mercredi, janvier 30, 2008

illegal in 49 states

... or it should be. These are my old friend Carl Gomberg's pugs on Halloween. (UCSD Revelle College Beagle Hall, represent.)

May the schwartz be with you.

lundi, janvier 28, 2008

disney pushes "high school musical" worldwide

It's a global company. And given the success of bollywood musicals, this show seems like it would be interesting to that demographic. I wonder how costumes and other factors will change to be culturally appropriate (and not just linguistically appropriate) for the target audience.
Disney Youth Don’t Bop; They’re Singing in Hindis
January 28, 2008

LOS ANGELES — How do you sing “bop to the top” in Hindi? If you are the Walt Disney Company, very carefully.

The media conglomerate is trying to expand the global reach of “High School Musical” to squeeze even more money from the franchise. The new efforts — which include a long-term London stage production, a touring stage show in Asia and music videos in 17 languages — are also intended to start prepping foreign markets for the musical’s high-stakes transition to the big screen.

“High School Musical 3: Senior Year” is scheduled for release in North American theaters in October, with a global premiere to follow soon after. “These are all building blocks,” said Anne Sweeney, the president of the Disney-ABC Television Group. “Every new piece of this franchise opens a new door.”

She added, “Plans are already in place for years to come.”

Disney, which has had a 17 percent decline in its stock price over the last year, has been trying to convince Wall Street that its ability to leverage its offerings across its various divisions sets it apart from other media companies. Unlike the News Corporation or Time Warner, for instance, Disney can use its theme parks and mammoth consumer products operations to milk its hits.

The worldwide push behind “High School Musical” is a test for the company’s franchise-management machinery, and not only because it requires Disney’s disparate fiefs to work together. While the property’s bubbly tone is easy to translate for foreign audiences, much of the colloquial language is not.

Consider “Bop to the Top,” the title of a song from the first movie. In India, one of Disney’s most important foreign markets, the phrase was changed to “Pa Pa Pa Paye Yeh Dil,” which the company said roughly translates to “the heart is full of happiness” in Hindi. A Hindi translator contacted by The New York Times said: “It’s sort of like a Duran Duran song. The words sound sexy but mean nothing.”

The climax of “High School Musical 2” comes in “All for One,” an ensemble number about friends sticking together. In India, the title became “Aaja Nachle,” which all agree means “come dance along.” (A video used to promote “High School Musical 2” in South Asia can be viewed at

Rich Ross, the president of Disney Channels Worldwide, said that weaving “High School Musical” into the existing pop culture in various foreign markets was of increasing importance. “Localization really matters,” he said. “We’re pushing deeper into various countries. With the first movie, we didn’t do something special for the Netherlands. This time we did.”

Perhaps the song lyrics — and whether audiences can even understand them — do not matter so much. Last week, the domestic Disney Channel presented a series of music videos made by recording artists in various countries. According to Nielsen Media Research, more than 1.5 million children age 6 to 11 watched “Aaja Nachle.”

Even in a foreign language, children “can feel what they’re saying,” Ms. Sweeney said.

While the first two “High School Musical” movies made their debuts on television, the success of “High School Musical 3,” will turn on how successful Disney is at persuading audiences to see it in a theater.

Live tours are meant to help fans make the shift. Disney plans to announce Monday that a long-running stage production of “High School Musical” will open in London on June 30; a previously announced tour in Britain kicks off Feb. 19 with $18 million in advance ticket sales. Additional productions are now planned for Argentina, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and Switzerland, the company said.

Disney is also set to announce an expansion abroad of “High School Musical: The Ice Tour.” The company has also decided to make performance rights available for “High School Musical 2” to schools and amateur theaters around the world; Disney has licensed the first version 2,500 times in the United States and 500 times overseas.

“The material is incredibly strong and lends itself perfectly to the live experience,” said Thomas Schumacher, the president of Disney Theatrical Group. “Seeing these characters portrayed live allows our audiences to bond with the story in a completely new way.”

dimanche, janvier 27, 2008

looking beyond our own borders

I had dinner with some girlfriends recently when my friend Yvonne asked everyone at the table if we were aware of the genocide taking place in Darfur. She got blank looks from half of the college-educated, current events-informed table. It hardly surprised me, given the lack of attention our mainstream media is giving the issue. So I was glad to see this op-ed piece in the Times today, asking the world to sit up and pay attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, already.
Unkept Promises in Darfur
Published: January 27, 2008

The new United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur is not off to an encouraging start. The five-year-long genocide has already killed some 200,000 people and driven two and a half million more from their homes. What is urgently needed to save those who remain are more peacekeepers, better equipment and a lot less obstruction from Sudan.

The joint force took over this month from an earlier African Union force of 7,000 that was too small and too poorly equipped. The new one was supposed to be the largest international peacekeeping force ever authorized, with nearly 20,000 more soldiers and police officers, modern helicopters and other advanced equipment.

By the start of this year, barely a tenth of those additional forces were in place, and much of the needed new equipment had not arrived. When the peacekeepers were quickly attacked by Sudanese forces, they had to withdraw without returning fire.

While claiming that it will cooperate, Khartoum has repeatedly tried to hobble the force: refusing to accept some non-African peacekeepers, trying to limit the peacekeepers’ use of helicopters and demanding other untenable restrictions. Last week, Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, chose a notorious leader of the janjaweed, the militias that have carried out most of the killing, to be a senior government adviser.

Nobody pretends that bringing a stable peace to Darfur will be easy. The conflict involves not just the janjaweed and the Sudanese Army but also rival Darfur rebels and militias. Underlying it all is a desperate competition between nomads and farmers for land and water in a parched region. There is no hope at all until a credible and credibly armed peacekeeping force is deployed.

The world’s leaders say they care desperately about Darfur’s suffering. But caring is not enough. What is needed is troops, equipment and a lot more diplomatic pressure on Sudan. The word of the United Nations is on the line, and so are the lives of Darfur’s people.

the mexican suitcase

"The truth is the best picture, the best propaganda." - Robert Capa
Robert Capa's photographs document pivotal moments in time. He was one of the earliest war photographers whose work was published in the mass media and is cited as an inspiration by countless photojournalists. His work also influenced thousands on the subject matter (Spanish Civil War, etc.)

When I picture the D-Day invasion of Normandy, I think of the grainy, black and white photos taken as Capa and the soldiers with whom he was imbedded fought their way onto Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. These photos, along with nine others, were the only images that survived of the 106 frames taken, after a nervous photographic assistant in London managed to ruin many other rolls while developing them.

Capa is also famous for documenting the Spanish Civil War. This photo, "Death of a loyalist soldier, 1936," is still the subject of controversy, because it's unclear as to whether or not the photo was staged. Capa's Spanish Civil War negatives, were stolen from a Paris train station 50 years ago, and eventually made their way to Mexico. Contained in "the Mexican suitcase," they resurfaced late last year, when they were returned to the Capa estate and given to the International Center for Photography in New York, founded by Capa's brother Cornell. These negatives may settle, once and for all, the question of whether Capa staged the shot. They will also give us more insight into the man, his work, and his methods.

Capa co-founded Magnum, a photo agency owned by photojournalists, that allowed them to retain ownership rights to their work. His mantra, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” is often quoted by photographers. He was a Hungarian-born Jew who worked in Europe and fled to the United States in 1939; later he was the only "enemy alien" photographer for the Allies. His romance with Ingrid Bergman was immortalized by their mutual friend Alfred Hitchcock in "Rear Window." He eventually died on assignment for Life Magazine in 1954 when he stepped on a landmine while covering the early days of the First Indochina War in Vietnam.

His courage and his work was honored by the Overseas Press Club, which created an award in his honor, the Robert Capa Gold Medal. It is given annually to the photographer who provides the "best published photographic reporting from abroad, requiring exceptional courage and enterprise".
Robert Capa - Lost Negatives
January 27, 2008
The Capa Cache

TO the small group of photography experts aware of its existence, it was known simply as “the Mexican suitcase.” And in the pantheon of lost modern cultural treasures, it was surrounded by the same mythical aura as Hemingway’s early manuscripts, which vanished from a train station in 1922.

The suitcase — actually three flimsy cardboard valises — contained thousands of negatives of pictures that Robert Capa, one of the pioneers of modern war photography, took during the Spanish Civil War before he fled Europe for America in 1939, leaving behind the contents of his Paris darkroom.

Capa assumed that the work had been lost during the Nazi invasion, and he died in 1954 on assignment in Vietnam still thinking so. But in 1995 word began to spread that the negatives had somehow survived, after taking a journey worthy of a John le Carré novel: Paris to Marseille and then, in the hands of a Mexican general and diplomat who had served under Pancho Villa, to Mexico City.

