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Krémes

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

[András Szántó]

My days with the Wall Street Journal’s Saturday arts/culture/food/wine/cars sections are numbered, as I have previously lamented. As far as I can tell, our WSJ subscription has already ended, but the paper keeps coming, just in case I change my mind and renew. Which isn’t going to happen, Rupert.

In the meantime, I still get to enjoy their wonderful articles, such as András Szántó’s piece two days ago on the best krémes in Budapest. I keep looking at the photos of krémes and wondering when we get to go. I told Gail last night that we should plan a trip to Budapest, maybe with Prague and Vienna thrown in. Today we got a postcard from her childhood friend Lois, in the midst of that very trip. Not fair.

What is krémes? (Or should I say what are krémes?) The author explains that it is

a quivering quadrangle of vanilla crème, sandwiched between layers of crisp mille-feuille and finished with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

The krémes is dessert stripped to the essentials. It’s usually consumed on its own, not after a meal. Best to order before noon, when cream and crust are both fresh, their contrasting textures clearly discernible.

On a visit to Budapest with his son, he does research on the best krémes, coming up with a list of six. I sent the article to friend and colleague Sándor, a Budapest native, who found the article close to his heart, noting that although krémes “is not my first choice of pastry,” it is “a major thing a Hungarian misses in the US.” I also had my current TA, Pál, yet another Budapest native, weigh in. It turns out that the place Szántó ranks number one, Maródi Cukrászda, which opened just last spring, is around the corner from Pál’s home in Budapest. Pál will get to try it in December. Like Sándor, Pál commented that krémes is not his favorite Hungarian dessert. He prefers somlói galuska.

We will have a lot to explore. While we wait, we can look at more of Szántó’s photos, such as the one below.

Categories: Food, Travel

PATRIOT Act: Ten Years

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the signing of the PATRIOT Act. The graphic above (hat tip: emptywheel), courtesy of the ACLU, is as good a representation as any of the act’s assault on privacy.

Just five months ago, President Change-We-Can-Believe-In signed a four-year extension of the act.

The provisions were due to expire at midnight Thursday [May 26] without an extension. President Obama is attending a summit in France, but the bill was signed by autopen with his authorization moments before the deadline, the White House said.

“I think it is an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat,” Obama said Friday, after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Obama’s unwillingness to turn back from the Bush-Cheney national security police state all but ensures its long-term continuation.

Categories: Law, Politics

Books, and a Dilemma

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

A week ago, I wrote about the expected arrival from the UK of Ian Rankin’s latest crime novel, The Impossible Dead. I’d been waiting six months, and was eager to get started. I also reviewed my crime/thriller reading of the last month and a half. Let me go back a bit further.

You’ll recall that back in late August, after reading a strong review in the Sunday NYT book review of Charles C. Mann’s 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, I wrote a post about downloading and starting it. I expected it to last me some ways into our NY/Nantucket trip, and I downloaded an old Lee Child thriller, Tripwire, the third Jack Reacher novel, to get me through more of the trip. But as I explained once we arrived in New York, that plan lasted as long as it took me to board the New York bound plane in Seattle, at which point I put 1493 aside and began reading Tripwire. A few days later, in Nantucket, I returned to 1493, but as much as I was enjoying it, and I was, after another day I downloaded and switched to the first of Martin Walker’s novels about Bruno, the rural French policeman, Bruno, Chief of Police.

You know the rest. Back in Seattle, I proceeded to “Bruno 2”, The Dark Vineyard. Next was the newly published Jack Reacher thriller, The Affair, and then “Bruno 3”, Black Diamond.

By then, I was more than ready to return to the streets of Edinburgh, with Ian Rankin as my guide. But The Impossible Dead had only just been released, and I would have to wait for it to ship from the UK. This is where the plot thickens.

