Spring is here as evidenced by what I assume are the snowbells that have sprung to life in my front yard.
I spent some time this weekend raking the backyard and getting the garden ready. I tilled several square yards of soil. Luckily, my back is not too sore. First I turned the earth over with a pitchfork and then busted out the hoe to break up the clods and level it. What I need is a 21st century computerized, mechanized, automated harrow because, as I learned that dirt is infested with unknown roots that are a pain in the arse.
I also learned that the garden plot extended a little ways onto my next door neighbors' lot. They, in turn, granted these few feet of fief to the couple on the other side of their house. Last year, the gals who were renting our place gave them the whole shooting match which explains why there were rows for walking covered with cocoa shells between rows of plants. The soil with the plants had been covered in mulch and I raked it all away and dug up everything as I want more space. It seems that my neighbors just wanted a few plants to have fresh vegetables in the autumn. I, on the other hand, am looking to plant a lot of tomatoes for canning so I have them throughout the winter. I was told that there's a fungus in the soil that attacks tomatoes so I'm preparing to use a sulfur spray or a baking soda & Epsom salt concoction to ward it off.
For now, however, I need to sow more seeds at the home of my friend who has a grow light. Currently he has my impatiens and begonia seedlings in his possession. And next month I plan on sowing radish seeds directly into the ground. Being of Northern European and Slavic stock, I just have to plant some kind of root vegetable.
Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson recently descended into his brewing chamber and cranked up the Jacob's Ladder. He now has an experimental brew available only to those who receive his exclusive invitations (freely available at the brewery's gift store) to purchase it.
It's an American Pale Wheat Ale (i.e. – Capital's Island Wheat) brewed with yeast usually reserved for Belgian ales. The Dulcinea and I sampled the stuff upon returning from the brewery but the beer was near room temperature while I suspect you'd want to drink the stuff when it is cooled down a bit to the low 50s.
As it was, my bottle poured with little head while The Ds had plenty. Mine was cloudy while hers was clear. However, they tasted roughly the same. The aroma was great – sweet and estery, though not overwhelming. On a gustatory level, it was a bit odd in that I got a rush of hop bitterness up front which quickly dissipated giving way to a very mellow Belgian flavor. The esters were on the faint side but still noticeable.
I am going to quaff some that has cooled and contrast my experiences. Both American Pale Wheat Ales and Belgians are meant to be served at 50-some-odd degrees and since the promo literature indicates that Kirby is going for something "drinkable" (i.e. – not overflowing with taste so the teeming masses will drink it), this stuff is going to be served well-chilled at most joints. Ergo, it should be sampled at a temp on the cool side.
A happy St. Urho's Day to one and all. To celebrate, there is a shindig at The Up North Bar tonight so bust out your purple and green finery. In the words of organizer Lindsay Mikkola, "Come join in this Finnish celebration of grapes and good riddance to grasshoppers. There will be hummpa (Finnish polka) music and festively colored drink specials. Wearing of purple and green is encouraged, but not required."
A couple weeks ago there was a screening of the 2007 Polish film Katyń down on campus. The room in the Humanities building filled up with a mixture of people from their late teens to octogenarians. There were students, at least one emeritus professor, and members of the community. Several of us from the Polish Heritage Club of Madison were in attendance as well. To make matters even more interesting, it was introduced by historian Milan Hauner who is a professor of modern history and an Honorary Fellow in the department of History at UW-Madison. He has researched the topic of the film, the Katyn Massacre, extensively.
I went into the screening completely ignorant of the Katyn Massacre despite having downloaded a BBC documentary on the subject a year or more ago. Hauner began his introduction by noting that in mid-April 1943 Nazi propaganda began telling stories of mass graves containing the corpses of Polish officers that were found in the Katyn Foreste. The Germans accused the Russians of the murders and even allowed the Red Cross to examine the remains. These accusations led to Soviet denials and counterstatements saying that the atrocities were carried out by the Germans in the autumn of 1941. Moscow severed relations with the Polish government which had been exiled to London, much to the delight of Joseph Goebbels as that is exactly what he'd hoped would happen.
