Say What?

A hodge-podge (don't you like that word?) of whatever strikes me as peculiar or odd at the moment, I may rant a bit about some topic that catches my attention, or I may just present it as is...I will undoubtedly go off on tangents...

September 7, 2008


An article in the Economist that has me thinking about spelling... no, really.

August 2, 2008 Found this photo and caption on a random website - posted anonymously. Stopping to think about it, it's just astonishing.

Kowloon Walled City. Before it was demolished in 1993, this area of Hong Kong was the densest urban slum in the world. Nearly 50,000 people lived on 6.5 acres. More than 7,000 people per acre.The buildings grew so tall that sunlight couldn't reach the bottom levels and most residents never saw daylight. It was a place where brothels, casinos, opium dens, cocaine parlors, food courts serving dog meat and secret factories ran unmolested by authorities.

November 21, 2007 An addictive little world quiz...


This Traveler IQ challenge is brought to you by the Web's Original Travel Blog 

July 9, 2007 "They felt so entitled," he recalls, "and it just hit me. We can blame Mr. Rogers."

Apparently, Fred Rogers was evil incarnate. According to the theory, no... make that the spoutings off of a finance professor named Don Chance, at Louisiana State University, it suddenly occured to him one day that the self centered-ness of the current college generation was symptomatic of the attitude instilled in them by growing up with Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, the amazingly long lived - 33 years of sheer boredom - show that told kids they were special just the way they were. Thankfully, I guess, I grew up on Bob Keeshan of Captain Kangaroo, who for 29 years of silly stories, hijinks, and cartoons, just simply entertained us. One can't quite count Romper Room, as I was initially tempted to do, only to find out that not only over its 41 years did it have three different hostesses, Miss Nancy, Miss Sally, and, good golly, Miss Molly, but that was only on the national version - local stations were free to franchise the show and refilm their own versions with their own hostesses as long as they stuck to a reasonably similar format, which several did - including New York and Chicago.

This, by the way, is not to say there's not some food for thought in the idea that kids today do seem to be a little bit too me-centric - but perhaps it's a phenomenon more serious than making flippant remarks on camera?

April 9, 2007 From Chef John

March 19,. 2007 Some collected backlash against "molecular gastronomy". It's fun and easy to, well, make fun of it. Though, I admit, I'm trying to explore some of it's principles and techniques...

"Two nights later, I went to the new restaurant down from them and chased bits of bloody caribou in blueberry cocoa sauce around a platter. And foam. The foam trend began with carrots at El Bulli in Spain. I had tomato foam in Paris two years ago, after a four-kilometre hike on a hot day, and I remember it with a shudder. How expensively unsatisfying is foam. Now foam is foaming. Some things shouldn't be foamed — mustard, beetroot, leotards, kraft paper envelopes. I've had it with foam. Cease this." - Heather Mallick, March 2, 2007, Rabble News

"Eye Weekly’s own Alan A. Vernon has a theory as to why the city’s fine restaurants just can’t seem to get their molecules oscillating. “It’s too intimidating to Toronto foodies,” Vernon says. “Very few people are daring to base a menu around molecular gastronomy, and the ones that do end up dumbing it down, because if the less sophisticated come in and think they’re being served a science project, they aren’t coming back. So it’s a business decision.”
The only aspect of this futuristic fare that seems to have had any popularity in the city is food foam — molecular gastronomy’s most infamous creation. Adria is rumoured to have discovered this light as air “food,” which requires a thickening ingredient such as gelatin or xanthan gum, a flavoured liquid and a whipped-cream dispenser or high-tech foamer powered by nitrous oxide canisters, almost by accident. Depending who you talk to, his discovery was either an act of divine intervention or the work of the devil himself." - Meghan Eves, March 15, 2007, Eye Weekly

"We need more of Cooking 101 before going into molecular gastronomy. So many people are going into it without knowing how to actually cook, so it may look good, but it's not tasty." – Morou Ouattara, chef-owner, Farrah Olivia in Alexandria, VA

"We need less... molecular gastronomy in the hands of amateurs who don't know how to use it.." – Robert Gadsby, chef, Noé in LA and Houston, among others

“Historically, when women move into men’s work it loses value,” she said. “Maybe we’ll see the pay drop, and the science suddenly getting called ‘soft.’ I’ll say this: If you see me doing foams at Prune, you’ll know the whole thing has gone down the tube.” - Gabrielle Hamilton, owner/chef, Prune

"The guiding principle is to create dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of foods. For instance, unripe mango and pine share a molecular structure, so they might be tasty if combined. That's the theory, anyway. Molecular gastronomists combine white chocolate and oysters for the same reason. Geek gourmet began with experiments by professional chefs at high-end restaurants like El Bulli in Spain and the Fat Duck in England, where steam baths, centrifuges and microscopes share counter space with more traditional cooking tools." - Xeni Jardin, National Public Radio

“The ideal customer doesn’t come to El Bulli to eat,” Adrià has declared, “but to have an experience,” inadvertently revealing not just the purpose of the operation, but also that there is an ideal customer, which may very well not be you, who merely wanted to eat. The fact that eating is rather low down the priority list of molecular cooking is evidenced not just by the proliferation of foams and froths, crumbs and powders, but by the global obsession with serving a multiplicity of tiny courses, for which the inaccurate analogy is usually Spanish tapas." - Stuart Walton, The World of Fine Wine Magazine


March 3, 2007 I haven't been generally posting things here because most of the oddities have gone to my blog since I started it; but, this one fits the page so well... My friend Cecilia sent this to me after she spotted it out front of a restaurant in La Boca:

If I choose the wrong three, do I fail? At least it wasn't accompanied by a "cheese bored"...


July 25, 2006 I generally stay out of the world of politics in terms of commentary. It's just easier. Even people I agree with want to argue the fine points. But this cartoon was too good to pass up, no idea where it originated, so all kudos to whomever drew it:

In a recent interview, General Norman Schwartzkopf was asked if he thought there was room for forgiveness toward Hezbollah.