And that is where they remained hidden for more than half a century until last month, when they made what will most likely be their final trip, to the International Center of Photography in Midtown Manhattan, founded by Robert Capa’s brother, Cornell. After years of quiet, fitful negotiations over what should be their proper home, legal title to the negatives was recently transferred to the Capa estate by descendants of the general, including a Mexican filmmaker who first saw them in the 1990s and soon realized the historical importance of what his family had.

“This really is the holy grail of Capa work,” said Brian Wallis, the center’s chief curator, who added that besides the Capa negatives, the cracked, dust-covered boxes had also been found to contain Spanish Civil War images by Gerda Taro, Robert Capa’s partner professionally and at one time personally, and by David Seymour, known as Chim, who went on to found the influential Magnum photo agency with Capa.

The discovery has sent shock waves through the photography world, not least because it is hoped that the negatives could settle once and for all a question that has dogged Capa’s legacy: whether what may be his most famous picture — and one of the most famous war photographs of all time — was staged. Known as “The Falling Soldier,” it shows a Spanish Republican militiaman reeling backward at what appears to be the instant a bullet strikes his chest or head on a hillside near Córdoba in 1936. When the picture was first published in the French magazine Vu, it created a sensation and helped crystallize support for the Republican cause.

Though the Capa biographer Richard Whelan made a persuasive case that the photograph was not faked, doubts have persisted. In part this is because Capa and Taro made no pretense of journalistic detachment during the war — they were Communist partisans of the loyalist cause — and were known to photograph staged maneuvers, a common practice at the time. A negative of the shot has never been found (it has long been reproduced from a vintage print), and the discovery of one, especially in the original sequence showing all the images taken before and after the shot, could end the debate.

But the discovery is being hailed as a huge event for more than forensic reasons. This is the formative work of a photographer who, in a century defined by warfare, played a pivotal role in defining how war was seen, bringing its horrors nearer than ever — “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” was his mantra — yet in the process rendering it more cinematic and unreal. (Capa, not surprisingly, later served a stint in Hollywood, befriending directors like Howard Hawks and romancing Ingrid Bergman.)

Capa practically invented the image of the globe-trotting war photographer, with a cigarette appended to the corner of his mouth and cameras slung over his fatigues. His fearlessness awed even his soldier subjects, and between battles he hung out with Hemingway and Steinbeck and usually drank too much, seeming to pull everything off with panache. William Saroyan wrote that he thought of Capa as “a poker player whose sideline was picture-taking.”

In a Warholian way that seems only to increase his contemporary allure, he also more or less invented himself. Born Endre Friedmann in Hungary, he and Taro, whom he met in Paris, cooked up the persona of Robert Capa — they billed him as “a famous American photographer” — to help them get assignments. He then proceeded to embody the fiction and make it true. (Taro, a German whose real name was Gerta Pohorylle, died in Spain in 1937 in a tank accident while taking pictures.)

Curators at the International Center of Photography, who have begun a months-long effort to conserve and catalog the newly discovered work, say the full story of how the negatives, some 3,500 of them, made their way to Mexico may never be known.

In 1995 Jerald R. Green, a professor at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, received a letter from a Mexico City filmmaker who had just seen an exhibition of Spanish Civil War photographs sponsored in part by the college. He wrote that he had recently come into possession of an archive of nitrate negatives that had been his aunt’s, inherited from her father, Gen. Francisco Aguilar Gonzalez, who died in 1967. The general had been stationed as a diplomat in the late 1930s in Marseille, where the Mexican government, a supporter of the Republican cause, had begun helping antifascist refugees from Spain immigrate to Mexico.

From what experts have been able to piece together from archives and the research of Mr. Whelan, the biographer (who died last year), Capa apparently asked his darkroom manager, a Hungarian friend and photographer named Imre Weisz, known as Cziki, to save his negatives in 1939 or 1940, when Capa was in New York and feared his work would be destroyed.

Mr. Weisz is believed to have taken the valises to Marseille, but was arrested and sent to an internment camp in Algiers. At some point the negatives ended up with General Aguilar Gonzalez, who carried them to Mexico, where he died in 1967. It is unclear whether the general knew who had taken the pictures or what they showed; but if he did, he appears never to have tried to contact Capa or Mr. Weisz, who coincidentally ended up living the rest of his life in Mexico City, where he married the Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington. (Mr. Weisz died recently, in his 90s; Mr. Whelan interviewed him for his 1985 biography of Capa but did not elicit any information about the lost negatives.)

“It does seem strange in retrospect that there weren’t more efforts to locate these things,” Mr. Wallis said. “But I think they just gave them up. They were lost in the war, like so many things.”

When the photography center learned that the work might exist, it contacted the Mexican filmmaker and requested their return. But letters and phone conversations ended with no commitments, said Phillip S. Block, the center’s deputy director for programs, who added that he and others were not even sure at the beginning if the filmmaker’s claims were true, because no one had been shown the negatives. (Saying that the return of the negatives was a collective decision of the Aguilar Gonzalez family, the filmmaker asked not to be identified in this article and declined to be interviewed for it.)

Meetings with the man were scheduled, but he would fail to appear. “And then communications broke off completely for who knows what reason,” Mr. Block said. Efforts were made from time to time, unsuccessfully, to re-establish contact. But when the center began to organize new shows of Capa and Taro’s war photography, which opened last September, it decided to try again, hoping that images from the early negatives could be incorporated into the shows.

“He was never seeking money,” Mr. Wallis said of the filmmaker. “He just seemed to really want to make sure that these went to the right place.”

Frustrated, the center enlisted the help of a curator and scholar, Trisha Ziff, who has lived in Mexico City for many years. After working for weeks simply to track down the reclusive man, she began what turned out to be almost a year of discussions about the negatives.

“It wasn’t that he couldn’t let go of this,” said Ms. Ziff, interviewed by phone from Los Angeles, where she is completing a documentary about the widely reproduced image of Che Guevara based on a photograph by Alberto Korda.

“I think it was that no one before me had thought this through in the way that something this sensitive needs to be thought through,” she said. The filmmaker worried in part that people in Mexico might be critical of the negatives’ departure to the United States, regarding the images as part of their country’s deep historical connection to the Spanish Civil War. “One had to respect and honor the dilemma he was in,” she said.

In the end Ms. Ziff persuaded him to relinquish the work — “I suppose one could describe me as tenacious,” she said — while also securing a promise from the photography center to allow the filmmaker to use Capa images for a documentary he would like to make about the survival of the negatives, their journey to Mexico and his family’s role in saving them.

“I see him quite regularly,” Ms. Ziff said, “and I think he feels at peace about this now.”

In December, after two earlier good-faith deliveries of small numbers of negatives, the filmmaker finally handed Ms. Ziff the bulk of the work, and she carried it on a flight to New York herself.

“I wasn’t going to put it in a FedEx box,” she said.

“When I got these boxes it almost felt like they were vibrating in my hands,” she added. “That was the most amazing part for me.”

Mr. Wallis said that while conservation experts from the George Eastman House in Rochester are only now beginning to assess the condition of the film, it appears to be remarkably good for 70-year-old nitrate stock stored in what essentially looks like confectionery boxes.

“They seem like they were made yesterday,” he said. “They’re not brittle at all. They’re very fresh. We’ve sort of gingerly peeked at some of them just to get a sense of what’s on each roll.”

And discoveries have already been made from the boxes — one red, one green and one beige — whose contents appear to have been carefully labeled in hand-drawn grids made by Mr. Weisz or another studio assistant. Researchers have come across pictures of Hemingway and of Federico García Lorca.

The negative for one of Chim’s most famous Spanish Civil War photographs, showing a woman cradling a baby at her breast as she gazes up toward the speaker at a mass outdoor meeting in 1936, has also been found. “We were astonished to see it,” Mr. Wallis said. (The photograph, often seen as showing the woman worriedly scanning the skies for bombers, was mentioned by Susan Sontag in “Regarding the Pain of Others,” her 2003 reconsideration of ideas from her well-known treatise “On Photography,” a critical examination of images of war and suffering.)

The research could bring about a reassessment of the obscure career of Taro, one of the first female war photographers, and could lead to the determination that some pictures attributed to Capa are actually by her. The two worked closely together and labeled some of their early work with joint credit lines, sometimes making it difficult to establish authorship conclusively, Mr. Wallis said. He added that there was even a remote possibility that “The Falling Soldier” could be by Taro and not Capa.

“That’s another theory that’s been floated,” he said. “We just don’t know. To me that’s what’s so exciting about this material. There are so many questions and so many questions not even yet posed that they may answer.”

Ultimately, Mr. Wallis said, the discovery is momentous because it is the raw material from the birth of modern war photography itself.

