Sunday, January 28, 2007

On This We Agree

The author, Jim Harrison, I regret to say, is not familiar to me. I am not certain that we would agree in toto. But I look forward to learning more, because this I do agree with:
Then he declared: "Food is a great literary theme. Food in eternity, food and sex, food and lust. Food is a part of the whole of life. Food is not separate."
From the IHT, again, which after years of only modest interest, got my attention today.
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Truth is Almost Always Inconvenient

Michael Pollan does a superb job of summing the state of play in our Western Food Culture. Unfortunately he observes that we are losing.
From the IHT:
The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts. Humans deciding what to eat without expert help — something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees — is seriously unprofitable if you're a food company, distinctly risky if you're a nutritionist and just plain boring if you're a newspaper editor or journalist. (Or, for that matter, an eater. Who wants to hear, yet again, "Eat more fruits and vegetables"?) And so, like a large gray fog, a great Conspiracy of Confusion has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition — much to the advantage of everybody involved. Except perhaps the ostensible beneficiary of all this nutritional expertise and advice: us, and our health and happiness as eaters.
Rather than admit that we really don't know why what we eat nourishes or murders us we turn to Convenience Science, which I define as studies that support the hypothesis despite the data, to comfort us. Convenience science is a handmaiden of big money. It is meant to justify the activity of he who pays the piper. Lysenko was as much a convenience scientist for Stalin as the latest good-lipid/bad-lipid study is for a major drug company with a new anti-lipid drug that designed and paid for it. But nowhere is convenience science more broadly marketed than in the American Food Industry. Pollan tells the tale from the 1970's forward. Yet our culture's obsession with food as health begins far, far back. Before Mr. Kellog and Mr Post and their miracle cure cereals of the late 1800's there were the spas of North America and of Europe with their water and bath courses with various high and low diets all guaranteed to cure the patient's complaint -- if all directions were faithfully followed. Sometimes it seemed to work. In any case the successes were lionized and the failures quietly buried. Marketing carried the day for the pirates.
The inconvenient truth that emerges from Mr. Pollan's exegesis is that it is the mix of what, when, how and how much we eat, admixed with our manner of living, that determines our health -- maybe. Because how we eat and live changes -- so does our health. Some of us change faster than others. Those slow to change have less 'health' and may die before adaptation occurs. Hard cheese for those of us in that category.
Go read the whole article if only to marvel that this bit of clarity appeared in a major newspaper. Then again, reading the article just might move you in the direction that will change your whole life.
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They Get Paid To Do This?

What happens when a genius creates incompatible -- not to say contradictory -- theories? A whole cottage industry springs up in the groves of academe to examine the disparities. Some portion seek to reconcile. Some scour assumptions for error. Such is the battle of the incompatibity between Einstein's theories of gravity and those of quantum mechanics which grew out of his General Theory of Relativity. A group of scientists is bouncing laser beams off reflectors placed on the moon in order to measure the precise distance from the Earth to the moon. If that varies by so much as a minim of a smidgen of a gnat's eyelash then Galileo's grand tossing of cannon balls off the tower of Pisa will be proven inaccurate.
The Economist tells the tale:
If the equivalence principle were violated, the moon's orbit around the Earth would appear skewed, either towards or away from the sun. So far, Dr Murphy told the conference, these experiments have merely confirmed the equivalence principle to one part in 10 trillion. Dr Murphy and his colleagues hope that even more precise measurements could ultimately show general relativity to be only approximately correct. This would usher in a new revolution in physics.(my emphasis)
Just sitting there, playing laser ping pong with the moon, with a chance to achieve physics immortality thrown in, and tenure too.
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


In an excellent post on why he'd refuse to critique your work John Scalzi writes:
For God's sake, if you're going to hand your work over for critique, finish the damn thing first. Even if it's broke, you can fix it.
Which reminds me of Del's rule about software.
"I would rather fix a program that doesn't work than write a new program to do the same job."
Del felt that the start was the hardest part. What errors in that that prevented the program working could be found and corrected more readily than a new program could be conceived, outlined, and composed.
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Gen-u-wynne Bar-bee-que