What to read in the meantime? Well, there was 1493, which I was only a fifth of the way through and did want to continue. I could always put it aside again if The Impossible Dead showed up. And I had added another book to my list after hearing Alexandra Fuller being interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air about her just-released second memoir, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. Her comments about her mother and growing up in Zimbabwe got me thinking that I might enjoy her first memoir, from a decade ago, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood. I sent an email to Liz, my local Zimbabwean friend, to ask what she thought about Fuller, and she said the first memoir was “the best.” I looked at Amazon and thought of downloading it on the spot, but was put off by the Kindle pricing, which is higher than the cost of the paperback. On the other hand, taking a look at the opening excerpt at the Amazon site, I was already swept up:

Mum says, “Don’t come creeping into our room tonight.”

They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, “Don’t startle us when we’re sleeping.”

“Why not?”

“We might shoot you.”

“Oh.”

“By mistake.”

“Okay.” As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. “Okay, I won’t.”

As Liz had offered to lend me her hardcover copy, I figured I would wait. Rankin first, Fuller second. And 1493 in the meantime.

There’s yet another complication. As I explained last week in my post about The Impossible Dead, I have learned, for books published in the UK before their US appearance that I am eager to read, to order them from amazon.co.uk. The ideal arrangement would be that I could download them for my Kindle, but that’s not allowed in such situations. So I order the hardcover. What I didn’t explain is that after I finished Bruno 3, I took a peak at Martin Walker’s listings at amazon.co.uk and discovered, to my astonishment, that Bruno 4 is already out. Bruno 3 came out here in the US in August. Bruno 4, or rather The Crowded Grave, came out in the UK at the end of September. Why wait until next summer?

So that was the situation a couple of weeks ago. I could read 1493, wait for Ian Rankin’s new book to arrive, wait for Liz to lend me Fuller’s memoir, order Bruno 4. Given that only 1493 was in hand, that was the place to start.

I read it a little bit each night, then more than a little bit, then by this past week, lots more. Mann is a gifted storyteller, and what stories he tells! Off he goes, roaming the world through centuries, exploring the implications of world trade in goods and people from 1493 onward. Silver. Rubber. Sweet potatoes. Potatoes. Destruction of habitats. People saved from famine. People thrown into famine. Round and round he goes, always illustrating the theme of our economic and ecological interconnectedness.

I will long remember his discussion of silver mining in sixteenth-century Bolivia, the subject of the chapter I had been reading back in Nantucket. There are the silver mines of Potosí, for a brief period one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world. And then there’s mercury.

Almost as important as the mountain of Potosí was a second Andean peak, Huancavelica, eight hundred miles northwest, which gleamed with mercury deposits. In the 1550s Europeans in Mexico discovered a way to use mercury, rather than heat, to purify silver ore. … Miners pulverized silver ore, spread the powdery result over a flat surface, typically a stone patio, then used rakes and hoes to mix in saltwater, copper sulfate, and mercury, forming a stiff cake. … [I’m omitting details to save typing, but it’s fascinating.] Viceroy Francisco de Toledo seized the Huancavelica mines for the crown, thus arranging what he called “the most important marriage in the world, between the mountain of Huancavelica and the mountain of Potosí.

We’re talking about mercury. Mercury mining! This is almost unimaginable.

Candles strapped to their foreheads, Indians hauled ore through cramped tunnels with next to no ventilation. Heat from the earth vaporized the mercury — a slow-acting poison — so workers stumbled through the day in a lethal steam. Even in cooler parts of the mine they were hacking away at the ore with picks, creating a fug of mercury, sulfur, arsenic, and silica.

Mann continues, describing a veritable hell on earth. It’s an amazing book. As this past week went on, I realized that Rankin’s The Impossible Dead would have to wait. I would finish 1493 first.

And so I did, two nights ago. Yesterday morning I read through the appendices, studied the maps, and declared the book finished. What next? Rankin still hadn’t come. But Liz had lent me Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight on Wednesday, so I could start it. For good measure, I went to amazon.co.uk to put in my order for Bruno 4. The lineup was set. Fuller would be first, Rankin next, the latest Bruno book last.

