Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I hate this song:

But I love this:

I wanted to embed "Thriller," but they won't let me. :-(

In other Halloween related news:

Bryan D. Brown's scary playlist. Not your typical, and very cool!

Eszter Hargittai takes pictures of a great Halloween house.

The Little Professor provides an annotated and hyperlinked list of Madame Tussaud's gallery of Victorian murders.

I kind of hate Halloween for the thunder-stealing, but last night I got in the mood when TD brought home a pumpkin and we had an ol'-fashioned carving party. It was my first time carving a pumpkin! It was gratifying in a squelchy way to stab the pumpkin, give it a lobotomy, dig out the insides, and make a face. Our pumpkin looks like it's vomiting its own insides. No, we are not mature, and found this hilarious. It looks pretty good for a first try! Friends of Belle can email me for a link to my Flickr or Picasa pages. Today I am reading about culture and networks, going for a long walk coincidentally by a cheap boutique with mini-dresses that remind me of the '90s, and making spaghetti and meatballs. TD's bringing me cake.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wherein Paul is Crafty (also cheap and lazy)

I was adrift in a sea of Halloween costume possibilities for this year, until my brilliant friend Lilit suggested that I go as a pothead by the simple expedient of putting a pot on my head. As this seemed like the ideal lazy and cheap person's costume (meta-perfect, since stoners are lazy!), of course I decided to go with it.

But I have to snazz things up a little bit. Hence, I bought glitter-glue and a soldiering iron with a knife tip.


Step 1. Eyeholes. Potheads do tend to run into things, but I'd prefer not to be quite that authentic. Problem: How to cut holes in a pot?

Fortunately, I anticipated this and bought a plastic pot (since ceramic or metal would have required heavy equipment).

First try: use a regular knife. Not very successful. I can get a good stab in, but not a cut:

Fine. Time to break out the badassness.

A few toxic fumes never killed anyone!

For all of you who have heard my infamous chemistry lab story, you should realize how much of an achievement this is. I used heat. To work with plastic. Without dying or setting anything on fire!!!!

Praise me, damnit.

Lovely symmetric eyeholes achieved.

Step 2: it's not obvious that "pothead" is really what's being communicated here, as opposed to just "idiot in a lame-o mask." Solution? Paint marijuana leaves all over!

In the paint aisle, my head was hopelessly turned by the glitter glue, so...

Unfortunately, I can neither draw or paint. But these sort of look like the ganj, right?

There. Cheap and easy halloween costume for lazy bastard who likes to play with soldering irons.

I'll probably pair it with a Che shirt tomorrow, unless I can find tie-dye without any further nasty old effort. That seems about right. And some stained jeans. Yeah.


I have to stop reading advice columns

Ooof: "Attractive men scare me, so I only date the ugly ones." See also, "I'm a princess in love with a troll."

Reading bad things is not unlike eating the cheap, tacky candy corn and circus peanuts. You know it's the worst type of bad for you (so bad and not even good!), but you can't help it, and it's something to snack on in between helpings of Bourdieu. Probably another reason I'll occasionally read a Modern Love column, just to stir my own pot.

I blame this nasty habit on my family working at the LA Times all those years when I was a kid and "Dear Abby" being in the comics section, which is still one of the ways I like to pass time. Ironically, I really love Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

renewed ambivalence about celebrating my birthday

I totally made this for TD:

I know, I know. I just posted hours ago on how I wanted to make myself a special dinner and cake and seemed really excited about it. But now I am recoiling from the inherent diva-ness of feting oneself. Is it not unlike throwing yourself a party at which you are the host and only guest, waving a sign that says "I Rule"?

I have a complicated relationship with birthdays. I was the youngest of six, and birthdays are not big in my family (my culture? I dunno, cause we celebrate the grandkids' now that we've risen in SES). For the first seventeen years of my life, until I met my first boyfriend, I never celebrated my birthday or really got gifts. I might have had a few gifts, come to think of it, from friends in high school. But not from family. They hardly remember my birthday. I expect zero phone calls from family on Friday. But I never had a party or went out to celebrate. I have since though--my sister usually gives me some cash, my brother might call me, and there's now always friends or significant others who make me celebrate with dinner, and twice (2004, 2007) I threw myself a self-catered party with friends.

On the one hand, I feel almost entitled to celebrate--making up for lost time! I wasn't really allowed by my strict parents to have many friends, and especially not male friends or boyfriends, so it took me until 18 to go out to a nice dinner (at my then-boyfriend's suggestion, which was really nice), and till 24 before I thought "I should see what the fuss is about big birthday parties."

On the other hand, I hate too much attention, as previously stated. I don't mind a small group of friends or a boyfriend taking me out, of course. But can I ask them to take me out to dinner? Isn't that a bit presumptuous, demanding, princessy, self-absorbed? Even more than the idea of attention, I hate the idea of appearing demanding--celebrate ME! And there are arguments that it's a day like any other--why, by virtue of your birth and apparent ability to avoid dying, do you deserve to be celebrated? Why should you ask that others celebrate this day with you, and thus celebrate you?

I was sort of excited about making my own birthday dinner, until I thought otherwise about how narcissistic it seems to do that for oneself, especially since not everyone thinks birthdays are special and so you really are just having an ego-trip. They might think me special, yes. But the occasion itself? Is it not unlike asking people to celebrate some obscure holiday, like say, Halloween? See also this polemic against the birthday dinner. I hate asking people for things. They probably don't want to give them to you. No one is excited as you are, and I'm not even that excited in general about my own birthday.

Also, I generally always have misplaced expectations for birthdays. I either throw a party and something bad happens (one guest offends the other, it's a weird mix of people who don't mesh), or something bad always happens anyway despite efforts to keep things low-key (an argument with a parent, other people actually appearing to be even less excited than I am about birthdays and I'm not even that enthusiastic, etc.). Maybe I should catch myself before the 28th year of potentially bad outcomes and not celebrate at all. I'm serious. I seem to forget that every birthday has something bad happen or some failed hope, because every year I think it'll be different, and there's no reason to think that. Other than principles of statistics that say future outcomes cannot be predicted by past outcomes. So they might be better, the future birthdays, or they might be just as meh or bad.

Why take the chance? What is my compulsion to celebrate my birthday other than the thought that I should because there's some general societal expectation that should do something on this particular day? Am I just another victim to the Birthday Industrial Complex? I occasionally feel foolish for having such simple, common, socially constructed desires. Fucking auto-ethnographies.

So, give me reasons why I should make myself a nice birthday dinner and maybe even stick a candle in my own cake and then on top of that demand to go out to dinner. If they aren't that compelling, and I have already played the poor urchin card of "let formerly poor and restricted Belle have birthdays," maybe I'll just get takeout or go for a burrito and just be happy that I'm getting presents in the mail and a few phone calls from friends.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

taking "green" to ridiculous extremes

I recycle, walk everywhere, take the bus or train, and haven't driven a car since I visited my folks for Memorial Day. I turn off the tap while washing dishes and rinse after and don't take bubble baths. I donate stuff to Goodwill rather than toss things. I try to do my part to reduce my carbon footprint, but I don't go to extremes, since it's not always easy to figure what produces fewer carbon emissions--local isn't always better, and adding the element of morality to actual science is a fool's errand.

Still, I like reading Slate's The Green Lantern column, in which the online magazine tries their best to answer questions about which thing/behavior is less bad for the environment. Like I said, do your part.

But this article arguing that long distance relationships are bad for the environment and so therefore all you two-bodies-two-cities academics should breakup and date locally? The worst article I have ever read. Seriously, as much as I want to support environmental goals, sanctimonious shit like this makes me so mad I want to sit on the sidewalk and burn plastic bags of leaves (I never said that I was a good person):

What's the aggregate impact of all this travel? The Census tells us there are about 100 million single people in America over the age of 17. We don't know how many of those folks are in long-distance relationships, but the available research suggests that at least a quarter of all college students are dating out of town. Since the rate is going to be much lower among the general population, we'll make a conservative estimate of 1 in 15 for all single adults. That gives us around 6.7 million unmarried Americans in long-distance relationships. Add in the 3.4 million married people who told the Census that they live separately but aren't "separated," and our total rises to more than 10 million individuals—or 5 million LDRs.

If all of these people made like our two-career couple and drove the distance from D.C. to New York City every two weeks, they would produce a total of about 18 million metric tons of CO2 a year. For comparison, 6.9 million metric tons would be added to the atmosphere if we suddenly eliminated all the public transportation in the United States. Eighteen million metric tons of CO2 is a third of what a national renewable energy standard (PDF) would save over 10 years—or 60 percent of the yearly emissions saved by "moderate adoption" of hybrid vehicles. And if even a small percentage of those relationships were bi-coastal—or even New York-Chicago or Los Angeles-Denver—the total would grow even more astronomical. Love lifts us up where we belong, as they say, but it does so at a steep price to the planet.

