Monday, March 30, 2009

Mom's Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

I'm not sure if this is of general use beyond my own reference, and Nate's if he doesn't have it already, or Pete's if he ever momentarily lapses into cooking something with two pounds of meat in it, but Mom's spaghetti sauce recipe is obviously very very good and worth cooking. Also, placing a recipe in the middle of the blog is a good way to diversify its literary aspects and lend it the nonnarrative postmodern street cred you need in this crazy day and age. I'll also mention that you can get your hands on some very high-quality Italian sausage in New Haven.

I cooked this yesterday (dizzly March weather, perfect for staying in and simmering something for a while and drinking a couple of glasses of the wine you're cooking with) and put together a spaghetti dinner for Sarah tonight, along with steamed broccoli rabe (remarkably well-kept for having been bought ten days ago for the previous marquee dinner; you go, fridge crisper) and ciabatta rolls. That is a hearty straight-up meal right there.

1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef
1 large can (28 oz) tomato puree
1/2 can of water
1/4 can of dry red wine
2-4 links of sweet Italian sausage (uncooked)
1 clove fresh garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried crushed sweet basil
1/2 tsp crushed oregano
2 tsp sugar
Salt to taste (maybe 1/4 tsp)
1/4 tsp black pepper
Dash of soy sauce
1 can (6 oz) of tomato paste

Brown meat with garlic; drain fat. Add the tomato puree and, using the can as a measure, add water and wine. Add other ingredients, except the tomato paste. Simmer for 2 – 3 hours. At the end you add the paste. The easiest way is to put the paste in a heatproof container (pyrex measuring cup or bowl) and gradually stir in some of the sauce—1/4 cup at a time, stirring until smooth. Then add the thinned paste to the pot of sauce and stir well. The thinner you make the paste, the easier it is to add. (If you don’t thin it first, it takes a long time to get the lumps out of the sauce.)

You can brown the sausages first and drain them to reduce the amount of fat that goes into the sauce.

The Haunted Musical Mind, as Usual

Stu and I went to a University Symphony concert yesterday afternoon (at the finely appointed and trimly scaled Battell Chapel, instead of the cavernous full concert hall) that featured Dvorak's Serenade for Strings; consequently I've had the second movement waltzing wistfully through my head for the past thirty hours. (Thankfully I can listen to the Naxos Music Library at work and thus can generally scratch whatever non-John-Adams classical itches I acquire on a daily basis.) This movement might be the most spellbinding thing Dvorak wrote, aside from the slow movement of the New World Symphony; I hadn't listened to it for a while and had forgotten this. I have a bell-clear memory of hearing it for the first time, in Vienna while Nate was there, and having the same reaction to it then. Best available YouTube would appear to be here.

Elsewhere on the program, Jonny Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver (of There Will Be Blood soundtrack fame) -- effective and impressively sonorous in concert; Paul Dukas's Fanfare to "La Peri," sounding with a little roughness and elephantine honesty that goes quite well with the exotic harmonies (had chills through all 3 1/2 minutes, first time that's happened in a while); Mozart's Serenade no. 12 for winds, with a great first movement and a fine last movement and a lot of standard-issue wind serenade in between.

I finally got around to watching Nate's birthday gift to me from last year, which is the DVD of filmmaker Bill Morrison's Decasia, a reel of uncannily apocalyptic decayed film stock from the early twentieth century, set to an orchestral wash of nightmare minimalism composed by Michael Gordon. This involves being haunted in a completely different fashion: less gentle melancholy, more having the alarm bells in the base of your brain jangled for aesthetic purposes. I've still got chromatically dysfunctional nuns flashing before the back of my eyes. I would recommend watching Decasia with the caveat that you have really come to like atonal orchestral music: you've got to be in a mindset to savor some extreme severity. Still and all it's the good kind of edgy, and it makes a lot of hay from the way you're used to interpreting film visuals as reasonably faithful to real life. Creepy!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Better Than Nothing