“Capa established a mode and the method of depicting war in these photographs, of the photographer not being an observer but being in the battle, and that became the standard that audiences and editors from then on demanded,” he said. “Anything else, and it looked like you were just sitting on the sidelines. And that visual revolution he embodied took place right here, in these early pictures.”

samedi, janvier 26, 2008

vendredi, janvier 25, 2008

you had me at "cheese"

"Molten cheese" may just be the best word pairing in the English language. I'm gonna have to make fondue. Soon.
A Good Appetite: A Little Nostalgia, a Long Fork and Lots of Cheese
January 23, 2008

ONE chilly afternoon, my mother dropped by with a small shopping bag filled with fondue forks.

“I thought you might find a use for these,” she said before rushing out the door.

But wait, I called after her, what happened to the fondue pot?

“Oh, I used it to plant an amaryllis,” she said.

I think she meant for me to use the forks for tasks like removing the last olive from a tall, narrow jar, or spearing a stray cherry tomato that had rolled onto the oven floor.

But I had another idea. Why not make fondue?

Although I hadn’t made fondue since graduate school, when I lived with a friend and her parents’ vintage fondue pot, I remembered the recipe being as simple as a toasted cheese sandwich, but more satisfying. After all, be it an oozing wedge of baked Camembert, the puddles of mozzarella atop a pizza, or a bubbling Welsh rabbit, few foods are as compelling as melted cheese.

But did fondue always have to be the centerpiece of what inevitably comes off as an I Love the ’70s theme party? What if I wanted to make fondue for two? Would we have to wear bell-bottoms?

And, most pressingly, could I substitute another pot for the one currently housing my mother’s flowering plant?

I called Terrance Brennan, the chef at Artisanal, where fondue is on the menu year-round. He was reassuring. “You can use any pot for fondue, as long as you eat it fast enough, before it gets cold and hard,” he told me.

I told him I doubted that would be a problem. Besides, a heavy, enamel-lined cast-iron pot, like the ones at Artisanal, would retain heat far longer than my mother’s lightweight fondue pot, giving me plenty of time to devour a fittingly gluttonous portion before the melted cheese lost its allure.

Mr. Brennan assured me that almost any cheese could work in a fondue. After all, fondue isn’t one particular recipe. I’ve seen it on menus to describe any number of preparations, including a lush blanket coating snails at Anthos and a thick sauce for apple salad at One Sixtyblue in Chicago.

As long as it is primarily made from copious quantities of melted cheese (the word fondue comes from the French fondre, to melt), then, at least to me, it qualifies.

But I did want to start with something fairly classic, so I searched my shelves for a Swiss cookbook. I eventually came across a chapter on Switzerland in a 1970 Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook titled “A Quintet of Cuisines,” a wide-ranging farrago that juxtaposed chapters on Bulgaria, Poland and all of North Africa.

Its fondue recipe called for an equal amount of Gruyère cheese, for its depth of flavor, and Emmenthaler, for its supple texture; a shot of kirsch, for its cherry aroma and alcoholic oomph; and a little garlic, for bite.

The recipe came with a warning: do not drink any cold beverages with fondue, or the cheese will ball up and wreak havoc on your intestines.

The information sounded suspect. So I called my Swiss informant in New York, Ralf Kuettel. At his restaurant, Trestle on Tenth, one can order pizokel, traditional Swiss dumplings, and any of 10 Swiss wines, but conspicuously not fondue. “I’m trying to avoid the stereotype,” he explained.

And what about that ban on cold liquids?

“That’s what people always say, but then, most people drink fairly cold white wine with fondue, so it’s a dish that’s full of contradictions,” he said, adding that he never encountered any intestinal distress from the combination.

He approved of the recipe, though. So that night I made it in my trusty cast-iron Dutch oven. It took all of 15 minutes, and emerged as magnificently creamy, smooth and velvety as custard, but with a funky, deep flavor that dazzlingly enriched anything I dunked in the pot: bread cubes, apple slices, clementine sections, nuggets of salami, pretzels, tofu. It was even marvelous spooned onto a romaine lettuce salad in place of dressing.

When the cheese started to cool and congeal, which took a good 30 minutes, all I did was stick it back on the stove, stirring until runny.

Although I had gobbled the better part of a fondue dish meant for four, days later I was ready for another. A friend was coming to dinner, and I couldn’t think of a simpler or more inviting dish to serve on a winter night.

This time I used a good extra-sharp Cheddar cheese and stirred in a little Irish whiskey in place of the kirsch. We devoured it in minutes, and my friend didn’t even notice the absence of a Sterno can beneath the pot.

When the pot was nearly empty, I put it on the stove to brown the thin layer of cheese that remained. It became as crisp and salty as a potato chip. Called la religieuse, according to my multi-culti sourcebook, it made an appropriately miraculous finale. My friend was unduly awed by my culinary prowess; I never mentioned that fondue was one of the easiest company dishes I’d made.

After those accolades, I realized that most people are charmed by a vat of gushing, aromatic cheese. Fondue became my go-to dinner party hors d’oeuvre, and I tried to concoct every possible combination.

I played with whatever was left over in the cheese drawer, and it was all divine. I used a port wine once instead of a white to make a delectable, shockingly purple rendition. Beer, dry red wine and cream also worked as the liquid component. I gleefully tossed in herbs and extra garlic, fennel seeds and cumin, caramelized onions, chipotle chilies, chopped pickle.

Remembering that I once dined on an extraordinary Stilton and Sauternes fondue at Artisanal, I made a variation with Passito di Pantelleria and Gorgonzola. I even reached out to fondue’s molten sisters and whipped up a chorizo-laden queso fundido and an elegant white-truffle-oil-suffused fonduta with a good, pungent fontina. It seemed I couldn’t fail.

Until the day I did. I watched, horrified, as a mass of gorgeously nutty, aged Gouda seized and curdled into a stringy, unappetizing mass. What had gone wrong? I phoned the cheese maven Max McCalman, an author of books on cheese and a consultant to Artisanal.

He wasn’t surprised. Crumbly, dry cheeses don’t melt as readily as smooth, semifirm ones, he said. But, he added, a little bit of acid, like a high acid wine or lemon juice, will do wonders in smoothing out intractable curds.

So I gave Gouda another try, this time using a two-year-old chunk (the first one had been aged for three years) and a bright, high acid wine. I also threw in some caraway seeds because I love few things more than melted Gouda on rye.

Yet again, the fondue gods were on my side. It was bubbling perfection: rich, pungent, resinous from the caraway and buttery from the runny cheese.

As I was lapping up the last few drops, my mother called. Her amaryllis died. Did I want the fondue pot?

I thought about it for a minute, then declined. I had everything I needed already here.

mercredi, janvier 23, 2008

poesia diaria

I was lucky enough to meet and speak with Virginia Giannoni when her installation of tributes to the disappeared was exhibited in San Diego a few years back. I'm very pleased to learn that the concept made it to publication as a new book, entitled "Poesia Diaria" (Everyday Poetry), with the help of Gustavo Santaolalla.
The Associated Press: 'Everyday Poetry' Honors Dirty War Dead
By BILL CORMIER – Dec 26, 2007

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Thousands of dissidents silenced under Argentina's military dictatorship — tortured, executed and made to "disappear" in the so-called Dirty War against dissent — are gaining new voice through poetry.

A new book, "Poesia Diaria" ("Everyday Poetry"), tells the victims' story through the memories and verse of families who lost sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives. It comes as Argentines re-examine their country's dark past and push for trials of those who committed human rights abuses during the 1976-1983 junta.

For years, newspapers in this South American nation have published small notices, called "recordatorios" in Spanish, on the anniversaries of disappearances: poems and messages to the dead that Virginia Giannoni, the book's editor, said chilled her to the bone.

"To find such intimate letters published in a public space is so jarring," Giannoni said. "Many of these are beautiful texts that give voice to deep feelings. They express a need not only to remember family members, friends and colleagues who have been made to 'disappear' but to bear witness to their lives."

Giannoni first created a traveling wall of "death tributes" that toured San Diego, Toronto, Medellin, Colombia, and other cities. She then collected in "Poesia Diaria" about 200 of the more than 1,500 poems that had been published in newspapers.

Most are just a few lines saved from yellowed newsprint and old photocopies. Some recall the victims as children or moments together. Others retell their kidnappings or express longing to be reunited.

Still other tributes express anger at the junta, such as one penned by the parents of Juan Jacinto Burgos, who was kidnapped in 1976: "Trapped and murdered ... your voice silenced/ Murdered in a cowardly fashion while held captive somewhere/ We will never forget your martyred body/ We will never forgive the atrocious crimes of the military dictatorship."

"Assassin are you still free?" wonders the family of Fernando Brodsky, who disappeared inside a torture center. "Is your conscience still in need of relief?"

Nearly 13,000 people are officially listed as dead or missing from the junta's so-called Dirty War against dissent, though human rights groups put the toll at nearly 30,000 victims.

Despite renewed prosecutions under President Nestor Kirchner that have led to a handful of convictions, the Dirty War era and the unknown fates of thousands remain open wounds.

