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Thursday, March 31, 2005

On the Juiciness of Roasting Chickens

Today's Houston Chronicle "Dining Guide" contains an article which shows why restaurant writing should be discouraged with heavy fines and jail time (and I'm not ruling out the possibility of capital punishment for repeat offenders).

The writer, Alison Cook, churns out a gushing review for a restaurant called La Parmigiana. The article cranks along all right until we come to the description of the Mezzaluna pizza, which is folded in half:

The folded half-moon, a sort of quasi-calzone, hides a cache of fontina cheese gigged with emphatic sun-dried tomato: simple and effective.

Gigged? As in frog? And I hate those non-committal sun-dried tomatoes.

As for other pizzas:

Still other versions rope blameless hunks of grilled chicken into the mix...They're successful combinations, but chicken basically doesn't belong on a pizza...I'd rather have a sliver of prosciutto or a wheel of spicy sausage than neutral, inoffensive chicken any day.

Rope? Well, it is Texas, after all. Yee-ha!

But what, I asked Niles, if your chicken isn't blameless and inoffensive? What if it's one of those foul street chickens, a real tough egg, always up before the beak and accustomed to long stays in the coop? What, in short, if your chicken is guilty?

This (as so much does) caused Niles to sing: Guilty chickens got no pizza...

Well, OK, it was a scream before breakfast.

A while back, someone wrote to Miss Manners about an annoying friend who would suddenly burst into song:

Whenever I put several words together that happen to be a song title, or words in a song, she'll start singing.

For example, I might say something like: "I heard the weather's going to be stormy tonight," and she'll immediately start singing, "Stormy weather. There's no sun up in the sky, stormy weather." If I try to return to the conversation, she'll smile sweetly and continue singing, "Since my man and I ain't together . . ."

I'll try again to return to the conversation, but she'll keep smiling and singing, "Keeps raining all the time," until she forgets what comes next (but she'll go into another verse when she knows the words).

We laughed and laughed at this. It was Niles who inspired this post by breaking into song when I morosely remarked that "All the blogs are down."

He usually stops singing when I kick him.

[By the way, if the title confuses you, just see here, and here (third photo) and oh especially here (third and fourth photos).]

A Look Back at THE FUTURE!

The other day, while hunting for something else, I came upon this beautiful site displaying old science-fiction magazine covers, with witty commentary. Not exactly the Gallery of Regrettable Food, but we wouldn't want that anyway.

A pity that we now know that the planet [Venus] has a surface temperature of 900° C, pressure that would flatten Don King's hair, and a constant rain of sulphuric acid. Still, rates are reasonable.

From that last sentence, I'm guessing he's an MST3K fan.

I particularly recommend the Life on Other Worlds pages, featuring the work of Frank R. Paul. Start with the Life on the Planets page, where sparkly space babes give you saucy looks while downing tiny mysterious cocktails. (Despite the mention of Paul, this cover is by Earle Bergey. Earle, baby, those gloves: no. What's up with you and the gloves? See some of the covers here).

Oh, and sometimes a spaceship is only a spaceship. Not, however, in this instance.

Man, those were the days, eh? Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton. Sigh.

Close-Order Swanning About

Caption this.

"Friends, cygnets, countryfowl, lend me your -- wait, do we have ears?"

If the above link doesn't work, try this one.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Prime Mover Immobilized

Last week the Independent ran, on its front page, a long, ruminative piece titled "Was Bush right after all?" (read it here for a pound, or get the Google cache for free).

After noting several traces of democracy in the Middle East, the author, Rupert Cornwell, writes:

How much Mr Bush is responsible for these development is debatable. The peaceful uprising in Lebanon was provoked by outrage at the assassination of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri, in which a Syrian hand is suspected, although not proven. Then the man who insisted on elections in Iraq when the US wanted to postpone or dilute them was Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, leader of Iraq's majority Shia community. And the death from old age of Yasser Arafat, not machinations in Washington, led to the election that might break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock.

Indubitably, however, even his most grudging domestic opponents and his harshest critics in the region admit that Mr Bush is also in part responsible.

