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Monday, October 31, 2005

A Pattern Language

I wrote before that one of my favorite books is Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language." Just as a taste, here is pattern number 22. See his website for much, much more.

Extracts from
Nine Per Cent Parking

Very simply - when the area devoted to parking is too great, it destroys the land.

Very rough empirical observations lead us to believe that it is not possible to make an environment fit for human use when more than 9 per cent of it is given to parking.

We conjecture as follows: people realize, subconsciously, that the physical environment is the medium for their social intercourse ... we suspect that when the density of cars passes a certain limit, and people experience the feeling that there are too many cars, what is really happening is that subconsciously they feel that the cars are overwhelming the environment, that the environment is no longer "theirs," that they have no right to be there, that it is not a place for people, and so on.

After all, the effect of the cars reaches far beyond the mere presence of the cars themselves. They create a maze of driveways, garage doors, asphalt and concrete surfaces, and building elements which people cannot use.

It is essential to interpret this pattern in the strictest possible way. The pattern becomes meaningless if we allow ourselves to place the parking generated by a piece of land A on another adjacent piece of land B, thus keeping parking on A below 9 percent ... we must not allow ourselves to solve this problem on one piece of land at the expense of some other piece of land.

What about underground parking? May we consider it an exception to this rule? Only if it does not violate or restrict the use of the land above. ... underground parking may be allowed only in those rare cases where it does not constrain the land above at all: under a major road, perhaps, or under a tennis court.

We see then that the 9 per cent rule has colossal implications. Since underground parking will only rarely satisfy the conditions we have stated, the pattern really says that almost no part of the urban area may have more than 30 parking spaces per acre. This will create large changes in the central business district. Consider a part of a typical downtown area. There may be several hundred commuters per acre working there; and, under today's condition, many of them park their cars in garages. But if it is true that there cannot be more than 30 parking spaces per acre, then either the work will be forced to decentralize, or the workers will have to rely on public transportation.

An overview of the book.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Giant Pumpkins

From the "it keeps them off the streets" department...

Extracts from
The Great Pumpkin: Backyard Botanists Shoot for 1-Ton Mark
Latest Garden Sport Bends Scales, Rules of Nature; Gaining 40 Pounds a Day

By Susan Warren For The Wall Street Journal
October 29, 2005

After six months of tender ministrations to the hulking orange blob in his backyard garden, Richard Wallace arrived at the moment of truth earlier this month.

It was time to harvest his giant pumpkin and take it to the official weigh-off, where growers each year compete for bragging rights to the hugest pumpkin in the land. As the harness straps strained to lift his pumpkin off the ground, the weight-gauge on the winch rose past 1,100 pounds. Then, there was a dull crack and the bottom gave way. Out glugged a sickening sludge of fermenting pumpkin guts, filling the air with the stench of rotten fruit.

The rest of the pumpkin harvesters gagged, but Mr. Wallace shrugged off the demise of his gargantuan garden specimen with a wry smile. "If you can't handle defeat, this isn't the hobby for you," the 64-year-old retired manager said.

In recent years growing giant pumpkins has evolved into a fiercely competitive garden sport. Fanatical growers carve out half the calendar year to devote to their pumpkin patches, working to bend the rules of Mother Nature by nurturing their monsters with thousands of gallons of water, stinky soups of manure and seaweed, and complex pruning techniques.

Vacations are postponed and marriages strained as growers spend up to 30 hours a week tending their pumpkins during the summer's peak growing time, when giants have been known to gain 40 pounds a day.

Twenty years ago, a 500-pound pumpkin was considered a monumental feat. Now, giants regularly tip the scales at 1,200 pounds to 1,400 pounds, bringing within sight the previously incomprehensible: a 1-ton pumpkin.

Like thoroughbred race horses, progeny of exceptionally heavy pumpkins are prized. Each winter online auctions are held where the hottest seeds can go for more than $500 apiece -- even though there's no guarantee they will sprout.

It's not too late to join the fun for 2006:
  • Giant Pumpkin Webring

  • At find notable champions of the past 24 years, with pictures - you can buy seeds at this site


  • Pumpkin Nook - calls itself The Internet Shrine and Library for Pumpkins and has list of all members of the "1100 club" noting: "In what has become an annual event, the world record has fallen once more. The largest pumpkin ever grown stands at 1,469 pounds. It was grown by Larry Checkon of North Cambria, Pennsylvania. It was weighed in on October 1, 2005 at the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Weighoff."