The same type of environmental logic has already been applied to our eating habits. The Local Food movement encourages us to cut CO2 emissions by calculating food miles—the distance a meal travels from production to the dinner table—and eating only what's produced within a 100-mile radius. Isn't it time for a Date Local movement, too? Let's start thinking about "sex miles": Just how far was this person shipped to hook up with you? And how many times more efficient would it be to date someone within a 100-mile radius? If the movement spread globally, mirroring either the decentralized development of Local Food co-ops or the manifesto-and-chapter model that built up to the Slow Food movement's mega-confab this summer, its environmental benefits could multiply many times.

A robust Date Local movement wouldn't just help the environment. Like other forms of economic localization, the decision to swear off Orbitz romance creates important spinoff benefits. For one, it makes people less anti-social. By spending all their free time out of town or staring at a webcam—that is, in their apartments or airline cabins, rather than in parks, bowling alleys, and pubs—long-distance lovers erode civic commitment and social support networks. They have fewer chances to meet new people. And they make their cities more stratified by inflating an über-class bubble of jet-set shut-ins who are—understandably, given their lifestyle—more worried about conditions at O'Hare than things going on outside their front door.

Of course, like many eco-conscious attempts to instill social virtue, this proposal runs the risk of killing romance. Many a true human thrill—the high-octane cheeseburger! the long shower! the Chevy Suburban!—has been deflated by green evangelists out to render the personal political. And, in a way, long-distance dating is romantic precisely because it expends so much in the way of resources and effort. It's less exciting to date someone based on your shared love of canvas shopping bags than it is to pine for a partner who wants to meet in Arizona.

No, our Date Local movement won't be overbearing. It shouldn't try to break up every cross-country love odyssey. Instead, it will discourage this special type of conspicuous consumption at the margins, nudging people toward the realization that breaking up is in their own, and enlightened, economic self-interest.

For example, with fuel prices likely to whipsaw upward for the foreseeable future, many people currently in LDRs will end up questioning whether they want to keep timing their liaisons to coincide with oil underconsumption troughs—or whether it's better to call it splits. (The coming death of lucrative, globalized post-college jobs may force similar reconsiderations.) Date Local could educate them about the environmental and social benefits of breaking up and nudge them in the right direction. And the group would be there to cushion the brokenhearted by imparting newly minted locasexuals with a sense of noble self-sacrifice—not to mention a pool of cute, like-minded enviros who happen to live in the neighborhood.

Fuck you, "Barron Youngsmith." There are many compelling reasons not to do a long distance relationship, and the author cites some of them: loneliness, depression, the Putnam-like effects of bowling alone on alternating weekends that leads to social alienation and insularity, etc. Whatever. I realize that the environment is a collective responsibility and can only be responded to collectively--but since when did supporting the environment mean trumping individual will? While I'm willing to be scolded about recycling, composting, and reducing my household water consumption, I will not abide flawed teological critiques of every personal decision or action because of its presumed impact or some tangential consequence.

Relationships are intensely private and involve the emotions and decisions of two autonomous individuals, and whatever other obligations they have to themselves, their careers, their immediate social/familial circle, etc. Does the author in his sanctimony really believe that those two individuals consider their impact on the wider society or environment such that they should feel compelled to break up with a person they might consider, whether because they have a mythic construction of love or a prosaic-realist appreciation of this particular individual and their shared experiences together, to be quite special and worthy of trying to maintain a relationship with? I'm not saying that people aren't fungible--there's a lot of us. But for all of the protest over the chopping down of particular trees, why not protest about the singularity of people? For that matter, free will! Part of the appeal of environmental agenda is that it champions the idea that you, individually, can do something. That you have a say, a role and a responsibility to protect the environment and our future--should you choose to, rather than passively, blithely, naively contributing to its accelerated decay. But there's a choice. You don't have to accept a bleak future, so you have the free will to do something about it.

Youngsmith is not suggesting that couples be forced to break up of course, and fortunately doesn't even suggest a collective shaming of those carbon-emitting lovebirds. But he frames it in the most annoying ways a collective agenda can: it serves your "enlightened economic self interest!" You can feel morally superior, or as he says, "noble self-sacrifice," and the privilege of being "enlightened." Again, fuck you. This is not unlike my quibble with the Slow Foods movement, which is more about "the good life" and "the great taste" than "save the environment" in the way it's being peddled. A good cause should be good in and of itself, not because it confers some sort of moral superiority or social status on the individuals supporting it.

Ugh, I am so annoyed.


OrgTheory Spotlight: Cecilia Ridgeway

Today in OrgTheory, we highlight the work of Stanford sociologist Cecilia Ridgeway.

From her faculty biography:

Cecilia L. Ridgeway is the Lucie Stern Professor of Social Sciences in the Sociology Department at Stanford University. She is particularly interested in the role that social hierarchies in everyday social relations play in the larger processes of stratification and inequality in a society. Ongoing projects include empirical tests of status construction theory, which is a theory about the power of interactional contexts to create and spread status beliefs about social differences. Examples of this work include “How Easily Do Social Differences Become Status Distinctions? Gender Matters,” a paper currently under review, “Consensus and the Emergence of Status Beliefs (Social Forces 2006), “Creating and Spreading Status Beliefs” (American Journal of Sociology, 2000), “How Do Status Beliefs Develop? The Role of Resources and Interaction (American Sociological Review, 1998), and “The Social Construction of Status Value: Gender and Other Nominal Characteristics” (Social Forces, 1991).

Another ongoing project addresses the role of interactional processes in preserving gender inequality despite major changes in the socioeconomic organization of society. A book manuscript in preparation on this topic is tentatively titled, Framed By Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World. Examples of other publications on social hierarchies, status, and gender inequality include :Gender as a Group Process: Implications for the Persistence of Inequality” (2007), “Sociological Approaches to Sex Discrimination” (2007), “Motherhood as a Status Characteristic” (Journal of Social Issues, 2004), “Unpacking the Gender System: A Theoretical Perspective on Cultural Beliefs and Social Relations” (Gender & Society, 2004)“Gender, Status, and Leadership” (Journal of Social Issues, 2001), “Interaction and the Conservation of Gender Inequality” (American Sociological Review, 1997), and Gender, Interaction, and Inequality (Springer-Verlag, 1992).

Newer projects include 1) the development of a theoretical analysis of the role of social coordination and accountability in the development and use of status information, and 2) a theoretical account of the processes that bind low status members to a group.

Her work interests me greatly, and I'm trying to figure out how to integrate her research in how social differences become status distinctions into my own way of thinking about gender discrimination in the workplace. Everyone makes distinctions, but there's certain ways of acting on those distinctions that would render the behavior illegal discrimination and legally actionable. Inequality of outcomes is not per se illegal, of course, unless there is strong evidence of systemic statistical discrimination (much harder to prove nowadays, too).


It's My Birthday And I'll Bake If I Want To

Friday's my birthday. I am telling you because I am telling no one else. We're going to a couple of Halloween parties of some friends of TD's. While I hate the fact that Halloween steals my thunder, what I hate even more is when a lot of people pay attention to me, except on occasions when such attention is diffused into some collective ceremony in which I am not a primary focus (hence, my desire to elope or get one of my friends to get a Universal Life Church certificate). For instance, I actually enjoyed my graduation ceremonies from law school and college, because I hung out with friends and it was a big party. And my family has been proud of me for exactly two days out of the 10,217 days I have lived thus far, so it was nice to bask in the glow of that and have pictures taken on the one day I paid someone to curl my hair for me. But birthdays--ehhh. I love celebrating other people's birthdays and I love giving and getting gifts, but the few times I've thrown myself a party, I've felt exhausted by the attention and the hyper sociability.

Anyway, my birthday being this weekend, and this weekend being full of parties, the last thing I want is to steal Halloween's thunder and have my Satanic birth date the subject of discussion, although that would serve it right, the greedy minx. I also hate being sung the "Happy Birthday" song in public, especially at restaurants.

So this weekend, in addition to the parties in which no one will know it is my birthday, he'll probably take me to dinner, and I have requested a trip to the restaurant supply store so that I can buy myself some cake pans that I do not for some reason have, like a spring form pan and a couple of round pans for making layer cakes. And I think I want to eat fried chicken for lunch. Either that or a burrito the size of a child's leg.

But on Friday night before Party #1, I'm making my own birthday cake and dinner so as to celebrate my birthday with TD and then not talk about it the rest of the night. Plus I get to eat what I want and not worry about a long wait at a restaurant, which may make us late. I think I'll make this cake again. I've made it twice already for other people, and it's my favorite cake so far. Mainly because I don't care as much for frosting, and have zero patience for cake decorating. I'm also thinking of making my favorite foods, even if they don't go together. My mom used to make me spaghetti and meatballs and french fries for my birthday when she remembered it (six kids, nine grandchildren, hard to keep track). Yum. Pasta and french fries.


Belle for President.