It appears to be the case that Thursday afternoons are the one time of the week when I find myself both in front of the internet and with time to kill. So this, I suppose, is a more-or-less typical meta-bloggatory preamble to whatever content it will occur to me to write about by the end of this paragraph. This reminds me a bit of the format the The Simpsons used (I don't know what they're up to over there these days, I stopped watching years ago (and no matter what the Onion AV Club or Matt Groening says, the last 12 years of The Simpsons has sucked way more than its been funny)) for many of its middle seasons, where the 1st act is only loosely connected to the main story of the episode; so this paragraph, post-wise, is a sort of pre-plot that gets the main plot of the post rolling. Incidentally, the movie WALL-E had a much more unique act structure, which I think was one of the most notable things about it, that was somewhat overlooked in all the praise that was heaped upon it. But, of course, all this preambulating starts to make me feel pressured too--just a couple of sentences ago, I was convinced that I was going to think of something to write about, and now, as the scroll bar is about to appear on the Compose window of of mild interest's blog HQ (yep, there it is, scroll bar just showed up), it seems that time is a-wastin'; I've still got 40 minutes before class, but space is time and time is space...

...okay: here's something. It's about a new initiative to make up some kind of eco-business certificate to Bachelor's Degree's at my University. My quote was so hot that the writer used it to close the article. Boo-ya! To my credit though, I did say several other things to the woman that was writing the article, which were much more cynical than the one that she finally printed. I'm sad to see that my analogy between my University offering a "green" certification and Wal-Mart selling organic cotton didn't make the cut.

Eh... I dunno, I got nothin'. Sorry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


We should all take a moment to observe the passing of Vince Lascheid, organist for the Pirates, who died the other day at eighty-five. (Do read the obituary, which describes the classic kind of meandering career path of a mid-century popular instrumentalist. Did you know he was succeeded in the Glen Miller Band at one point by Henry Mancini?) I always liked that Three Rivers Stadium (and PNC Park, to a lesser extent) kept up with the cornball goodness of organ music to a greater than usual degree, and Lascheid's goofy play-on-words batter fanfares were certainly a big part of the enjoyment. For everyone from Pittsburgh of our generation, part of the experience of going to the ballpark was your dad explaining that a particular tune was the theme to the Dick Van Dyke show and pointing out how "Dick Van Dyke" kind of sounded like "Andy Van Slyke." That all will be missed.
* * * * *
I forget how I came across this now, but Roger Ebert of all people composed a pretty compelling blog post a couple of weeks ago about the irritating popularity of snarking about movies and pop culture. I'm with him all the way. Not that I consume a lot of pop culture, but there's a depressing amount of snark out there attached lamprey-like to our already depressing celebrity culture. Snark seems to be designed to be a cheap substitute for actual cleverness, and as such I hate it as a twist on anti-intellectualism. Also, contempt is to snark what corn syrup is to Coke, and I think contempt is always and everywhere a corrosive emotion that should only be applied (with no exceptions for triviality!) defensively against other people's contempt. Anyway, if you want something more than my highly unspecific cultural diatribe, read Ebert. Apparently he was inspired by a recent book on the subject by David Denby, which perhaps I'll look for at the library.
* * * * *
I watched Dr. No on DVD for the first time a couple weekends ago. It takes a while to build up steam, but once it gets into the Inscrutable Supervillain and His Self-Destructing Secret Island Base territory, make yourself a second bowl of popcorn. Actually I think it kind of redeems Austin Powers, for the double-bank-shot humor it provides as you reverse-engineer the parody references. (Note: Austin Powers 2 and 3 exempt from redemption. Note to note: This is not snark, I mean it with very literal sincerity.) Parts of it are kind of borderline racist, but, um, looking at it another way that's kind of borderline not racist, so hey, good effort!
* * * * *
I'm not sure the extent to which the technological/economic locus of instability in academic publishing interests anyone else here, but there's some interesting news about the University of Michigan Press moving into distributing digital-only monographs (and also being reorganized as a division of the university's library) that has the possible look of a broader future to it.
* * * * *
A couple of weeks ago Pete had brought up the topic of vegetarianism again, and I meant to definitively close out the topic with some commentary by philosophizer and academically trained French person Jacques Derrida. Let's go to the tape:
Q: But how do you reconcile a concern for being compassionate toward animals with the necessity for humans to eat meat?
A: It is not enough to stop eating meat in order to become a non-carnivore. The unconscious carnivorous process has many other resources, and I do not believe in the existence of the non-carnivore in general. Even in the case of someone who believes he can limit himself to bread and wine. (I confront this question more effectively, I believe, when I speak of the necessary deconstruction of "carno-phallogocentrism.") Even if we didn't already know this since long ago, at least for two thousand years, psychoanalysis would teach us that "vegetarians," like everyone else, can also incorporate, symbolically, something living, something of flesh and blood—of man and of God. Atheists, too, still like to "eat the other." At least if they love, for it is the very temptation of love. A thought here for Kleist's Penthesilea. She was one of the major figures of a seminar I gave a few years ago on that very subject: "Eating the other."
I believe that clears up that particular question. Next topic!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm in My Twenties

