss to think of even one.

So what was it about Lennon? I think it was not only that he had the qualities we expect in our pop stars today -- sexiness, a tendency to public antics -- but also that he seemed truly intelligent, and vulnerable and honest ("Help!"), and that resonated profoundly with his fans. Also resonant, perhaps, was Lennon's apparent lack of calculatedness, which makes him different from, for example, Bono. The U2 singer seems intelligent and honest, too, but a little slick.

I suppose there was a political component as well. For many fans Lennon embodied the hopefulness that was part of the ethos of the 1960s. (Nihilism was another part.) So perhaps for some -- and here I lapse into cliche -- the death of Lennon was the death of hope.

In my lifetime, the nearest analog to those crying Lennon fans I can think of is the aftermath of the murder of the pop star Selena, in 1995. There was a paroxysm of anguish that spanned a hemisphere, if memory serves.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Love is in the air

I was surprised to learn from this article, which ran in today's Wisconsin State Journal, that the filmmaker Nick Cassavetes' favorite love song is Shania Twain's "You're Still The One." The piece reports the preferred love songs of various celebrities -- including Jennifer Hudson, who cites "My Funny Valentine" but says "I've never understood that song." She raises a good point. I don't understand it either.

I'm struck by the Cassavetes choice because the Shania Twain song is a favorite of mine, too, but I don't like to talk about it. A lot of sensible people despise Twain's music, not without justification, but that song really does cast a spell.

As for my favorite love song, I'd probably have to go with Etta James' "At Last," although I heard one yesterday -- at Walgreens, of all places -- that blew me away as I perusing Teen Vogue: Jeff Healey's "Angel Eyes" (which is a John Hiatt song, for those of you keeping track). I'd completely forgotten about that tune. Thank you, Walgreens.