Friday, April 27, 2007

Signs of the End Times

  • As part of the ongoing campaign by Big Food to make sure Americans have the crappiest of everything, from pasturized cheese to tomatoes that taste like masking tape to pork that's genetically engineered to be as low-fat and flavor-free as possible, the FDA is considering changing their standards to allow a substance to be called "chocolate" if it contains vegetable oil instead of cocoa fat. By this definition such substances as the brown waxy coating on Whoppers malted milk balls would legally be called chocolate. More here and here.

  • Today the Dear Leader had this to say in regards to Congress' plan to begin bringing troops home from Iraq: "I think it -- I'm just envisioning what it would be like to be a young soldier in the middle of Iraq and realizing that politicians have all of the sudden made military determinations. And in my judgment, that would put a kid in harm's way, more so than he or she already is."

  • This actual letter, the writer of which is presumably allowed to drive, vote, and reproduce, appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last Monday.
    You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. All of the trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two. This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they? Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.
    CONNIE M. MESKIMEN / Hot Springs

Update. It should be said that if you're going to write angry letters to Hershey's, the child slavery issue is a bit of a higher priority. More here, here, and here.

Buy fair trade, buy fair trade, buy fair trade.

Chimaira and the Way It's Freakin Done

The next time I'm playing for a ceili or contradance, this is what I'll be fantasizing about.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Oceans Alive (For Now)

Reading the Slow Cook's recent post on fish and seafood reminded me that I've been meaning for a while to mention Oceans Alive and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch site. Both are good resources for making healthy and ecologically responsible seafood choices. It's a shame that we have to worry about this stuff, but that's the 21st century for you.

I see that overfishing and bottom trawling have put monkfish on the list to avoid. Damn it. The first time I went to Makoto, I had monkfish liver sashimi that changed my life. I'll cherish that memory.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Morrissey is Coming!

To Wolf Trap! In July!

Oh, how I used to sneer at his devoted fans twenty years ago. Even watching him now, I'm wanting to go back in time and find all the fragle anorexic mushroom-colored ambiguously gendered Morrissey-worshipping protowaifs I knew then and yell at them, come on! It's a joke! Look, it's a bright, sparkly little pop song, the lyrics are about alienation, self-pity, and morbid fear of sex, and he's got a ficus tree shoved up his ass! How could this not be comedy? It's like a more subtle Spinal Tap.

I honestly couldn't tell if he was a brilliant comedian or if he really needed someone to smack him one. Regardless, his bandmate Johnny Marr is among my favorite guitarists, and some songs they did--"How Soon is Now?" for example--are true masterworks. Even though that particular song was instrumental in a breakup I had.

I couldn't help it. I heard him singing
I am the son
And the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
and I started hooting with laughter, and my girlfriend knew at that moment what an insensitive boob I was, and ... well, there it was.

When his album You are the Quarry came out a couple of years ago, the Washington Post hailed it as "a cheery mass of self-loathing, generalized loathing, irony, misanthropy and angst." It's nice to see how consistent he's managed to be throughout his career.

Lori and I are planning to go to the show and sit on the lawn and guzzle beer and have a nice picnic of animal products. We might get thrown out. I would so love that.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech: Is the Scene of the Crime the Cause of the Crime?

Today's AlterNet has an excellent column by Mark Ames about school shootings:

Like their rage counterparts in the adult world, school shooters could be literally any kid except perhaps those who belonged to the popular crowd, the school's version of the executive/shareholding class. That is to say, about 90 percent of each suburban school's student body is a possible suspect.

I believe this at the very least suggests that the source of these rampages must be the environment that creates them, not the killers themselves. And by environment I don't mean something as vague as society but rather the schools and the people they shoot and bomb.

It isn't the schoolyard shooters who need to be profiled -- they can't be. It is the schools that need to be profiled.

A list should be drawn up of the characteristics and warning signs of a school ripe for massacre:
  • complaints about bullying go unpunished by an administration that supports the cruel social structure;

  • antiseptic corridors and overhead fluorescent lights reminiscent of mid-sized city airport;

  • rampant moral hypocrisy that promotes the most two-faced, mean, and shallow students to the top of the pecking order; and

  • maximally stressed parents push their kids to achieve higher and higher scores.
Schoolyard shootings are too shocking and subversive to forget. They remind us that we were just as miserable as kids as we are as adult workers. In fact, the similarities between the two, the continuity of misery and entrapment from school to office, become depressingly clear when you study the two settings in the context of these murders. Even physically, they look alike and warp the mind in similar ways: the overhead fluorescent lights, the economies-of-scale industrial carpeting and linoleum floors, the stench of cleaning chemicals in the restrooms, the same stalls with the same latches and the same metal toilet paper holders ... Then, after work or school, you go home to your suburb, where no one talks to each other and no one looks at each other, and where everyone, even the whitest-bread cul-de-sac neighbor is a suspected pedophile, making child leashes a requirement and high-tech security systems a given.

