Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

30 September, 2009

' 66 Kubrick Interview Dragged From the Vaults

Stanley Kubrick fans and assorted film geeks will be interested in this interview with the man himself from 1966. I have only listened to a couple minutes so far which have been about his early interest in film and it's quite interesting.

|| Palmer, 3:49 PM || link || (0) comments |

Beer, Cheese, Brats, and...Sturgeon?!

The Wisconsin Historical Society Press apparently did well at this year's Midwestern Booksellers meeting in the Twin Cities. Having two booths instead of one paid off with People of the Sturgeon: Wisconsin’s Love Affair with an Ancient Fish was a hit with booksellers.

Walker pointed out that small and regional presses, however, are taking up some of the slack, with Wisconsin Historical Society Press, for example, taking two booths this year, up from last’s year’s single booth.

Illustrated books, especially those with regional themes, most appealed to booksellers. People of the Sturgeon: Wisconsin’s Love Affair with an Ancient Fish by Kathleen Schmitt Kline et al. (Wis. Hist. Soc. Press), Viking Reader (Univ. of Minn Press), Gophers Illustrated: The Incredible Complete History of Minnesota Football by Al Papas Jr. (University of Minnesota Press), and An Illustrated Life, a compendium of American modernist illustrator Charley Harper’s work by Todd Oldham (AMMO Books) all created a buzz…

I was told by someone who doesn't fish and has no interest in fish that it is a remarkably interesting book. Of course, this person is an editor at WHS Press so the comment may have been biased.
|| Palmer, 3:37 PM || link || (0) comments |

29 September, 2009

Hey Baby, I'm An Atheist

If my girlfriend ever asks me, "Why can't we go on as three?", I'm heading over to OkCupid.

Apparently over there admitting you're an atheist gets your first-contact messages a high rate of reply.

Mentioning Yahweh has the opposite effect.
|| Palmer, 3:58 PM || link || (0) comments |

Three Fingers of Illithid Brain Juice, Please

Perfect timing. Just as my friends and I are readying for a winter campaign to give the new D&D 4.0 rules a spin, comes this.

|| Palmer, 3:53 PM || link || (0) comments |

28 September, 2009

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

If so, the Wilhelm Tell Guild wants you:

The Village of New Glarus has performed the Frederich Schiller play of Wilhelm Tell every year since 1938. This past Labor Day weekend, our 71st all-volunteer production was again received well by the public at large and Germanic communities. We are, however, wearing thin on German speaking players as the average age of our key players is now approaching 75 years.

So, if you can speak German and like dressing in lederhosen and wearing Tyrolean hats, let them know.
|| Palmer, 2:01 PM || link || (0) comments |

Help Build the New South Madison Branch Library

People came through when The Progressive recently asked for donations to avoid impending disaster. Indeed, the magazine exceeded its goal by around $30,000, if memory serves.

This morning I was reading Southern Exposure, a newspaper devoted to Madison's south side. The front page is devoted to the campaign to raise money for the new South Madison Branch Library. This library currently weighs in at a paltry 3,500 square feet but the expansion will more than triple the space to 12,000 square feet. More and more patrons are using the library these days with visits up 11.4% from 2007-2008. During this same time computer usage shot up 22.9%.This year checkouts and holds are up 7%.

The City is putting about $3 million towards the effort and the Madison Public Library Foundation is looking raise $700,000 from private donors. While they are a bit more than half way there, this still leaves some $340,000 to be raised. The Monroe Street Branch was saved & remodeled and now it's the south side's turn.

To donate, head over to the Madison Public Library Foundation.
|| Palmer, 9:52 AM || link || (0) comments |

