Monday, January 31, 2005

Let the slacking begin.

I am so conflicted about whether to post this, because I do not like to boast, but I am throwing modesty to the wind. If you think I am a braggy gloaty person, so be it. It is your turn to deal.

Because this weekend I got my first ever national cut.

Which is to say, that I qualified for the US Masters Short Course National Championship meet in the 200 breaststroke in my age group. Sure sure sure, there are plenty of people out there who have qualified for many events--maybe they even swam in college. But reader, I am not one of them. I was a slouch during college, thank you so much. It was only later that I returned to my (rather mediocre) swimming roots, and now I am proud to say that after busting my ass for the better part of this year (by which I mean "season," beginning in August), I have made the cut. The time I needed was 2:55.64 and I blew that away but more than a second.

2:54.49. WHEW!

If you are not a swimmer, then you may not know that that was 2 minutes and 54.49 seconds of SHEER HELL. Yes, you can swim the breaststroke without taking your sunglasses off, as I have been known to do on many a summer day in Lake Hartwell. But RACING, my friends, is another matter entirely.

My coach says breaststroke is a power stroke, and he is not joking. After 2 minutes and 54.49 seconds, my quads were toast, my shoulders spent, and my lungs on fire.

Fire, I say, and it was not just because of all the phlegm that has taken up residence in the back of my throat since I came down with a stupid cold a couple of weeks ago. It was sheer oxygen overload. And that burning sensation lasted for, oh, two hours.

But that is OK, because when I looked up on the Big Board--squinting, of course, because of my sad sad vision--I did not see the locations of our nations weaponry, positioned to protect our precious bodily fluids, but INSTEAD saw those happy numbers, telling me that my season's goal was achieved, and I could commence slacking off immediately.

Do you know how good this slacking off feels? I had spent the last week and a half stressing out, because after all the work I had put in I had to come down with a stupid cold just a week and a half before the meet. So I decided that it was going to come down to my big big brain telling my lame lame body to SHAPE UP, get the phlegm out, get out there and WORK.

I did what my coach suggested and backed off on the event before this one, bringing in a time that was a good 7/10 of a second slower than my best. And I practiced some 50s at the pace I needed to swim. And I huddled up in my deck chair wearing all the fleece I had with me, including my cute little hat with the tassle, and STRESSED. But this was not the bad kind of stressing, but the positive get-psyched kind. The kind where you think about nothing but the fact that it has to be all legs for the first 125 yards, and then when they are kaput it must be arms arms arms. And also the kind where you remind your body that pain is just going to be part of its future--so be it. And that it should not say anything about being tired because nobody is listening. And it is the kind of stress where you remember why you are sitting here in this natatorium during an icestorm, and why you have been getting up all year at 5 am to go to swim practice.

And miracle of miracles, it worked.

My coach tells the kids we coach that "steak times get steak dinners." I worked that one to a T. It turns out that cocktail times get a cocktail, that baby-back-rib times get baby back ribs, and excellent glass of wine times get excellent glasses of wine.

Then last night, when I got home from the meet, I celebrated with one of these, which I had been saving:

(Picture courtesy of Molecular Expressions.) Behold the triple-fermentation 9% alcohol, the blend of special yeasts, the ale-rich pleasure created by my friends at Unibroue, perhaps more widely recognizable as this:

The folks at Unibroue note, "Cette bière est brassée en l'honneur des grands explorateurs qui croyaient être arrivés à la fin du monde lors de la découverte de l'Amérique."

If they knew me, maybe they would admit me into that noble company, if only for this weekend.

(And thanks to Whiskey Tango for helping me depict my celebration. He's right: a sip is worth a thousand pictures.)

Friday, January 28, 2005

Never remove your blinders.

I wonder: if I ran the "you write what you're told" graphic everyday, would it lose potency? I strongly suspect yes, and yet it seems to apply everyday.

So how about this one instead, courtesy of the Propaganda Remix Project:

The world learned yesterday, I learned this morning, that conservative columnist Michael McManus received $10K from HHS to write in support of a Bush-approved marriage initiative, which means I don't think it was the initiative that suggested that gay and lesiban couples might be happier if they could get married legally.

[UPDATE: ADDED INFO] From the article on also via truthout):
To date, the Bush administration has paid public relation firms $250 million to help push proposals, according to a report Thursday in USA Today. That's double what the Clinton administration spent on P.R. from 1997 to 2000. Shortly after Williams' contract came to light, the Democrats on the Committee on Government Reform wrote a letter to President Bush demanding that he 'immediately provide to us all past and ongoing efforts to engage in covert propaganda, whether through contracts with commentators, the distribution of video news releases, or other means.' As of Thursday, a staffer on the committee told Salon, there had been no response.

Horn says McManus, who could not be reached for comment, was paid approximately $10,000 for his work as a subcontractor to the Lewin Group, a health care consultancy hired by HHS to implement the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, which encourages communities to combat divorce through education and counseling. McManus provided training during two-day conferences in Chattanooga, Tenn., and also made presentations at HHS-sponsored conferences. His syndicated column has appeared in such papers as the Washington Times, the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer.

And a bit more:
In 1996, McManus co-founded Marriage Savers, a conservative advocacy group, which, among other things, urges clergy not to conduct a marriage ceremony unless the couple has had lengthy counseling first. 'The church should not be a 'wedding factory,' but a training ground for strong marriages to go the distance -- for life,' McManus wrote.

In his April 3, 2004, column, McManus wrote, 'The Healthy Marriage Initiative would provide funds to help those couples improve their skills of conflict resolution so they might actually marry -- and be equipped to build a healthy marriage. Those skills can be taught by mentor couples in churches for free. But for the non-religious, counselors would be paid.'

A year earlier, McManus assured readers that funds provided for the Healthy Marriage Initiative 'could be used to teach skills to improve communication and resolve conflict that would make the relationship happier and lead to a healthy marriage.' He based that assessment on comments made by HHS's Horn, who, indirectly, served as McManus' boss -- although that relationship was never revealed to readers.

The US Department of Health and Human Services's description of the Healthy Marriage Initiative is available here. Heritage Foundation's plugs for same may be found here and here. A critique published by Traci Hukill on Alternet is here.