"I always think about my sister, always, always," said Cristina Diturbide, who says her younger sister Marta was abducted Nov. 22, 1976, and who visited a recent "Poesia Diaria" exhibition.

"It's a wound that will never close," Diturbide said. "I now have my own home, my work, my children, but her absence is very real."

The book aims to voice that grief and help heal those wounds, said Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla, winner of two Academy Awards for best original score for music he wrote for "Brokeback Mountain" and "Babel." With the backing of the famous human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Santaolalla brought the book to press through his publishing group Retina Editores.

"This was one of the greatest experiences of my life: meeting the Mothers and seeing how they could transform some of the most horrendous things that can happen in your life — such as losing a child, brother, sister or father — into super-positive energy that has to do with life, not death," he told The Associated Press in an interview.

Nora Cortinez of the Mothers said the missing would be glad to be honored this way. "Our children wouldn't have wanted marble or bronze plaques," she said.

The book, which came out in mid-September, contains English versions of most of the poems, and Santaolalla said future editions could add more verses as well as French, German and Italian translations.

Meanwhile a related Web site,, collects more than 500 tributes and invites multilingual volunteers to translate the "fragments of stolen love" into English and French. Giannoni said U.S. high school students who made some translations reported learning about Argentine history in a way they will never forget.

Argentine singer and human rights activist Leon Grieco, who collaborates frequently with the Mothers, said "Poesia Diaria" takes the public behind the faded pictures they have carried in their weekly marches for decades.

"We all know the photographs but not the stories behind them," Grieco said. "This book brings us a little closer to the disappeared through the poetry of those who knew them."

maybe too little, always too late

Maybe Too Little, Always Too Late
Published: January 23, 2008
The history of anti-recession efforts is that they are almost always initiated too late to do any good. This chart, based on recession timelines from the National Bureau of Economic Research, shows the enactment of stimulus plans is a fairly accurate indicator that we have hit the bottom of the business cycle, meaning the economy will improve even if the government does nothing. — Bruce Bartlett, author of “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.”

algae, the holy grail ...

Very, very cool. Powering the country with pond scum is an awesome twofer.
Virgin Airlines: Powered by Pond Scum?
Virgin founder Richard Branson has set out to create a viable biofuel. Will his ecofriendly venture take off?
Bruce Falconer
January 22 , 2008
Before meeting with Al Gore over breakfast in 2006, Richard Branson, the swashbuckling founder of Virgin Ltd., an amalgam of over 200 companies sharing the Virgin brand, was long a global warming skeptic. But then the former vice president (and recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to combat climate change) spent two hours at the billionaire entrepreneur's home laying out his case. "Sadly, I'm now convinced that the world has a serious problem," he told ABC's Good Morning America that September with Gore at his side. Joining the former vice president in his environmental crusade, Branson pledged to funnel all profits from his rail and airline holdings over the next 10 years—an estimated $3 billion—into developing a non-ethanol-based, sustainable biofuel to power the world's cars, trains, and airplanes. Last fall, he and Gore went on to establish the Virgin Earth Challenge, a $25 million award for the development of technology that can suck greenhouse gases from the atmosphere for 10 consecutive years and "contribute materially to the stability of Earth's climate."

Since his green awakening, Branson's flagship airline, Virgin Atlantic, has partnered with Boeing and General Electric to turn its owner's vision into reality. Last week, Virgin announced plans to test fly a Boeing 747-400 from London to Amsterdam using a blend of about 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent jet fuel. The flight, set for late February, will be the world's first in-air test of a biofuel by a commercial jet. The composition of the fuel remains a mystery—though some have suggested it could be anything from tree nuts to pond algae—and it remains to be seen whether this is an another Branson PR stunt or a true precursor to an industry-wide change.

According to Virgin spokeswoman Polly Durant, the company "sees this demo flight as the first step on the road toward a more sustainable fuel source for aviation" and hopes that in the future it will allow Virgin's fleet "to operate more efficiently."

"Efficiency" is a buzzword in the aviation business, shorthand for cutting costs and increasing profits. There are different ways to approach it, explains Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association (IATA), an industry trade group. "With fuel flirting with $100 per barrel, it's in the airline industry's best interest to reduce fuel consumption as much as possible," he says. Many airlines now taxi on one engine and use external power sources at the gate. Others have invested in fuel-efficient ground vehicles and have installed winglets (short, vertical wing extensions) to reduce drag and fuel consumption at altitude. Commercial fleets have also begun replacing aging aircraft with newer, "gas-sipping" models.

Nevertheless, Branson's gamble to replace traditional jet fuel with an organic substitute ventures beyond what most other airlines have been willing to undertake. (Air New Zealand plans to conduct a similar biofuel test later this year.) After all, the industry is a relatively minor greenhouse offender. At the current rate of growth, aviation could produce 3 percent of global CO2 emissions by 2050 and today accounts for 2 percent, according to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IATA claims the industry can become 25 percent more fuel efficient by 2020 simply by tweaking airline operations, improving existing infrastructure, and streamlining air traffic control. The group has set a 50-year goal for the industry to become carbon neutral.

Branson wants to do it sooner than that and has committed himself to halting global warming with all the zeal of a recent convert. According to Lott, Branson also sees an opportunity to do well by doing good. "He wants to start his own fuel company," Lott says. "There has to be an economic incentive…because there's a huge R&D investment in this stuff."

The challenge is to move beyond what scientists call "first generation biofuels," such as corn, soy, or palm oil. "If you're going to make fuel from those types of sources, you're competing with food and freshwater resources, and potentially [causing] some deforestation in order to clear ground to plant those crops," says Boeing spokesman Terrance Scott. Instead, in its work with Branson and Virgin Atlantic, Boeing has sought to identify "second generation biofuels," which would step beyond the food-based alternative fuels currently in use, like corn-derived ethanol, toward a more sustainable, long-term substitute for petroleum. The idea is to build a stable of different biofuel sources from around the world—what Boeing calls "regional solutions"—that would work interchangeably and within the existing aviation infrastructure. "It has to perform in the same manner that current jet aviation fuel performs in," says Scott.

Neither Virgin nor its partners, Boeing and GE, will say what biofuel the airline plans to use. Scott attributed the silence to "customer preference," indicating that more information could be released in the coming weeks. For now, he would say only that Boeing is investigating more than 20 different "feedstocks" for the production of biofuels, including a flowering plant called jatropha, canola, and the Brazilian babassu nut—all of which yield oils when crushed.

Another potential fuel source, one that Scott alluded to several times, is algae. "The biggest thing you get out of going to biofuels is the ability to reduce CO2 as the plants are growing," he explained. And along those lines, perhaps more than any other feedstock, algae represents a kind of holy grail to biofuel researchers. It's a fast-growing, hardy, single-celled organism that takes in carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide and releases oxygen, producing oil, sugar, and protein in the process. It's biodegradable, can grow in harsh weather, and holds an estimated thirty times more energy per acre than land-based feedstocks. The Energy Department estimated it would require 15,000 acres (an area about the size of Maryland) to grow enough algae to replace all of America's petroleum needs; it would require half the continental United States to accomplish the same with soy.

"It's incredible, partly because you get a twofer out of it," explains Deron Lovaas, director of the Move America Beyond Oil Campaign at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental watchdog group. "You grow the algae thanks, in part, to carbon dioxide captured from smoke stacks, so you reduce pollution in the smoke stack. And you get a bunch of fuel derived from algae, so you end up displacing oil."

Pond scum as fuel is not a new concept. The federal government first invested in developing the technology in the mid-1970s in response to an oil crisis that sparked a sudden rise in the price of gas for American drivers. But as prices came down, so did the political dividends of pushing alternative fuels, and by 1996, federal budget cuts killed the program. Since then, as oil prices have resumed their upward climb, algae research has transferred to the private sector, where a dozen companies are now racing to transform muck into fuel. Just last year, Boeing demonstrated in a laboratory that, unlike ethanol, algae-derived fuel does not freeze at high altitudes, removing an important obstacle to future airborne testing. Another important difference from ethanol, says Scott, is that "you're not taking food off the table if you're talking about pond scum."