Oh, dear! Not to worry, though. It'll probably all come out wrong in the end:

Then there is the law of unintended consequences. The maddening thing about democracy, from the viewpoints of Mr Bush and Mr Mubarak alike, is that you cannot be sure of what you will get. A Shia-dominated government will emerge in Iraq, but no one knows whether it will be secular or theocratic. What will Washington do if Islamic movements threaten repressive but reliable autocrats such as Mr Mubarak?

While the Independent deserves a golf clap for having gone this far in acknowledgment of Bush's role, it's a little ironic considering the usual media (especially lefty media) view of Bush, as Prime Mover. In that post, over two years old, I argued that there was a view abroad in the world's media of the US (and, of course, Bush) as the only real actors on the world stage. All other countries and entities are forced into reacting to Bush's actions. In that particular case, it was North Korea which broke a no-nukes agreement, but it was Bush's responsibility to do something about it. At other times (not mentioned in that post) Bush is also expected to do something about the Palestinians. Then, when they make their boneheaded response, it can be his fault for forcing them into it.

So for years now, Bush has been presented by much of the media as the only one who can actually do anything, which has always (of course!) been wrong. But now, when something he's done has turned out well, the Independent hems and haws and says well, it wasn't so much of a much.

As I say, though, they do deserve some credit for not spinning democracy in the Middle East as an absolute disaster of religion-crazed millions finally getting out from under the control of their strongmen to wreak havoc upon the globe. They only sort of hint at it a little.

By the way, the real news here may be what isn't said: the case of the dog that didn't bark in the night. The word "oil" does not appear once in Cornwell's article. Remember when it was ALL ABOUT THE OIL!? Here, we seem to have forgotten all about it. Bush's motives are presented as possibly naive and dangerous, but not sinister. The WMDs are alluded to indirectly only in one sentence (that I saw). That omission may be more significant than the lukewarm acknowledgment of Bush's role.

Independent article via The Daily Ablution.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Madness of Crowds

Best of the Web links to an article by Claudia Rosett in the New York Sun, on the attitudes toward George Bush in Beirut (warning: this link, for some reason, crashed my Netscape several times):

BEIRUT - Flags fluttering, horns honking, and fingers flashing V for victory, Lebanon's opposition converged on downtown Beirut yesterday in the biggest democratic protest in the history of the modern Middle East.


Unlike the Hezbollah demonstrators with their chants of "Death to America," many in the crowd were friendly to Americans. "Thank's Free World," (sic) said one poster, held high by a woman in a bright red jacket, Rawya Okal, who told me: "We thank Mr. Bush for his position." Overhearing this in the throng, a middle-aged man in a green baseball cap, Louis Nahanna, leaned over to say, "We love the American people" - adding, "Please don't let Bush forget us. Your support is very important."

Asking more people what they thought of Americans turned up the same refrain. From a young driver, Fadi Mrad, came the message: "We want to change. We need freedom. Please don't let Bush forget us." From a group of young men came not only the message "Our hope is America," and "We believe in democracy in the Middle East," but also praise for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. There was also an invitation from one of them, young Edgard Baradhy, for his heroine, Ms. Rice, to come to Beirut "and I am ready to take her for coffee."

At one point, two young men sitting on a sidewalk mistook this reporter for a Frenchwoman, and called out "Vive la France!" The European nation's president, Jacques Chirac, has also come out in support of the democratic movement. When I told them that I was American, they got to their feet and came over to say, "Welcome to Lebanon."

Huh. What a change from a few short years ago, when Elisabetta Burba wrote this for the Wall Street Journal:

BEIRUT--Where were you on Sept. 11, when terrorists changed the world? I was at the National Museum here, enjoying the wonders of the ancient Phoenicians with my husband...Walking downtown, I realized that the offspring of this great civilization were celebrating a terrorist outrage. And I am not talking about destitute people. Those who were cheering belonged to the elite of the Paris of Middle East: professionals wearing double-breasted suits, charming blond ladies, pretty teenagers in tailored jeans.


An hour later, at a little market near the U.S. Embassy, on the outskirts of Beirut, a thrilled shop assistant showed us, using his hands, how the plane had crashed into the twin towers. He, too, was laughing.