The General said, "I believe that forgiving Hezbollah is God's function. The Israeli's job is to arrange the meeting ."



June 20, 2006 Beer and Pizza Cure Cancer

6/12/2006, 3:18 p.m. PT
The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — For many men, a finding by Oregon researchers sounds too good to be true: an ingredient in beer seems to help prevent prostate cancer, at least in lab experiments. The trouble is you'd theoretically have to drink about 17 beers a day for any potential benefit. And no one's advising that.

Researchers at Oregon State University say that the compound xanthohumol, found in hops, inhibits a protein in the cells along the surface of the prostate gland. The protein acts like a switch that turns on a variety cancers, including prostate cancer.

Dr. Richard N. Atkins, CEO of the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, said the experiments are encouraging and "perhaps men could take it in pill form someday."

He noted an ingredient in tomatoes, lycopene, has previously been linked to prostate cancer prevention.

"It's every man's dream to hear that beer and pizza can prevent cancer," he said. "However, the 17 beers and four large pizzas needed to get enough xanthohumol and lycopene to help prevent prostate cancer is unfortunately not advised."

Atkins noted that drinking 17 beers a day can lead to alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver, and overdoing it on pizza can lead to obesity and other health problems.

Strange, this "new discovery" published just a few days ago. Especially when one looks at things like this report from more than ten years ago (excerpted, there was a lot of scientific "stuff" in the report):

Scientists Recommend 120 Gallons of Beer Per Day

By Adam Marcus
HealthSCOUT Reporter

FRIDAY, Aug. 18 -- It's news that would make Homer Simpson say "No Duh!": The chief ingredient in beer apparently helps guard against heart problems, cancer and even Alzheimer's disease. But there's a catch. (Of course.)

The molecule is so rare that a person would have to drink about 120 gallons of beer -- or roughly 1,300 12-ounce bottles -- every day to reap the benefits. The problem, Buhler says, is that xanthohumol is such a small component of hops that it doesn't make sense to rely on beer to get it. It would be better, he says, to increase the xanthohumol content of hops, presumably through selective breeding or genetic engineering, or to make a nonalcoholic brew that's rich in the compound.

But the best method in Buhler's mind would be to synthesize the molecule into a pill. "And if you want to drink a little beer with it, that's fine," he says.

Interesting, that idea to increase the amount of xanthohumol in beer... a few years later, in 2002...

Cancer-fighting beer developed in Germany

VIENNA (Reuters Health) - It sounds too good to be true, but German scientists say they have developed a beer that could help fight cancer.

The brew contains high levels of a potent antioxidant called xanthohumol, which is found in hops and has been shown in previous laboratory studies to stem the growth of tumour cells.

The compound is found in very low concentrations in normal beer, so the German Cancer Research Institute in Heidelberg asked researchers at the Technical University of Munich to see if they could enrich the compound.

Using a method they are keeping secret, the scientists brewed beer with 10 times the normal content of xanthohumol, but a calorie and alcohol content similar to that of standard beer, the university said in a statement on Wednesday.

And by 2005, it had popped up again in an ABC News report:

Beer May Fight Disease

It turns out that beer hops contain a unique micronutrient that inhibits cancer-causing enzymes. Hops are plants used in beer to give it aroma, flavor and bitterness.

The compound, xanthohumol, was first isolated by researchers with Oregon State University 10 years ago. Initial testing was promising, and now an increasing number of laboratories across the world have begun studying the compound, said Fred Stevens, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at Oregon State's College of Pharmacy.

Earlier this year, a German research journal even devoted an entire issue to xanthohumol, he said.

What Stevens and others are discovering is that xanthohumol has several unique effects. Along with inhibiting tumor growth and other enzymes that activate cancer cells, it also helps the body make unhealthy compounds more water-soluble, so they can be excreted.

Most beers made today are low on hops, however, and so don't contain much xanthohumol. But beers known for being "hoppy" — usually porter, stout and ale types — have much higher levels of the compound. Oregon's microbrews ranked particularly high, Stevens said, which is not surprising: U.S. hops are grown almost entirely in the Northwest.

Still, no one knows how much beer is needed to reap the benefits.

Really? So the scientists who published the amounts of beer necessary to reap the benefits, the ones who discovered the compound, don't know what they're talking about? Most fascinating for me is the progression from 120 gallons of beer a day down to 17 beers (plus four pizzas) per day. I predict it will not be long until some brewery offers up health claims of a slice and an ale for all that ails us. The headline I wrote above will most certainly show up in a tabloid one of these days. Hmm... pizza and beer. I can live with that.


February 12, 2006 Bush To Discuss Health Care During Visit To Wendy's

- AP Wire -

Does this really need a comment?

Okay, from the Wendy's International website:

We care deeply about the quality of our food. Since Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy's® restaurant in 1969, we've served great-tasting, freshly prepared food, just the way you want it.

You manage your daily intake of food according to what's important to you. Experts agree that it is important to maintain balance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture encourages regular physical activity; eating a variety of grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables; and choosing foods sensibly for good health.

Wendy's, in collaboration with the American Dietetic Association, has created a guide, "Eating Better Together", to help you and your family make menu choices for a healthier lifestyle. You'll find tips about exercise and calorie intake, the importance of dairy and calcium and how to choose a healthy meal while dining out.

At Wendy's, you can choose from a wide variety of great-tasting, satisfying meal options regardless of how you want to eat. Perhaps you want to look and feel fit. Or you have dietary restrictions for medical reasons. Or you're controlling your weight.

In this section of®, we show you how Wendy's can help address some of your specific dietary concerns. Armed with the right information, you can choose meals that taste great, but also meet your personal goals.

Possibly eating somewhere that doesn't serve fast food? Not that I don't like, and when I was back in the States, occasionally ate at, Wendy's, but I went in kind of figuring that a double burger with mayo, extra large fries, and a frosty, weren't exactly high on the health food list...