Would it be unrealistic to expect that Virgin Atlantic might test an algae-derived fuel next month? "No," Lovaas said. "That would not shock me. That would be amazing! It would be a breakthrough development if they were able to do this…a big step forward, even a leap forward, and a tribute to Lord Branson." But even if it turns out not to be algae, "what Virgin and Boeing are doing deserves praise," he added. "This is exactly what the whole industry should be looking at."
Bruce Falconer is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington, D.C., bureau.
Via Jerry

mardi, janvier 22, 2008

couscous pilaf

1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup uncooked couscous
1/3 cup dried cherries (or raisins, currants, etc.)
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp grated fresh lemon rind
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Bring chicken broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Add couscous to pan. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Serves 4
Via Cooking Light, January/ February 2008

lundi, janvier 21, 2008

the future of marriage

It's interesting to see the institution evolve. And encouraging to learn that mutual respect and egalitarian views, coupled with postponing the event until age 35, lead to higher marital quality and fewer marital problems.
Today, men rank intelligence and education way above cooking and housekeeping as a desirable trait in a partner. A recent study by Paul Amato et al. found that the chance of divorce recedes with each year that a woman postpones marriage, with the least divorce-prone marriages being those where the couples got married at age 35 or higher. Educated and high-earning women are now less likely to divorce than other women. When a wife takes a job today, it works to stabilize the marriage. Couples who share housework and productive work have more stable marriages than couples who do not, according to sociologist Lynn Prince Cooke. And the Amato study found that husbands and wives who hold egalitarian views about gender have higher marital quality and fewer marital problems than couples who cling to more traditional views.
For those looking to understand it all, the entire article is available below, courtesy of the Cato Institute (yes, that Cato Institute, the conservative/ libertarian thinktank.)
Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » The Future of Marriage
by Stephanie Coontz
January 14th, 2008

Any serious discussion of the future of marriage requires a clear understanding of how marriage evolved over the ages, along with the causes of its most recent transformations. Many people who hope to “re-institutionalize” marriage misunderstand the reasons that marriage was once more stable and played a stronger role in regulating social life.

For most of history, marriage was more about getting the right in-laws than picking the right partner to love and live with. In the small-scale, band-level societies of our distant ancestors, marriage alliances turned strangers into relatives, creating interdependencies among groups that might otherwise meet as enemies. But as large wealth and status differentials developed in the ancient world, marriage became more exclusionary and coercive. People maneuvered to orchestrate advantageous marriage connections with some families and avoid incurring obligations to others. Marriage became the main way that the upper classes consolidated wealth, forged military coalitions, finalized peace treaties, and bolstered claims to social status or political authority. Getting “well-connected” in-laws was a preoccupation of the middle classes as well, while the dowry a man received at marriage was often the biggest economic stake he would acquire before his parents died. Peasants, farmers, and craftsmen acquired new workers for the family enterprise and forged cooperative bonds with neighbors through their marriages.

Because of marriage’s vital economic and political functions, few societies in history believed that individuals should freely choose their own marriage partners, especially on such fragile grounds as love. Indeed, for millennia, marriage was much more about regulating economic, political, and gender hierarchies than nourishing the well-being of adults and their children. Until the late 18th century, parents took for granted their right to arrange their children’s marriages and even, in many regions, to dissolve a marriage made without their permission. In Anglo-American law, a child born outside an approved marriage was a “fillius nullius” - a child of no one, entitled to nothing. In fact, through most of history, the precondition for maintaining a strong institution of marriage was the existence of an equally strong institution of illegitimacy, which denied such children any claim on their families.

Even legally-recognized wives and children received few of the protections we now associate with marriage. Until the late 19th century, European and American husbands had the right to physically restrain, imprison, or “punish” their wives and children. Marriage gave husbands sole ownership over all property a wife brought to the marriage and any income she earned afterward. Parents put their children to work to accumulate resources for their own old age, enforcing obedience by periodic beatings.

Many people managed to develop loving families over the ages despite these laws and customs, but until very recently, this was not the main point of entering or staying in a union. It was just 250 years ago, when the Enlightenment challenged the right of the older generation and the state to dictate to the young, that free choice based on love and compatibility emerged as the social ideal for mate selection. Only in the early 19th century did the success of a marriage begin to be defined by how well it cared for its members, both adults and children.

These new marital ideals appalled many social conservatives of the day. “How will we get the right people to marry each other, if they can refuse on such trivial grounds as lack of love?” they asked. “Just as important, how will we prevent the wrong ones, such as paupers and servants, from marrying?” What would compel people to stay in marriages where love had died? What would prevent wives from challenging their husbands’ authority?

They were right to worry. In the late 18th century, new ideas about the “pursuit of happiness” led many countries to make divorce more accessible, and some even repealed the penalties for homosexual love. The French revolutionaries abolished the legal category of illegitimacy, according a “love child” equal rights with a “legal” one. In the mid-19th century, women challenged husbands’ sole ownership of wives’ property, earnings, and behavior. Moralists predicted that such female economic independence would “destroy domestic tranquility,” producing “infidelity in the marriage bed, a high rate of divorce, and increased female criminality.” And in some regards, they seemed correct. Divorce rates rose so steadily that in 1891 a Cornell University professor predicted, with stunning accuracy, that if divorce continued rising at its current rate, more marriages would end in divorce than death by the 1980s.

But until the late 1960s, most of the destabilizing aspects of the love revolution were held in check by several forces that prevented people from building successful lives outside marriage: the continued legal subordination of women to men; the ability of local elites to penalize employees and other community members for then-stigmatized behaviors such as remaining single, cohabiting, or getting a divorce; the unreliability of birth control, combined with the harsh treatment of illegitimate children; and above all, the dependence of women upon men’s wage earning.

In the 1970s, however, these constraints were swept away or seriously eroded. The result has been to create a paradox with which many Americans have yet to come to terms. Today, when a marriage works, it delivers more benefits to its members — adults and children — than ever before. A good marriage is fairer and more fulfilling for both men and women than couples of the past could ever have imagined. Domestic violence and sexual coercion have fallen sharply. More couples share decision-making and housework than ever before. Parents devote unprecedented time and resources to their children. And men in stable marriages are far less likely to cheat on their wives than in the past.

But the same things that have made so many modern marriages more intimate, fair, and protective have simultaneously made marriage itself more optional and more contingent on successful negotiation. They have also made marriage seem less bearable when it doesn’t live up to its potential. The forces that have strengthened marriage as a personal relationship between freely-consenting adults have weakened marriage as a regulatory social institution.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the collapse of the conditions that had forced most people to get and stay married led to dramatic - and often traumatic - upheavals in marriage. This was exacerbated by an economic climate that made the 1950s ideal of the male breadwinner unattainable for many families. Divorce rates soared. Unwed teen motherhood shot up. Since then, some of these destabilizing trends have leveled off or receded. The divorce rate has fallen, especially for college-educated couples, over the past 20 years. When divorce does occur, more couples work to resolve it amicably, and fewer men walk away from contact with their children. Although there was a small uptick in teen births last year, they are still almost 30 percent lower than in 1991.

Still, there is no chance that we can restore marriage to its former supremacy in coordinating social and interpersonal relationships. Even as the divorce rate has dropped, the incidence of cohabitation, delayed marriage and non-marriage has risen steadily. With half of all Americans aged 25-29 unmarried, marriage no longer organizes the transition into regular sexual activity or long-term partnerships the way it used to. Although teen births are lower than a decade ago, births to unwed mothers aged 25 and older continue to climb. Almost 40 percent of America’s children are born to unmarried parents. And gay and lesbian families are permanently out of the closet.

Massive social changes combine to ensure that a substantial percentage of people will continue to explore alternatives to marriage. These include women’s economic independence, the abolition of legal penalties for illegitimacy, the expansion of consumer products that make single life easier for both men and women, and the steady decline in the state’s coercive power over personal life. Add to this mix the continuing rise in the age of marriage, a trend that increases the stability of marriages once they are contracted but also increases the percentage of unwed adults in the population. Stir in the reproductive revolution, which has made it possible for couples who would once have been condemned to childlessness to have the kids they want, but impossible to prevent single women or gay and lesbian couples from having children. Top it off with changes in gender roles that have increased the payoffs of marriage for educated, financially-secure women but increased its risks for low-income women whose potential partners are less likely to hold egalitarian values, earn good wages, or even count on a regular job. Taken together, this is a recipe for a world where the social weight of marriage has been fundamentally and irreversibly reduced.

The decline in marriage’s dominating role in organizing social and personal life is not unique to America. It is occurring across the industrial world, even in countries with less “permissive” values and laws. In predominantly Catholic Ireland, where polls in the 1980s found near-universal disapproval of premarital sex, one child in three today is born outside marriage. China’s divorce rate has soared more than 700 percent since 1980. Until 2005, Chile was the only country in the Western Hemisphere that still prohibited divorce. But in today’s world, prohibiting divorce has very different consequences than in the past, because people no longer feel compelled to marry in the first place. Between 1990 and 2003, the number of marriages in Chile fell from 100,000 to 60,000 a year, and nearly half of all children born in Chile in the early years of the 21st century were born to unmarried couples.

In Italy, Singapore, and Japan, divorce, cohabitation, and out-of wedlock births remain low by American standards, but a much larger percentage of women avoid marriage and childbearing altogether. This suggests that we are experiencing a massive historical current that, if blocked in one area, simply flows over traditional paths of family life at a different spot.