As Michelle Malkin has noted, one of the surprising things here is that these writers do not remember receiving the money for their endorsements. Let me see: in the last couple of years, I have received money from, say, the University of South Florida to give a talk about Gertrude Stein, from my college to pursue my research about fascism, from the NEH--lord love them!--to go to Rome, etc. You think I don't remember and relish every penny? Maybe once you're receiving bribes in the tens of thousands, it all starts to blend together.

In the meantime, if you have a minute and have not already, read Eliot Weinberger's "What I Heard About Iraq" from the London Review of Books.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Could someone out there who understands economics help me with this question: Is marketing a necessary part of a free-market economy?

Why I do not own a Roomba.

You may already be wondering why I do not own a Roomba, which "cleans and sweeps automatically — even when you're out of the house!" According to its own press, it "works like a spiraling pool cleaner to automatically clean up dirt, dust, spilled cereal and pet hair from carpets, rugs, hardwood floors and kitchen tile."

After all, you can see from the photo that even tough confetti is no challenge for the Roomba!

Well, reader, let me tell you.

I had lunch with a friend yesterday, who I have not seen in too long. It was great to catch up with her, her work, her life. She has not just one Roomba, but two, a result of poorly coordinated Christmas-gift-buying, but she loves the Roomba so much that she kept both of them. Now, she says, they are like family.

But be very afraid of a story that begins, "So you know, our puppy is about 85% housetrained." She set up the Roomba to clean the dining room, then went back to work in her study, leaving it to its merry devices of bouncing off pieces of furniture and cleaning up pet hair. Her dog had also left a fragrant gift in the dining room. The Roomba, it turns out, was no match for the pile of poo, and before she knew it there was beautiful poo spirograph all over the dining room.

Apparently this happened while her husband was out (isn't that the truth? why don't the dead squirrels and chipmunks arrive on the porch when there is someone else to take them to the morgue?), so he returned to find her in the kitchen desperately trying to clean out the delicate mechanics of the Roomba. Fortunately she had not yet tried to clean up the dining room, so he too got to witness the beauty of it all. I am only sad not to have a photo.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Where will it stop?

Looking over the front section of the Sunday Times that he was reading, the PP asked me about a week ago whether it made sense that the government should be spending however much taxpayer money they were about to spend to convince taxpayers that the Bush plan to reform Social Security was a good idea.

The PP tends to ask questions he does not really expect me to answer.

It reminded me of a recent provocative post on iona arc, which argues compellingly that the point of tv news is advertisement. pk's argument is that the point of airing the news is to sell advertisements, and that without ads, news can't run. (There is much, much more to his argument, so read it yourself.)

And of course I had read that post around the time the Armstrong Williams story broke.

Now I see there is more where that came from, courtesy of Drudge:
In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families.

But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal, reveals Howard Kurtz in Wednesday runs of the WASHINGTON POST.

"The Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples" and "educate teens on the value of delaying childbearing until marriage," she wrote in National Review Online, for example, adding that this could "carry big payoffs down the road for taxpayers and children."

Gallagher explains to Kurtz: "Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it? I don't know. You tell me." She said she would have "been happy to tell anyone who called me" about the contract but that "frankly, it never occurred to me" to disclose it.

National Review Editor Rich Lowry said of the HHS contract: "We would have preferred that she told us, and we would have disclosed it in her bio."

I suppose we knew there would be more, and only the naive among us should be disappointed. Somehow I cannot come up with anything more insightful than Low Culture's response.

The new math?

For some hilarious mathematical analysis, see Jarrett of yesterday. In a later post, he claimed that it was not being snowbound that had made him lose his mind, but hey, at least living in Boston he was not thrown in jail for moving snow across the street.

Did you know that one inch of snow will shut down this entire town?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Dichten = condensare?

Fans of Ezra Pound who are living in the greater Atlanta area should check out this event, at Eyedrum:

Event propaganda notes "This event at eyedrum will feature a talk by ... a noted Pound scholar, performance of Pound's work, audio of Pound reading and some creative redeployment of Poundian materials by the APG."

I don't know the speaker personally, but I hear she can be entertaining.

Nutritious and delicious

Looking for a tasty alternative to oversugared and preservative-laden grocery-store yogurts? I was too. I tried the fresh approach--mixing plain yogurt with honey and fresh berries--which was truly tasty but a bit time-consuming, by the time I washed and cut the fruit, stirred it all together, wiped the honey off the side of the jar, etc.

But I am looking no longer! For the best fruit yogurt concoction you can imagine, add Fruit Perfect Cherries, available from the amazing outfit called American Spoon Foods, in Petoskey, Michigan. The website calls this stuff "The truest taste and texture of tart cherries ever captured in a jar," and that is no joke.

Pancakes optional.

I see they now have shops all over Michigan, so you had better believe I will make a visit in February, when I am not eating paczki.

And if you happen to be in the greater Petoskey area, why not stop by the American Spoon Gelato Cafe? While you're there, arrange to mail me a gift box.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Scooped again.

So what does William Grimes have that I don't have?

The ear of the New York Times, for one thing, perhaps because he was a restaurant critic there. As a result, they chose him to write the Week In Review wrap on the new dietary guidelines, and not me. "Four Days on the Uncle Sam Diet...," he called his piece, where he did pretty much the same thing that I did on this fine blog. So while neither of my readers left a comment about my posts, perhaps yawning them away and wondering, "Ubi sunt the political rants of yesteryear?" he gets a readership of millions.


Another thing William Grimes seems to have in spades is royalty payments, judging by the number of his books at amazon. I bet when he gets his royalty statements from his press, they don't still--three years out--show how many copies he still has to sell before he sees a check. And one is even published by Oxford UP! Oh my furious little friend, chides William Grimes, I am so sorry to hear that you have not heard back from a publisher yet. I am sure that your book about Ezra Pound will be very important.

It has only been two weeks, I snarl back at him, wringing my copy of the Week in Review. Back off.

Plus William Grimes has people paid to generate graphics for him, like the catchy little number printed above his article on page one of the section, and conveniently included at the top of the e-version. "YOUR CHOICE!" screams the catchy graphic. If only I had learned how to post my own digital photos before I ran my little series. I could have shown the muesli! Everyone wants to see the muesli!