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Disaster lesson from "present simple"

One of my favorite bloggers, BadAunt at Present Simple, recently reported on a learning exercise she devised for her ESL students in Japan:
Last week the students learned some vocabulary for talking about accidents, and today, by way of reinforcement, I'm giving them a board game in which they'll move around the board having bizarre accidents (and losing points), going to hospital (and gaining points), and telling each other what happened to them. After that I'll give them a new vocabulary handout about aches and pains. This is all leading up to a homework assignment which I hope will keep me amused while I'm grading it, in which they will write me letters making excuses for fictional absences from class. I'm hoping for things like this:
Sorry I couldn't come to class for the last three weeks. I had a terrible 'flu with fits of sneezing, and then when I was making breakfast I got my tongue stuck in the toaster and as I was leaving the house to go to the hospital I got my penis caught in the door and smashed it. On the way to the hospital I fell down a pothole and got a bad concussion, and had to stay in hospital for two weeks. Then my dog ate my homework and got a stomachache and died. I cried all night and now my eyes hurt and I have the hiccups.
The accident game is a great hit. The classroom echoes with cries of,
"You look terrible! What happened?"

"I poked myself with a chopstick and injured my eye."

"I sat on a tack."

"I rode my bicycle into a power pole and dislocated my shoulder."

Here are two other good recent posts from BadAunt at present simple: Speechless and Useless.

p.s. for another good Japan story, this time from "Science and Politics" blogger Coturnix: Fish Eyes.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Lunch with a curmudgeonly friend

I got into a bit of trouble with my Curmudgeonly Friend (the one who took the picture in the sidebar) today at lunch. Somehow we are stuck in this yin/yang thing where he is the defender of High Art so I have to be the scuzzy Lowbrow one, and I was doing my duty, mouthing off about pretentiousness - than which I like almost nothing less - and then I made the mistake of saying "well I never read poetry because so much of it is bad," and he took umbrage, maybe because he's a poet, but I like HIS poems (in fact when I first met him five years ago I'd describe him to friends as "a guy who write poems but they're good ones") and he knows I do.

So he said: you shouldn't be so lazy, you should try harder to be high-minded. And I said, I'm afraid of those slender volumes with the elegant typesetting, they all look sort of the same and so many of them are full of awful poems, it's like if you had a bowl full of jellybeans and they were all the same color but you knew that a few of them were your favorite flavor and all the rest would taste like baked beans, wouldn't you rather just give them all a pass?

And he said: just because a lot of poems are bad, doesn't mean you can ignore them all. And then we debated a truism frequently espoused by my former business partner Pat Sky, to wit:
99% of everything is s*%t
But my curmudgeonly friend took the optimistic side of the argument, opining that in fact only 97% of everything is s*%t, and it so surprised him to be sounding so upbeat that we had to stop for a while and eat some lunch.

And by the way, until just now I thought the expression was "to whit" but because I've been such a snob about spelling I thought I'd better check it and what do you know, I've been wrong about this my entire life.

So then I said, this problem with the poems and the jellybeans, I have this same problem with theater and also with fruit in the grocery store, because even though the pears look good, too many times I've brought them home and then they disappointed me, and I have the same problem with guys too, and maybe that's the problem with being half a century old, it's not that I'm jaded, it's just that I can't seem to forget the many disappointments accumulated over this lifetime and they've made me defensive and fearful.

Reverting after this philosophical interlude to my lowbrow role, I told him (as I had previously told another friend) that I recently bought a Shirley Hazzard book because people I respect recommended her, but after five pages I already didn't like it, and after fifteen more pages I started wondering if I really had to finish the book (in my younger years it was like, "clean your plate" - once I started the book I had to see it through, skimming was ok but no blatant skipping allowed), and five pages later I thought, "no, I don't have to finish it" and dropped it on the floor in disgust (actually I told him I threw it against the wall, but I was just exaggerating for effect), and he said he hadn't read Shirley Hazzard but I really ought to read Moby Dick.