I got all of 14 pages into the Fuller memoir yesterday when the mail came, and with it The Impossible Dead. Now I had my dilemma. It wasn’t too late to switch, having waited for the Rankin book since I put in the pre-order last April. Yet Fuller has the most irresistible voice. Page after page, she writes so beautifully of southern Africa, her family, the dogs.

I’m torn. And 40 pages in. Maybe I’ll stick to the plan.

Categories: Books

Change We Can Believe In, XXIV

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Killing US Citizens (But Don’t Ask Why)

September ended with the death of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by drone attack in Yemen. President Obama created a new legal precedent with the strike, claiming it was justified because al-Awlaki “had joined the enemy in wartime, shifting from propaganda to an operational role in plots devised in Yemen by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula against the United States.” (Quote from Scott Shane’s NYT article on the legal debate over the killing.) Whether becoming operational is sufficient legal basis for assassinating a US citizen is not in itself clear, though many have been happy to support this line of reasoning. It should be noted, however, that the administration was unwilling to provide evidence of al-Awlkai’s operational role.

Last week, US drones struck again, killing al-Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin … in a U.S. military strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen.” Whatever did they do to deserve this fate? No one’s talking:

One week after a U.S. military airstrike killed a 16-year-old American citizen in Yemen, no one in the Obama administration, Pentagon or Congress has taken responsibility for his death, or even publicly acknowledged that it happened.

The absence of official accountability for the demise of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a Denver native and the son of an al-Qaeda member, deepens the legal and ethical murkiness of the Obama administration’s campaign to kill alleged enemies of the state outside of traditional war zones.

Had Abdulrahman gone operational too? Does Obama believe he should have the right to assassinate minors without due process? Is this what it’s come to?

As Amy Davidson asked in her New Yorker blog on Tuesday:

Anwar al-Awlaki was a member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and wrote angry and ugly sermons for them. The Administration says that it had to kill him because he had become “operational,” but so far it has kept the evidence for that to itself.

Was the son targeted, too?

… Where does the Obama Administration see the limits of its right to kill an American citizen without a trial? … And what are the protections for an American child?

I’d sure like to hear some answers.

Categories: Law

Our Delusional War Criminals

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Don't buy this book!

I haven’t exactly kept my disdain for Condi Rice a secret. Nor the difficulty I have stomaching the parade of war criminal memoirs. Alas, it doesn’t get easier, with Condi’s heading our way a week from Tuesday. The NYT has a preview in today’s paper.

It’s good to know that our newest war criminal memoirist “offers several regrets. The way Mr. Bush rejected the Kyoto climate change treaty without promising to seek alternatives was a ‘self-inflicted wound,’ she concludes, while her New York shopping trip during Hurricane Katrina was ‘tone deaf’ for the nation’s highest-ranking African-American.” Yet, we learn in the next sentence that she “defends the most controversial decisions of the Bush era, including the invasion of Iraq.” No regrets about the intensive lying campaign to justify going to war? No regrets about the deaths of tens (hundreds) of thousands of civilians? No regrets about torture? How does this woman sleep at night?

But then there’s the next, and closing, sentence of the NYT article: “The wave of popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring this year, she writes, has vindicated Mr. Bush’s focus on spreading freedom and democracy.”

Oh, I see now. She’s delusional.

Categories: Books, Torture, War

Addendum: Albert Pujols

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Albert Pujols hitting his second home run of three tonight in the 7th inning

[Tim Sharp, Reuters]

This is a little embarrassing. Little did I know while writing my post earlier this evening about the 1960 World Series, in which I mentioned seeing Bobby Richardson get a World Series record six RBIs in one game, that Albert Pujols was in the process of doing the very same thing. I noted that Hideki Matsui duplicated Richardson’s feat two years ago. If I had taken the time to watch tonight’s World Series game instead of writing about one half a century ago, I could have seen history being made instead of being stuck in history.