Dudes, I've had enough. We're not making sufficient use of the wonderful Belle, purveyor of Cooking Wisdom and joy, and my hero in so many ways. She needs to stop being a grad student and start ruling.

Belle for President. Or Queen. Whichever. (As long as I get to be minister of state security... heh heh heh.)


belle's tips for cooking on a budget

I have a post on Amber's blog talking about how I really try to contribute to my relationship in the non-economic ways that I can. Of course, after years of cooking and baking I have a pretty good stock of dry ingredients, tools, pans, etc. But I still have to buy fresh stuff every week, and I cook about 2-3 times a week. My weekly food budget (for two!) is somewhere in the $20-40 range. It depends on whether I'm being fancy, what's on sale, and what cuts/types of meat we are having and whether or not I'm entertaining or baking for fun. So, here's my tips for those with only a knife, chopping board, frying pan, 8 quart pot, and 13x9 pan, and I mean the cheapest stuff you can get at Target:

1. Ignore the slow food snobs. For one thing, they're insufferable and pervert a good ecological, environmental goal into yuppie olympics. For another, they'll break your bank. Look at your local Safeway and Long's Drugs weekly advertisements for specials and coupons. Long's has a lot of dry ingredients like flour, pasta, etc. that goes on sale. They also have little bags of spices for $1 that I buy and put into little jars, rather than buying spices from McCormick's or Schilling for $5 a pop. Safeway's produce and meat aren't great, but beggars can't be choosers. While you can't make silk from a sow's ear, you can make a nice smooth leather I bet. I occasionally go to the butcher's, but only buy stuff that's on special (occasionally cheaper per lb. than Safeway), but really, I usually shop at Safeway--not Trader Joe's, certainly not Whole Foods, and I'm nowhere near a Co-Op. I rarely buy organic. I mean, rarely. It has to be a special occasion. And while there's a difference in quality, no one complains. Anyone complaining about the inorganic (ha) quality of your food is That Guy. You know, the guy who goes to a party and complains about the free beer. We don't like that guy. We would like to cook with fresh, local, sustainably grown quality ingredients, but not all of us can afford to, and it's a certain amount of privilege that comes with that--and hardly anyone has that anymore in this economy.

I often shop first and build menus from what's on sale--buy an ingredient, go to the internet and look up a recipe. Going from recipe to ingredients means you buy a lot of stuff when it's not on sale or perhaps off-season and thus more expensive. Whole chickens are cheaper per pound than cut-up chicken parts; chicken breasts are more expensive than chicken thighs; meat with bones is cheaper than boneless; flank steak is tasty but less expensive than filet; pork tenderloins are way more expensive than pork shoulder roasts on sale (which I can make into a fantastic slow roasted pork); 1 lb of ground beef is pretty economical and can make a nice basis for ragu baked ziti. Dude, stop buying pre-cooked sausage. You won't die if you cook it on medium for 7 minutes, and if you cut it up you can tell when it's cooked. Pre-seasoned/cooked meats are usually always bad and a waste of money.

2. Cook with beans. I learned a lot of bean recipes. They are the cheapest thing you can buy (usually $1 for a 1 lb. bag), and when combined with rice or some other starch, are the perfect meal. I make pinto beans for burritos, lentils for daal, black beans with bacon, navy beans with soup, etc.

3. Make soups. You can get chicken broth on sale usually four cans for $5, or you can save the bones from the whole chickens you roast and boil them until you make your own stock. Add more meat and vegetables, simmer, and you have enough food for a week, and then you can freeze some for later weeks of laziness.

4. Buy cheese on sale or from Trader Joe's. Cheese is expensive. I consider this a luxury, like chocolate. I also don't buy the expensive stuff unless I'm eating the cheese in a pure state. I am all bourgie and up in that, but if I'm cooking with it I buy commecial shredded mozarella when I'm making pizza or lasagna. Dude, no one can tell the difference when it's all melted. It's not like I'm making a plat du fromage or tomato-basil-mozarella salad, in which case I get the good stuff.

5. Wash your own vegetables. I am not a big salad eater, but if I was I'd buy a bunch of spinach for $1 rather than a bag of pre-washed baby spinach for $4. It doesn't take all that much time to wash up. I also eat only fruit that's on sale, which is sad for me because I would have loved to been able to afford cherries and berries during the summer. This week I am eating a lot of apples ($1.49/lb) and some green grapes that were reduced to $1.99/lb.

6. Sometimes Farmer's markets are good deals. Sometimes.

7. When I cook for a lot of people I nearly always make soup, pasta, lasagna or a large roasted something that I got on sale. 4 lbs of pork shoulder to roast adobo style on sale at Safeway for $5.39 and no one complained that it wasn't organic. I have a nice Le Creuset enameled ceramic roasting pan now, but in law school I got by with one 13x9 pan that I used to bake everything from cake to my roasting pan for chicken and roast beef. I still have one, and it's crappy aluminum--yours is better than mine. Pasta is the best option. Also, we're all grad students. Ask them to help out. I provide one bottle of wine, but people are always bringing more and helping out with the hostessing, which is nice. Good parties are a combination of good hosting and good guests.

8. Don't buy alcohol. This saves a lot of money. I don't drink much, so it kind of works out.

9. Make it rather than buy it. This saves calories too. By the time I've finished baking cookies or cake I don't really want to eat much of it, so overwhelmed have I been by the aroma of butter and sugar. But buying cookies is much more expensive than baking a dozen of them, and I get to have a hobby. The same goes for any type of food. I don't buy beans in cans, instead I make my own beans and have enough to eat for a week. I make my own stock. I make everything except for pasta, because that involves buying another kitchen gadget. I even make bread now!

10. As you're learning to cook, there's an inverse relationship between money saved and time spent. If you value your time and have calculated the monetary value of it, you can figure out what you'd rather spend your time making in order to save money. I tend to spend my time on low-labor meals (soups and roasts cook in the background without much stirring or constant attention) that feed me for a few days and freeze well.


where i've been

Working, not dealing with a backlog of emails and more work, and spending time with TD. Also, Amber's blog.

I went to my first outdoor concert festival this weekend. It was everything I ever wanted from my first time. Magical, tender, and transcendent. I was occasionally moved to tears, and my body came alive and swayed rhythmically as my head bobbed solemnly. I hate people who dance to show off at concerts. Of course, like with other firsts, while I'm glad I got to see artists I love with people I love, really, I shouldn't have waited this long.

Brief thoughts:

1) Josh Groban sucks ass. I mean, truly awful.
2) Wilco is the best American band, ever.
3) Norah Jones is so amazing live that she absolves my faux-hip guilt over liking chill-Starbucks-swill and now I am totally in love again. Seriously. Oh, whatever you haterz.
4) Death Cab for Cutie is amazing live, and I so prefer this project over The Postal Service.
5) I don't like Smashing Pumpkins all that much, and when they duet with Josh Groban on the one song I do like, I actually hate them.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cookblog III: What Price Popularity?

Before we start the next installment of Paul's Adventures in Chefdom, a plea to the public:

Will someone please teach me how to shrink (e.g., halve) recipes?

I get the obvious step (reduce all the ingredients proportionally). But presumably one doesn't cook, say, half the food for as long as one cooks the original recipe (as there's less mass to heat, and thus one would burn it). But, likewise, presumably one doesn't reduce the cooking time proportional to the reduction in the ingredient amount. (Reductio of that idea: take 1/45 of a recipe that takes 45 minutes to cook: does one cook it for one minute? Obviously not.)

I imagine there's probably some formula for this? Or at least rules of thumb? Or something?

Right now (as you read), several readers are probably reflecting on the fact that they know how to do this, but are hoping that someone else will go through the effort of explaining it. Well, that won't do. Homey don't play no bystander effect. In order to avoid it, I'm going to use the technique professors have used for centuries: cold-calling.

And I call on Helen. Helen, you are a professional: you edit cookbooks for a living. You also have a foodblog, for which you are paid money. You are more than qualified to tell me how to do this, if there is a way to do so. As you are also my friend, I like to think you're disposed to do so. And I know you're reading, because I'm about to send a link to you. Help?

(Help from others also appreciated.)

Why this urgent appeal? Well, the recipe I am about to post feeds at least 6, and probably closer to 8 if you have friends with small appetites. Here's the thing. I'm not going to eat lasagna for six or 8 meals in a row, and it won't keep in the fridge forever. So this is something I can only make for other people. Today, I made it for a potluck. It made me very popular. I arrived 45 minutes late, yet it was the first item finished. It also cost me thirty-five dollars, mostly in cheese. This cannot continue. If I am to ever try, or eat, this again, it must be in vastly reduced size.

Right. On to the cooking.

Ingredients, tools, etc.