26 September, 2009

For Michael Pollan, Food, and Me

I heard it on the radio
Too much of what they said wasn't so
And now we've got to do those things
That they thought before were so wrong
To be healthy and strong

~~~~~Genesis, "Living Forever"

Long before Michael Pollan was writing books about junk food and the Western diet, the great social commentators (ahem) Genesis were singing about health food fads. One study says nutrient X is harmful so people start avoiding it. Then another study comes out which says that X isn't so bad after all so people reintroduce it into their diets. The cycle goes on.

Pollan addressed this and much more in his speech at the Kohl Center on Thursday which was part of the UW's Go Big Read program, a campus-wide reading program which had selected his In Defense of Food as its initial book. I attended Pollan's speech never having read any of his books. However, I have read a couple articles from his pen and heard him interviewed so I was not completely ignorant going in.

The pamphlet I received upon entering noted that Pollan "has been writing books and articles about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect". This distinction is hogwash. Just because human beings build malls and wear Snuggies doesn't make us supranatural. We are simians just like our monkey cousins and our tools have not somehow removed us from the natural world. This gripe aside…

After a greeting by Chancellor Biddy Martin and an introduction by a UW professor whose name I didn't catch (Bill something-or-other), Pollan ascended the podium and proceeded to unpack a grocery bag. After several seconds, the table next to him was laden mostly with highly processed foods: a box of Froot Loops, Pop Tarts, Wonder Bread, et al. He noted the presence of some farmers in the audience clad in green t-shirts who, rightly or wrongly, see him as being anti-farmer and welcomed them to the conversation.

Pollan explained that he wanted to connect the dots between our food system, our diet, and our health problems. No small feat. Starting with that box of Froot Loops, he said that "food" inside was 44% sugar by weight yet the box had a Healthy Choice label on it which was bestowed by an industry group. Some people may have come to protest Pollan, but I don't think anyone in the arena took issue here. "Eating has become very complicated," he told us. We need to be experts, of sorts, to understand and evaluate the nutritional claims of what passes as food these days.

The Froot Loops incident was illustrative of what Pollan calls "Nutritionism", which is his term for how American generally view food. There are four premises behind it:

1) Food is the sum of its nutrient parts.
2) We can't see nutrients so we need food scientists to direct our diets.
3) There are "good" nutrients and "bad" nutrients.
4) The point of eating is how it affects one's health.

He then noted that other cultures see different values in eating such as pleasure, a sense of identity, and the act itself as a communal exercise. Pollan traced this attitude back to the "scientific eating" trend of the 19th century and you can watch it in action by viewing the BBC program Edwardian Supersize Me. In one scene the show's heroes can be seen leaning over their plates at a certain angle, chewing a certain number of times, etc. in pursuit of eating scientifically. More proximately, he explained how George McGovern's Senate committee on nutrition spawned the government direction "eat less red meat" and that this led directly to Nutritionism.

I have a wee disagreement with Pollan here. The premises behind his Nutritionism are, generally speaking, not recent inventions as he would have us believe. While specifics may differ, the attitudes are age-old. Medieval texts advise people on how to eat according to season so that their humors remain in balance. For instance, in the summer, it was recommended that people eat foods that were "cool" and "moist" such as cucumbers, apples, and veal with vinegar. There is no qualitative difference between a person in 1400 eating to balance humors and someone today eating to increase their anti-oxidant intake.

This isn't a major issue but I think that anyone who is looking to overthrow Nutritionism should keep it in mind. Big Agribusiness didn't just pull these attitudes out of its ass yesterday. Indeed, they have been with Western eaters, if not eaters around the world, for centuries. Pick your battles wisely. Perhaps it would be better to put a different spin on these attitudes rather than trying to discard them wholesale.

As Pollan went over this material, I couldn't help but think that Nutritionism has a cousin which I call Herb Supplementism with its own attendant premises such as:

1) Natural = good; modern Western medicine = bad
2) Herbal supplements are good because they have nutrients that improve our health.
3) We can't see the nutrients in leaves, roots, and berries so we need people who say things like "The Chinese have used this stuff for centuries" to tell us what supplements to spend copious amounts of money on and for what reason.

Look at the claims made on the bottles of these pills that all have asterisks on them with the caveat "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." They are just as ridiculous as the claim that Froot Loops is healthy and both sets of claims are made by large industries looking to part you from your lucre.

Pollan continued by saying that despite supposedly having a wealth of information to help us make better choices in eating, Americans continue to see a rise in health problems related to their diets. He talked about what Genesis sang about. Saturated fats are bad so we come up with replacements such as hydrogenated oils which has trans fats which are even worse. So saturated fats become "good" again.

He then addressed the persistence of Nutritionism. First, it was sustained by effective marketing. Second, Pollan said that unhealthy processed foods are cash cows in contrast to the unprocessed kind. When you can make more money producing Pop Tarts, you've got little incentive to sell broccoli. In addition, government subsidies promote massive crops of corn and soy, which dominate our processed foods. In other words, our whole food system is slanted towards unhealthy foods – from the crops in the ground to the supermarket and everywhere in between. In his words, the American diet is a catastrophe.

