jeudi, mars 30, 2006

pseudomonas putida, benjamin

Who knew that a story on bacteria could leave me all warm and fuzzy?

My thoughts:
  • How long until they can scale this to be practical? And economical?
  • How environmentally harmful is it to manufacture styrofoam? Should we still be looking for an alternative to it?
  • I hope the study's publication date is an unfortunate coincidence.
Bacteria Make Styrofoam Earth-Friendly
March 27, 2006— Bacteria that converts Styrofoam into Earth-friendly plastic could lead to a new kind of biodegradable plastic that breaks down into the soil.

The method could help reduce the 2.3 million tons of petroleum-based plastic waste that makes its way into U.S. landfills each year, said research leader Kevin O'Connor, who heads the bioplastic research group at University College Dublin in Ireland.

O'Connor and his team's research results will appear in the April 1 issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

Scientists have used microorganisms to break down the kinds of chemical products found in Styrofoam, but no one has been able to create a useful plastic byproduct, commented Mannfred Zinn, a research group leader at EMPA, the materials science and technology lab that is part of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

To convert the plastics, O'Connor's team used a strain of soil bacterium known as Pseudomonas putida.

In nature, this microorganism lives in the ground, where it feeds on the carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen found in organic matter such as dead plants.

Styrofoam — a material made from polystyrene — contains hydrogen and carbon, but not in a form that the bacteria can readily digest.

To make the plastic edible, the scientists had to heat it under a special process called pyrolysis, which melted the polystyrene at very high temperatures in an oxygen-free environment to break the chemical bonds.

No oxygen means no burning and so no emissions. During the process, the polystyrene became liquid styrene, a carbon-based compound that the bacteria can eat.

In the lab, the scientists created a growing environment for the bacteria, feeding them all of their favorite foods, including nitrogen and oxygen.

A steady flow of styrene oil supplied to the bacteria in a fermentor allowed the bacteria to proliferate.

After the colony grew to a healthy size, the scientists stopped feeding the bacteria nitrogen. That stimulated the bacteria to begin storing the carbon for use later.

It turns out that when the bacteria store the carbon, they actually convert it into a plastic known as polyhydroxyalkanoate, or PHA.

PHA is made up of fatty acids that are easily attacked by the enzymes produced by bacteria.

"PHA is a 100 percent biodegradable plastic that can be thrown on your compost heap. Bacteria in the compost heap use the plastic as food to grow, so there is no damage to the environment. You can't get greener than that for a plastic," said O'Connor.

It can also be harvested from the bacteria to make biodegradable plastic goods such as shampoo bottles, credit cards, and medical implants and devices — all of which will fully degrade in the trash, said O'Connor.

"This is a great opportunity to make something better from a recycled material," said Zinn.

O'Connor and team know that worldwide, more than 14 million metric tons of polystyrene are produced annually, but are unsure how much investment it would take to build a plant capable of converting the material into PHA.

But he said the process works on any petrochemical plastic waste and that fact could open up new areas of exploration for the petrochemical industry.

ban this, mta!

Subway Tweed, by tangentialism.

Check out tangentialism's other subway pics.
My headline, and tangentialism's collection, are in response to the MTA's attempt to ban subway photography in 2005.

total eclipse of the ...

In case you missed the total solar eclipse yesterday:
Check out this slideshow.

Eclipse Sweeps Across Half the World
March 29, 2006 — The faithful said prayers, astronomers and thrill-seekers gazed skyward and watchers clapped in wonder as the moon turned day into night Wednesday in a total eclipse of the sun that cut halfway round the world.
Carving a narrow path over northwest Africa and parts of the Middle East, the eclipse expired on the steppes of the Russo-Mongolian frontier three hours and 14,500 kilometers (9,000 miles) after it began in northeast Brazil.
"It was so good, it gave me goose pimples," said Julio Paredes, a pizzeria manager from Madrid who travelled to Side, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, to watch the phenomenon. "I've waited for so long for this moment, and perhaps it was all the better because of that."
But for Ramatoutou, a farmer in the Niger village of Kareygourou, the event was an ill omen.
"What a disaster, the sun has disappeared!" he exclaimed, as children and a group of expatriates from the nearby capital Niamey looked upward. "I hope God will protect us."

secret service

My fellow Toastmaster Carl gave an amazing speech this morning about the most important thing we can do for ourselves and others. This was his acronym for an incredibly memorable message:

Being Excellent (means) Service To Others Willingly

He added two other dimensions:
Being Excellent (means) Service To Others Willingly (and) Secretly
(by) Being Excellent (in) Service To Others Willingly, I Naturally Grow

Thank you, Carl. You've given me a lot to think about.

sweet surrender

I'm fascinated by hormones and neurochemistry, especially oxytocin. Apparently, I'm not alone — check out Hug the Monkey, a blog about oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It may be involved in bonding and the formation of trust between couples through release during orgasm in both sexes.

As someone who generally resists the idea of biology determining many things in my life, I have to say that I hate the fact that hormones rule so much about us, including our moods. But I found these thoughts on oxytocin as the hormone of bonding (and surrender) quite interesting:
Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the hypothalamus at the based of the pituitary gland. Associated with the contractions of childbirth, the onset of lactation and the overall success of maternal bonding, oxytocin also seems to be necessary for all sorts of social bonding.

I don't know if anything at all has been written about the biochemistry of surrender. And I've spent a good bit of my professional life discounting biological explanations of social effects, but could it be that oxytocin is the hormone not only of bonding, but also of surrender? Could it be that there is an evolutionary value in having a lovely hormone that makes you loving and trusting when you haven't got even the remotest possibility of fighting or fleeing and quite urgently need the help of others?
It is part of the parasympathetic nervous system that moderates fight-or-flight impulses. It also reduces pain and makes us feel bonded to others. If there is a "surrender response," it may be greater in females; what UCLA psychologist Shelley Taylor calls "tend and befriend" behavior.

In her book, "The Tending Instinct," Taylor explains that in stressful or dangerous situations, women are more likely to close ranks, gathering with other women and children to support each other, while men are more likely to jump up and fight to protect the family, clan or whatever. This is (simplistically) because men have higher levels of vasopressin -- the jump up and protect hormone -- and more testosterone, which mutes oxytocin. Women's higher levels of estrogen increase the calming, bonding effects of oxytocin.

mercredi, mars 29, 2006


"Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage."
- H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956), twentieth century journalist, satirist and social critic, a cynic and a freethinker, known as the "Sage of Baltimore" and the "American Nietzsche". He is often regarded as one of the most influential American writers of the early 20th century. At one point in his career he was America's favorite pundit and literary critic.


I just spent $209 for concert tickets. That officially makes me "one of those people."

But this isn't just any concert — it's the fifth annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival 2006, a three-day (June 16-18) camping and music festival on a "beautiful, 700-acre farm in Manchester, TN, 60 miles southeast of Nashville." I'll be there with Leo, Ash, Chad, and hundreds of other new friends whose acquaintance I've yet to make.

Yes, I realize that I'm going to Tennessee.
In summertime.
And that I'll be outdoors.

But check out the lineup and then tell me if you're interested in joining us. (This means you, Omer!)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Phil Lesh & Friends
Elvis Costello & the Imposters
Bonnie Raitt
Death Cab for Cutie
Bright Eyes
The Neville Brothers
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
Buddy Guy
Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley
Ben Folds
Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Dr. John
Sonic Youth
Les Claypool
G. Love & Special Sauce
Umphrey's McGee
My Morning Jacket
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Steel Pulse
Mike Gordon & Ramble Dove
Cat Power
Medeski Martin & Wood
Nickel Creek
Steve Earle
Blues Traveler
Disco Biscuits
Amadou & Mariam

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
The Dresden Dolls
Son Volt
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Jerry Douglas
Rusted Root
Devendra Banhart Band
Donavon Frankenreiter
Mike Doughty
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
The Magic Numbers
Bill Frisell
Seu Jorge
Bettye LaVette
Shooter Jennings
Rebirth Brass Band
Andrew Bird
Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk
Steel Train
Jackie Greene
The Wood Brothers
dios (malos)
Toubab Krewe
The Motet
Matt Costa
Balkan Beat Box
Tortured Soul
The Cat Empire

mardi, mars 28, 2006

joyeux anniversaire à mon ami

My friend and colleague Chris celebrated his birthday today and was kind enough to treat us to lunch.

Turnabout is fair play, so I'm going to make this promise: If you and I are ever in France (hell, in a foreign city) at the same time, I'm taking you to one of the 50 best restaurants in the world.

gone to mexico

Originally uploaded by comment dit-on.

Leo, Diana, Ophira, Saku, and I headed to Baja on Saturday.

It was a gorgeous day and after we confirmed that Saku would be able to get back into the U.S. (he's from Finland), we drove across the border.