The Soviets denied responsibility for as long as there was a Soviet Union. After its collapse, a memo dated 5 March 1940 was released which suggested the murder of Polish officers. It bore Stalin's signature.
Director Andrzej Wajda lived through World War II and even lost his father in the massacre. Unfortunately, in order to pursue a career in film in Communist Poland, he was forced to deny the truth of his father's death. He was moved to make Katyń when he discovered that many young Poles didn't know the significance of the date of 17 September 1939, the date of the Russian invasion of Poland.
The film opens with two groups of refugees who meet on a bridge. One of them is fleeing the Germans from the west and the other group the Russians from the east. We then meet Anna who, with her daughter Weronika in tow, is seeking her husband, Andrzej. They find him amongst a group of captured Polish officers. Both Anna and Weronika plead with Andrzej to flee with them but his loyalty to his fellow soldiers is too great and he refuses. Instead he ends up in an old monastery which doubles as a POW camp.
The scene shifts to Kraków where a kindly old professor and father of one of the captured Polish officers prepares to head to campus for a meeting called by the Nazi occupiers. The professors are told that they have broken the law by holding classes without permission. As they protest, German soldiers burst in and everyone is taken away never to return.
While this particular scene was not directly related to the massacre, Prof. Hauner noted that it was not simply one army killing members of another army. In addition to officers, civilians such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers were also rounded up and killed as part of the massacre itself making it an attack on the Polish intelligentsia. This was emphasized later in the film during a scene at the POW camp when a general tells his men that, without them, there will never be a free Poland.
Most of the movie takes place after the war in Communist Poland. Anna, like many Polish women at the time, never knew what had happened to her husband and clung to hope that he would return. We also witness a young student who wants to attend a college but is told that he must alter his application so that it does not say that his father was killed by the Soviets at Katyn.
Considering my ignorance, it was really nice to have Prof. Hauner on hand. Once the movie had finished, he answered questions from the audience and added some more commentary of his own. He explained references in the film that were lost to those of us not familiar with Polish culture and history such as one to anti-Communist fighters. Another tidbit he offered was that the film didn't touch on the fate of Polish Jews, whether they were civilians or soldiers. My notes on the audience commentary is pretty spotty but I do recall some lively discussion with Prof. Wacław Szybalski. If memory serves, he talked about how Churchill suppressed the truth of the Katyn Massacre in order to maintain the English alliance with the USSR. Sir Owen O'Malley, the English ambassador to Poland had written a memorandum explaining that the Soviets were responsible. Prof. Szybalski also noted that he had met a Polish general that Hauner had mentioned. I also recall a woman who was living in Poland when the film was released who mentioned that it was the must-see movie of the time. The impression I got was that the opening of Katyń was a bit like the opening of films about 9/11 here.
Katyń was a very sad film that ended with some scenes recreating the massacre. But it did have the occasional scene that defied the gloom. One such moment was when the widow of one of the officers who was killed walks up to a van which is roadshowing Soviet propaganda about the massacre and yells, "This is a lie!" Had Prof. Hauner and some of the audience members not been there, I think I would have just seen the tragedy in the film. However, the commentary and reflection leads me to believe that many Poles view the fact that the film was made as cathartic. That is, they had to live under the Soviets which meant denying the truth of the massacre and Katyń is a very large and very public vindication.
Seventy-six percent of the state population identifies as Christian, down from 91 percent in 1990, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. The percentage of Wisconsin residents who claim no religion jumped from 6 percent in 1990 to 15 percent last year.
On a national level, the study found:
"Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups."
"Only 1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death."
Why did reporter Doug Erickson feel the need to define atheist and agnostic? Are these terms really that esoteric for Madison area readers?
To the best of my knowledge, this was purely a survey and not a sociology study. Ergo it addresses what people believe but not why. A couple questions come to mind:
1) Why do only 1.6% of Americans who believe in no deities and/or are unsure if it's even possible to know if such things exist identify themselves as "atheists" or "agnostics"? Is there something dastardly about those terms? Are they too closely associated with Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.?