For each live captive you have chop and point a sapling of sufficient strength and length. Pass this through the body of the captive (this may require two or three braves if the captive is lively. If necessary a light tap on the head may calm the beast.) Tie the arms and legs to the trunk with stout vines. Place over the fire on crotched trunks set into the ground at either end of the fire pit. Spread honey all over and have the 'prentiss's turn the spit regularly. Keep basting with honey and keep the coals hot until done. Maybe half a day. Enjoy the screams during the first part of cooking as they add to the savor.

Well, educated opinion is not enthusiastic at the thought of our species being cannibals. In the face of our violent proclivities in all known periods of human existence the experts think that our nature is more gently inclined. So the blame, I guess, must be placed on our nurture. We know that cannibalism does occur. The species is capable of it.
In a few instances -- the Donner party, comes to mind -- necessity forced the departure from decorum.
OTOH, in Tenochtitlan the religion required the consumption of enemy vitals to acquire the virtues of the fallen foe. This was so central that huge pyramids were built so that the sacrifice would be closer to God's eyes.
I don't know how violent and/or cannibalistic our species was at its birth. Since our evidence is still incomplete, I suggest that no one else does either. That despite the learned being able to extrapolate from the evidence we do have in ways that find acceptance through peer review. All their publications remain suggestions which may point to dead ends as often as to fruitful paths of research.
Because we arrived where we were at one point with certain characteristics and skills and proclivities and ideas, it is not unreasonable to argue that we developed those items some how, some when, some where, between that point and the previous time for which we have evidence that we lacked those items. If it is deemed unaceptable, then our argument is about perception, not observation; belief, not science.
So I accept that in our complexity we are both a violent species and a gentle one. It very much depends on the circumstances. Also I accept that we are a curious species and one that craves certitude. That we enjoy risk and demand security. If an expert is the next village's idler whom we do not know, then we prefer to take his advice rather than that of the local dreamer, tinker, or loafer we do know. That makes it likely that in our exploration of what we could and could not eat, we tried a few items that we now think we should not eat.
Hammurabi's code was not written to mark what everybody already acted upon, any more that our current laws are. No, it was written to establish the new standard everybody was expected to meet. For some that may have been easy "What? Me? Take your eye? What would I do with it? It's trayf!" Others might find it hard. "Gee, I just like the sound, ya' know, when their bones crack? Do ya really think it hurts? I mean except that they're dead?"
Then there were vegetables. Nuts, berries, flowers, seeds, roots, and fruits all in their season and all in their locale. Sour berries that were better to rub on the meat so that the acid could tenderize, or mixed/cooked with a sweetener such as honey or cane or beets. Sweet berries that one could live on when they were ripe. Through the whole cornucopia of our planet's biosphere we, the successful omnivores, ranged in search of new experience be it delight or horror.
I've brought us to a fairly sophisticated level of cooking well before the pirates' Great Land Grab.(tm)
Perhaps you find it all a crock. I present it as pure speculation and make no claims for it's veracity. If it intrigued you, I am honored. Thank you for stopping by for an idle chin wag. Come back soon.
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Monday, January 22, 2007