It was Saku and Leo's first time in Mexico, so we opted to bypass Tijuana altogether (border town poverty isn't exactly uplifting — or representative of the country).

We ate lunch in Puerto Nuevo: lobster and beer, shrimp and margaritas (of course) and wandered the tiny town. Then we hopped back into the car and drove through Rosarito without stopping before heading south to Ensenada, where we strolled the shops and enjoyed an afternoon snack.

Here are some pics from the trip.

(Yes, I love to eat. And to photograph food.)

everything old is new again

I cruised the best of craigslist yesterday after a tip from my buddy Turk. I didn't find the ad he mentioned. But I did find these nuggets:

lundi, mars 27, 2006

a new cancer on the presidency

As a rule, I tend not to send or post e-mail forwards. This one merits an exception.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a warning about a new, virulent strain of sexually transmitted disease. The disease is contracted through dangerous and high-risk behavior. It is called Gonorrhea-Lectim.

Many victims contracted it in 2004, after having been screwed for the past four years. Cognitive characteristics of infected individuals include: anti-social personality disorders, delusions of grandeur with messianic overtones, extreme cognitive dissonance, inability to incorporate new information, pronounced xenophobia and paranoia, inability to accept responsibility for one's own actions, cowardice masked by misplaced bravado, uncontrolled facial smirking, ignorance of geography and history, tendencies toward evangelical theocracy, and categorical all-or-nothing thinking, mixed with hypocritical behavior.

Naturalists and epidemiologists believe that this destructive disease originated only a few years ago. Patient zero is believed to be a Bush previously found in Texas.

festival du cinéma français

The (free!) French and Francophone Film Festival begins today.

i'm sensing a trend here

  1. Last month, Rhiannon told me that she'd joined a roller derby team. (WTF? tangent: My favorite sports writer, Frank Deford, published a book on the sport in 1971.)
  2. Saturday, I thought Leo was referencing "Solarbabies" when he mentioned a movie about rollerskating starring Corey Haim. (For the record, the right answer was "Prayer of the Rollerboys.")
  3. Today, this headline flashed across my g-mail: New 'Xanadu' laces up skates.
The end times are near. You heard it here first.

cuando los ángeles lloran

I heard Chico Mendes' name for the first time last week, while I was listening to Maná's song "Cuando Los Ángeles Lloran" (When the Angels Cry). The song itself has beautiful lyrics and a melody that sounds upbeat, but is actually melancholic. There is also a John Frankenheimer movie about his life that I hope to see soon: "The Burning Season."
Francisco Alves Mendes Filho (Dec. 15, 1944 – Dec. 22, 1988), also known as Chico Mendes, was a Brazilian rubber tapper, unionist and environmental activist. He fought to stop the logging of the Amazon Rainforest for the purposes of cattle ranching, and founded a national union of rubber tappers in an attempt to preserve their profession and the rainforest that it relied upon. He was murdered in 1988 by ranchers opposed to his activism.
Chico Mendes grew up in a family of rubber tappers (seringueiros). Rubber tapping is a process whereby one harmlessly extracts sap from rubber trees, which is then used in such products as car tires, pencil erasers, and even Tupperware. Rubber tapping is a sustainable agricultural system and one of the many ways in which the resources of the Amazon are exploited without permanently harming the ecosystem.

For the cattle ranchers and mining interests in Brazil, sustainable agriculture impedes profit-making. Much money can be made by tearing down the forest as fast as possible and replacing it with pasture land and strip mines. What the ranchers and miners leave behind is a shattered wasteland, a ruined desert where a forest more than 180 million years old once stood.

Not surprisingly, Mendes encountered a great deal of opposition from industrialists and corrupt government officials who were profiting from the clearing of the Amazon. He was jailed, fined and threatened, but nothing could deter him from his mission to save his beloved jungle. When, in 1988, a rancher named Alves de Silva ordered Mendes killed, the power of his grassroots movement only increased.

Mendes fought courageously to oppose the destructive practices of such large companies and individuals. He advocated a return to sustainable agricultural systems and urged his fellow Brazilians to nonviolent protest against corporations that would rob them of their livelihoods.

The outcry following Chico Mendes' murder was deafening. It marked a turning point in the fight to save the Amazon. A human face could be connected to the cause: money and support from all over the world poured in to help complete Mendes' work. The plight of the seringueiro has become an international, cause célèbre and many far-reaching reforms have been inacted since his death to insure the future of this eco-friendly industry.
Adapted from The My Hero Project and The Global 500 Forum, the United Nations Environmental Programme

dimanche, mars 26, 2006

lazy sunday, redux

As one East Coast transplant to the West Coast put it to his (still on the East Coast) brother recently: "you East Coast bitches ain't shit."

Lazy Monday is the West Coast response to SNL's Lazy Sunday (Chronicles of Narnia) rap.
Don't forget Lazy Sunday UK and Lazy Muncie.
Via MoJackCityDiana

vendredi, mars 24, 2006

she's going to think I'm crazy

Read the story for the context on my headline.

Venezuelans pose nude in public for art
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- More than 1,500 Venezuelans shed their clothes on a main city avenue Sunday to pose for American photographer Spencer Tunick, forming a human mosaic in front of a national symbol: a statue of independence hero Simon Bolivar.

no joke

This ad just popped up in my gmail:

Mormon 72 Hr Survival Kit - - Buy 72 Hr Kits for Everyone 72 Hr Kits for Entire Family.

My first thought: wtf? I can't imagine what is in my latest conversations that would trigger that ad. Wait a second -- it must have been the thread on Chloe Sevigny / Big Love or using the word "polyamorous" to describe someone I know.

My second thought: I'd want to survive a Mormon for more than 72 hours. I'm just sayin' ...

My curiosity got the best of me and I did some digging on the site. I can't see why the Mormon bit is there. No Book of Mormon is included in the kit. The company isn't obviously Mormon. No endorsement / blessing by a Latter-Day Saint. The plot thickens ...

what you talkin' 'bout, willis?

After all these years, I'm finding that I had the words wrong.

I thought it was
a man is boooooooorn, he's a man of means,
then along come two, they've got nothing but their dreams
diff'rent strokes, it takes diff'rent strokes, it takes diff'rent strokes to move the wooooooooorld.

Apparently, Arnold and Willis had nothing but their jeans.

I'll admit that I have gotten lyrics wrong more than a few times with songs. My other fave misstep as a kid: I thought "Secret Agent Man" was "Secret Asian Man."

Thank god for cult telly, where you can get answers to this and other questions you may have about the incredibly stiumulating and sociopolitically relevant pop culture of the 80s.
Via Leo

mercredi, mars 22, 2006

tavalod'et mobarak

... it means "happy birthday" in Farsi.

Happy birthday to Vanoosheh, who turned 22 yesterday, just in time to fly the coop to a cool new job next week.

choosing peace?

I remember exactly what I was doing when I saw the newsflash about the Good Friday Peace Accords in 1998. In that case, after years of sectarian violence, Northern Ireland had a chance for peace. It was so momentous that the two architects of the agreement, David Trimble and John Hume, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A Northern Ireland Assembly was elected, with its representation also indicating majority support for the agreement.

So this morning, I stopped mid-bite when I heard that ETA, Spain/ France's Basque separatist movement, has declared a permanent cease-fire. The Spanish are (understandably) skeptical. ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) has waged a four-decade-long war for independence, killing over 800 people in the process. It declared a temporary cease-fire in 1998, which ended after 14 months.

this is a shoutout to rick v

Once upon a time, I worked as a writer. And I ran this thing called the Writers Roundtable. We met every two weeks to talk language and technology (we were, after all, Web writers). Anyhow, my former boss (the coolest authority figure ever) used to joke that he would do an interpretive dance to explain the subtleties of appropriate comma usage.

Rick still owes us that dance — perhaps he'll gather inspiration from Chris Bliss' interpretive juggling act?

lundi, mars 20, 2006

an open letter to howard dean

Somewhere along the way (I think it was 1999), the Registrar of Voters came to believe that there were two Happys in San Diego County. Happy #1 (me) was a twenty-something female who had registered as a Democrat. The other was a twenty-something male who was registered as a Republican right about the time that I signed a petition outside a supermarket. The puzzling bit is that both reported the same address and Social Security number -- mine. If that didn't trigger the fraud flags, I'm not sure what would've. Anyhow, for a while there it was kinda funny, as Eric and I would get mail from the Log Cabin Republicans (yeah, I don't get it either) addressed to Mr. S and Mr. A-S.

I left well enough alone because I thought it was hilariously subversive. And because the junk mail that the GOP was sending regarding candidates and issues was beyond ridiculous. That lasted for two years, when after I became a poll worker, I decided I could no longer (in good conscience) let the rolls stand as-is. I attempted to make the correction, and have every election since. But Happy the man is still registered at my old Normal Heights address.