The birthday weekend had a quiet surface this year, but it was marvelously satisfying; Sarah, just back from a European spring break, pampered me to the tune of cooking a breakfast (Quebecois-style crepes, with lemon juice and brown sugar) and a dinner (orechiette with sausage and broccoli rabe -- the San Francisco Chronicle's 2004 recipe of the year, and a deserving one) plus cake (banana cake with a creme brulee–like icing; It's What's For Breakfast!) and otherwise I lazed around (um, the three mimosas with aforementioned crepes inspired some of that) and wandered around campus to listen to the carillon and browse in one of the bookstores.

Nate and I chatted briefly, but he was in some or other Portland farmer's market at the time. I miss somewhat the days when he was on the East Coast and he could come up to New York for a weekend so we could pick some Shostakovich concert to splurge on. I think the last one of those was the Third and Fourth symphonies with Valery Gergiev and the Concertgebouw back in '06, although I might be forgetting one. Hearing the Third in concert was pretty unusual and Gergiev made it a solid piece; I admit that I can never keep the sound of the Fourth in my ears, as much sound as it throws at you.

I don't have any deep thoughts about being 29 instead of 28, but it's getting awfully close to 30 and I still don't really know what I'm supposed to be doing with myself.

There'd be a picture of me blowing out birthday candles attached to this post, except the library computers won't let you download pictures from your email account, which I grudgingly admit is a sensible policy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

At the World Baseball Classic

It's Spring Break (woo! woo!), so I didn't go to the internet yesterday, but I did want to post something about my trip to the World Baseball Classic on Monday evening. Which was completely awesome, believe it or not. It's hard to get a good sense of the public opinion on the WBC (or, maybe not that hard, but more effort than I'm willing to put in). Based, for instance, on the tiny crowd that attend the US v. Netherlands game over the weekend here in Miami, though, Americans don't really care about the WBC (and the Dutch, sadly, just don't maintain that large a population here in South Florida). But several friends and I went to the Puerto Rico v. Venezuela game on Monday night; it was more crowded than any Marlins game I've been to (granted, I've only been to a couple Marlins games, and one of those was against the Pirates (who don't draw a crowd anywhere)), and louder than any Pirates game I can remember, at least in the PNC Park era (I was going to make a claim about the loudness of a playoff game back in the early '90s, but I'm concerned that too much of that memory would be fabricated).

So there's definitely some market here that MLB is tapping with its WBC. For both of the two countries battling it out Monday night, there was clearly plenty at stake. But at the same time, it was a more fun-loving rivalry than, say any Red Sox-Yankees rivalrying that I've ever been stuck witnessing. Just about everyone (except for my friends and I and the few other non-partisans I saw at the stadium) was decked out in their national colors and cheered wildly for just about anything even vaguely exciting. The whole crowd stood anytime that a batter got two strikes on him. We got to the stadium maybe an hour and half early in order to tailgate, and the parking lot was already active with many other groups who were already well established (our rusty green grill, two folding chairs, and foam cooler were no match for the portable propane grills, folding tables, etc).