-9x13 lasagna pan + various knives, bowls, cheese graters, etc. (already owned)
-two pre-made jars spaghetti sauce ($4.98) (the person who gave me this recipe specified "something thick with LOTS of veggies" -- I went with heavy garlic -- and I was *this close* to adding more garlic too)
- no cook lasagna noodles (already had, from the last time
- ricotta (15/16 oz. container) ($5.99)
- parm cheese ($8.10 for the smallest hunk they had in whole foods, almost all of which I used)
- mozarella cheese ($5.26, likewise on size and usage)
- a packet (like 4) of turkey/chicken sausages ($6.99).

This time, incidentally, I came to my senses with the sausage. No more mango sausage or anything like that. I got pre-cooked cajun andouille sausage, although it wasn't nearly strong enough, and doesn't work nearly as well as it should -- I suspect partly because pre-cooked, and partly because andouille should be made with pork. New Orleans food shouldn't be abused this way. Oh well.


(my camera is producing alarmingly blurred pictures lately, possibly because I held it over the steaming grill for the last cookblog. This is worrisome: I've no idea how to clean a camera lens...)
- oregano ($1.99)
- parsley ($1.49)

You can see immediately why I may be the first person in the history of personal finance driven into penury by quitting eating out and cooking more for himself.

Paul's Financial Downfall:


1. 1. If buying raw sausage, throw it in a pan and cook them up with oil and butter or just plain. frying pan, on stovetop. Fortunately, I didn't do this.

2. Preheat oven to 350
3. Cut 1 pkg (4 saus) sausage into little bits like centimeter thick or so.

I am developing knife skills. I managed to chop all four sausages at once.

Be Impressed:

2. grate 1/2 cup parmesan (with the medium-sized gratey bits)

3. grate 2 cups of the moz

4. Chop (mince, I guess) 1 tbsp oregano and identical amount of parsley. I am again impressed by myself, for 1) being able to remove the leaves from the oregano very efficiently (grab at the top, run fingers down -- against the grain -- and all but the topmost leaves just fly right off!), and also for my further development of knife skills: I managed to mince it all at some speed by just smushing it all together and having at it with a knife.

5. Mix, in a large bowl, 1/4 cup of the parm (that is, half of what you've grated -- I forgot what one does with the rest, so I just put it all on top at the end), all the riccotta, the oregano and parsley.

As the recipe calls for "vigorously" mixing all of this, I decided to do it with a whisk. This was a mistake.

6. Spread half the sausage and half the sauce in the pan.

7. Cover that with one layer of noodles (which comes out to be 4, but they don't fit well).


They suck ass. Never buy them. They come out hard and icky. Next time, I think I'll have to get the real kind of noodle.

The Enemy:

8. Spread half of the cheese mess over the noodles -- maximizing coverage. (I accidentally used too much in this stage.)
9. Spread half the mozzerella likewise

10. Repeat steps 6-10 for a second layer.

11. Cover with foil (NOT PLASTIC -- I was tempted, but it will melt. If your instincts are like mine, you too will need to be reminded of this) and cook for 30 minutes. Put it as close to the middle of the oven as possible.

12. Remove the cover, then cook uncovered for 15 minutes. or just cook for 45 uncovered.

How do you remove the foil without burning yourself? I now own a pair of tongs!

I also noticed that the Atrocious Crap Noodles had managed to poke themselves up from the outside after uncovering, so I smushed them back down before the last 15.

Rise of the Demon-Noodles:

11. Let stand outside oven for 15 mins before serving.

12. Eat. Nummy.

Verdict: this actually tasted yummy. I would have preferred more spicy and more garlic-y, but one can't have everything. Also, I have a white hot rage at those noodles, which came out hard and yet gummy: difficult to cut, and not pleasant, texture-wise, to eat. They also seemed to shrink while cooking, so that they did a very poor job of covering the rest.

So this recipe is a keeper, but for the cost and the wretched noodles.

Credit for this goes to my friend Danielle. Some weeks ago, I e-mailed a random cross-section of my local friends and invited them to horribly exploit me: to come over and eat at my expense, in exchange for teaching me how to make yummy things, and suffering my incompetence/neurotic note-taking/inquisition-style* interrogation as to every miniscule detail of the requirements for preparing the food in question. Danielle is the first person who took me up on it, and she taught me this, whereupon numerous political scientists descended on my studio to drink my wine and eat lasagna, at, in other words, even more outrageous expense than this time (since I had to pay for the wine too, as well as buy a lasagna pan, and buy a box of those noodles that anger me so). That time, I also didn't have any aluminum foil, so I just put it in the oven for 45 minutes. (I'd thought that was why the noodles turned out hard that time, but, nope, they were still hard this time around too. The noodles just suck ass.) So, in other words, this is my second try at this recipe. This time, however, I did it on my own. Be proud of me. I actually produced something yummy, unsupervised!

Also, Stanford people are wussies. The person whose party it was remarked that the lasagna was "spicy." My ass it was. I thought of making it spicy, but decided against it on grounds of compassion toward the weak. Next time, I'm unleashing the dark forces of the occult and opening up a can of hot pepper whoopass on the whole thing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go burn down my kitchen, as the dirty dishes have taken over all available surfaces. Also, I haven't gotten a single scholarly sentence written today, between cooking, writing this post, and spending a couple of hours at the gym. Bad Paul.

* The inquisition**, let's begin
The inquisition, look out sin
I'll bet you're wishin'
that we'd go awayyyyyyyyy
But the inquisition's here and it's here to stayyyyy!

Torquemada, Torquemada, what do you say?
I just got back from the auto de fe!
Auto da fe? What's an auto da fe?
Something you know you shouldn't do but you do anyway!

the Spanish Inquisition song, from Mel Brooks's History of the World, Part I. It makes me happy. I've been known to burst into it completely at random on the streets.

** Nobody expects...


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I shall call this recipe Memento Mori Chicken. Perhaps Suicide Chicken would be better.

As we learned from my last kitchen adventure, cooking is something I should only do under adult supervision.

So I recruited some, in the form of my close friend Rachel. Another friend, Sarah, also tagged along, although she demurred from participating in the cooking, since she claims she can't cook at all. She was, however, obviously lying, since her role was to participate in the following dialogue, repeated several times:

Paul: "How do you do X?"
Rachel: "Well, Y."
Sarah (obviously shocked): "You don't know how to do X?"

Sarah is on the left, Rachel the right.

Today, the mission was chicken stir-fry, over, yes, more pasta. (Whenever I cook, pasta is involved.) We used Rachel's ridiculously over-stocked kitchen

primarily because mine is, uh, out of commission at the moment.

Unfortunately, because Rachel is a little less obsessive than am I about capturing all of the details of the cooking, and some things whizzed by before I could capture them (i.e., the bits she was too impatient to wait for me to do, grr, mostly including chopping vegetables), the photographic record is a little incomplete, as are some of the details.



Chicken -- which scared the crap out of me, because I've never cooked chicken before (like a packet of it).
Little baby onions
Garlic (like a whole clove)
Portabello mushrooms (little ones, something like 6 of them)
A packet of random-ass noodles
Various Asian grocery-ey sorts of ingredients, like soy sauce, sesame oil, and something called guizhow black bean chilli sauce.


1. wash chicken

"Wash," here, means "rinse." I confess, I don't understand why cooking people never just say "rinse." Possibly, they mean to give the impression of greater cleanliness, and hence slightly lower probability of instant death, than is warranted.

2. Cut the chicken up into "slightly larger than bite-size pieces," painstakingly removing the fat in the process. Pray you don't have some open wound on your hands, to allow the death to enter your bloodstream.

3. Marinate it. "Marinating it" means put it in a bowl and put a bunch of stuff on it. In this case, the bunch of stuff was the soy sauce, the freakey guizhow stuff, and about half of the chopped garlic. (You HAVE chopped the garlic already, right?) Some quantity of the soy sauce that looks like squirting it on for a bit was used, and slightly more than half a spoonful of the freaky guizhow stuff. Also salt and pepper.

Then stir it up with a fork. Give the fork to some ethnic minority that you want to cleanse via e.coli, kinda like the flu blankets, but more virulent.

4. Some point in there, put the water to boil by putting the stove top on high. (Apparently, one generally boils things on high). When it boils, fling the pasta in. Cover it not quite all the way:

Ignore it, except panicking when it boils over, at which point you take the cover off and say the Chant Against Exploding Pots, whereupon it stops. Or a demon comes out and eats you, if you get the stressed syllables wrong.

(Apparently, stuff heats faster when covered. Keep your physics off my body.)

5. Chop the vegetables in some fashion as yet unclear. The mushrooms are to be chopped in such a way that ordinary mathematics cannot express it. (Non-euclidian geometry may be involved in some fashion. Also H.P. Lovecraft novels.)

The following dialogue should accurately transmit the information about how to cut the mushrooms. The relevant backstory is that I was told to cut them into quarters, so, well, I did so.

Rachel: "Those pieces are too big."
Paul: "They're quarters."
Rachel: "They need to be in half quarters."
Paul: "You mean eighths."
Rachel: "No, I mean thinner quarters -- if you'd just gone and cut them into eighths it wouldn't have been right."
Paul: "They weren't right when I cut them into quarters! Like you said!"

