Archive for May, 2009

George Tiller

May 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Dr. Tiller was murdered this morning while serving as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas. I urge you to read the stories that hilzoy has collected in a recent post, describing late-term abortions performed in situations where the alternative was worse. See also a story Andrew Sullivan posted earlier tonight from a reader describing a case in which a late-term abortion wasn’t performed.

Yet we have such people as Bill O’Reilly to thank for describing Dr. Tiller as Tiller the Baby Killer who “”destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000.” See here for more on how O’Reilly has campaigned tirelessly for over four years against Dr. Tiller.

Categories: Today's News

Dishtowels and Napkins

May 31, 2009 Leave a comment


It’s been almost half a year since I included a post on the edible idiom recurring feature at Clotilde Dusoulier’s blog Chocolate & Zucchini. Her latest appeared two days ago, and I can’t resist this one.

The idioms are all French. The latest is “Ne pas mélanger les torchons et les serviettes,” which Clotilde translates as “not mixing dishtowels with napkins.” As she explains, “it means treating things or people differently according to their perceived value or class, but also, more generally, not mixing things of different kinds, with the implication that some of those things are superior to the others. … It can be delivered either earnestly or ironically, to deride a person’s or an institution’s narrowmindedness.”

After providing an example, Clotilde digs more deeply into the meaning behind the idiom.

This expression relies on the symbolic opposition between the dishtowel, seen here as a lowly rag used for domestic chores, and the napkin, a much more distinguished piece of cloth that is an integral part of an elegant table setting. The classist — though now generally outdated — implication was that the former was in the realm of servants, while the latter belonged to the world of their employers and their social life. It would then have been improper to wash or put away the two together.

(For the record, we keep the clean dishtowels and everyday napkins in the same place, while the napkins we use for guests live in a separate drawer — but it’s more for the sake of convenience than anything else.)

Her last remark made me think about our own practice. Our dishtowels are in a drawer by the kitchen sink. We keep our paper napkins in a drawer by the kitchen table, which is where we eat most often. And we have cloth napkins in a drawer in the dining room. This would seem to be the most efficient arrangement.

But then I was wondering what kind of napkin one should use from the point of view of minimizing the environmental cost. This must depend in part on how often one re-uses napkins of each type. Generally, we don’t re-use paper napkins, but do re-use cloth napkins, several times if possible between washings, though the cloth napkins guests use ordinarily go straight to the wash. There’s a cost either way. Maybe when we’re alone, the best practice would be to use our hands. I’m sure Gail wouldn’t think this is such a great idea, and it would depend on what we’re eating. Even this method involves washing, but we’re likely to wash our hands anyway after the meal, so it’s not an extra cost.

These musings remind me of a dinner we had at the home of some friends while traveling a year ago last month. [I had more details in an earlier version of this post, but Gail convinced me that these should be removed.] After dinner, we all stood around in their kitchen while some of the family members did the dishes. One took on the chore of drying the pots and pans. And she used paper towels. I watched as she tore off sheet after sheet. I know, it’s not like she was mixing dishtowels with napkins, but still, it surprised me.

Categories: Culture, Language

Warm Logos

May 31, 2009 Leave a comment


The Week in Review section of today’s NYT has an article by Bill Marsh about companies changing long-standing logos to warmer, fuzzier ones.

Behold the new breed of corporate logo — non-threatening, reassuring, playful, even child-like. Not emblems of distant behemoths, but faces of friends. … Bold, block capital letters are out. Their replacements are mostly or entirely lower case, softening the stern voice of corporate authority to something more like an informal chat. … Letterforms in many new emblems are lighter and rounder

Last year’s top influence, green for sustainability, remains; leaves still sprout across the corporate landscape. … blue was also gaining as a stand-in for the environment (think of earth’s blue orb as seen from space, or clear blue waters) as well as for fresh optimism. But please, make it a joyful sky blue — not dark, corporate-titan navy.

A graphic accompanying the article shows old and new logos for a variety of companies, along with a short discussion of the nature of each change. I was working my way through the examples, starting with Wal-Mart and Kraft (and ending with Blackwater, which has changed its name as well as its logo), when I stumbled on an example close to my heart. I didn’t even realize Sysco had introduced a new logo. As the accompanying text explains, “The old Sysco box logo — cleverly spelling out the food supplier’s name — made way for three newly popular features: sky-blue type, a green leaf and a warmly worded tagline.” I do miss that cleverly hidden name.