January 24, 2006 University of Florida has opened its benefits plan to domestic partners, gay or straight. The application for benefits requires that the two people swear to the following:

1.We are each other’s sole Domestic Partner and intend to remain so indefinitely;

2.We reside together in the same principal residence and intend to reside together indefinitely;

3.We are emotionally committed to one another, share joint responsibilities for our common welfare, and are jointly responsible for each other’s financial obligations as demonstrated by the presentation of two of the following:

a. joint ownership of real property;
b. common ownership of an automobile;
c. joint bank accounts;
d. a will, retirement plan, or life insurance policy designating the other as primary beneficiary;
e. a rental agreement showing both parties;
f. driver’s licenses showing the same address for both parties; or
g. IRS tax returns showing the same address for both parties
h. durable property or healthcare power of attorney granted by either party to the other

4.We are each at least 18 years old and mentally competent to consent to a contract:

5.We are not related by blood closer than would bar marriage in the State of Florida;

6.We are not legally married to anyone else and are not involved in any other Domestic Partnership.

7.We have been in a non-platonic relationship for the preceding 12 months.

First off, I'm all for domestic partnership benefits, and I totally understand that any organization granting them wants to avoid situations like a couple of friends or roommates deciding to apply for them just to save money. But, a couple of thoughts...

#1 & #2 - the word indefinite means: "unclear, vague, lacking precise limits, uncertain, undecided." Although in common speech people often use it to mean "forever" or "a really, really long time," that isn't what it means, and this is a legal document.

#3 - I know married couples, especially those where both people work, who couldn't qualify with two of those, though I do think it's a reasonable list.

#4 - If someone happens to be mentally incompetent to consent, but consents, how does that affect the contract? Not being a lawyer, I haven't a clue.

#5 - Though on the face of it completely sensible, it brings to mind a wide array of jokes, many of which are often told about folks in the south...

#6 - Shouldn't there be some way of phrasing this in the singular for each person?

#7 - Already the butt of internet jokes making the rounds on this one, and selected out for particular taunting by Randy over at This Is True this week. As he pointed out, many married couples swearing to that would be lying. As I pointed out to him in return, the statement doesn't require them to swear to being in a sexual relationship with each other, nor does it require they be monogamous, merely that they state, in essence, that they've been engaged in sexual activity during the preceding year...


November 19, 2005

This is the Pyx Door. It is part of Westminster Abbey. It is mostly important because earlier this year it was identified officially as the oldest door in Britain. The details of the process are unimportant, but for those interested, you can find them on the Abbey's website.

What I found most interesting were reports on both the website, and the website of Heritage Today magazine, the magazine of the English Heritage, who had a part in the dating process. The part that caught my eye:

"A detailed archaeological study of the "Pyx" door, which opens into the outer vestibule of Westnimster Abbey's octagonal Chapter House, reveals that the wood in the door was felled between 1032 and 1064AD, and that the door was made some time in the 1050s."

There's more to the reports than that. But I'm a numbers kind of person. God is in the details and all that. Take a look again.

Hmmm... let's see, I understand that the archeological process is inexact, and was only able to narrow down the range to between 1032 and 1064. But from other records, they know that the door was manufactured in the 1050s. One might think that the period from sometime in the 1050s until 1064 could be eliminated as a possible date for the "felling of the wood." Not that I'm an expert carpenter, but my guess is few doors are made from wood while it's still in the middle of the tree.


November 15, 2005 "I am here to make an announcement that this Thursday, ticket counters and airplanes will fly out of Ronald Reagan Airport." --Washington, D.C., Oct. 3, 2001

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." --Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." --Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

"There's no doubt in my mind that we should allow the world's worst leaders to hold America hostage, to threaten our peace, to threaten our friends and allies with the world's worst weapons." --South Bend, Indiana, Sept. 5, 2002.

"There's an old...saying in Tennessee...I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says Fool me once...(3 second pause)... Shame on...(4 second pause)...Shame on you....(6 second pause)...Fool me...Can't get fooled again." --Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 17, 2002.

"See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction." --Milwaukee, Wis., Oct. 3, 2003

"The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the ... the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice." --Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2003.

"I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep on the soil of a friend." --on visiting Denmark, Washington D.C., June 29, 2005

"Wow! Brazil is big." --after being shown a map of Brazil by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 6, 2005

"Rarely is the question asked, 'Is our children learning'?" --Florence, S.C. Jan 11 2000 and "The illiteracy level of our children are appalling." --Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2004

all quotes from President George W. Bush

November 11, 2005 Proving that it's not just us "Americans" who are obsessed with bizarre child development ideas...the British are considering a new Childcare Bill that is aimed at the improved development of "children" aged 0 to 3...

In theory, a child who is not yet able to sit unaided, speak or ingest solids is going to be expected to express “joy, sadness, frustration and fear, leading to the development of strategies to cope with new, challenging or stressful situations”. Assuming that either the child or its carers can fathom what this means, the former is then going to be required to perform the above for the benefit of state inspectors. Great. Hey, Junior, no pressure, but now that you have been breathing on your own for almost 12 hours, isn’t it time that you started working up those recognition skills? What’s that you say? More milk? Milk is for wimps! How about flashcards?

Now I’m not about to bore on about the sanctity of childhood, but only because nought to 3 is not childhood, it’s babyhood. It’s the one brief window of opportunity where it is perfectly OK to eat sand, suck people’s noses and shout “I haven’t got a willie!” at complete strangers in the street. It is, and should remain, as spontaneous as possible. It is certainly no place for invasive legislation (under the proposals childminders and nurseries will be under a legal obligation to teach this wretched Early Years Foundation Stage). And it’s certainly no place for politics.

Mothers don’t need the Government to make them competitive and paranoid about their babies’ development. We already manage that very well on our own. Assuming that one’s nerves survive the gruelling series of tests that now define the various stages of pregnancy, the range of edifying activities open to preschoolers is frankly terrifying. Baby yoga, baby French, baby signing, aqua-babies, baby ballet, potty training, crafty babies, baby massage — all these classes and more thrive wherever the mighty Maclaren roams the streets. It seems that the defining trait of our generation of parents is to obsess about every tiny aspect of our children’s development. In part, it’s the legacy of this generation of working mothers: too busy, too guilt-ridden, too controlling. But it’s also the product of too many experts and their wretched research.