Paleolithic Cookery

But that bit of meat or root that fell off the stick, to land in mud, to be pushed back into the fire, might be forgotten until late in the feast when the fire had returned to coals around a modest clear flame. A younker, not totally sated, might play at poking the coals and lumps with a stick making who knows what patterns of reverie, until the hard baked mud caught her attention. His attention? Perhaps it had a trace of something that changed color in the intensity of the coals showing a coppery green maybe, or the glint of silica turned to glass. A bauble. A toy. Something to explore. To touc -- Ouch! Nasty rock! Take that! As rock encounters clay the vessel cracks to vent a moist steam with the most delicious of aromas. Time -- a bit -- passed (sucking fingers) out of respect to the heat of the pot. Finally fingers could grasp and wrench to pull it asunder to reveal the strings of meat or the starchy-sweet paste of the root. The smell alone would overcome any resistance to exploration. Altruism (or a pretty full tum) might suggest sharing the prize with a friend or worthy elder. Or did the gleeful shout attract the Wiseman's attention? This method of cooking became know as a way to preserve the moistness of the meat whether of animal or vegetable.
It still lacked refinement. That came when an up-and-comer took a brace of partridge and slathered them in mud before plucking. The fired clay removed the feathers handsomely and left the skin fairly respectable.
Yet another improved the process by wrapping a gobbet of duiker in broad leaves, before slapping on the mud. It took a few essays before the right leaves -- the ones that improved the flavor rather than impart a certain taste of miasma -- were found.
The coastal tribes played with seaweed wrapped mollusks and crustaceans laid over hot rocks buried in sand.
Others developed tools that became mortars and pestles, scrapers, and baskets tightly woven enough to hold water. These made soup when you filled them with water and vegetables and dropped a very hot stone into them. These were the easily replaced kitchen furniture of the old stone age.
It was a time of immense conceptual change probably carried out over broad expanses of generation.
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Thursday, January 18, 2007


poputonian at Hulabaloo concludes:
Exactly how many data points does it take to make a pattern?
Let me count the ways ...

Read. Digest. Disseminate. Then return for more.
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Monday, January 15, 2007

True Words

Unsettling Ecconomics concludes:
In short, generalizing about economic development is a treacherous affair.
So have I found it. So welcome to Dum Luk's blog roll, Professor Perelman.
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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Do The End Point First

Il Fault Manger.
It is necessary to eat.

All of us do what we do to eat.

Think about that.
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Origins of Chefs?


Mankind, says a Chinese manuscript, which my friend M. was obliging enough to read and explain to me, for the first seventy thousand ages ate their meat raw, clawing or biting it from the living animal, just as they do in Abyssinia to this day. This period is not obscurely hinted at by their great Confucius in the second chapter of his Mundane Mutations, where he designates a kind of golden age by the term Cho-fang, literally the Cooks' holiday. The manuscript goes on to say, that the art of roasting, or rather broiling (which I take to be the elder brother) was accidentally discovered in the manner following. The swine-herd, Ho-ti, having gone out into the woods one morning, as his manner was, to collect mast for his hogs, left his cottage in the care of his eldest son Bo-bo, a great lubberly boy, who being fond of playing with fire, as younkers of his age commonly are, let some sparks escape into a bundle of straw, which kindling quickly, spread the conflagration over every part of their poor mansion, till it was reduced to ashes. Together with the cottage (a sorry antediluvian make-shift of a building, you may think it), what was of much more importance, a fine litter of new-farrowed pigs, no less than nine in number, perished. China pigs have been esteemed a luxury all over the east from the remotest periods that we read of. Bo-bo was in the utmost consternation, as you may think, not so much for the sake of the tenement, which his father and he could easily build up again with a few dry branches, and the labour of an hour or two, at any time, as for the loss of the pigs. While he was thinking what he should say to his father, and wringing his hands over the smoking remnants of one of those untimely sufferers, an odour assailed his nostrils, unlike any scent which he had before experienced. What could it proceed from? -- not from the burnt cottage -- he had smelt that smell before -- indeed this was by no means the first accident of the kind which had occurred through the negligence of this unlucky young fire-brand. Much less did it resemble that of any known herb, weed, or flower. A premonitory moistening at the same time overflowed his nether lip. He knew not what to think. He next stooped down to feel the pig, if there were any signs of life in it. He burnt his fingers, and to cool them he applied them in his booby fashion to his mouth. Some of the crums of the scorched skin had come away with his fingers, and for the first time in his life (in the world's life indeed, for before him no man had known it) he tasted -- crackling!
-- Charles Lamb

Essays by Elia, 1823

Please follow the link to enjoy the further speculations of Mr Lamb, an essayist noted for his "talent to amuse", as Noel Coward called it.