Once back at the house where we were staying, we started scanning the international channels. Soon came reports of Palestinians celebrating. The BBC reporter in Jerusalem said it was only a tiny minority. Astonished, we asked some moderate Arabs if that was the case. "Nonsense," said one, speaking for many. "Ninety percent of the Arab world believes that Americans got what they deserved."

The rest of the article is more of the same.

Rather than regard this apparent change of heart with satisfaction, I would caution that it's more likely an example of the fickle nature of politics, especially politics in a region where rhetoric (as well as action) takes forms which are -- to our sensibilities -- overheated, absurd, grotesque. Remember the tales of Kuwaiti babies born in 1991, and proudly given the name of George Bush. Ten or twelve years later, some of their parents regretted their actions, we have been told. Same thing goes with babies named "Saddam".

By the way, speaking of Burba, Reason's Michael Young tried to spread doubt on her story, noting that her evidence is often flimsy: she does not speak Arabic, and relies on those who do to interpret certain events for her. He accuses her of pandering to the WSJ (as a roundabout way of accusing the WSJ of fomenting anti-Arab sentiment).

If you read the two articles, you'll see that Young does have some points. But if we're to take them seriously, we must discount nearly every article on "local opinion" that was ever written by any journalist in a foreign land. Fine by me. Furthermore, Young -- who lives in Lebanon, unlike the visiting Burba -- doesn't counter her observations with any of his own. He only warns against collective responsibility and wrings his hands over Burba's lack of nuance. His assertions are far less well-grounded (in his article, that is) than hers.

Moving along, I also learn from Young that Burba was the journalist who turned over forged documents, regarding attempts by Iraq to buy uranium from Niger, to the US embassy in Rome. If you'll recall, in the 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said that British intelligence had evidence that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa. When the story on these forgeries came up, many rushed to identify these as the basis on which Bush made that claim, although that was far from clear.

Young, still smarting over the Beirut article, calls Burba a "bogus reporter". Burba was given the documents by a "usually reliable source" (see here for details). She investigated, and concluded that the documents were faked, but she did turn them over to the US embassy in Rome, on the instructions of her editor. This makes her a "bogus" reporter of "Nixonian deceptiveness", according to Young, who "betrayed her profession". I was unable to google up a halfway reliable source which explained why she turned them over to the US, and whether she explained her misgivings about them when she did so.

I include this information mostly because I found it, and thought it might be relevant to Burba's claims about the reaction of the Lebanese. But also because I think Michael Young makes himself look like an ass, and that was amusing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Indecent Over-Exposure

Yesterday the Houston Chronicle ran a story on the front page of its lifestyles section -- the section with the Dear Abby and the movie ads and the comics -- about the play Orange Flower Water. The on-line headline says "Orange Flower Water is pungent, darker" (than the author's other plays), but the one in the dead-trees edition just said it was "bolder".

Both, however, carried the same photo, of a woman [un]dressing. She has her shirt open, and you can see she's wearing one of those bras designed for a low-cut blouse (which the blouse she has on isn't).

I would think this photo is just a little spicier than you'd get on prime-time TV, but since I haven't watched prime-time TV in ages, I really don't know.

Now, when I saw this in the paper, I raised my eyebrows and said, "Huh!" But I didn't have fainting fit, nor did I feel the need to burn the paper before little Bobby and Betty saw it and were driven to a life of SIN! (mostly because I don't own a little Bobby or Betty).

On the other hand, I did think: What the hell? Was there no other photo they could have run? Was the rest of the play performed completely nude? The article mentions the protagonists house-hunting together, an activity that I trust was carried out fully clothed.

Assuming there were parts of the play without nudity, I can only conclude that the editors ran this particular photo for the purpose of either 1) titillating (tee hee) the loutish parts of their audience ("Looka here Vern! This broad's flashin' her tits!" "Damn! I'm gonna run down and git my own copy!"), or 2) angering the sort of people who would be offended by boobies in the morning paper ("Hah! What do you think of this, Rainbeaux? I talked the editor into running this photo. It's sure to disgust the slope-browed, knuckle-dragging, rednecks who make up the vast bulk of our readership." "Hmmm, well, one could see it as exploitative and degrading to women." "Well, I, er, never thought of--" "On the other hand, it'll make my stupid Aunt Eunice blow a gasket. Hurray!")