While the bulk of his talk was dedicated to documenting the catastrophe, he spent his final minutes offering solutions. Pollan rolled out his famous dicta "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.", "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.", and "If it has more than five ingredients, it's not food." Shop at farmers markets, he implored. You will get better food and engage your fellow citizens more than if you shop at supermarkets. Changing how we eat would lead to a revolution in American agriculture which would also benefit farmers who would be paid better for the food they grow and produce.

We didn’t stick around for the Q&A session but I have to admit that there wasn't much in his speech that I would call controversial unless you are Monsanto or ADM. I thought that the main weakness of his argument came towards the end when he suggested remedies to our situation. Perhaps he goes into more detail in his book but, going from what he said Thursday, I felt that his advice had a rather narrow audience. A lot more work needs to go into implementing his ideas if more than a rather small number of people are going to be able to eat by his dicta.

Take Detroit, a city of nearly one million people. A Wall Street Journal article from this past summer notes that "No national grocery chain operates a store" there. In large part, people there are left with fast food and the processed foods from convenience stores. Additionally, smaller, locally-owned markets aren't up to the challenge. I am very skeptical that farmers markets are the solution here, although they can certainly be part of it.

Jim Goodman over at Civil Eats wrote:

When farmers disparage small-scale ecological agriculture because it “will never feed the world” they conveniently forget that conventional agriculture has not fed the world either, despite 60 years of promises to do so.

So what if conventional ag hasn't fed the world? Does that mean without it everyone would be fed? Or is it possible that without it, we'd have even more people starving on this planet? Norman Borlaug isn't credited with saving the lives of one billion people by running farmers markets. He did it by breeding new strains of wheat and rice.

But his methods weren't without critics, especially in those camps that felt that genetic crossbreeding was unnatural and had negative effects, which included large-scale, monoculture farming operations that required input-intensive farming techniques.

Borlaug refuted those claims by saying the green revolution was a change in the right direction. Referring to the environmental lobbyists he once remarked, “Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

I am getting a bit off track here because Pollan did not address hunger in developing worlds in his speech and, to the best of my knowledge, does not do so in his books. I bring it up to say that, if we start transforming agriculture here in the U.S., it will have an effect outside our borders. Pollan talks about the eating habits of the richest, most well-off people that have ever existed on this planet and I am convinced that they are connected to those in developing countries and elsewhere. We may not feed the whole world, but we do feed part of it.

UW-Madison food scientist John Lucey stood up for his profession by noting that "scientists have helped preserve foods longer, improved food safety and cut meal preparation time for busy parents." Again, with the caveat that I've not read his books, I wish Pollan would give some credit to modern food science or at least acknowledge it as a double-edged sword because we Americans are the most privileged eaters in all of human history. My European ancestors didn't spend their summers tanning and water skiing. Instead they were fending off starvation. Grain stocks from the previous autumn were running out as was the meat from that pig they had slaughtered and salted. July was not a fun-filled month for many back in the day as they struggled to forage and perhaps trap an animal for food. This kind of seasonal starvation is no longer a problem in the West and it's due, in part, to modern food science. The citizens of Detroit could sure use some supermarkets, but they're position is a million miles away from an incredibly large number of people on this planet who fight starvation and disease daily. The struggle of the wealthiest group of people on this planet to avoid Twinkies pales in comparison to the struggles of many millions, if not billions, more to simply obtain potable water.

Having said all this, I will not hasten to add that I intend to read his books. I also would argue that, if his visit gets people thinking about the wider issues around food and gets people who've never been to a farm to go to one, then the Go Big Read program can surely count its first effort as a success.

(Event photos found here.)


The professor who introduced Pollan noted that he liked to turn things around and look at different viewpoints. By way of example, he mentioned the author's The Botany of Desire where Pollan took the idea of Man domesticating plants and instead looked at the world as if plants had domesticated Man.

And so it occurred to me to do the same. Namely, what if we turn Pollan's maxim "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" around:

What did our great-grandmothers eat that we here in 2009 don't recognize as food?

I'll start things off with brains. What else?

|| Palmer, 1:33 PM || link || (0) comments |

Death by Black Hole

While I may not find Neil de Grasse Tyson to be the sexiest astrophysicist alive, I still find him an interesting guy. He spoke here in Madison back in February and it was at that time that I bought a copy of his book Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandries. Much to my shame, I must admit that it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that I actually began reading it.