There were also several percussion groups (I think both were Venezuelan, but there may have been a Puerto Rican band on the other side of the stadium) playing with an incredible stamina throughout the game. One of them seemed to be officially sanctioned; the other just showed up partway through the first innning, one section from where I was sitting, and proceeding to keep up their cheers more or less non-stop for the whole game. There was a whole pile of people surrounding the drummers, with many people up on someone else's shoulders, but the police ( a clean dozen of 'em) showed up to calm them down somewhat. Still very cool. I really can't recall having left a baseball game with my ears slightly ringing the way they were when I left this game.

Which is kind of too bad, in its way, since it seems unlikely that I'll go to another game this season that tops this one (figuring that I'll get to a Marlins game or two, and maybe a Pirates game sometime over the summer when I'm visiting home), but at the same time, it was more fun than any game I've been to in a long time. Another highlight was a dude a couple rows up from us that had a megaphone that he would cheer into occasionally--for Puerto Rico, so in Spanish, but enjoyable for its cadence alone. I don't that I've ever heard a guy with a megaphone or drum groups at PNC Park, but they're probably not allowed in there. Which is too bad.

So far as I can tell, outside of the general ambivalence of American fans, the anti-WBC comments come from owners or managers that stand a lot to lose if their players get injured, but I'm now resolutely pro-WBC (as if I would have ever aligned myself with the people that are trying not to lose money).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Despite All My Rage I Am Still Just Kind Of Lying There Despondently

I don't pay a lot of attention to newswire-type writeups of scientific research -- filtering scientific material through most journalists seems to produce about the same result as running the paper's abstract through a commercial washer and dryer -- but I want to respond briefly to the following claim in this story about salt as a "natural mood-booster":

The tests carried out by US researchers found that when rats were deficient in salt, they shy away from activities they normally enjoy, like drinking a sugary substance or pressing a bar that stimulates a pleasant sensation in their brains.

The idea of a salt-deficient laboratory rat being too depressed to push its brain-pleasure lever is itself one of the most depressing things I have ever read.

In contrast, I greatly enjoyed this quotation from the end of the article: "I personally have never felt depressed by not eating too much salt." While I think it's uncontroversial to say that it's a terrible sentence stylistically, I challenge you to actually agree or disagree with its content in less than thirty seconds.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Just for the Record

I rode a bus from North Miami to South Beach yesterday (about an hour), and witnessed nothing worth reporting. In case you worried about of mild interest's on-bus eavesdropping behavior last week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sic Public Transit Gloria Mundi

An exchange I overheard on the 15 bus from the central library to (close enough to) my house, between a chatty but somewhat decrepit, elderly-looking drunk and a clean-cut young professional man who, as it came out later in the conversation, does not drink:

Elderly Drunk: Do you know where I can find a beer store?
Young Professional: Two stops.
ED: "Detox"?
YP: Two stops.
ED: I just got outta detox three days ago.
YP: So you're already looking for a re-tox?
ED: What?
YP: You're already looking for a re-tox?
ED: I'm lookin' for a beer.

This got some small incredulous chuckles out of the other bus passengers within earshot, although in context it was both pathetic and sort of hard to tell who was putting on whom.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March Mildness

No laptop = winging it somewhat for the radio show, which is kind of fun even if no one's listening and the project is in even more of a holding pattern than it was before. Nonetheless! Take these mostly obscure classical compositions as a recommended listening list.
Paul Dukas: Fanfare to "La Péri" (1912) for brass ensemble
Norman Dello Joio: Introduction and Fantasies on a Chorale Tune (1986) for piano
Ernő Dohnányi: Serenade for String Trio in C major (1902)
Kurt Schwertsik: Violin Concerto no. 2 "Albayzin and Sacromonte" (2000)
Robert Schumann: Symphony no. 3 "Rhenish" (1850) for orchestra
Johann Strauss II (arr. Alban Berg): Wein, Weib, und Gesang (1869/1921) for piano, harmonium, and string quartet
Leopold Godowsky: Symphonic Metamorphosis on Wein, Weib, und Gesang (ca. 1910ish) for piano

The story behind the strange-seeming Berg/Strauss arrangement is here.