- excerpted from a column by Sarah Vine, The Times (UK)

I can't really express the ridiculousness of this new bill any better than she did.

November 1, 2005
This Is My Life, Rated
Life: 8
Mind: 8.8
Body: 6.5
Spirit: 8
Friends/Family: 6.3
Love: 9.1
Finance: 7.7
Take the Rate My Life Quiz
I love these little quizzes...
October 26, 2005 The most recent reports on the number of psychologists per 100,000 inhabitants "in the Americas...". Along with a rising trend in the overall number of psychologists here in Argentina.

October 1, 2005 It was a day of street signs...

September 28, 2005 I hate to bring up the catholic church a second time in a row, but does it seem to be getting more and more bizarre?

HIV Fears After Priest's Bizarre Mass
by The Associated Press

Posted: September 17, 2005  4:00 pm ET

(Austin, Texas) The Catholic Diocese of Austin is investigating after a priest called about 15 children to come forward during evening Mass so he could prick them with an unsterilized pin to demonstrate the pain Jesus suffered during crucifixion.

"What I was trying to teach them is that suffering is a part of life," said the Rev. Arthur Michalka, 78, on Friday.

No one reacted strongly during the incident at evening Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Corn Hill on Wednesday, said Helen Osman, communications director for the Austin diocese. Osman said that the priest pricked both adults and children.

"What were you thinking?" said Debbie Sybert, a Jarrell resident whose 11-year-old daughter, Amanda, was pricked during Mass. "Apparently our father has lost his mind."

Sybert said the pinpoint drew Amanda's blood. But Michalka said none of the children bled.

Regardless of whether blood was drawn, Osman said, pricking children with a needle is "not appropriate religious training."

Osman said workers at the Williamson County and Cities Health District will conduct confidential interviews with the Mass attendees to find out whether they have any communicable diseases and whether skin was broken.

Officials will then determine whether the children might be at risk for exposure to diseases such as HIV or hepatitis and whether a blood test is needed.

Dr. Ed Sherwood, health authority for the Williamson district, said the likelihood of transmitting blood-borne diseases by a pinprick is "real but quite small." He said the risk would increase if adults and children were pricked with the same pin because adults are more likely to be sexually active.

"As a parent, I would not be happy about it," Sherwood said. "But I would be consoled by the fact that statistically, the overwhelming probability is that these kids will be just fine."

Michalka said he plans to apologize in church this Sunday for not sterilizing the pin.

"I didn't think it was that big a deal," Michalka said. "I can see the point now. I'll see to it that it doesn't happen again."

Now, I can say that I can sort of see Michalka's point (no pun intended). First off, the man is 78 years old. He grew up in a world without things like AIDS. He also grew up in a world where things like a spanking or a rap on the knuckles with a ruler were not only common, but expected from teachers, parents, etc. But the man clearly is out of touch with the world in general and the concerns, even if often exaggerated, of parents today. And that seems to be often typical of the church (and not just the catholic one). I also find myself, regardless of my views on Jesus, wondering how this man could remotely think that a pinprick on the hand would in anyway lead children and/or adults to an understanding of the suffering of Christ, or even as he said in his post-action statement, that "suffering is a part of life."

It's certainly generated a some conversation on the net, on sites that range from news commentary to thoughtful religious discussions to a UFO related site!

My initial reaction to the concerns about AIDS is that it's a "tempest in a teapot." After all, we're talking children, not many of whom are likely to be sexually active. But then I thought, there are other things that could be transmitted by an unsterilized needle (hepatitis for example); what was it used for before this incident; and of course it is certainly possible that one of the children is HIV infected; and then I caught the line from the communications director for the diocese that there were adults pricked as well. Maybe the concerns aren't quite so unfounded?

Not that we can all go through life worrying about every tiny thing, as we'd only drive ourselves nuts (as I think many parents these days are), but given the recent history of the church...

September 13, 2005



The "Neo"-Priest...

The new "recruitment" poster for the Catholic priesthood, featuring 28-year old Father Jonathan Meyer ready to fight the forces of evil. He got the idea after seeing a sketch during seminary that pitted a group of older priests battling Satan in martial arts fashion. The poster is being given out to teens everywhere in hopes that it will entice them into the priesthood; and thousands of those teens are grabbing them up. Well, certainly a sexy poster of a priest hanging on their walls will entice teens into something.

The Catholic church has such a good record on priests, teens, and sex ... what could possibly go wrong?





June 27, 2005 Sent to me by my friend Phillip. No doubt this is what is meant by multicultural sensitivity in the workplace...
June 18, 2005 Personally, I recommend letting go a moment or so before...
May 27, 2005 From today's New York Times:

British Medical Experts Campaign for Long, Pointy Knife Control

Warning: Long, pointy knives may be hazardous to your health.

The authors of an editorial in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal have called for knife reform. The editorial, "Reducing knife crime: We need to ban the sale of long, pointed kitchen knives," notes that the knives are being used to stab people as well as roasts and the odd tin of Spam.

The authors of the essay - Drs. Emma Hern, Will Glazebrook and Mike Beckett of the West Middlesex University Hospital in London - called for laws requiring knife manufacturers to redesign their wares with rounded, blunt tips.

The researchers noted that the rate of violent crime in Britain rose nearly 18 percent from 2003 to 2004, and that in the first two weeks of 2005, 15 killings and 16 nonfatal attacks involved stabbings. In an unusual move for a scholarly work, the researchers cited a January headline from The Daily Express, a London tabloid: "Britain is in the grip of knives terror - third of murder victims are now stabbed to death." Dr. Hern said that "we came up with the idea and tossed it into the pot" to get people talking about crime reduction. "Whether it's a sensible solution to this problem or not, I'm not sure."

In the United States, where people are more likely to debate gun control than knife control, partisans on both sides sounded amused. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, asked, "Are they going to have everybody using plastic knives and forks and spoons in their own homes, like they do in airlines?"

Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports gun control, joked, "Can sharp stick control be far behind?" He said people in his movement were "envious" of England for having such problems. "In America, we can't even come to an agreement that guns are dangerous and we should make them safer," he said.

The authors of the editorial argued that the pointed tip is a vestigial feature from less mannered ages, when people used it to spear meat. They said that they interviewed 10 chefs in England, and that "none gave a reason why the long, pointed knife was essential," though short, pointed knives were useful.

An American chef, however, disagreed with the proposal. "This is yet another sign of the coming apocalypse," said Anthony Bourdain, the executive chef at Les Halles and the author of "Kitchen Confidential."

A knife, he said, is a beloved tool of the trade, and not a thing to be shaped by bureaucrats. A chef's relationship with his knives develops over decades of training and work, he said, adding, "Its weight, its shape - these are all extensions of our arms, and in many ways, our personalities."

He compared the editorial to efforts to ban unpasteurized cheese. "Where there is no risk," he said, "there is no pleasure."

Note, we're not talking about the usual sorts of "knife control" laws, like not letting kids buy them, or banning certain types of knives (well, I guess in a sense we are talking about banning certain kinds of knives), like switchblades, or gravity blades, or the latest in samurai sword attacks (which seem to be quite common if one does a google search) or things of that sort. This is more in the line of:

"Sharp, pointy objects shouldn't be available to anyone." said Sen. Lieberman, D-Conn., a key figure in the knife-control movement

May 19, 2005




Not really a surprise that no one has rented it, is it?








Apparently realizing their mistake, they've "corrected" the spelling...






Meanwhile, at another theater... spelling is all good... juxtaposition is questionable.




May 8, 2005 Okay, this isn't my own, it's an excerpt from a new book called All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Goldin. The excerpt appeared in the May 2005 issue of Fortune: Small Business, so I'm not sure if it's exactly what will appear in the final book (to be published this month). But, since it relates to my career, and I liked it, I'm just posting it. By the way, the rest of the excerpt is truly fascinating - look for the book in stores soon!

A good story makes the product better.

Georg Riedel is a fibber—an honest spinner of tales. He tells his customers something that isn’t true—his wineglasses make wine taste better—and then the very act of believing it makes the statement true. Because drinkers believe the wine tastes better, it does taste better.

Georg is a tenth-generation glass blower, an artisan pursuing an age-old craft. I’m told he’s a very nice guy. And he’s very good at telling stories. His company makes wineglasses (also whiskey glasses, espresso glasses, and even water glasses). He and his staff fervently believe that there is a perfect (and different) shape for every beverage. According to Riedel’s website, "The delivery of a wine’s ‘message,’ its bouquet and taste, depends on the form of the glass. It is the responsibility of a glass to convey the wine’s messages in the best manner to the human senses."

Thomas Matthews, the executive editor of Wine Spectator magazine, said, "Everybody who ventures into a Riedel tasting starts as a skeptic. I did." The skepticism doesn’t last long. Robert Parker Jr., the king of wine reviewers, said, "The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make." Parker and Matthews and hundreds of other wine luminaries are now believers (and as a result, they are Riedel’s best word-of-mouth marketers). Millions of wine drinkers around the world have been persuaded that a $200 bottle of Opus One (or a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck) tastes better when served in the proper Riedel glass.

Yet when tests are done scientifically—double-blind tests that eliminate any chance that the subject would know the shape of the glass—there is absolutely zero detectable difference among glasses. A $1 glass and a $20 glass deliver precisely the same impact on the wine: none.

So what’s going on? Why do wine experts insist that the wine tastes better in a Riedel glass at the same time that scientists can easily prove it doesn’t? The flaw in the experiment, as outlined by Daniel Zwerdling in Gourmet magazine, is that the reason the wine tastes better is that people believe it should. This makes sense, of course. Taste is subjective. Riedel sells millions of dollars’ worth of glasses every year. It sells glasses to intelligent, well-off wine lovers, who then proceed to enjoy their wine more than they did before. Marketing, in the form of an expensive glass and the story that goes with it, has more impact on the taste of wine than oak casks or fancy corks or the rain in June. Georg Riedel makes your wine taste better by telling you a story.

March 2, 2005

Can you imagine looking through a telescope into space and God is looking back in the other end of the telescope?

Fun to contemplate, no? Okay, this isn't really a current event, though a friend just sent it to me today. This picture was posted on NASA's "Astronomy Picture of the Day" website back on May 10, 2003. Internet folk have been passing it around ever since with the added notation above, and a follow-up that NASA refers to this as "The Eye of God". Urban legend...or Net legend - this pass-around is one of those chain letter type things that resurfaces every now and again.

Here's NASA's official caption for the picture:

Explanation: Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula is the closest example of a planetary nebula created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce. The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies about 650 light-years away towards the constellation of Aquarius and spans about 2.5 light-years. The above picture is a composite of newly released images from the ACS instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope and wide-angle images from the Mosaic Camera on the WIYN 0.9-m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. A close-up of the inner edge of the Helix Nebula shows complex gas knots of unknown origin.

To put that in English...

The Helix Nebula is about 650 light-years from Earth. It's a popular target for astronomers because it's easily viewable through binoculars or telescope. The phenomenon above is real. The image, however, is not, at least not in the technical sense of the word "picture". It is a computer-generated and enhanced mosaic based on nine individual photographs taken by both the Hubble telescope and the National Science Foundation's telescope at Kitt Peak Observatory near Tucson.

Despite the resemblance to an eye in this image, the Helix Nebula is a spiral cylinder more than one trillion kilometers long. It points directly toward Earth and therefore looks like an eye to us, rather than the tube-like structure that it is. To the best of anyone credible's knowledge, no one at NASA has ever referred to this in any official capacity as "the eye of god". In fact, this phenomenon and similar ones are common enough that both professional and amateur astronomers have dubbed many object "the eye of god" over time.