Categories: Business, Design

Why Cats?

May 31, 2009 1 comment


The June issue of Scientific American has an article about the evolution of house cats. The scientific issue at the heart of it is the determination of which of several populations of wildcats around the world the domestic cat descended evolved from. Could domestication have occurred in parallel from wildcat populations in different regions, or did the domestic cat come from a single population and then spread around the world?

The answer was found through DNA analysis and published two years ago. Domestic cats come from a single population in the Middle East. When domestication began and why are also discussed in the article, though with less certain results. The passage below highlights the mystery of why cats would be candidates for domestication.

Cats in general are unlikely candidates for domestication. The ancestors of most domesticated animals lived in herds or packs with clear dominance hierarchies. (Humans unwittingly took advantage of this structure by supplanting the alpha individual, thus facilitating control of entire cohesive groups.) These herd animals were already accustomed to living cheek by jowl, so provided that food and shelter were plentiful, they adapted easily to confinement.

Cats, in contrast, are solitary hunters that defend their home ranges fiercely from other cats of the same sex (the pride-living lions are the exception to this rule). Moreover, whereas most domesticates feed on widely available plant foods, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they have a limited ability to digest anything but meat—a far rarer menu item. In fact, they have lost the ability to taste sweet carbohydrates altogether. And as to utility to humans, let us just say cats do not take instruction well.

The article also notes that there’s not a lot of variation in cats, in contrast to that other common human companion.

Unlike dogs, which exhibit a huge range of sizes, shapes and temperaments, house cats are relatively homogeneous, differing mostly in the characteristics of their coats. The reason for the relative lack of variability in cats is simple: humans have long bred dogs to assist with particular tasks, such as hunting or sled pulling, but cats, which lack any inclination for performing most tasks that would be useful to humans, experienced no such selective breeding pressures.

So why do cats live with us? What’s in it for them? What’s in it for us? The article touches on this briefly, but the answer remains a puzzle.

Categories: Animals, Culture

Sotomayor and Alito

May 27, 2009 Leave a comment


President Obama’s selection of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is being criticized by some conservatives as “identity politics.” hilzoy quotes one example in one of her posts today, from Senator James Imhofe: “In the months ahead, it will be important for those of us in the U.S. Senate to weigh her qualifications and character as well as her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.” hilzoy then notes: “Strange to say, Senator Inhofe had no such concerns about Samuel Alito. He didn’t wonder whether Alito’s personal race or gender — or even his impersonal race or gender, whatever those might be — would weigh too heavily with him, or prevent him from ruling fairly. I wonder why not?”

Glenn Greenwald wrote a long post on this issue today, including a quote of a passage from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Alito I will quote from this at length, since it is so telling. Hypocrisy in action can be ugly to watch.
Read more…

Categories: Politics

John Yoo on Sotomayor

May 27, 2009 Leave a comment


I’m sure that at some point in the not too distant future, no one will understand why John Yoo gets to have a public voice on the issues of the day. The greatest mystery in this regard is why the Philadelphia Inquirer hired him recently to write a monthly column. Ideological balance? Okay, but aren’t conservatives available who aren’t war criminals? Aren’t lawyers available who don’t deserve to be disbarred for writing memos justifying torture?

Isn’t it amazing then that his thoughts on Sonia Sotomayor should see the light of day? But then, we do have the American Enterprise Institute to thank for this. In his post at their blog yesterday, we learn that “President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor shows that empathy has won out over excellence in the White House. … Obama had some truly outstanding legal intellectuals and judges to choose from—Cass Sunstein, Elena Kagan, and Diane Wood come immediately to mind. The White House chose a judge distinguished from the other members of that list only by her race. Obama may say he wants to put someone on the Court with a rags-to-riches background, but locking in the political support of Hispanics must sit higher in his priorities. Sotomayor’s record on the bench, at first glance, appears undistinguished.”

My oh my. As Andrew Sullivan wrote yesterday, “This is the same man whose own legal memos were of such poor quality they forced an investigation from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog. How painful is it when they remove these people’s sense of shame?” Or as hilzoy noted today, after quoting other commentary on the selection of Sotomayor, “Of course, none of these responses really compares to John ‘No law can prevent the President from crushing the testicles of a terrorist’s child’ Yoo informing us of the real meaning of the Sotomayor nomination: that despite his best efforts, empathy has triumphed — and that this is a bad thing.”