Local Amorality

It's strawberry season in Florida already. Which is pretty great--yesterday I bought two pounds of locally grown strawberries for only $2.49; and with the price of produce going through the fucking roof, that's a deal. Which immediately reminded me of Jack's recent post about the inevitable failure of making the world a better place through eating, since my delicious and cheap strawberries, although definitely local, are not organic, and were almost certainly picked by underpaid migrant farm workers. But I, believe it or not, actually have a hard time being cynical about it; seems like if there are these three criteria (local, organic, ethical), getting at least one of them checked off is better than none (I do not, at this point, by fruit shipped from South America (I quit doing that back in Portland when Trader Joe's, in motherfucking apple country USA, switched to selling South American apples, since they got a better price on them). Though, of course, it may be the case that "local" is the least moral of the three issues.

I've had a preamble to a blog post around for a while now (and wouldn't you believe it, I'm only finally unleashing it as not-a-preamble) which focused on the fact that I've never tried to convince anyone else to be a vegetarian. I try to be explicitly non-evangelical about it. I mean, I set a good example, and you're all terrible people for not following it, but I'm not going to preach about it. Which is too bad, since all these theories/ideas about changing food politics bring up the fact that the best thing any individual can do is quit eating meat, if not entirely, then most of the time. Which is easy to do, and pig-headed to ignore. I don't know about you, but I don't look forward to being deported to massive dome-cities clustered around the few patches of arable land that will remain in Earth's polar regions once shit is totally fucked in another 50 years. Meat is bad. WTF.

So maybe I should switch back to being cynical, since otherwise I'm obviously just angry. And I should really think of something to cook with all these strawberries, since I should keep getting 'em while the getting's good. And think of some third way, which is neither cynical nor angry, and maybe actually successfully recruits some vegetarians.

This Week in Stupefaction

One of the classes that I'm taking this semester involves an investigation into what exactly a "novel" is, through a survey of English literature from the 18th century forwards, hinging mostly on careful readings of several Victorian novels. Long story short, the novel is an easily problematized genre (of course, all literature is pretty easily problematized, to the point of being rather thoroughly disinteresting (this fact being what will hopefully keep me from duping myself into thinking that getting a Ph.D. in Lit is a good idea)). But, as I was on my way, once again, to the other campus at my University, I overheard a conversation on the shuttle bus which seemed to greatly inform the whole genre controversy:

Female Student 1:, if you like Twilight you'll love this...
Female Student 2: Oh yeah?
FS 1: Yeah. It's crazy though--at Barnes & Noble it's shelved with Sci-Fi, but at Borders it's under Horror, but really it's more of a Romance.

So there are differences between the two big box book retailers. Good to know, good to know.

Also, while I'm (b)logging my various eaves droppings, while waiting for the aforementioned bus, I noticed a scraggly ultra-pale kid talking on his cell phone to a friend. He was wearing a Star Wars hat and a Star Wars t-shirt, and was describing what sounded like a pretty crazy hike he took in some nature reserve. He was talking loud enough that I don't think I was really eavesdropping; he seemed almost to be shouting in order to announce to the entire courtyard that he done what he was describing. Which remained more or less normal (except that the kid was way too dorky to have actually have been in a nature reserve), until he said "and then I finally just jumped off the cliff! I landed and totally couldn't move! and there were, like, these two guardian tigers walking right towards me! I know dude, I know..."

Aha! I knew it! The kid had been describing one of his dorky online role-playing games! He then went on to describe how he got the shit kicked out of him by some fairy nymph that was only level 40 but was getting like 13K hit points off him with every blow. Which is to say, the only thing worse than a dork is a loud dork.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Moral Combat!

While we're relating email chains between Nate and myself (in general I think this material would be posted here except that it's actually too nerdy to put on the Internet, which is frightening) I'll paste this one from a bit over a year ago. I came across it yesterday in checking to see if I'd ever gotten Mom to email me her spaghetti sauce recipe (answer: no) because the word "sauce" appears in it. Anyway, it's been too long since we had a gratuitous Steven Pinker reference. And I still think it's funny, and it beats writing about workplace anxiety or lentil soup. --ed.

* * * * *

Nate (1/16/08, 3:46 PM EST)
Subject: Moral Combat!

I just read this NY Times Magazine story by Steven Pinker about morality. It's long enough that you might not want to read it at the office if you want to still have your job in a couple weeks but I there's a lot of interesting stuff in it.