I'm writing all of this because last week, Leo got a form letter that was ostensibly a "survey of Democratic opinion leaders," but was in fact a poorly disguised solicitation for funds to build the DNC's war chest. Vanessa theorized that it was because he'd registered as a Democrat at some point. Leo scoffed, and told me he was "going to write Howard a letter." True to his word, here is his response:

Howard Dean
Democratic National Committee
430 South Capitol St., SE
P. O. Box 96585
Washington, DC 20077-7242

Dear Dr. Dean:
I hope this finds you well. A few days ago I received a letter from you in which you asked for my opinion on several issues relevant to today’s politics. I thank you for taking the time to do so, and I have enclosed my answers with this letter. You also asked that I help you “make progress” on these issues by sending a donation to the DNC. While I appreciate your commitment and dedication, I must respectfully decline to do so, for reasons that will become apparent as you read on.

I realize that what I received in the mail is a form letter. However, I must still take issue with certain depictions made in said communication. I am not now, nor have I ever been, an “active and engaged member of [the Democratic] party,” much less “a Democratic leader in [my] area.” As a matter of fact, I have yet to register in the voting rolls as a member of your party. When I first became eligible to vote, I chose to remain independent because I believed that each of the two major parties had some good ideas and some bad ideas. Of late, that belief has all but disappeared.

I believe that the Republican Party’s core set of beliefs (as they are practiced by their current leadership) is profoundly damaging to our nation. It favors military incursions over a commitment to hard-nosed diplomacy. It prefers dogma over intellectual exploration. It panders to the basest instincts of the masses in order to build a system of government that rewards the worst abuses by our economic elites. This I strongly believe. What I cannot accept, however, is that your organization is the most effective way to combat those trends.

Over the last few years, your party has had innumerable opportunities to fight for the rights of all Americans. You could have fought to prevent thousands of us from shipping off to die on foreign soil fighting to defend an unlawful occupation. You could have stood up for tax reform that takes some money from those who have more than they can possibly use, in order to help those who cannot make ends meet. You could have taken the time to push for electoral reforms that would ensure my vote has as much weight as that of anyone else in America. You could have insisted that this country’s leadership remain true to the civil rights and freedoms so many died to preserve.

Doing any of the above, however, would mean antagonizing the same corporate interests that fund your opponents. It would mean having the courage to stand up for those who cannot reward you for it, simply because it is the right thing to do. It would mean agreeing to give up a little bit of your share of control over American politics to benefit the great majority of the American people. And you have not been up to that task.

Therefore, I must respectfully decline to donate money to your cause. Please do not hesitate to contact me again — if and when your party makes a conscious decision to provide a viable alternative to those in power right now. When your priorities become universal health care, decentralized electoral power, a foreign policy based on respect for other nations as well as our own citizens and their rights, and equal rights for all regardless of economic power, I will be proud to join your organization and work to make it better. Until that day, I shall remain skeptical of your ability to represent me and my interests.

Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to communicate with you and your organization. I strongly encourage you to continue on this path of dialogue with the American people. I believe that, should you choose to act on the information you receive, it will greatly help your cause and all of us, as well.


Leo [last name withheld]
San Diego, CA

time for a new 'do?

One more reason to admire Cleopatra — she wasn't conventionally attractive, but her entire persona captivated her subjects and admirers:
Her beauty was not in and for itself incomparable, nor such to strike the person who was just looking at her; but her conversation had an irresistible charm; and from the one side her appearance, together with the seduction of her speech, and from the other her character, which pervaded her actions in an inexplicable way when meeting people, was utterly spellbinding. -Plutarch
Frankly, I'm more interested in a woman who didn't rely on her looks to seduce Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony. I think it's fascinating that she was clever, irresistibly charming, spoke persuasively, and used her coiffure (in an odd pre-Stalin, but not as calculating, cult of personality manner) to gain credibility and inspire trends. (Of course, the fact that she was the queen of her own empire probably gave her a leg up in the romance department. That she seduced her own brother in order to be the queen makes me a bit itchy.)
Cleopatra Worked Her Power Hair
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
March 17, 2006— Egyptian queen Cleopatra used her hairstyles in calculated ways to enhance her power and fame, according to a book published recently by a Yale art history and classics professor.
Statues, coins and other existing depictions of the queen suggest Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.) wore at least three hairstyles, according to Diana Kleiner. The first, a "traveling" do that mimicked the hair of a Macedonian Greek queen, involved sectioning the hair into curls, which were then often pulled away from the face and gathered into a bun at the back.
The next was a coiffure resembling a melon, and the third was the regal Cleopatra in her royal Egyptian headdress, complete with a rearing cobra made of precious metal.
Cleopatra did not invent any of these styles, but she used them to her advantage, Kleiner indicated in her book "Cleopatra and Rome."
"From the time of (Egyptian King) Ptolemy I, the Ptolemaic queens wore the 'melon hairstyle' with its segmented sections resembling a melon or gourd," Kleiner told Discovery News. "When Cleopatra followed suit, she was more traditionalist than trendsetter. These same Ptolemaic queens were also depicted in art with the usual Egyptian wigged headdress that had its origins in Pharaonic times. Cleopatra did as well, so again she followed tradition and did not innovate when it came to hair."
"But," Kleiner added, "Cleopatra appears to have worn different coiffures in different circumstances, playing to her audience, so to speak, in life and in art."
Kleiner explained that when the queen was in her homeland, her likely objective was to look like a traditional Egyptian ruler — since she was in fact Greek — and to legitimize the Ptolemaic dynasty by linking it to the time of the Pharaohs. A group of Egyptian statues recently has been linked to Cleopatra, although the identification cannot be proved since there are no accompanying inscriptions.
"These show her with the customary Egyptian wig and the triple uraeus (rearing cobra)," she said. "This Egyptian coiffure is the one we most often associate with Cleopatra today. Think Elizabeth Taylor!"
The uraeus was associated with a cobra goddess Wadjyt, the sun god Ra and the goddess Hathor, so wearing it signified that the individual had taken on the attributes of a divinity.
Cleopatra also probably often wore the melon hairstyle in Egypt, where she had many slaves to attend to her appearance, including some that were responsible for maintaining the royal wigs.
The Egyptian queen extensively traveled, and did so in style. Not unlike film depictions, Cleopatra would arrive via elegant barge with her attendants catering to her every need.
In Rome, Kleiner believes Cleopatra wore her "Hellenistic traveling coiffure" in places where it would be seen and "gossiped about at cocktail parties." At about the same time, Kleiner notes the melon hairstyle turns up in Roman portraiture, which suggests Roman women admired Cleopatra and attempted to copy her.
Roman leaders Octavian and Antony both seduced the Egyptian queen. Kleiner theorizes that Octavia, Antony's wife, invented a hairstyle called "the nodus" to compete with Cleopatra. The nodus featured a roll over the forehead that Kleiner suggests mimicked Cleopatra's well-known rearing cobra ornament. The nodus was the height of Roman fashion in the 30s B.C., just before Cleopatra's death by suicide at the age of 39.
Karl Galinsky, distinguished professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin, told Discovery News that he agrees Cleopatra wore different looks, including calculated hairstyles.
Galinsky said, "Hairstyles weren't just left to Supercuts; they conveyed a message — Alexander's portraits are a great example — and therefore Cleopatra may well have had different hair days in different countries. Sure, most of the motivation may have been political, but isn't it fun for any woman to engage in such reinventions periodically?"

vendredi, mars 17, 2006

cupid, draw back your bow ...

And let your arrow go
Straight to my lover's heart for me
Nobody but me.

I had a late-night discussion about Sam Cooke last weekend. Thursday night, I saw "The Essential Sam Cooke" and barely made it out of the store without purchasing said CD.

Which is probably why this headline jumped out at me:
What makes Cupid's arrows stick?Dr Thomas Stuttaford
Scans reveal how the brain changes when we fall in love

One major advance in medicine, rarely given the credit that it deserves, is the introduction of sterile, sharp, disposable needles. Forty years ago my partner and I filled in the time before morning surgery by sharpening much-used old needles on an oiled grindstone, before sterilising them. Cupid, the son of Venus, sharpened his arrows, too — in a similar way to that employed at the Fleggburgh surgery, though he used blood rather than oil on his grindstone. There is a legend, followed up by Shakespeare, that Cupid had two types of arrow: one gave rise to long-lasting, committed, so-called virtuous love, the other to lust. The arrows that led to lasting love were gold, which would have needed careful sharpening to penetrate and stay embedded.

The lovestruck person hit by a golden arrow would pass through the three stages leading to lasting commitment — lust, acceptance and attachment, and deep friendship. What could be more virtuous? Cupid’s other arrows were leaden: although they might strike their victim, they were unlikely to penetrate, let alone to remain embedded. Cupid’s leaden arrow gave rise to short-lived, lustful, sensual passion.

