The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Economic Hit Men, Hard Gainers, and Dead Celebrities
The Secret History of the American Empire by John Perkins -- I thought Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was a pretty interesting book, so I looked forward to reading this one. It promised to provide more specifics, and it delivers. Perkins moves from continent to continent describing how the American corporatocracy has enslaved and manipulated so-called Third World countries since World War II. Actually, A Secret History would be a more appropriate title because the book is far from thorough. It is based on Perkins' own experiences (lapsing occasionally into memoir) and those of other economic hit men and jackals (his word) that he has met over the years. The examples he gives are just the tip of the iceberg, but this book could really shock a less jaded reader. Perkins ends on a hopeful note with a rousing call to action, comparing our times to the days of the American Revolution with corporate tyranny in place of King George III. As always, I remain pessimistic.

Beyond Brawn by Stuart McRobert -- This is one of the most thorough books about weight training that I have ever seen. Beyond Brawn is aimed at "hard gainers." At first, this was a turn-off to me because I don't consider myself to be one -- I've always been able to build muscle reasonably quickly when I bothered to lift regularly. But McRobert's broader definition of hard gainer includes the 85% of us who aren't genetically gifted or chemically enhanced. The book describes in painstaking detail how most people should train. Throw away the muscle magazines with their "12 sets per isolated body part" workouts that will only exhaust and frustrate most people. McRobert advocates "abbreviated training," which means fewer sets of fewer exercises with less frequency, focusing on multi-joint exercises that stimulate muscle growth throughout the body. He likes squats, bench press, overhead press, etc., and he loves deadlifts. Unlike many books in the genre, Beyond Brawn doesn't prescribe specific workouts. McRobert instead gives readers the tools (and freedom) to create their own routines. The book also excludes instructions regarding exercise form; for that, get McRobert's forthcoming Insider's Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Training Technique. The author is intent on imparting information rather than providing entertainment for the reader. My wife doesn't like his serious, somewhat dry, often repetitive style, which I also find tedious at times. She prefers the lighter (but still informative) tone of The New Rules of Lifting, which similarly concentrates on multi-joint exercises. Note: I read the Revised Edition from 2001, not the 2007 Second Edition available from below.

The Last Days of Dead Celebrities by Mitchell Fink -- I wasn't going to buy this, but after reading the chapter about Warren Zevon in the store, I decided to give it a shot. Covering 15 celebrities who have died since 1980, Fink sets the scene and then describes their final months or days. It's a thoughtful survey of death in general: sometimes it comes suddenly, other times naturally or mercifully. The tragic tales of the Johns (Lennon, Belushi, Denver, Ritter) are the most painful to read, even after many years have passed. Perhaps the saddest passage in the book comes from Dan Aykroyd. After his efforts to save Belushi from himself, he recounts having "the talk" with River Phoenix, Chris Farley, and James Taylor's brother Alex-- yet all three died of drug overdoses. Several of the deaths in the book are surrounded by controversy, such as Margaux Hemingway, who did not seem suicidal; Ted Williams, who allegedly did not want to be frozen; and Tupac Shakur, whose Las Vegas murder remains unsolved. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book, even the chapters about people who never interested me before.

Just when I felt confident that I was getting ahead in the game, I answered the siren song of a Half Price Books e-mail full of coupons and bought seven books. Now I'm behind by one book for the year. I'm still struggling to keep this New Year's resolution.

Current tally: 24 books finished, 25 books acquired

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008
It was bad enough when I dreamed last night that my wife had died. Then I woke up to this. Although there was no mention in my dream about whether she died in the line of duty, it made today's sad news that much more disturbing.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008
Bicycle Funeral
I had a dream last night. My mom took me to a bicyclist's funeral Mass. It wasn't anyone I knew personally, but that didn't matter. Several men in suits wheeled a riderless bike covered with white flowers down the aisle of the church to the altar. The priest gave some sort of blessing over the bicycle and said a few words about the cyclist. Then the men solemnly wheeled the bike back up the aisle and out of the church. I cried through the whole thing.