The book is a collection of essays that Tyson wrote for Natural History magazine. In them, Tyson waxes scientific about epistemology, the nature of our solar system, the history of his field, how the universe works, and all points in between. These are broad, complicated topics but he does a great job of bringing these ideas to the layreader, with his essays full of wit and humor. For instance, when he discusses how science helps us overcome the limitations of our five senses, he invokes Star Trek and begins a thought experiment by saying, "Suppose a glowing blob of some unknown substance were parked right in front of us."

It is cliché by now to call Tyson the new Carl Sagan but the two have the amazing ability to make me feel like I've been put into the Total Perspective Vortex. Astronomers just have a knack for making me feel small and insignificant. First they talk about how Copernicus and Kepler shredded the geocentric view which put the Earth at the center of everything. More people come along and prove that, while our planet revolves around the Sun, our star is not the center of the universe either. Instead, our neighborhood is in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy which is one of countless galaxies.

Back in the late 1960s, Crosby, Stills, and Nash sang:

We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion year old carbon

Tyson is happy to explain this lyric by detailing how stars are born and how they die in supernova explosions which send copious amounts of matter out across the universe. Later this matter becomes planets and, at least here on Earth, people. Joni Mitchell, who wrote the song that CSN covered, may not have been an astrophysicist, be she was right – we are indeed stardust.

The title of the book comes from an essay in a section called "When the Universe Turns Bad: All the ways the cosmos wants to kill us". Tyson begins the essay by stating, "Without a doubt, the most spectacular way to die in space is to fall into a black hole. Where else in the universe can you lose your life by being ripped apart atom by atom?"

But there is more here than descriptions of events that took place aeons ago in galaxies far, far away. The chapter called "Stick-in-the-Mud Science" details what you can learn about the Earth's rotation, the period it takes to revolve around the Sun, and the tilt of its axis by using a stick and a timing device. (A clone is involved too.) In "Things People Say", Tyson demolishes commonly held myths such as "The North Star is the brightest star in the nighttime sky", "In space there is no gravity", and "A compass points north".

Tyson also discusses light pollution and how this affects the ability of astronomers to view the sky from Earth. I suspect that as more people move to urban areas, fewer of us look skywards. Light pollution means that the night sky in a city is considerably less interesting than it is out in the country as streetlights and neon signs render all but the brightest objects invisible. Madison's problem isn't as bad as, say, Chicago, and there are opportunities for the public to join astronomers in gazing at the night sky.

You can head to the Washburn Observatory on campus every Wednesday during the summer and the 1st & 3rd Wednesdays the rest of the year.

There's also the the UW Space Place where you can do some rooftop stargazing and attend workshops.

The Madison Astronomical Society engages in a variety of activities and last night they held their annual Moon Over Monona Terrace which is open to the public.
|| Palmer, 8:30 AM || link || (0) comments |

24 September, 2009

Three Cheers for Al Franken

Al Franken recently read the 4th Amendment to David Kris, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division who was before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Noting that he received a copy of the Constitution when he was sworn in as a senator, he proceeded to read it to Kris, emphasizing this part: “no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

“That’s pretty explicit language,” noted Franken, asking Kris how the “roving wiretap” provision of the Patriot Act can meet that requirement if it doesn’t require the government to name its target.

Kris looked flustered and mumbled that “this is surreal,” apparently referring to having to respond to Franken’s question. “I would defer to the other branch of government,” he said, referring to the courts, prompting Franken to interject: “I know what that is.”
|| Palmer, 4:27 PM || link || (0) comments |

Rick Stemm and the Boundaries of the Global Village

Rick Stemm had a post up at Dane 101 yesterday called "New Media: How We Took Control". I was going to reply at the site but my response dragged on so I decided to turn it into a post here.

In a Danecast which I have not heard, Rick "argued that new media forces the responsibility of journalism onto the consumer instead of the reporter. Not that journalists should be held any less accountable." What? If reporters are alleviated of any responsibility, what are they to be held accountable for? Personally, I despair if new media even nudges consumers to be journalists. I want professional journalists bringing me my news, not consumers. Consumers generally want to consume, not head the Fourth Estate. Blogging about a concert doesn't make anyone a journalist anymore than looking up symptoms at WebMD makes one a doctor. Posting "pictures of my Ale Asylum brewery tour or a Sunspot show while at the very event" are not examples of practicing journalism. Neither is posting to Facebook. If simply sharing one's experiences counts as journalism to you then I guess you and I are simply at a semantic impasse because, from my perspective, journalism is about much more than that. I find it odd that he says that "Dane101 is at the forefront of this movement [new media]" and that consumers now bear the burden of responsibility alone. Not to discount or insult the contributors of Dane 101 but the site has precious little journalism in it. Most of what there is comes in the form of links to articles by, well, real journalists who work at the old media spots of newspapers and television stations. I've been critical of Dane 101 previously but I mean the above not as a criticism, but merely mean to say that the direction the site has taken is one that does not include a lot of original journalism.

