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January 31, 2005

Would You Like Outsourcing With That Order?

So I guess when it gets too expensive to do business in one state, go to the next, right? Oregon McDonalds (and some in Eastern Washington) are now outsourcing to other states. So when you drive up to the order window you order is taken via the phone line some 1500 miles away in North Dakota, a photo is taken and all the information is sent back to that location and your order processed?

Why, you might ask? The minimum wage in Oregon is $7.50 while the minimum wage in North Dakota is only $5.15.

Is McDonalds not making enough money off their Mad Cow Burgers that they need to rape employees now?

Food for Thought!

Viva la France

"It is not in God that the French trust ...but in human rights and in the power and responsibility of ordinary men and women to make a good society without reference to gods or kings."

That choice quote is from this article in the Guardian called "If only we were more like the French." The writer ties a lack of revolutionary history to Britain's failure to embrace "egalite." Worth a read. And begs the questions: What's our excuse?

January 30, 2005

Eating my way through Venice

There is a very small and homey restaurant in Venice called Alle Testiere, which, if you are lucky and make reservations well in advance, you can sit back and spend a few hours while Bruno Gavagnin takes the day's catch from the Venetian waters and turns out some of the most balanced and interesting seafood dishes imaginable.

If you are very lucky and have not made reservations in advance, you might be able to find a free table not long before Alle Testiere closes for the evening and enjoy an entree, and perhaps one of owner Luca de Vita's incredible cheese plates.

If you are extremely lucky, you might also be seated at a table next to Annie and Liz and Graham and Nick.

As it turns out, I was extremely lucky on Friday night.

I knew of Alle Testiere, and the difficulty in getting a table there. The place is small and known around the world, and as I hadn't planned to come to Venice until the day before I got on the train here, I certainly had no hope of getting in. Which I was ok with because Thursday night I had dinner at one of the city's other top restaurants, Da Fiore, a small and pretty trattoria that does Venetian classic dishes superbly.

I started with the vegetable antipasti. There were roasted peppers and eggplant, a golden tomato stuffed with breadcrumbs and cheese, traviso (a radicchio-ish vegetable with long tentacles and a slightly bitter taste), baby zucchini, and carrots. For my entree, I had calve's liver, venetian style, which is served with carmelized onions and wedges of polenta. Every bite was perfectly balanced, too, with the sweetness of the onions off-setting the strong flavor of the liver. It was gorgeous.

Friday night, I thought I might see if I could get into Aqua Pazzo, a well-known pizza place, a little on the upscale side, not to far from where I am staying. But I wound up being online longer than I had planned, and I knew that they would be closed before I could get there. So I just walked out the door, looking for something that might do the trick. Just a few blocks from my hotel, I passed a nice looking place that still had some tables occupied, and noted the name in case I didn't find anything else, but kept walking.

A few minutes later, crossing a bridge over one of the canals, I stopped short, I'm sure confusing the guy who was walking right behind me. "Alle Testiere...Alle Testiere...Damn, that's..." and I turned around and marched straight back over, figuring I would take a chance.

Very good move. There are moments when you could go either way. There was a very good chance that at that hour, they would tell me that they couldnt seat me, and the kitchen was closed. Honestly, I wasn't really dressed up to snuff for a nice place anyway, as I was wearing jeans and the black walking shoes I've very nearly worn holes through the bottom of. It was late, and cold, and the idea of a quiet and casual place where I could sit with my book and quietly enjoy a light dinner was very appealing, especially as I'd had something of a big lunch out on Burano that day. But I figured it was my one chance to try Bruno's food, and I was at least going to give it a shot.

I asked for a table for one, and the waiter told me that they could seat me, but the only thing they could make for me was the tuna or a cheeseplate. I said I would have the tuna, and so they seated me by the door, at a small table right up against a four top of British folk who were just finishing up their main courses.

My dinner came, and one of the men at the table leaned over. "You're having the tuna? You are in for a treat!" and then he continued leaning across the table and watching me expectantly until I took my first bite.

And indeed, it was a treat. The tuna was seared very rare, and coated with herbs. I'm not sure of all of them, but there was certainly fennel sead and rosemary and thyme. The sauce was light, a bit buttery, and with white wine in it. It was just marvelous.

The next table ordered the cheeseplate, and when it came out, Luca, the owner, explained each of the cheeses, all Italian, most of them local and not exported anywhere else, and the order in which they should be eaten. There was also a little pumpkin/ginger torte to be enjoyed with the cheeses, as well as slices of pear. Luca also brought out a special wine for them to try with the cheese, as, it turns out, that Graham and Annie are regular customers and have become good friends with him.

Somehow, during the course of the evening, which started out fairly late, I got involved in conversation with them, and after ordering my own cheeseplate, and a glass of white to go with it (the bottle then being left on the table for me, a very nice chardonnay/reisling mix), Luca closed up shop, pulled out a special bottle of wine, poured six glasses and brought out a plate of fritelli. Fritelli are for carnevale. They're sort of like fried donut puffs, but light, and filled with warm zabaglione. They're kind of irresistable.

The evening went on for some time after the restaurant had closed, and by the time it was over, I had an invitation to join them the following night at the restaurant again.

Saturday evening, dinner started at 8. This time, I was smartly dressed, with my new black boots with killer heels and one of the incredible blouses I got in Florence. The five of us were at a corner table, with two other tables for two nearby. Luca came out swirling a pale amber wine in a decanter, explaining that he had opened it early that morning and had been letting it open up all day for us. It was French, and organic and unfiltered wine, that was rough and a little tart, and really fantastic. He explained that he had the wines picked out for the evening already and that we would next get to see what some of the local wineries were doing with the same style of wine making.

He then recited the appetizers. There is no written menu at Alle Testiere, and they only do seafood. Everything fresh. Everything seafood.

I was advised that the best course of action was that Annie choose the appetizers we would share. In total, we had seven. Raw prawns, still with their heads on, and served with slices of strawberry and cucumber, that were surprisingly sweet. Then a terrine of crab with feta cheese and mint and other somewhat Greek flavors, that were out of this world. There were scallops, served in their shell and cooked with a bitter orange juice and carmelized onions. There were mussels mariniere. There was sauteed octopus with a gazpacho sauce that was slightly spicy and a vibrant complement to the slightly crispy octopus. There were tiny, tiny shrimp with creamy polenta. And there were fried scampi, also with their bodies in tact.

By this time we had moved onto the next wine Luca had chosen for us, a tokai from the Veneto that was not at all sweet, slightly darker in color than the first, and very nice with the fish.

Then the pasta course. Everyone choose their own, and though I did taste the gnocchi with scallops, which was fantastic, I was absolutely smitten with my taglioni with scampi prawns in what was described as a rose petal curry. The sauce itself was divine, with a light, rosy fragrance and very light middle eastern flavors. I could taste thyme and cinnamin in it. It was absolutely delightful.

And another local, unfilter wine, drier than the last, and very good.

With the fish course, a red, this one a local Merlot/Cabernet blend, very smooth and with a chocolate background to it. My fish was a John Dory, served with blueberries and strawberries with fine herbs and an orange sauce, and it was delicious. The blueberry, especially, with the firm white fish made an amazing contrast and gave the dish incredible balance and lightness.

Cheese course. The highlights of the cheese course were two, though there were five cheeses on the plate, all them very good, and all of them served in enormous portions, five of each cheese. The gorgonzola, which is made locally and not exported from the region was perfect. It was strong and pungent without being too much of each. The talleggio, too, was creamy and strong. I usually don't particularly care for talleggio, but this one was not too pungent at all.

When we had made some good headway through the cheese, Luca came out, and explained that he arranged the three tables (ours and the two right near us) that way when he realized that three of his favorite clients and friends were going to be there on the same night, and he wanted everyone to meet. One of the couples was Belgian and the other Canadian. He explained that between the three tables, they'd been there over a hundred times. He poured a marsala that he had been saving, a glass for each person at the three tables, as well as one for himself, and we all drank a toast.

Today, I was also lucky to have been invited to join Annie, Nick, and Liz for lunch at the very smart and famous Harry's Bar, where the Bellini cocktail was invented. The place is warm and clubby in an old school sort of way. Astronomically expensive, but the food was good. I had a very nice veal ravioli gratin with prosciutto cotto and cheese, though everyone agreed that Nick's canneloni won the day.

And now, after all that, I've said hardly a word about carnevale, which is beautiful, especially today, as the whole city has turned into an elaborate masquerade ball, with people in beautiful costumes, mostly 18th and 19th century looking affairs, and beautiful, hand-painted masques.

This morning, I was walking along the grand canal, enjoying the costumes, and saw one woman dressed as a which. She had on a black dress with purple and black striped stockings, a long black cloak, purple wig, a tall black witch's hat with purple trim, and a white mask. She was walking along in front of me, obviously on her way somewhere, when a little boy, dressed up like a little 19th century gentleman pointed at her and giggled. She continued walking, but then, maybe twenty paces later, she stopped, slowly turned round and crouched down as she walked back over to him until he hid behind his mother's legs and giggled. And then she slowly turned back in her original direction, and continued walking at her normal pace.

A few minutes later, an Italian man walking toward her leaned over and screamed in her face, and then kept walking. She turned quickly, adn with very dramatic and florishy movements, fixed the back of his head in her stare and gestured to him like she was putting a spell on him. What was so cool about it was that he wasn't even looking. She was so into her character, though, that I'm not sure that she even cared whether anyone was watching her. I suppose that's what makes this whole carnevale thing so interesting and more than just the Halloweenish type of costume party we are all used to. People aren't themselves. They go to elaborate lengths to be some character from the past and walk around, dining in restaurants, shopping, taking ferries, in character, not just in costume. And Venice, as odd and magical and slightly surreal as it is, seems like the perfect place to become someone else for a few days.

January 29, 2005

Blog from Iraq

Dahr Jamail is doing the type of reporting that most of the rest of the media won't or can't. As sad and scary as these blog entries are I think everyone should take a look and get a rude wake up to the reality of what this "war for democracy" is doing to civilian Iraqis.

I am so appalled that this is being done in the name of this country and in the name of freedom. The stories about Fallujah are especially troubling.

And for anyone that thinks that we are going anywhere after the elections I would just like to remind them of the 14 "enduring" US military bases that are currently under construction.

Regardless of the success or failure of the Iraqi election, we should all be ready for US troops to be in Iraq for a very long time.

Culinary Smackdown

Eddeger.JPG

There's no way I can argue with Risotto with Prawns, it will take the award over Wurst mit Kraut any day. But I can not stand by idly while Paulette claims the supremecy of the Italian pastry.

Today we visited the Eddegger in Graz, one of the K und K Hofbakereis (former bakers to the palace) with which I have a calorie laden obsession. And I contend that while the Italians do a fine job, a superior job with the main course, if you want pastry, you go to Austria.

We shared the Nusskipfel (lower left corner) a festival of buttery flaking pastry interspersed with ground almonds. Of course, there was coffee, too.