Maybe the least defensible reason I like it, though, is that Pinker gives some examples of moral thought experiments expected to provoke strong but hard-to-defend moral reactions, and I find these sort of oddly funny. I think this is because the style is breezy and prosaic, but the content comes off as rather salacious. Example:

A family's dog is killed by a car in front of their house. They heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog's body and cook it and eat it for dinner.

I don't know. Maybe it's just the effect of reading two or three of them in a row, as they're listed in the article. At any rate, I propose the following additional thought experiments, and would be interested in learning how you respond to them morally:

Murray works as the quality assurance manager at a baby food processing plant. He is tasked with preventing contaminants from entering the baby food jars. One day, Murray kills his father and marries his mother.

A man decides that he would like to try cooking and eating human flesh. He places a classified ad online and meets a man who is interested sexually in being killed and eaten. With this man's consent, the first man kills him and prepares a cut of meat from his body. He grills the meat until it is very well done and then coats it liberally with steak sauce before consuming it, destroying the meat's characteristic flavor and texture.

All the workers in a colony are responsible for tending to eggs laid by the colony's queen. Workers do not lay eggs, except for "trophic" eggs used only for food. One day the queen dies. The workers then begin to lay their own eggs and place them in the colony's nursery.

A woman leaving for work in her car accidentally backs over her neighbor's cat, killing it. She secretly replaces it with an identical cat.

The general manager of a professional baseball team decides that the long-term interests of the team would be best served by trading away the team's top players in order to obtain younger prospects. He knows these trades will be unpopular among the team's fans. However, he cannot negotiate any trades that he believes would return enough value in exchange for the current players, so he fields basically the same team as the previous season's, except without any right-handed relief pitchers.

A man lives in a futuristic walled city where all laws are made and adjudicated by an advanced computer called Master Judge. Master Judge has been programmed with all known facts and therefore is believed to be perfectly just. The man is brought to trial and Master Judge deems him guilty, sentencing him to death. The man argues with Master Judge's handlers that he should be allowed to ask one question of the computer that will show its knowledge to be imperfect. This is forbidden but finally the handlers relent, believing that no such question exists. The man stands before Master Judge and asks, simply, "Why?" The computer console begins to shudder and smoke, and the man states with a smug smile that because Master Judge cannot understand this question, it has self-destructed. However, the computer suddenly stops smoking and prints out a piece of paper. The man, agitated, tears the paper out of the printer and reads it to himself. He dies instantly. Tentatively, the most senior handler picks up the fallen paper from the floor and reads it aloud to the others, and they all die as well. It never says what the paper says. I have that much of the novel written but I'm still filling out the backstory some more.

Well, anyway, I would say my day is going pretty well. Hope yours is too.


Jack (1/16/08, 3:58 PM EST)
Subject: Re: Moral Combat!

Well, I'll say it's funnier than most of the New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" columns. Of course, this one is perfectly tailored to my genetic disposition and upbringing. My biggest surprise is that you only sent this to me. I'll have to read the Pinker later.

Jack (1/16/08, 4:00 PM EST)
Subject: Re: Moral Combat!

p.s. I'm pretty sure you want "Moral Kombat" with a K.

Monday, March 09, 2009


In lieu of any real content to post at the moment, here's an email exchange between Jack and me this afternoon on the subject of gifts for our upcoming birthday given the current economic clime. (Edited for brevity and to remove more-or-less redundant Steelers commentary.)

* * * * *

Nate (12:50 PM PDT)
Is there anything in particular you want for the birthday, by the way? If not I'll improvise.

Jack (1:07 PM PDT)
I don't want anything in particular for our birthday; I will mention that I'm a little backed up on civilian reading at the moment. Perhaps a natty new top hat with the top punched out of it, or a copper tin of beans.

Nate (1:44 PM PDT)
Woooo Depression-era hobo chic. I think I'll also get you a barrel with a couple of suspender straps on it so you can wear that along with your top hat and shrug as if to say, "Well, I have no money, though I suppose I could mortgage another of my undeveloped properties to pay that $15." I was going to get you a big diamond ring but it turns out you'd have to pay a tax of like $75.00 on it.