Victors write history. So when they tell us how bad times used to be before this piracy or that, it behooves us to reach for the salt cellar as we attend their graceful, honeyed words.
Most of us have been told that pre-agricultural peoples led lives "nasty, brutish and short" as Hobbs described it. No doubt, some did. But others lived very well, better in fact than we, as some argue. The Wikipedia offers this in mitigation:
At the 1966 "Man the Hunter" conference, anthropologists Richard B. Lee and Irven DeVore suggested that egalitarianism was one of several central characteristics of nomadic hunting and gathering societies because mobility requires minimization of material possessions throughout a population; therefore, there was no surplus of resources to be accumulated by any single member. Other characteristics Lee and DeVore proposed were flux in territorial boundaries as well as in demographic composition. At the same conference, Marshall Sahlins presented a paper entitled, "Notes on the Original Affluent Society," in which he challenged the popular view of hunter-gatherers living lives "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," as Thomas Hobbes had put it in 1651. According to Sahlins, ethnographic data indicated that hunter-gatherers worked far fewer hours and enjoyed more leisure than typical members of industrial society, and they still ate well. Their "affluence" came from the idea that they are satisfied with very little in the material sense. This, he said, constituted a Zen economy.
Except in very rich coastal areas -- the Pacific North West is one such -- hunter-gatherers moved about following both flora and fauna. Both were diverse and not all were good to eat. (test yourself here) Because the sustenance was not concentrated, the land supported fewer people than agricultural land does. Surviving the first few years was very hard, as nature winnowed its profligacy to find those best able to survive. But the few who did survive lived well and long. They worked fewer hours per day than we do in order to meet their basic needs. They had few possessions to encumber them. As a small group of 10 to 30 individuals there was little sense to creating hierarchy, and every incentive to honor merit, eg.: who knows what this fungus is for? Eating or poisoning? The hunter-gather way of life was our species way of life for millions of years.
About 8,000 to 12,000 years ago the first, and greatest, pirates came up with the great wheeze of an individual owning land. No doubt they did this by knocking anybody who challenged their assertion on the head with a suitable rock -- or even fore-shadowed the pincushion by filling challengers full of arrows. Once land was owned, it -- and its residents -- were forced into the chains of servitude. Both the land and the people tied to it, either by kinship or conquest, had to produce a surplus large enough to support the chief and his thugs -- who were so necessary then, as now, to provide national security. Farming takes a lot more work than hunting or gathering. Farming forces changes in diet and approach. Food is not for today with maybe a bone to gnaw before the start of tomorrow's hunt. Food to a farmer is how much grain is in the bin. Grain? Yes, the seeds from that grass the cows and goats chew and chew and chew. Storing food demands containers. It demands tools such as knapped flint sickles and wooden flails to separate the all but inedible grain from the quite inedible chaff and stalk. It demands heat resistant, water proof containers to boil the grain into something people can eat. Or it requires bloody great stones to grind the kernels into a flour which can be baked in an oven to make bread -- unleavened crackers at first then sourdoughs with the serendipity of wild yeast.
But this gets in advance of Mr Lamb's point. I respectfully disagree with his authority's assertion that it was burning down a house that first introduced crackling. Rather it might have something to do with the mystical symbiosis of man and fire. At what point did someone realize that this tremendous destructive force, which drove all creatures before it, could be controlled - even tamed. Ever try to make fire by rubbing two sticks together? It's damn hard. Yet somebody thought it up, tried it, and had the patience to make it work. Perhaps the first cooked meat -- and vegetables-- came by accident after a wild fire. There were the animals caught and "burned". A rare treat -- an early instance of good coming from ill. But actual premeditated cooking requires the contol of fire. That would be the most basic definition of cooking: the chemical alteration of food by heat.
I would argue that you don't farm without control of fire. So the first cooking occurred to the hunter-gatherers. Perhaps after a successful mammoth hunt. So much food! More than the tribe can eat today -- or tomorrow! But why leave it to the scavengers? What if we threw pieces in the fire. Oh! Shit! Not the fat. Not the fat! Holy cow how that flares! and later: What's this hard stuff? It had mud all over it, but now it's so dry and hard.
Control of fire also opens the world of clay. Ovens can be kilns as well. Later they can be smelters. But I have no doubt that the fastidious were with us even so long ago. The dirt studded morsel did not pass as civilized. What would be the simplest solution? A stick? skewer a gobbet of flesh on the end of a stick and hold it over the flames 'til done.
Something to consider on your next hot dog roast.
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Friday, January 12, 2007