That there are different types of love, the virtuous and the lustful, the one lasting and the other transient, is accepted by neurophysiologists and psychologists. The brain and the hormonal endocrine system have been studied, as has the biochemical and radiological effect of the two types of arrow. Cupid’s arrows now are made neither of gold nor of lead, but by visual images and, above all, by a whiff of pheromones or scent.

We are attracted by those in whom we can see something of ourselves, or of our opposite parent, or of some other role-forming adult figure of our childhood. It may be that only one part of the woman’s body (in the case of a man) can sharpen the arrow so that it penetrates. Nearly all people of both sexes, even if they don’t admit it, suffer from a degree of partialism — a sexual preference for a particular part of the body of a future mate.

The pheromones are produced by the modified sweat glands around the nipples, groin, genitalia and under the arm. They are also present in the cheeks, eyelids, ears, temple and scalp, where they secrete a less obvious smell.

Recent research indicates that tears also contain pheromones. The romantic novelist’s idea of the tough hero’s resolve melting when the woman cries may not have represented any change in his hard heart: perhaps the smell of the tears merely stimulated those parts of the brain — the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the dorsal caudate body and caudate tail — that, according to the science writer Michael Gross, are activated during those first lustful stages of love in someone genetically or environmentally conditioned to succumb.

These changes in the brain, demonstrated in MRI studies, disappear once the lustful, romantic stage has waned. Indeed, a rejected ex-lover has a quite different batch of brain responses — areas associated with obsessive compulsive behaviour, controlled anger and pain are activated, hence the observation that rejection can superficially heighten love and alter its nature.

When people fall in love, the MRI changes are accompanied by changes in blood serotonin levels that mirror those found in people with obsessional states. At the same time, levels of the hormones cortisol FSH and testosterone rise. Surprisingly, the rate at which testosterone rises in lovestruck women is greater than in men, in whom there may even be a slight fall. The level of another chemical messenger, nerve growth factor (NGF), also rises in the blood of those who are “in love”.

The biochemical results suggest that a leaden arrow falls out between 12 and 24 months after Cupid has struck. The hormonal changes and increase in NGF disappear and levels return to normal.

Luckily for those hit by a golden arrow, the second stage of attachment is tipped with oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone” associated with female orgasms, delivery and lactation. This stays at a higher level so long as the second stage of partnership lasts.

jeudi, mars 16, 2006

you say potato

uxorious \uk-SOR-ee-us; ug-ZOR-\, adjective:
Excessively fond of or submissive to a wife.
It is batty to suppose that the most uxorious of husbands will stop his wife's excessive shopping if an excessive shopper she has always been.
-- Angela Huth, "All you need is love," Daily Telegraph, April 24, 1998

Flagler seems to have been an uxorious, domestic man, who liked the comfort and companionship of a wife at his side.
-- Michael Browning, "Whitehall at 100," Palm Beach Post, February 22, 2002

Fuller is as uxorious a poet as they come: hiatuses in the couple's mutual understanding are overcome with such rapidity as to be hardly worth mentioning in the first place ("How easy, this ability / To lose whatever we possess / By ceasing to believe that we / Deserve such brilliant success").
-- David Wheatley, "Round and round we go," The Guardian, October 5, 2002

mars attracts

I've often wondered where some of Google's more esoteric projects come from. Now I know.

Google company policy encourages all employees to spend 20% of their time on personal projects. Here's another fun one: Google Mars.

Mars attracts
[We] here on Earth have long held a fascination with the planet Mars. From Percival Lowell's sketches of its surface, to the countless books and movies that revolve around it, we've spent millenia studying and day-dreaming about our nearest neighbor in the solar system.

In that tradition, NASA researchers Noel Gorelick and Michael Weiss-Malik from Arizona State University worked with us to combine Google Maps technology with some of the most detailed scientific maps of Mars ever made.

In commemoration of Lowell's birthday, we're pleased to bring you Google Mars.
Explore the red planet in three different ways: an elevation map shows color-coded peaks and alleys, a visible-imagery map shows what your eyes would actually see, and an infrared-imagery map shows the detail your eyes would miss.

We hope you enjoy your trip to Mars.

a dios momo

Sometimes, the simplest dreams
lead us through mysterious paths.
If we have faith and courage to walk them
they could lead us to an awakening.

I saw "A Dios Momo" on Sunday at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. It was amazing and will play again this coming Saturday.
An 11-year-old street boy, Obdulio, who sells newspapers for a living but cannot read or write, finds a magical maestro in the night watchman of the newspaper's office. Obdulio's charismatic mentor not only introduces him to the world of literacy, but also teaches him the real meaning of life through the lyrics of the "Murgas" (Carnival Pierrots) during the mythical nights of the irreverent and provocative Uruguayan Carnvial.
The story reminded me of "Cinema Paradiso" and "Monsieur Ibrahim." The cinematography and the director's effective use of color saturation creates an atmosphere laden with emotion, without feeling maudlin.

mercredi, mars 15, 2006

i ♥ ny

I was lucky enough to visit NY for the first time over the holidays in 2005. I fell for the City, hard. So hard, in fact, that I've decided I'd really like to live there for a year sometime before I die.

While I was there, I tried to get an I ♥ NY t-shirt in Japanese characters. After combing through piles of shirts, I went home disappointed, as I am not a youth size small or an adult XXL. Three days later, I saw this image while walking on the Upper West Side:

Here's more on the original campaign, and on Milton Glaser, one of my favorite designers. His "This is What I Have Learned" keynote speech at the 2002 AIGA annual meeting still blows me away. And his "The Designer/ Citizen" 2005 speech is a very thought- provoking essay.
The "I Love New York" campaign was commissioned by the state of New York and designed by Milton Glaser in 1977.

But, wait. New York is a place of stories. And the one behind the logo may be more interesting than the design itself -- which is nothing more than three letters and a heart symbol. Glaser created "I Love New York" at a time when nobody loved the city.

President Ford had just told New York to drop dead. Serial killer Son of Sam prowled the boroughs. One of the world's greatest cities was deteriorating under budget deficits, blackouts, riots, and -- according to Glaser himself -- lots and lots of doggie poo. Today, just about everyone's willing to show the city some love, but back in the late 1970s, confessing your amore for the Big Apple left a rotten taste in many a mouth.
Via Ask Yahoo!

winter fruit salad with maple syrup and champagne vinaigrette

Prep time: 5 minutes
Serves: 6

Maple dressing
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or other white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 5-ounce bag mixed baby greens (about 10 cups lightly packed)
2 bosc pears, peeled, cored, cut into thin slices
1/4 cup cranberries or dried tart cherries
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup candied pecans

For dressing:
Whisk mayonnaise, maple syrup, vinegar, and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in oil until mixture thickens slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Dressing can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewhisk before using.)

For salad:
Toss greens, pears, cranberries, blue cheese, and 1/8 cup pecans in large bowl to combine. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide salad equally among plates. Sprinkle with remaining 1/8 cup pecans and serve.
Inspired by this epicurious recipe

eating like republicans

Last night, Leo, Allison, Cass, Susan, Diana, Ophira (sans appendix), Jen, Zach, and Rhiannon (cameo appearance only) joined me for the first-ever Axis of Evil Supper Club.

If I recall correctly, we reached the conclusion that hope is stupid... or something like that after discussing Pandora's Box; the HPV vaccine; Scientology; Matisyahu; why Jim Dolan walks on water; unitarian universalists; T-cells; how American Idol text messaging might just get our generation to vote; being Irish Catholic in a historically Jewish sorority; the fact that Uruguayans (not los Argentinos) eat more beef per capita than anyone else in the world; how Clinton effed up with don't ask, don't tell; and why Zach and Ophira are voting for McCain in 2008 if it's McCain vs. Hillary.

spinach frittata
old fashioned
vodka collins

main course:
filet mignon with bearnaise
garlic mashed potatoes
winter fruit salad with maple syrup and champagne vinaigrette
cheddar rosemary scones


bananas foster with vanilla ice cream
I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but by the time I made the bearnaise, I'm positive that I was drunk. After eating enough to sober up slightly, I was tipsy again when I lit the bananas foster. The extravagant meal was fun to plan and to make, but I confess that it was daft to do something on this scale alone (and on a school night).

Mad love to Leo for fetching things that weren't actually in my garage, Zach for tending bar and making the stiffest Old Fashioned I've ever had, Cass for being my sous chef extraordinaire, Susan for setting the table and the mood, Allison for water and her yarns, D for her crass repartee, Ophy for spirited discussion so soon after her urgent care adventure, pediaJen for hanging in there in spite of her 30-hour call, and Rhiannon/ Zach for extra chairs and glassware. I'd also like to give a shoutout to Casey for being a very good boy, in spite of all the food and people in the house. Finally, super-dooper thanks go to Penny, who was my cooking fairy godmother all the way from NY (her tips and recipes were used last night).