January 28, 2005

the italian charm school for boys

It's hard not to get lost in Venice. I would imagine that even those without an incredible talent for getting lost such I possess could easily lose their way in the labrynth of alleyways and squares and bridges and dead ends here. Some of the passageways, some even with shops and bars along them, are barely wider than I am.

Somehow, though, it's also entirely easy to get unlost. You no sooner realize that you've all but completely lost track of where you are, consult the map, realize that you can't find any of the recent street names anywhere on it, give up, and head once again in the direction you thought was right before realizing you were hopelessly lost, and suddenly, you find yourself at your intended destination.

It's quite a nice change from the whole, finally realizing where you thing where that realization is accompanied by the dawning understanding that you've actually walked completely out of the city and now have several miles between you and a state of unlostedness.

This may be one of Venice's charms, it's surreal and yet simple navigability. There are lots of them, many of them almost bordering on not seeming quite real. There are no cars, so it just doesnt sound like a city. There are no main boulevards to speak of, other than those filled with water. You are constantly crossing bridges and making unexpected little turns. And, increasingly tonight as Carnevale is set to begin, you encounter people wearing long black cloaks, white masks, and tritipped hats.

Now, as much as I love this maze of this place, I did want to spend some time today exploring some other attributes of Venice, including their glass-making. I've become completely enchanted with that frilly venetian style of mirror and chandelier that looks like it belongs on the set of Beauty and the Beast. Especially tht stuff with teh pink flowers and gold leaf. And I'm exercising all of my willpower not to blow Yogi's food budget for the year on some elaborate piece of art for the Girlie Room, though it would work perfectly in there.

Glassblowing here happens on the island of Murano. I took the ferrovia over and started exploring. A number of the factories will let you into the furnace rooms to watch them make the glass. An experience you would never encounter in the US with all of their safety regulations and such, but you can walk right in, and usually someone from the factory will happily explain the process, lead you right through all of the men (wearing no more safety equipment that street clothes, btw) building the glass ornaments, look inside the furnaces, get close enough to feel the heat on your face, that sort of thing. The idea is that you'll then want to buy something and feel more connected to the stuff in their shop because you watched their artisans making it.

I'd been into a few of the factories and shops and was trying to avoid spending too much time in the cold that seems to have followed me here from Florence, and so popped into one shop, where I was greeted at the door by a very large dog, who was probably a shepard/mastiff mix of some sort. I gave him my hand to sniff, adn then he shoved his head against the outside of my leg, in a very cuddly and affectionate way, and so I was petting him as I loooked through the showroom. There were two men working there, one who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s and the other old enough to be his father. The younger called to the dog, I assume to tell it to stop bugging me, and I said that it was ok, and asked in Italian what the dog's name was, and then pet him again and told him (in English) how sweet he was.

The older of the men then said to me, in English, "I assume you were referring to the dog."

I smiled and said yes, and he asked me if I spoke much Italian, what I was doing in Venice, how long was I in Italy for, etc. The usual litany of questions that I get when people start up conversations with me here. The younger man asked me something in Italian which I didnt understand, so he asked in English where I was staying in Venice, and I told him the area.

The older man then said, "Your Italian is terrible. How long have you been in Italy?" I smiled and said I'd been here about a week, to which he replied, "In a week you should be able to learn Italian. You must not be very smart." And he smiled.

We had a great conversation from that point on. I told him that I had liked Florence more than Rome, and he asked me if I liked it better because of the museums or the wine. I told him I wasnt so much of a museum person, but the wine in Florence was very good, as was the food, better than I had had in Rome. He then replied, "Ah, so you like to eat good food, do you?" and I replied by patting my thigh and saying something about how that would seem obvious.

His response was perfect, though. "No, no. I was worried that maybe you don't eat at all."

I smiled. "Italian men always know just what to say."

"No. Only the old ones."

"Then how did you know just what to say?"

"Beautiful women from Seattle also know just what to say, don't they?"

Anyway, we chatted, and when I was ready to leave, he asked me if I had time. I was a little puzzled, but figured, ok. Sure, I have all the time in the world. So he told me I should go to the island of Burano and have lunch there. I asked him where, and he said it didnt matter but I should have risotto with prawns wherever I went. Then he asked me if I knew how to get there, and when I said I didn't he gave me the instructions, and then walked me to the ferry dock, apologizing that he couldn't go with me because he didnt have enough time in the middle of the work day. I thanked him, and he kissed me on the cheek, and told me to have a lovely day.

Let me tell you, Burano is gorgeous. It's small and quiet. They are known for their lace, but I think the main reason to go there is for the town on the island. Every house is a different color, most of them bright, and the little boats lining the canal are all also brightly colored. It's so too pretty.

So I choose a place for lunch, which was quiet, but had risotto with shrimp on the menu outside and went in. I was given a waiter who spoke English, who was very charming, and suggested that I could look at the menu, or, he would recommend starting with the spider crab and then having the shrimp risotto. Which is what I would have chosen anyway, but apparently Burano is also known for spider crab dishes.

They were both lovely. I had a glass of white wine, and then when I turned down dessert, the waiter brought over a warm cookie, like a round biscotti and a flute of sweet wine like a marsala and said that this was a Burano thing, you break off the piece of the cookie and dip it in the the wine before you eat it. The cookie wasn't sweet, and I can't say that it was much without the wine, but with, it was lovely.

I ordered espresso, and was also brought a limoncello. (This seems to be a theme), and eventually finished, and asked for the check, whereupon I was then asked if I had a good singing voice. I said no, why, and my waiter produced a small glass of grappa and said that it would help keep out the cold, but would burn going down. Both of which statements were true.

I walked back to take the very long ferry ride to Venice proper, where, of course, I feel asleep, though I didn't miss my stop. The ferry drivers seem to pull up to the dock with about as much ease as French people parallel park, so the slamming action tends to rouse one from a good nap.

I think I'm about warm now, so I'm going to venture back out into the cold to see what Carnevale related activities are going on. Love to you all.

Budget Bling

On the way in to the office today, I saw either (1) an example of over-reaching or (2) marvelous commentary— perhaps both.

By now, you've probably seen wheel spinners (as the term is currently used, though that's also been the name of things like this and that), and they've probably been huge, shiny chrome wheels with a spinning add-on component on a huge SUV. At least, that's the way I've always seen them.

This morning, on a Nissan Quest minivan, I saw spinning wheel covers. No extra large diameter, since they were covering stock wheels, and not particularly shiny. I didn't see any other custom or aftermarket parts on the vehicle. Imagine the last wheel covers on this page with a significant layer of brake dust on the Quest.

A propos of our recent bans

Boing Boing just posted a link to what they call outstanding tips for community moderation:


1. There can be no ongoing discourse without some degree of moderation, if only to kill off the hardcore trolls. It takes rather more moderation than that to create a complex, nuanced, civil discourse. If you want that to happen, you have to give of yourself. Providing the space but not tending the conversation is like expecting that your front yard will automatically turn itself into a garden.

Well, it looks like I started in the right place this week. Read the article for more great tips, and thanks to everyone who helps keep this front yard a garden!

I can't explain it, Carol

Carol emailed me a few days ago, with a link and a plea for understanding. "You're from Oklahoma," she wrote. "Can you explain this?"

No, Carol, I don't think anyone we know can explain this:

An Oklahoma state senator hopes to revive cockfighting in the state by putting tiny boxing gloves on the roosters instead of razors.

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The Oklahoma Legislature outlawed the blood sport in 2002 because of its cruelty to the roosters, which are slashed and pecked to death while human spectators bet on the outcome.

But Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, a long-time defender of cockfighting, said the ban had wiped out a $100 million business.

To revive it, he has proposed that roosters wear little boxing gloves attached to their spurs, as well as lightweight, chicken-size vests configured with electronic sensors to record hits and help keep score.

"It's like the fencing that you see on the Olympics, you know, where they have little balls on the ends of the swords and the fencers wear vests," Shurden said. "That's the same application that would be applied to the roosters."

So no, no explanation possible. I will say that between Shurden's wild desire to cockfight and Bush's dreams about a mandate, I am sensing some seriously repressed homo lovin'. As Freud said, fantasies about roosters wearing gloves can only mean one thing...

January 27, 2005

He goes to a church/ called the UCC...

...SpongeBob SquarePants!

This is awesome... absolutely the right way to deal with the lunatic fringe: laugh at them!

Joining the animated fray, the United Church of Christ today (Jan. 24) said that Jesus' message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants - the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with a starfish.

"Absolutely, the UCC extends an unequivocal welcome to SpongeBob," the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, said, only partly in jest. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."
...
While Dobson's silly accusation makes headlines, it's also one more concrete example of how religion is misused over and over to promote intolerance over inclusion," Thomas said. "This is why we believe it is so important that the UCC speak the Gospel in an accent not often heard in our culture, because far too many experience the cross only as judgment, never as embrace."

Amen, brother!

January 26, 2005

Turner

I come down pretty hard on the awfulness of Europop but every now and then I stumble across something that transcends the mundanity Kylie Minogue and Westlife. It's particularly bad here in the valley where we don't have much selection on the radio dial.

We do get one sometimes interesting station. Yesterday, I heard an funny little tune called "After Work" by Turner. The lyrics were so odd - there was a bit in there about how "I recycle, separating my trash and the green waste goes in one bin..." It was like a vaguely sarcastic description of how all good mainstream liberals live their lives.

I went hunting for an MP3 (or at least the lyrics so I could confirm what I thought I'd heard) and via the Ladomat label, I found Turner's site.It's moody and pop at the same time. Be sure to click on the My Airplane Mania dropdown. The Sunday Morning Version is the noise that suits my state of mind.

Save some time for the Ladomat MP3 page - there's some other yummy things there - I like the Tocotronic Sailor Man track.

Running around like a chicken without its head cut off

I finally took a bunch of photos today. Figures, though, it would be in a market. The Mercato Centrale in Florence to be exact, which is not unlike a smaller, less hectic version of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, an indoor market in a large building with multiple meat, fish, vegetable, and oil/vinegar vendors, some stands to get lunch, a few places selling things like wine or kitchen gadgets or dried pasta and dried mushrooms. Small, but a really nice market. It made me want to cook something.

My main observations, which I'll supplement with the illustrations I took today when I get back:

  • Chickens look different. For one thing, they have more color, which somehow also looks like they'll have more flavor. For another, they still have their heads attached. Yum. Chicken head.

  • Fish are apparently more appetizing to purchase when they are arranged artfully in geometric patterns. Especially small, pink fish. Shrimp prefer to be lined up.
  • Sicilian oranges are special enough that they get special, individual wrappings.
  • Pasta can be made in a wide array of horrifying electric colors.

I had a recommendation for a particular spot in the market to get lunch, so that was the first agenda item for the day. (I had a late start of it because I got caught up in the novel I was reading and stayed up till dawn reading it. If you're interested, it was Paul Watkins' "The Story of my Disappearance". It's the most compelling of his novels I've read so far.) The place is called Nerbone, and they serve hot food, a a la carte, over the counter. You can then sit in the freezing cold at one of the tables in the market and enjoy it. They had a variety of pasta, meat, and vegetable dishes. I opted for the trippa a la fiorentina and sauteed spinach.