1449 Where are You?

First John Mckay (archy) says.
Now John Scalsi says.
So it must be so.
This is De-lurkers Week.
(and it is almost gone)
De-lurkers week is, according to Scalzi:
blog lurkers everywhere are encouraged to delurk and say hello. I think this is a fine idea because I have to admit I wonder about the lurkers here. Whatever gets between 20k and 25k unique visitors on a daily basis, but the commenters are basically the same 100 or so people. While I'm very pleased to have those 100 folks comment -- they seem to be mostly smart and engaging folks -- I think it would be fun for those people who read but don't usually comment to say hello.
Archy adds:
So tell me how long you've been reading my blog, or your favorite book, or the first word that pops into your mind when you hear the word shish-kabob, and remember, if you don't leave a comment, you're letting the terrorists win.
And I say: how grateful and fascinated I am by all the lurkers out there!
About 30% of you come from the "Rest of the World"(tm) which is beyond North America. I am embarrassingly delighted to meet you!
I make no money from this blog and am unlikely to. My first impulse, after loading the site meter, is to go to the location metric rather than the entry metric.
One curiosity is the lurker with the reticent cpu. It does not reveal it's server, or it's OS or it's place. One such titles this post. He/she/they/it lurk a few miles northwest of Witchita Kansas and discovered Dum Luks not too long ago. Whoever is a frequent visitor who thorefore peaks my curiosity. I have no desire to "out" you, embarrass you or discomfort you. But I wonder.
The entry pages and search words that bring lurkers here also fascinates. There seems to be a seesaw between Cow Poke Beans and Ham Boiled in Beer.

But my point in writing is to entertain AND to communicate.

Responses refine.
They may be the refiner's acid.
They may be the flatterer's sugar.
But they are the very breath itself to every artist!
So, please, hop on the carousel!
All is madness and discord without your harmony: Sing!
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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Put the Kettle On

Momofuku Ando, founder of Nissin Food Products Co., stands inside a replica of the hut where Chicken Ramen was developed, at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, in 1999. KYODO PHOTO
And fill it with your tears to honor his passing.
H/T: Japan Times
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Saturday, January 06, 2007

My Newest Tin Foil Chapeau


Following the complete implosion of the GOP after the series of recent investigations by a Timorous Democratic Congress(TM) the recently formed Grand National Reconciliation Party announced their ticket. Sen. John McCain (R Az ST and P.B.*) for President and CinC. Sen Joe Liberman (CFL Ct, and last honest man) for Lord High Everything Else.

* P.B> = Pander Bear. See current Vanity Fair, Eschaton, Ezra Klein, et al.
(H/T to Sir Arthur Sullivan)
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Friday, January 05, 2007

The Best Pleasures are Guilty?

Greenman Tim over at Walking the Berekshires prompts this idle post. His post is about the particularities of his love for good costume dramas. He is all but punctilious in his demand for historical accuracy. After establishing his admirable criteria, he lists, with brief synopses, his top ten as of the writing. I've seen most of his list and concur, so I expect the rest to be worthy of their rental. Or even purchase. Two others, which arrived under the Solstice pole/Hanukkah bush/Christmas tree, are mentioned here in contrast.