I have the coolest, funniest, most banterrific friends evah.

lundi, mars 13, 2006

google, the khmer rouge, and the public good

I've gone back and forth on Google lately, from professing my desire to have Google's baby to recoiling at the company's tacit complicity with China's efforts to silence free speech. I'm still conflicted, but here's one more data point:

In defense of digital books and Google
... we absolutely must think beyond today. We know that these digital copies may be the only versions of work that survive into the future. We also know that every book in our library, regardless of its copyright status today, will eventually fall into the public domain and be owned by society. As a public university, we have the unique task to preserve them all, and we will.

As Thomas Jefferson well knew with his family fire, there are few more irreparable property losses than vanished books. Nature, politics, and war have always been the mortal enemies of written works.

Most recently, Hurricane Katrina dealt a blow to the libraries of the Gulf Coast. At Tulane University, the main librarysat in nine feet of water—water that soaked the valuable Government Documents collection: more than 750,000 items … one of the largest holdings of government materials in Louisiana … 90 percent of it now lost.

In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia decimated cultural institutions throughout the country. Khmer Rouge fighters took over the National Library, throwing books into the street and burning them, while using the empty stacks as a pigsty. Less than 20 percent of the library—home for Cambodia's rich cultural heritage—survived.

I know we cannot and should not imagine something like this happening in the U.S. But history tells us that such events have happened. The International Federation of Library Associations calls the Cambodia assault "one of the most complete destructions known in world history."

Now, with Google, the University of Michigan is involved in one of the most extensive preservation projects in world history.
Remember, we believed in this forever. We have been a leader in preservation and will continue to do so—I expect nothing less of Michigan. By digitizing today's books, through our own efforts and in partnership with others, we are protecting the written word for all time.


Today, I had leftovers for lunch. But not just any leftovers. We're talking Leo's sea bass, veracruz style. After three separate people commented on the "amazing smell" in kitchen, I promised to post the recipe.

Note to self: Keep capers and green olives in stock in my pantry at all times.

sea bass, veracruz style

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6

Sea Bass, Veracruz Style
Pescado a la Veracruzana
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, well drained, juices reserved
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 small bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/4 cup chopped pitted green olives
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons drained capers
Six 4- to 5-ounce sea bass (or red snapper) fillets

Place drained tomatoes in medium bowl. Using potato masher, crush tomatoes to coarse puree. Drain again, reserving juices.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and stir 30 seconds. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add tomato puree and cook 1 minute. Add bay leaves, parsley, oregano, and 1/4 cup reserved tomato juices. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Add olives, raisins, capers, and all remaining reserved tomato juices. Simmer until sauce thickens again, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread 3 tablespoons sauce in bottom of 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange fish atop sauce. Sprinkle fish lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon remaining sauce over. Bake uncovered until fish is just opaque in center, about 18 minutes. Using long spatula, transfer fish with sauce to plates.
Via epicurious / Bon Appétit, May 2003

samedi, mars 11, 2006

capable of driving grown men to unnatural acts

No matter how you feel about Southern California, there's no changing the fact that some really great things come from this place. One of my favorites is Trader Joe's.

I was lucky enough to grow up less than 5 minutes from the Redlands Trader Joe's. Since the supermarket lockout of 2003, I've pretty much abandoned the traditional grocers in favor of the farmer's market, Henry's, and TJ's.

I'm thinking my next career should be as a member of the tasting panel. That's a job I could really love.
For Trader Joe's, a New York Taste Test
By JULIA MOSKIN Monrovia, Calif.
IN an industrial park somewhere in Los Angeles, the pieces of the puzzle come together.

One crew, using rakes, turns 525 pounds of newly roasted peanuts trucked in from Texas. Another adds a heavy shower of dried whole chilies, lemon grass fibers, curry leaves and cane sugar imported from a producer in Thailand whose identity is a closely kept secret.

"No one except us knows all the parts of the operation," said Matt Sloan, vice president for merchandising for the Trader Joe's food stores, whose popularity took off in California in the 1970's and whose first store in New York City is opening on March 17. "In that way it's like a conspiracy." Long before Trader Joe's went national, its inexpensive but unusual products — things like wild blueberry juice, Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil and frozen chicken-lemon grass spring rolls — inspired an intense following among American food lovers, rarely seen in the aisles of a supermarket.

The stores are small, the selection is uneven and the corporate culture can be described as dorky. But because its products are often not available anywhere else; because they mysteriously appear, disappear, then reappear on the shelves; or perhaps simply because they often taste very, very good, Trader Joe's has become tremendously popular among Americans who like to be entertained and educated by what they eat, as well as nourished by it.

To protect its house-brand products, the company is notoriously secretive. But it opened slightly to this reporter recently, for the first time allowing an outsider into the daily critique conducted by the company's best-trained palates, a group known as "the tasting panel."

"The tasting panel is what takes us from having good products to having addictive products," said Doug Rauch, the president.

Like Trader Joe's Thai Lime & Chili Peanuts, for example: rich, spicy, fragrant, sweet and not quite like anything else on the mass market. They represent the end of a long process of travel, research, argument and experimentation. "You can drive yourself crazy in this job, like a cat chasing its tail, and sometimes you never get there," said Lori Latta, who buys dried fruit and nuts for the company and has been on the tasting panel for 20 years.

More than a buyer, Ms. Latta adds in the skills of chef, advocate, food scientist and nutritionist. Her job, and those of the 14 other "category leaders," is to perpetually travel the world visiting all kinds of food businesses — restaurants, farmers' markets, artisanal pasta makers, street stalls and supermarkets — and then translate their finds to the stores. When a category leader was served an ideal tiramisù at a small restaurant on the Amalfi coast of Italy, he spent months working with the chef on a version that could be mass-produced, frozen, exported to the United States and sold for $6.99 in freezer cases from San Diego to Boston. But first it had to pass the tasting panel.

In the case of the peanuts, "I tasted that snack in a Thai airport, but it was stale and too salty and full of MSG," Ms. Latta said. With a California manufacturer, she recreated it, omitting artificial additives and using American peanuts (to avoid high import tariffs) and Thai seasonings (for authentic flavor). She then repeatedly presented it to the tasting panel, adjusting flavors until the whole group agreed that the proper balance of salt, spice, citrus and heat had been achieved.

The panel is sufficiently focused to spend long minutes discussing, for example, the different effects of fine sea salt, coarse sea salt, coarse kosher salt and medium kosher salt on roasted walnuts. Getting the panel's approval can take months, even years.

Once approved, new products line up next to the popular peanut-butter-stuffed pretzels, chocolate-covered espresso beans and green chili tamales, all of them additive-free, all-natural and capable of driving grown men to unnatural acts.

"Before we got our Trader Joe's I used to drive up to Chicago every couple of months to stock up on those pretzels," said Kevin Messina, a lawyer in Creve Coeur, Mo., near St. Louis. "It's about five hours each way, but hey, it's a straight shot."

The products that make it through but do not find a loyal customer base meet an implacable fate. "It's like at General Electric under Jack Welch," said Mr. Sloan, the vice president for merchandising. "The bottom 10 percent is always being rotated out. It's painful but necessary, because it ensures that we always have new products for our customers to get interested in."

There is nothing quite like the chain anywhere else on the American food landscape. "Trader Joe's is radically different in many ways from other food retailers," said Stephen Dowdell, editor in chief of Progressive Grocer magazine. "The stores are small, they don't rely on national brands, you can't do price comparisons and they definitely don't offer one-stop shopping. But every product has a story."

The Polynesian-themed chain was established by Joe Coulombe in Pasadena, Calif., in the 1960's, in an attempt to rescue his convenience stores after 7-Eleven came to town. "We decided to go in the other direction — to appeal to people who are well-educated, well-traveled and underpaid," Mr. Coulombe said. (He sold his final interest in the company in 1989, but many of his innovations are still in place.)

In the 1970's, he said, after the stores stopped selling things like Twinkies, magazines and batteries and focused on food and wine, the business took off. "For years, we were the country's largest importer of Dijon mustard. Of capers. Of arborio rice. Of everything like that you can think of."

The chain's expansion is of recent vintage: the first store outside California opened in 1993. Today, each of the 250 stores still carries only about 3,000 items (a large supermarket will stock 55,000 or more), in proportions that invert the industry norm: a tiny selection of canned soup, for example, but case after case of French ice cream confections and frozen Indian entrees. About 80 percent of the items carry the Trader Joe's label, many imported from small producers in Europe and Asia, and all free of artificial colors, preservatives, flavors and MSG.