In fairness to myself, the game was essentially over when Pujols tied the record with two out in the top of the ninth. His solo homer upped the Cardinal lead over the Rangers from 15-7 to 16-7. Still, a marvelous feat. After grounding out in the first, Pujols singled in the fourth, singled in the fifth, hit a three-run homer in the sixth, a two-run homer in the seventh, and the solo home run in the ninth. That’s some kind of night. The three home runs tied the famous series record for most home runs in a game, set by Babe Ruth (1926, 1928) and tied by Reggie Jackson (1977).

Categories: Baseball, History

Hey, I Was There!

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

[National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, via NYT]

The NYT had an article Wednesday, the morning of this year’s opening World Series game, on the history of World Series programs. And there’s a pretty good accompanying slide show, too, with programs going back to 1911 (Giants-Athletics). But what caught my eye instantly was the program used as a graphic at the article’s head. The one above.

That’s not just any program. I have that program! It’s the program my father bought for me 51 years ago when he took my brother and me to game 3, the first Yankees home game of that famous series between the Yankees and the Pirates. You know the Series. The one where the Yankees beat up on the Pirates in three of the first six games (16-3, 10-0, 12-0), with the Pirates squeezing in three close wins (6-4, 3-2, 5-2) in-between. Add it up: that’s a 46-17 run margin over six games.

As for game 3, the one we went to, that’s the 10-0 Yankee win. Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson hit a grand slam in the first inning that landed three rows in front of us, one of the thrills of my childhood, driving in Bill Skowron, Gil McDougald, and Elston Howard. Three innings later, he hit a single with the bases loaded that brought Skowron and McDougald in again and sent Howard to second. Six RBIs, still the world series single-game record, tied only two years ago by fellow Yankee Hideki Matsui.

Whitey Ford was on the mound that day, throwing a four-hit shutout. Richardson would go on to win the World Series MVP award. What a team! Maris in his first year as a Yankee. Mantle. Howard and Berra both available to catch, with yet another pretty darn good catcher, Johnny Blanchard, in reserve. Kubek sharing middle-infield duties with Richardson. Gosh, I worshiped them.

Well, anyway, that was that. I won’t talk about game 7. A little too much pain for a young boy. I know exactly where I was when Mazeroski hit that home run, just as I know where I was three years later when I learned that Kennedy was shot. For today, let’s just admire that program. My copy is in a box somewhere. I should go find it.

Categories: Baseball, Life

Husky Harbor

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

[Stuart Isett for The New York Times]

I’m a little late on this one, but I don’t want the NYT’s coverage of University of Washington football culture to go unmentioned. Not that I care all that much about UW football. Let’s be clear about that. Yet the intersection of UW football and the Puget Sound-Lake Washington boating scene, as depicted above and in the accompanying slideshow, is pretty special.

On fall Saturdays, like this fall Saturday, when Washington plays at home, the occupants of Husky Harbor emerge near the stadium’s east end like some sort of tailgate flotilla. They come on charters, luxury yachts and smaller vessels, in sailboats, motorboats and speedboats, even boats coated in purple paint, to the same docks where Rick Neuheisel, a former coach, once drew N.C.A.A. scrutiny for boosters ferrying recruits to the university at below cost.

Once docked or anchored, they tailgate with a twist, a practice the locals have alternately called boatgating, sailgating and sterngating. Here, all of the captains hope Coach Steve Sarkisian and the 4-1 Huskies can, well, continue to right the ship.

[snip]

At Washington and at Tennessee, they can choose to arrive by boat. Yet Huskies fans view their harbor as unparalleled, based on surrounding views (Cascade Mountains to the east, Olympic Mountains to the west), water color (blue as opposed to brown) and proximity (closer to the stadium).