Or, I suppose, they're just so steeped in the "bold" world of the arts -- excuse me: Arts -- that a little minor flashing doesn't even register.

The other day Jeff Jarvis announced he'd found a handy-dandy indecency smasher. It's a remote control, you see! You don't like something, change the channel! Har har, what wit! Guess you showed those Neanderthals!

Not so damned fast. I, too, used to be one of these. But there comes a time when you can't change the channel.

In the early '90s, I used to drive to work everyday past these three giant billboards, and one day I noticed that one of the billboards sported a huge, naked, wriggling cartoon baby, under the legend "Soft as my butt!" (It was an ad for a soft-rock radio station.)

If I recall correctly, at about that time "butt" was being used pretty freely, any time, on radio and TV; before that, it was used only occasionally.

I realize that sounds a little odd now. It seems harmless enough, and there was certainly nothing obscene about the cute baby. But it's just one of those instances of a line being crossed. (If you want a real laugh, tune into an old TV show -- Star Trek is a good example -- and watch the characters squirm as they try to talk about sex, excretion, or butts without actually using any relevant words.)

This bothered me in ways I couldn't really explain. I didn't mind the word "butt" -- I used it myself, all the time: butt butt butt butt butt. I didn't think it would bring about the collapse of civilization. But I wasn't sure that I really wanted it hanging above my head as I drove down the interstate.

This, to me, is the problem: these things won't necessarily stay confined to the "adult" regions of society. Certain things will seep from "X" rated areas to the more daring "R"s, then to the more mainstream "R"s, etc, until it's hanging above the interstate (which, by the way, does not come with a remote).

It's difficult to know when to kick up a fuss at these things. Obviously, you don't want to feel like a puckered, humorless prude (unless, of course, you do) who scans TV shows frame-by-frame, hoping you'll catch some woman's skirt flying up, or Mighty Mouse sniffing cocaine. (This was actually done in the 1980s by the Puckered-American Association of Humorless Prudes.) I mean, that's not the tolerant spirit of live-and-let-live that one would like to see practiced.

On the other hand, you don't really want to be relaxed to the point of being tolerant of live rapes, followed by cannibalism, on the "Sunday Sermon" (unless, of course, you do).

As Lileks wrote last December: Today's crusading moderate is tomorrow's prude.

So what's a right-wing bleeding-heart centrist liberal to do?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Women's Work

You remember the Great Summers Squall, in which my aggravation at frail and wilting biologists was matched only by my irritation at those manly men who knew all along that womens warn't no good at figurin' and such. Not like a man, nowise.

Toward the end of this post I mentioned something about writing a paper about shapes rotating in 3D. When I was studying these things in the first place, it was true that I (as befitting a girlie) found visualizing some of the geometry a little difficult.

So I taught myself how to use Mathematica to render and rotate the shapes, and figure out some angles I was having trouble with, and I was good to go.

Another woman with a similar difficulty (shared, in this instance, by many men), took a somewhat different approach. She crocheted some hyperbolic surfaces. The beauty of this approach, besides creating attractive and durable models, is that you can demonstrate such concepts as geodesics, parallel lines, and non-Euclidean triangles.

Not only that, but I think that models such as this and this would make nifty Christmas ornaments, if rendered in metallic yarn or thread.

(In this interview with married mathematicians David Henderson and Daina Taimina -- Taimina was the one who thought to crochet the surfaces -- has this disturbing note:

One of the things that's changing now is the advent of computers, which can help us to visualize mathematical objects. That is helping to bring back what's called the "intuitionist" approach, which was there in the past but got blotted out by the "formalist" tradition for much of the past century. The formalists, wouldn't accept anything unless it was expressed by equations.

I didn't realize that there was such a thing as mathematics that wasn't expressed by equations. Oh, I knew that there were calculations that were much easier when done by computational methods but I always assumed there was a big, hairy equation lurking in the back somewhere. It was too much trouble to work out, but it was there. I'm very suspicious of things labelled "intuitionist"; it's too often a synonym for "bullshit".)