The late 20th-century revolution in the role and function of marriage has been as far-reaching — and as wrenching — as the replacement of local craft production and exchange by wage labor and industrialization. Like the Industrial Revolution, the family diversity revolution has undercut old ways of organizing work, leisure, caregiving, and redistribution to dependents. It has liberated some people from restrictive, socially-imposed statuses, but stripped others of customary support systems and rules for behavior, without putting clearly defined new ones in place. There have been winners and losers in the marriage revolution, just as there were in the Industrial Revolution. But we will not meet the challenges of this transformation by trying to turn back the clock. Instead we must take two lessons away from these historical changes.

First, marriage is not on the verge of extinction. Most cohabiting couples eventually do get married, either to each other or to someone else. New groups, such as gays and lesbians, are now demanding access to marriage — a demand that many pro-marriage advocates oddly interpret as an attack on the institution. And a well-functioning marriage is still an especially useful and effective method of organizing interpersonal commitments and improving people’s well-being. But in today’s climate of gender equality and personal choice, we must realize that successful marriages require different traits, skills, and behaviors than in the past.

Marriages used to depend upon a clear division of labor and authority, and couples who rejected those rules had less stable marriages than those who abided by them. In the 1950s, a woman’s best bet for a lasting marriage was to marry a man who believed firmly in the male breadwinner ideal. Women who wanted a “MRS degree” were often advised to avoid the “bachelor’s” degree, since as late as 1967 men told pollsters they valued a woman’s cooking and housekeeping skills above her intelligence or education. Women who hadn’t married by age 25 were less likely to ever marry than their more traditional counterparts, and studies in the 1960s suggested that if they did marry at an older age than average they were more likely to divorce. When a wife took a job outside the home, this raised the risk of marital dissolution.

All that has changed today. Today, men rank intelligence and education way above cooking and housekeeping as a desirable trait in a partner. A recent study by Paul Amato et al. found that the chance of divorce recedes with each year that a woman postpones marriage, with the least divorce-prone marriages being those where the couples got married at age 35 or higher. Educated and high-earning women are now less likely to divorce than other women. When a wife takes a job today, it works to stabilize the marriage. Couples who share housework and productive work have more stable marriages than couples who do not, according to sociologist Lynn Prince Cooke. And the Amato study found that husbands and wives who hold egalitarian views about gender have higher marital quality and fewer marital problems than couples who cling to more traditional views.

So there is no reason to give up on building successful marriages — but we won’t do it by giving people outdated advice about gender roles. We may be able to bring the divorce rate down a little further — but since one method of doing that is to get more people to delay marriage, this will probably lead to more cohabitation. We may also be able to reverse last year’s uptick in teen births and return to the downward course of the late 1990s and first few years of the 21st century — but not by teaching abstinence-only to young people who if they do delay marriage are almost certainly going to have sex beforehand.

The second lesson of history is that the time has passed when we can construct our social policies, work schedules, health insurance systems, sex education programs — or even our moral and ethical beliefs about who owes what to whom — on the assumption that all long-term commitments and care-giving obligations should or can be organized through marriage. Of course we must seek ways to make marriage more possible for couples and to strengthen the marriages they contract. But we must be equally concerned to help couples who don’t marry become better co-parents, to help single parents and cohabiting couples meet their obligations, and to teach divorced parents how to minimize their conflicts and improve their parenting.

The right research and policy question today is not “what kind of family do we wish people lived in?” Instead, we must ask “what do we know about how to help every family build on its strengths, minimize its weaknesses, and raise children more successfully?” Much recent hysteria to the contrary, we know a lot about how to do that. We should devote more of our energies to getting that research out and less to fantasizing about a return to a mythical Golden Age of marriage of the past.

Stephanie Coontz teaches history at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and is Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families ( Her most recent book is Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.

flammekueche AKA tarte d'alsace

Leo and I have been saying that we'd make our own version of the Trader Joe's Tarte d'Alsace for nearly two years. Tonight, we made it, a Flammekueche of sorts.
Flammekueche or Tarte flambée is a well-known Alsacian speciality. It is like pizza in that a thin crust of dough is baked in a very hot oven, but its topping is primarily crème fraîche, onions, and bacon. Like many traditional regional dishes there are innumerable ways of preparing it.
Preheat oven to 450F. (If using a pizza stone, preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes.)

1 bag Trader Joe's pizza crust
1 medium onion (3 ounces), finely sliced
½ cup crème fraîche, commercial or homemade (see note)
½ cup gruyere, shredded
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
4 pinches nutmeg
3 ounces (about two strips) bacon, cut into matchsticks
  1. Cook bacon until light brown, stirring constantly. Remove and drain on paper towels, reserving about a TBSP of bacon grease in the pan.
  2. Add the onion to the pan and cook in bacon grease, stirring, over low heat for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.
  3. Combine the crème fraîche, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooled onion.
  4. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a 14x16- inch baking sheet and lightly flour the paper. Roll the dough until slightly smaller than the baking sheet. Place it on the sheet. Spread the onion mixture over the dough, leaving a very small margin all the way around, then dot with the bacon.
  5. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes near the top of the oven.
  6. Carefully remove pizza from cookie sheet, slide it onto a wooden cutting board or pizza peel, then slide pizza off board and back onto oven rack placed on lowest rung of oven for another 2 to 3 minutes. Tart should be lightly browned & bubbling. Burned/blackened edges are traditional -- if that's what you want, bake for 4 minutes. Serve very hot.
NOTE: To make crème fraîche, combine 1 cup heavy cream with 2 tablespoons buttermilk, stir, cover with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, or until it has become very thick. Refrigerate, and it will become even thicker.


"Sustainability is not compatible with empire."
-David Roberts, primary staff writer for Grist Magazine, an online environmental publication based in Seattle, Washington.

samedi, janvier 19, 2008

girl, you'll be a woman soon(er)

Puberty is arriving ever younger in American females -- 8 is no longer considered abnormal. Preservatives, pesticides, hormones such Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) in milk and other hormones in meat, plastics, cosmetics with phthalates, all of these should make us suspicious. (And, no, I don't feel like I'm a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy freak for asking questions.)

But the typical American attitude is to assume that corporations and government are acting in our best interest, instead of pushing for answers. It's negligent not to investigate the environmental factors. Shifting the charts to define the change as "normal" sweeps this under the rug. Why are we burying our collective heads in the sand?
Girl, you'll be a woman sooner than expected
By Susan Brink, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 21, 2008
AT 8 or 9 years old, the typical American schoolgirl is perfecting her cursive handwriting style. She's picking out nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in sentences, memorizing multiplication tables and learning to read a thermometer.

She's a little girl with a lot to learn.

And yet, in increasing numbers, when girls this age run across the playground in T-shirts, there is undeniable evidence that their bodies are blossoming. The first visible sign of puberty, breast budding, is arriving ever earlier in American girls.

Some parents and activists suspect environmental chemicals. Most pediatricians and endocrinologists say that, though they have suspicions about the environment, the only scientific evidence points to the obesity epidemic. What's clear, however, is that the elements of female maturity increasingly are spacing themselves out over months, even years -- and no one quite knows why.

While early menstruation is a known risk factor for breast cancer, no one knows what earlier breast development means for the future of girls' health. "We're not backing up all events in puberty," says Sandra Streingraber, biologist and visiting scholar at Ithaca College. "We're backing up the starting point." She has examined the research on female puberty and compiled a summary in an August 2007 report called "The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls." The report was financed by the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group interested in exploring environmental causes of that disease.

Earlier breast development is now so typical that the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society urged changing the definition of "normal" development. Until 10 years ago, breast development at age 8 was considered an abnormal event that should be investigated by an endocrinologist. Then a landmark study in the April 1997 journal Pediatrics written by Marcia Herman-Giddens, adjunct professor at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that among 17,000 girls in North Carolina, almost half of African Americans and 15% of whites had begun breast development by age 8. Two years later, the society suggested changing what it considered medically normal.

The new "8" -- the medically suggested definition for abnormally early breast development -- is, the society says, 7 for white girls and 6 for African American girls.

Through the ages
Puberty involves three stages: breast development, pubic hair growth and, finally, menstruation. Because the final event is typically the most memorable for women, it has been the one most scientifically documented in studies based on self-reported memories. The first 100 years that medical records were kept on the age of onset of menstruation saw continuous drops. Between about 1850 and 1950 in Europe, the average age of a girl's first period dropped from about 17 to about 13. (The U.S. doesn't have good data earlier than the 20th century, though trends were probably similar, says Steingraber, who prepared the August 2007 report after examining hundreds of studies on potential dietary, lifestyle and environmental causes of early puberty.)

Much of that decline probably has to do with better nutrition and public health improvements that reduced the spread of infectious diseases. "Better diet, closed sewer systems, deep burial of the dead," Steingraber says. "By the beginning of the 20th century, those things were in place."

Adequate food and good health signal the brain that it's safe to reproduce, according to theories of evolutionary biology. "We're healthier and we weigh more," says Dr. Francine Kaufman, head of the center for diabetes and endocrinology at Childrens Hospital. "In some ways, puberty is a luxury."

