Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

26 February, 2010

Brickhouse BBQ: First Impression

I had lunch this afternoon with some cohorts from work at the shiny new Brickhouse BBQ. Results:

1) Pulled pork sandwiches were good. I'd prefer mine to have the slaw on the side next time instead of on the samich itself.

2) One friend had the beef brisket/Brickhouse rib combo plate with black-eyed pea succotash and collard greens. He thought the succotash had a paucity of black-eyed peas and that there wasn't enough pork fat in the greens. Worse, the brisket didn't taste like it had been smoked while the ribs were, in his estimation, from yesterday with sauce slathered on to hide it.

3) My mac & cheese was mediocre. The sauce needed salt but wasn't bad otherwise. However, someone there needs to figure out how to cook pasta al dente because the noodles were mush.

4) I asked for hot sauce and was given Sriracha. Why was I given Thai hot sauce at a BBQ joint instead of Tabasco or some other cayenne-based sauce?

5) The BBQ sauces were more tangy than sweet and so get high marks from me. The vinegar sauce was especially tasty.

I'll likely be sticking to Smokey Jon's or Papa Bear's.

ADDENDUM: The place only serves sweet tea. My buddy ordered an iced tea and got sweet tea. Furthermore, he was told they do not have unsweetened tea. Unfortunately, the waitress did not inform him of this.
|| Palmer, 1:40 PM || link || (4) comments | links to this post

Unpleasingly Plump

When I wrote about Barry Glassner's The Gospel of Food, I mentioned the chapter on the so-called "obesity epidemic" and argued that it was important because of how the overweight among us are stigmatized. I read a couple articles yesterday which brought to mind this issue.

The first was a piece on Kevin Smith who, as you may know, was booted off a plane for being overweight. He was quoted as saying:

"I grew up fat, so I know that you have to stick up for yourself because I know that you're gonna get called a fat guy whether you like it or not. So when you've been wronged, you have to speak out. It's like asking someone whose been assaulted or raped -- why'd you say something about it? It's basically self-defense."



I also read an article up at Salon about Kelly Osbourne - Ozzy's daughter - in which she said that her weight was a bigger issue for most people than her drug addiction.

"I took more hell for being fat than I did for being an absolutely raging drug addict. I will never understand that."



It's easy. Lost of people feel better about themselves if they make fun of fat people.
|| Palmer, 9:20 AM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

24 February, 2010

How Can the Mirror Affect You?

Although this probably occurred to most other LOST fans a long time ago, it wasn't until last night when Hurley and Jack were at the lighthouse that it occurred to me that the set design folks must be fans of the videogame Myst.



The lighthouse mirror contraption with all those gears would have been right at home in it.

This observation aside, last night's episode saw more Ragle Gumm action when Jack looked at his appendectomy scar and asked his mother when the procedure was done. You'd think a surgeon would remember when he'd been operated on. In this case it was Juliet in 2004 with the scalpel. Or, as mom would have it, when Jack was 7 or 8.

He's also developed a major streak of narcissism this season. Always looking in the mirror is our Jack. Unsurprisingly he finds a copy of Alice in Wonderland in his son's room which draws us back to the season 1 episode "White Rabbit" which was Jack-centric. In that story, we learn about Jack being told by his Christian that he (i.e. – Jack) didn't "have what it takes" as well as seeing Jack claim his father's body. "White Rabbit" showed us that he did have what it takes to be the leader of the bunch of airplane crash survivors while "Lighthouse" demonstrated he has what it takes to get past his daddy issues and be a good father.

This sideways/alternate timeline is seemingly devoid of Oedipal issues but all that glitters is not gold. Fathers and their progeny just get along too well, in the main, for any kind of meaningful story about redemption to be hashed out in it. It's way too lovey dovey and it will end.

How about that lighthouse? Did you notice that house of Oriental architecture that Jack saw as the dial turned?



Can a Dogen-centric story be too far behind? He did say he was brought to the island just like everyone else so it would seem that he knows it was Jacob that is responsible for everyone being there, himself included. Speaking of Jacob, he sure didn't seem to mind that Jack took an amber spyglass to his mirrored remote viewing station. Why should he? His chosen ones are already on the island thusly eliminating the need to keep an eye out for more candidates. He tells Hurley that Jack is important and that he, Jack, is on the island to do something but that he must figure it out for himself.

I think that something Jack has to do is die. But not some willy-nilly death. Jacob also tells Hurley he had to get him and Jack away from the Temple because it is about to be laid siege to by someone bad. (Mostly likely Claire.) Jack has to die in a certain way or after he accomplishes something. (He's got work to do.) But his death is required.

And then there's the feral Claire. I loved that macabre Aaron stand-in doll lying in the crib.



Plus her nameless "friend" turns out to be Esau. A little Stockholm Syndrome, to say the least. It should be interesting to see her approach the Temple next week and demand the return of her son. It could get bloody.
|| Palmer, 3:12 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

New Danish Tourism Ads by Lars von Trier

From Onion Network News in Denmark.


Denmark Introduces Harrowing New Tourism Ads Directed By Lars Von Trier
|| Palmer, 10:05 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

23 February, 2010

In Ragle Gumm Territory

LOST is almost over and I'm dreading going down to but one American TV that I have any interest in watching. And so I'm trying to enjoy the ride to May when the most enigmatic, Easter egg-laden show on television will end its run.

Some thoughts on the final season so far:

What's the nature of the flash-sideways timeline? The island is underwater and flight 815 landed safely in Los Angeles in the season opener. Yet Jack runs into a Desmond who is a fan of Salman Rushdie and experiences déjà vu.



In episode 3, "What Kate Does", our heroine is fleeing the airport in her hijacked taxi. She spies Jack out in the passenger loading area and gets a look of recognition on her face.



The timeline in which flight 815 crashes seems to be bleeding into this one and it reminds me of this book:



In Time Out of Joint we follow Ragle Gumm who lives in a nice little suburb and dutifully does his newspaper puzzles. Soon hints that his nice little community and his nice little routine in 1959 are not what or when they seem to be. Anothe world slowly bleeds into Gumm's. Dick's protagonist has been brainwashed and a quaint suburban reality constructed for him so that he keeps doing those newspaper puzzles which are really equations for determining where the rebellious colonists on the moon will be hitting next with their nuclear arsenal.

While certainly not an exact analog to LOST, the puzzles and nuclear weapons thing is perhaps reminiscent of the show's Valenzetti Equation which supposedly predicted "the exact number of years and months until humanity extinguishes itself." The numbers – 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 – represent the "human and environmental factors in the equation". In one of the LOST alternate reality games, it was revealed that the Dharma Initiative failed to change any of the environmental factors. So what about the human factors?