Afterward, we went back to, um, somewhere -- it wasn't my house, and it wasn't my parents' house. Then Jennifer came over to mourn with me (though we have never met face-to-face). I recounted the Mass I had attended in vivid detail and began sobbing again. By the end of my description, Jennifer was crying with me.

Then Gracie jumped on the bed and barked in my ear, so I woke up.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007
A New Perspective on "Pro-Life"
This morning I took the car in for service at Napleton's Northwestern Ford in Rogers Park (RIP Bert Weinman Ford; I still miss you, especially your convenient location). Since I had at least 90 minutes to kill, I went out for breakfast.

There was a couple seated across the aisle from me, and although I was reading an interesting book, I couldn't help eavesdropping. The woman was upset because she had given a guy (it wasn't clear whether he was a relative or a good friend) some money to get the brakes fixed on his car. "He spent it on drugs," she said.

Later, she was talking about the same guy (I think). She said, "When I talked to him, I thought he was okay. He was talking pro-life. He wasn't talking pro-crackhead." Apparently, in some American subcultures, "pro-life" has nothing to do with abortion. It's about keeping oneself clean and staying alive.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007
A Million Ways To Die
Yesterday's blog entry about the woman who raced a train and lost brought to mind one of my greatest fears -- that I'll die while doing something incredibly stupid, and people will forever remember me as "that dumbass who tried to..."

This fear has probably saved my life a few times. I was doing something, I realized how dumb I would look if I died in the process, and then I backed off and did something less dangerous. I won't share any examples, so use your imagination ("I was at the gas station last night when the lights went out, so I reached for my lighter...").

If I do die in such a moronic manner, I can only hope my survivors will be kind enough to spruce up my obituary with evidence that at least I wasn't always that stupid. Still, it will be little consolation to have my summa cum laude honors mentioned right after my Darwin Award nomination.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005
When I Die...
I'd like to have an obituary like this:

Theodore Roosevelt Heller, 88, loving father of Charles (Joann) Heller; dear brother of the late Sonya (the late Jack) Steinberg. Ted was discharged from the U.S. Army during WWII due to service related injuries, and then forced his way back into the Illinois National Guard insisting no one tells him when to serve his country. Graveside services Tuesday 11 a.m. at Waldheim Jewish Cemetery (Ziditshover section), 1700 S. Harlem Ave., Chicago. In lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans. (Emphasis added, hat tip to Buzzflash via AlterNet Peek)
Send sympathy cards to my wife and my mother, and send those letters to my dad.


Saturday, August 27, 2005
Teddy Bear Johnsen 1991(?)-2005
Teddy's condition steadily worsened since the last update. He could barely stand, and he was losing his appetite. I consulted with one of his vets last night. He said that to reduce the clotting in Teddy's legs they would have to cut back on his prednisone. Of course, doing that would send his red blood cell count down. We would end up back where we started a month ago. We could hospitalize him and give him an IV that might reduce the clotting, but his chances would be 50% at best, and other clots could form later (potentially in more critical areas). He assured me that we could let him go with a clear conscience, knowing that we did all we could to help him.

Last night I fed him hamburger for dinner, followed by pizza topping a few hours later. He ate some of each but didn't finish. I petted him until my wife came home from work, and then I went to bed. This morning I found my wife in the living room with Teddy; she hadn't slept all night. We took him to the vet this morning ostensibly for his weekly blood test, but we knew he probably wasn't coming home. Another vet reassured us, and we decided it was time. We held and petted him as she searched for a vein. Once she injected the drug, he died almost instantly.

Even though we know we did the right thing, it still hurts even more than we expected. I have a lot of thoughts, but that's all I can write for now. Thanks for seven of the best years of our lives. We'll always love you, big guy.

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