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I Don’t Know Pasta

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment

pastaencyclop

The lead article in the food section of today’s NYT has the aggressive title, “So You Think You Know Pasta.” There are a lot of subjects that I like to think I know a little bit about, but it turns out that pasta isn’t one of them. I didn’t know pasta existed when I was young. I knew about spaghetti. I didn’t eat it, but I knew about it. And then I knew there was fettucini alfredo. My father would order a half portion as an appetizer at a nearby restaurant. And I suppose I knew about lasagna, though I don’t think I understood that underneath the top layer of cheese was some sort of noodle. Oh, speaking of noodles, I knew about the noodles in Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. Loved them. Pasta? Nope.

That was then. This is now. And now, of course, I know more. Ziti. Penne. Rotini. Farfalle. Rotelle. Bucatini. Tortellini. Tortelloni. Vermicelli. Capellini. Yup. Know ’em all. Still, I’m not the pasta maven, so I figured the article’s headline must be speaking to someone else. And I knew for sure that it was once I read the opening words: “Oretta Zanini de Vita.” I sure hadn’t heard of any of them. They sound good though. I was going to tell Gail we should try some oretta, or maybe the zanini. The top half of the page has a large color picture of various pastas, so I was wondering if the oretta was pictured.

Then came a comma, suggesting I had parsed the partial sentence incorrectly, followed by a few more words confirming that indeed I had. Alas. The full first sentence of the article reads as follows: “ORETTA ZANINI DE VITA, the pre-eminent Italian food historian, seems to have a tool for every pasta: a centuries-old ravioli cutter, a wooden stamp that mints pasta like coins, a chitarra for creating thick strands of tagliatelle.”

So I don’t get to eat oretta or zanini after all. Oh well. It would have helped if those first four words weren’t all in upper case. Seeing Oreta Zanini De Vita might have saved me from my foolish error. Then again, maybe I should have been familiar with her already, through her Encyclopedia of Pasta. I wonder if we own it.

Categories: Books, Food, Newspapers

Metropolitan Diary

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment

2001

I love the NYT Metropolitan Diary column, which appears on Mondays in the New York Region section. (This puts it in the back pages of the first section of the national edition, a page or two before the editorials.) This is the feature in which people write in with cute little tales of something that happened on the bus, or in the train station, or wherever. Dog stories, kid stories, tourist stories, overheard cell phone conversation stories. Heartwarming stories all, the sort that make you glad to be human. (Except when the writer has to end the story with the worst of all phrases, “Only in New York.” Sigh. I mean really. That’s so beside the point. And anyway, let us be the judges. And by the way, if you’ve never lived outside New York, how would you even know? What kinds of lives do you think the rest of us live? And I’m a New Yorker, mind you, but I have no patience for that chauvinism.)

But let me not get distracted. Here’s what I was going to say. Every so often, when I get to the end of a diary entry, there’s a surprise in store. It’s written by someone famous. Or at least someone well known in his or her field, whose name I happen to recognize. Someone who, despite fame, has taken the trouble to send in his or her own cute little story. I love them.

Take this week for instance. As I often do, I looked online for the diary just after 9:00 Sunday night. No waiting to bring in the paper in the morning. So there I was, reading this week’s diary, which has five entries, and when I got to the end of the fourth one, the author’s name leapt out at me. Keir Dullea! Is that cool or what?

You don’t know Keir Dullea? Well, okay, so maybe you have to be a certain age, or a film buff. A film buff I’m not, but I am that certain age, and though I was never too excited about 2001: A Space Odyssey, I did see it during its initial release in the theaters in 1968, and I’ve watched bits of it on TV. The scene I always think of first is the one on the spaceship as HAL (the computer) and Bowman (the astronaut played by Dullea) go at it. No doubt Dullea wishes he were known for more than that one role, but it’s that role that makes his name instantly recognizable to so many of us. And now, thanks to his contribution to Metropolitan Diary, I know a little more about him.

Categories: Movies, Newspapers

Tuesday, Service Dog

July 19, 2009 Leave a comment
Tuesday

Tuesday

Having slammed the WSJ in my previous post for the people they choose to put on their op-ed pages, I’ll now give an example of one thing I love about the WSJ: their daily front page feature articles. One such article, a week ago, was about psychiatric-service dogs, focusing on Tuesday, the companion to Iraqi war vet Luis Carlos Montalvan. (See also the accompanying video. It doesn’t explain as much, but you do get to see Tuesday in action.)

One small quote from the article:

Tuesday is with Mr. Montalvan at all hours. Taught to recognize changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent that can indicate an imminent panic attack, Tuesday can keep Mr. Montalvan buffered from crowds or deliver a calming nuzzle. Other dogs, typically golden retrievers, Labradors or Labrador retriever blends, are trained to wake masters from debilitating nightmares and to help patients differentiate between hallucinations and reality by barking if a real person is nearby.