Here is a non-composite photo of the Helix Nebula from NASA's website (still vaguely eye-ish):

And, just because they can be really, really pretty, here are a couple more, respectively, the Catseye Nebula and the Wings of a Butterfly Nebula:

February 22, 2005 Gates?

New York City is all abuzz about "The Gates". For those of you who haven't heard about it (I was away when it opened and didn't know about it until a few days after returning), it is an "art" installation in Central Park. I place the word art in quotes because it is called as such by the artists, though I can find little to fit the description. If you can, imagine a large number (to paraphrase the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... a really, really, really large number) of roughly 20 foot high steel frames with shower curtains hanging from them (okay, actually there are 7,500 of them). Lining 23 miles worth of walkways in the park. Flapping in the breeze. Oh, did I mention they're the color of a an orange prison uniform? (The artists refer to the color of saffron, but I'd throw out any saffron of that color.)

I spent an hour or so wandering amidst this unfortunate use of materials (10.5 million pounds of steel, 60 miles of vinyl tubing, 1 million square feet of nylon fabric, plus all the associated nuts, bolts, etc., to hold it all together). The park was thronged with folks there to gawk, to marvel, to criticque. One friend of mine said he got a visceral thrill from it. A woman I passed wondered what was to be done with all the steel and plastic after the installation ends (I do too... what does one do with more than 5000 tons of bright orange steel and several thousand bright orange shower curtains?). Don't forget about the 1 millions swatches of specially made nylon fabric that the artists had commissioned to be given away on a first-come, first-served basis to visitors... figure most of those will end up in the landfill after a few years... months... weeks... days... In an op-ed by Ted Caplow, an environmental engineer, in the New York Times, he mused:

According to the United States Department of Energy, the steel industry in this country consumes about 18 million B.T.U.'s of raw energy to produce one ton of steel. If the cast steel in "The Gates" is typical American steel, then making it has required 97 billion B.T.U.'s, an amount equivalent to the entire annual energy consumption - including that used to run cars, furnaces, air conditioners and home appliances - of nearly 500 New York state residents.

Energy for the steel industry is supplied in roughly equal thirds by coal, natural gas and electricity from the grid. Based on generally accepted rates of carbon dioxide emissions for these three sources, it appears that making steel for "The Gates" churned out 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the combined output of about 1,600 average American cars for a year (carbon dioxide is viewed by most scientists as a threat to the global climate system). We would have to plant more than 200 acres of trees and grow them for 10 years to remove this carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Central Park has an area of about 800 acres, but only part of this has trees; and the mature trees that dominate the park do not absorb carbon dioxide effectively, so we cannot look to the park to clean up the mess.

In terms of sheer mass, the amount of plastic in "The Gates" is dwarfed by the steel, but emissions of carbon dioxide, dioxins and other toxins from plastics manufacturing are also a concern. The plastic chosen for the supports, polyvinyl chloride, or P.V.C., is an increasingly controversial material that releases dioxins and other carcinogens to the air and water during manufacture (and possibly afterward). Polyvinyl chloride has been singled out as "the poison plastic" by Greenpeace and other environmental groups. We now have 60 miles of it in the park. Clearly, the squirrels were not consulted on this choice.

Is it art? Who knows. I could almost see that if viewed from the air I could, perhaps, find something artistic about it (see picture below). From the ground it was little more than an interesting feat of very basic engineering - interesting for its scope rather than its content.

The artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, have stated that it was all paid for by themselves and took them 26 years to create. Perhaps, perhaps not. The city seems to feel that it is bringing in a burst of needed revenue. Most likely true... on this last Sunday, a week after the installation, there still must have been several tens of thousands of tourists there to see it. It certainly is a revenue builder for some folks. Why wasn't I the one to think of buying up yards of orange nylon (in varying shades, none of which matched the installation) and selling square yards of it for $20 a pop as one enterprising young man was doing? I didn't come up with the orange ponchos (well, really more of pieces of nylon with a string tying two corners together... very cape-like) for $25 each either. Nor the t-shirts, nor sweatshirts, nor the orange soda sales...

Thankfully, there are those out there with a good perspective on it... I refer you to "The Somerville Gates", or perhaps to "The Crackers", far more intriguing to my mind...

I leave you with an excerpt from New York Magazine:

“Nobody speaks to Christo!” says his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, in her dramatic Parisian accent. “Christo is working seventeen hours a day on the drawings we must sell to pay for The Gates. Without these sketches, there will be no Gates!”

So every morning Christo climbs the stairs from the couple’s fourth-floor apartment to his fifth-floor studio. He works, standing, for several hours on wall-size drawings that illustrate the plans for The Gates, the enormous installation he and his wife have planned for Central Park, and which is scheduled to open in mid-February. Sometimes he moves to a table to work on one of six or seven smaller collages, all at various stages of completion. Or he spreads out a drawing on the floor and works, wearing gardener’s knee pads. “Sometimes he comes down to eat raw garlic, which he eats three times a day,” says Jeanne-Claude. “A total of one head of garlic a day, raw, like candies. With some yogurt. And sometimes a glass of soy milk. That takes him about three minutes. Then back to the studio.”

He leaves Jeanne-Claude downstairs to conduct interviews and schedule visits by collectors, several of whom now visit their studio each day. The works are priced by size: The small collages, measuring eleven inches by eight and a half inches, sell for $30,000; the wall-size drawings, at four and three quarters feet by eight feet, go for $600,000. The Gates, which is being financed entirely by the Christos, with not a penny of grants, city money, or donations, is budgeted at $20 million—which translates to a lot of collages, drawings, sketches, and models. “Nobody comes up here unless they are buying!” Jeanne-Claude says. “Are you buying?”

January 29, 2005 In tribute to Johnny Carson, I merely reproduce one of my favorite pieces of his, sans commentary. When this was originally delivered on the air in 1991, The Battle Hymn of the Republic was playing in the background. You'll have to imagine it...

"What Democracy Means to Me"
by Johnny Carson

To me, democracy means placing trust in the little guy, giving the fruits of nationhood to those who built the nation. Democracy means anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn't grow up can be vice president.