LOST is filled with dualities and now that we've been told (by a highly unreliable source, granted) that the numbers refer to our Losties, or at least people with the same surnames, I can't help but wonder if Jacob is handling the human factors that the Dharma Initiative neglected. Remember when we first met Jacob and his buddy? (I like to refer to him as Esau.)

JACOB: I take it you're here because of the ship.
ESAU: I am. How did they find the Island?
JACOB: You'll have to ask them when they get here.
ESAU: I don't have to ask. You brought them here. Still trying to prove me wrong, aren't you?
JACOB: You are wrong.
ESAU: Am I? They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.
JACOB: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.

It's like they're the Duke brothers from Trading Places.



Jacob seemingly brings a never ending parade of people to the island hoping that they'll do something other than fight, destroy, and corrupt while Esau remains skeptical, to say the least. It's like Jacob was calculating his own Valenzetti Equation. He monitors how the people he brings to the island act over a number of years, factors in technological advancement, and concludes just how long it will take for humanity to destroy itself. Jacob allowed the Dharma Initiative to setup shop in the island, if he didn't outright do something to bring them there, because it showed promise in humanity to not fight, destroy, and corrupt. The DI, to use Jacob's word, was, at the start anyway, progress.

Did you notice that bullets go through Flocke but that knives kill Jacob? There are rules to Jacob and Esau's paux de deux but it still seems odd to me that Ben is able to do the deed. Of course, Jacob isn't really gone as he appeared to Hurley after his death but you get my gist. Since Jacob harassed Ben as he wielded the knife which would make the unkindest cuts, I think that the enigmatic statue dweller wanted to die. In Paul's letters to Corinthians, he explains that Jesus' death and resurrection meant that the End was imminent. Jesus returning to life and busting out of the cave wasn't for the benefit of 21st century street corner preachers to use to inveigle people to convert, it was a sign that salvation was coming anon – within Paul's lifetime. Similarly, I think that crunch time had come for Jacob and he had to shit or get off the pot. (The series only had one more season, after all.) He understood Ben was a fighter, a corrupter but it was time to prove that humanity can be saved. After all, Jacob had his numbers mapped out and so the process of changing one or more of the variables in the Valenzetti Equation had begun.

Last week Sawyer asked Flocke what the island would need protection from and the reply was: ''From nothing, James. That's the joke. There's nothing to protect it from. It's just a damn island!'' Sure, not every island has a frozen donkey wheel to move it through time and space but I am hoping Flocke isn't far off the mark here. With the show ending, I am really hoping that the writers don't explain the island away as an aggregation of midichlorians that we know as Atlantis or some such thing. Don't screw up like George Lucas.

The island is a stage where people's passions play out. It's where there are villains and heroes; people kill one another and they love one another. In short, the island is a generic stand-in for anywhere on earth where there are human beings because we take our logic and our emotions, our science and our faith with us wherever we may go. I hope TPTB take heed of Iris DeMent when she sang "let the mystery be".
|| Palmer, 4:24 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Gospel of Food

Today I ran across an interesting blog post called "Some Daily Effects of White Privilege in Housing Co-ops". One item in the list of effects struck me:

2. People don't expect me to know how to prepare foods that reflect my ethnic heritage.

As a white person who does prepare foods that reflect his ethnic heritage (mainly German and Slavic), I have to admit that I never thought about this. I suppose that I take it for granted that very few people regardless of their skin color tend to make meals reflecting their ethnic heritage.

Barry Glassner, on the other hand, has done rather a lot of thinking about people's thoughts and feelings about food and he even wrote a book about it - The Gospel of Food: Everything You Think You Know About Food Is Wrong.



He begins by relating how he was at a child's birthday party where the cake that was served was not quite what he was expecting: "Though neither the parents nor their child nor any of the guests were vegans or celiac-disease sufferers, the cake had no eggs, butter, milk, or wheat. And needless to say, it had no sugar." Further along he notes that the official dietary guidelines of various countries include the word "enjoy" but that ours do not. Glassner bemoans that many Americans subscribe to the "gospel of naught" which judges foods by that which it lacks. The less things that are trending badly, the better. He goes on to defend the lowly potato and to show how various foods are unfairly stigmatized. He quoted a study which asked people, if they were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food, which food do you think would be best for your health. The choices were corn, alfalfa sprouts, hot dogs, spinach, peaches, bananas, and milk chocolate. Less than 10% chose the items which contained the greatest variety of nutrients – the hot dogs and chocolate.

The book's middle chapters discuss how restaurant critics may not be totally reliable. They are often times recognized and thusly get special treatment that neither you nor I would receive. Glassner takes on the reality TV show The Restaurant, which I gather is no longer on the air, and shows how scenes are staged. These parts which look at the intersection of food and celebrity are the weakest of the book. I mean, is anyone really surprised that a so-called "reality" TV show doesn't always reflect reality?

It is a couple chapters at the end of the book that are the hardest hitting. The first deals with McDonalds and fast food joints more generally. Glassner provides a defense, of sorts, for McDonalds. He doesn't promote their food as being healthy but rather approaches the subject from his field of sociology. Unsurprisingly, he shows how many anti-McDonalds activists not only belittle those who work there but also stigmatize those who eat there. Glassner shows how McDonalds is "the ultimate populist place" by quoting the stories of various people. One of them, a Russian émigré, notes how immigrants find comfort in McDonalds, a restaurant which requires little cultural knowledge or language skills. Then there was Lee Gapay, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who found himself homeless. He frequented fast-food restaurants as they offered a place to sit for part of the day, a restroom, and cheap eats.

There's a great quote from New York Times columnist Daniel Akst which summarizes a lot of my feelings towards Michael Pollan and related ilk such as the movie Food, Inc.:

"It's a measure of how astonishingly far we have come from the hand-to-mouth existence of our forebears that rock-bottom food prices, once a utopian prospect, are now seen as a threat to the well-being not just of Americans but of countless unwitting foreigners who don't know enough to temper their relief at not having to go to bed hungry."

Again, Glassner is not saying that a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke is the healthiest meal option around. But he is saying that fast food is here and that there's more to it than the fat content of the food.

The chapter discussing why Americans are overweight is essential reading. Glassner takes on what he calls the "fiscal model" which contends that Americans are overweight due to eating too much and inactivity. Instead of Americans simply being lazy overeaters, he shows that there are more likely a number of factors at play. For one thing there is evidence suggesting that obesity has a genetic component. Furthermore it was the poor who disproportionate gained weight when our waists got bigger in the 1980s and 1990s which was also the time of the greatest job losses since The Great Depression until that time. Glassner says that during times of stress the body produces less growth hormone which reduces fat deposits and speeds up metabolism. Later in the chapter he takes on the notion that being overweight shortens one's lifespan. The evidence is spotty and ambiguous at best.