“Tuesday is just extraordinarily empathetic,” said Mr. Montalvan, 36 years old, a retired Army captain who received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in Iraq. “In bad moments, he’ll lay his head on my leg, and it’ll be like he’s saying, ‘You’re OK. You’re not alone.'”

Categories: Animals, Newspapers

Forfeiting Respect

July 19, 2009 Leave a comment

aretha-respect

I wrote three days ago that my favorite blogger, hilzoy, announced her retirement, effective on Friday. I also quoted from her retirement announcement, which I won’t repeat here. But let me quote from her last post.

A democracy is essentially about determining the course of our nation together. To do that, it helps a lot to have a good citizenry. A good citizenry is informed, serious about things that are worth taking seriously, and not liable to be led off course by demagogues. (Everyone doesn’t have to be like this, but you need a critical mass of people who are.) But I’ve always thought that a good citizenry is also composed of people who assume, until proven wrong, that many of the people who disagree with them are acting in good faith.

This matters for policy: you’re unlikely to choose sound policies if you assume that anyone who disagrees with you is a depraved, corrupt imbecile. It’s hard to learn anything from people you have completely written off. But it’s also corrosive to any kind of community or dialogue to assume the worst about large numbers of people you’ve never met. It makes you less willing to try to take their problems seriously, and to try to figure out how they might be solved, or to try to understand what’s driving them.

I hate it when people do this to me. I never wanted to do it to them. … I also wanted to try, if at all possible, to treat people, and most especially my political opponents, with respect, except where respect had been clearly forfeited. (Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, I’m thinking of you.) Because, as I said, I think it’s just corrosive to democracy if people are not willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to one another. Besides, it’s uncharitable and wrong, and besides that, perhaps some people would survive in a world in which no one was ever more generous to them than they deserve, but I am quite sure that I would not.

hilzoy’s sentiments came to mind yesterday afternoon when I was catching up on days of the Wall Street Journal. There’s much that I enjoy in the WSJ. But they do manage to put a lot of people on their op-ed page who fall hilzoy’s category of forfeiting respect. Two of them appeared in Thursday’s paper: Karl Rove with his weekly column and John Yoo with a piece explaining, according to the headline, “why we endorse warrantless wiretaps.” I didn’t get past Yoo’s headline. Have we not had enough of his justifications for illegal government activities? Anyway, I gave you the links. Read them if you can.

Al Franken and the WSJ

July 6, 2009 1 comment

franken

With the news last week that the Minnesota Supreme Court declared Al Franken the winner over incumbent Norm Coleman of the state’s second Senate seat, I almost wrote about his victory and how pleased I was to see one of my college classmates join the Senate. But I didn’t have much more to say than that, so I let it go. And then I read the editorial on the matter in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal and was stunned to find them accusing him of stealing the election:

The unfortunate lesson is that you don’t need to win the vote on Election Day as long as your lawyers are creative enough to have enough new or disqualified ballots counted after the fact. … Mr. Coleman didn’t lose the election. He lost the fight to stop the state canvassing board from changing the vote-counting rules after the fact.

This is now the second time Republicans have been beaten in this kind of legal street fight. In 2004, Dino Rossi was ahead in the election-night count for Washington Governor against Democrat Christine Gregoire. Ms. Gregoire’s team demanded the right to rifle through a list of provisional votes that hadn’t been counted, setting off a hunt for “new” Gregoire votes. By the third recount, she’d discovered enough to win. This was the model for the Franken team.

Mr. Franken now goes to the Senate having effectively stolen an election. If the GOP hopes to avoid repeats, it should learn from Minnesota that modern elections don’t end when voters cast their ballots. They only end after the lawyers count them.

Um, they can’t be serious, can they? In both Minnesota and Washington, the rules were followed. If they want to talk about stolen elections, they’re barking up the wrong trees. There’s a little election in November 2000 that might be worth reviewing.

The next day, writing in his blog, Paul Krugman helped me better understand what’s up at the WSJ:

… yesterday’s editorial asserting that the Minnesota senatorial election was stolen.

All of this is par for the course; the WSJ editorial page has been like this for 35 years. Nonetheless, it got me wondering: what do these people really believe?

I mean, they’re not stupid — life would be a lot easier if they were. So they know they’re not telling the truth. But they obviously believe that their dishonesty serves a higher truth — one that is, in effect, told only to Inner Party members, while the Outer Party makes do with prolefeed.

The question is, what is that higher truth? What do these people really believe in?

Update: On reading this post, Gail pointed me to an excellent article in the British newspaper The Guardian. It notes (italics mine): “Hand-counted paper ballots proved, yet again, to be the gold standard in this election, which the state canvassing board, the three-judge election contest panel and now the state’s supreme court has affirmed as won by Franken, the former radio talkshow host and comedian, by a mere 312 votes. Minnesota’s excellent election law, requiring both the secretary of state and the governor to sign the election certification only after all election contests are settled in the state, has assured that the next senator from Minnesota will not serve under a cloud of suspicion. Only the most insane and/or disingenuous could challenge the findings from one of the longest and most transparent election hand-counts in the history of the US.”