Democracy is people of all races, colors, and creeds united by a single dream: to get rich and move to the suburbs away from people of all races, colors, and creeds. Democracy is having time set aside to worship -- 18 years if you're Jim Baker.

Democracy is buying a big house you can't afford with money you don't have to impress people you wish were dead. And, unlike communism, democracy does not mean having just one ineffective political party; it means having two ineffective political parties.

Democracy means freedom of sexual choice between any two consenting adults; Utopia means freedom of choice between three or more consenting adults. But I digress. Democracy is welcoming people from other lands, and giving them something to hold onto -- usually a mop or a leaf blower. It means that with proper timing and scrupulous bookkeeping, anyone can die owing the government a huge amount of money.

Democracy means a thriving heartland with rolling fields of Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Spanky, and Wheezer. Democracy means our elected officials bow to the will of the people, but more often they bow to the big butts of campaign contributors.

Yes, democracy means fighting every day for what you deserve, and fighting even harder to keep other weaker people from getting what they deserve. Democracy means never having the Secret Police show up at your door. Of course, it also means never having the cable guy show up at your door. It's a tradeoff. Democracy means free television. Not good television, but free.

Democracy is being able to pick up the phone and, within a minute, be talking to anyone in the country, and, within two minutes, be interrupted by call waiting.

Democracy means no taxation without representation, and god knows, we've just about had the hell represented out of us. It means the freedom to bear arms so you can blow the "o" out of any rural stop sign you want.

And finally, democracy is the eagle on the back of a dollar bill, with 13 arrows in one claw, 13 leaves on a branch, 13 tail feathers, and 13 stars over its head. This signifies that when the white man came to this country, it was bad luck for the Indians, bad luck for the trees, bad luck for the wildlife, and lights out for the American eagle.

I thank you.

January 16, 2005 The Gay Bomb

Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's our national military's policy on homosexuality. (By the way, I was in ROTC back in college in the mid-70s, I told when asked, it didn't stop them from admitting me to the program - though, of course, that was before the policy, it was during the "no way you're getting in" era. I was also once interviewed by the CIA, originally for a position in psychological profiling, but then was offered a position in data analysis - they asked, I told, they still offered. Who knows?)

Regardless, the policy is clearly for our military, not our enemies:

"Category # 3: Chemicals that affect human behavior so that discipline and morale in enemy units is adversely affected. One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior."

This from the Wright Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, part of a 1994 study paper entitled "Harassing, Annoying, and "Bad Guy" Identifying Chemicals. The paper came to light this week as a result of efforts from the Sunshine Project, a biological/chemical warfare watchdog group. According to the officer in charge of such things, neither this nor any of the other silly ideas in the paper were pursued, they were merely proposed and discussed.

There's clearly not enough detail in the paper released to figure out things like: How did they plan to test this one?

"Conduct tests to determine safety/toxicity for humans, then conduct field trials to determine initial and lasting effectiveness in various climates and conditions...."

(Some commentators have suggested that San Francisco's Castro district and New York's Greenwich Village might have been test sites...)

If homosexuality is a combination of "nature and nurture", as is generally believed, just exactly what sort of chemical was going to convert heterosexuals to homosexuals? Did someone really think that just by making soldiers super-horny (aren't they already?) they would drop their weapons, stop listening to their orders, and jump each other in the foxholes... so to speak?

On the flip side of this, and in a clearly clairvoyant moment, Weekly World News reported way back in August of last year that:

"Extremist Muslim scientists are developing a bomb that turns anyone within a 30-mile radius of its blast into a homosexual, say U.S. Intelligence insiders."

January 14, 2005 The Flying Shrimp of Death

Food allergies are on the rise. In the U.S. alone, they are responsible for some 30,000 emergency room visits per year, and somewhere between 150-200 deaths! Shrimp allergies are among the more serious. Not a good thing. Not a joke. But some folks can't seem to tell the difference between serious and a joke...

In December 2000, a Long Island furrier and his family gathered at a Benihana restaurant to enjoy the show and dinner. The chef sliced and diced, tossed things in the air, all the usual sort of thing. As they often do, he tossed a shrimp here and there to the eagerly watching crowd. Now, here's the disputed part. Jerry Colaitis, the furrier in question, apparently ducked to avoid being hit by the shrimp. Or at least that's what his widow says. Her claim, in a $10 million lawsuit filed against Benihana, is that he ducked (after having asked the chef not to flip the shrimp at him... but wait, isn't that part of the show that they were there for?), and injured two of his neck vertabrae. Over the course of the next ten months, he had two operations on those neck vertabrae, and died of surgical complications after the second one. Now, the chef claims that Mr. Colaitis was attempting to catch the shrimp in his mouth, lunged in some direction or other, and perhaps injured his neck that way - if there was even any relationship between his vertabrae and the dinner. There seems to also be some question as to whether or not the vertabral injuries were a pre-existing condition...

There's too much good stuff out there on this on the internet. The best comment, from Fark:

"You have to admit, of all the ways a Benihana chef could have killed the man--his expert wizardry with knives, his ability to dice raw meat midair, his precise spatularic stylings--he cleverly used a common shrimp. Those ninjas that disguise themselves as Benihana chefs are as cunning as they are evil..."

And as long as we're looking at shrimp deaths:

A Florida jury has awarded $12.3 million to an Ecuadorian shrimp farming company that claimed DuPont's Benlate fungicide poisoned its harvest. Aquamar S.A. contended that Benlate and other pesticides seeped into the water after being used on banana plantations and killed their shrimp. The case mirrored one that DuPont lost in Florida in November. In that case, a shrimp farmer was awarded $10 million. (Needless to say, DuPont is appealling these decisions.)

I also refer you to God Hates Shrimp... "Pinch the Tail, Suck the Head, Burn in Hell"

January 1, 2005 Happy New Year Everyone!

Tales of the Naked City

"To be offended by the visual appearance of another person is prejudice, akin to racism. The right to exist, uncovered, should hold precedence over the right not to view this, for the objection is irrational." - Terri Sue Webb - nude cycling activist...