2) Secondly, are more Americans identifying themselves as having no religion because it is perhaps more socially acceptable or do more people genuinely not believe in deities?
I've listened to a couple interviews recently with people who have lost their religion - William Lobdell author of "Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America" (mp3) and John Loftus, a former minister and author of "Why I Became an Atheist". Hearing both of these men speak about their experiences reinforced the notion that you can't reason a person out of religion. Faith is impervious to arguement. They also reminded me that we really don't know why people acquire faith. Being brought up in a religious home surely has a role to play but that doesn't secure your fate as a believer.
My mother tried to raise me as a Catholic but failed. Indeed, both of her sons rejected it and religious faith generally. While my father was an atheist, I don't recall him ever working against my mother's desire to raise the kids Catholic. Indeed, he told me that, when my parents married, he agreed to let my mom do what she wished as far as raising us to be believers. So why did she end up with two godless heathens for sons?
I remember attending a religious pre-kindergarten program and leaving it with a "Jesus loves me" badge of some sort which I still have. But the whole concept of Jesus was just too incredible for me and I suspect it was just a jumble to my young mind. Some guy who died a long time ago is still around and, now that he's invisible, he watches everything we do. That dog won't hunt. My doubt was enough to prevent my mother from taking me to church but it wasn't until I was in the 6th or 7th grade that I was finally an atheist.
I wish I could remember the exact moment I understood myself to be a heathen but I cannot. I do remember being at school telling friends and a teacher, however. It just seems like, until that point, I had some "What if" and "how do I know" questions as well as a bit of fear of an omnipresent being that continually held me in judgement. Come on! We are talking about the god that turned a woman into a pillar of salt. Then one day all those questions and fears disappeared.
Why they all went poof! is beyond me. Personally, the best explanation of religion so far is Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Foundations of Religious Belief. He views religion as a by-product of how the human mind divides the world into ontological categories and makes inferences with this data. It doesn't explain every detail about the phenomenon of religion but it's the best explanation of, as its title says, the foundation of religious belief. Granted, there are other books on the subject which means I've got more reading to do.
Now that I've changed jobs, I have a whole different set of food carts to tempt me with their victuals. Previously I had worked just off the Square but now I labor on campus. Today I frequented the carts on Library Mall for the first time and got to sample one that I was really looking foward to - FIBs.
Regular readers know that I hail from the north side of Chicago and that I have a rather low opinion of the Italian beef in this town. I'd read that FIBs was opened by Chicago ex-pats so I had high expectations when I traipsed outside...
First things first. The price is fucking ridiculous. $6.50 for a beef?! This is at least a buck too much. But I did not let the price deter me as I had my mind & gullet set on one.
I was happy that the gentleman running the cart knew the beefy patois and my "Gimme a beef - wet with hots" was immediately comprehended.
Now, if I had brought my camera with me, those of you that know what Italian beef is would immediately notice that they skimped on the beef. The sandwich should be like a busty woman wearing a low-cut top - the meat should be spilling out of the bun. I mean, I was actually able to close the fucking thing around the filling. This runs contrary to all known laws of Italian beef physics.
About that bun - it wasn't a nice white Italian or French bread but rather a mini-baguette or something similar. The outside had the color of a pretzel. OK, I grant you that it had the requisite crusty exterior and soft, fluffy interior but it just struck me as wrong. Perhaps it was the only bread they could find in these parts that could handle being dipped in the gravy. Still, it just didn't look right.
So how did it taste?
The beef was pretty good. It was thin and tender and had the requisite herbs & spices but not enough of them. Just a little bit more seasoning and it'd hit the mark. I found the giardiniera to be quite tasty but the bread just tasted wrong. Not bad, just not right. However, I give it marks for holding together admirably under the strain of the gravy.
Overall, not a bad sandwich but much too expensive. I am going try the beef at The Dawg House next. Looking at their menu, I see that they too charge $6.50 for an Italian beef. WTF? And $3.75 for a Chicago dog?! Do they use kosher kobe beef dogs?