And of course fancy Mr. Grimes ranked a graph: it show how the author's first two days' consumption compared with the new guidelines, including a revelation of how far over his recommended 2211 calories/day he went. Well, it turns out my browser won't display the graph, so take that, Mr. Grimes!

What else does this man have that I do not? Well let me quote from his article (emphasis mine):
And in many respects, I ought to be an ideal candidate to follow almost any diet. I am thin, my cholesterol level is low and my blood pressure seems to be not just acceptable, but fabulous. Doctors constantly comment on it. In other words, I would be starting off at a point that, for many of my overweight, cholesterol-burdened fellow citizens, remains a distant goal.

Why don't you just trumpet from the rooftops, Mr. Grimes? "Well, furious friend," he responds to me, taking a little sip of wine, "perhaps you ought to scale back your caloric intake." Sure, sure, Mr. Grimes.

But now I have no other choice but to reveal that William Grimes wrote quite a good piece about those guidelines. He says early on, "I gave it a try, curious to see how hard it would be to change my eating patterns to fit the program."

OK, William Grimes, in the name of science, I make this truce with you: I will add your findings to my own, and together we can venture forward on our quest to better understand what our government wants of us.

Besides, how can I not appreciate a man who writes (again, emphasis mine), "I was dismayed to find that a mere stick of butter contains a whopping 800 calories, or more than one-third of my daily allotment."

He began as I did, by figuring out his daily calorie allowance, 2211 calories with a discretionary allowance of 290 calories. That puts us in slightly different places, thanks to my exercise regimen. (Take that, William Grimes!)

Once I stop my snarling, I find that our findings are similar. For instance:
Plunging ahead, I revised my usual breakfast, based on several slices of butter-streusel coffee cake, and instead consumed two servings of orange juice, a half-cup of oatmeal with a teaspoon of brown sugar, and two cups of tea with milk. Plus one slice of brioche toast with jam.

Two hours later, I experienced hunger pangs . . .

Well, I could not sympathize more. I am starting to like you, Mr. William Grimes. You are welcome to join me for muesli any morning of the week.

Later, at the meal most crucial to us foodies:
By dinner time, stark choices loomed. My calories were running out, and vegetable account was in deep deficit. Catfish was the entree, and I lovingly eyed a recipe involving a pecan-butter sauce.

But pecans, I quickly discovered, are butter in the form of a nut. One cup contains 822 calories, 772 of them from fat.

It was then I realized: the only reason I had been able to stay sane on the new guidelines was all the swimming: if I had had to stick to a 2000-calories-a-day diet, I might well have lost my mind.

As he so nicely concludes:
The guidelines were beginning to feel like wartime rationing. I walked around with a nagging feeling of being just slightly deprived. After two days, it began to haunt me.

I also began to chafe at the relentless assault on pleasure that the guidelines seemed to represent. At every turn, American were being urged to consume foods in their least tasty forms. There they were, the dreaded chicken breast with the skin removed, the unadorned steamed fish and the unspeakable processed cheeses.

Mr. Grimes's concerns--that these guidelines force us to change our entire food culture and deprive food of the real pleasure that it offers--are right on the money. They are not the concerns of most people, so-called ordinary Americans, for whom the real challenge is how in the world do I eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables, especially when fast food is so much cheaper? That was the story in the Greenville News yesterday. I suppose that is a different kind of cultural shift.

My gift to you, Mr. Grimes, is the reminder that these are mere guidelines. I am enjoying all the fruit that is now in my diet, and the return to whole foods. Like the strawberry-banana yogurt I made this morning, starting with fresh fruit, plain yogurt and honey. And they did make me reach for a sandwich on wheat bread instead of white yesterday at the swimmeet. But there are compromises I will not make: I have already noted that I am not giving up liquor, but I also refuse to back away from the amazing foods out there, the beautiful Italian filled pastas served with a simple sage-butter sauce, or the delicious herb-infused skin that comes on the chickens I roast, or the delicate flavors of the beautiful coffee cake that the PP baked last weekend. I consider myself guided, but only as far as I will allow Uncle Sam to lead me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Furious "Likes..."

Dani Siciliano, and specifically her new album Likes.... You might know Dani Siciliano's voice from Matthew Herbert's recordings, but this album itself is remarkable.

When I put it on the player on Sunday night, I did something I have not done in years: sat there on the floor in front of the stereo mesmerized, turning up the volume, allowing myself to enter immediately the world of the first track, "Same."

(I should note that this was the second of two purchases made at Greenville's most amazing record store. Amazing--I have already started saving pennies for my next trip, which is bound to be expensive, given that I found these two in only 5 minutes.)

Furious also "Likes..." Matthew Herbert--immensely--ever since I came across him by accident twice in one week. The first time was his song "The Audience" which I found in downloadable form on a website, which referred to it as the song we all knew from last summer. I did not, of course, but then Upstate, SC is far far away from the London music scene. I listened to it over and over. Then a friend lent me an old issue of The Wire with a cover story.

I promptly went out and bought every Matthew Herbert album I could get my hands on--Bodily Functions, Goodbye Swingtime (with the Matthew Herbert Big Band), Around the House, Secondhand Sounds (a 2-disc set of remixes).

The PP and I disagree about the genre for Herbert's music--he says jazz, I say electronica, let's call the whole thing off--but it is worth reading along while you listen. The music is great, and I would love it even without the liner notes, but if you can make the venture into the notes--and it is a venture--you learn a lot.

I say it is a venture because for Bodily Functions, for instance, the notes are printed as a graphic of an open eye, with the teeny-tiny text winding around and around to form the lashes, lids, and iris. There you can read, for instance, that on track 14 ("The Audience"), "all percussion up to 4'12" taken from the random contents of Dani's bag on the day of composition." And that track 11 ("Addiction") was
recorded September 00 and re-recorded Jan 01, vocals Dani Siciliano, Piano, Rhodes and bass guitar Matthew Herbert, all percussion sounds taken from bottles recycled behind London Road SE23. The scratchy sound at the beginning is of a mouse trying to get out of a waste bin it had fallen into at the studio. Written according to the rules of PCCOM.