So on the way home I stopped at the library and checked out a copy of Moby Dick. This in spite of remembering, as if it were yesterday, how much I hated Moby Dick when it was shoved down our throats in ninth grade. I REALLY hated having SYMBOLISM blabbed about and crooned over. Also, I thought it was stupid to hunt the white whale. Better to stay home and watch "The Biggest Loser" on TV.

UPDATE: I was pretty taken with the first 35 chapters of Moby Dick but then Ahab showed up. What a blowhard, if you'll pardon the expression. Then I reeled when presented with the overblown "Descartian vortexes." The book's due back at the library soon. Will I slog my way through it or just slip it in the return slot?

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

In which, I bake.

----Melina's Diary-----

I've read about this: How food wizards and marketing psychologists work together to invent not-quite-instant foods -- packaged inventions that require enough "cooking" procedures to make you feel like you've played a vital role in creating your dinner (rather than going to Wendy's), but that don't take enough cooking to actually, oh, tire you out or anything.

For example, it's perfectly possible to make brownie mixes that have dehydrated eggs ALREADY IN THEM. But what the food psychologists have discovered is that people generally don't want to buy these kinds of brownie mixes, because they would feel like slackers. People WANT to add the eggs: it's participation. It's -- well, it's like -- cooking, man!

Listen, I can cook. But today in my friendly neighborhood Duane Reade I saw this packaged food that was so perfectly calibrated in this way that I had to buy it. I HAD TO COOK IT.

It's called "Homestyle Bakes." And to be honest, what it is is, two cans of chicken vegetable soup and a cup of bisquick. But here's where it gets complicated: It puts these three items in the SAME BOX. And here's what you're supposed to do with them:
  1. Put [bisquick substance] in bowl.
  2. Add water. (Okay, but this does not make it a recipe.)
  3. Mix. (Ooh! Fun! I'm mixing!)
  4. Shape into nine balls of dough. (Challenging! Interactive! Requires math skills. Gives you pleasant nostalgia for playdough-cooking in kindergarten).
  5. Space balls evenly in pan. (Requires coordination, but does not create performance anxiety).
  6. Pour both cans of soup over dough balls. (Dramatic. Quick. Does not require dirtying of any more bowls).
  7. Bake. (Bingo. We're done).
So that's what I was doing this evening. It's in the oven now. And I have to tell you, man, this was fun. I really recommend this recipe. To change the flavor, I bet you could just buy a different kind of soup.

The whole playdough aspect of this recipe reminds me of something one of my friends who works at Super Big Investment Bank said to me the other day. She was talking about how sometimes they need her to print out reports, so they send her running up and down stairs, stapling, hole-punching, picking the right printer that makes the prettiest colors. And she said, wistfully, "It's actually kind of fun. For an hour or two, you get to pretend you work for a copy shop." Same deal here - depending on your fetish, you can either pretend you're in kindergarten or that you're the happy housewife.

And then the next night you can rest on your laurels and order Chinese.

One other thing to note is that in the Duane Reade where I acquired this phenomenal food item, they do not sell bread. I was originally going in to look for bread to make a sandwich when I came out with the Magic Bakable Item. Duane Reade could easily sell bread. They sell a whole aisle's worth of food, including plenty of items that are just as quasi-perishable as 21st century supermarket bread. But they don't want to sell you any bread. Are they in cahoots with the 24-hour Chinese take-out joints? With the Homestyle Baked Product industry?

I don't know. But think about it.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Review: King's Singers and Sarband

We went to hear the King's Singers and Sarband last night, in a joint concert called Creating Sacred Bridges, exploring "the Parallels between Jewish, Christian and Muslim Liturgical Music."

The rather slender uniting thread:
Settings of the Psalms of David, revered and extolled in each of the three monotheistic religions, by composers from the 16th and 17th centuries, performed in Hebrew, French and Turkish.
It should be noted that the the Jewish composer featured (Salamone Rossi) worked in the classic high Renaissance style and the Islamic composer (Ali Ufki) was a converted Polish Catholic (more about this below), so the range of styles is not as extreme as one might expect. No matter, it was a beautiful 72-minute program, perfectly performed with no intermission and no applause until the very end.