What I found so compelling about these two chapters was that they expose attitudes and misconceptions related to food which impact how we view and treat one another. When Glassner is talking to a food scientist about the flavorings he makes and how FDA regulations govern whether they can be labeled natural or artificial, it's a story with little social impact. On the other hand, society tends to stigmatize those who work and eat at McDonalds as well as those who are overweight. Knowing that someone works at McDonalds or seeing that someone is obese is all many people need to make a resounding judgment of these folks. For instance, today, it almost goes without saying that overweight people are lazy.

But it goes beyond stigma to discrimination. And now it is moving from that to financial penalties. Whole Foods has announced it will charge employees with a BMI (Body Mass Index) over a certain threshold more for health insurance. The implication here is that certain BMIs are "healthier" than others and that any given score is completely attributable to lifestyle choices made by the employee.

The media feeds off of and/or feeds into these stigmas. One of the more recent examples that sticks in my head is an article at Slate from last December called "Indie Sweethearts Pitching Products". It's about actors who gained prominence in independent films now schilling for various corporations, including Luke Wilson's AT&T commercials. While I can't remember the exact phrase, when a link to the article appeared on Slate's front page, it was given a title having to do with Wilson having gained weight. The author of the piece, Seth Stevenson, rates the AT&T commercials poorly, in part, because "Wilson had no time to lose weight for the camera" and so we viewers are subject to his jowls. Stevenson seems offended by the notion of having to watch someone who isn't as thin as TV tells us people should be.

Unfortunately, it is a lot easier for most people to rail against a faceless corporation such as McDonalds or attack corn syrup, saturated fat, or whatever the mal-nutrient du jour is than it is to reassess one's own views and behaviors towards other people and the reasons why we have those views and stigmatize others.
|| Palmer, 10:48 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

"Always dress the dog, and not the bun"

Advice from the Hot Dog University.



|| Palmer, 9:17 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

18 February, 2010

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue

I've seen and read interviews with John McWhorter before but they all related to race relations and never his chosen field – linguistics. But a recent trip to the bookstore yielded a copy of his 2008 book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English at a more than reasonable price.



McWhorter isn't my introduction to the tale of my native tongue. Instead that honor goes to The Story of English and the odd episode of The Adventure of English. So I'm familiar enough with the whole Celts meeting the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes followed by the Norman invasion, the Great Vowel Shift, and so on. Luckily McWhorter isn't interested in giving what we might call the "standard" history of English which he criticizes as being "a story about words". Instead he focuses on grammar and the vast amount of it that English has lost in contrast to its fellow Germanic languages.

Despite being a book for the layreader, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is also a shot across the bow of many a linguist's boat as it argues that English took on a lot more from Welsh than McWhorter's profession generally allows. Not being in the field, I can't comment on intra-linguist squabbles but I'll take McWhorter's word that his view on the matter is distinctly in the minority. The crux of his argument is that English has a couple features that other Germanic languages do not and that Welsh does. Oh, and Cornish too.

The first is the "meaningless do" which English uses in questions and negative statements. He gives a couple examples: "Did you ever notice…?" and "I did not notice." Most other languages get these across in ways that translate literally as "Noticed you ever?" and "I not notice." The second oddity is how English uses the –ing suffix for the present progressive. "I am writing", for example. Other languages indicate the present progressive by simply saying what amounts to "I write."

Traditional histories of English limit the impact of Welsh on English very severely and McWhorter takes ample time overturning established thought by looking back at the historical record. He persuasively argues that the Celts did not suffer genocide and so there were plenty of them around to influence the nascent English. In addition, he patiently explains to the reader why the written record of Old English is not a reliable indicator of how Joe Six-Flagon actually spoke. Hence the Celts dramatically influenced English as evidenced the by the "meaningless do" and -ing suffix which English shares in common with Celtic languages but not with fellow Germanic languages.

A later chapter will no doubt unamuse followers of Wittgenstein as McWhorter shows that our grammar does not channel our thought as the German philosopher and others would have it. He takes on linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf who postulated that the Hopi think of time in a very different way from Westerners and so their language had "no words, grammatical forms, constructions, or expressions that refer directly to what we call 'time'". McWhorter offers no quarter and explicitly demonstrates that Whorf was dead wrong. It's a blast sitting back and watching the linguists feud.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is dotted with plenty of history and tales of how English came to be the language it is today. McWhorter writes in an anecdote-laden informal style and takes his time in explaining the concepts that the people in his field eat, sleep, and breathe. In addition, readers will pick up some interesting tidbits about human languages generally as well as specific ones that have absolutely no relation to English. Reading about such concepts as verb order in Germanic languages has never been so much fun.
|| Palmer, 6:03 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

16 February, 2010

Dear Samara Kalk Derby: Fat = Flavor!

I've seen flyers for the new Indian restaurant Spice'N'Curry around town and was happy to see a review of it at 77 Square. Then I read this:

That initial visit was disappointing food-wise as well. The vegetable pakora ($3.75) was a harbinger, a disjointed mess of vegetables dominated by onion. Another appetizer, chili chicken ($7.95), which we ordered as an entree, was dominated by dark-meat chicken along with green peppers, scallions and onions. The green chilies and curry leaves described on the menu were undetectable.

Was the writer being critical of the dish having dark-meat chicken in as well as having no trace of chilies and curry leaves? My answer came a few paragraphs later.

Although the meat in the perfectly nuanced chicken curry ($10.95) could have been cut into smaller pieces, at least it was choice white meat.

"This has to be Samara Kalk Derby," I thought to myself. And sure enough it was. This is the same person who was shocked to get hot giardiniera on an Italian beef ordered "hot" when that's the standard in Chicago where both she and Italian beef hail from.

So now she is saying that white meat chicken is "choice" while dark meat is – what? – poor people food? Gee thanks. Next time I make a curry with dark meat chicken (which is my default choice) I'll be sure to think about how much better a person Samara Kalk Derby is than me. Maybe next time the chef at Spice'N'Curry can whiten that dark meat with whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Is Derby saying the cuisines who (gasp!) utilize the whole chicken are inferior to she and her fellow breasts lovers who only eat the pure, choice parts of the bird? I can just imagine her recoiling in horror from a chicken leg like a coastie co-ed does from an omelet that isn't made from egg whites alone. Ewwww!

By "choice" I presume she means "that part of the bird which has almost no fat and so is nearly flavorless and dries out easily but it has no big nasty fat molecules which for a fatphobic person like me is perfect because, ya know, fat kills and I can eat it without feeling like I'm trying to give myself a heart attack."

People who aren't brainwashed Americans don't let every part of a chicken go to waste except the breast and know that dark meat tastes better because it has flavor because it has more fat. The choice part of a chicken is the leg because it has the most fat and flavor, not because it panders to some bullshit trend which instills fear into eaters.