Same thing with Goodbye Swingime. The case for that CD looks like a hardback book with black pages that fan out from the middle to make a little scene of people, trees, and a cityscape. On the backs of those pages are the notes. For instance, for track 4, "The Three W's," it notes that some of the sounds come from "typing of the URL for, the School of the Americas Watch website detailing American involvement in Latin American military dictatorships, and from printing of pages from the same website." Or track 8, "The Many and the Few," which includes "The International Sounds of Gravity: local phonebooks being dropped on floors by people around the world." And of course the album personnel, like any good big band, include musicians playing trumpets, saxophones, clarinets, trombones, bass, drums, and piano.

But by now you might be wondering what the rules of PCCOM are. Matthew Herbert is a musician fascinated by the capabilities of synthesizers and electronic keyboards, but he was bothered by how slavish many were to the pre-recorded sounds therein. So he wrote his own Personal Contract for the Composition of Music (incorporating the Manifesto of Mistakes), which begins:
1. The use of sounds that exist already is not allowed. Subject to article 2. In particular:
* No drum machines.
* All keyboard sounds must be edited in some way: no factory presets or pre-programmed patches are allowed.

2. Only sounds that are generated at the start of the compositional process or taken from the artist's own previously unused archive are available for sampling. The use of, ordering and manipulation of noise-sound is to be held as the highest priority in composition.

3. The sampling of other people's music is strictly forbidden.

You can read the other nine on the website.

I think this stuff makes Matthew Herbert's music more interesting than a lot of electronica, but it is the music that finally grabs your attention. If you're intrigued, start by listening, maybe to Bodily Functions, which first captivated me. (Or there is a whole discography here.) But give a good listen to Likes..., too, because then you can hear something of how these two musicians interact, but also how they are distinct.

Monday, January 17, 2005

24-Hour Tango People

Are you a fan of GoTan Project? If not, you should be.

In 2001 they released La Revancha del Tango, which blends tango rhythms and instrumentation with modern electronica and some surprising touches--like songs written by Gato Barbieri and Frank Zappa. The sound is absolutely irresistable: I have it in workday rotation and play it almost every day.

On Friday night at a local record store (which was absolutely amazing--I thought I must be somewhere other than Greenville, SC), I picked up a newish release of theirs called Inspiración / Espiración (2004), which the sleeve describes as "A GoTan Project DJ set selected and mixed by Philippe Cohen Solal," one of the musicians behind GoTan Project.

As he describes the project, "We set ourselves the challenge of bringing together past influences and present aspirations for just one hour--the Ancients and the Moderns." He continues,

Here is a collision of artists who themselves may be unaware of their connection to each other: Calexico, Domingo Cura, Peter Kruder, Anibal Troilo, Anti Pop Consortium, GoTan Project, Pepe Bradock, Al Shid, and the voices of those Argentinian women, legendary figures, stars or unknowns, with names like Evita, Cecilia and Rita.

The play here is brilliant; check out track 3, GoTan Project meets Chet Baker to reimagine "Round About Midnight." Interesting remixes of GoTan's own material by Peter Kruder, Pepe Bradock, Calexico, Antipop Consortium.

And if you do not know the master Astor Piazzolla, you could do worse than surrounding yourself with him. Born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921, he is not a producer of what would be called traditional tango, but someone who combined influences from jazz, Italian opera, and contemporary classicism to form nuevo tango, or New Tango. I am presently thinking back to his recording with Kronos Quartet from 1991, Five Tango Sensations, a piece he wrote in 1989. That was my first acquisition of Piazzolla, and I was immediately hooked. Each of the five pieces interprets a particular sensation--Asleep, Loving, Anxiety, Despertar, Fear--through the form of the tango.

More discography here.

Everyone is convinced. In addition to the GoTan stuff, there is Bajofondo Tango Club, which I have not heard, but which seems to be making similar moves.

And I can recommend the disk called Astor Piazzolla Remixed (2003), which reinterprets some of Piazzolla's recordings through the ears and mixboards of producers and musicians from around the world, including Koop, Nuspirit Helsinki, and Toshio Matsuura.

I'd say if musicians from Finland can find a touch of winter-resistant heat here, so could you.

Not USDA-Approved

As you know, I am trying to eat more vegetables, to reach in any given day the USDA's target number of servings for my calorie consumption, about 4 cups.

I thought that would make for a good reason to break out a recipe I tried for New Year's Eve, from the New York Times (29 December):


1 head cauliflower
2/3 cup sifted cornstarch
2/3 cup flour
2 eggs
3 to 4 cups canola or grapeseed oil [I used extra virgin olive oil]
Prepared romesco or aioli sauce, for dipping, optional [I skip it]

1. Remove core from cauliflower and separate into bite-size florets.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in florets, cook 1 minute, drain in a colander, and place under cold water to cool. Transfer to a towel to dry.
3. Sift cornstarch and flour to a large bowl. Whisk eggs with 2/3 cup water. Whisk into flour mixture. Season batter with salt [I added fresh-ground pepper] to taste. Place florets in batter and fold with a large spoon to coat evenly.
4. Heat oil in a wok or deep saucepan to 350 degrees. Drop in about one-third of the batter coated florets. Fry about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to paper towel. Repeat with remaining florets.
5. To serve, heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment, and arrange cauliflower on it. Place in oven, and heat about 8 minutes; dust with salt and serve. Serve dipping sauce alongside, if desired.

I know they say not to fry in extra virgin olive oil, but the thing is that I have made Carciofi alla Giudaica [that's Jewish-style artichokes, for you non-Romans] and you fry those in olive oil to great effect. In fact, all you need is the vegetables, the olive oil, and a little salt and pepper and you end up with a food that is better than most on earth. So I have fried in olive oil, and it might be that you are frying at a lower temperature (I have never tested the temperature), but it works out.

On this occasion, I substituted brocoflower for the cauliflower, just for added color. There was a little more batter than we needed, so I did up some Baby Bella mushrooms too, and tried a few martini olives. Patient Partner is very fond of those, but they probably aren't what the USDA meant by vegetables. But then, breaded and deep-fried probably wasn't in the game plan either. But then again, I am not a fan of eggs, so this was a chance to eat a little of that without noticing, and hey, Olive Oil!