Husky Stadium opened in 1920, and soon after, the boat tradition started, with fans stashing vessels in tall grass not 200 yards from the end zone. Docks were built around 1960, according to Dave Torrell, the curator of the university’s hall of fame, and early transportation from anchored boats often came from members of the rowing teams in exchange for tips.

I’ve been to my share of Husky football games. I’ve never arrived by boat though. Of course, we can see the stadium from our house and walk there easily enough, so there’s no obvious reason why we’d boat over, assuming we had a boat.

No doubt I’m missing the point. (When it comes to fun I often do.) The ride might be an adventure in itself, even if I can get to the stadium more easily on foot. Why, just two days ago, my friend Russ and his family got to the Colorado game by boat. They took the Ivar’s Salmon House brunch cruise.

Gail is surely thinking, “What can be better than that?” The merger of multiple Seattle traditions that she grew up with: Husky football, boating, salmon, Norwegian culture, and northwest coast native culture. Well, some day. Maybe.

Categories: Culture, Sports

The Impossible Dead

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Visitors to Ron’s View in recent weeks know that I’ve been busy reading crime novels: two by Lee Child and three by Martin Walker. It all started as I got on the plane to fly off to New York at the start of Labor Day weekend, when I pulled out my Kindle and read Lee Child’s third Jack Reacher thriller, Tripwire. Once I finished that, in Nantucket, I downloaded the first of Martin Walker’s three novels about the eponymous Bruno, Chief of Police. I couldn’t resist jumping right into Bruno’s second adventure next, in The Dark Vineyard. After that, it was time for Lee Child’s latest, The Affair, followed by a return to the Dordogne region of France for Bruno’s entanglement with truffles, or the Black Diamond.

What next? Well, that was determined months ago, when I pre-ordered Ian Rankin’s new novel at amazon.co.uk, the British Amazon site. The Impossible Dead was released on Tuesday and a copy is making its way to Seattle this very moment.

For decades, I wasn’t much of a reader of crime novels. Ian Rankin and Edinburgh’s Inspector Rebus changed all that. It was August 1999, we were nearing the end of another glorious visit to Scotland, and I wanted a book to take with me to La Baule, on the Atlantic coast of France, where we would be joining up with my sister and her family at their standard summer vacation spot to celebrate her birthday (a big one). Rankin’s The Hanging Garden was just out in paperback. I bought it.

A little too violent for my taste, I would think in the ensuing days, as I read it in La Baule. But this Rebus character was intriguing, so when Dead Souls came out in the US, I bought it. Still violent, yes, but Rebus continued to intrigue, I loved Rankin’s depiction of Edinburgh, and a year or so later, I moved on to Set in Darkness.

Finally, I caught on to the fact that these books were published in the UK months ahead of the US, and so ordered the next six online from UK Amazon, paying the extra cost but reading them within days of British publication. It would become amusing, as Rankin’s popularity spread to the US, to see the reviews and the fuss when each new book was released here, having read it a half year earlier.

Along the way, I did some remedial Rebus reading, picking up some of the older books in paperback. And then, alas, the music stopped. Exit Music, to be precise, the final Rebus novel, published four years ago.

It was widely believed among Rebus’s fans that Rankin would keep the series going, shifting the focus to Siobhan Clarke, whose role grew with each of the late novels. But Rankin chose otherwise. Two years ago, in The Complaints, he introduced Malcolm Fox of Edinburgh’s Internal Affairs department. Now Fox returns.

It occurs to me, now that I think about how long this blog has been running, that I must have written about The Complaints at the time. And so I did. Indeed, I’m simply repeating myself here. That’s embarrassing. Let’s see what I thought of Fox at the time:

I wasn’t taken in at first. But then Fox wasn’t interesting at first. The events of the novel change him, or bring out features of his personality that were initially hidden. By the end, he is a richly-drawn character, and another iconoclast in the making. He too upsets and outwits superiors. And yet again, assorted crimes from the seemingly mundane and local to possible corruption at high government levels interweave in unexpected ways — unexpected except that we are so accustomed to such plotting that we know Rankin will find a way to draw them together. Contrived? Sure. But that’s part of the fun, seeing our hero figure out how the pieces fit together while everyone else is clueless.