Visibility is nil in Duke Chapel unless you're in one of the first rows; almost all I could see was the entire head of the tallest counter-tenor, down to his adam's apple. The instrumentalists in Sarband were sitting and I never saw a one of them till the standing ovation. Also, the Chapel is cruel to diction - it was almost impossible to tell what language was being sung. However, the perfectly tuned sonorities of the a cappella ensemble, the gorgeous cadences, at full volume or exquisite pianissimo, hung in the air of that cathedral-like space and froze me in dazed satisfaction. It was the sexiest intonation I've heard in a long time. I could hardly breathe.

Sarband had a strong and expressive singer, too, and fine Turkish instrumentalists. They were a bit under-utilized.

The only other thing I could see in the narrow, crowded Chapel: the two Whirling Dervishes who would stride in slowly, arms crossed across their chests, remove their black cloaks - kissing them and laying them carefully aside - and then began to turn, always in the same direction and at the same relaxed pace, arms raised and outstretched, wrists relaxed, heads lying to the side. It was, as intended, hypnotic, though during their second, extended appearance it popped irreverently into my head that they were like two ceiling fans set on "low." Another link.

The King's Singers have been around since 1968 and have made some abominably cheesy recordings. I shudder to even think of them. Eleanor Rigby? Black gospel? So crashes and burns the concept of crossover. When providing the classic fa-la-las they have also sometimes been nauseatingly effete. But I have no complaints about the "Bridges" repertoire, nor the way they sang it. This current incarnation of the group appears to have excellent taste and I hope they make more recordings worthy of their voices.

Salamone Rossi, a very interesting character and the only composer I know of who set Hebrew liturgical texts in Italian Renaissance style, wrote some gorgeous pieces. I get the Triangle Jewish Chorale to sing a new one almost every year and the music is so good that even our, uh, less than expert renditions bring satisfaction.

Lastly, get a load of this incredible story!

Ali Ufki (1610-1675) was born in Poland, a Christian by the name of Wojciech Bobowski! He was "captured by Krim tatars [at the age of 13] and sold into Osman slavery where he converted to Islam and became the court musician of the sultan's seraglio!" He was, as well, a translator in the imperial court of that Sultan, Mehmed IV, in Constantinople - he spoke sixteen languages and translated the bible into Turkish!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

not for sale

From the New Yorker, 1980s

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Judy's random observations

Kenju of Just Ask Judy is one of my most loyal readers and commenters! I liked these observations which she posted recently:

Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.
Victor Borge

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.
Mark Twain

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.

I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.
Zsa Zsa Gabor

My luck is so bad that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying.
Ed Furgol

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Monday, October 24, 2005


At Ambivablog I learned that today's word of the day is:
accismus (ak-SIZ-muhs) - noun

Feigning disinterest in something while actually desiring it.

[From Greek akkismos (coyness or affectation).]

Accismus is showing disinterest in something while secretly wanting it. It's a form of irony where one pretends indifference and refuses something while actually wanting it. In Aesop's fable, the fox pretends he doesn't care for the grapes. Caesar, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, is reported as not accepting the crown.
A fine word for something we sometimes realize we've built our lives around.

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Menticia carves a jack-o-lantern

One of the great things about being a mentor is getting a second chance to do something for the first time. Ten-year-old Menticia asked if we could carve a pumpkin for Halloween - nobody in her family had ever done one.

At the supermarket she had me haul several promising pumpkins out of huge cardboard boxes (I had to hoist her up so she could see all the choices and point out her favorites). We put the best candidates in a row and rotated them slowly, deliberating.

Menticia eventually made her choice. She was casual as I hauled the heavy pumpkin into the store to pay for it, but afterwards it was "ours" and she was very vigilant. "I don't think you should carry it by its stem. It might fall on the sidewalk." She was spotting it as I carried it to the van and nestled it in her lap on the way home.

Me: "Let's carve it out on the back porch, bring some newspapers." She delicately started to lay out one leaf of newspaper at a time. "No, don't be stingy, LOTS of newspaper!"

It was a little scary seeing my huge sharp knife in her tiny, slender hand. I let her plunge it all the way in and waggle it a few times, as we cut the top off, but after that she "scored" the cuts with a smaller knife and I did the heavy stabbing.

Have you noticed there are two kinds of pumpkins these days? The old fashioned ones, yellow-orange and heavy, and the new-fangled ones, orange-orange and light and fluffy? We had the old kind.