Verdict: the USDA would not approve of the fat content, but for those of you interested in the good cholesterol, you can't beat olive oil. A little protein from the egg, but fat, too, of course. Lots of veggies: the head of brocoflower was 8 cups total. You do need salt on them, but with some pepper you can cut back a bit.

PP pointed out that if McDonalds made these, people would choke down their vegetables.

Friday, January 14, 2005


The bookshelf game, as received by JarrettHouseNorth from Tony Pierce, and then modified by me.

Instructions: "Copy the list from the last person in the chain, delete the names of the authors you don't have on your home library shelves and replace them with names of authors you do have. Bold the replacements."

Salman Rushdie
Umberto Eco
Jean Rhys
J.R.R. Tolkien
Mark Twain
James Joyce
Anne Sexton
Richard Ford
William Shakespeare
Lorrie Moore

I apologize for the meme-o-rama. You see, I just put book proposals in the mail today, completed an interview for the radio, and dammit, I deserve to screw around!

p.s. Props to anyone who can explain the etymology of "meme" to me.

Blogging the Dietary Guidelines, day 2

Welcome to the Furious Science Fair!

PROBLEM: is it possible to have a breakfast that is as fulfilling as yesterday's without all the calories from fat and with a little less sodium and perhaps some, oh, nutrition?

HYPOTHESIS: Muesli is a good breakfast food.

PROCEDURE: Today's breakfast began with
18 oz. coffee
8 oz. orange juice
1 cup Muesli cereal, including fruit, nuts, seeds, and FIBER
1/2 c. skim milk

I also had to add: 8 oz. orange juice.

1. This breakfast amounted to 700 calories, including a good bit of Vitamin C, fiber, potassium, vitamin E, and calcium. If you want to know exact amounts, do the math yourself.

2. Do not be fooled: 1 cup of muesli might take up the same amount of space in your bowl as normal cereal, but there are no air pockets in that bowl. 1 cup of muesli is a lot of cereal. A lot.

3. 8 oz of orange juice is not enough to wash down 1 cup of muesli.

4. I was not hungry again until 10:30 a.m., compared with 11:30 a.m. with the sausage and bacon biscuits.

Muesli provides a pretty substantial and nutritious breakfast, if you can eat it all.

A side point: you feel virtuous eating muesli, but is that any substitute for sausage? Which is to say, where are you going to position nutrition against happiness in your world view? My jury is still out.

Tie me to a tree--handcuff me.

From the feministe: Fire up your IPOD, MP3 or other digital media player, set to random play, list the first ten songs.

1. Zachary Richard--Colinda
2. Renato Carosone--Amor di pastorello
3. Shonen Knife--Flying Jelly Attack
4. Victoria Williams--Water to Drink
5. The Knack--My Sharona
6. Rolling Stones--Shattered
7. Jimmy Dean--The Cajun Queen
8. Renato Carosone--Maruzzella
9. Bonnie Pointer--Free Me From My Freedom
10. DJ Spec--David Bowie v. Eminem v. Destiny's Child (Letsdancewithoutmefashionwomen)

What's on yours?

Blogging the Dietary Guidelines, part 1

Reading about the new Dietary Guidelines yesterday made me wonder: how easy is it to eat according to these guidelines? Could I do it?

My experiment for the next, oh, until I get tired of it, is to see if I can. I will try to integrate, as much as possible, the recommendations of the USDA into my lifestyle. Not the wine part, mind you. We must all have our standards.

When the Patient Partner learned this last night, saw my printouts from the USDA site as well as my little lab notebook, he said, "You are a fruitcake. Fruit. Cake."

I am still having trouble figuring out how many calories I should consume in a day. My swim coach estimated 3500, but that seems high, especially since teh USDA says that 33-year-old people who are "Active" (i.e. vigorous exercise every day) should consume 2800. I am not sure my coach and the USDA agree about what counts as vigorous exercise.

I know that no scientific data is meaningful without a baseline, so yesterday I recorded what I consumed. I acknowledge, I did make one slight modification to what I might normally have eaten, and probably there should be more than 1 day's data to establish a baseline, but this is pseudoscience, after all.

BREAKFAST (1059 calories)
1 Hardee's bacon biscuit
1 Hardee's sausage biscuit
8 oz. orange juice
18 oz. coffee
LUNCH (488 calories)
1 ham 'n' cheese Hot Pocket
2 cups strawberries w/ 1 t. sugar
1 Belgian chocolate (props to bkmarcus and brumaire)
DINNER (1221 calories)
2 oz. Lillet (served ice cold)
6 oz. roasted breast-meat chicken
1 cup mashed potatoes, made with sour cream & green onions (mmm)
1 cup roasted veg medley (carrots, parsnips, leeks)
1 T olive oil
375 ml wine white wine
1/3 c. B&J Karamel Sutra ice cream (with caramel core!)

CAVEAT: Some food amounts are estimates and some are carefully measured, and I am not revealing which is which.

1. I might not have eaten 2 cups of strawberries if I weren't thinking about the USDA stuff--and man were they good.

2. How about that breakfast!! It came to 1059 calories, if the Hardees people are honest on their website. But cut me some slack, reader. I swam hard for 1:15 this morning and last night for 2:15!!! So bite me, USDA. If I want to have 590 of my 1059-calorie breakfast come from fat, so be it.

3. Counting the calories in home-prepared food is made easier by this calorie counter.

4. In terms of total consumption, I ate closer to the USDA's recommendation for me than to my coach's. I will need to see how that goes.

5. I hit my target for fruit because of my super-strawberry lunch. On a normal day, I would not have come even close.

6. Vegetables are another matter. Where were the green leafy things?

7. It is almost impossible to eat processed food and observe the USDA's recommendations about sodium and fat. The new guidelines recommend consuming less than 2300 mg of salt (about 1 teaspoon) of salt per day. My Hot Pocket had 770 mg, my sausage biscuit had 1243 mg, and the bacon biscuit had 1110 mg. That is 3123 mg, before you try to estimate how much salt I used in preparing the chicken and roasted veggies (not a ton, but still).

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I'm a mess.

The USDA released its new dietary guidelines for 2005, and I am hosed. I try to eat well, I try to stay fit, and yet....