One problem is that I'm not sure what Rick means by "new media". While I'm at it, I'm also not sure what he thinks they have taken over. It sounds like braggadocio to me. It's one thing to say that people at a film festival can post to their blog very quickly, but it's another thing to take the concept of new media and equate it to consumer journalists, which I think Stemm does. How film and music festivals are covered has changed but that doesn't mean that consumer journalists makes the likes of Seymour Hersh obsolete. It doesn't even make them amateur Lester Bangses.

I hope you won't misunderstand me because I am not saying that sharing experiences is worthless. Far from it. I do it all the time here at this very blog. But Stemm's post made a sweeping generalization about all reporting yet he gave examples only relating to the arts, for want of a better way of saying it. He lumps the ability of consumers to share their experiences at a film or music festival in with the long, hard work of an investigative reporter and I think that's unfair.

Another area where it seems Stemm and I disagree, which could very well just be my interpretation of what he wrote and not his intended meaning, is that he seems to blindly favor quantity. The ability to share timely, personal coverage of a festival doesn't mean that that coverage is actually interesting, that the individual writes well, nor has any insights of note.

As for his comment "There is simply no excuse in this day and age to be lacking information or to accept misinformation," that is, to me, just wishful thinking. As long as human beings are behind it, there will be problems and imperfections. The Internet is a medium, it's up to highly imperfect and biased people to do the sifting and winnowing. The Net couldn't care less if the information is bogus or not. The truth of any given matter is probably out on the tubes, but that doesn't mean that it won't take time and effort to get at it and I highly suspect that most consumers aren't willing to invest a whole lot of either to ensure that they arrive at it. Be a purist if you want, but down on the ground, people have responsibilities and interests which don't involve spending hours in front of a computer checking dozens of sources, reading through documents, etc.

Stemm waxes poetic about a "global village" and says "We are always connected". Who is this "we"?

I am reminded of a conversation I had a couple weeks ago. I was on break at work and outside when a gentleman who was around 60 approached me and asked about some construction at Library Mall. I told him what I knew. But he was an inquisitive soul and he kept the conversation going. I forget how, exactly, but the topic turned to computers. He expressed his loathing of them and related to me how he used to work at Memorial Library but quit once everything became computerized. (Whether it was the influx of technology alone which caused him to part ways with his employer, he did not specify.) This comparative youngster was then subjected to a mild-mannered tirade about how computers are a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction and how they can only provide an inauthentic experience. Or something like that.

I proceeded to tell him that I worked in IT and that he'd get no sympathy from me on this matter. He pointed to all the college kids walking around Library Mall to and from class and remarked on how technically savvy they were. I told him that I disagreed. They might be technically literate, perhaps, but not necessarily technically savvy. But, just as any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, posting what you had for lunch on Facebook and doing e-mail might be technical savvy to someone who won't touch a computer with a ten foot pole and instead hates them from afar. Not convinced, my interlocutor then pointed at the students once again and remarked that they are all somehow deficient because of the role technology plays in their lives.

This irritated me and I shot back, "For someone who hates computers, refuses to use them, and knows absolutely nothing about them, you sure are an expert on them and how they affect people." My point was not that he was wrong, although I think he was, but rather that he was in no place to judge. All he had were anecdotes and apocalyptic predictions from luddites like himself as opposed any contact with college kids or to computers. He was forced to concede my point.

The global village is relative. As with the gentleman I wrote about above, most seniors aren't citizens of the Pala island Internet utopia. The 3+ billion people on this planet who subsist on under $2.50/day are probably spending more time trying to find potable water instead of updating their Facebook statuses. About a quarter of all people on this planet don't have electricity. How global is the village to them? Closer to home, Madison's Literacy Network deals with many people right here in town who are either illiterate or need help learning English as a second language. The African immigrant I tutored was not a part of Stemm's Internet world. He was concerned with learning English and couldn't afford a computer and another monthly utility bill. The Internet's reach is global but the so-called global village is actually an exclusive club, albeit a blind one.

Before we go around claiming that the new media has taken control of anything, we must consider those who are left out of it or who choose not to participate in it. Personally, I think the Madison new media landscape is disappointingly homogenous. It could use the Digital Age equivalents of Sol Worth and John Adair to get those who are underrepresented into the mix. Let me try to illustrate the point.