When we got the top off she looked inside and said, "it's so dry!" After scrape, scrape, scraping and scooping out handfuls of glop, she allowed as how it was wet enough after all.

Then it was time to design the face. Menticia, who thinks I have quite a library, was disappointed this time: "You don't have a book we can look in to see how to do this??? What do people usually carve on pumpkins???"

I hadn't seen this collection so we just had to wing it. I drew a selection of archetypal eyes, eyebrows, noses, and mouths, and she very soberly selected from among them and then most deliberately practiced drawing the proposed face several times on scrap paper. She then transferred the face onto the pumpkin with a sharpie and started to stab. Disaster loomed when a piece of pumpkin broke off -- but we kluged it back together with some 8-penny finish nails.

At last we put the candle in. Even though it was still afternoon she insisted on lighting it and going out across the grass to assess the effect.

She carried it in her lap all the way home. I told her to keep it on the porch, as teenage boys are sometimes irresistibly drawn to Smashing Pumpkins, and she said that was her plan already.

I talked to her the next day and she said her brother and sisters were planning to buy another pumpkin and do one themselves. I felt I'd transmitted a grand tradition.

Postscript: we did this a week ago, and today Menticia told me her mom threw the pumpkin away because it had some mold in it. Gee, when I was a kid we left the pumpkins on the front stoop till they liquefied (usually around Easter the following year).

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Redheads, Spiderwebs, Bras, and Old Hooch

Here at Pratieville we started reading Discover Magazine in the early 90s, based on the recommendation of my kids' pediatrician. I still find it a delight and thought I'd share a few random articles from the November issue, now out.
  • Stone Age Beer: It's one thing to re-create a 9,000-year-old brew. It's another thing to drink it. - [The article's author was dissatisfied with the Dogfish Head Brewery's attempt to reconstruct an ancient Chinese liquor and decided to try it himself.] "I made two cups of brown rice, plunked it down in the living room, and we went to work, repeatedly filling and emptying our mouths. The experience was disgusting and oddly satisfying. The result, after half an hour, was a quart of something resembling that healthy whole-grain cereal I dreaded as a kid. I heated the mash to 155°F and let it sit for an hour. After straining out the solids, I was left with a beige liquid, cloudy and sweet.

    "Fermentation was the final hurdle. As it turns out, you don't have to go hunting for wild yeast — it will find you. ... I concocted a honey-wine starter culture, which I used to prime a pot of fresh honey and crushed grapes. As for fresh hawthorn berries, that's a long story. I found some dried chopped fruit online, stewed it like prunes, mashed it, and threw it into the mix.

    "Nine thousand years and one week later, you're wondering how it tasted. I cannot tell a lie: It was unspeakable. To call it swill would be an insult to bad alcohol everywhere. Its angry, vinegary bouquet recalled descriptions of pruno, the prison hooch made of canned fruit cocktail, Wonder Bread, and ketchup.

    "Undeterred, I repeated the process, this time easing up on the hawthorn and keeping a closer eye on the pot. After a week, a thick barrier of scum floated on the surface, with chunks of grape embedded in it. A few months ago it might have stopped me but no longer. I stabbed it with a turkey baster and tapped into the cloudy bilge below. I performed the tasting on an empty stomach, just in case. Lacking an oenophile's nomenclature and nuance, I can only describe it as a sort of Flintstones wine cooler: sweet and sour, with a honey funk and blurry sight lines. With a second glass I proved to myself that it was drinkable and caught enough of a buzz to trip over the border in my garden."

  • Italians Find Drugs in River Sewage - "Italian pharmacologists sampled the country’s longest river, the Po, which bears the sewage of 5 million people. They found that the waterway carries the equivalent of 8.8 pounds of cocaine—or 40,000 individual hits—each day."

  • Overcoming Newton's second law with better bra technology - "One side effect of the obesity epidemic in America is rarely noted: Women's chests are expanding nearly as fast as their bellies. Poor eating habits, as well as breast implants and the estrogens in birth-control pills, have led to an increase in the past 15 years of more than one bra size for the average American woman—from a 34B to a 36C. For many women, this has been a burdensome trend. A pair of D-cup breasts weighs between 15 and 23 pounds—the equivalent of carrying around two small turkeys.

