Archive for May 31, 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 The classist — though now generally outdated — implication was that the former was in the realm of servants, while the latter belonged to the world of their employers and their social life.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