Stemm remarked that Dane 101 is at the forefront of the new media movement and he cites the "timely, personal coverage of the Forward Music Fest" as an illustration of this. OK. I can't complain about such coverage and agree with him that it is a positive development. Indeed, I liked to it at my music blog/podcast. But the new media juggernaut completely ignored the Madison World Music Festival. Where was the coverage? And you know what? I didn't see a goddamn review from it over at The Daily Page either. (That's your cue, Kristian Knutsen, to point out all the coverage that I can't find.) 77 Square ran a preview by Tom Alesia but my searches for actual reviews came up empty. However, Katjusa Cisar's coverage of Forward takes up pages and pages. A search at Google Blogs brings up some photos from someone at WSUM but little else. If ignoring the World Music Festival in favor of O.J. Simpson trial-like coverage of the Forward Music Fest is what Stemm's new media is about, then I'll take a different one, please. I know Dane 101's Jesse Russell doesn't like me but I respect what he does and I don't think his site ignored the World Music Festival simply to push one organized by Dane 101 contributors, former or current. (And to avoid receiving another nasty e-mail in which I am called an asshole, I will also say that I don't think it's racism either.) But I'll take the egalitarian claims that for Dane 101 and new media more seriously when events like the World Music Festival get a bit more attention from Madison's new media than simply appearing in a list of events happening on a given weekend. New media in Madison may be egalitarian and democratic in theory, but in practice it has a long row to hoe if it is to get beyond parochialism.
|| Palmer, 9:56 AM || link || (19) comments |

21 September, 2009

Phoenicians Love Themselves Some Light Rail

Phoenix's light rail system has been running for several months now and has proven successful.

Among the many detractors — and they were multitudinous — who thought a light rail line in this sprawling city would be a riderless $1 billion failure was Starlee Rhoades, the spokeswoman for the Goldwater Institute, a vocal critic of the rail’s expense. “I’ve taken it,” Ms. Rhoades said, slightly sheepishly. “It’s useful.”

She and her colleagues still think the rail is oversubsidized, but in terms of predictions of failure, she said, “We don’t dwell.”

The rail was projected to attract 26,000 riders per day, but the number is closer to 33,000, boosted in large part by weekend riders. Only 27 percent use the train for work, according to its operator, compared with 60 percent of other public transit users on average nationwide.

In some part thanks to the new system, downtown Phoenix appears to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise economically pummeled city, which like the rest of Arizona has suffered under the crushing slide of the state’s economy.

Of course they're not dwelling on the abject failure of their prognostications. Madison is not Phoenix, to be sure, but this story provides a good lesson: be weary when conservative think tanks (I'm looking at you WPRI) pretend to "know" everything about our transportation habits.
|| Palmer, 3:01 PM || link || (0) comments |

I <3 the Internets

Rob Thomas notes today the impending DVD release here in the States of Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death.

I didn't know that it hadn't been come out here yet. Thanks to the tubes, it was available in early December of last year in HD, captured from Australian TV. The family and I made it part of our holiday viewing along with the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Next Doctor.

Why did it take 9 months for this release? Doctor Who and Torchwood are being shown and coming out on DVD much closer to their UK air dates these days and so should W&G.

Let's hope their next venture, Wallace & Gromit Present: A World of Invention doesn't take months to hit store shelves.
|| Palmer, 1:44 PM || link || (0) comments |

Paranormal Activity Opens Friday

Paranormal Activity is poised to be the next Blair Witch Project. Made for a paltry $11,000, this micro-indie shot on mini-DV is supposed to be über-horrifying. And, unlike Blair Witch, they used a tripod.

After it premiered last year, this haunted house flick was picked up by DreamWorks/Paramount and then promptly shelved. This spawned rumors that a remake was in the offing. Now, however, the movie is going the roadshow route to college towns and Madison is amongst the cities where it will open on Friday. Eastgate lists midnight showings for Friday and Saturday.

From the looks of the trailer (despite the audience reaction bits shot with low light cameras), the hype appears justified as it is quite creepy

|| Palmer, 1:11 PM || link || (0) comments |

18 September, 2009

We Need to Legalize Dope...Yesterday

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) posted some disturbing statistics on Monday. LEAP is a group of current and former law enforcement agents who want to end the Drug War. They culled some stats from the FBI's "Crime in the United States" report which are staggering.

The data, from the FBI's "Crime in the United States" report, shows that in 2008 there were 1,702,537 arrests for drug law violations, or one drug arrest every 18 seconds.

Today's FBI report, which can be found at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/arrests/index.html, shows that 82.3 percent of all drug arrests in 2008 were for possession only, and 44.3 percent of drug arrests were for possession of marijuana.

No wonder we now have a prison-industrial complex – we're busting well over a million people a year for possession. Of the total, over 750,000 people are arrested annually for possession of marijuana. Not for having garbage bags of the stuff to sell, just for having their own private stash to smoke when they listen to Pink Floyd.

Such an incredible waste of resources in the pursuit of running and ruining people's lives. As one LEAP person said, "You can get over an addiction, but you will never get over a conviction."

(h/t to Ed Brayton.)
|| Palmer, 9:49 AM || link || (0) comments |

Kohl & Feingold Caught Up in ACORN Hysteria?

Earlier this week Glenn Greenwald chimed in on the hysteria surrounding the non-profit, ACORN, which helps the less fortunate among us. The group made news last year when a few bad apples committed voter fraud which was promptly reported to the authorities by ACORN itself. Now the brouhaha is over another small group who were videotaped giving advice on buying a home for the purpose of turning it into a whorehouse.

Greenwald argues (and I agree with him) that the idiots who were videotaped and those who committed the fraud do not represent ACORN as a whole, which does much good for the poor. In addition, these transgressions are inconsequential compared to those of other much larger groups who receive substantially more tax money than ACORN.