You can hit the high points here, but you have probably already heard the summaries on the news. It is worth having a look at the detailed report, unless like me, you start feeling inadequate when you realize what a mess you are.

Chapter 4 recommends 60-90 minutes of exercise every day to lose weight or sustain weight loss. Presently I swim 5 days a week, usually for 1:15 - 2:00, depending on the day. But that wipes me out, and i have to rest up on the other days! That means that over the course of the week I have about 7:30 of exercise, which barely meets the recommended minimum. No wonder I have a problem with these hips.

Chapter 4 also notes: "It is important during leisure time to limit sedentary behaviors, such as television watching and video viewing, and replace them with activities requiring more movement." Does typing count as more movement?

Chapter 9 will tell you that if you drink alcohol, you should drink in moderation, which means up to one drink per day for women. Please. Sure, there are days I don't drink, and there are days I have only one beer or a single glass of wine. Still, I bet my glass of wine is more than their meagre 5-ounce serving! And how many days do I do my share to polish off a bottle of wine with The Patient Partner? As their pullquote stoically suggests, "Alcoholic beverages supply calories but few essential nutrients." I suppose that means that Guinness is not as much of a power drink as I thought. The only good news I can find here is at the very end of the section about alcohol: "In middle-aged and older adults, a daily intake of one to two alcoholic beverages per day is associated with lowest all-cause mortality." Come on, middle age! Or wait--am I already there???

I do appreciate this point from the Executive Summary:
A basic premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutrient needs should be met primarily through consuming foods. Foods provide an array of nutrients and other compounds that may have beneficial effects on health. In certain cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful sources of one or more nutrients that otherwise might be consumed in less than recommended amounts. However, dietary supplements, while recommended in some cases, cannot replace a healthful diet.

Should be a no-brainer, and yet.

I am also happy to see explicit mention of trans-fats, about which I have been concerned.

Have a look at the charts showing what foods provide what nutrients. Who knew that clams were such an excellent source of iron?

For those of us who aspire to improve, the USDA has kindly prepared a chart showing how much of each food group to eat depending on the calorie needs of your diet. I have a lot of work to do to achieve what they suggest (hello, green leafy vegetables), but I'll see what I can do.

Nota bene, USDA. I am not giving up the wine. Period.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

For the Glory of the Paczki

One thing I have really missed, no longer living in Michigan, is Paczki Day. Some of you may know this day, the day before Ash Wednesday, as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. For Polish Catholics (and Ukrainian pastry fans like myself), it is traditional to celebrate this day with polka dancing and eating paczki, which, for reasons having to do with the pronunciation of the Polish language, is pronounced PUNCH-key.

Behold the paczki:

What a glorious tradition--an entire day dedicated to eating jelly-doughnut-like delicious things.

This is the last thing you see before you die and ascend directly into heaven.

In South Carolina, you do not find the paczki. Yes, I could make them myself, which I planned to do last year, but I did not quite get it together. It was so much easier in Michigan, where I could walk to a bakery, or drive to a store, and purchase perfect, fresh, delicious paczki.

Apparently in 1998, over $10M worth of paczki were sold in Michigan alone. That number may be down significantly in recent years, now that I have moved away.

There were enough Polish Catholics where I went to graduate school that the local grocery stores even carried the paczki, and I knew that the winter had a hope of ending, that I would make it through another semester, that I could endure grading another set of first-year compositions, when I saw the sign, PACZKI DAY IS COMING!

No matter how much you love paczki, this is too much:

According to the website, these adorable paczki bobbleheads are "A SMALL PIECE OF POLISH HERITAGE EVOKING MEMORIES OF ETHNIC PRIDE AND GRANDMOTHER!"

Interesting linguistic fact: the singular form of paczki is paczek, pronounced POHN-check. (props to the real janelle). Of course, most non-Polish-speakers tend to use paczki as the singular and paczkis as the plural. I love what happens when people use foreign words that they do not fully understand. Kind of liking asking for some au jus to go with your steak.

Well now, gentle but perhaps jealous reader, it turns out that this year at long last I will be back in the great state of Michigan for this very day. No really--it happened by chance--I did not set up my entire itinerary around Eastern European jelly doughnuts! Honest.

But I am not complaining.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Parking in Switzerland just got more interesting, per AFP:
GENEVA (AFP) - Owners of two half-size small cars should pay only one parking fee if both of them fit into a parking space, a Swiss court ruled.

However, as it delivered a landmark victory for owners of 2.50 metre (7.5 foot) long "Smart" cars, the cantonal court in Zurich warned that both of the cars could be fined if they exceeded the allotted parking time.

The ruling followed a legal challenge brought by a Swiss couple after they slotted both of their tiny runabouts into a roadside parking space in the northern Swiss city and paid for only a single ticket.

When they returned, they found a standard 40 Swiss franc (26 euros, 34 dollars) fine had been slapped on one of the vehicles although they had not exceeded their parking time.

Rejecting a final appeal by Zurich's municipal police force after an 18 month battle through the courts, the court ruled that space sharing was legitimate.

I knew it wasn't just aesthetics (or even the gas mileage) that attracted me to those things!

My dad sent me a clipping from his local paper of a WaPo article saying that the Smart car could come to the US by 2006. I am already counting down--and hoping that Daimler Chrysler does not blow this one. Apparently they have determined that the big-car-loving American market would only be interested in the SUV model. And apparently debates are afoot--market the Smart fortwos or the Smart formores? Not to mention the roadster--and I am not even really a sportscar person.

Perhaps I will have to resort to importing one through Zap--but am I a person who imports my own car?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Ill-advised haircut

Please note, per the BBC, that long hair is not in keeping with the Socialist lifestyle:

North Korea has launched an intensive media assault on its latest arch enemy - the wrong haircut.

A campaign exhorting men to get a proper short-back-and-sides has been aired by state-run Pyongyang television.

The series is entitled Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle.

Men's hairstyles, it turns out, reflect their ideological spirit. Or maybe you knew that.

We are all familiar with the phenomenon of the ill-advised haircut. Perhaps a friend has sported one or, and you need not admit it, you yourself have. I can recall a phase in high school characterized by mousse, hair spray, and too much teasing (of the hair that is).