Fat = flavor! This is why children not brainwashed by their parents into thinking that if they eat dark meat chicken they'll die the next day always grab drumsticks. This is also why you can batter or bread anything, stick it in a deep fat fryer, and sell tons of the stuff. Fat = flavor! Just as the Scots.

So can we get a food critic who actually paid attention when eating Italian beef while in Chicago and who understands that the least flavorful, driest cut of meat is not "choice"?
|| Palmer, 12:12 PM || link || (1) comments | links to this post

Pan Y Pan Puts the Restaurant in "Bakery & Restaurant"

The last time I wrote about the Pan Y Pan Bakery and Restaurant, only the bakery half was up and running. But this past weekend I discovered that the restaurant is now fully armed and operational.

The Dulcinea and I had been shopping at Woodman's and I decided to stop in to get some sweets when we saw that the door had ads for their tacos, burritos, etc. And so, in addition to buying pastries (including the best chocolate covered doughnuts in town), we had a late dinner.

I had steak tacos and The D went with an al pastor burrito. The tacos were great and by "great" I mean they were what you'd expect. They're just tacos; nothing super fancy, just good basic grub. The steak was well-seasoned and there was plenty of onion on the warm dual-layer tortillas. My only gripe was that they didn't come with any lime and I completely forgot to ask. I tried just a bit of the burrito and thought it was tasty. The D seemed to like it as well, although it was too much food for her for one sitting. And the green salsa that came with our chips was quite delicious with the right amount of burn. It's nice to see that they don't pawn off the mild bland stuff on us gringos.

The next morning I had my chocolate covered doughnut. Praise be to Pan Y Pan! I've written about how much I love them before but let me reiterate: the outside was slightly crispy and it was a layer of honest to Christ chocolate on top and not a glaze or frosting. And the whole thing was a lot less sweet than most doughnuts. They are da bomb, as kids say these days.
|| Palmer, 11:01 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

15 February, 2010

Chris Hedges Is the New Howard Zinn

When Howard Zinn died last month, I read many an encomium written by someone who mourned his passing. A couple historians related how it was Zinn who inspired them to become historians but most of the ones I read were akin to Matthew Rothschild's "Thank You, Howard Zinn" which focused on the man's tireless activism in support of "progressive" causes of various stripes.

In addition to the lavish praise, I also read a lot of criticism about Zinn as an historian. The most damning was probably Michael Kazin's "Howard Zinn's History Lessons". To my knowledge, Kazin is no right-winger intent on keeping the sights of history books trained on wealthy, powerful white males which perhaps gives his words even more of a bite. He wrote:

History for Zinn is thus a painful narrative about ordinary folks who keep struggling to achieve equality, democracy, and a tolerant society, yet somehow are always defeated by a tiny band of rulers whose wiles match their greed...This is history as cynicism. Zinn omits the real choices our left ancestors faced and the true pathos, and drama, of their decisions...Zinn's ruling elite is a transhistorical entity, a virtual monolith; neither its interests nor its ideology change markedly from the days when its members owned slaves and wore knee-britches to the era of the Internet and Armani.

These sentiments were echoed by Gabriel Winant at Salon:

But Zinn’s humanitarianism was also fuzzy-headed. "A People’s History of the United States" -- the one work among his many for which he will be most remembered -- does not offer a compelling explanation of past events or present conditions. Zinn was not really capable of doing so, committed as he was to insisting on the nobility of the exploited many at the hands of a nefarious few. Exploitation and protest, domination and resistance are indeed enduring and central features of American history (and all other history). But they don’t come near being the whole story...Zinn’s world had little room for workers who wouldn’t join unions, or black people who were not on the front lines of protest. It’s certainly possible to explain these phenomena without abandoning radical criticism or arguing that the proletariat is cheering on Goldman Sachs. But Zinn’s preference was to pretend there was no issue at all.

Lastly, I will quote Sheldon Stern, an historian formerly at the JFK Library, who recalled a couple encounters with Zinn. Here's one of them:

On another occasion, he lectured about pollution of the environment by American industry. I asked him about the environmental catastrophe left by the Soviet Union in their former satellites—in Czechoslovakia, for example, most of the arable land was no longer fit for agriculture. He smiled but made no reply. I also asked, after he had spoken about the peoples’ struggle against the war in Vietnam, why much of organized labor had supported the war and construction workers had attacked students demonstrating against the war. He countered that the genius of American capitalist leaders was their unfailing ability to turn the people against their own interests.

I would guess that none of these people feel that Zinn's heart was in the wrong spot or that he perceived injustices in the world which were mere chimeras. Instead they fault Zinn as an historian who eschewed nuance in favor of a simplistic battle of monoliths.

Now that Zinn is gone, it occurred to me today that he has been replaced by Chris Hedges. Just read his articles at Truthdig. According to him, we Americans no longer have democracy and are on the path to serfdom.

America is devolving into a third-world nation. And if we do not immediately halt our elite’s rapacious looting of the public treasury we will be left with trillions in debts, which can never be repaid, and widespread human misery which we will be helpless to ameliorate. Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty.

Then there's the media which has made us into mindless zombies, an argument he makes, as with most of his arguments, in only the most apocalyptic terms.

We are enraptured by the revels of a dying civilization...Celebrity worship has banished the real from public discourse. And the adulation of celebrity is pervasive. The frenzy around political messiahs, or the devotion of millions of viewers to Oprah, is all part of the yearning to see ourselves in those we worship. We seek to be like them. We seek to make them like us. If Jesus and “The Purpose Driven Life” won’t make us a celebrity, then Tony Robbins or positive psychologists or reality television will. We are waiting for our cue to walk onstage and be admired and envied, to become known and celebrated. Nothing else in life counts.

And yesterday Hedges held court on the evil of the Internet.

The Internet has become one more tool hijacked by corporate interests to accelerate our cultural, political and economic decline. The great promise of the Internet, to open up dialogue, break down cultural barriers, promote democracy and unleash innovation and creativity, has been exposed as a scam. The Internet is dividing us into antagonistic clans, in which we chant the same slogans and hate the same enemies, while our creative work is handed for free to Web providers who use it as bait for advertising.

As with Zinn, we unwashed masses are nothing but pawns in the games of corporate interests, the elite, etc. We are simply unwitting victims who can only free ourselves by voting for the Green Party and taking to the streets.

I read this latest screed almost positive that I saw Hedges on C-SPAN in one of those interview shows which takes a break half way through to give the audience a tour of the author's home and writing space. This means we get a glimpse of someone's study, the walls of which are lined with books and invariably contain a desk at which the author writes. We find out the writing habits of the person as well as some of their favorite texts. And I'd swear that when the camera was in Hedges home, he remarked that he doesn't use the Internet except to get the weather and to communicate with his editors. Does anyone else remember this?