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Stellar At Last

May 26, 2009 Leave a comment


Last December, the day after Christmas, I wrote a post about an outing Gail, Joel, and I took to the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. It came about because FedEx was days late with a delivery of Christmas presents, due to the snow, and I decided we would drive to their delivery center to pick up the packages. As I explained, going there would have an added bonus, because:

the FedEx facility, on Alaska Street just off Airport Way in Georgetown, was near Stellar Pizza. Georgetown, I should explain, is a commercial/industrial neighborhood south of downtown, along I-5 just above Boeing Field. I have had little reason to go there over the years. But two Augusts ago, I drove down to Stellar from work to join a party in honor of our carpenter and friend Bert, given by Toth Construction for his 10th anniversary with the firm. Almost the entire Toth crew were there, plus Gail, and eventually me. They had all but finished the many pizzas they were sharing, but there was a little for me. And I grabbed a menu to learn more about the place, thereby discovering their extremely tempting sandwiches. I’m always on the lookout for a great meatball hero, and this sure sounded good: “Open-faced hot hero, topped with marinara, parmesean cheese, Mama Lil’s kick-butt peppers, red onions, and mozzarella cheese on a demi-baguette.” Since Joel loves meatball heroes too, I figured it wouldn’t be long before we’d make the journey down there to try it.

Just as we were about to leave the house to get our packages, which I had arranged for FedEx to hold at their facility, a truck drove up with them. Saved. No need to stand on line forever only to learn that the boxes were out for delivery. But what about Stellar? We decided to go anyway, taking “local roads all the way south, through the snow and slush and mess, hitting Pioneer Square, driving past Qwest Field and Safeco Field, and then getting a tour of all the industrial enterprises along Airport Way. Finally, we came to the long viaduct that takes cars over the dozen or more train tracks, came down to ground level, and were at Stellar, squeezed in between the tracks and I-5. And it was closed. Closed December 24, 25, 26. Sigh.” We waited 17 months, and now we would have to wait still longer.

Well, here we are, five months later to the day, and for the first time since that disappointing day, we had business in Georgetown. Bert and Toth Construction are back in our lives, thanks to our latest remodel, just starting its third month. And we arranged to meet Todd, our architect, at Pental Granite & Marble in Georgetown this morning to look at slabs for our bathroom countertop. From Pental we went to another stone place nearby, and then back to Pental to make our final selection. We were done a little after 11, with Stellar nearby. We didn’t even realize how close we were. Three short blocks, then the far side of a small city park, and there it was, just the other side of the train tracks, squeezed between the tracks and Airport Way. They open at 11:00 and we weren’t even the first ones there for lunch. I looked at the menu to make sure the meatball sandwich was still there, which it was, and so I ordered it, with a side salad.

The verdict? Simple. It’s the best meatball sandwich I have ever had in Seattle. I’ve tried quite a few. None compare. Joel, I’m sorry you missed out. Come back home and we’ll go again.

Categories: Today's News

On Pakistan

May 25, 2009 Leave a comment
Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari

The current New York Review of Books has a sobering article by the Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid on the current political and military state of affairs in Pakistan, with a focus on the growth of the Taliban in the northern part of the country. I never had great confidence that if (my college classmate) Benazir Bhutto were elected president, she would have been able to solve the immensely complex political challenges facing the country, but in reading the article, I couldn’t help thinking that she would have done a lot better than her husband Zardari is doing.

Here’s a passage from early in the article.

Pakistan is close to the brink, perhaps not to a meltdown of the government, but to a permanent state of anarchy, as the Islamist revolutionaries led by the Taliban and their many allies take more territory, and state power shrinks. There will be no mass revolutionary uprising like in Iran in 1979 or storming of the citadels of power as in Vietnam and Cambodia; rather we can expect a slow, insidious, long-burning fuse of fear, terror, and paralysis that the Taliban have lit and that the state is unable, and partly unwilling, to douse.

In northern Pakistan, where the Taliban and their allies are largely in control, the situation is critical. State institutions are paralyzed, and over one million people have fled their homes. The provincial government of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has gone into hiding, and law and order have collapsed, with 180 kidnappings for ransom in the NWFP capital of Peshawar in the first months of this year alone. The overall economy is crashing, with drastic power cuts across the country as industry shuts down. Joblessness and lack of access to schools among the young are widespread, creating a new source of recruits to the Taliban. [President] Zardari and [Prime Minister] Gilani have spent the past year battling their political rivals instead of facing up to the Taliban threat and the economic crisis.