With the brain picking up these signals, the hormonal parade can begin, first with the release from the hypothalamus of gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which sends other hormones from the pituitary gland through the bloodstream to the ovaries. The ovaries gear up production of a form of estrogen called estradiol, which initiates breast development -- the first step in puberty.

A second signaling pathway stimulates the adrenal gland to begin androgen production, which results in pubic hair. The final stage of puberty is the beginning of monthly periods.

But the first two events are happening significantly earlier in the lives of today's girls than they did in the lives of their mothers and grandmothers. The age of first menstruation has dropped too, at a rate of about one month per decade for the last 30 years, according to a January 2003 study in Pediatrics. Today, the U.S. average for first period is 12.5 for white girls, 12.06 for black girls and 12.09 for Latinas.

The gap between the first appearance of breast buds and menstruation grew wider by as much as a year and a half between the 1960s and the 1990s, according to research published in the October 2006 journal Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology. The time from breast buds to bleeding, according to Herman-Giddens, is now close to three years.

In short, that finely tuned biological process may have reached a tipping point. Since the 1960s, Herman-Giddens says, the decline in the age of maturity has crossed the line from positive reasons, such as better diet, to negative ones, such as eating too much, exercising too little and the vast unknowns of chemical pollution.

The lack of adequate explanation has some experts worried. "Over the course of a few decades, the childhoods of U.S. girls have been significantly shortened," Steingraber says.

Redefining 'average'
The new average age of puberty, some fear, may be like the new average weight -- typical, but terrible.

"My fear," Herman-Giddens says, "is that medical groups could take the data and say 'This is normal. We don't have to worry about it.' My feeling is that it is not normal. It's a response to an abnormal environment."

Dr. Paul Kaplowitz, chief of endocrinology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and lead author of a special article Oct. 4, 1999, in the journal Pediatrics suggesting a redefinition of early puberty, isn't so sure. Too many girls are being labeled abnormal, he contends.

"Maybe we shouldn't be worrying so much about those girls," he says. "The chance of finding a serious condition in a 7-year-old with pubic hair is very, very small."

There have always been rare cases of extremely early puberty, called precocious puberty. One report, going back to 1834 in Butler County, Ky., was of a baby girl whose hips and breasts began to grow soon after she was born. By the age of 1, she was menstruating and at age 10, she gave birth to a 7-pound baby. Such extreme cases today would be examined and treated.

But the beginnings of breasts, and the first pubic hair, at ages 8, 7 or even 6 for African Americans falls at the low end of today's new normal range.

With statisticians proving that "average" is younger than recently thought, environmental activists are asking whether hormones in food, pesticides in produce or phthalates in plastics and cosmetics could be contributing to breast buds in third-graders. Social scientists have lifestyle suspicions. Does the stress of fatherless households, or the stimulating effects of sexually suggestive television shows, have anything to do with earlier signs of puberty? The suspicions remain difficult to prove.

Despite the reassurance of pediatric endocrinologists that younger development is normal, a lot of parents are still nervous, Kaplowitz says.

"If somebody calls in and says, 'I've got an 8-year-old with breast buds,' there's nothing I need to do," he says. "I discourage referrals. But they show up anyway."

Kaplowitz examined evidence for all suspected environmental and lifestyle factors in his book, "Early Puberty in Girls: The Essential Guide to Coping With This Common Problem."

"The explanation for which there's the most evidence is that it's related to the trend in increasing obesity," he says. "There are other factors, such as if your mother matured early. Sometimes we simply don't know. But overall, the biggest single factor is the trend toward obesity." Fatty tissue is a source of estrogen, so chubbier girls are exposed to more estrogen.

"With environmental influences, there has been a lot of speculation, but little hard data. I'm not suggesting there's no connection, but it's very hard to say there's a proven connection. I think it's environmental mainly in the sense that overeating and lack of exercise is environmental," Kaplowitz says. "I've tried to take the view that we shouldn't be alarmed about this."

Herman-Giddens is not so convinced, but concedes that evidence for environmental causes is close to impossible to obtain. "I myself am shocked sometimes to see very thin girls, 8 and 9 years old, with breast development," she says. "But with all the estrogen-like elements in the environment, it's virtually impossible to study. There's no place to find an unexposed population."

The biggest concern, she says, is that earlier puberty means longer lifetime exposure to estrogen, and early puberty, along with late menopause, is known to increase the risk of breast cancer.

But to design a study in which some girls are deliberately exposed to higher doses of such chemicals would be unethical, she says. Some animal studies provide cause for concern about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, but little hard evidence for humans. And a handful of industrial accidents have provided some data. In 1973, for example, estrogenic chemicals were inadvertently mixed in cattle feed in a Michigan community. The daughters of pregnant and nursing women who ate meat and dairy products from the cows were studied and were found to have begun their periods up to a year earlier than girls not exposed to the chemical, according to a 2000 study in the journal Epidemiology.

Time for a talk
What's clear is that physical appearance is getting ahead of other aspects of girls' maturity. They might be perceived as far older than they are, even when they're still rummaging through their mothers' closets to clomp around in oversized high heels.

"My daughter started developing breasts maybe around age 8," says Rhonda Sykes of Inglewood. "She was still into her doll phase and dressing up to play." So Sykes began having frank mother-daughter conversations about curves and changing bodies a bit earlier than she expected.

"Whatever they look like, they know nothing," says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families. "Eight- and 9-year olds are learning to make change for a dollar. These are children who are learning the most fundamental facts in school. Imagine trying to teach that child the fundamentals of sex. They're not even playing Monopoly yet. They're still playing Candyland."

The medical community calls earlier puberty normal, the trend goes hand in hand with the obesity epidemic, and science has not yet pinpointed the reasons. And yet, when girls who are still children in the minds of their parents start developing breasts, many of their mothers remember that it happened later in their own lives -- and wonder why.

Theorists and advocates continue to search for definitive evidence, and little girls continue to look like young women at earlier ages. "My biologist brain says, 'There's not a lot you can conclude from the [environmental] evidence,' " Steingraber says. "But I've got a 9-year-old girl. And as a mother, I say, 'They've introduced all these chemicals into the environment, and they have no idea what it's doing. What are they, nuts?' I want data demonstrating safety, not data demonstrating ignorance."
Via Dana

the silent debate (with harry shearer)

Everybody thinks they’ve heard the Presidential candidates say nothing in the debates. But now, for the first time ever, a debate in which the point is to present them saying nothing. Literally.

vendredi, janvier 18, 2008

tagging our history

Information architecture 101 says that you ask the target audience what it calls things, in an effort to make them easier to find. That's the awesome power behind folksonomy. Now, the Library of Congress and Flickr are teaming up to categorize lots of vintage images. Awesome!

Flickr brings tagging to vintage images
By Daniel Terdiman
Staff Writer, CNET
Published: January 17, 2008, 1:34 PM PST
Scores of gorgeous historic photos--from shots of early 20th century baseball players to 1940s-era images of horse-drawn carts and factory workers--showed up on Flickr this week, and the public is busy tagging them in an effort to bring new context to the collection.

The labeling is part of a pilot project by the U.S. Library of Congress, which is making 3,115 of its archival photos available for public tagging in an attempt to bring a sort of "wisdom of the crowds" intelligence to the photos' metadata.

The project kicked off Wednesday in conjunction with the launch of a Flickr initiative dubbed "The Commons." That effort aims to open peoples' eyes to the "hidden treasures in the huge Library of Congress collection" and to show people how their "input of a tag or two can make the collection even richer."

For now, the library is making two distinct groupings available on the popular photo-sharing site: "1930s-40s in Color" and "News in the 1910s." The former is filled with images of World War II-era industrial scenes and military personnel posing in full-dress uniform. The latter contains equally stunning shots of random ball players, barns, yacht clubs, and more.

The Commons is Flickr's attempt to showcase and add context to the archives of public-facing institutions--first the Library of Congress and later potentially others, such as museums or other civic entities.

"I'm interested in whether this can establish the usefulness of the folksonomic approach, in combination with the expertise and curatorial skills that these institutions hold," said George Oates, program manager for The Commons at Flickr. "I don't know what the future looks like, but I do know that there's a lot of interest in the museum industry about this...approach."

For now, though, The Commons is going to focus exclusively on the library's archives. One notable aspect of the project is the addition of a new Flickr copyright category in which the photos are said to have "no known copyright restrictions."

It might be tempting to read that designation as equating to "public domain," but that's not the case, say those driving the initiative at the Library of Congress.

"It's always incumbent on a user of any work to do their own due diligence" about copyright, said Matt Raymond, a public-affairs officer at the library. (The public can visit the library's Prints and Photographs Web page for an FAQ on the specifics of copyright issues pertaining to the images in The Commons project, as well as to any of the millions of other images in the library's archives.)