Jack (2:00 PM PDT)
Don't even tell me your sob stories. I'm sitting here in jail just 'cause I rolled doubles three times. Well, that and I knifed another $2-a-night squatter in an empty lot on Mediterranean Ave.

Nate (2:40 PM PDT)
I myself was sent directly to jail, with the officer who accosted me offering neither an explanation nor an opportunity to complete my errand of passing GO and thereby collecting my wage of $200. I tell you, comrade, the police in this city are a mere appendage of its vile plutocratic head. I should write all about it in a new edition of my anarchist newsletter but I am entirely taken up with bargaining the third yellow property away from the shiftless Bohemian immigrant who had the good fortune to land upon it first.

Jack (3:09 PM PDT)
OK, I can't beat that. That's very funny.

* * * * *

Playing Monopoly with my brothers while growing up (and here I mean up until the age of about 22) tended to bring out my pissy, competitive side more than anything else I've encountered in life, but everybody's a winner when you're playing a sort of Meta-Monopoly consisting of making weird board game jokes, I guess.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Nice Place to Visit, Wouldn't Want to Live There

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum turns out to be one of the highlight destinations in New York; I think I'd heard of it before but went for the first time yesterday, with Sarah, who was on her way to JFK Airport (hence to Germany and Milan -- spring break, you know -- I'll just stay here and savor my employment, thanks). We hitched a ride down 95 with a couple of program compadres of hers.

(Incidentally, hearing anthropology graduate students gossip is a hilarious experience. They're preternaturally attuned to observing and analyzing behavior, even if gossip basically remains gossip. It's like eating a hot dog prepared by a five-star chef. Or perhaps like watching someone eat that hot dog, since you don't actually know any of the people being gossiped about.)

The Tenement Museum is a late 19th-century tenement building that was condemned in 1935, then basically shuttered above a street-level storefront until the museum founders discovered it in 1988. The museum now runs small tours through different apartments restored to match different families' experiences in various years. They have records of who was living there and relate whatever additional biographical information they have, too. (Most interesting, on the tour we were on, was a short audio recording from the early 1990s from an Italian-American woman who had lived in the room in the 1930s; she had been walking down her old street when the museum was being installed, apparently, and walked in to ask what was being done to her old home.) The tour was one of the best I've been on -- the groups are necessarily small and intimate, as they have to fit into these narrow hallways and tiny apartments. Our tour guide was a youngish Indian guy named Raj, an excellent tour guide, clear and animated and unabashed about stirring in a good, solid set of liberal values into his talk (along the lines of We Are All Immigrants; President Obama Promises to Change America but Americans Have to Change America, etc.) It's not hard to bring your own liberal values to the surface, either, when you're observing a gilded age tenement building.

So I'll recommend this up and down to you if you're going to be in New York at any point. It's engrossing and it's an essential counterpoint to the various Frick Houses and Hill-Stead mansions that are easy to dot your various city travels with.

Subsequent to the Tenement Museum we had brunch with a largeish group (Sarah's program compadres plus some additional extended family attached to one of them) at the excellent Nolita House on Houston Street (live bluegrass brunch! you can imagine my approval at being seated less than ten feet from a banjo player), thence to attempt an unhurried trip to JFK via the A train even though there were shuttle buses replacing trains over five stops in Brooklyn due to construction. Perhaps the less said about this attempt the better, other than that it turned out OK. Though it was a good thing we managed to flag down that unlicensed taxi so quickly at Utica Avenue and that there was no security line.

Tonight Andrea and Stu are coming over so we can make enchiladas and watch the Steelers' Super Bowl season recap DVD, which finally arrived last week. One more football fix for the season before it's back to the Pirates! (Any good news on that front? Uh, Brandon Moss's thumb injury probably isn't that bad? Well, they may not have a recent championship or anything but at least they kept their Sports Nate.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

We Are All Destructovores

There's a pretty excellent article in Mother Jones this month (linked via their house political blogger Kevin Drum) about the industrial agricultural system and the limits of approaches like organic farming and eating locally. This is why I don't feel like individual efforts won't get us anywhere (beyond Econ 101 ideas about how people behave): one, it is very difficult to trace the real costs of producing anything; two, small-scale efforts cannot grow simply into large-scale efforts.