First, the spinach, was the best I've had here. I've been ordering spinach with garlic everywhere they have it, because I love me some spinach, dontcha know, and this stuff was just outstanding. They dressed it upon plating with some very fruity extra virgin olive oil, which was seriously just the thing.

The tripe. I know some of you will just never get my love of offal, and that's fine. I'm happy to be thought of as a bit gruesome and strange if that's what it takes to be able to continue enjoying the special pleasures of organ meats. And I do. In fact, about the only offal I've tried that I thought was awful was scrambled pigs' brains. Tripe, however, is something that I just haven't had much exposure to, other than in Pho. So I was looking forward to trying some here, since I know from Mario Battali's tour of Italy show that Italians are particularly fond of the nasty parts of animals. And trippa a la fiorentina just sounds so good--meltingly tender strips of the stuff cooked in a tomatoey sauce, topped with parmagiano-reggiano.

And it was so, so good. What a lunch. Certainly beats a cheesesteak with onions at the Reading Market!

Having finished lunch, and with a belly full of, well, belly, I headed toward the Uffizi.

On my way, though, the pastries started their serenade as I passed bakery after bakery. Finally, I realized that I had no choice in the matter and stopped in one to purchase a baby sfogliatelle. If there is a cult of born-again pastry lovers, I'll be the first to sign up for their services. It was like no sfogliatelle I've had before. Actually, that's not true. It was just like the best sfogliatelle I've had, only better. The outer layer of thin sheets of crispy pastry forming the clamshell crumbled in dust upon biting into it, leaving a little pile of the stuff laced with powdered sugar for me to sneak a final lick at when I was finished. Just like they ought to. But it was the filling that blew me away. Not particularly sweet, and the ricotta was so light and not smooth so it had great texture. Again, the merest hint of some lemon zest in it. Oh it was heaven. If Eve had been tempted with one of these instead of an apple, I can assure you we'd all be burning in hell for her transgression, not just tossed from the garden.

And then the museum. Which is great. Impressive and full of Michaelangelos and Caravaggios and Botecellis and the like. Great masters. Roomsful of them.
I want to like art. I really do. I want to discuss paintings and their symbolism and revolutionary approaches to brushstrokes and the crisis of form and stuff like that. But really, I'm kind of still all "paintings shmaintings". Is that really bad? Maybe it's that I'm hoping to learn something from seeing these, and I'm not, other than picking up some context for cultural references (which I'm uncultured enough to say I can get from watching a lot of Simpsons episodes as well).

One thing I did get, though was what people mean when they say some woman reminds them of a Botticelli. Not that anyone's ever said that me, but, you know, in movies and such. Well, I saw a lot of Botticelli's today, and based on that experience, I'm guessing it means that she's blond, has a disproportionately long nose and either a wistful or pained expression on her face. I think it's a pick-up line that would need to be applied carefully, since I could see a few interpretations in which that wouldn't seem overly flattering. But that's me. What do I know? I'm impressed with the Italian art of fish arranging.

January 25, 2005

Stalinists. I hate those guys.

I don't mean to be a poster of only bad news, but when I sent a link to my previous post, I was told by a rather well informed reader that he had seen nothing in the US press about the SPD walkout during the Holocaust memorial.

Yesterday I read this story from Google's list of sources, few of which were US press based. (This may have changed by the time you read this. Here's hoping.)

A few choice quotes:

...some 20 members of the Russian parliament from the Motherland and Communist parties, demanded that Jewish organisations be banned throughout Russia on the grounds that they are extremist in nature, hostile to the Russian populace and implicated in ritual child murder.

... the MPs suggested that Jews themselves engineered anti-Semitic attacks against themselves ...

...the whole democratic world is today under the financial and political control of international Jewry...

What year is it, anyway? 1939?

I do like this response, quoted in Ha'Aretz:

"I'm not a psychiatrist, and I can't help them if they're crazy," said Russia's co-chief rabbi, Berel Lazar.

North vs. South

Why Costco is better than Wal-Mart

First, I should disclose that I am a big fan of Costco – even before I found out the things that have been reported lately. Costco is the closest thing to a corporate co-op surviving in the world, today. Wal-Mart on the other hand is a nasty, soulless place that I can not stand. And I have concrete reasons for feeling the way that I do.

Health Care Benefits:

According to In These Times Wal-Mart only insures 45% of its workforce:

“At Wal-Mart, full-time workers have to endure six months—and part-timers, two years—before applying for health coverage through the company. Wal-Mart told the New York Times in November that about 77 percent of its employees are eligible for health coverage through the company plan. But since Wal-Mart saddles its staff with 33 percent premiums, the coverage often costs more than $200 a month per worker to maintain—a steep price for workers making between $8 and $10 per hour. As a result, just 58 percent of those eligible, less than half of all workers, or about 537,000 people, actually have the insurance.”

It’s not just that these workers have no insurance it’s that their communities are having to pick up the bill for these people and their families:

“When Wal-Mart bows out on covering the healthcare costs of staff members, the public often picks up the tab. More than 10,000 Georgia children whose parents work at Wal-Mart are on a state health program, thus neatly passing on the $10 million yearly expense to state residents. And in California, taxpayers are footing the bill for about $32 million in healthcare costs from Wal-Mart workers that the employer would typically cover.”

I don’t care how inexpensive it is to purchase stuff at Wal-Mart. Their employment policies are too expensive for everyone else.

Costco is a much more responsible employer:

“Not all companies have torn up the social contract. Costco, a competitor in the large-scale retail business, provides insurance to more than 19 out of every 20 of its workers and pays more than 90 percent of the premium.”

Political Party Donations:

In the 2004 election cycle Wal-Mart’s contributions were split 80-20 in favor of the Republicans. Conversely, Costco had a 98-2 split favoring Democrats. Wal-Mart and its affiliated properties gave over $2 million while Costco donated only a little over $200,000. (Thanks to the Joe Spin Zone for the reference to choose the blue.)

They gave all of that money so, Wal-Mart can continue to intimidate its workers seeking to unionize in the US while the Chinese have forced Wal-Mart to have a workers’ union. Wal-Mart can continue with its unofficial policy to pay women less and offer poverty level pay and benefits packages. Even if you could buy a “refrigerator for $3” knowing that I was helping a company to succeed with its unfair practices isn’t worth it.

pastry, pastry, everywhere...

What's a girl to do?

Everywhere I look, there are pastry shops. And not just pastry shops. Italian pastry shops. French pastries I can walk by and admire for their beauty and all, but Italian pastries, oh the pastacciotte and sfogliadelle and babas and sfincis and cannolis. Oh, it's just so unfair that calories consumed on vacation you can bring back to the states on your thighs, but grappa, not so much.

I was surprised, walking around Rome, how few pastry shops and bakeries I saw. I always thought it was odd (and not a little distressing) that there are no real Italian bakeries in Seattle (yes, they have ones that call themselves Italian, but then the only Italianish pastries they have are ever cannoli and tiramisu and I just need more variety in my life), and so you can imagine that by the time I got here, I was more than a little chomping at the bit for some good bakery items. But Rome, or at least the parts of it I walked through, seemed to be pastry-free zones. And this disappointed me.

Florence, on the other hand, is a pastry Mecca. There are tons of little bakeries with good varieties of biscotti and cookies and pastries as well as bread and panini. They tempt me. They call my name. Actually, they sing my name, not unlike the sirens, irresistable and charming and oh-so seductive. And it's not like I can just say, "sorry, it's the middle of the day and I just had lunch, so no thanks." These are Italian pastries we're talking about. The gold-standard of desserts in their native environment. You don't just walk by them callously unless you've no heart, no soul, no appreciation of...

Excuse me. I get a little worked up about this sort of thing.

But you need to take into consideration that when I leave here, it's not like I'm going home to Jersey. Who knows how long it might be before I can have a proper pastry again. They don't ship well and I can't bake. So I might need to stock up. Think of me as the Noah of sweets.

This afternoon, torta della nonna. Crumbly, buttery shortbready base, not too sweet, with a thin layer of ricotta custard sporting just the hint of lemony-ness, a smattering of toasted pignolis, a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Grandma's cake, is what it means. God bless the grandma who invented it, is what I say.

Yesterday, I had some biscotti with pignolis. I love pignolis. And then last night I gave in to the call of some tiramisu. I know the next ones that will claim their place on my midsection are probably going to be these cookies that they call pescatores, which seem to be loaded with raisins and pignolis. And probably, sometime not long after that, I'll break down and go for the good old clam shells--my beloved sfogliadelle, the mother of all pastries.

And it's not like I have been starving myself between desserts, either. Though today, I think I earned my lunch.

I went to the Academia dell'Arte to see the David. Which has really big hands, by the way. Freakishly big hands. And then to Santa Croce, which is much smaller than the Duomo, but still very pretty, and inside quite a bit more lovely. It was cold today. Cold enough, in fact, that it's snowing as we speak. I was planning on crossing the river and finding a nice place for lunch. I crossed the river, and was heading in the direction of where I thought a nice lunch in a warm spot could be had when another of those sirens lured me into her trap--though this time it wasn't the sweets, but stairs. As I've said, I have developed this need to climb practically every set of stairs I come upon, especially when they are outside and I don't know where they lead to. So I did, and at the top of the stairs was this windy road heading up the hill that I couldn't not follow, and by the time I had decided that I'd probably gone far enough and should head back before I froze completely through I looked up and saw a castle way up at the top of the hill and over some. The inner dialogue that then occurred went something like this:

Paulette: Ooh, a castle!
Paulette: Uhm, have you noticed it's freezing?
Paulette: Well, yeah, but it's a castle. I like castles.
Paulette: Right. Castles are cool. But it's like 2 outside. Can we please go find somewhere warm now?
Paulette: No, I wanna see the castle.
Paulette: Ugh! You're impossible. You know that?
Paulette: Hey, it's not like I ever get to spot a castle and just drive to it, let alone walk to it. Be a sport.

And so I went up. And up. And up. And then, I got to the top, and, well, I'm not sure I was still technically in Florence any more. I think my map ended about three miles before this point. I had one of those, "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto" moments.

And I didn't quite make it to my castle because the gates at the bottom of the entrance were shut tight. So, I started walking back to Florence, and when I got down as far as the Via Gallileo, took a turn so that I wasn't just retracing my steps and could walk along the ridge up there looking down on the city. Which was gorgeous. And offered no protection whatsoever from the wind.

At some point, I came upon an area during this walk, let's say about half an hour after getting onto Via Gallileo, when I spotted some stairs going into a woods near a church. Now, you'd have thought I would have learned my lesson by now, but then you'd be expecting a lot more from me than is entirely reasonable. Of course I climbed them, and then followed the path around the church walls. You could hear the wind in the trees and it was so pretty and serene, and at the back of the church there was a great view of the Tuscan countryside and I fell in love with it.