I thought of that scene when reading his views on the Internet and imagined him researching the topic on the Web and hating it all the while. How much stock should a reader put in an article about how evil the Internet is by someone who deliberately avoids it? Hedges liberally quotes Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in virtual reality and someone who is definitely not someone who avoids the Net. I suppose he'd have to since he seemingly has precious little experience of his own to draw from on the subject. This being the case, Hedges takes a very long view and thusly addresses only the big picture. It's a bit of a straw man ploy as well. He notes the utopian claims made for the Internet in its early days and uses these as the only criteria with which to judge it. Because the Internet hasn't transformed our country into a model democracy with egalitarianism growing on trees, it is thusly the "information super-sewer" for him.

Considering Hedges' excellent book War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning and other essays about war, I find his new attitude to be rather odd. Hedges is very eloquent when he talks about how war, violence, and hatred transforms people, how it drains them of their humanity. I just don't understand how someone with such insight and experience could possibly believe that the Internet was equivalent to magic and would somehow transcend our natures and transform us into model citizens who would spend their days engaging in reasoned debate.

Take this bit:

Tastes and information on the Internet are determined by the crowd, what Lanier calls the hive mentality. Music, books, journalism, commercials and bits of television shows and movies, along with inane YouTube videos, are thrust onto our screens and into national consciousness because of the statistical analysis of Internet crowd preferences.

Do you see the Zinn thing here? The content created by the hive mind thrusts itself onto our displays and there's nothing we can do about it. We as denizens of the Net have no control over it. We are helpless.

While the Net certainly has changed things, a lot of what we do on it is simply a new way of doing the same stuff we did before there was a Worldwide Web. For instance, people have consumed music according to crowed preferences for a long time. Top 40 radio, music magazines, and the like have helped shape taste in this domain. And I think you can find analogs in how people decided which books to read and which movies to see. America's Funniest Home Videos had the inane home video scene covered. Vast numbers of consumers of culture have been flocking to the lowest common denominator for ages – this is not exclusive to the Internet. And when was this golden age when citizens ignored celebrity and only went for, as Hedges terms it, "the real"? Neil Postman gave this same discourse back in 1985.

Hedges would do well do take a broader view of what people do on the Internet. Yeah, people download Hollywood blockbusters and Top 40 hits, yeah they watch TV shows at Hulu and videos of teenaged skateboarders faceplanting on the sidewalk, but none of these activities preclude others that are more mundane or even more enlightening. What else do we do online? On the mundane side, we play games and do crossword & Sudoku puzzles; we do our banking and pay bills; we find recipes online; we get weather forecasts and book hotel rooms; and we scan classified and singles ads. I e-filed my taxes this year and got my refund within a week. In short, a lot of the same stuff we used to do either in person, via pen & paper, or with a newspaper.

People also watch independent and foreign films on Netflix. Decidedly lo-fi documentaries, such as ones about lutefisk, become available to anyone instead of languishing in total obscurity. They download Beethoven (and some even pay for it) and can take a step back in history by listening to the earliest Edison wax cylinders online. Because of the Net, I can read Hedges' column every Monday and then go to YouTube to watch interviews with him. Newspapers from around the globe are at our fingertips as are tons and tons of information and public records held by our government. E-books are to be had as well as recordings of countless semesters of college lectures. There are also some great blogs out there with informed comment and opinion.

I'm not arguing that everything on the Web is informative & helpful nor that our society's move towards digitalization is grand in every respect. For instance, I think that Frontline's Digital Nation brought up some perfectly valid concerns. But painting a picture of the Internet as simply a place where powerless people go to get their mandated regimen of corporate culture is false. Just as Howard Zinn didn't want to talk about labor unions that supported the Vietnam War, Chris Hedges doesn't want to talk about the mundane and even enlightening ways people use the Internet because that would put the lie to his idea that we, the teeming millions, are simply manipulated by elites and corporate interests. We the people have agency that goes beyond demonstrating in the streets. We aren't helpless at almost all points and times. If the people with money fool us or take advantage of us, we are to blame as well because it takes two to tango.
|| Palmer, 10:30 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

10 February, 2010

LOST Opening Credits c.1967

Some good humor.

|| Palmer, 4:36 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Frozen Yoghurt Lament and Vegetarian Doublespeak

It's funny that Jesse Russell should lament the paucity of frozen yoghurt joints here in Madison today at Dane 101 and notes the opening of a Red Mango frozen yoghurt store on State Street. Whilst traipsing about earlier today, someone from Red Mango was giving out free samples on one corner while another woman handed out flyers across the street. I took a flyer and saw that the Red Mango folks proudly proclaim that their yoghurt is 100% natural and completely non-fat. I immediately threw the flyer and its attendant coupon in the trash.

What crap. Is this stuff made from soy milk? Since when are denuded dairy products natural? Milk naturally has fat in it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And check out the specs on their cocoa flavor. The "flavor profile" is that of "Rich Cocoa Bean". Naturally speaking, cocoa beans have fat in them. Check out the Wikipedia page for them: "Cocoa bean (also cacao bean[1], often simply cocoa and cacao) is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of Theobroma cacao". The **fatty** seed. Take out the fat and you don't have a rich cocoa bean anymore.

On another note, I recall a story that a friend told me. He too works in IT and back when the Peacemeal vegetarian restaurant was open, he took some of his co-workers from India there for lunch. As my buddy recalls it, they were rather dismayed that a vegetarian restaurant seemingly did nothing other than offer faux meat dishes. I can't say I blame them. I went to an Indian restaurant in Chicago a few years back that was vegetarian and had me an uthappam which was excellent. Nowhere on the menu were there dishes traditionally made with meat labeled in such a way as to reassure erstwhile vegetarians that you really can go home again. This is because they served foods that were invented meatless in the first place, not transmogrified to console those who have exorcised meat from their diet.

Unfortunately, the new vegetarian restaurant here in Madison, The Green Owl carries on in the worst tradition by combining meatlessness with Orwellian doublespeak. For instance, there are "vegan crabcakes". Just as Kraft ought to be chastised for daring to put the word "cheese" on a Velveeta box, so too for The Green Owl. It's not a crabcake if there's no crab in it. What exactly goes into such a culinary atrocity? I don't know as their menu doesn't elaborate. Then we have the Vegetarian Meatball Sub with "eggplant meatballs". No meat, no meatball. Being the Italian beef lover that I am, I am especially appalled by the Vegetarian Italian Beef made with wheat gluten. There's no beef within miles of one of these things so why is the word "beef" in the menu? And don't get me started on Vegan Schnitzel.