It may eventually be possible for the general public to submit photos to The Commons project, Oates suggested, but for now, Flickr will limit participation to public or civic institutions.

As a result, the public will have to continue using the previously existing copyright designations Flickr offers, such as "some rights reserved," "all rights reserved" and assorted licenses available under Creative Commons.

Regardless of the copyright issues involved, the library and Flickr are pushing these initiatives because of what they see as a unique opportunity to bring to bear the knowledge of the photo-sharing site's millions of users. The images, which previously had very little metadata attached, will now be searchable by the countless tags being added.

In addition, said Raymond, the project is giving the library a chance to experiment with the latest interactive technologies.

"We're moving as aggressively as a government agency can to recognize the growing importance of Web 2.0," Raymond said. "This was a very low-cost opportunity to observe the tagging behavior and evaluate the quality we could get, and get our feet wet in a Web 2.0 community."

Already, just a day after the project debut, some individual photos have received more than 50 tags. Some might think so many tags for an individual photo could water down the usefulness of the metadata, but those involved in the project disagree.

"That's where the long tail comes in," Oates said. "If you compare a photo with 3 tags with one with 26, you've increased" searchability by orders of magnitude.

The Library of Congress initiative shares characteristics of projects like SETI@home and's Mechanical Turk, both of which harness the power of the masses to look for solutions.

Those projects, which both task individuals with contributing their time or computer processing power for the larger good, are in some ways the definition of what Wired magazine contributing editor Jeff Howe calls "crowdsourcing."

"The cost of five minutes of a user's time is so marginal, it's almost a why-not," said Howe, author of the forthcoming Crowdsourcing: How the power of the crowd is driving the future of business. "Are they asking for a day of my time? No way, I've got kids. Are they asking for a few minutes? (Then no problem)."

One might think the public would be willing to help the Library of Congress because the institution's mission to archive and collect public knowledge and information is benign. But Howe suggested that there would be those who would want to get involved no matter what the agency was.

"If it was the (National Security Agency) asking if I'd want to classify spy photos," Howe said, "even then, you'd get the wannabe spooks" to help.

That's exactly what Flickr and the Library of Congress are counting on as their side-by-side projects get off the ground.

Some observers view the projects as an admirable way of mixing public and private expertise.

"Except for my general nervousness about putting this stuff into a privately held, for-profit organization," blogger David Weinberger wrote Wednesday, "I think this is quite cool. It has the advantage of putting the data where the people already are. As a footnote to the posting says, it takes a photo of a grain elevator as an example 'because it helps illustrate that there are active Flickr user groups for even such diverse subjects as grain elevators.'"

Michelle Springer, project manager of digital initiatives at the Library of Congress, said the agency doesn't mind that its partner is a company that can leverage its participation for potential profit.

"The library's interest is in working with virtually any partner that will help us achieve our mission," Springer said, "and the key thing we keep in mind is that we avoid exclusive arrangements. So if other people wanted to work with us and do similar things, it's not unprecedented for us to do that."

She added that she hopes that the library's experience with the project might spur other government agencies and public institutions to follow its lead.
But for now, the library is just getting used to the fact that the public seems to have responded to its project with very open arms and with an unexpected amount of participation.
"We didn't have a sense of what all we would learn," Raymond said. "And by going through the exercise, we will reach undiscovered territory and uncharted countries."

jeudi, janvier 17, 2008

mob cheese

I love cheese. I love bufala mozarella. So the idea that Italy's export is under threat because of a problem that the mafia is exacerbating is molto malo.
Disease risk to mozzarella output
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

The production of one of Italy's best known exports, mozzarella, is under threat from an infection spreading through herds of water buffalo.

The Italian government has set up an emergency commission to try and stop the spread of the disease, which affects milk production.

The plains of Campania, around Naples, are home to large buffalo herds.

As much as 30% of the herd who live in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius are reported to be infected.

The area is the exalted home of mozzarella di bufala: not only an essential part of the Italian diet, but one of Italy's most important exports.

But the Neapolitan farmers who make this famous milky cheese are facing a crisis.

In the next two months, the Italian government will start the slaughter of 32,000 buffalo, infected with Brucellosis - a contagious bacterial disease that in livestock leads to abortion, infertility and reduced milk production.

It can be transmitted through food to humans, causing severe intermittent fever - though the milk which produces the cheese is perfectly safe when it is pasteurised.

Mafia 'threat'

Brucellosis has been present in the herd for 10 years.

But the Italian papers say the local vets who are supposed to test and put down infected animals have been intimidated by the local mafia - the Camorra - who also control some of the farms.

Consequently, it is reported, the disease has been allowed to spread to almost 30% of the herd.

Caserta, one of two key mozzarella-producing areas, is the worst affected.

In the coming weeks, armed police will accompany government vets to help with the cull.

They say every infected animal destroyed will be burnt - and it is estimated the cost to the Italian government will be 66m euros ($97m; £49m).

dimanche, janvier 13, 2008

broccoli with two-cheese sauce

We made this as a side dish last night and loved it. (To be fair, we used regular Gruyere, because it was what we had, so it probably wasn't as "light" as the recipe below.)
1 cup fat-free milk
1/2 cup sliced onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Dash of ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (we used 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat Jarlsberg cheese (we used 1/2 cup Gruyere)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of ground red pepper
6 cups broccoli spears

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Heat to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Remove from heat; let stand 15 minutes. Strain milk mixture through a sieve into a bowl, reserving milk. (We simply removed the onion and garlic and skipped the straining and wiping the pan.) Discard solids. Wipe pan clean with paper towels; add strained milk and flour to pan, stirring with a whisk. Return pan to medium heat; cook 2 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat. Add cheeses, salt, and pepper, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Keep warm.

Cook broccoli in boiling water 3 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain. Top with cheese sauce; serve immediately.

Serves 8. (serving size: 3/4 cup broccoli and about 2 1/2 tablespoons sauce)

CALORIES 67(30% from fat); FAT 2.2g (sat 1.3g,mono 0.6g,poly 0.2g); PROTEIN 6.4g; CHOLESTEROL 6mg; CALCIUM 175mg; SODIUM 215mg; FIBER 1.8g; IRON 0.6mg; CARBOHYDRATE 6.4g

Via Cooking Light, January 2008

mardi, janvier 08, 2008

forget tupperware, modern women hold taser parties

Forget Tupperware, modern women hold Taser parties
Posted on Tue, Jan. 08, 2008
By CHRIS KAHN, Associated Press
GILBERT, Ariz. --
Before she lets them shoot her little pink stun gun, Dana Shafman ushers her new friends to the living room sofa for a serious chat about the fears she believes they all share.

''The worst nightmare for me is, while I'm sleeping, someone coming in my home,'' Shafman says, drawing a few solemn nods from the women. Shafman, 34, of Phoenix, says she knows how they feel. She says she used to stash knives under her pillow for protection.

Welcome, she says, to the Taser party.

On the coffee table, Shafman spreads out Taser's C2 ''personal protector'' weapons that the company is marketing to the public. It doesn't take long before the women are lined up in the hallway, whooping as they take turns blasting a metallic target.

''C'mon!'' she says. ``Give it a shot.''

Shafman isn't an employee for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International. She's an independent entrepreneur who's been selling Tasers the way her mother's generation sold plastic food storage containers.

As a single woman who lives alone, Shafman says she's the perfect pitchwoman for Taser as it makes a renewed push to sell weapons to families.

The company agrees. Taser officials like Shafman's homespun sales tactics so much that they will have a living room set at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Shafman will host a Taser party for buyers and dealers.

The company launched the Taser C2, which shoots two electrically charged darts with the same shocking power as the police version, last year. It previously came in four colors -- silver, black, blue and pink. The company said Monday that it would also make the guns available in leopard print, ''fashion'' pink, and ''red-hot'' red.

Another product, the Taser MPH (Music Player Holster) will hold 1 gigabyte of music, enough to allow wearers to listen to a variety of songs while carrying a stun gun on their hip.

Taser doesn't expect its dealers to start imitating Shafman. But spokesman Steve Tuttle says company officials think people can learn from her approach.

''When I talk about Taser, I come across as a salesman,'' Tuttle says. ``When you see her it comes across as very real.''

Shafman, a freelance construction consultant, says she always had a natural interest in self-defense products.

She tried moonlighting as a door-to-door Taser saleswoman. But years of negative press about Taser made it tough.

A lot of people, especially women, need time to get comfortable with a unique product like Taser before they'll consider buying one, Shafman says.

So the Taser party was born.

Shafman says she's sold about 30 guns per month at $349.99 since her first Taser party in October. She doesn't get a commission from Taser. Instead, she gets a discounted dealer rate for units and keeps the difference.

Shafman says many of her women customers love that the C2 is small enough to fit in their purses, and that it comes in a variety of colors. When it comes to choosing weapons, she says, a lot of women want them in pink.