There's a great line in A Room with a View, that goes something along the lines of "Miss Honeychurch, Charlotte, Miss Lavish, the Reverend Mr Beebe, Mr Emerson and George drive out to see a view. Italians drive them." Well, Italians did not drive Ms Mckay and her metaphorical terrier to this view, but I'll say it was rather on equal with the one from that great scene where George kisses Lucy in the meadow. Oh Tuscany.

And then back to the road, the ridge, the wind. Another thirty minutes or so and I found myself at a hotel with a nice-looking restaurant perched in such a way that I could look down on the city--the Duomo, the Arno, and everything. More importantly, it occurred to me that a nice hotel with a restaurant would have heat, and as my pancreas was now frozen solid, and the original plan had been to have lunch about two and a half hours earlier, I thought this might not be such a bad idea.

The place was fairly empty. Three tables occupied, but it was almost three in the afternoon. I can't say I was super hungry, but I wanted something warm. Immediately upon being seated I was brought a glass of prosecco, and an urn-like thing with a light, moussy pate and some toast to spread it on. That was a nice touch.

The menu looked nice, if a little fancy. I went for the appetizer of bacala and potato mousse, sort of like the brandade de morue I made for Christmas, served with crispy artichoke slices. And for pasta I had house made pappardelle in a duck ragout. They were both great, but the pasta dish was just absolutely outstanding. And warming. Just the slightest rosemary flavor to it, earthy and not heavy. And I was seated right near the window so I had a perfect view of the whole city.

I finished with an espresso, and then my waiter brought me a glass of limoncello, saying that was from him. I sipped it slowly until I felt thawed enough to brave outside again.

And now it's sort of snowing. My current dream is to find a ten-foot tall space heater and hug it tightly. Failing that, I might just leave this Internet cafe and head straight for the nearest purveyor of babas. Mmm....babas...

January 24, 2005

a firenze

I know everyone has told you that Florence is beautiful. If you haven't been there, you've seen the photos and the film footage in A Room with a View and things like that, and you've said to yourself, "yeah, beautiful. I know beautiful. I've been to Paris. I know beautiful." Well, if you've been to Florence, first of all you wouldn't be so blase about it. And if you haven't then, actually, you don't know a thing about beautiful.

I'll pause here to add my own editorial comments on the beauty of this city. HOLY SHIT! I am being purposely vulgar because, well, actually, I don't think I could describe the beauty of this place in any terms that wouldn't be vulgar in comparison. So let's just not pretend and accept the vulgarity of language in this instance. Seriously. I was walking along today (well before I crossed the Arno and got myself hopelessly lost for several hours) and came upon the Duomo. And my first thought was "Jesus Christ!" which is, I guess, appropriate. The second thought was, "Holy Shit that's gorgeous" and that's sort of typified my reaction to this city ever since.

Needless to say, I like Florence more than Rome. Rome was nice, and had some really cool parks and ruins and stuff (and Lord I knows I like stuff), but as a city, wel, it didn't necessarily work for me. Or at least, I couldn't see myself living there. Florence, on the other hand, well, I just keep thinking how unjust it is that people get to live here amongst all this gorgeousness and the rest of us get excited about the Space Needle.

I went to the Palazza Vecchio today, which is beautiful enough to qualify as sort of obscene, and then took this tour of the secret stairways in the private quarters of the palace, which satisfied my growing need to climb every set of stairs I see and explore every nook I come upon. And I learned some interesting tidbits about art, alchemy, and architecture. Uh-huh. Actually, it was way cool, and getting to go up into the rafters above the ceiling in the Sala Cinquecento and see the amazing engineering behind holding up that huge and heavy ceiling was so cool, in a geeky architecture-appreciating way.

And then I walked across the Ponte Vecchio, which is lined with jewelry shops, and chatted with the American woman who was on the tour with me and said she wanted to bring back something nice for her daughter, and she liked the cameos but didn't think they were appropriate for a 30 year old, which is funny, since I love cameos and wear mine quite often. But oh well. On the other side of the Arno (which said old bridge crosses) there is plenty of shopping, and I was for a time concerned that might bank accout might wind up in a duel to the death with my handbag and shoe fetish. Not to worry. So far, I've only spent obscene amounts of money on clothes here, which wasn't even on my radar for Florence, but the tops I got today were just so original and cool. Oh my. The handbags and shoes are still calling my name, though, and I think it goes without saying that I'll be shipping some stuff home.

Oh, and I learned something last night. You can get bad pizza in Rome. Really, truly, godawful pizza. Like Pizza Time bad pizza (for those of you in Seattle). I knew it wouldn't be great. I went into it with very low expectations, but it was cold and pouring last night and there just wasn't much near my pensione that was open on a Sunday night and I didn't feel like being picky. So I go in, and pull the usual drill. Ask for a table for one, sit down and pull out my book, adn order. I went to the Quattre Stagione, which is a good staple--mushrooms, ham, artichokes, and anchovies. But this was just bad. And the small think of house wine I ordered was a bottle of really bad paint thinner wine, as it turns out.

But so, I'm sitting there, reading my book, and the person at the next table and across from me is staring at me like I'm a freak. I want to give a little context here. The tubercular, platinum blond obviously South American transvestite (probably prostitute sitting with her probably pimp) on the phone while eating a steak is looking at me and my book like there's something out of the ordinary about us. Welcome to the world of bad Roman pizza.

And then home. My room at the Hotel Ferrarase was on the 5th floor, but the office is on the second. On my way up the stairs, the innkeeper waves me in to tell me that if I plan to check out before 9 am, I should pay that night. I assure him that is not my plan, and then he offers me something to drink, we sit, we chat, and he tells me that he reads palms. He reads mine, and among other things, tells me that when I was a teenager I lost someone--a grandfather or an uncle--who loved me most. I can only assume (if such things carry any merit) that he is referring to my maternal grandfather, who died when I was 15 and who was, and is, one of the people I admire most in the world. And I was his first grandchild. The one who he flew all the way to Germany to be with as I came into this world, and then flew all the way back to Brooklyn to get a suitcase full of good Italian pastries for my Christening. My grandfather lives in my memory as the epitome of everything I could ever want to be--smart, funny, good-looking, charming, generous, honest, a good dancer, and a hard worker. I loved him with all of my heart, and that he died so long ago is one of the few things that still make me cry years later. So, you know, when Antonio (my inkeeper) said this, and said that this person was watching me carefully and would let me know it soon, it struck a chord.

And so tonight, I'm in Florence. And I decide to try this restaurant that Jay had recommended which is a bit of hike not only from where my pensione here is, but also from where I got lost on the other side of the Arno today, and it's cold. Really cold. And I'm basically a Paulettesical by the time I get there, though it's warm inside and the people who work there are really friendly, and it's a fixed menu with only a coupld of choices to be had (I went for the minestrone to start) and the main course comes out and it's veal hootchie cootchie. Ok, that's not how it was described. It was described as veal with potatoes. Which isn't making me think of the stew that I think of as the singly most warming and comforting meal I've ever had-the veal hootchie cootchie my grandfather made, served after a cold, long day fishing off the peir in Belmar in the middle of winter, served with his great sparkle of a smile at his name for it (no one was ever more pleased with my granddad's sense of humor than he was). And I can't help but take that as my sign. Of all the dishes I could have been served, to get a great bowl of granddad's perfect comfort food...

Tomorrow the Uffizi and stuff like that. Probably some shopping.

Nazis. I hate those guys.

It's the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and here in central Europe, feelings are running very high. There's a thoughtful commentary in the Times on the recent scandalous walk-out by Saxon members of the National Party of Germany (NPD) during a moment of silence for the victims of the Holocaust.

There's no denying that Dresden was a bloodbath and that many innocent people lost their lives. I can't do the whole moral equivalency thing where you equate the bombing of Dresden with the millions of lost lives in Europe, Jewish and otherwise. They're all lost lives, ruined by Nazism.

What sticks in my throat and infuriates me nearly beyond words is the blantant racism and sheer stupid insensivity of the NPD. I'm pretty sure no one is stopping the NPD - or anyone else for that matter - from commemorating the bombing of Dresden. Hell, we all learned about Dresden in grade school history classes and I don't remember being taught that it was an event that glorified the allies and downplayed the loss of human lives. It was a firebombing. There was death and destruction everywhere. Yet the SPD can't acknowledge that Auschwitz, too, was a tragedy beyond description.

Neo-Nazism is on the rise in former Eastern Germany. In Saxony, the SPD got just over 9 percent of the vote. You could conclude that one in ten people you'd meet when walking the streets of modern Dresden supports the SPDs racist platform. This is terrifying. Combine this with the rhetoric coming out of Iran these days about the Zionist agenda (thank you Dick Cheney) and you end up with the world looking pretty scary for this latke eating member of the tribe.

Get Your Car and Your Drunk Self Home

I just saw this on "Insomnic with Dave Attell": ScooterMan, a service you can call that sends a sober, fully insured driver to your location to drive you home in your car. The driver arrives on a small scooter that is quickly disassembled, bagged, and stored in the trunk. Someone interviewed on the show said that the cost was about 150% the cost of taking a taxi. What a great idea! Sorry, only available in the Greater London area.

There Was Johnny

Sometime last year, I was surprised to find that Johnny Carson was neither dead nor doing anything regarded as news-worthy. How does a person so important just disappear like that?

There was a time in the '80s, when I was just out of high school and starting college, and I could remember when we might all die at any moment due to a Soviet nuclear strike. What was I going to do with my life? Would Ann ever be interested in me? Would we all die tomorrow? For some reason, all of those questions seemed to melt away with Johnny's monologue. It felt like people somewhere were awake, and Johnny was making jokes like he had the night before; therefore, the world was likely to continue in some predictable way, and I could relax.

As much as I've liked other latenight shows and hosts, I've never had for them the same positive, sentimental feelings that I had for Johnny Carson. I'm sure that was more the result of my age and experiences at the time than Johnny, but the fondness did exist. I'm sorry Johnny's dead, though it felt like he left us a long time ago (though CNN's obituary says that he wrote jokes for Dave).

In Dramarama's "Last Cigarette", John Easdale sings, "You don't have to hear the headlines, you can hear what Johnny Carson said". I suppose many of us almost feel that way about John Stewart now.

January 23, 2005

The Committee of World Security

I didn't think Donald Rumsfeld could be any scarier but after reading this article in the Washington Post (reprinted in the Seattle Times) I'm ready for The Rapture. Apparently, our military doesn't have enough reliable intelligence and Porter Goss in charge of the CIA hasn't convinced Rummy that the situation is about to change.

"The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld's written order to end his "near total dependence on CIA" for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary's direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces."

Of course the real benefit to Rummy and the Bush administration is the "less stringent congressional oversight" said to be applied to the intelligence missions carried out by the Defense Dept. Because that's what all Americans want - more places where Rummy is unsupervised carrying out the neocon agenda. After all, it's going so well in Iraq.