But now when you are doubting your own ability to discern one from the other, you need look no further than Pyongyang television's Common Sense programme:

Stressing hygiene and health, it showed various state-approved short hairstyles including the "flat-top crew cut," "middle hairstyle," "low hairstyle," and "high hairstyle" - variations from one to five centimetres in length.

The programme allowed men aged over 50 seven centimetres of upper hair to cover balding.

It stressed the "negative effects" of long hair on "human intelligence development", noting that long hair "consumes a great deal of nutrition" and could thus rob the brain of energy.

Men should get a haircut every 15 days, it recommended.

Common sense indeed. I would doubt, however, whether the combover is in keeping with the Socialist lifestyle.

And who knew that the North Korean state radio had generated this list of Glamour Don'ts?
State radio programmes such as "Dressing in accordance with our people's emotion and taste" link clothes and appearance with the wearer's "ideological and mental state".

Tidy attire "is important in repelling the enemies' manoeuvres to infiltrate corrupt capitalist ideas and lifestyle and establishing the socialist lifestyle of the military-first era," the radio says.

Newspapers too highlight the civic advantages of short hair and smart shoes.

Hair is a "very important issue that shows the people's cultural standards and mental and moral state", argues Minju Choson, a government daily.

"No matter how good the clothes, if one does not wear tidy shoes, one's personality will be downgraded."

For party papers such as Nodong Sinmun, the struggle against foreign and anti-communist influence is being fought out in the arena of personal appearance.

"People who wear other's style of dress and live in other's style will become fools and that nation will come to ruin," it says.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

What we talk about when we talk about politics

I am thinking this morning about language, and our tendency not to communicate. It is a crucial thing for anyone with strong beliefs or deeply held principles or even just an inkling that things just aren't right to reckon with.

I suppose this has been the appeal for the left of George Lakoff's writings, which speak to the metaphorical structures used be people with different political leanings, and which tend to inhibit cross-camp conversation. His Moral Politics is worth reading. Let me modify: large swathes of it merit skimming, and the man could use a decent editor, but the argument in there (which is basically a more specific rehash or development of his and Mark Johnson's Metaphors We Live By) is important to comprehend and consider.

But now these issues of how we talk about ideas and what we mean by big complicated words like "anarchy," "democracy," "free markets" and such has become a hot topic in libertarian discussions. Libertarian Critter (via lowercase liberty) has taken on this issue directly, acknowledging points of intersection between the left and libertarians, and also recognizing the obstacles that might inhibit more discussion. And bkmarcus continues to strive for transparency by making his terminology clear.

And especially look at CatFarmer's read of Arundhati Roy's <em>War Talk, where she notes, "The language barrier was transcended between a passionate advocate of democracy and an ardent anarchist. Our dreams may be similar, but our language is not." She includes a good translation of her language and Roy's:

What I think of as "free market anarchism," she apparently terms "democracy." To me, "democracy" has come to signify a fraudulent idea that 'we the people' rule, while in fact we're more intellectually and spiritually enslaved than people who chafe against their degraded status and recognize their bondage. Ms. Roy gracefully leaps this perceptual hurdle by stating "This kind of democracy is the problem, not the solution." Her idea of democracy appears to be compatible with my concept of anarchy, perhaps equivalent to it. "Democracy" does not exist as an ideal in my mind, as it does in hers; the term itself carries poison in its tail, like a scorpion ready to deliver a fatal sting.

Thus it is for "anarchy" with many people -- the term itself is poisonous, and dangerous. It bears no resemblance to my own definition, and reality forces me to confront that fact on a daily basis. Arundhati Roy will hold on to her dream of 'democracy' as tenaciously as I'll hold on to my dream of 'anarchy.' Do we mean the same thing? If it's a question of semantics, how is it possible to convey that to someone who idealizes 'democracy,' when I despise all that the term represents to me? Somehow I must try to grasp (or grok, for Robert Heinlein fans) her underlying meaning, weighing it against my own, and choose language with care to antidote the deadly sting of disastrous associations.

If my concept of "anarchy" roughly translates to "democracy" in someone else's mind, and their "democracy" translates to "tyranny" in mine, relying on those terms fails to communicate useful meaning, and consulting dictionaries doesn't resolve issues of differing perception or subjective interpretation. Meaning suffers for an undue reliance on definitions, and insistence on a particular definitive interpretation may make differences appear more intractable or irreconcilable than they are. Words are important, but their underlying meanings or assumptions are essential, and I must learn to exercise objectivity in regard to subjective meaning.

You should read the whole post, but let me also say that there is a lot to appreciate here. CatFarmer makes the effort to translate one lexicon into another, making the similarities that she sees comprehensible to people from both languages. She acknowledges the problems that come from these different uses of language (problems that happen all over the place, not just in political discussions). And she allows that both lexicons have their power and their place.

Too often people writing about such topics insist on the primacy of their own lexicon, thereby potentially alienating those who use an alternative. Granted: I am not an advocate of prescriptive linguistics or grammar, but rather interested in seeing how language works in various contexts.

(That does not mean that I don't indulge occasional moments of curmudgeonry, such as this morning's rant to my patient partner about the use of the word "literature" in marketing contexts. As usual, he was more capable than I of working through my disgust, and when I granted that "literature" probably just meant something that could be read, added "by literate people--which rules out the marketing usage.")

I think it is important for people trying to piece through ideas to allow for the range of uses that a word has taken on in this day and age. Yes, the right probably has distorted "free-market economy" for their own purposes, making it a term of derision for the left, and this is a travesty if you are a person invested in the promise of the free market. Language = power, and if you can control the terms, you win the day. So the trick is to keep working to translate, keep looking at your target audience (probably NOT the choir), keep trying to understand why they believe what they believe, and keep trying to educate--your audience and yourself.

I love South Carolina.

From today's Greenville News:

He thinks government is too big and taxes are too high.

He thinks "sodomites" shouldn't be teachers and creationism should be taught in public schools.

He is Ron Wilson of Powdersville, your newest member of the South Carolina Board of Education. He takes his seat Wednesday on the board that approves textbooks and curriculum standards and adopts policies that govern the state's public schools.

Well, at least Jim DeMint will be relieved to have his children safe.

Am I crazy?