Count me also as a skeptic about vertical farming, meanwhile (pitched as a possible idea in the article) -- the idea just seems so dreamy and Buckminster Fuller in a way. Not that I wouldn't love to see vertical farming structures, as they sound like they'd look pretty amazing. Actually, maybe they can build them all in large geodesic domes.

Button Reading

Most of my time spent in "public" at the two campuses of my University is spent with some portion of my brain-space occupied with a level of stupefaction at what surrounds me. This is contributed to, at least in part, by how much larger the larger of the two campuses here is when compared to the size of my undergraduate university, but most of its my preternatural ability towards shaking my head and saying "the kids these days...dagnabbit..." (I once tried to refer to this as my "old man problem," but was thankfully warned by whoever I said it to that it implied something entirely different from what I intended). This stupefaction is generally received as elitism or my cultural position as a "hater" ("I don't even know you, and I hate your guts..."), but I think I'm at least occasionally spurred towards a more nuanced stance (though I have gotten good mileage out of sharing what Jack labelled me as back around Xmas: a "recreational cynic")...

So I was just on a crowded elevator in my University library. I noticed that once young woman had a button on her backpack (well she had several, but this is the one that caught my notice), which was the rainbow field emblem commonly associated with gay culture and gay rights. Though it wasn't simply the rainbow, but also had printed, in big all-capital letters over the rainbow field, "ALLY". This seems problematic to me (though I'm quite inexpert in such things, so I don't really know (I suppose that's why it's become blogworthy)), in that the button itself already announces an alliance with the cause (given that Florida also just recently passed a referendum banning civil unions, it seems to me that merely announcing ones sexual orientation is still a viable political act in its own right).

"ALLY" also says, then, so far as I can tell, "BUT I'M NOT GAY," which strikes me as significantly less useful to the cause/alliance of gay rights. Of course, given that the above-mentioned referendum did pass with flying colors (not nearly so close as California's), it certainly does mean something to be a straight person who is in alliance with gay rights. And maybe my viewpoint to it is skewed by the experience growing up in a predominantly conservative suburb, where to argue in favor of gay rights was to be labelled gay yourself (this actually happened--and in junior high I was much more worried about such labels as I would be now), but it seems to me that this "BUT I'M NOT GAY" undermines the argument: if the bigots think you're gay for being in alliance with gay rights, then, dammit, you should be proud to be considered so; admitting that you're straight only strengthens their argument.

So I guess it's just a conflict between the intended audience of such a button and its actual audience? But it just seems like a case where the button-wearing person is so close but yet still oh so far from a truer alliance. I just don't see, if I had asked this woman what "ALLY" meant, how she could have answered without saying "I'm not gay," which is direct conflict with the "I am gay" statement of the rainbow field.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Best February on Record

So, yeah, haven't been writing much recently, particularly on the "journalizing" aspect front, largely in maintaining the rule about not writing things on The Internet about your girlfriend who doesn't know you write things to your brothers on The Internet. But that most proximate subordinate clause being recently falsified, I am free again at leisure to start describing various concerts, restaurants, soul-gouging theater works, general observations, etc. that I've been experiencing, which would have made little sense while eliding the presence of said girlfriend, who is in real life a distinctly unelided presence called Sarah.

Said descriptions will be on hold this evening, because I am more at leisure to leave the campus library (where I type, due to my six-year-old laptop's decision this weekend to begin eliding itself in real life) and go home and have dinner, because I am very hungry. Dinner will be microwaved leftover chili, or whatever you call a vegetarian chili recipe minus carrots minus tomato paste that uses red beans instead of kidney beans because you didn't read the recipe before stopping at the Chinese grocery store walking home from work on Monday night. It's decent enough to be what's for dinner.

I wanted to at least note in passing that, tanking economy or no, February '09 was incredibly good on a personal level and therefore easily the best February I can remember, at least back to 2002, beyond which I remember no specific Februaries. But aside from the occasional Super Bowl XL or installation of fanciful Central Park art projects they've generally been pretty blah.