"The Strategic Support Branch was created to provide Rumsfeld with independent tools for the "full spectrum of humint operations," according to an internal account of its origin and mission. Human intelligence operations, a term used in counterpoint to technical means such as satellite photography, range from interrogation of prisoners and scouting of targets in wartime to the peacetime recruitment of foreign spies. A recent Pentagon memo states that recruited agents may include "notorious figures" whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed."

Like Pinochet, Noriega, the Contras, Hussein and Bin Laden were all notriously aided by US intelligence and military agencies in their immediate goals of either overthrowing socialist governments or fighting US enemies in a proxy war. It is obvious that these people are still willing to fight "the war on terrorism" with the same tactics employed in the Cold War. And we've seen how well that turned out. Yeah, sure, the wall came down and the USSR is no more but the downside of these tactics and policies have had many more and further-reaching negative impacts than I believe anyone thought at the time.

Let's just take Bin Laden as an example of this. We aided OBL in Afghanistan when his crew was taking on the Soviets. They were ultimately successful with covert US help. We taught OBL how to recruit, discipline and train a militia to combat an identified enemy. Didn't anyone foresee that we may one day become that enemy? Isn't anyone afraid of the next friend-turned-foe that our government is cultivating in our "national interest?"

I could argue other unintended consequences like the loss of control over Soviet nuclear warheads and the continuing deterioration of African nation-states but the worst outcome for the US (and I think you all understand this) is with the absence of the Soviet Union as a superpower we became the only game in town. The vaccuum created by the fall of the USSR has allowed anyone with complaints, grudges and prejudices to focus on us as their primary, and maybe only adversary.

I know it's an ugly world with harsh realities and many believe that we have to employ these tactics on an ongoing basis or be caught unaware of the next threat. I am not arguing that we were better off during the Cold War - MAD was a stupid policy. However, when will our government make positive policy decisions to undermine the tenets of terrorist organizations and the nation-states that are pursuing nuclear arms rather than exacerbate the situation by relying solely upon tactics that reinforce the worst beliefs of US critics and enemies (and empower those future, unknown threats.)

I don't know, but I believe removing Bush and his neocon handlers from power would be a powerful first step. At the very least get rid of Rummy.

ruins are cool

Like, really, really cool. There I was standing in the Palatino, after having walked through the Colosseum, and staring at the Roman forum. So like, first off, how cool is it that these things are thousands of years old. But even more than that, they're huge. Really, truly, just freaking huge. And you know what I'm thinking about? Construction cranes. Seriously. Like how they use them for much smaller buildings these days that will be lucky to last a hundred years, and these guys built these things a few thousand years ago without construction cranes.

I have a new appreciation for engineers. Or, at least, for two thousand year old engineers. I mean, holy crap. Seriously impressive stuff.

I went to an opera last night. La Traviata. It was in an old church between the Piazza d'Espagne and the Piazza di Popoli. Very entertaining and it made me feel like less of a Philistine about the whole not appreciating art thing.

The church was also the most austere I've been in since arriving in Rome. Which isn't to say that it's actually austere. Far from it. But in comparison to the others, there were walls that were just brick and not covered in paint and mosaic and such.

Which brings me to another appreciation. That of the bathrooms of all the Italian-Americans I grew up around. If you're from my neck of the woods, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The shiny, colorful, busy wallpaper. The ornate, marble-topped little table for holding all manner of fancy soaps and silk flower arrangements and decorate handtowels. The gold-framed mirrors. The wall-hangings. Just the sheer amount of stuff to look at in a powder room that always amazed me. Well, it's apparently not some affected middle-class arriviste neurosis being played out. It's just in their blood. I mean, you go into churches and villas and the like here and anything with surface is decorated, usually in multiple ways. Plain walls with no frescoes? Let's paint false marbling on them? Marble walls? Let's use six or seven different clashing colors of marble in five or six different patterns. Two foot panel of wall between marble columns? Oh, I know. Let's paint vines and monkeys and urns on them. Ceiling? Well, obviously some creation myth needs to go there. Duh. It's like there is a genetically inbred impulse to cover every surface with as much decoration as possible. Italians, apparently, don't believe in understatement as an interior design motif.

Nor do they seem to believe in understatement as a fashion motif. I have never seen so many people wearing so much fur, gold, white leather, huge sunglasses, spike heels and pointed toes shoes. And in some cases, it works, but in most, I'm kind of left with the impression that I'm missing something in not wanting to emulate the whole Donatella Versace look. Oh well. Which isn't to say I haven't made a few fine purchases, including some mauve suede spike heels that I'm crazy about and will go really well with the mauve and brown wool miniskirt I found yesterday. Lucky for me, Italians are also under the impression that pink is the new black.

One more thing. I haven't taken that many photos since getting here, though I was thinking that would sort of be the theme for this trip. It's just that most things I could take pictures of have been photographed up the ying-yang, and I don't think there is much I could add to what better photographers have already done. And the rest of it, well, honestly, I just couldn't capture in a photograph, for various reasons, like the impact of my walk through the Villa Borghese the other day, or the sound of a dozen or so crows spashing in the little stream through it. There are images that have had an impact on me, like an old woman, lying on a piece of cardboard, barely propping herself up on one arm and crying as she held her hand out for money. I couldn't photograph that, and I wouldn't want to, but I'm not going to forget that image. Nor could I capture in any real sense the massiveness of the ruins and the realization that all those buildings that remain, at least in part, so many centuries later were planned with no CAD programming, with no construction cranes. It's kind of awe-inspiring.

I sound like a dork. But really, I'm not getting all new-agy goofy and reflective. It's just that I've spent so much time walking around and looking at things and not thinking about things that aren't right in front of me. I needed this trip.

Tomorrow I leave for Florence. I haven't a clue where my pensione is, though. This could be interesting...

Love to you all!

January 22, 2005

Speculation about the Mac Mini

Cringely has a great column with his speculations about the Mac Mini. It's more than a little interesting. If he's right, Billg is going to be really, really pissed.

Adieu Nate!

This will make more sense if you've read all the comments on this entry. It was just a comment, but it deserves a post.

Nate, Peter's right. We've indulged you enough. Your final comment to Terry was beyond the pale. No more of you.

This country used to make fun of people like you--the Scopes Trial and all that. For the past 25 years, we've indulged you--and look what's happened. We're losing our country! If you want a theocracy, go to Iran. And if you want a place to espouse your views, get you own damn blog. You are not welcome here any more.

January 21, 2005

Did you feel that punditquake?

Freuqent readers will know well my distaste for Peggy Noonan, the washed-up Reagan speechwriter the other Reagan speechwriters love to hate. So it is with shock and no small measure of glee that I read Noonan's rather shrill attack on W's inaugural address. Under the headline (are you ready for this?) "Way too much God," Noonan makes the following sensible observations:

A short and self-conscious preamble led quickly to the meat of the speech: the president's evolving thoughts on freedom in the world. Those thoughts seemed marked by deep moral seriousness and no moral modesty.

No one will remember what the president said about domestic policy, which was the subject of the last third of the text. This may prove to have been a miscalculation.

It was a foreign-policy speech. To the extent our foreign policy is marked by a division that has been (crudely but serviceably) defined as a division between moralists and realists--the moralists taken with a romantic longing to carry democracy and justice to foreign fields, the realists motivated by what might be called cynicism and an acknowledgment of the limits of governmental power--President Bush sided strongly with the moralists, which was not a surprise. But he did it in a way that left this Bush supporter yearning for something she does not normally yearn for, and that is: nuance.

Mon dieu! One assumes she wants the President to serve up said nuance with a drippy tranche of Camembert! Does she think he's French or something? She goes on to bash the music as "modern megachurch hymns, music that sounds like what they'd use for the quiet middle section of a Pixar animated film . . . lame." Uh-oh, this sounds like Peggy (who, as a rags-to-riches graduate of Farleigh Dickinson University, isn't exactly a standard issue blueblood) sounding the strains of WASPy disapproval of Bush's tacky Texas born-againness. If the message-toting mandarins of the right are going to start going after Bush on questions of taste, it's going to be an enjoyable four years after all!

She ends, amazingly, with this:

And yet such promising moments were followed by this, the ending of the speech. "Renewed in our strength--tested, but not weary--we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

This is--how else to put it?--over the top. It is the kind of sentence that makes you wonder if this White House did not, in the preparation period, have a case of what I have called in the past "mission inebriation." A sense that there are few legitimate boundaries to the desires born in the goodness of their good hearts.

One wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not.

She totally sounds like a member of the reality-based community... which is a bummer, because I'm really not sure we want her in our club. On the other hand, if she keeps throwing phrases like "mission inebration" around the troglodytic halls of the WSJ's editorial page we might have to make room for her.

On the other hand, Tbogg might be right in his "Shorter Peggy Noonan" post this morning: "And I remember thinking: This speech would have been better if I had written it."

sono a roma

Which is to say, I'm in Rome. Today was my first day here, since yesterday was spent mostly being lost in Amsterdam. I am choosing to blame my inability to orient myself on the bad feng shui in my building at work. No matter how many times I looked at my map yesterday, I couldn't manage to not wind up somewhere other than where I was expecting to be. (On a related note, I can't seem to get my head around my hotel being to the west of Termini Station here in Rome; it just feels like it's to the south, which keeps throwing me off.)

Case in point. I had decided to go the Rijksmuseum, since it was one of the sites I had missed the last time I was in Amsterdam. There were signs pointing the way to the Museumplein every so often, and there were maps, albeit confusing and overlapping ones, in my giudebook. So it should not have been a particularly difficult task to accomplish. But the bad orientation karma I've inherited from Building 18 seems to have followed me across the ocean. I walked along the specified route, passed through the Rembrandtplein, and continued, following the signs toward the Museumplein, which, curiously, also pointed in the same direction for the Centraal Station, where I had disembarked from the train and started out in the first place.

Not to worry. Maybe space just bends differently in the Netherlands. I continue following the signs, and it's quite a bit further than I had expected. Then the signs start point in the same direction for the Museumplein and the Rembrandtplein, which, really, they shouldn't have, because I'd already been to the latter. But they did, and sure enough, I passed through the Rembrandtplein again, from a different direction than the one I'd arrived through before. I follow the signs again, and, lo and behold, wind up there a third time, at which point I decided to go to the Anne Frank Huis, using the map in my guide book which had been oh so helpful in finding the museum. This time, though, twenty minutes later, I was standing in from the Rijksmuseum. Go figure.

But you know, museums like that just don't do it for. I can admire the skill of the old masters--how they can capture the light and depth of a scene and all--but they just leave me cold. I guess I'm just a philistine, but I just don't really get paintings. Or at least old ones. I seem like modern art museums, but then again, the ones that I really love are as much about loving the architecture (Renzo Piano's fantastic Beauborg or Fran Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, for example) as about the art.

Really, I'd much rather look at buildings. Or, as it would turn out, parks.