If you consider it this way, it means our entire lives, except perhaps college -- and Cho Seung-Hui reminds us that college can be hell for some people as well -- and that one summer backpacking around Europe are unbearably awful. As if our entire wretched script was designed for someone else's benefit. This is too much to handle. So the inescapable suspicion that suburban schools cause murder rampages is rejected with unrestrained hysteria -- and so it will be with college campuses in the public discussion about how to prevent more "Virginia Techs."
There's more. Go read.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ballet Mécanique

I found the National Gallery's installation of George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique on YouTube! It doesn't quite match the visceral thrill of being there, but you get a little of the idea.

The ensemble included 16 grand player pianos, three xylophones, four bass drums, a tam-tam, a siren, several alarm bells, and three electric fans standing in for airplane propellers, all controlled by MIDI. Interesting to think that the technology to perform this piece in its original form didn't exist until roughly sixty years after it was composed.

According to Wikipedia, in early performances Antheil aimed the propellers to blow into the audience. Based on published critiques, this went over pretty well in Paris, but less well at Carnegie Hall. Still, what a guy.

Here's an excerpt from the film the music was composed for.

I also found Duchamp's "Anemic Cinema," as well as a time-lapse film of the first three months of Cheddarvision, the site which harnesses the awesome power of modern information technology to let you watch a cheddar cheese aging in real time. You know, when all is said and done, this really is the very best time in history to be alive.

The Infinite Kyosaku Project, Part 6 (Special Extended Edition)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Well, make some popcorn and pull up a chair. Dennis Kucinich is planning to file articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney. Ooooh, I hope this works. Go read.

I guess it's too much to hope that this could be the first step towards Cheney being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town across the Memorial Bridge on a rail, along with Bush and Rove. But a man can dream.

Gobi Aloo Bhaji

My little veggie kick continues, not that it will last much beyond the next time I'm in the same room with a piece of bacon. Lord Krishna's Cuisine hilariously translates the name of this dish as "cauliflower potato surprise." This is so easy that I feel absurd giving a recipe for it, but it's too good not to share.

Start by toasting a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds in a pan over medium-high heat until they're dark brown and smelling wonderful. Transfer them to a small mortar and wield a pestle on them till they're a fine powder. Add 1/8 tsp cayenne, 1/2 tsp. turmeric, and 1 tsp. salt, and set aside.

Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Start your rice cooking. Cut a head of cauliflower into small florets. Cut a potato into 1/4" half-moons. Toss the cauliflower and spuds with peanut oil, spread them on a baking sheet, and stick them in the oven till they're golden brown, turning and shaking them every now and then. LKC says to deep-fry the veggies, but I like the lighter texture I get by oven-roasting them.

Toss the veggies with the spices, then stir in 1 cup plain yogurt. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley or cilantro leaves and serve it forth.

(Illustration flagrantly stolen from Achewood and used without permission. I feel terrible about it.)

Of course what happened at V-Tech Monday was tragic and horrible, but it wasn't surprising in the least. When it comes to regulating firearms, our lawmakers are still stuck in the Wild West. In our country, the right to bear arms is considered more holy and inviolable than the right to decent healthcare or a living wage. If I wanted to, I could drive down to Virginia right now, go into a gun shop, and purchase the ability to kill anybody I wanted. No permit required. No waiting period. The only thing keeping me from laying waste to my office or wrecking havoc on the Metro is the fact that I just don't want to. Like most adults, I'm mature and socialized and I know that killing people invariably creates many more problems than it solves.

Thing is, there's nothing keeping someone who's less well-balanced from going out and buying the tools to raise whatever hell they want. As long as that's the case, we should expect the occasional act of unimaginable heinousness. Such is the price for our Second Amendment rights.

Are you ok with that? Because I'm not.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Machinery tunes, continued

I've been knocking this piece around for the last week, and I've just declared it finished. It's the one down there in the Box widget titled "April 7." Just a little bit of sweet ambient gentleness to waft you into a restful Friday evening. Only the opposite.

Like all the electronic music I'm doing, I built this with Buzz, a very cool and extremely flexible freeware synth/sequencer architecture which has a vast depraved community of users developing new instruments and effects for it. It's also very clunky and prone to crashing, which makes the compositional process more of an adventure than it really should be. But like the disciple of John Cage that I am, I've learned to accept this as another interesting element of randomness in the evolution of a piece. Tuesday night I worked up a different ending for "April 7," but Buzz crashed before I could save it. Tonight I went in another direction with it, and I'm actually more happy with the piece now than I was with the original version.

A game

From a thread over at eGullet. I'll name the food, you guess the movie or TV show.

  • Scrambled eggs with sour cream
  • Quail with rose petal sauce
  • Royale with cheese
  • A jelly doughnut with a straw
  • A jalapeño pepper, eaten while blindfolded
  • Yam sausages, the natural way
  • Cherry pie
  • Timpano
  • One long piece of spaghetti
  • An egg white omelette with shallots
  • A Plate of Shrimp
Any others?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Beauty vs. context vs. the bozos we live among

Joshua Bell busked at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro. Almost everybody ignored him. He made $32. Go read.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Wheels within Wheels

Imagine, just imagine, how extremely strange and wonderful it is for me to see that Linton Hopkins will be challenging Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto tonight. Linton Hopkins, who I worked with years ago at Oxford Books in Atlanta, who left said bookstore to attend the Culinary Institute of America, who I've heard nothing of since then until five minutes ago when I saw the listing for tonight's "Iron Chef America."