I’m ready for more.

I’m glad to learn that I was ready for more, given that more is coming. I’ll let you know how it goes.

By the way, in case you’re wondering why I don’t just download The Impossible Dead on my Kindle, thereby saving the overseas shipping cost and delay — I wish! There are two problems. First, it’s not yet available on Kindle. But second, there’s a more fundamental issue: when books are published in the UK before the US, they are not available for download on US Kindles until US publication. Whatever agreements are made between UK and US publishers, they prohibit premature Kindle purchasing. Thus, if I don’t want to wait months, I have to go this route.

Then again, maybe the joke’s on me. I just thought to check US Amazon, and what do you know? The delay in publication, which used to be measured in months, is down to weeks. The Impossible Dead will be released here on November 21. Hardcover or Kindle. A few weeks of patience, with plenty of other books to read in the meantime, and I could have saved some money, as well as having the option of reading the e-version. On the other hand, I have such a lovely collection of Rankin hardcovers. My shelf is ready for another. And it’s coming anyway. I made the right choice.

Categories: Books

IT Support

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I love Apple and all, but it’s never fun when I have to put on my IT hat and pretend I know what I’m doing, especially without Joel around to calm me down when I get frustrated. This was quite the IT week for Apple captives around the world. I seem to have survived.

I got home Wednesday evening and immediately set about updating my iMac, preparatory to installing the new operating system, iOS 5, on my iPad and iPhone. I had to update the iMac with the new version of Lion, then the new version of iTunes, then sync my iPad with the iMac, then download iOS 5 onto the iMac, then install it on the iPad. Success. On to the iPhone: sync, download iOS 5, install. Success again. Then put the new Lion and iTunes on the MacBook Air.

Yesterday, more of the same. Gail’s iMac was stuck back in the Snow Leopard days, so first I had to do a new install of (the updated version of) Lion. Then iTunes. Then iOS 5 for iPad and iPhone. In parallel, off in North Carolina, Joel performed the same operations on his MacBook and iOS devices.

Now that we’re all lionized and iOS fived, we can take advantage of the new features. Like what? Well, iMessage should prove useful. It’s the text messaging emulator that’s built into the text message app on the iPhone and installed as well on the iPad, allowing you to text fellow iOS 5’ers through the internet. This may allow us to drop our AT&T message plan, depending on our usage levels. I don’t know yet. More important, I can text from the iPad, then leave the house and switch the conversation to the iPhone. I like that.

And I like being able to use the volume-raising button on iPad or iPhone as the camera shutter release. The virtual button on the screen has been an ongoing nuisance. It’s about time.

Also in the “about time” department is tabs in Safari. It’s always a pain when I accidentally hit a link while browsing on iPad or iPhone and a new window gets launched, forcing me to hit the window icon, close it, and return to the original window. Now such errors won’t be so annoying. I can just close the new tab and be back at the old one.

I’m still playing around with the split keyboard capability on the iPad, not sure whether I like it or not. The halves that open up within thumb’s reach of either side are small, necessarily so, that being the whole point, but maybe too small. I make more errors, so far anyway, and have to depend more on the built-in spelling correction. It’s a good idea in principle I just have to see how well it works for me.

What else? I know I’m forgetting something. I’m glad the music app is finally called just the music app, rather than the vestigial “iPod” app. Not that that is important functionally, except that when I wanted to play music, I had to take an extra couple of mental steps to realize that “iPod” meant “music”.

The big question is, when do I get an iPhone 4S? How long can I live without Siri? In just two months, I’ll be eligible to update at the base iPhone price.

Stay tuned.

Categories: Computing, House