I saw a bunch today in Rome, the Spanish Steps, the Panteon, the Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, the Piazza di Popoli, the Etruscan museum, but the real highlight of the day, and my favorite thing in Rome so far is the Villa Borghese park. It's huge, and houses the Borghese Museum which is impressive, to say the least, nearly every inch of it covered in elaborate marble designs, frescoes, intarsia, and mosaics. But the park itself in truly incredible, and for the first time made me appreciate the artistry in landscape design.

That sounds silly, I think. Or not quite stating the point sufficiently, but really, this park is fantastic.

You walk up a hill from the Piazza di Popoli and there's an incredible view of the city spread out before you. You turn and walk into the park and, alternately pass through green areas studded with varieties of trees in patterns that are comforting and rhythmic as you pass by, without feeling rigidly laid out. You walk along wide collonades toward fountains or sculptures. Then happen upon a big open area with plane trees stretching out toward the blue sky against a terra cotta colored villa. And you realize that the park is like a piece of music with tempo changes, or sets for a play. The scenery guides you through different movements. You're looking out at everything laid out below you for a while, and then the focus shifts to following a path toward a clear destination, and then, suddenly, everything is open and reaching upward. The effect is really powerful, and relaxing. Maybe it's like being guided through different levels of meditation.

Now I'm sounding hokey, but I'm finally appreciating why Frederick Law Olmstead was such a stickler (which, I realize, is something of an understatement) for having his parks match exactly his vision--every tree the right species and in the righ place, every flower the right color, every walkway laid out exactly as specified. And I'm so glad that he was that way, and that there were other landscape architects with that kind of vision. Especially since it sort of makes up for my being too much of a lout to appreciate a Caravaggio.

More later, my dears. I hope you're all doing well.

Ciao!

January 20, 2005

Inaugural Feelings

FTHEPRESIDENT.jpg

That's "F" as in John F. Kerry, of course-- you didn't think we were that coarse, did you? You can buy a window sticker in this lovely design from the good folks at Dontblamemeivoted4Kerry.com.

The oceans of Titan

Some amazing images are coming out of the data collected during the Huygens mission to Titan. Amazingly, NASA has been beaten to the punch on this gorgeous image by amateurs:

titanrendered_large.jpg

This just goes to show the benefit of making public data publicly available. This is a 3-D rendering, not a photograph, but the terrain geography is based on real data from Titan (though the colour is not). Truly amazing. You can also see the same scene from another angle where you can clearly see islands in what is presumably a sea of liquid hydrocarbons. This is the first instance ever of a liquid being directly observed on an extraterrestial world. Could there be life swimming beneath there? Even if not, Titan could give us tremendous insight into how life evolved in the early days of Earth, when conditions were not totally dissimilar to those of Titan today.

Anyone who says space missions are a waste of money should be chastened after this mission.

Bush League

Last night I dreamt I was one of the Bush girls. Not the blonde one, of course. The brunette, Lauren? No, that’s the cousin. Barbara. That’s her. Anyway, I was the brown haired one. And I was having a little difference of opinion with George over the inauguration. See, my best friend was that terrible entertainment reporter that looks like a frog, what the hell is his name? He’s on Entertainment Tonight, I think, he’s blonde and very skinny and often in leather pants and has scarecrow hair, you know the one. Anyway, he’s as “gay as Christmas” (a turn of phrase I have always enjoyed and hope you are not offended by). See, I was getting in to it with George over gay rights.

Why this issue? Probably because – in my waking life as ME - when I think about gay rights, I think about very specific people in my life, fine, fine humans and good friends, who are being denied adoption rights or domestic partner rights or marriage rights based on the fact that their hearts have landed on a true love of the same sex. I think about real live people who I adore when I think about gay rights, so it sort of sits at the front of my consciousness – or indeed, my subconscious, it appears.

In my dream, I was supposed to give a little speech at the inauguration, but because I (as Barbara Bush Jr.) was fighting with George about gay rights, I was being prevented from attending the party. See, George was afraid I was going to use my time on the podium to bring up the issue of gay rights, when he really wanted me be sucking up to his family values and imperialism spreading inauguration donors. And I, Barbara Bush Jr., the uppity one, supposedly the smart one, was a liability. I was being confined to a rather ill-lit wing of the White House.

But my friend, the guy from Entertainment Tonight, the blonde guy who sort of looks like Steven Tyler, what IS his name already, was there with me. And I was sobbing on to his shoulder about how ashamed I was of my Presidential Parentage. And he was saying, as he stood there, reassuring me while wearing leather pants, that I shouldn’t be embarrassed, that one doesn’t choose their parents, and that just having my voice in George’s ear could potentially make the tiniest difference for his civil rights going forward.

However, plot twist, A-HA! Later, from the dreamer’s all knowing point of view, I observed George meeting with my Entertainment Tonight very best gay boyfriend, and they discussed whether or not their Evil Plan(TM) to subdue my left wing opinions was going well or not. And in the light of the tightly focused halogens, I could see that – bwa ha ha ha ha ha! – my Entertainment Tonight very best gay boyfriend in leather pants with scarecrow hair was nothing but a machine! The horrors! A machine built to service the needs of George to convince his family members that all was well, silencing their agendas and opinions in the service of greater conservatism! The horrors!

It is possible that I spend too much time obsessing about the Bush administration.

January 19, 2005

Spoilsports, Part II

Hey, this looks kind of familiar. It's not exactly the same as the inauguration story, but the sentiments are all deja vu.

Alfred Gusenbauer, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, vehemently disagrees. Gusenbauer says it's inconceivable that the wealthy and powerful should waltz in all their finery while others mourn their dead.

Is there a theme emerging?

January 18, 2005

Another 5 great ones from Merlin

5ives: Five more slightly misleading revelations of federally-funded abstinence programs

"Five more slightly misleading revelations of federally-funded abstinence programs

1. Liberal senators want to award slutty girls free sub for 6th abortion
2. Wearing green on Thursday makes you so totally gay
3. Douche with Dr. Pepper and your baby will have luxurious brown hair
4. When you masturbate on a Sunday, Jesus punches Keith Moon in the mouth
5. Latex condoms make your kooch smell like a pork rind: forever!"

Math is hard!

First Barbie, now the President of Harvard: Women Lack 'Natural Ability' In Some Fields, Harvard President Says


The president of Harvard University prompted criticism for suggesting that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

This guy is such an ass. His gross insensitivity caused most of the Af-Am department to leave en masse for Princeton a few years back. When will Harvard have finally had enough?

Your brain is the real battleground

Apparently, different sections of our brain react to each other in the creation and retention of our opinions. And recent work done by Dr. Joshua Freedman and his team at UCLA shows this is true regardless of whether you're a Republican or a Democrat (from his 1/18/05 NYT editorial):

While viewing their own candidate, both Democrats and Republicans showed activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with strong instinctive feelings of emotional connection. Viewing the opposing candidate, however, activated the anterior cingulate cortex, which indicates cognitive and emotional conflict. It also lighted up the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area that acts to suppress or shape emotional reactions.

These patterns of brain activity, made visible on the f.M.R.I.'s, suggest that both Bush and Kerry voters were mentally battling their attraction to the other side. Bush voters wanted to follow Mr. Kerry; Kerry voters found appeal in Mr. Bush. Both groups fought this instinct by arguing to themselves that their impulses were wrong. By recalling flaws associated with the opposition, the voters displaced attraction with dislike. Because the process happened nearly instantaneously, only the final sense of dismay reached full awareness.

So we now have scientific proof for the efficacy of the tactics employed by Rove & Co. If you flood the airwaves with enough negative propaganda about the opposition you will enable the victory of your candidate in the battleground of the voters' brains.

Lesson to the Dems: Go Negative - Early and Often!

Half Mast

I've been relatively quiet around the political issues lately while taking a little break to recover from well, you know. But with the inauguration just around the corner, I think it's time to get back up on that soapbox and start making noise.

Here's a pretty good place to start. The Age has a story about the lavish plans for the the inauguration ball:

...Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted - if not cancelled - in wartime," Mr Weiner wrote. He suggested that the money could pay for 690 Humvees and provide a $US290 bonus for each soldier in Iraq.

He cited President Franklin Roosevelt, who celebrated his 1945 inaugural with cold chicken salad and pound cake...

In my head I've been writing my letter to the White House, to be sent on J20. It's a little reminder to those in the White House that 52% does not a mandate make. That the man in the Oval Office said that he would work for unity. That the world watches while America makes her move.

Yeah, I get that it's probably going to be deleted by some White House staffer. Which is why I've also planned to write my reps, Jim McDermott, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell, to thank them for making the effort to represent me accurately and to support them in the upstream battle that they are continuing to fight for Civil rights. And the environment. And diplomacy under, for crying out loud, Condeleeza fucking Rice. You know, the one the Chevron tanker was named after? 40 million on the inauguration when nearly 80 million American live without health insurance? Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure we could insure them for .5 million a piece. It's basic math, people!

It's a kind of a haul from here to the embassy, but if I do manage to get there, I hope I won't be the only one, dressed in black, quietly flying the American flag at half mast on what is, to me, a day of tragic national mourning for the American that I love.

January 17, 2005

Hell hath no fury

From the Big Book of Creative Revenge comes this odd little story about "A Polish woman ...sentenced to four months' imprisonment for terrorizing the boss by making ghostly sounds at his castle-like estate. "

I've had a boss or two I'd like to get back at; why didn't this idea ever occur to me?

January 15, 2005

Ukelooza

I can't go, so you should:

It's time for UKELOOZA 4! The return of Rain City Projects' annual
fundraising cabaret!

What is Rain City Projects? It's Seattle's fourteen-year-old
playwright service organization, that publishes playscripts (almost
200 scripts to date) by playwrights from Seattle and elsewhere,
provides travel grants, produces play readings, publishes theater
journals, and many, many other things. The archive of Rain City
Projects scripts is an astonishing documentation of theater activity
in Seattle over the past fourteen years.

What is UKELOOZA? It's RCP's more-or-less-annual tropical-themed
celebration, that---for no good reason, yet the results are buoyant
and dizzyingly delightful---features ukulele music galore, as well a
live auction, a raffle, and even a few non-ukulele acts (so we don't
all go insane from excessive inhalation of ukulele fumes).

WHEN: Monday, January 17, at 7:30 pm (Doors open at 7 pm for drinks
and socializing)
(SUPA will not be performing in this)

WHERE: Re-bar, 1114 Howell St. (at the corner of Howell and Boren)

HOW MUCH: $12 (Must be over 21, with ID)

CALL: 233-9873 (reservations not required)


WHO: This year's Ukelooza features an all-new line-up of:

>> Our Hawaiian-native hostess, solo powerhouse SARAH RUDINOFF!

>> SARI BREZNAU, the alluring chanteuse of Circus Contraption!

>> Seattle storyteller without peer, MATT SMITH!

>> JOHN ACKERMANN, musical mastermind (and part of the avant-jazz
troupe "Awesome")!