And here’s a passage towards the end. Note in particular the incredibly depressing second paragraph regarding policy under the Bush administration This is one area where I have no great confidence that the Obama administration will do better. Read more…

Categories: Politics, World

Alsatian Pinot Blanc

May 24, 2009 Leave a comment
La Maison Pierre Sparr

La Maison Pierre Sparr

I mentioned in a January post that I don’t know much about wine, but I do enjoy reading Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher’s weekly wine column in the Saturday Wall Street Journal. That earlier post was written in response to their article on Washington Syrah. Yesterday’s topic was Alsatian Pinot Blanc. Here’s some of what they had to say:

We’re partial to Alsatian wines in general, though we have raised some alarms over the past few years about a rising level of sweetness in Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. We have a special soft spot for Pinot Blanc because, to us, it just seems so very relaxed and easy—and inexpensive to boot. … Under the rules of Alsace, a wine called Pinot Blanc can actually be made from any blend of Pinot Blanc and a grape called Auxerrois, which is Pinot Blanc’s traditional blending partner in Alsace. As a result, some wines labeled Pinot Blanc are 100% varietal Pinot Blanc, while Schlumberger, for instance, is 30% Pinot Blanc and 70% Auxerrois. …

We always say there are no guarantees in wine, but we [are] convinced that there are few wines on shelves or restaurant lists as reliably pleasant and filled with personality as Alsatian Pinot Blanc.

In Dottie and John’s tasting, they found that their favorite was Domaines Schlumberger ‘Les Princes Abbés’ 2006. $14.95. Their best value was Pierre Sparr Reserve 2007. As they always note with their tastings, you may not find the wines they’ve tasted, but there are many more, with availability varying greatly from store to store, so just give it a try.

We don’t drink a lot of white wine, but I figured I would keep an eye out for a bottle of Pinot Blanc. And my opportunity arose just hours later, when I went down to our local grocery store, Bert’s, in Madison Park. They have a large wine selection and an in-house expert, who is usually there on Saturdays. But he was nowhere to be found yesterday. And I couldn’t even remember what it was I was looking for. I hadn’t thought about buying wine until I walked in and remembered the article.

Pinot something. And white. So not Pinot Noir. Alsace. So I looked for the import shelves, then the France shelves. And looked first at the recommended bottles, which are laid out flat in a rack for display, separate from the ones stored vertically on the shelves. One jumped out at me. The label said Pierre Sparr. Alsace. I found it! That was fast. Oh, wait. Pinot Gris. Oh darn. What color am I looking for? Not Noir. I want a white wine. But Pinot Gris is a white wine. Don’t I want Blanc though? Can’t find it. Well, maybe it was Pinot Gris I read about. Maybe I’m confused.

I bought it.

As soon as I got home I confirmed my stupidity. Still, I hadn’t done anything bad. I just didn’t get to experiment with an Alsatian Pinot Blanc. That will have to await another day. Meanwhile, we can drink the Pinot Gris.

Which is what we did. I made spaghetti, already the planned dinner. Whether Pinot Gris is the best wine for the food or not didn’t much matter. It’s what we were going to have. And it worked. I could imagine better wines, but we were happy. I lack a suitable vocabulary, so I can’t say much more. The label tells me that the wine has a “hint of peach and quince flavors. Good weight and outstanding balance. The finish is crisp and dry.” Maybe so. Not sure about the quince though.

After dinner, I read up a bit on Pierre Sparr. They go back to 1680, are now run by the 9th generation, who are ready to perpetuate the tradition and passion into the 21st century. (The website is in French. This is my attempt at translation.) And they’re in Sigolsheim, just outside Colmar. I might have driven past their vineyards during my one visit to Colmar, at the beginning of February 1983. Not the best day in my life. But that’s another matter.

Colmar itself is a little more than halfway from Strasbourg south to Basel, and is home most famously of the Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald great crucifixion. Worth a major detour. Maybe we’ll go next year. And have Pinot Blanc.