    "Breasts move in a sinusoidal pattern, Steele has found, and they move a lot. Small breasts can move more than three inches vertically during a jog, and large breasts sometimes leave their bras entirely. 'We have videos of women who, particularly if the cup is too low, spill all over the top,' Steele says.

    "The larger the breasts and the more they move, the more momentum they generate. ... In some cases, breasts can slap against the chest with enough force to break the clavicle.

    "Biomechanist Julie Steele, ... in collaboration with the University of Wollongong's Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, began work on the world's first smart bra. It uses intelligent materials and electronic textiles to sense when breast motion increases and tighten appropriate parts of the bra in response. 'When you're sitting around the office, it isn't restrictive,' Steele says. 'But if you need to run for a bus or something, it will sense that you've started to run, and it will give you the support of a sports bra.' "

  • Unraveling Spider Silk - "Pound for pound, spider silk is the toughest fiber in the world — rivaling even steel. A single spider can produce up to seven different varieties. Some are stiff and strong, acting like girders to hold up a web. Others are extremely elastic or sticky to entangle prey.

    "Some things about spider silk are difficult to understand. But Garb and ... Hayashi have unraveled the genetic code for one of the more perplexing types of silk — the strands spiders use to weave their egg cases. Each case must be tough enough to keep out parasites, impermeable to rain and fungus, and breathable while insulating eggs from temperature extremes. These qualities alone would make an impressive fabric, but Garb and Hayashi speculate that egg cases may even block ultraviolet light and, unlike certain kinds of spider silk, resist shrinkage."

  • Secrets of Redheads - "Red hair often means light eyes, pale skin, and freckles — plus sunburns and a high incidence of skin cancer. Chemistry professor John Simon and his colleagues ... believe that melanin, the pigment responsible for darkening skin in the baking sun, is more likely to kick-start DNA damage—and therefore cancer—in redheads than it is in black-haired people.

    "Natural redheads have a higher pain threshold than others, says geneticist Jeffrey Mogil ... Men and women with naturally red hair can withstand 25 percent more electric shock than non-redheads. And painkillers used in childbirth work three times better on red-haired women than on others."

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Heartbreak Hotel

Roz Chast, from the New Yorker, 1980s.

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The Cunning Rat

Zed has always had a soft spot for rats; he had a couple as pets and spoiled them for years, letting them run wild through his room at his father's house. They nested in the piles of clothes in his closet there, so when he'd ask me how formally to dress for a given event I'd have to specify: "Nothing with rat holes in it!" Yes, it came to that. Anyway, that's why this article from caught my eye:

Cunning rat outsmarts scientists:
Rodent eludes capture for 4 months

A rat released on a deserted island off New Zealand outsmarted scientists and evaded traps, baits and sniffer dogs before being captured four months later on a neighboring island, researchers said on Wednesday.

Scientists from the University of Auckland in New Zealand released the Norway rat on the 23.5-acre island of Motuhoropapa to find out why rats are so difficult to eradicate.

"Our findings confirm that eliminating a single invading rat is disproportionately difficult," James Russell and his colleagues said in a report in the science journal Nature.

Despite all their efforts, including fitting the rat with a radio collar, they couldn't catch the crafty creature.

After 10 weeks on the island the rodent decided it had had enough. It swam 400 meters, the longest distance recorded for a rat across open sea, to another rat-free island where it was eventually captured in a trap baited with penguin meat several weeks later.

Invading rats on remote islands off the coast of New Zealand have been a recurring problem. Norway rats have invaded the uninhabited Noises Islands at least six times between 1981 and 2002.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Two more Halloween songs

These were both requested in the "Rise Up Singing" class I lead on Thursday nights (it's a songbook published by SingOut magazine).

Ann Boleyn
R.P.Weston and Bert Lee, 1934

In the Tower of London, large as life,
The ghost of Ann Boleyn walks, they declare.
Poor Ann Boleyn was once King Henry's wife -
Until he made the Headsman bob her hair!
Ah yes! he did her wrong long years ago,
And she comes up at night to tell him so.