>> Traditional tropical tunes from JEFFREY COOK!

>> Unusual cover songs from ERIC RAY ANDERSON!

>> Melancholy singing clown CECELIA FRYE!

>> A painting created before your eyes by SUSANNAH ANDERSON!

...and more, more, more!


On top of that, Ukelooza's live AUCTION and RAFFLE will include:

>> Two six-month passes to NORTHWEST FILM FORUM
>> Two four-show flex-passes to INTIMAN THEATRE
>> Twenty hours of rehearsal time from THEATRE PUGET SOUND
>> Two season passes to CAPITOL HILL ARTS CENTER
>> A yearlong pass for two to ANNEX THEATRE's monthly variety show,
Spin the Bottle, as well as two tickets to their upcoming show 'Pent-
Up'
>> Two tickets to a dress rehearsal at SEATTLE OPERA, accompanied by
the catty and informed Ed Hawkins
>> Two tickets to a prime MARINERS game
>> Two tickets to PRINTER'S DEVIL THEATRE's new show, 'The Chris
Schussler Incident'
>> Two tickets to a dance performance at ON THE BOARDS
>> Two tickets to a show at SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE
...and much, MUCH more, including dinner packages, gift baskets, more
show tickets, and the painting created by Susannah Anderson as you
watch!

And as if that weren't enough: The first fifty people to arrive will
receive one certificate good for a free hula lesson from ALOHA ISLAND
TREASURES!

FURTHERMORE: Rain City Projects will be announcing a significant
change in its programming, including the new MANIFESTO SERIES, a
biannual compilation of great Northwest plays, edited with extreme
prejudice by nationally recognized playwrights who have a vision of
what theater can be. Also, the new ONLINE WAREHOUSE, which will work
towards providing a comprehensive collection of new plays produced in
the Pacific Northwest over the past 20 years.

So consider this your personal invitation from the Rain City Projects
board: Scot Augustson, Bret Fetzer, Andy Jensen, Darian Lindle, Brian
Neel, and Sean Ryan. We're already dreaming of your pale, sun-
deprived face lighting up from the vicarious tropicality of UKELOOZA
4!

January 14, 2005

IF YOU WANT THEM TO COMMIT, SUBMIT.

Is June Cleaver the American female ideal? Do hetero men really want a woman whose sole reason for existence is to take care of her man and his needs? I don’t want to believe it but I am afraid that it might be true.

As Maureen Dowd (in her 1/13/05 NYT editorial) describes:

“A new study by psychology researchers at the University of Michigan, using college undergraduates, suggests that men going for long-term relationships would rather marry women in subordinate jobs than women who are supervisors.

As Dr. Stephanie Brown, the lead author of the study summed it up for reporters: "Powerful women are at a disadvantage in the marriage market because men may prefer to marry less-accomplished women." Men think that women with important jobs are more likely to cheat on them.

"The hypothesis," Dr. Brown said, "is that there are evolutionary pressures on males to take steps to minimize the risk of raising offspring that are not their own." Women, by contrast, did not show a marked difference in their attraction to men who might work above or below them. And men did not show a preference when it came to one-night stands.

A second study, which was by researchers at four British universities and reported last week, suggested that smart men with demanding jobs would rather have old-fashioned wives, like their mums, than equals. The study found that a high I.Q. hampers a woman's chance to get married, while it is a plus for men. The prospect for marriage increased by 35 percent for guys for each 16-point increase in I.Q.; for women, there is a 40 percent drop for each 16-point rise.

So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? The more women achieve the less desirable they are? Women want to be in a relationship with guys they can seriously talk to - unfortunately, a lot of those guys want to be in relationships with women they don't have to talk to.”

First of all, this worry that, women in powerful positions cheat on their mates; where does that come from? Is it because men in positions of power are more likely to cheat and are projecting this on women or is there some basis in fact? Cuz, honey, I can tell you there is only one way to ensure that your woman isn’t cheating and that is to treat her well at home. Are smart women more demanding in the bedroom? Do we cause performance anxiety? Get a book or get over it, but by all means get better.

I would hate to think that in the end we are not making emotional and intellectual connections with our mates but are only responding to genetic coding. Worse still is the idea that some women actually hold themselves and their potential in check so they remain attractive to the men their self-esteem says they are worthy of. I suppose this would be OK if every woman would just set her sights on the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world then perhaps we will end up running it, instead of marrying for it.

The only cruel hoax here is the one women play on themselves, when they settle for less in a relationship because they are afraid. Modern science and adoption lawyers have proven you don’t have to be a couple to have children, if that is what you are afraid of. If you don’t want to be alone, you don’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to bring companionship into your life. And if it’s sex you’re looking for, apparently hetero men don’t have a preference as long as it’s just sex. So, break out of the socially imposed role and live for yourself first. If you are lucky to find a mate that is up to your challenge, congratulations. If not, ask for their medical history and be sure to use a condom!

January 10, 2005

It means "snowshoe" in Italian

We got back from Italy last night. It took us about an hour to unload the car and find places to stow to the olives and biscotti and other treats we’d bought at a supermarket near the Austrian border.

Even the drive home was amazing. We drove through Sudtirol, crossing the Dolomites. This part of Europe is filthy with castles, as though someone has scattered a box of them across the lower granite peaks and plateaus and neglected to sweep up. There’s a medieval fortress around every third bend. There’s a village that looks like it’s been ripped from a Breugel painting at every river crossing. Okay, there’s a lot of odd industry interjected along the river banks, but it’s easy to ignore that yellow factory by looking past the stacks to the vineyard clinging to a tiny patch of land up high on the mountainside.

We spent last week in Tuscany where we walked on the beach and in the villages, drank café lattes, and ate too much pasta. Then we drove up to the Valle di Non in Trentino where we attended La Ciaspolada – the snowshoe races.

We ended up there because I write for a snowshoeing website. I write little bits and pieces that fall outside the realm of gear heads and competitors – book reviews, profiles of interesting folks who do stuff related to snowshoeing, lifestyle stuff. Since I’m here in Europe, my editor wanted me to go to the Ciaspolada. I should say that I am not in to competitive sports and I don’t like crowds. Yet here we were at a huge – 6000 participants! – race in a tiny village on the edge of the mountains. But I’m game for just about anything. What the hell.

We stayed at the same little hotel as the American team. Because the hotel thought, at first, that we were all together, they put us all at the same table so we got to share our meals with four snowshoe runners (Nathaniel, Charlie, Jessie, Tim) and their organizer (Mark). Nice guys, all of them, friendly and funny and interesting and entertaining company. By the time the races started, I really wanted them to win. It was personal.

At 8:30, we headed to the startline to scope out a good place to take pictures. An hour and a half before the gun, the area was dense with people, and when the front pack took off, the crunch of hundreds of snowshoes filled the air. The front runners passed us in a blur, snow flying, the runner from Ghana way out in front, and then, as the pack thinned, the non competitors headed down the hill, thousands of them, in funny hats and headbands and gaiters and costumes and shorts and tank tops, pulling sleds, walking dogs, carrying kids in backpacks, talking and singing and joking and laughing and mugging it up for us as we pointed the camera at them from our spot on the sidelines.

Our guys came in before we did - and we arrived by shuttle bus. They’d crossed the line, right up front in the top 100. We watched runners struggle up the hill on the snow that had been trucked in for the race, we watched the top 3 women spray the news crew with champagne, we watched number 188 – hey, didn’t we see him taking a shortcut through town?! – come up the hill with a surprisingly revitalized stride.

I loved it. I want to go back. I want to do the race. I haven’t a chance in hell of placing, or even having the numbers to qualify to compete. I’m no runner. But it was so fun to watch and it was such a festival atmosphere, all those people of all ages and sizes and shapes out for a walk through this beautiful valley, why would you not want to be a part of it?! Back at the hotel that afternoon, my team – they’re my team now – offered me nothing but encouragement. “You can totally do it, you SHOULD totally do it!” It’s going to be great fun to see them again next year.

Anyone want to sponsor an amateur?

OK, maybe eating this will actually make you feel better

So, since the BBC's list of 50 things you must eat before you die doesn't seem to be sitting too well with the nonfamosi (and, of course, should we be terribly surprised that a bunch of foodies wouldn't be suitably impressed with a British list of delectables), I'm going to go ahead and create my own list. And, Elaine, welcome, and I whole-heartedly agree with you that homegrown tomatoes, warm from the garden are absolutely the sort of thing that everyone should live long enough to eat.

I hope my list resonates with you all a bit more (and maybe surprises you a little?), but really, in compiling this list, I'm realizing how silly an exercise this is. What is a life-changing (or even life-enriching) food experience is too subjective. However, as the nonfamous culinary fascista, I'll list 50 foods that I wouldn't have wanted to miss.

Ok, now, for my list:
1. Homegrown tomatoes, still warm from the garden
2. Fresh eggs, from a farmer who cares about his chickens
3. Prosciutto with figs and arugula
4. Grilled sardine
5. Stuffed artichoke
6. Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw
7. Paella
8. Strong, smelly, soft gorgonzola cheese with slices of braeburn apple
9. Neapolitan-style pizza
10. White tuna sashimi
11. Boiled blue-claw crabs
12. Copper River king salmon, in season and grilled to medium-rare
13. Kumomoto oysters on the half shell
14. Kansas City style BBQ ribs
15. Tamales
16. Chicken in mole pablano
17. Still-warm chocolate chip cookies
18. Kimchee
19. Swiss chard
20. Fresh, handmade mozzarella with good ripe tomatoes and fresh basil
21. Homemade blueberry preserves
22. Buttermilk biscuit with honey
23. Liverwurst
24. Borscht
25. Real Parmagianno-Reggiano
26. Unpasteurized, warm, runny camembert
27. Fresh fava beans
28. Hummous
29. Chicken pot pie
30. Unpasteurized milk with the cream floating on top
31. Roast leg of lamb
32. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
33. Brussel sprouts with bacon
34. Fried okra
35. Fresh pecorino cheese
36. Pomegranate
37. Gnocchi
38. Fried squash blossoms
39. Pickled herring
40. Boiled potatoes with butter and parsley
41. Pho
42. Dosas
43. Pesto
44. Bacalao
45. Cherrystone clams, freshly dug from the bay, on the halfshell with lemon
46. A sesame seed bagel with cream cheese and belly lox
47. A reuben
48. Sunday gravy
49. Jay's cider-brined turkey
50. A ham and cheese omelette made by my father

They call it sleep

A sleep researcher in NC has just launched a very interesting blog called Circadiana, which I found via BoingBoing. I really enjoyed his post Circadiana: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sleep (But Were Too Afraid To Ask). (David, I hope you read it!)

The author says a lot on the subject that I've believed for some time... the difference being that he has research data to back him up. I really do believe that the social and business constraints (or lack thereof) around sleep are one of the major causes of illness--right behind smoking and obesity. Coturnix, as the author calls himself, also points out some fascinating research on sleep cycles and their relation to depression and bipolar disorder.