ACORN has received a grand total of $53 million in federal funds over the last 15 years -- an average of $3.5 million per year. Meanwhile, not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars of public funds have been, in the last year alone, transferred to or otherwise used for the benefit of Wall Street. Billions of dollars in American taxpayer money vanished into thin air, eaten by private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, led by Halliburton subsidiary KBR. All of those corporate interests employ armies of lobbyists and bottomless donor activities that ensure they dominate our legislative and regulatory processes, and to be extra certain, the revolving door between industry and government is more prolific than ever, with key corporate officials constantly ending up occupying the government positions with the most influence over those industries.

Yet both the Senate and the House have voted to deny ACORN any funding from the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2010.

Sadly, both of our Senators, Kohl & Feingold voted in support of the amendment to keep money away from ACORN. On the other hand, my Representative, Tammy Baldwin voted against the amendment. So what happened with Messrs. Kohl & Feingold? What is their bone to pick with ACORN? Does this mean Austin King is going to return to Madison?
|| Palmer, 9:29 AM || link || (0) comments |

15 September, 2009

High-Speed Rail on NPR

Folks interested in passenger rail might be interested to know that NPR recently aired a multi-part series about the prospect of high-speed rail in the United States. (h/t The Infrastructurist.) Of particular interest to me and my fellow Madisonians is the episode "Midwestern States All Aboard High-Speed-Rail Push".

There are 7 parts in all:

States Make Pitches For High-Speed-Rail Money

Midwestern States All Aboard High-Speed-Rail Push

California Edges Ahead In High-Speed-Train 'Race'

Some Regions Better Prepared For High-Speed Rail

A Hitch For Rail Riders: Getting To Final Destination

High-Speed Rail Skeptic Outlines Position

Comparing U.S. Trains To Foreign Lines
|| Palmer, 12:59 PM || link || (0) comments |

Making Jalapeno Jelly Syrup

While my applesauce making went well, the same cannot be said for my attempt a couple weeks ago at making jalapeno jelly. I had plenty of fresh japs from my garden and my buddy Dogger's as well as mild green peppers from Lapaceks Orchard. (They have a garden area where you can go pick your own veg.)

I cut everything up, removing seeds and membranes along the way.

Making jalapeno jelly involves turning you kitchen into a World War I battlefied. Pureeing the peppers releases a cloud of toxic fumes which is made ten times worse when you put the pepper mash into a pot with vinegar to cook and suddenly think that a can of mustard gas was opened. The Dulcinea was putzing around the kitchen as my cauldron of capsicum-laced effluence boiled and it wasn't long before she started coughing.

I ran the my mash through a sieve, added pectin, and canned.

Somewhere along the way I mismeasured – probably too much liquid – because my jelly never jelled. So now I am the less than proud owner of about 6 pints of jalapeno syrup. What can I do with the stuff? I think that it would make a nice glaze for a ham or pork roast but I'd need to eat an awful lot of pig to go through that much glaze. I am thinking about trying a bit on vanilla ice cream.

Any suggestions? Or should I just admit defeat?
|| Palmer, 11:18 AM || link || (2) comments |

14 September, 2009

Applesaucing '09

This past weekend I found myself with a peck or so of apples which I'd bought at Lapaceks Orchard and I turned them into applesauce. (Kim recognized us and knows me as the "Wolf River apple guy".) It's not a particularly difficult process and you can get away with a water bath for canning. Personally, I prefer to make my own as I can season it to my taste which means adding very little sugar.

I should invest in some automated device which will peel them and remove the cores because doing it by hand is a pain in the butt. Luckily Cortlands tend to brown at a slower rate than other varieties so they survived the process more or less the right color. I then sliced the apples and threw them into pots with a bit of water to cook.

Once they were nice'n'tender, they were drained and promptly mashed. As far as seasoning goes, I added cinnamon, some freshly grated nutmeg, and just a bit of sugar. Cortlands are fairly tart, which I rather like, so I went easy on the sweetener. From there they were packed and bathed for about 15 minutes which made the kitchen into a sauna.

In the end, I found myself with 5 pints. While they probably won't last all winter, we'll at least be able to enjoy the apple goodness for a couple months once the cold and snow settle in.

|| Palmer, 2:59 PM || link || (2) comments |

Dispatch From Hamann Charcuterie

I'd been looking forward to discovering what Hamann Charcuterie was doing with pigs these days since I heard that there was a storefront at Northside Town Center. A couple weekends ago I finally went when it was open which was a Saturday evening. Since my camera was somewhere in a pile of other stuff at home, I have no mouth-watering photos of glorious bacon for you. Instead, let me offer a few words.

The place is rather empty. While there is a display case, there's not much else. However, I presume from a stray ladder and a general look of they're-working-on-it that this will change soonish. I'm not sure if it was simply because of the time of day that I was there, but the selection was underwhelming. There was chorizo, smoked chorizo, bacon, breakfast sausage, smoked turkey breast, andouille, mortadella, and perhaps another item. I walked out with a half pound of bacon and an equal amount of breakfast sausage.

The bacon was superb with its (applewood?) smoked goodness while the sausage was very tasty. Don't be fooled, though. Hamann's breakfast sausage isn't your usual sage-laced pork. Not only is the flavor different but cooking it actually leaves fat in your pan unlike so most commercial sausages. I fully intend to go back for more and to try some of their other products so that the next time I write about them, it won't be a week afterwards.