Why does chef/proprietor Jennie Capellaro feel the need to engage in such semantic foolhardiness? If there's no beef in it, don't use the word "beef" to describe your sandwich. Call it an "Italian Wheat Gluten" instead and stop trying to fool people into thinking that there is even the most tenuous link between what you serve and what millions of people in Chicagoland proudly eat every day. I had enough of this kind of bullshit when George Bush was president. You know, back in the days when torture wasn't torture.
|| Palmer, 4:15 PM || link || (18) comments | links to this post

09 February, 2010

The Tudors and the Politics of Tying Each Other Up

This past weekend I finished watching season 3 of The Tudors. It's a fun watch which focuses on Henry VIII's uxorial tribulations as well as the stratagems of the European monarchs and the Holy See in their pursuits of power. Plus the queens, consorts and sundry courtiers, played by only the most handsome of actresses, get nekkid. It must have been odd for Joss Stone, a rather comely lady, to have been told she'd be playing Anne of Cleaves, a woman that Henry found unattractive. Amidst all the fun and tender bosoms, my only real gripe is that as season 1 wore on, the character of Henry became sharply focused on wives and political machinations. To be sure, the real Henry was ruthless in his pursuit of authority but the show made nods to his other qualities which seemed to disappear as the first season wore on. There was a brief scene of him playing either "Greensleeves" or "Pasttime With Good Company", but scenes like this quickly disappear. We get the lust and the power plays but precious little of Henry as a musician, author, or intellectual. I guess I can understand the change but I still miss the more balanced portrayal of the early episodes. Plus Henry's gastronomic side is completely absent. OK, they're not going to show Henry plumping up because, well, portly people aren't allowed to be TV heroes and the producers surely don't want us to see an overweight man bedding a young hottie. Still, from what I've read, Henry had very refined tastes and his kitchen cooked up fantastic meals. Sure, that the king was a late-medieval foodie doesn't really impact his relationship with the Pope, but such things make a more (ahem) rounded character.



Being a bit of an antiquarian, I am often pondering just how historically accurate some of the elements of the show are when I'm watching it. Obviously time is compressed and some characters are composites of multiple real-life people with yet others being made out of whole cloth. But what about the way the period is represented? From reading, most of the costumes they use are from the Elizabethan period which is still 20+ years away while the carriages are Victorian era.

I began thinking about the way the characters speak as I was reading Chris Humphrey's The Politics of Carnival: Festive misrule in medieval England. While I suppose that the way they talk in the show works fine for a 21st century audience, it seems a far cry from the following which is a description of the "alleged effects of watching Robin Hood plays, probably written by Sir Richard Morison and communicated to Henry VIII sometime after the dissolution of the monasteries:

in somer comenly upon the holy daies in most places of your realm, ther be playes of Robyn hoode, mayde Marian, freer Tuck, wherin besides the lewdness and rebawdry that ther is opened to the people, disobedience also to your officers, is tought, whilest these good bloodes go about to take from the shiref of Notyngham one that for offending the laws shulde have suffered execution.

The show began in media res of the Great Vowel Shift and I'm not sure exactly how Mr. Morison would have pronounced the above but I'm thinking he probably did so a bit differently than we, and by extension, the cast of The Tudors do . Plus the speech of people back in the first half of the 16th century would be littered with words we no longer use today because they refer to things or actions we no longer use or perform or they just fell out of fashion. I don't recall anyone talking about putting on a hacqueton before jousting or eating a kechyl.

As far as food goes, it seems pretty authentic. For one thing, I haven't noticed any forks which were still decades away. And wasn't it at the end of season 2 when Henry gets a tart that is presented all fancily nested with bits of a swan? That sounds period to me.

If you're curious about the kitchens that Henry's feasts were prepared in, let me show you one:



This is the kitchen at Hampton Court Palace which is a living museum today staffed with dedicated reenactors who cook Tudor dishes with period ingredients and period cookware. One weekend a month visitors are allowed inside to witness the cookery first-hand. More photos are at their Flickr stream.

Lastly I will blather on for a short space about Humphrey's The Politics of Carnival: Festive misrule in medieval England. As with the book on clocks I wrote about previously, this book was not exactly what I expected. However, it was not as disappointing as the former.

The Politics of Carnival isn't really a history book, although there's plenty of that. It is more of an argument in an intra-academic squabble. Despite this, it isn't laden with academic jargon and is quite accessible to a layreader such as myself.

So what is "festive misrule"? As it relates to the book, these are celebrations such as Hocktide or May Day where social norms are inverted. For instance, people might forage through the land of the gentry for wood to burn on a May Day fire, an act which on any other day of the year would be considered trespassing and entailed fairly strict punishment. On Hock Monday men tied up women and would only release them for a kiss while on Hock Tuesday women tied up men and refused to let them free unless they received cash on the barrelhead.

Humphrey is critical of prevailing ideas about these occasions as they tend to put festive misrule into one of two categories: either safety-valve or social protest. That is, most academics view it as those times of the year when the ruling class lets the plebs blow off some steam and thereby maintaining the status quo or as days when truly popular protest emerges from below to threaten the status quo. While Humphrey allows for these possibilities, he instead urges people to look at the historical record and try to understand that occasions of festive misrule have to be taken on a case-by-case basis and that the people who took part in them may have had very mundane reasons that had nothing to do with the folks upstairs trying to oppress nor those folks downstairs attempting to voice opposition.

The book goes into depth with a couple examples but Humphrey presents one very early and very simply. Rather than, say, viewing women tying up men on Hock Tuesday and only releasing them upon payment as a comment on gender relations, why not view it as a way for the women who partake of the custom to raise money for their church?

One thing Humphrey didn't mention to my recollection was the momentum of social customs. The motivations of people who originate a custom are one thing, but to someone a hundred years later, the celebration is something that your family has engaged in as far back as anyone can remember and that you have seen done in your community since your earliest memories. Why do most of us here in the States put up Christmas trees, give gifts on 25 December, sing carols at that time of year, etc? While the roots of these various aspects of Christmas are well known – some are ancient, some arose only in the Victorian era – most people don't stop to think and ask why these traditions exist. These are things our parents did and their parents before them and our neighbors, co-workers, etc. all do these things. We do them because that's just what you do for Christmas. Similarly, a 15th century peasant may engage in Hocktide fun not because he or she is trying to make a political statement but simply because they were born into a society which already had a tradition which said that, a couple weeks after Easter, you run around and tie each other up on a couple days.

To bring this back to The Tudors TV show, Wikipedia notes that Henry VIII outlawed Hocktide festivities as he thought they encouraged disorder.