Categories: Newspapers, Politics

Giro d’Italia

May 23, 2009 2 comments
Andy Hampsten, Giro d'Italia, 1988

Andy Hampsten, Giro d'Italia, 1988

I don’t get it. Why all the coverage of the Giro d’Italia? It’s been ignored for years, but now Juliet Macur has daily coverage in the NYT. Since when is interest in the race sufficiently large?

Perhaps I should explain. There are three great multi-stage bicycle races each year: the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana. Each lasts three weeks. Each has the cyclists riding all over the country, with mountain stages, flat stages, time trial stages, and so on. The Giro is in May. The Tour in July. The Vuelta in August.

US coverage used to be limited. I have the perhaps false memory that I read little bits about the Tour in the NYT when I was in summer camp in my childhood. And I remember when Eddy Merckx used to be the dominant rider, winning five times between 1969 and 1974. Only Jacques Anquetil had won five times before him. Merckx also won the Giro five times, and the Vuelta once. But I really started paying attention in 1985. It helped that we were in France for part of the Tour, in the early days of our extended honeymoon. On the final day, we were over at my sister’s apartment watching on TV as they came along the Seine into Paris. I realized they were just 200 meters away and here we were watching indoors on TV. That was silly. We could instead cross over the Seine and walk up to the Champs-Elysees to see the finish. Gail (my wife Gail, not my sister Gail) and I headed out and just as we got to the street, sister Gail leaned out the window to shout down to us that our niece Joelle wanted to come too. She would have been 3 months shy of her 3rd birthday at the time. We waited for her to come down, then headed to the Seine,. She wasn’t walking too fast, so I ran ahead while Gail led her on. They eventually caught up and somehow found me amidst the huge crowds leaning against the barriers along the Champs-Elysees. (Many years later I would discover that my friend and colleague-to-be Sandor, then a young student from Hungary, was watching from somewhere nearby, up on a lightpost.)

I got to see the field zip by in the repeated circuits from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and back that close the race, with Bernard Hinault being cheered as he was about to win his fifth Tour, thanks in part to the help of his teammate and rising star, the American Greg LeMond, who rode beside him safely in the peleton as they awaited the finish. LeMond had finished third the year before, his rookie year, and might well have won it in 1985 had he not been assigned the role of helping Hinault. LeMond settled for second, with the understanding that Hinault would repay the favor the next year by helping him win. Except that a year later it seemed Hinault wanted to win again. There was some friction before LeMond ultimately won. And if LeMond’s brother-in-law didn’t accidentally shoot him the next year, he might well have won five straight, but instead he took two years to recover before winning two more.

I could go on and on about the Tour. By then I was hooked, a committed fan. In the early ’90s, before the world wide web existed but with news services available on the internet, I would sit at my desk in the mornings during the Tour and constantly update my news feed in order to get the latest reports. TV coverage started around then, on ESPN, but in the evenings, hours after the actual daily race. It took years before we had live coverage. What changed everything of course was Lance. Lance Armstrong. With Lance as national hero, we finally got to have live coverage of the Tour every morning.

Which brings us to the answer to my opening rhetorical question. Why the sudden interest in the Giro? Lance of course. I understand, sort of, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to me why someone who retired years ago and is well past his prime should have such a following that we now have detailed coverage. He’s not going to win. He’s 14th at the moment in the general classification, with a week to go. Pretty impressive, I admit, but not a reason for blanket coverage.

An American has won the Giro in the past. Andy Hampsten, in 1988. He is perhaps better known for finishing 4th to LeMond in the first Tour that LeMond won, in 1986. Imagine that. Americans in 1st and 4th in the Tour, at a time when hardly anyone in the US paid attention. And that still didn’t result in greater coverage. It took Lance to change everything.

I should be happy. I just wonder why it took so long, and why it took a national celebrity to bring the press. I wish things were different.

Categories: Cycling, Newspapers, Sports

Come On, Maureen

May 18, 2009 Leave a comment

dowd

Why is the cover-up so often worse than the crime? For instance, let’s look at Maureen Dowd’s now-famous column in yesterday’s NYT. You can no longer find the original version on-line. In it, she wrote:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The only problem is that at his Talking Points Memo blog on Thursday, Josh Marshall had already written:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Okay, so maybe Maureen Dowd actually reads the major political blogs and gets ideas from them. That’s fine. Just give them credit when you quote them. She didn’t. The problem is, here’s her after-the-fact explanation of how it happened that she didn’t, as written to The Nytpicker:

josh is right. I didn’t read his blog last week, and didn’t have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now. i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column. but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me. we’re fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow.

The correction is on-line, as you can see if you click on the Dowd link above. But really, this is such an implausible explanation. The pity is, it was as fine a column by Dowd as I read in ages.

Here’s a portion of Mark Liberman’s analysis of the explanation at Language Log: Read more…

Categories: Newspapers