I should probably head over there soon as I'm scared that the charcuterie won't be around very much longer with their prices. The andouille and chorizo were $11.99/lbs. The other prices that I recall were the aforementioned breakfast sausage and bacon were both $9.99/lbs. A pound of bacon can be had for about $3 at Woodman's and I can go to the Jenifer Street Market where just about everything is marked up for the well-heeled denizens of the Marquette Neighborhood and get Nueske's bacon for about $7.60/lbs. I'd love to be rich enough to be able to throw $12 of andouille in my gumbo but the thing about gumbo is that it's poor people food. I should be able to make a giant pot of it that will last me a week for less than $12. But I'll definitely make a batch with the expensive stuff when the air gets that fall chill just to try it out.

I hope that Hamann brings in the Maple Bluff crowd and/or has secured contracts to supply restaurants with pork because I'd like to be able to get some premium sausage and microcured bacon when I can afford it.
|| Palmer, 1:55 PM || link || (0) comments |

No Mac & Cheese Scones Here

On Sunday The Dulcinea and I wandered over to the Batch Bakehouse to check out what the folks behind Ian's Pizza had come up with. I had braced myself for mac & cheese baguettes and stir fry cookies and so I was pleasantly surprised to find none of the crap they use to ruin the good name of the pizza present at the bakehouse.

Instead there was a quartet of breads as well as cookies, scones, and other pastries. I was surprised by the paltry selection. There were a mere two wire shelves laden with the goods.

The gentleman behind the counter was friendly and a lovely young lady smiled from the back as I snapped pictures. We departed with our bounty which consisted of a small loaf of ciabatta (at least I think it was), a couple almond croissants, a cheddar croissant, a morning bun, and a vanilla swirl.

My cheese-laden pastry was devoured before we had made it home. It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The cheese and the butter colluded to make one very tasty and very rich palate pleaser. Once back in our abode, we laid out the goods and sampled. The vanilla swirl is a bit like a morning bun but has a texture that leans slightly towards elephant tracks. Our morning bun was quite excellent because it wasn't drowning in some kind of frosting or glaze, a sin many bakeries commit. Thusly it wasn't cloyingly sweet. The D was especially pleased with the almond croissant and I thought they were good as well with a filing that reeked of almond extract.

On the savory side was my bread, which was about the size of a large soft pretzel. When I pulled it out of the bag, it was still slightly warm and the aroma of rosemary permeated my nose. In addition to the herb, there were also sun-dried tomatoes in it. It was soft and chewy – just delectable.

While I can certainly see myself heading over there on a weekend morning for some sweets, I was rather hoping that Batch would be a full-fledged bakehouse that could meet all of my bakery needs. From what I've read, I assume that their selection is biased towards what they can sell to restaurants. It would have been nice to be able to buy our weekly loaves of rye and whole wheat as well as things like hot dog buns within a short walk of my house but, alas, it was not to be. (I'll note that Nature's Bakery is also fairly close but that their rye is severely lacking.)

Despite my finding the selection wanting, what Batch Bakehouse does offer is quite tasty indeed.

|| Palmer, 12:57 PM || link || (0) comments |

02 September, 2009

Polecats Are Kinky

John McWhorter should stick to linguistics.

He invited "intelligent design" proponent (i.e. – creationist) Michael Behe to chat over at Blogginheads.tv and was in full sycophantic right out of the gates. He remarks that he found Behe's latest collection of nonsense, The Edge of Evolution, to be "shattering" and a "very important book" deserving of a wider airing. While McWhorter professes that Darwin is great, he's "always seen a certain kink in the whole Natural Selection argument". What is this kink?

Yes, the polecat has caused a perfectly good linguist to lend credence to ID. Because McWhorter has some personal incredulity, therefore Yahweh must be behind everything.

Jerry Coyne, a professor of biology down in Chicago, calls this the Mephitological Argument for the existence of God.

What I find funny is that it's the skunk that causes such cognitive dissonance for McWhorter. He describes the animal as if spraying predator repellent was the most exotic adaptation ever seen in nature. If he'd expressed some incredulity at self-destructing ants or the sea cucumber which eviscerates itself when dealing with predators, then it might be another matter…

The McWhorter-Behe lovefest proved to be the last straw for physicist Sean Carroll who has opted out of Bloggingheads.

I couldn’t listen to too much after that. McWhorter goes on to explain that he doesn’t see how skunks could have evolved, and what more evidence do you need than that? (Another proof that belongs in the list, as Jeff Harvey points out: “A linguist doesn’t understand skunks. Therefore, God exists.”) Those of us who have participated in Bloggingheads dialogues before have come to expect a slightly more elevated brand of discourse than this.

The video was taken down briefly with the following explanation:

John McWhorter feels, with regret, that this interview represents neither himself, Professor Behe, nor Bloggingheads usefully, takes full responsibility for same, and has asked that it be taken down from the site. He apologizes to all who found its airing objectionable.

So he had it taken down because it didn't represent the participants "usefully". You'd think that, being a linguist, McWhorter could find a better euphemism for "Holy crap! I just went before the entire world and said that the skunk proves the existence of God."
|| Palmer, 12:01 PM || link || (0) comments |

01 September, 2009

Hitler learns that the Avatar trailer sucks

This cracked me up.

|| Palmer, 9:46 AM || link || (0) comments |