To take the least first.
How the West Was Won is Warner Brothers' catalog of their stars, directors, and production crews circa 1962. It took three directors (Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall) to get its 164 minutes in the can. The credits read like a Hollywood who's who from Spencer Tracy through George Peppard and back to John Wayne. The costumes are the sort of 1870's rags a reasonably competent big city high school would muster to suit scenes from 1820 to 1880 -- when we moved from knee britches and peruke's through frock coats to something much closer to the modern suit, and from the external corset through hoops and pantaloons to bustles). The story line, by James B. Webb, is not too bad as it follows one family through three generations up the Erie canal to Ohio, and then over the Oregon trail to California with the obligatory stop over at various points in the Civil War. The dialog will not impose any strain on the understanding of the audience Hollywood made millions writing down to in the fifties and early sixties. Any resident of San Bernadino county will recognize and feel at home in the "South Eastern Ohio" locations. The songs are well integrated, and justified, into the script. People did sing to entertain themselves and Karl Mauldin's rendition of Greensleeves is quite appropriate if you discount the Hollywood sound stage accompaniment and the fifties' gemultlictkeit reworking of the lyrics. Elsewhere the dance hall girls sing dance hall ditties worthy of the Minskys but a tad in advance of Stephen Foster, or the original Mr Bo Jangles of Minstrel show fame.
It does have a redeeming virtue.
Its chase sequences, of which there are many, whether raft against white water rapids, or buffalo herd against American 4-4-0, are superb.

Oh What A Lovely War, OTOH, is a sumptuous delight throughout. From the Wikipedia:
Oh! What a Lovely War began life in 1963 as a stage musical by Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop, based on The Donkeys by historian Alan Clark, with some scenes adapted from The Good Soldier Švejk by Czech humorist Jaroslav Hašek. It was an ensemble production with no "stars" as such, but Workshop regulars such as Brian Murphy, Victor Spinetti and Glynn Edwards played multiple roles. The production transferred intact to Wyndham's Theatre the same year.

I have not seen the stage play. I expect inevitable changes occurred in adapting the stage work to film. Since I have no idea what they are, for once ignorance is bliss. as I can enjoy the film on its own merits which I find large indeed. I first saw this at the Little Art Theatre shortly after its release in 1969. Richard Attenborough directed a marvelous stew of vignettes and period songs which convey in overwhelming terms not so much the dry fact of the age as the feel of what it might be like to have lived in those times. With that emotional connection made, the resonance of WWI to Vietnam and to Iraq appears effortlessly -- unjarringly. Like How the West Was Won, OWALW presents the myrmidons of RADA who perform flawlessly in any class from the cockney sweep in the trenches to the Emperor at his organ console. Lightly, deftly, in perfect period attire against settings real and fantastical (juxtaposed as seamlessly as any schizoids' dreams) the folly of war is raveled before us: The war leader who knows God directs him to spend only a "few" lives more; The brave women who smile their men off to war while inwardly awash in tears and foreboding; the hopeful willingness of the new recruits convinced that the order to stand and run into the machine fire and gas is reasonable and will result in something useful; the junior officers who are in no better state; and the senior officers who know the CinC is mad-wrong-stupid but play the game; not to leave out the media who do their own soft shoe to the whistle accompaniment of Capital. It's all there: the full monty, to use a phrase from a latter day. Its 144 minutes flow past like a mighty stream faster than many a 90 minute standard film. Perhaps the heaviest handed scene is the final helicopter shot which pulls back from a group of women in Flanders field filling the screen with ever diminishing white crosses ever increasing in number. But, by the time we get there it is the only possible finale, and so no heavier than needed.
How the West Was Won is a bit of popcorn munching fun with some good not historically accurate bits. OWALW is a solidly successful entertainment raised to so high a level of art that one wonders why we ever accept mere entertainment.
Aside: There is also Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons to add to Tim's list, with his permission.
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