I just saw this piece from a week ago:

The Associated Press
Updated: 7:04 p.m. ET Dec. 22, 2004

MEXICO CITY - There's a city in Mexico that's making it illegal for citizens to be naked — inside their own homes.

Officials in the southeastern city of Villahermosa confirm that the city council has adopted a law banning indoor nudity.

A council member who opposes the idea says he's not sure how it'll be enforced.

But a councilwoman who supports it says she's confident that citizens who catch a glimpse of violators while walking past their windows will report them to police — even though the law also threatens jail for peeping Toms.

She describes the law as "zero tolerance" for "a lack of morality."

© 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. (and my apologies for bordering on violating that...)

"The majority of houses have a lot of ventilation and we give ourselves the luxury of going naked. Because we walk past the windows, you see a lot of things."

Councilwoman Blanca Estela Pulid

Opposition party Councilman Rodrigo Sanchez said in an interview that the measure, part of a larger series of prohibitions, "tramples on the rights of the citizens by taking laughable measures such as contemplating penalties for citizens who walk around nude inside their houses."

"I have no idea how you detect the naked. You'd have to have a big operation to try to bring it under control,"
he added.

This law, like many that on the face of them are inordinately silly, has generated lots of internet commentary (Google lists 20,400 references to this topic over the last week!). It should be noted that the law doesn't actually ban citizens from being nude in their homes or anywhere else (despite the discussions I've found on whether one can still take one's clothes off for doctor's visits, to shower at the gym, to shower at the home even). It specifies that people are banned from "displaying themselves nude intentionally in public and private areas or inside the home, in the latter instances when it is in a way that is obvious to the public or to adjacent homes."  Nonetheless, it makes for great conversation! Here's my favorite editorial on the topic: where editor Fred Foldvary suggests, tongue-in-cheek, that we attach mini-cameras to horseflies and let them fly around while police monitor what they see. By the way, the penalty for violation of this law is either 36 hours in jail or the current equivalent of a $120 fine.

From the Wikipedia:

In ancient Greece, athletic exercise played an important part of daily life. In fact, the Greeks credited several mythological figures with athletic accomplishments.

It was in the city-state of Sparta that the custom of exercising naked was first introduced. From there, it spread to the whole of Greece, and the athletes from all its parts, coming together for the Olympic Games and the other Panhellenic Games, would compete naked in almost all disciplines, such as boxing, wrestling, pankration, stadion and various other foot races, and the pentathlon (made up of wrestling, stadion, long jump, javelin throw, and discus throw). However, they did not perform in the nude during chariot races.

Evidence of Greek nudity in sport comes from the numerous surviving depictions of athletes (sculpture, mosaics, and vase paintings). Famous athletes were honored with a statue erected for their commemoration. A few writers have insisted that the athletic nudity in Greek art is just an artistic convention, finding it unbelievable that anybody would have run naked. This view could be ascribed to late-Victorian prudishness applied anachronistically to ancient times.

The word gymnasium (from Greek gymnasion), originally denoting a place for education of young men, is another testimony of the nudity in physical exercises; the word being derived from Greek gymnos, meaning "naked". The more recent form gym is an abbreviation of gymnasium.

In Hellenistic times, Greek-speaking Jews would sometimes take part in athletic exercises. They were then exposed to ridicule because they were circumcised - a custom which was unknown in the Greek tradition.

The Romans, although they took over much of the Greek culture, had a different evaluation of nakedness. To appear naked in public was considered disgusting. However, athletic exercises by free citizens had partly been replaced by gladiatorial games performed in amphitheatres. The gladiators were recruited among slaves, war captives, and convicts. When fighting in the arena, against one another or against wild beasts, they would be armed with swords, shields, etc., but would otherwise be partly or totally naked (see Gladiator for particulars).

When Christianity in the fourth century became the state religion, gladiatorial games were soon abandoned, and the concept of nudity as 'sinful' took over.

In Japan, female sumo wrestlers wrestled in the nude. Today, females are not allowed to sumo wrestle, and the sport in general is considered sacred under Shintoism.

Sport in the modern sense of the word became popular only in the 19th century. Nudity in this context was most common in Germany and the Nordic countries, where Body culture was very much revered by Nazi ideologues. In the nordic countries also swimming in rivers or lakes was very popular and traditional. In the summer, there would be wooden bathhouses, often of considerable size accommodating numerous swimmers, built partly over the water. Hoardings prevented the bathers from being seen from outside. Originally the bathhouses were for men only; today there are usually separate sections for men and women.

For the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912, the official poster was created by a distinguished artist. It depicted several naked male athletes (their genitals obscured) and was for that reason considered too daring for distribution in certain countries. Posters for the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, the 1924 Olympics in Paris, and the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki also featured nude male figures, evoking the classical origins of the games. The poster for the 1948 London Olympics featured a classical nude sculpture of a discus thrower.

A group from the southern U.S., having been invited in the 1950s to participate in a university students' swimming competition in Stockholm, was surprised to find at their arrival at the (indoor) swimming pool that their swimming trunks were out of place; they swam in the nude like everybody else.

It is not uncommon for private clubs with male-only or female-only facilities to allow (for example) nude swimming. Some argue that in more private environments (whether at home or in, say a single-gender bathhouse), the less clothing one has on when exercising or doing any activity the better.

Stephen Gough, dubbed the Naked Rambler, in 2003/2004 made a long-distance walk from one end of the UK to the other, wearing only boots. He was arrested several times, and his walk was interrupted by two periods of jail time, together five months. Including these, the journey took seven months. He undertook his walk as a protest, in order to celebrate the naked human form, and to try to convince the public to stop being paranoid about the naked body. He observed that anti-nudity laws are more strictly enforced in Scotland than in England.

On 12 June 2004 over 1,000 people taking part in the World Naked Bike Ride in 24 mostly North American cities rode their bicycle either partially or totally nude in a light-hearted attempt to draw attention to the danger of depending on fossil fuels.



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