I know that at least one reader will understand my horror at the irrational and non-scientific nature of the mystery quarters and their appearance in cooking instructions.

6. Put a very small amount of olive oil on the bottom of a wok, then put everything other than the pasta in. (The pasta is still boiling, remember? You have checked the pasta, right? Oh shit, the pilot light's gone out on your oven because the pasta boiled over! Evacuate and call the fire department!) Apparently the veggies go first. Put more pepper on top.

7. Cover the stir fry. Cook. Stir periodically. Apparently one benefit of marinating is it adds a little extra liquid so the stir fry doesn't burn so readily.

8. As things become done, stop cooking them.

PASTA: the package says 6-8 minutes. Yummy.

CHICKEN: It will never be done. When you eat it, you will die. But that is just what happens when you cook poultry. Keep a stiff upper lip. (The rest of you will be stiff before long.)

Alternatively, you can use The Secret. First, you visualize the cooking being done...

No, ok, that's the wrong secret. The real secret?

If the chicken has some red in it it, kind of like a living being, sort of a reddish undertone, and you eat it, you will die.

On the other hand, if the chicken is white all the way through, and you eat it, you will die. But not from the chicken. Unless you've angered the gods by failing to do the Ritual Against E.Coli properly. You do know the Ritual Against E.Coli, right?

I can't tell you.

It's secret.



The non-death chicken photo is blurry because the gods intervened to ruin the photo in order to ensure that people will always remain uncertain.

One reason you stir when frying apparently is so the chicken gets cooked all over, so turn those bits over a lot. Or you will die.

When you think it's done, take a sample: cut a piece of chicken with a spatula and see the color, as above. Look at the large pieces, because they cook slower. Do not look at the small pieces, because they will give you a false positive, and then you will die.

Take a big bowl.

Put the pasta in the bowl.

Put the stir fry stuff in the bowl.

Add "a dash" of the sesame stuff on top. Apparently, you do not put it on earlier, because it evaporates quickly in heat.

Eat. Nummy nummy.

Go to hospital for e.coli. (Are you catching a theme yet?)

Burn the house down, because you've cooked poultry and so now every surface is covered with disease and death. Fling yourself onto the flames at their hottest, to avoid contaminating the rest of the community.

Despite my constant references to death by e.coli, we haven't lost anyone so far as I know. Also, it tasted good, although the bizarre guizhow stuff was a bit too strong and kind of drowned out everything else.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

you people all look alike

This kid
reminds me of Rick Astley (who has the deepest voice and the dorkiest dance moves). I like the song (actually, both songs), because I am a sucker for earnest pop, but I don't predict a long career for him when he gets older and still looks that young. See, e.g., Fred Savage. See also, Wil Wheaton. See, arguably, Leonardo DiCaprio. I am so not looking forward to the movie version of the great Revolutionary Road. He's a good actor, but he always looks too young to me, and Kate Winslet has such a mature, soft loveliness.

Wow, I just looked the kid up.* He's the same age as my nephew, and they look kind of alike. Except that my nephew is Vietnamese and wears glasses. Ok, they still look exactly alike. Yup, weird. I have turned into that skeezy woman in her late 20s who listens to young boys and watches them dance.

*I still have not connected my TV and so do not watch network programming and have not since 2006. Apparently he was on American Idol.



My megapost on love is up at Scatterplot.


drek on the presidential race, stealing yard signs, racial profiling, and white privilege/guilt

Or at least, that's the best way I can describe this post, which inspired excellent and insightful comments. I'm still sorting out my own thoughts.

I tend to agree with Olderwoman and Gradmommy, but I always do. Still, good question about whether I would have told the police. Also, I couldn't understand the post at first--at first I thought they tore up the signs, then I thought it was stealing the sign to repress the message, but now I wonder if they just wanted the sign. I can't even begin to sort out the racial issues, if there are any (yes, it's debatable, even if you take the race-infected criminal justice system into account). Very weird, complicated story. Read it, think about it, and comment!


live blogging non-descript 10/21

And good morning, and welcome to another week in which Belle learns about new bands and gets hip and makes tons of '90s references, because that's when her musical education began and ended with large gaps because she grew up in Orange County, home of ska and thuggin' wannabes.

You can listen to the show here.

The Playlist:

The Dirtbombs | Got To Give It Up | Ultraglide In Black
Richard Cheese | Bust A Move | The Sunny Side Of The Moon
Aesop Rock | No Regrets | Labor Days
Momus | Smooth Folk Singer | Folktronic
Le Loup | Planes Like Vultures. | The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations’ Millennium General Assembly
Mugison | Murr Murr | Mugimama Is This Monkey Music?
Brakes | Sometimes Always | Give Blood
Cobra Killer + Kapajkos | Helicopter 666 | Das Mandolinenorchester
Compulsive Gamblers | Your Happiness | Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing
Les Sexareenos | Oh Mom (Teach Me How to Uncle Willy) | 14 Frenzied Shakers
Firewater | Hey Clown | The Golden Hour
The Golden Dogs | Big Boy and the Masters of the Universe | Everything In 3 Parts
Good Face For Radio | Burn Down this Town | Good Face For Radio
Grandaddy | Stray Dog And The Chocolate Shake | Sumday
Mambo Kurt | Anarchy In The UK | Organized Crime
Tom Lehrer | The Vatican Rag | That Was The Year That Was

#1: I like The Dirtbombs, and R&B covers are great. It's sort of a more genteel way of blackface, no? Ouch. I just wrote that. It's okay. Country songs are covered very frequently too.

#2: Oh goodness, a Pat Booneish cover of "Bust a Move." I don't love it, but it says something awful about me that I find this swingy in a Tom Jones (whom I love) way. Because really,what's the difference between Richard Cheese (what a name!) and Michael Buble? Well, at least Richard Cheese is cheesey (heh) on purpose. (amended in deference to Bryan) I do like The Great American Songbook, because I am maudlin and enjoy old movies--but really, when Rod Stewart and cheesy young men start singing like Dino, you gotta worry.

#3: Aesop Rock: this song I really like, as combining hip hop + trip hop is like the '90s equivalent of a Double Double.

#4: Momus is surprising. I do like this song, even if it's relatively uneventful. I'm just trying to wrap my head around the fact that they also made "The Penis Song."

#5: Le Loup: and how do we feel about this? Trying a little too hard. The dramatic caesura and all. But as the song progresses, I find myself really, really digging this song. You remember "Bittersweet Symphony" from back in the day? Repetitious chanting and dramatic chords give a song gravitas that it often doesn't deserve.

#6: Oh thank goodness, I thought you were really going to play Nelly's "Hot in Herrre" or however you spell it, a song I hate.

#7: Mugison sounds like it's trying to be White Stripesy. Hrrmmm....unconvinced.

#8: Aaaaah!! "Sometimes Always" is my favorite JAMC song! And the video is so '90s! Hope Sandoval is so hot! This is a decent cover, too. You know, kind of like an emo version of "Summer Lovin'," with boys and girls singing at each other. Wait, the girls are begging to be taken back? Hmm. I blame the patriarchy.

#9: Helicopter 666: German + girly voices + satanic references = Belle makes a frowny face.

#10: I love this song by the Compuslive Gamblers. I like this happy jangle pop music.

#11: Les Sexareenos. Heh. And, catchy, scratchy, faux bluesy.

#12: I'm scared of clowns. My name is Belle, and I endorse the message of this song.

#13: The Golden Dogs are ok. I don't know what it is I don't like about this song, except that it has a lot going on.

#14: Burn Down This Town I like, because I like plaintive rock. I really, really liked it when I was younger. And really, what teenager hasn't had this thought?

#15: This song is ok. I don't know what I feel about it other than that.

#16: Ack, more German. Sorry, Bryan, but German + Mambo = puke. Still, pretty cool that she was his piano teacher.

#17: I still don't get the Tom Leherer thing, but each week I'll make a new speculation. This week's: he's your uncle.

Very good! Thanks!


Monday, October 20, 2008


Squicky, vaguely Oedipal-y Modern Love column here:

It was true: Why would anyone not love Sarvis? He was bright, self confident — sometimes tender, endearingly spaced out — and could keep a steady drumbeat in music class. And the brown ringlets he’d had since he was a baby still hung in heart-stopping whorls down his neck when he refused to brush his hair.


I started using the vandalized stall exclusively. After a few weeks, I even started thinking of it as Sarvis’s bathroom. I was haunted by the comment a friend made following the birth of her second son. “He’s very cute,” she said, “but I’m worried. It seems like sons, no matter how much you love them, just grow up and leave you to marry someone you hate.”


After he got off the school bus that day and made the walk down our drive, Sarvis hung his head and wouldn’t look at me. “Someone wrote my name on thegirls’ bathroom wall,” he mumbled. His little shoulders sagged with the weight of being in the third grade.