As I said earlier, Humphrey is concerned with how students learn about and how academics talk about festive misrule. I don't have a horse in that race but I still got a lot out of the book. When I first read about Hocktide, I tried to imagine something like that happening today. That would go over like a lead balloon, I thought. But it occurred to me that we do have something akin to it, even if it doesn't involve whole towns or happen a couple weeks after Easter – jail'n'bails. Someone gets locked up in a rickety cardboard cell until enough donations are solicited to bail the person out. It's not an uncommon way for charities to raise money. Granted, it probably has absolutely nothing to do with Hocktide, but it shows the idea of raising money for charity by playfully restraining someone and getting donations to free them goes back a long way.

Another thing that I found interesting was when Humphrey examined an example of festive misrule in Coventry in 1480. He drew heavily upon The Coventry Leet Book or Mayor's register: containing the records of the City Court Leet, or, View of Frankpledge, A.D. 1420-1555 with divers other matters. Humphrey explains that "It records the discussions and outcomes of the twice-yearly meetings of the 'Leet', which was ostensibly a court, but which had developed as a forum for legislation regulating many aspects of life in the town." Thanks to the Internet, anyone wishing to brave the Middle English can read it for themselves.

When examining the events of 1443 in Norwich, Humphrey describes a dispute the town had with the local monastery. The town had mills on the River Wensum which became dilapidated and were replaced. The abbot lodged a complaint saying that the city's mills were interfering with the ones on his property which were there first. Arguments and arbitration followed and an agreement got nullified by a legal technicality. The mills got damaged along the way and this forced the town's bakers to haul grain to mills 10 miles away. What struck me about the whole affair was just how modern it sounded - the dispute, the payment of damages, etc. Today it might be a factory or farm polluting groundwater or perhaps a dispute over electricity-producing windmills but such jurisdictional conflicts continue to arise.

So, do we have festive misrule today here in the States? Halloween is the only thing that comes to my mind. People can eschew business casual in favor of costume, homes are egged and TPd, and probably other things that I can't think of right now.

Since it is Tuesday, I'll finish by saying that the book begins with a quote from Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher who had a namesake on LOST which airs tonight and I can't wait to watch it because I have a theory about Jacob's cabin that I can't wait to elucidate upon here and I also have another great theory about Esau and how the Black Rock ties into all this. Ahem.
|| Palmer, 4:25 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

08 February, 2010

Neil Gaiman Pens Doctor Who Episode



Neil Gaiman has penned an episode of Doctor Who that will air next season (2011).

During his acceptance speech for best comic at the SFX Awards, Gaiman said: "As anyone who's read my blog knows, I'm a big fan of a certain long-running British TV series. One that I started watching - from behind the sofa - when I was three.

"And while I know it's cruel to make you wait for things, in about 14 months from now - which is to say, not in the upcoming season but early in the one after that - it's quite possible that I might have written an episode.

"And if I had, it would originally have been called 'The House of Nothing'. But it definitely isn't called that any more."
|| Palmer, 4:21 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Tiger Woods Helps Out Astrophysicist

Last week I began reading The Birth of Time by English astrophysicist John Gribbin in which he describes how he and his fellow stargazers determined the age of the universe. I've been reading his book for many years now but a lot of people have started reading him thanks to Tiger Woods.



Mr. and Mrs. Tiger Woods' marital strife a couple months ago has inadvertently given a sales boost to one of Gribbin's back titles.

A series of pictures released by Florida police of Woods's wrecked SUV includes a shot of the back seat, complete with waterbottle, towel and furled umbrella. But there among the shards of tinted glass in the footwell sits a well-thumbed copy of a paperback with the golf-appropriate title clearly visible: Get a Grip on Physics.

This incidental role in Woods's domestic drama has been enough to create a rush to get hold of the book, with the title's sales rank on Amazon.com jumping from 396,224 earlier in the week to a high spotted yesterday by the Wall Street Journal of 2,268.

Speaking in a break between lectures this morning, the author, John Gribbin, said he was "delighted that anyboy's reading my books. I just wish it was one that's still in print."
|| Palmer, 10:24 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

Breaking Our Fast Like the Kaiser

On Saturday morning we ate like a Kaiser. I don't know why but I just felt like making Kaiserschmarrn or "Emperor Pancakes". It was fairly time-consuming but ultimately exceedingly tasty.

The pancakes are very thin like crepes and made with a goodly number of eggs. Here's one cooking away.



As I grilled the cakes, there was a whole lotta butter lurking in the background biding its time until it stepped into the limelight.



Once you've made all the pancakes, you melt a stick of butter. I added some dried currants and cinnamon.



Then you rip apart the pancakes into manageable sized strips and toss them in the butter along with some sugar.



And voila!



I don't want to brag but, if I didn't know any better, I'd say they were professionally made. Very rich and sweet. Next time I'd like to try serving them with less sugar and perhaps a fruit sauce or compote.

While I was in the German mode of cooking, I also made Rinderrouladen (Braised Beef Rolls) und Meerrettichkartofeln (Potatoes in Horseradish Cream Sauce) last night for dinner. Here's a photo.



Rouladen is simply a very thin slice of round stuffed with stuff and rolled up. It can be filled with pretty much whatever you like and I tend to like carrots, pickles, and onion with the onion sautéed in bacon fat. Bavaria Sausage on the southwest side has pre-made rouladen but they also carry the sliced beef alone which is handy. I braised mine in a mixture of beef stock and Capital Imperial Doppelbock. The beer, to my mind, was disappointing. I found it to be rather thin. Instead of a rush of sweet malty goodness, I found that the hops dominated. Bad batch? Had my palate been infected? I'm not sure. Regardless, I hope that Kirby gets this highly hopped bock thing out of his system.

The spuds were pretty tasty but could certainly have been better. For one thing, we only had 1% milk on hand when it really needed a fattier variety as the sauce cried out for a little more body. Secondly, more horseradish was in order. It didn't need a country ton. Just a smidgeon would have worked. Still, they weren't bad.
|| Palmer, 9:48 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

05 February, 2010

Happy Birthday H.R. Giger



Happy Birthday to H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist who did the album cover for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery and designed the aliens for Alien among many other works.

I just want to add that, should anyone be looking for a public art project, I think this would look good pointing upwards towards the stick figure sitting on the edge of the roof on Main Street on the Square.

|| Palmer, 10:11 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Werner Herzog, David Lynch, et al Direct the Super Bowl

|| Palmer, 9:25 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

03 February, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali @ the Union Theatre


(Photo lovingly horked from The Badger Herald.)


Ayaan Hirsi Ali finally appeared onstage about an hour late as some 1,300 people had to pass through metal detectors before entering the Union Theatre last night. She had braved the snow and cold to speak about feminism and how certain stripes of Islam put women in chains. Numerous campus groups, some very much in opposition, filled out a long list of sponsors of the event. While various feminist groups got some loud cheers when their names were mentioned, the student Objectivist group seemed to have but a backer or two in the audience.