Anyway, here are some instructions, if you want to try it yourself. I learned to crochet when I was little, but I find these instructions confusing. Perhaps if I had the yarn in my hand, they'd be clearer. (We -- my sister and I -- pretty much limited ourselves to Euclidean planes when we were learning.)

On the topic of mathematical yarncraft, here's a model of the Lorenz manifold, and the instructions (in the form of a PDF file) to go with it. The paper says that this is much harder than the hyperbolic surfaces. (The Lorenz manifold was found via this crocheting blog.)

And, finally, a Klein bottle woolly hat (sold out for now). Made -- not by, but to the specifications of -- the guy who also sells glass Klein bottles. The guy happens to be Cliff Stoll, who wrote The Cuckoo's Egg, and Silicon Snake Oil. The former book led to him portraying himself in a NOVA, in which he was shown showering with his girlfriend, and then scampering out naked in order to answer the phone. Niles and I agreed that, should we ever be subjects of a NOVA episode, naked scampering will be Right Out. The world will thank us.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Blend, "The Prize", The Fizz

Oh, man! I meant to write about this days ago, and got busy.

Back in July I wrote about a song I used to like, back in high school (in the late Cretaceous). For years, I'd occasionally try to google up the lyrics, in hopes of finding the name of the song (and the band!), and maybe getting hold of a copy.

When the name of the band (The Blend) popped into my head out of nowhere one day, I was finally able to google up the name of the song (The Prize). Their work is not on CD, and so that's where things got left.

Until the other day, when I got email from Jamie Adams, who is in a band (The Fizz) with the sons of the late James Drown, one of The Blend. He gave me some information about "The Prize", including the lyrics. The first line is:

The night was black.

and immediately, after more than twenty-five years, the next line popped right into my head:

The moon was nowhere to be seen.

(My mind is filled with such trivia. If only I could use this power for Good. Or, at least, for Dough.)

So, yay Jamie! If you feel like it, go on over to The Fizz's site, listen to the songs, buy 'em if you like 'em. They're not generally my cup of tea, although I really liked (the apparently ironically-named) "Joie de Vivre" off their album Fink. (Not available through Amazon and suchlike.) (And he writes that they've recently broken up.)

If nothing else, go to the website and enjoy the nice graphics. Sample a drink recipe! Strangely, there is none for the sloe gin fizz.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Resume Padding

Yesterday my old grad school sent me mail, which they never do unless they're begging for money. But this was a computer printout with my student information on it, and printed at the top of the form was a little line to the effect, "This is the information in our records. Could you correct anything that might be wrong, and return it to us?" Just a standard form, you understand, nothing special.

Well, I don't think they've ever done this before. What the...Ay, chihuahua! Looks like there was a little computer glitch down at the old diploma mill.

The important stuff -- name, D.O.B, degrees earned and dates -- was all OK. They even had my undergrad institution and degree correct. But the rest! For starters, they had me down as every ethnic group and marital status. I am a White American Indian Black Asian Pacific Foreign Hispanic (and "Other"), and also simultaneously single, married, divorced, separated, and widowed.

That may explain why I also have four children (three boys and a what-kind-of-name-is-that?), who have between them three surnames of varying ethnicities. The youngest of these was born when I was six years old. Two of them also attended my alma mater (which ain't cheap), and two attended other regional universities, leaving me to wonder how I afforded all this education. Perhaps it was due to the wealth of my current, nameless, spouse -- whose listed D.O.B. makes him three years older than my parents. I got me a sugar daddy! (His birthday's coming up here in a few days. I'd send the old geezer a card, if I knew who he was.)

Furthermore, the form says I was a Chi Omega (uh, no), that I lettered in cross-country (I couldn't have lettered in cross-the-room), that I belonged to Psi Chi, which is the honorary society in psychology, and that I received an engineering scholarship.

I'm tempted to leave those in. Fear me!

Finally, my permanent home is a four digit number in Germany. No street or town or anything, just a number. They're so advanced over there.

So I gotta correct this. Let's see:

Relativistic Hall Pong
(a sport we invented late one night in the hallway, played with a tennis racket and a very bouncy ball)
Honorary Societies:
Phi Beta Kappa (snicker)
Student Activities:
Nobel Prize in Physics (1988)

Think they'll notice?