“How does that make you feel?” I asked.

“Horrible.” He pushed his hair out of his eyes then came to me. His lunch pail banged into my backside while he leaned his head into my belly.

The school custodian tried to get rid of the graffiti, but his only strategy was to scratch over the girl’s scratching, which left big cloudy scars on the stall wall, while the writing underneath remained, tenacious and legible.

And the girl who loved Sarvis was persistent. Over the next few weeks, she scratched her note again and again. She loved Sarvis many ways, horizontally and vertically, in large writing and small. She used the heart rebus and the written word in capital letters: “LOVE.”

The janitor couldn’t keep up; the wall was a mess, full of hearts and Sarvis’s name, and everyone seemed helpless against this little vixen’s love for my boy. I kept thinking of the girls in his class. Who would be so bold? Who would take such a risk? Who among them could possibly fail to recognize that her third-grade infatuation was no match for my perfect, clear memory of Sarvis’s 3-year-old voice singing “Fuzzy and Blue” along with Grover?

Graffiti Girl didn’t even know where I kept Sarvis’s immunization record. She didn’t have a clue about how much he liked lemon pepper on his spaghetti. She couldn’t “heart” Sarvis more than I “heart” Sarvis.

Every week when I got to school, I stepped into the “I love Sarvis” stall as if it were a sacred chamber. Eventually, the bathroom wall became a metaphor for my own love for Sarvis: industrial, resistant, indestructible. One day I went in and traced the little girl’s writing with my finger. I traced my son’s name and the original heart, which was dented in places.

I knew it was only an innocent crush, yet I truly lamented that some little girl was pushing my boy into a vaguely sexual consciousness, ruining his happy indifference to gender, making him grow up an increment.

As I traced her words, however, I started to identify with her. Putting my hand in the middle of her carved heart, I commiserated — “I love him, too.”


I MADE up my mind to soften my feelings toward Graffiti Girl. No matter that she was using her fresh skills and knowledge to steal Sarvis away from me. Whatever her identity, she was also growing up too fast. And I knew that for now, anyway, and maybe for months or years, she wouldn’t really be able to compete with someone like me who had the power to feed Sarvis, drive him places and rent from Netflix.

And where some child wrote, “I love Sarvis,” I would like to use a knife, a screwdriver, or even the little piece of metal that holds an eraser to a yellow pencil to add to the graffiti. “More than you ever will, little girl,” I’d carve into that metal wall. “I love Sarvis more than you ever will.”

Again, ew. I feel sorry for "Sarvis," whose name I put into quotes because I hope that it's not a real name. Otherwise, that kid is in for a world of auto-Google hurt. Or, first-date Google hurt. Ew, ew, ew. And, TMI! I frequently am accused of over-sharing, but I would never write such things! Damn our current lax mores. And so serious in tone! There's the cute-but-I-know-you're-joking protective parent rap about "my five year old kid has a crush, and I want to tell the boy that if he makes her cry I will take a wiffle bat to his knees even if I have to kneel down to do it," but this extreme possessiveness is kind of creeptastic. I'm looking at the picture of my nephews and nieces now. I love them to pieces. But you know, not enough to interrogate little kids to hunt down the competition, real or imagined, for my affections. Ew, ew, ew.


Why Obama's campaign creeps me out sometimes.


moral reasons, causes, decision-making

When I read this article, I immediately thought of this article.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

weekend report

Not bad. The food I made turned out really well, and there was dim sum, a science museum, and burritos, and then a lot of lounging about and reading and working. In my head, science museums are a bit bigger and more impressive, but that's because I watched movies with gigantic replicas of tyrannosaur bones and in which you could see the glass-encased progression of evolution from monkey to man. This one was a little smaller in scale (I think it was some kind of -raptor, but then again everything I know about dinosaurs I learned from Jurassic Park), had lots of fish, an indoor forest thing, lots of (good) proselytizing about the impending global meltdown, and it was brand new and still impressive. But II suppose I am too old now to have first experiences the same way I would have at the age of 10. Wait until I go to the zoo for the first time ever! Sigh.

In other news, I don't understand knitting pattern instructions (despite knowing how to do basic knitting and purling), and so I keep re-making the same scarf. I suck. I have no idea what they're telling me to do, so unless I have Amber sitting next to me showing me how to do something with my own fingers, no clue what the instructions say. I suppose it is not unlike cooking, and not knowing the meaning of "whisk" or "julienne."


Friday, October 17, 2008

why do you hate america's freedom? get out there and shop, or the terrorists win!

Gah, on the well-shod heels of Gwyneth Paltrow (whose shopping guides are so asinine), comes J.Crew, the latest contender for the economic turmoil insensitivity awards. The headline: J.Crew Gets Uppity. I kid you not:

“THE timing is very ironic, I know,” said Millard S. Drexler, known as Mickey, the chief executive of J. Crew, by way of introduction to the company’s newest store, which opened Friday on Madison Avenue at 79th Street. Mr. Drexler chose just about the worst week in financial memory to introduce a J. Crew collection priced in the stratosphere of Gucci and Prada.

Regardless of the market, J.Crew’s new designer collection — sold here and at — has raised eyebrows among analysts and competitors who wonder why on earth a company known for its preppy basics would put on such airs. Mr. Drexler said he believes in the product.

“In all of our stores in America, I felt we weren’t highlighting the clothes and accessories in the way I thought they should be,” he said. “And I felt that fashion was changing. The prices of designer clothes were getting to a point that was very unfriendly to a lot of people, and the ubiquity of designer clothes was making them less special. Fashion is the opposite of ubiquity.”

Too bad retailers are having a hard time getting customers to spend money. Sales are down at both high and low ends of the spectrum. All I'm buyin these days are food and books, and both on sale. The spaghetti and meatballs and tarte tatin I'm making tonight? Total of $10, including ingredients in stock.

If you must shop or buy something to support our economy, listen to Warren Buffett.


election law in the news

I'm a big fan of Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog, and from the archives is his great Slate article on the American Center for Voting Rights--and its decline. And from Dahlia Lithwick, a great article on ACORN and undermining voter confidence.

Read! And then vote!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

bust a move

I will shamelessly admit that I almost wish I had a bustier and a pair of bike shorts and would totally dance like that if no one was looking.


speaking of music...

Via OrgTheory's Brayen, a great article by sociologist Jenn Lena on how people create music genres.

Brayden's description:

The paper, coauthored with Richard Peterson, is about how people create new music genres, a process generalizable to the construction of symbolic classification systems. Given the recent interest in the linking of organizations to identities, categories, and audiences, the paper has clear implications for a number of research areas.

One area that could benefit from the insights of this paper is the crowd who studies organizational form creation and categorical emergence. While much of the ecology-based research is focused primarily on the structural dynamics that enable the creation of new identities, etc. (and I heard a really interesting talk about this very topic by Elizabeth Pontikes yesterday), Lena and Peterson are more interested in ground-level behavior resembling collective action.* They create a typology of different genre forms: Avant-garde, Scene-based, Industry-based, and Traditionalist. Each form is associated with a different kind of collective action taken by people promoting their musical vision and involves the creation and maintenance of boundaries that allow the members to distinguish between genres.

For example, the Avant-garde genre is typified by “members’ shared dislike of some aspect of the music of the day and the quest for music that is different” (701). Because Avant-garde musicians are so concerned with being different, they often experiment with new approaches, and meld together existing genres. Avant-garde musicians haven’t yet developed clear standards of what it means to be part of a new genre; they’re much better at pointing out what they don’t like than what they do (e.g. early punk like Iggy Pop). A genre that matures to the point where a loyal local audience develops may become scene-based. Scenes involve more intense interaction among participants and audience members, and through this interaction quality standards emerge. What distinguishes scenes from the Avant-garde is, in fact, constant communication that allows information about musicians to diffuse rapidly between members of the community (e.g., the Seattle grunge scene). This communication assists in the rapid codification of “conventions of performance and presentation” (704). The other two genre forms are the most commonly recognized kinds of music in pop culture. Industry-based genres are primarily based around the corporation and its ability to disseminate music to a broad market. Traditionalist genres are forms of music that have been preserved and continually cultivated by fans loyal to a particular musical heritage (e.g., roots music).

And, just for Bryan, Jenn Lena on hip hop, a book about punk, and a book about the indie music scene. All via Brayden.

I have been learning lots of new org theory, but have been failing to blog about it. More later about boundary work and stratification.


Post-blogging Non-Descript 10/13 Show

I have decided to do a new Tuesday series. Yes, people, I know today is Thursday. But every Tuesday, our own Bryan D. Brown has a radio show on KCSB called "Nondescript." You can get the feed for the podcast here. Incidentally, how is it that I just recently, as in two months ago, caught onto this podcast thing? This American Life and NonDescript and Studio360 delivered to my Itunes player without me having to coordinate fireside chat dates (which I used to do in high school)? Oh, joy!