"With those parameters, some things — ramen noodles come to mind — are almost impossible for us to make," Mr. Sloan said. "So generally we just don't have them."

Fans of the chain find such quirks endearing. All employees wear Hawaiian shirts at work, whether they are shelvers or the chief executive. "It helps us keep a sense of humor about what we do," said Mr. Sloan, who, like many senior staff members, began working for the company as a college student — that was in 1993 — and never left.

All this has helped build the Trader Joe's mystique into a full-scale food cult. It will soon be clear whether the cult will take hold in New York City, where scores of local retailers specialize in top-quality imported house-brand products (among them Zabar's, Sahadi's, or Agata & Valentina).

The chain has a strong health food streak, making the new Manhattan store competitive with the much larger Whole Foods just down the block. A stunning amount of shelf space is devoted to trail mixes (dark antioxidant-rich berries are hot, as are raw nuts rich in omega-3's) and energy bars like LäraBar and Clif, which the chain discounts deeply. "You should have seen it a few years ago," Ms. Latta said. "The bars almost took over the store."

Trader Joe's has also guided its customers into the world of prepared food and precut vegetables — what Mr. Rauch, the president, calls "speed scratch" cooking. "Trader Joe's customers are people who really care about cooking," he said, "but like everyone else in America, they don't feel like they have time to chop all the vegetables, cook the chicken and make the dessert — but they want to be in the kitchen." The stores stock lots of things like precut butternut squash and beets, "simmer sauces" that make quick stews, and marinated salmon fillets packaged with fresh herbs in oven-ready cooking bags. "We are very careful about marinades," Mr. Sloan said solemnly. "Dill can be very polarizing."

About 40 percent of salad greens in American supermarkets are sold already separated, washed and bagged. At Trader Joe's, the proportion is close to 100 percent.

"Who buys head lettuce anymore?" Ms. Latta said, surveying a produce case stuffed with bags of organic baby arugula, herb salad and sugar snap peas at the original Trader Joe's, on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. There was not a vegetable in sight that was not packed in plastic. "The whole food business is now trying to figure out how to keep people cooking," Mr. Rauch said. "We pull in things from all over the world that work for our customers."

One February afternoon at the headquarters in Monrovia, near Pasadena (yes, even the receptionists wear Hawaiian shirts), the tasting panel members, most well into their 40's or older, crowded cheerfully into the test kitchen. (This reporter was allowed in on condition that individual members — many of whom negotiate with vendors for changes in products — not be quoted by name on the opinions they expressed.) The pasta buyer had boiled up six different Italian brands of whole-grain pasta and tossed them in plain olive oil.

The group fell silent and began chewing intently. Immediately, comments flew. "Interesting nutty flavors on No. 1." ... "This one has a cardboardy texture at the end." ... "What about the omega-3's on this one?" Eventually, a favorite was determined by a show of hands and a plan sketched for the step ahead: persuading the supplier to make refinements and solve problems.

Next, aged goat cheeses. Then truffled cheeses. ("Like dirty socks." ... "I think people want to see those black flecks." ... "I worry that we're just too far ahead of the curve with these.") Toasted walnuts, then granola clusters. ("How are these not cookies?" the house nutritionist asked.) And finally a new category: trail-mix-based cereals. The group poured milk and chewed. "I am not happy to get a whole almond in my bowl of cereal," one said forcefully.

That kind of passionate, focused attention to food is clearly sensed by Trader Joe's customers. "This sounds crazy, but you feel like the company likes food even more than they like money," said Marcy Benfiglio, who lives near the branch in Larchmont, N.Y. "You don't feel that at the supermarket."

vendredi, mars 10, 2006

typos, tattoos, and the taquito moment

I spent much of my early romantic life trying to change my partner. It wasn't fair to him or to me. At this point, I've learned to accept people "as is." I'm not interested in changing the men I date or the friends I make. If they want to change themselves, so be it.

Because I have no illusions about changing the other person, I've found that I'm even more selective about the people I'm willing to date or spend my time with. Having said that, we all have our limits. And our quirks. Mine include typos and tattoos.

I recently did some online dating. Poor grammar and abundant typos (although not as bad as being a sexist, gun-toting, pro-life, anti-gay, pro-death penalty, fundamentalist Jesus freak Republican) were near the top of my list of instant dealbreakers. In that context, I would expect a person to be presenting the very best of himself. A poorly written profile and typos made me assume two things: the person was uneducated and careless. After all, if this is your advert to the world, wouldn't you want it to be the best representation of yourself? I know, if you're a bad typist like me (I cringe when I find a typo on this blog, often months later), perhaps putting a profile out with typos is the best representation of yourself. But it often killed my attraction to a person.