He makes a great argument that there is almost as much ignorance and cultural weirdness about sleep in this country as about sex. And Coturnix clearly lays out certain salutary relations between the two that I have always believed in:

Make a routine in the evening. The last 2-3 hours before bedtime stay out of the bedroom (bedroom is only for sleep and sex), and switch off all the screens: no TV, no computer, no gameboy. Reading a book while sitting in an armchair in the living room is fine. Just sitting on the porch and thinking will help you wind down. As the evening progresses gradually turn down the lights. Once the bedtime arrives, go to the bedroom, go to bed, switch off the light (pitch darkness) and go to sleep if you can. If you cannot, get up for a few minutes, but keep your lights dim, still no screens, no caffein, no food.

Of course, all of the above are the strategies to shift your clock to a "socially accepted" phase. But you are not crazy or sick. It is the societal pressure to get up at a certain time that is making you sick. Try to get a job that fits your natural schedule. Work at night, sleep during the day (in a pitch-dark, light-tight, sound-proof room) and enjoy life in all its quirkiness.

If you need to go to the bathroom in the evening or during the night, do not turn on the light. Can't you find your vital organs in the dark? If neccessary, a very dim nightlight (or indirect light from the hall) is OK. If you wake up in the middle of the night, do not get up or switch on the light. Have sex instead. Hopefully your partner will enjoy being woken up by your kinky activities. You will both crash into pleasant deep sleep afterwards.

Those of you who know me know how much trouble I have sleeping, and how happy I would be if I could shift my schedule later to fight my natural night-owl tendencies. But as both work and husband expect me to hew to certain norms, I'm going to use the good info provided on Circadiana to do a better job of passing for a "lark."

January 07, 2005

eat this...it'll make you feel better

The BBC posted a list of 50 things you must eat before you die. I've had all but 5, and possibly 6, depending on what the hell barramundi is. I kind of find that dispiriting.

republicans are creepy

Republicans in Virginia are even creepier. You thought Virginia was for haters? Well, it's also apparently for creepy legislators who would jail a woman for having a miscarriage. That is, unless she reports it to the police within 12 hours. You can read more about it on Daily Kos.

I'm also creeped out by the designation of a fetus as a "product of conception." Although this is obviously an attempt to advance an anti-abortion agenda by making the "death" of a few cells (since the law does not specify a gestational stage after which it would be necessary to report it) something for the police to get involved in, and although it's extremely creepy to pass a law making something so personal and potentially painful into a humiliating public event, the designation "product of conception" has a very cold, dehumanizing sound that seems not to advance the thinking of a fetus as a person.

But then again, fetuses can't donate to the Republican party.

IOKIYAR

I have to agree with Robert at LGM when he calls this column, titled "Worse than fiction," Krugman's best. Excerpting:

I've been thinking of writing a political novel. It will be a bad novel because there won't be any nuance: the villains won't just espouse an ideology I disagree with - they'll be hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels.

In my bad novel, a famous moralist who demanded national outrage over an affair and writes best-selling books about virtue will turn out to be hiding an expensive gambling habit. A talk radio host who advocates harsh penalties for drug violators will turn out to be hiding his own drug addiction.

In my bad novel, crusaders for moral values will be driven by strange obsessions. One senator's diatribe against gay marriage will link it to "man on dog" sex. Another will rant about the dangers of lesbians in high school bathrooms.

In my bad novel, the president will choose as head of homeland security a "good man" who turns out to have been the subject of an arrest warrant, who turned an apartment set aside for rescue workers into his personal love nest and who stalked at least one of his ex-lovers.

In my bad novel, a TV personality who claims to stand up for regular Americans against the elite will pay a large settlement in a sexual harassment case, in which he used his position of power to - on second thought, that story is too embarrassing even for a bad novel.

In my bad novel, apologists for the administration will charge foreign policy critics with anti-Semitism. But they will be silent when a prominent conservative declares that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular."

In my bad novel the administration will use the slogan "support the troops" to suppress criticism of its war policy. But it will ignore repeated complaints that the troops lack armor.

The secretary of defense - another "good man," according to the president - won't even bother signing letters to the families of soldiers killed in action.

Last but not least, in my bad novel the president, who portrays himself as the defender of good against evil, will preside over the widespread use of torture.

How did we find ourselves living in a bad novel? It was not ever thus. Hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels have always been with us, on both sides of the aisle. But 9/11 created an environment some liberals summarize with the acronym Iokiyar: it's O.K. if you're a Republican.

January 06, 2005

Read The Poor Man today, please.

This is a great post: I'm Not Sure How Many More Corners We Can Stand To Turn.

But more to the point, Al Franken's blog quotes the well-respected, uber-insider Nelson Report with the day's worst news-- that W has truly become the Boy in the Bubble, to an even greater degree than previously realized:


The Nelson Report is a daily political tip sheet and analysis written for the past 20 years for the (US and Asian) corporate and government clients of Chris Nelson, a former Capitol Hill staffer and UPI reporter. (He was actually the first to break the looted explosives story before the election; Josh Marshall then posted it to his blog.) This Monday, he wrote:

"There is rising concern amongst senior officials that President Bush does not grasp the increasingly grim reality of the security situation in Iraq because he refuses to listen to that type of information. Our sources say that attempts to brief Bush on various grim realities have been personally rebuffed by the President, who actually says that he does not want to hear “bad news.”

Rather, Bush makes clear that all he wants are progress reports, where they exist, and those facts which seem to support his declared mission in Iraq...building democracy. “That's all he wants to hear about,” we have been told. So “in” are the latest totals on school openings, and “out” are reports from senior US military commanders (and those intelligence experts still on the job) that they see an insurgency becoming increasingly effective, and their projection that “it will just get worse.”

Our sources are firm in that they conclude this “good news only” directive comes from Bush himself; that is, it is not a trap or cocoon thrown around the President by National Security Advisor Rice, Vice President Cheney, and DOD Secretary Rumsfeld. In any event, whether self-imposed, or due to manipulation by irresponsible subordinates, the information/intelligence vacuum at the highest levels of the White House increasingly frightens those officials interested in objective assessment, and not just selling a political message."

Remember the good old days when zaftig interns gave the President blow jobs? Now apparently only Pollyanna is allowed that close.

January 04, 2005

"Saving" social security

In addition to the ridiculous set of ideas entailed in "privatizing" social secuity, W now wants to change the way benefits are indexed--away from a complex calculation based on a number of factors relating to standard of living, to a flat index based on the consumer price index. What does that look like? naSocial_010405.gif

Wouldn't it make much more sense just to raise the retirement age to 70 (in a nod to shifting demographic realities)? Oh wait... sense. Reality. Sorry, wrong president!

Read the whole WaPo article if you weren't sufficiently pissed off this week.

we are google, resistance is futile

At first, I wasn't sure if this movie was a brilliant prediction of the direction our culture is moving in as a result of technology and intellectual laziness; a bunch of cassandras who became convinced that the Internet will destroy us all after watching the Matrix on soft-core narcotics one too many times; or, just sour grapes from traditional media types bemoaning the impact of blogging and "grassroots journalism" on news today. But then, after poking around on the website for the Free Network Project, which is the only link from broom.org's main page, they appear to be exactly what Epic is railing against, I"m a little confused.

Either way, it's compelling.

January 03, 2005

If you have to ask the price...

... you can't afford it. This maxim definitely applies to QUALIA, the new hyper-premium consumer electronics line from Sony. The website (gorgeous, natch) doesn't list any prices. But those amazing headphones? $3,000. I hesitate to think what the digital projector costs, but the product description is some of the hottest technoporn I've read in a while. Oh yeah, baby, give me your Carl Zeiss optics and your solid-aluminum lens barrel! Hot!

Read it and drool.

Josh Marshall on W's big con

Josh at Talking Points Memo has a great post this morning that outlines why the "Social Security Crisis!" is really just the flipside of our huge national debt addiction--and how privatization is really a way of leaving the middle class and working poor with the bill for 25 years of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The United States has a bit over $7 trillion in accumulated national debt. You can say that's been built up over the history of the country. But overwhelmingly it was borrowed over what happens to be the span of my lifetime -- the last thirty-five years -- and especially over the last twenty-five years.

After 1980 we started borrowing money big-time to finance our deficits -- in large part because of tax cuts on high-income earners. However you want to slice it, we started spending substantially more than we were taking in in tax revenue.

So where'd we borrow the money?

This is from memory, so I may have the numbers a bit off. But I believe about $4 trillion of that debt was borrowed on the open market -- individual Americans have them in their investment portfolios, or pension funds hold them, or the Chinese, Japanese and the Saudis and others have them in bonds.

But about $3 trillion of those dollars we needed to fund the 1980s and 1990s deficits we managed to borrow closer to home. We borrowed it from the Social Security (and a few other government) trust fund(s).

Almost the entirety of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan comes down to a simple proposition: finding out how not to pay it back.

Now, admittedly, this is an approach that the president is rather familiar with from his own business career at various failed energy companies. But it is, in so many words, a straight up con -- one of vast scale, and one which virtually no one in the media ever frames in just these terms.

Before discussing that aspect of the question, consider a hypothetical. Let's say there'd not been a Social Security -- President Bush's dreamworld. We'd still have had the same deficits. The difference would be that we'd have had to borrow from private borrowers in the US and abroad.

Think we'd just be able to decide not to pay them back? Not likely. The Joneses and the Smiths with their 401ks probably wouldn't like that. And the Japanese and Saudis probably wouldn't like it much either. Of course, defaulting on our entire national debt would also certainly trigger a seismic international financial crisis. So you can probably figure that no one would be a huge fan of it.

So why does the president figure he can get away without making good on the debt to the folks who pay Social Security taxes, who are overwhelmingly low and middle-income wage earners (since no one pays Social Security tax on investment income or wage and salary income over about $85,000 a year)?

Isn't it obvious? Because he thinks they're an easy mark.

January 02, 2005

Now let us praise famous fascists

A recent post by Digby over at Hullabaloo has made me realize that perhaps the best thing I could do as a blogger is to focus on Focus on the Family and its Christofascist founder James Dobson. As it happens, Dobson is a Nazarene and so I grew up hearing lots about him. People I know well (and know to be terrible frauds and probably felons) work in his organization. I don't really hate anyone, but as Dobson has risen from mere pontificator to the self-appointed pontiff of the Evangelical extremist right he has come close.

As my father would say, though, don't get mad-- get even. Since Dobson's face appears in the dictionary next to the phrase "holier-than-thou," I think it's high time that people begin to apply serious scrutiny to his beliefs, his organizations, and his actions. Expect more here soon.

But to start, read Digby's post about Dobson's description of beating the family dog, a 12-pound dachshund... from his book on Christian child-rearing Dare to Discipline. If a dog-beater's notes on parenting don't strike your fancy, read this mid-90s expose by a former Focus on the Family vice-president. It was a scary read back in the '90s when Dobson was still relatively obscure. Now that his threats to politicians are big news, it's even scarier.