This is just too cool for words. All honor to Chef Morimoto, but I hope Linton wipes the floor with him.

Later. Well, Linton lost, but he conducted himself with remarkable coolness and poise, much more so than Morimoto. And Linton's food looked great. Alton Brown said he was sure they'd be seeing him again.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Palak Paneer

I actually was a vegetarian for a couple of years. It was around the time when I had my first decent kitchen and was starting to cook a lot, mainly using Mollie Katzen's original Moosewood Cookbook and
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada's Higher Taste, which is a little Krishna Consciousness tract with really good recipes. Later on I got hold of Yamuna Devi's Lord Krishna's Cuisine, which is pretty much the last word on Vedic cooking, as well as one of the best-written cookbooks I've seen on any subject.

However uneasy-making other aspects of ISKCON may be, I admire their philosophy of food and cooking quite a lot. Everything you cook is presented to Krishna before you eat it. You aren't just cooking for yourself or your friends; every time you pick up a knife and turn on your stove, you're cooking for God, and what you end up eating is God's leftovers. So everything you do in the kitchen is to be done with love and care and attention and a sense of holy purpose.

The downside is that Krishna's a bit of a picky eater. Besides being a vegetarian, he doesn't like onions and garlic. Serious Vedic cooks use asafoetida instead. Which, if I ever had any inclination to become a devotee myself, would be enough to dissuade me.

I still value Indian cuisine in general for its vast and wonderful possibilities for vegetarian cooking. As much as I love rogan josh and lamb vindaloo, nothing gets me going like bengan bharta, or gobi aloo, or a good mixed vegetable curry. And of course palak paneer. Man, oh man. Serious comfort food.

I'm not sure where I got this recipe. It's decidedly unsuitable for a Vedic diet. Krishna's loss.

8 oz. paneer, cut into ½-inch cubes. (To make paneer, bring a gallon of milk to a boil and add a tbsp. of lemon juice to it to make it curdle, then pour it into a cheesecloth-lined colander, wrap the cheesecloth over the curds, put a weight on it, and let it drain overnight. Or buy the stuff at an Indian grocery or Whole Foods or somewhere like that.)
1 billiard-ball-sized onion, medium chop.
2 fat garlic cloves and a thumb-sized hunk of ginger, minced together.
½ tsp. cumin.
¼ tsp. coriander.
¼ tsp. tumeric.
A pinch (or more) of cayenne.
2 smallish tomatoes, medium chop.
A 10-oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted in the microwave and drained.

Fry the paneer in ghee or peanut oil till lightly colored. Don't let it get too crispy or it will take on an odd styrofoamlike texture. Drain on paper towls and set aside.

Saute the onions with about ½ tsp. salt till transparent. Add the spices and the garlic and ginger, stirring to combine. Add the tomatoes and cook for about five minutes, till everything is well acquainted. Add the spinach, turn the heat to low, and cook for about ten minutes more. Add the paneer.

Makes 2 healthy servings. Serve with basmati rice and hot lime pickle, and maybe some nice cucumber chutney as a mouth-cooler.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Boulder Mix

  • This past Sunday, at the Tabard Inn, I officiated at Mike and Heather's wedding. I'm still a little awed by the honor they did me in asking me to do this. It was a great, joyful day. I'm hoping I'll have some pictures to put up here soon.

  • I'm in Boulder again this week. The weather is amazingly clear and beautiful. Not that it matters to the likes of me, since I'll be in meeting room all week. But at least I'm unlikely to repeat the adventure I had last time I was here.

    Every time I come here I'm reminded of what an urban creature I am. This place is so... clean. Not like a real city. And there are all these people with healthy outdoorsy glows walking around in their well-worn hiking boots with their big friendly dogs, pedaling blithely along on their mountain bikes, being all mellow and serene. I, on the other hand, am pasty, stressed-out, and flabby. And I wear a lot more black than is usual in these parts.

    I just can't wait to get back home. I miss the sirens. Sigh.

  • In other news, I've discovered a little more about our man Goon. His owner has indeed moved away and left him in the care of her former housemate, who's not taking care of him at all. Leaving him outside while she's gone for days at a time, that kind of thing. Stupid cow. I'm waiting till I can catch her at home so I can have a little talk with her. (I'll be nice! Kind of. I really just want to find out what her intentions are. I might not direct any withering disdain at her at all.) In the meantime, I've experimented a little with letting Goon into my house, to the consternation of Ishi, who screams at him. Peace in a three-cat household appears unlikely.

Monday, April 2, 2007

RayRay redux

Damn it, it's just so easy to make fun of her. I'm such a bad person.

(Video by Naomi Leibowitz, via Salon.)

The Infinite Kyosaku Project, Part 5