Then there are tattoos. Not every tattoo is a dealbreaker per-se. But I have no patience for lame / "it seemed like a good idea at the time" tattoos. One suitor had a tattoo that I hated. I patiently listened to the story of why he had it, but I couldn't turn off what I thought it meant about him as a person. Each time there was the remotest possibility of seeing it, I caught myself literally closing my eyes to avoid looking at it. But the damage had been done -- I couldn't stop seeing it in my mind's eye. So I stopped seeing him instead.
Picky, Picky: In the Outlet Mall of Love, Finding A Good Fit Can Mean Lots of Returns
By Libby Copeland
Falling in love has never had a reputation for making much sense. Dante glimpsed Beatrice a few times and wouldn't shut up about her for decades.
Why should not-falling-in-love be any more rational?
It comes down to the deterrent power of a Phil Collins CD in a woman's car. Or, a guy who habitually sticks his tongue out while eating, like a lapping dog. His girlfriend returns him to his cage, permanently.
Centuries from now, scientists may point to this as the moment in time when the pickiness gene became dominant. In the end, it will come down to one really old, lonely guy and his list.
"She must have blue eyes. She should like animals, but not in a weird way. No thin lips. No lawyers," he'll be writing, just before he keels over and the human race comes to an end.
* * *
As the measure of a relationship, the taquito is greasy and capricious. But there it was late one night, warmed over countless times, poised to destroy a budding romance.
They'd been out with friends at a few bars. She was hungry. She wanted 7-Eleven.
"She said, 'They've got the best taquitos in the world,' " says Joe Peters. "I said, 'Are you serious?' "
Peters, 28, is not a 7-Eleven kind of guy. More of a distance-cycling, marathoning, healthy meals kind of guy. She insisted. He accompanied her in.
"She even said, "Pick out any one, it's on me,' " Peters recalls of the incident, which wasn't even really a date, and acquired great meaning only afterward, after everything else had happened, with the mayonnaise and the brie. But anyway, there he was.
"It's 3 o'clock in the morning. You can tell these taquitos have been the taquitos nobody wanted and they've been sitting out all day."
He chooses one despite himself — jalapeno and cream cheese, if memory serves. He takes a few bites and throws the thing away in disgust. She devours hers with evident relish.
This was the beginning (and the beginning of the end) of Peters's brief romance with a woman who "just liked the worst food in the world." Then Peters, a program analyst for the federal government, took her out to dinner, and that's when things really deteriorated. She started talking about mayonnaise.
"Some people are mayonnaise people, I completely understand it. But I. Hate. Mayonnaise," Peters says. He thinks it's a texture thing. "I just find it to be the most repulsive thing in the world. And she's just going on and on about how great mayonnaise is and how you can eat all these things and my stomach is just curdling."
There was one more incident. They went to grab a quick bite and she got a roast beef and brie sandwich, heated up. The brie was "oozing."
"I mean, when it's hot and running all over, it looked terrible, and in light of the taquito and mayonnaise stories, I was just like, I can't take it anymore," Peters says.
He stopped calling her. He knows this sounds really bad.
"Feel free to put in there what a shallow [bleep] I am," he says.
But is it really so shallow? Or is it merely efficient, given all the available women in the world Peters might have to date to find someone perfect? It's like shoe shopping; you can't buy the first pair you try on.
Besides, when you push Peters, you discover there was something else about the girl, something too "small-town," too "old-fashioned and motherlike" for him. You start to wonder if the taquito-and-mayonnaise-and-brie thing is just a convenient explanation for something too subtle for words.
After all, Peters is perfectly willing to accept certain imperfections.
"My ex-girlfriend loved Celine Dion," he says.
* * *
There is a difference between an obvious deterrent — a problem that most people would condemn in a date, like bad breath — and what we might call the Taquito Moment.
A great many of us would agree on the following reasons for dismissal of a suitor:
Excessive lateness. Excessive neck hair. Rudeness toward wait staff. Multiple mentions of an ex. Starting a sentence with, "Now, my third marriage wasn't my fault."
The Taquito Moment is more interesting. It reveals as much about the person who despises taquitos as it does about the one who keeps them close to her heart. Often it reveals, in shorthand, something we can't quite pinpoint about the other person, or ourselves. It's a proxy for taboos, or regrets about past failed relationships. It's a proxy for class concerns or cultural differences, because most people want someone who looks and sounds and smells as they do.
The Taquito Moment comes to represent a moment of clarity, the thing you fasten onto later when explaining why you could never go out with that person again. So you broke up with a girl because of her arm hair? Fine. Love, like mayonnaise, is a texture thing. But maybe, on some essential level, the girl just didn't do it for you, because if she had, those would have been the arms of the girl you loved.
There is something peculiarly modern about this phenomenon, something aligned with our dark privilege of too much, this consumeriffic culture in which jeans and houses and breasts and ring tones are customizable. Consider it all: geographical dislocation, cities filled with singles, extended childhoods and postponed childbearing, speed-dating, the growing sense that the dating pool is as vast as the 454 men-seeking-women between the ages of 29 and 31 within five miles of your Zip code on Yahoo Personals.
In a world of infinite possibilities, the notion of falling in love, of finding The One, seems itself like the taquito girl, small-town and old-fashioned. Once upon a time, The One would've lived in your village or another one like it. Now, she could be this sweet girl across from you at the dinner table, but she could also be someone you haven't yet met. What if there's another woman somewhere in the world, like this girl, but better? Someone who will snowboard with you, and doesn't do that strange throat-clearing thing?
"When I was buying a computer, there were so many features that for six months I didn't buy a computer," says Jillian Straus, 33, whose book "Unhooked Generation," due out Feb. 8, chronicles why people her age have trouble deciding on mates. The people in their twenties and thirties who Straus interviewed "see commitment to one person as a narrowing of lifestyle choices."
And through all of it, the prospect of happiness always just ahead, if only we could find the right person, the perfect person. Happiness, that sly, flitting creature we somehow convinced ourselves was ours to keep.
Online, people attempt to custom-order mates with the awesome specificity of children at a Build-a-Bear Workshop. In the personal section of Craigslist, a man describes his dream woman: "you are very feminine but also a tad clumsy. you are short, but you love high heels . . . you have long dark hair and big eyes. you like to wear mascara and other eye make-up, and/or you have long lashes."
TV writers lampoon our impossible standards. On "Sex and the City," Charlotte once broke up with a guy because she didn't like his taste in china. On his show, Jerry Seinfeld torpedoed a relationship because a woman had "man hands."
On the MTV reality show "NEXT," one person is set up on five dates in rapid succession, dismissing each potential suitor with the word next . Thus, a young woman nexts a guy within nine seconds for having ugly teeth, and a young man nexts a date because she's vegetarian. He loves cheeseburgers too much, he says.
The Taquito Moment is the test you didn't know you were giving until the other person failed. Sometimes, it's an impossible test.
"I say, hurl," Wayne advises Garth in "Wayne's World." "If you blow chunks and she comes back, she's yours. But if you spew and she bolts, it was never meant to be."
* * *
So here follows, in no particular order, several lifetimes' worth of irritations and perceived warning signs — a window into the modern limitation of extreme pickiness brought on by too much choice:
Dates with bad grammar. Yankees fans. Actors. Indecisive dates. ("Where do you want to go?" "I dunno, you?") A man who wears a backpack, or socks with his sandals. A woman who can't give good directions to her house. A man who likes pink drinks. A woman who drives a black Pontiac Grand Am with gold rims. A man who kisses you and says, "Yummy!" A woman who wears a tight leopard-print top.
"Any girl that orders a salad as her meal at dinner," says Koonal Gandhi, 27, who shares a place with Joe Peters in upper Northwest Washington. That's an indication she is "very self-conscious about either how she looks or eating in front of other people."
"I do have one guy who I actually stopped dating 'cause he didn't know what paella was," says Jenn Lee, a pediatrician who used to live in New York and now lives in Sterling. The gap in knowledge was a sign to her, she says, "that the guy wasn't cultured. How could you live in New York for 10 years and not experience paella?"
Denisa Canales has had a number of breakups; one because a guy was allergic to her cats, and one because she didn't trust a guy's pit bull. More recently, she left a guy over a crucial difference of opinion concerning her shoes.
They'd been dating for two weeks, and the truth is, things weren't perfect. The guy could be kind of critical, she says, and he seemed to think he knew her better than he did. Anyway, they were out for lunch and she wore the shoes, gold mules with a little heel and lots of beading. She recalls that she'd paid $60 for them and had taken some time picking them out, choosing just exactly what she wanted. The perfect style, The One.
"I call them my pixie shoes," says Canales, 23. "Those shoes exemplify everything that I am. . . . They're so, like, fun and they're kinda dangerous."
She'd worn them to a job interview earlier in the day, and the guy had the audacity to remark that he didn't think they were quite right for an interview. She asked if he liked the shoes and he said in fact, he didn't.
She finished her sushi and stood up.
"Don't call me again," she said, and walked out.
And, as a matter of fact, he never did.

Via Leo

jeudi, mars 09, 2006

more on molecular gastronomy

The natural follow-up to the liquid nitrogen ice cream post ...

I'm a big fan of Alton Brown. As Leo put it the other day, "he's the Bill Nye (the Science Guy) of the culinary world." In that sense, Alton is the layperson's gateway into the world of Molecular Gastronomy. Oh, and did I mention that he also was the DP (director of photography) for REM's "The One I Love" video?

Here are some other resources, courtesy of 101 cookbooks:
Mark Powell's Food Hacking site
Also big on the food science front: Louisa Chu
A Molecular Gastronomy Resource List
For the cook that really has everything: the anti-griddle
Finally, The book and The man

liquid nitrogen ice cream

First, a disclaimer. I found this on and haven't made it yet.

Having said that, the idea appeals to the science geek and the cook in me. Let me know if you're up for trying the experiment at my place. Or if you have a four foot tank of liquid nitrogen handy (or the ability to liberate one).

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream/Gelato Base
Serves 6.
heidi notes: This is a nice, creamy gelato-type base. Infuse it, add stuff, get creative. I wrote this recipe a few years back - I tend to use arrowroot instead of cornstarch as a thickener in recipes that need it (it is usually less-processed than cornstarch). But because I haven't tested arrowroot in this base, I'll give you the cornstarch version. If you use this as a base for liquid nitrogen ice cream, please read up on the safety precautions that must be observed when handling LN2.

4 cups whole organic milk
1 vanilla bean, split
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place three cups of the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla bean over medium-low heat.

Meanwhile, pour the remaining 1 cup milk into a large glass measuring cup. Add the sugar and the cornstarch. Mix well.

When the milk starts to simmer, remove it from the heat and pour in the cornstarch mixture, stirring the whole time. Return the saucepan to medium-low and stir, stir, stir, until things start thickening up, 10 to 12 minutes. It should end up thicker than, say, a runny milkshake, but thinner than a frosty one.

Pour the mixture through a strainer into a mixing bowl, whisk in the vanilla extract, and let it cool on the counter for 20 minutes or so. I like to then chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight until it is completely chilled.

Now you are ready to place this mixture in a metal-bowl mixer and do the liquid nitrogen thing * or you can just freeze this using the manufacturer's instructions on a standard ice-cream maker.

* Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream: play-by-play
To make liquid nitrogen ice cream you start with an ice cream base in a metal mixing bowl. Fire up the mixer (Kitchen-Aid was in use here) at low-med speed. Pour the liquid nitrogen into the bowl a bit at a time as the mixer is running. It freezes up ever so creamy and beautifully.

Will I die if I eat it? I asked that. I also asked a host of other questions. Are those plumes of Halloween-looking smoke coming off the bowl going to gobble up all the oxygen in the room? Are we all going to go to sleep and never wake up? You really, really, need to be careful with this stuff - do your homework and really get up to speed on the proper way to handle it. You need to treat it as seriously as you would a deep fryer filled with hot oil and the like. You like your fingers, right? LN2 can cause them to shatter. Imagine what it could go if you got it in your eyes.
Via 101cookbooks

mercredi, mars 08, 2006


"Nothing is more compelling than silence. Ask a star or the moon.
Nothing is more important than love. Ask me. I mistook it for grief."
-Gordon Parks (November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006) , groundbreaking African American photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, activist, and film director.

mardi, mars 07, 2006

omer's spiritual awakening

"... on the daily web news were photos that should prove to any atheist that there is a God:


I feel a spiritual awakening."
Via Omer

barbarie antisémite

The facts:
  • France has the most jews and muslims of any European country.
  • France was known for its antisemitism, even before the days of the Vichy collaborators.
  • The headscarf controversy and persistent racism against those of Arab and African descent boiled over last fall, when the country exploded with violence due to a disaffected and impoverished (primarily muslim) underclass.
  • The government can no longer ignore the rising tension between jews and muslims.
Last week, an awful story involving the kidnapping, torture, and murder of a 23-year-old jewish man named Ilan Halimi came to light. Lured by a pretty girl, Ilan met her for a date that turned out to be a trap. He ended up chained, tortured, and emprisoned for two weeks, then was left to die in a wooded area near train tracks in the suburbs of Paris. The gang that abducted him did so because he was jewish and because they assumed his family was therefore wealthy enough to afford a ransom.