Anyway, for the past few shows, I've been "live-emailing" Bryan my silly thoughts on his picks, which is really fun. But I thought I'd start live-blogging it, although certainly I'll leave private thoughts on TD's tastes in music to myself (cough). Bryan, you are free to email or publicly comment. Yes people, I know that this is post-blogging.

So, here's this week's, collected (and edited and embellished) for public consumption. I urge you to follow along! It's really great. I really liked this week's (and the Canadian show) in particular, and have listened to this week's twice already. On Tuesday, as I was tidying up and live-emailing, and this morning, as I was making meatballs in preparation for tomorrow's "Welcome Home From Your Business Trip, TD, Even Though I Sometimes Hate Your Job for Sending You Work At Midnight and then Sending You on Business Trips" spaghetti and meatballs and tarte tatin dinner. No, not a coherent menu. But sometimes, menus, like playlists, should mix it up.

Anyway, this week's playlist:

Artist Song Album
The Coup 5 Million Ways to Kill A C.E.O. Party Music
Black Before Red Matagorda Belgrave to Kings Circle
BOAT 200 Days, 59 Ways Let’s Drag Our Feet
Sea Ray Lalaland Stars at Noon
Compulsive Gamblers Wait a Bit, Joe Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing
Dictators Who Will Save Rock And Roll? D.F.F.D.
Tom Waits Eggs And Sausage Nighthawks At The Diner
The Five Maseratis Everything The Five Maseratis - EP
The Gories Boogie Chillun I Know You Fine, But How You Doin’
Miwa Gemini Traveling Man This Is How I Found You
The Queers Surfin’ Bird Rocket to Russia
The Aluminum Group Lie Detector Test Pedals
Ra Ra Riot Oh, La The Rhumb Line
The Randies The Way It Goes At The Friendship Motor Inn
The Teeth Yellow You’re My Lover Now
Tom Lehrer Oedipus Rex An Evening Wasted with…

Live-Email Transcript:

1. 5 million ways to kill a CEO is catchy. It is weird typing that. I hope I get a shout out for your scary Halloween show, because Halloween is my birthday. Also, Nickelback is way scary. It's on my list of dealbreaker bands. I heard that one guy's was "Silverchair." But "This Is How You Remind Me" is just one of those horrid rock power ballads that enable emotionally stunted men to like, feel. So, fuck that.

2. Black Before Red is a revelation. I dig, I dig.

3. I love BOAT. "Come With Me, We'll Win" was on my birthday mix for TD, along with most of the music you recommended to me. So far, 3 for 3. Nice progression too.

4. Sea Ray is great. 4 for 4. OMG a SHOUTOUT! AAAAAH!!! I AM FAMOUS!!!

5. OMG "Who Will Save Rock and Roll" is great. Today's set is so far very accessible, but still challenging, which is hard to do.

Oooh, sneaking in "Busta Move." Right on. "She's dressed in yellow, she says "hello," come sit next to me you fine fellow" is one of my all time favorite lines for no apparent reason.

6. I distrust any man who doesn't like Tom Waits. Closing Time is one of my all-time favorite albums. Martha just fucking kills me. I was having brunch last weekend in a diner and they played Ol' 55 and it was awesome.

That said, when he talks, he sounds like Krusty the Clown after one too many, or like Phyllis Diller. Hehhhhh, in that gravelly sigh.

This song also reminds me of many a late night I spent in an LA diner like Mel's, Norms, or The Pantry, eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes and corn and pie after some concert. I miss Los Angeles, sometimes. Not much of it, but little experiences like that.

7. Five Maseratis are also very catchy. I appreciate this happy jangly rock. There is more to this world than Jimmy Eat World, children. Also, for some reason I am off of sad bastard music these days. I have not touched my Belle and Sebastien and Elliot Smith and Nick Drake for a while. It's like all that Tracy Chapman I listened to get over Heartbreak 2001. Sometimes, you need to move on, for a while. And the older I get, the less I want to be bummed out by my music, except when I'm really bummed out, in which case I just wallow until friends call to ask me if I'm still listening to Dusty Springfield and Phil Collins.

8. Ha! Surfin' Bird! I don't know how I know this song, but somehow it's a part of my musical lexicon. If it sneaked in there b/c of some commercial (likely), I will whup some ad exec's ass. I'm one of those people who didn't know about Nick Drake until that VW ad, and then those damn hipsters judge me for being all late on the bandwagon. Whev. It's like how I didn't discover Pavement or JAMC until just last year.

9. I dig Aluminum Group. Sound vaguely reminiscent of The Magnetic Fields mixed with like, Moby or Kings of Convenience or something. Are we back in the late '90s? Possibly. In any case, I am looking around for my pleather jacket and the jerk I was dating back then.

10. You da man! Ra Ra Riot are great! Nice segue from Aluminum Group. Also, I feel like I'm in the '80s new wave again. Did I ever tell you that when my family first came to the U.S., my sibs split up into Olivia Newton John and Richard Marx adult contemporary soft rock (the sisters) or New Wave (the brothers) camps? They all converged on Michael Jackson though. Everyone loved Michael back then. I love old Michael now. But he's like Tom Cruise. Just creeps the hell out of you, so you can't go back.

11. The Randies remind me of The Raveonettes. I dig these girl-lead rock bands. I don't like sweet-voiced girl bands as much (see, e.g. Rilo Kiley, The Cardigans), but this stuff is good. I forgot what the cultural consensus is on The Pretenders. I like The Pretenders. Are the haterz going to descend on me for that?

12. Last song is good too, in a weird way. It's like slam poetry, but with horns. I hate slam poetry. I hate horn rock (see, e.g. Chicago). But together, it's doable.

Very good set this week, maestro! I can't wait till next week's!


John Cleese on Sarah Palin

Because if you can't laugh at Sarah Palin... well, you might just start crying.


why I am voting in person rather than absentee

For one, there's no excuse--the polling place is across the street from me. This is a marked difference than my time in Orange County, where for my first election (2000, sigh) it was in some church in some part of town I was unfamiliar with and I had to drive for a while to find it. And then, when I went to law school, I voted by absentee, still staying registered in my home district so that I could vote on local ballot measures. With the most recent move (nine months ago, in fact), I re-registered, because for once this feels semi-permanent for at least a few years, and because I'm afraid my dad will try to vote for me.

Nah, I don't worry about that. Do I? He's always been good about that, even though he knows I vehemently disagree with his racist Republicanism and bizarre love for Bush and all Republicans who oppose communism. As far as he's concerned, he fled Vietnam with a family of six by plane and boat and now has a Commie daughter. He's always let me have my own mind, if not speak it, because then I'm being uppity. So, erm, yes, despite this delightful father-daughter dynamic, I decided to postpone visiting my parents until after the election, and I took the precaution for this particular election of re-registering. Sigh. I have been reading about this city's school board candidates and local ballot measures and have no clue. The price you pay for civic independence. Plus, the last time I asked my sister to forward me my absentee ballot, she didn't send it in time. I shall not be disenfranchised!

Anyway, plenty of reasons for me to vote in my new city, but in person? Mostly, it's symbolic. There's something about the civic community aspect of going to your neighborhood polling place, and I've been missing it for a few years. I want to walk around with that "I Voted" sticker, rather than takping my absentee ballot stub to my shirt or something. I want to meet my neighbors, at least the ones who don't live in my building and wonder why I'm always baking or listening to Tevyn Campbell. I want to see my neighborhood out and about in full civic mode, exercising our constitutional rights and believing, however naively, in the system.


I still hate you, Lisa Belkin.

When you write a bogus trend article about the opt-out revolution by interviewing a non-random sample of your acquaintances, I say "good riddance" to your "farewell" Life's Work column (found, delightfully as ever, in the Fashion and Style section).

Of course, what is most shocking is Belkin's apparent framing of her role as the (finally!) catalyst for open and honest dialogue and even system-wide change, although she politely nods to social, economic, and structural forces too:

Women who had been soldiers in the fight for equality were furious, at me and at the women I profiled, for turning their backs on the cause. Women who loved their work were angry that other women were reinforcing the impression that women aren’t serious about careers. Women who could not afford to just walk away from a paycheck saw this as a class schism.

When the shouting died down, though, change began to happen. I have long seen that piece as a bottle-opener. There was discontent and imperfection fizzing around the workplace, and the article popped off the cap and let it all spill out. The last five years have seen a jump in the attention paid by corporate America to ways to make work work, not just for women but everyone. Things are far from perfect, but I have spent a lot of time of late writing about all sorts of variations on the traditional model, “sit in your chair and do your job the way I tell you.”

I am often asked what happened to the women whose choices I profiled in “The Opt-Out Revolution.” There were predictions by many who took time to e-mail me that they would be abandoned by their husbands, becoming unemployable caricatures of a ’50s housewife.