Categories: Stupidity, Wine


May 24, 2009 1 comment
Applebee's Ultimate Trio

Applebee's Ultimate Trio

Having made it this long without eating at a Denny’s, I have no intention of starting. And I pretty much felt the same way about Applebee’s, to the extent that I thought about Applebee’s, which for the most part I didn’t. When I see their ads on TV, I imagine the ads are for other people. We don’t have Applebee’s in greater Seattle. At least I can’t picture one. I figure they’re somewhere else. Like maybe Georgia.

I’ve just learned that Georgia is in fact where they began. I have also learned, in reading the historical summary on their website, that in 2005 they expanded to Ecuador, Brazil, and Jordan, and in 2007 to China. That’s a pretty good clue that somewhere along the way to those places they probably managed to stumble into Washington State. It turns out that they have.

Gail called me just before noon from Des Moines, near the airport, where she was discussing where to eat lunch with her sister, our brother-in-law, and some friends. She wanted to know if I would join them or if I wanted to stay home and grade papers, as I told her I might be doing. She said we could meet by Southcenter. Southcenter is a large suburban mall just east of the airport, with the usual mix of on-site and neighboring chain restaurants. I had this picture of us meeting at Bahama Breeze. In my continuing research on the Darden family of restaurants (here and here), I had focused more on Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Having been to Bahama Breeze just once, in January for a light lunch, I had more work to do. And the only Bahama Breeze west of the MIssissippi besides one in Las Vegas is the one at Southcenter. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to investigate.

But Gail called back a few minutes later to say we were going to Applebee’s. I said no. I don’t eat at Applebee’s! She didn’t argue. She just said that’s where the other 7 people were going. I could stay home.

I went.

In trying to make sense of the menu, I learned that like so many other chain restaurants — Chili’s, Cheesecake Factory — it has a little of everything. This can be a good thing, but for me it’s a bad thing. I have a hard time deciding whether to go Italian, Chinese, Mexican, or just steak or a burger. Well, I knew I didn’t want a burger. Not after having one Friday night at the Mariner game. (I didn’t get around to talking about our dinner at Safeco Field in my post on the game. Too late now. Suffice to say we had cheeseburgers made to order at a grill, which meant standing around with other fans for 10 minutes waiting for our names to be called, then getting a decent burger on top of enough fries for three, all for just $15.) Maybe a steak with choice of garlic mashed or baked potato, plus vegetables. Or maybe a salad with chicken with some sort of sauce. Or maybe the talapia with rice pilaf. Then I discovered the appetizer section of the menu. Or rather the “apps”. Given the Apple app store for the iPhone, this was confusing usage. Nothing looked all that great, but here’s the thing. You can get three. They call it the Ultimate Trio: “Pick any three trio-sized appetizers below for your Ultimate Trio for $11.99.” I could have three cuisines! You can’t beat that.

And just yesterday, while watching the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship semi-finals (to which I will return in another post), I saw a profile of one of the players, who said his favorite food is chicken parm. Since which time I’ve had chicken parm on my mind. It was my lucky day. One of the apps, listed as a new one, was Chicken Parmesan Tanglers: “A juicy chicken breast is sliced and tossed in breading with our signature spices, and golden fried. Topped with Parmesan and served with marinara.” Let’s do it. I ordered the trio, complementing the Tanglers with Steak Quesadilla Towers: “Sirloin steak topped with onions, pico de gallo, peppers, and cheese. Rolled in a grilled tortilla and served with salsa,” and Cheeseburger Sliders: “Fresh ground beef seasoned and topped with American cheese, grilled onions and signature burger sauce on a toasted bun.” It did occur to me that this wasn’t the most balanced meal, but at least I could sample cuisine of three countries.

Turns out I made a mistake. The trio was way too heavy. The quesadilla towers had way too much tortilla and too little steak. They were like big fried bread and cheese sandwiches. The chicken, once sliced, had lots more surface area for breading, so they were again lots of bread and not lots of meat. Plus, they really were just chicken tenders, with some grated parmesan on top, nothing like real chicken parmesan. And the burgers, well, they were burgers, which I already had decided I didn’t want. With, yes, more bread and cheese. What was I thinking?

Gail says I shouldn’t judge Applebee’s harshly on account of my own foolishness. Still, I’m kinda thinking maybe I don’t need to go back. Not when Bahama Breeze awaits. And Cheesecake Factory, and California Pizza Kitchen, and P.F. Chang’s, and Chevy’s.

Categories: Food, Restaurants