Is it too soon to think that this might be a big year for UNC men's hoops?

I mean, they are playing well, in big games and in teams against teams they should beat (games that historically have done in the 'Heels, who tend not to show up), and they look impressive on the court. And 109 against Maryland??? How am I supposed to not get excited? But I have been hopeful like this before, and had the hopes dashed, so I am trying to be all cas' about this. But 109 against Maryland!

Incidentally, the highlight of my Saturday was watching James Mays play sans a shoe against Wake for about 90 seconds, hit a 2-pointer in the meantime, and then jump in to pull a teammate back from getting into a brawl over an intentional foul. And he's only a freshman! Too bad the whole incident did not make SportsCenter this morning, which I thought it might since Wake is ranked #4. (They seemed to be giving a lot of time to football for some reason....) I know that Clemson was hardly impressive against Wake yesterday, but this guy has potential--if Clemson can keep him for the full four years.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Ever wondered?

Have you ever wondered what moves those cuddly little creatures you love so much? OK, maybe not cuddly, but CUTE at least.

Go no further than Michael Paulus's Skeletal Systems, a study of the intricate bone structure of Hello Kitty, the Powerpuff Girls, Tweetybird, Lucy, and much much more.

Look for yourself; I am not sure why Pikachu's skull is so lumpy, but then I am no phrenologist.

(via The Black Table)

Requesting your kind assistance

Dear Sir or Madam,

How are you doing today?

I hope fine. if so glory be to God. my names is Onome obi 25yrs and I am the daughter to the late former minister of agriculture in Nigeria. my dad died since last years in a ghastly plane crash on his way back from Kenya, and since then life has not been easy for me and my family anyway i thank God that i am alive today.

I am writing to you to ask for your help. I have been listening recently a lot to the song 24 Hour Party People by the Happy Mondays and I am liking it quite a great deal. You see, it has been many long years since I have been listening to the Happy Mondays and it is as though a tiny piece of my past has washed up on my shore.

But I am confused by the lyrics to this song, and although I have looked them up on the web, I feel no more in the realm of understanding than I was when I could not decipher some of them on listening.

So could you please tell me if you have any earthly idea what this means?
With the twenty four hour party people plastic face 'carn't' smile a white out
Cos' I have to wait for you to conduct.
Press the pause of the self destruct.
With the twenty four hour party people plastic face 'carn't' smile the white out
With the twenty four hour party people ...

Now better you're the white out ...

I am thinking that it is some of the British slang I have heard so much about, but if you, kind reader, have any idea, I would be most grateful for a comment from you.

Oh yeah, and I promise not to steal your identity.

Warning: Academic hoo-hah herein.

Here is my contribution to OPB for today.

If you do not already read Dappled Things, you should.

I recently sent this comment to Don Jim, in response to his post Latin Is a Dangerous Thing, which draws on points made on Laudator Temporis Acti:
I want to disagree with the passages quoted in of your recent posts, “Latin is a dangerous thing.”

While the points in there about the inaccuracies of Pound’s translation of Propertius are on the money (the same can be said of his Chinese translations and his translations from Anglo-Saxon), I think they miss the point. Pound’s goal was not to prepare a literal translation, or a translation of the kind that might appear in, say, a facing-page English-Latin edition of Propertius. Instead, in making his new poem, he treated “translation” as something like the part in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when one of the characters, whose friend Bottom has had his head transformed into an ass’s head by fairies (yes, I know), “Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou art translated!” In other words, transformed, changed, or literally, carried across from one thing to another. The same thing happens in many good, literary translations of poems: the translating author might change the poem in the act of translating. Indeed, how could one do otherwise? Since poetry is an art form made of language, the very act of translating destroys the original work, but if the translator is good, he or she might make another work that good.

Furthermore, Pound’s theories of poetry recognized several layers to a given work, and being Pound, he named these layers with Greek names. The first, melopoeia, refers to the way that “the words are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning.” I think this is what Mr. Hale is seeing at work: Pound sometimes chose a word that sounded like the Latin, not because he did not know that it was a stretched translation, but because it retained something of the music of the original. This happens a lot in the Anglo-Saxon translations, too. He wrote about melopoeia in the context of translation: “The melopoeia can be appreciated by a foreigner with a sensitive ear, even though he be ignorant of the language in which the poem is written. It is practically impossible to transfer or translate it from one language to another, save perhaps by divine accident, and for half a line at a time.” These passages I have quoted come from his essay “How to Read,” which is in his Literary Essays.

I think this might be what Michael Gilleland means by “not translating in the traditional sense.” Fair enough. But it is important to balance out the more pedantic responses like Mr. Hale’s with some sense of the poetry involved in the new, English work.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Mea culpa, sort of

Back in October, I ranted about the press that was given to Alan Hollinghurst's novel, The Line of Beauty. I was upset that it was ghettoized as a "gay novel" in all the discussions of its winning a Booker Prize. I acknowledged that I had not read the book but hypothesized that there was much more to the book than the issue of homosexuality.

I was right, in that it is a book with brilliant insights into class in British society, and the workings of the Tory party, and the phenomenon of the Thatcher administration, and it even offers some smart takes on Richard Strauss. It is deftly written and compelling, and full of ironic moments concerning its protagonist's ability (or lack thereof) to read others' reactions to him and their motivations.

But it just may be a gay novel, in that the issue of what it means to be gay, and specifically what it means to be gay in a particular moment in history, place in the world, and class position. The main character, Nick, wrestles to make sense of his identity throughout the novel, and he struggles to understand the implications of being gay, especially given his class aspirations. He is a self-acknowledged "aesthete," with an ability to recognize both physical and linguistic beauty. He is crazy for Henry James, and indeed the novel has some of what is best in James's novels, which is the ability to present characters so that the reader can see their most despicable qualities and yet be absolutely taken in by them. Hollinghurst is able, as James was, to present the nuances of social class and its fallout such that even a bumbling yank like yours truly can understand it--yet nothing ever beats the reader over the head. Even the sex scenes, which are rich in detail, are never overdone, even if you're not used to reading about sex between men.

In other words, I can see why reviewers might have called this book a gay novel, and while I stand by my assertions that there is so very much more to it than that, I acknowledge that I was too quick to condemn them.