The story turned my stomach, but the outraged response of thousands of decent people reminds me that although people are sometimes awful, persons can make a difference. About 100,000 marched peacefully in his memory on Feb. 26.
Torture and Death of Jew Deepen Fears in France
BAGNEUX, France, March 3 — Two strips of red-and-white police tape bar the entrance to the low-ceilinged pump room where a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, spent the last weeks of his life, tormented and tortured by his captors and eventually splashed with acid in an attempt to erase any traces of their DNA.

The floor of the concrete room, in the cellar of 4, rue Serge-Prokofiev, is bare except for a few packets of rat poison, a slowly drying wet mark and a dozen small circles drawn and numbered in white chalk, presumably marking the spots where the police retrieved evidence of Mr. Halimi's ordeal.

Mr. Halimi, 23, died Feb. 13, shortly after he was found near a train station 15 miles away by passers-by, after crawling out of the wooded area where he was dumped. He was naked and bleeding from at least four stab wounds to his throat, his hands bound and adhesive tape covering his mouth and eyes. According to the initial autopsy report, burns, apparently from the acid, covered 60 percent of his body.

"I knew they had someone down there," said a young French-Arab man, loitering in the doorway of a building adjacent to the one where Mr. Halimi was held. He claimed to live upstairs from the makeshift dungeon but would not give his name or say whether he knew then that the man was a Jew. "I didn't know they were torturing him," he said. "Otherwise, I would have called the police."

But it is clear that plenty of people did know, both that Mr. Halimi was being tortured and that he was Jewish. The police, according to lawyers with access to the investigation files, think at least 20 people participated in his abduction and the subsequent, amateurish negotiations for ransom. His captors told his family that if they did not have the money, they should "go and get it from your synagogue," and later contacted a rabbi, telling him, "We have a Jew."

The horrifying death has stunned France, which has Europe's largest Muslim and largest Jewish populations. Last weekend, tens of thousands of people marched against racism and anti-Semitism in Paris, joined by the interior minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, and smaller marches took place in several other French cities, including Marseille.

In the wake of the riots that broke out in the immigrant-heavy Paris suburbs last fall, the case seems to embody the social problems of immigration, race and class that France has been facing with so much uncertainty. The emerging details raise deep fears of virulent anti-Semitism within the hardening underclass, and point to the decaying social fabric in which that underclass lives.

Those that the police say kidnapped and killed Mr. Halimi called themselves the Barbarians, and included people of different backgrounds: the children of blacks from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, of Arabs from North Africa, of at least one Persian from Iran, and of whites from Portugal and France.

The gang's leader was a tall, charismatic young man named Youssouf Fofana, 25, one of five children born in Paris to at least nominally Muslim immigrants from Ivory Coast. When he was a teenager, the family moved to the bleak neighborhood of 12-story concrete apartment blocks where Mr. Halimi was held.

the geopolitics of sexual frustration

Demographers have been warning us that a dramatic gender imbalance will cause major problems in Asia for a while. But this article really hammered home the consequences.

On the flip side -- it might actually slow down overpopulation. But it will also reinforce women's status as chattel -- the kidnappings and brothels are just the tip of the iceberg. In that context, is there any way to make women and female children more valued (eventually)?
The Geopolitics of Sexual Frustration
Asia has too many boys. They can’t find wives, but they just might find extreme nationalism instead. It’s a dangerous imbalance for a region already on edge.

The lost boys of Prof. Albert Macovski are upon us. Twenty years ago, the ultrasound scanning machine came into widespread use in Asia. The invention of Macovski, a Stanford University researcher, the device quickly gave pregnant women a cheap and readily available means to determine the sex of their unborn children. The results, by the million, are now coming to maturity in Bangladesh, China, India, and Taiwan. By choosing to give birth to males—and to abort females—millions of Asian parents have propelled the region into an extraordinary experiment in the social effects of gender imbalance.

Back in 1990, Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen was one of the first to call attention to the phenomenon of an estimated 100 million “missing women” in Asia. Nearly everywhere else, women outnumber men, in Europe by 7 percent, and in North America by 3.4 percent. Concern now is shifting to the boys for whom these missing females might have provided mates as they reach the age that Shakespeare described as nothing but stealing and fighting and “getting of wenches with child.”

Now there are too few wenches. Thanks in large part to the introduction of the ultrasound machine, Mother Nature’s usual preference for about 105 males to 100 females has grown to around 120 male births for every 100 female births in China. The imbalance is even higher in some locales—136 males to 100 females on the island of Hainan, an increasingly prosperous tourist resort, and 135 males to 100 females in central China’s Hubei Province. Similar patterns can be found in Taiwan, with 119 boys to 100 girls; Singapore, 118 boys to 100 girls; South Korea, 112 boys to 100 girls; and parts of India, 120 boys to 100 girls.

China, India, and other nations have outlawed the use of prenatal diagnostic techniques to select the sex of an unborn child. But bribery and human ingenuity have made it easy for prospective parents to skirt the law; a suitably compensated ultrasound technician need only smile or frown at the expectant mother.

Many of the excess boys will be poor and rootless, a lumpenproletariat without the consolations of sexual partners and family. Prostitution, sex tourism, and homosexuality may ease their immediate urges, but Asian societies are witnessing far more dramatic solutions. Women now risk being kidnapped and forced not only into prostitution but wedlock. Chinese police statistics recorded 65,236 arrests for female trafficking in 1990–91 alone. Updated numbers are hard to come by, but it’s apparent that the problem remains severe. In September 2002, a Guangxi farmer was executed for abducting and selling more than 100 women for $120 to $360 each. Mass sexual frustration is thus adding a potent ingredient to an increasingly volatile regional cocktail of problems that include surging economic growth, urbanization, drug abuse, and environmental degradation.

Understanding the effect of the testosterone overload may be most important in China, the rising Asian superpower. Prompted by expert warnings, the Chinese authorities are already groping for answers. In 2004, President Hu Jintao asked 250 of the country’s senior demographers to study whether the country’s one-child policy—which sharply accentuates the preference for males—should be revised. Beijing expects that it may have as many as 40 million frustrated bachelors by 2020. The regime, always nervous about social control, fears that they might generate social and political instability.

Brigham Young University political scientist Valerie Hudson—the leading scholar on the phenomenon of male overpopulation in Asia—sees historical evidence for these concerns. In 19th-century northern China, drought, famine, and locust invasions apparently provoked a rash of female infanticide. According to Hudson, the region reached a ratio of 129 men to every 100 women. Roving young men organized themselves into bandit gangs, built forts, and eventually came to rule an area of some 6 million people in what was known as the Nien Rebellion. No modern-day rebellion appears to be on the horizon, but China watchers are already seeing signs of growing criminality.

The state’s response to crime and social unrest could prove to be a defining factor for China’s political future. The CIA asked Hudson to discuss her dramatic suggestion that “in 2020 it may seem to China that it would be worth it to have a very bloody battle in which a lot of their young men could die in some glorious cause.” Other experts aren’t so alarmed. Military observers point out that China is moving from a conscription army to a leaner, professional military. And other scholars contend that China’s population is now aging so fast that the elderly may well balance the surge of frustrated young males to form a calmer and more peaceful nation.

It would be reassuring to assume that China’s economic growth will itself solve the problem, as prosperity removes the traditional economic incentives for poor peasants to have sons who can work the land rather than daughters who might require costly dowries. But the numbers don’t support that theory. Indeed, the steepest imbalance between male and female infants is found in more prosperous regions, such as Hainan Island. And census data from India suggest that slum-dwellers and the very poor tend to raise a higher proportion of female children than more prosperous families.

The long-term implications of the gender imbalance are largely guesswork because there is no real precedent for imbalances on such a scale. Some Chinese experts speculate, off the record, that there might be a connection between the shortage of women and the spread of open gay life since 2001, when homosexuality was deleted from the official Classification of Mental Disorders. It is possible to dream up all kinds of scenarios: Mumbai and Shanghai may soon rival San Francisco as gay capitals. A Beijing power struggle between cautious old technocrats and aggressive young nationalists may be decided by mobs of rootless young men, demanding uniforms, rifles, and a chance to liberate Taiwan. More likely, the organized crime networks that traffic in women will shift their deliveries toward Asia and build a brothel culture large enough to satisfy millions of sexually frustrated young men.

Whatever the outcome, the consequences of Albert Macovski’s useful invention will be with us for some time. When they called him “the most inventive person at Stanford,” they didn’t know the half of it.
Via Leo