Ali was formally introduced by UW sociologist Chad Goldberg who placed her in the Enlightenment tradition of Liberalism or, what we here in the States refer to as Classical Liberalism. That is, she celebrates and advocates for the primacy of the individual in the same way that John Locke did. When Ali finally took to the stage, she was greeted very warmly by most but with a few shouts of “Allahu Akbar” as well. She explained that it means "God is great" and is often said by Muslims when they begin some kind of trial or ordeal. She added, “I’m not going to say God is great.”

She began her talk by giving a brief account of her life. Born in 1969, she was raised as a Muslim. In 1992, she fled to Holland seeking refuge from an arranged marriage. There she learned to speak Dutch and spent considerable time helping fellow Somali women who had emigrated there. After getting her degree, she worked for a think tank and wrote on issues of Muslim assimilation into Dutch society. Ali ultimately concluded that Islam and Western democratic ideals were incompatible. A 3-year term in the Dutch parliament followed as did a collaboration with filmmaker Theo van Gogh on the film Submission which portrayed how Islamic women submitted to the wills of others in their faith. For this, van Gogh was killed (shot and decapitated) and his corpse left with a note threatening Ali pinned to it with a knife.

From this point, she proceeded to inveigh against Islamic doctrine which condones the subjugation and maltreatment of women. Even in Western Europe, Ali noted, Muslim girls are pulled from school at a young age by their families and Muslim women suffer confinement and violence. Even here in the U.S., she claimed, Muslim women have violence perpetrated against them that is sanctioned by Islam. The first step in ending this was to recognize that fundamentalist Islam is the biggest offender and that concerned individuals must bring intelligence and reason to bear upon the problems encountered by women.

Ali asked for a show of hands as to how many people know about Sarah and Amina Yaser Said who were killed in Texas by their father who found that their dating habits offended his Islamic sensibilities. She counted only 6 or 7 amongst the 1,300 of us there. If these girls had been white with Christian parents, the story would have gotten more play, she argued. When Westerners sweep forced marriage, confinement, etc. under the carpet in the name of not demonizing a minority, we become indifferent to the plight of these women.

That, in a nutshell, was Hirsi Ali's case. Western societies need to stop being indifferent, to stop looking the other way. We must confront the issues head-on by creating an environment where Islam can be probed, confronted, and criticized. The basic tenets of Islam should be examined in the same way that we examine the tenets of anything else.

During the Q&A which followed Ali's speech, Asifa Quraishi, a Constitutional law professor here at the UW gave some examples of the rights of women here in the United States being abrogated and said that, if you thought her examples represent all of US law, then you are wrong just as Ali's examples don't represent all of Islamic law. She finished her remarks by saying, "I advise all of us to take a pause and think that maybe there is a little bit more to this story than we have heard tonight."

While I took her point, I couldn't help but wonder exactly what more to the story there could be which would justify the subjugation of women in Islam – the arranged marriages, the confinement, etc. For her part, Ali gave her own rejoinder: "Do you think you could have an honest debate on abortion or gay rights in Saudi Arabia and get away with it?" Furthermore, she noted, marital rape is legal in Iran and Saudi Arabia. We may never know what more there is to the story that Ms. Quraishi thinks could ameliorate that situation.

While thanks must go to the University for bringing Ms. Ali here to speak, shame on the students for having first rejected her for being too controversial.

When Ayaan Hirsi Ali's name was first mentioned as a possible speaker at UW-Madison this semester, she was rejected as too controversial.

Students first voted against bringing Hirsi Ali because they didn't want to be seen as supporting her agenda, said Reid Tice, chair of the Distinguished Lecture Series committee. But when a scheduled speaker, sportswriter Rick Reilly, fell through, the committee reconsidered Hirsi Ali.


Courting controversy is one of the functions of a university. You take the ideas and then subject them to some rigorous sifting and winnowing. Ali echoed this sentiment during the Q&A when she said that the West must emancipate itself from its fear of criticizing Islam and to protect the rights of those who think aloud, whether they be Muslims or not.

The president of the UW's Muslim Student Association, Rashid Dar, expressed concern that Ali's words would cause the audience to be suspicious of Muslims.

"Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a speaker who attributes certain rather negative qualities to the Islamic faith as a whole," Dar said, adding that he's worried "everyone would leave thinking Islam is a little bit suspicious, something that we need to worry about and, by extension, Muslims are something we need to worry about as well."

Instant Islamophobia. Just add Ayaan Hirsi Ali. How insulting, Mr. Dar. The crux of Ali's message was that many women suffer under Islam as it is practiced in various parts of the world, including right here in the States, and that we should not be afraid to talk about this. I didn't find her to be spreading Islamophobia. She was imploring discussion.
|| Palmer, 2:19 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

01 February, 2010

It's A Kielbasa Wrapped in a Pork Loin Inside An Enigma

On Saturday I decided to cook Polish food. I wanted to try something I'd not made previously and so chose rolada wieprzowa nadziewana kiełbasą which is a rolled pork loin stuffed with sausage. So it was off to Knoche's for a pork loin and Bavaria Sausage Kitchen for some fresh kielbasa.

Back home I busted out my meat tenderizer and started on the loin. By the time I was done, it was a bit thicker than it should have been but, as John Lennon once said, I got blisters on my fingers so I called it. Bavaria's fresh Polish sausage is not the greatest but it's still decent. I spread it on the pork loin, rolled the thing up, and tied it off. It got dredged in seasoned flour and then browned.

Before starting the cooking process proper, I threw salt & pepper on it as well as some highly tasty smoked paprika. For liquid I used a mix of beef and chicken stocks as well as some of Capital's Baltic Porter. Here she is a-cookin'.



And this is a cross-section of the cooked porky goodness.



I made the dish z wiśniami or "with cherries". In this case, it was a cherry sauce made with lots of wine. A little broccoli, lettuce salad, and a slice of hearty Polish rye bread from Chicago rounded out the meal.



While I'm on the subject of Polish food, Pączki Day will be here soon so I procured a bunch of pączki. I've never had this brand before and was happy to discover that they are quite good. The Dulcinea and Miles feel the same way so they are going pretty fast. Since someone inevitably asks me where they can get pączki around Madison, I'll say that I am told that Scott's Pastry Shoppe in Middleton makes a poor imitation of pączki. I've also heard a rumor that Lane's Bakery makes them for Shrovetide but this is just a rumor. And I believe Cub Foods bakeries make them, if memory serves, and they are not too bad.

|| Palmer, 1:27 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Death Awaits You All With Nasty, Tiny, Pointy Teeth

Our cat has taken a shine to a piece of rubber hose. The act of picking it up causes her pupils to dilate and she immediately goes into attack mode. It really brings out the beast in her.





All that strenuous playing requires a lie-down on the couch and a good bath afterward.

|| Palmer, 8:52 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post