In fact, one marriage did break up, and because it was messy, the woman in question asked me not to use her name here. It was tough for her getting back to work, she said, because she had allowed a gap to open in her résumé — as tough as her critics had warned it would be.

Others have less dramatic, less “moral of the story” endings. Of the women I tracked down, one, Tracey Van Hooser, a former advertising and marketing executive, is still married, now the mother of a third child and still a stay-at-home mom in San Francisco. Another, Sally Sears, a former television reporter, is itching for a faster pace and plans to go back into television news once her son, Will, starts college in the fall. And Katherine Brokaw is now the dean of students at the Emory Law School, proving that you can take time out and land very well.

Looking back at how far the work/life conversation has come in the last five years leads to looking forward and wondering where things will head from here. The economy, of course, will be the determining factor.

Yeah, good riddance. Yes, I am a petty, petty scholar, but I've always been a bigger fan of Arlie Hochschild, Catherine Albiston, and Marie Blair-Loy on this issue. Not bogus experts. When they retire their quills, I don't think the world is missing much.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

post-debate thoughts

1. Obama was on fire! He killed! And yet he remained largely unruffled, while McCain looked half-crazed and ready to break out a can of whup ass

2. If they use that baby as a campaign tactic one more time, I'm going to have to smack someone and make them watch "Life Goes On."

3. Bob Schieffer was an excellent moderator. Loved that last exhortation to vote.

Due to technical difficulties with my dead-battery laptop that have only just now been resolved, I was offline and unable to live-blog or Twitter. But you want live blogging? Check out my new pal John's blog. See also his very excellent open letter to McCain.

What did you think of the debates?


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I am still contributing to my online epistolary exchange with Amber. She has expressed an exhortation to bring on the snark, and you can find evidence of that here.


I have talented friends

An old friend from undergrad (ok, we didn't get along at all in undergrad, mainly because we were both obnoxious kids, but we're friends now) has made this cute little video.

He also makes serious stuff -- he did the film festival circuit for a while and won a couple awards with a documentary about his fucked-up parents -- which was a little (ok, a lot, embarrassingly) TMI for me, but that seems to be the zeitgeist, so more power to him.


Monday, October 13, 2008

race baiting

Is anyone else worried that all of the vituperative race baiting at the McCain rallies portends an inauguration day assassination of President Obama?

I never would have thought that I would see a viable campaign for a Black president so early in my lifetime. I never thought our country would be coming out in such strong support for a Black candidate (of course, polls mean little pre-election, but it's still promising, notwithstanding potential Bradley effects). But I shoulda been more prepared for panicky race baiting--but in a "post-racial" world order in which blatant, open racism is becoming rarer, calls of "kill him!" and "terrorist!" scare the fuck out of me, even though I am generally vigilant about racism, subtle or otherwise.

This reminds me of that Boondocks strip, in which Cesar asked Huey what he would do if he were president, and Huey asked "you mean in the ten minutes between my confirmation and my untimely demise by sniper bullet?" Can you imagine what the rest of the world must think of us, much less the fallout that would happen in the event of an assassination? Supposedly, the impetus for the dismantling of segregation was in part due to Russian propaganda at the time, decrying our hypocrisy for championing freedom and democracy when our country had de jure segregation that operated to create inherently unequal races--we had to save face by paying some lip service to our mottoes of freedom and equality for all. Imagine our hypocrisy if we can't get through an election without raising the spectres of racially motivated violence and lynching.

Lots of articles on Obama's security detail, Lewis' remarks and their rebuffing by McCain, and some supporter drew a picture of Obama with a noose. No links though, because they're really depressing and infuriating. Just get out all your hate on hate here.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

Somehow, between the Dr. John lyrics from the last post, and the craving for red beans and rice, I've gone into a full New Orleans nostalgia tailspin. I lived in NOLA from spring 2003-spring 2004, and in most ways, it was a disaster -- my car got stolen, I was falsely arrested, I ended up doing financially ruinous things in the local music industry... I ended up fleeing in horror, shaking its dust from my feet and wishing I'd never gone in the first place.

And yet... and yet... the place still gets a grip on one.

Music follows.


weekend report

Extremely awesome, from a really nice treat on Friday evening to really lazy gluttony day Saturday, to sailing today. While cool planes doing cool things flew overhead.

How was your weekend?

In other news, I am reading for fun Erik Larson's "Thunderstruck," and am extremely excited to find a $3 copy of a Nathaniel West two-fer novella set that I hadn't read before. The Day of the Locust/Miss Lonelyhearts are must reads, by the way. But I will have to let you know how The Dream Life of Balso Snell/A Cool Million work out.


roll out my coffin/drink poison in my chalice/pride begins to fade/ and y'all feel my malice

Yes, those (lyrics to Dr. John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters") are the most appropriate food-sounding lines I can find to express the usual consequences of my cooking. I think my culinary skills are, on the whole, less potent than the Night Tripper's musical voodoo curses, but just as malevolent.

Hmm... perhaps we should start from the beginning.

Have you ever wondered what happens when I try and cook even the simplest things? Many of you have seen my comments, here and elsewhere, expressing my fear and horror at the mere idea of preparing any food more complicated than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (once, I tried to upgrade the PBJ to an orange marmalade and nutella sandwich: it didn't work).

Well, tonight I decided to cook pasta. Without just pouring a can of tomato sauce in a saucepan. I even, for the first time in my 29 years (!!), decided to operate a frying pan unsupervised.

The plan (borrowed, but modified heavily by my own innovations and incompetence at following directions) was something like the following: boil a mess of farfalle. Prepare in some magical fashion the following things to go along with it: 2 chicken sausages -- with mango! -- bought precooked from trader joe's! -- a bad idea!, 1/4 onion, a chunk 'o garlic, parsley (fresh), bay leaves (not fresh), oregano (not fresh -- stupid grocery store), basil (ditto), salt, pepper. Toss some lemon juice on top, because everything tastes better with lemon juice. Add parmesan. Num num.

Things didn't quite work out as planned, though they turned out OK in the end.

Step 1: boil the pasta. As it turns out, the pasta would boil for a good 20 minutes, because it took me much longer than planned to handle the other steps. Whoops.

Step 2: Cut the vegetables up. Alas, this means cutting an onion:

So, story time. I'm so sensitive to the pain-generating properties of onions that I have actually violated the prime evolutionary imperative for sake of one. This was in my second year of law school. I'd gone to a halloween party, where I met this extremely attractive member of the opposite sex. She was dressed as a mermaid. It suited her. She was a student in the education school! Eventually, I got invited back to her place. Unfortunately, she had a housemate, who had also invited a gentleman home. More unfortunately, on this turn of events, some fool decided to cook stir fry. The moment the onions went on, my eyes started burning and watering. Pretty soon, I was basically curled up in a corner moaning. I finally fled. And never saw the girl again. Onions, you can see, are my enemy. But they're so yummy...

This also means trying to cut up the parsley. Unfortunately, I'm very bad at cutting up herbs, so I tried (against wise advice) deploying a flashy device that I found at target: a menacing looking multi-bladed herb mincer:

Alas, it did not work quite as advertised:

I decided that would have to be satisfactory.

3. After cutting everything up,

put in frying pan with a mess of olive oil. Cook it up. Given that it's a frying pan, and it used oil, I suppose what I was doing was frying it. But, really, I could have been fricaseeing it or poaching it or doing any number of the other cooking verbs that apply to unknown behaviors.

4. Toss in random quantities of tasty things.

Continue cooking.

5. At entirely arbitrary time when you realize the pasta's been on for what, now, seems like hours and hours, turn that off and remove it. Mix it in with the yummy stuff so it picks up the flavor.

6. Realize that you are now frying pasta. Become markedly alarmed.

7. Also realize that you've made far too much food. Oh well.

8. Attempt to grate the 3-week old parmesan cheese that one of your friends has assured you will still be good. Find that it's as hard as a rock. Persevere.

9. Combine on plate. Squeeze half a lemon over it. Consume far too much food:

VERDICT: passable. I certainly wouldn't pay anyone to feed me food like that. But it was edible.

The main problem was that it was far too sweet. Mango sausage sounds delicious in the store, but it's really not for pasta. I think I'll have the rest of those sausages for breakfast. And the lemon juice didn't help matters. Nor did the fact that I used waaaayyyy too much olive oil -- between those three ingredients, I couldn't taste the herbs at all. Nor even the massive quantities of pepper I put in. Poor yummy herbs. I should have tossed in some cayennes or something just to make SOMETHING stand out from the mango/lemon/olive oil madness.

I probably did lots of other things wrong too, but I'm not super sure what.

Lessons learned:
- Some ingredients taste stronger than others: it's important to know the relative strengths of your ingredients; you don't know the relative strengths of your ingredients.
- Timing is everything: it's important to know how long each step takes; you don't know how long each step takes.
- doom. DOOM!!!

This will be a series. You, yes you, will be able to track Childe Paul's adventures through the culinary land of the Giants.