With her head tucked underneath her arm
She walks the Bloody Tower!
With her head tucked underneath her arm
At the Midnight hour -

She comes to haunt King Henry, she means giving him 'what for',
Gad Zooks, she's going to tell him off for having spilt her gore.
And just in case the Headsman wants to give her an encore
She has her head tucked underneath her arm!

Along the draughty corridors for miles and miles she goes,
She often catches cold, poor thing, it's cold there when it blows,
And it's awfully awkward for the Queen to have to blow her nose
With her head tucked underneath her arm!

Sometimes gay King Henry gives a spread
For all his pals and gals - a ghostly crew.
The headsman carves the joint and cuts the bread,
Then in comes Ann Boleyn to 'queer' the 'do';
She holds her head up with a wild war whoop,
And Henry cries 'Don't drop it in the soup!'

The sentries think that it's a football that she carries in,
And when they've had a few they shout 'Is Ars'nal going to win?'
They think it's Alec James, instead of poor old Ann Boleyn
With her head tucked underneath her arm!

One night she caught King Henry, he was in the Canteen Bar.
Said he 'Are you Jane Seymour, Ann Boleyn or Cath'rine Parr?
For how the sweet san fairy ann do I know who you are
With your head tucked underneath your arm!'

When they mentioned this next song, I remembered I used to hear it when Zed was little - he had a friend who could chant all these words in perfect rhythm, eerily and tunelessly. Over and over again. Zort of like a zombie...

Zombie Jamboree
C.E. Mauge, Jr.

Well, now, back to back, belly to belly
Well I don't give a damn 'cause it doesn't matter really
Back to back, belly to belly at the Zombie Jamboree

Zombie Jamboree took place in a New York cemetery
Zombie Jamboree took place in Long Island cemetery
Zombies from all parts of the island
Some of them are great Calypsonians
Hey, since the season was Carnivale
They got together in Bacchanal

One female zombie wouldn't behave
She say she want me for a slave
In the one hand she's holding a quart of wine
In the other she's pointin' that she'll be mine
Now believe me folks, yes I had to run
Husband of a zombie ain't no fun
I says "Oh, no my turtle dove,
That old bag of bones I cannot love"

Right then and there she raise a fit
"I'm a-going to get you now, my sweet,
I'm gonna make you call me Sweetie Pie"
I says "Oh, no, get back-you lie"
I may be lyin' but you will see
After you kiss this dead zomb-ie
No, I've never seen such a horror in me life
Can you imagine me with a zombie wife?

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Thursday, October 20, 2005


Melina's diary -

I was at boyfriend's house the other day (parents' house, in the suburbs) and I went down to get something the basement. And just as I hit the bottom of the stairs, I got the oddest feeling. I felt -- not quite sick -- but just very strange. And what I realized it was, was, silence. There was no traffic, no office, no TV. There was no noise. My ears were ringing with silence. And it was good, but I didn't feel quite as good as you might think.

Oddly enough - though I love silence - I've gotten in the habit of coming home and turning the TV on, even if I'm not at all watching it. I've just become somebody who's used to noise - the normal state of the world is noisy, and I seem to be trying to bring it home with me.

There are some noises that I still can't stand. I work on the 17th floor over Park Avenue. And for the last three days, an ice cream truck has been toodling its way over to my street, parking, and toodling its SAME SONG - which is about 25 seconds long - ALL AFTERNOON. And despite ambient noise, despite being on the 17th floor, despite the fact that there are OTHER cars who use Park Avenue once in a while, I can still hear the ice cream truck perfectly clearly from noon until 5 PM when I leave.

I don't really know what to do about it! again..., which documents signage etc. written in English as found in Japan, doesn't appear to have an RSS feed. You'll just have to go visit...

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Dead Teenager songs for Halloween

MaryB at Shorty PJs is continuing the list of Hallowe'en songs. To recap, she started with "Monster Mash," and then I offered her this collection.

Well, anyway, now MaryB's pointed us to a classic and astoundingly comprehensive list of Dead Teenager songs. This list is subdivided into categories: Cars, Motorcycles, Trains, Surfing (or other sea related including sharks and oysters), Water related, Boyfriend (and other murder ballads), Disease, Drugs, War, Suicide, Gun fights, Flying things, and "Unspecified or other." I had NO IDEA.

Just goes to show it's a very dangerous world.

UPDATE: I forgot a very important Halloween song. No death.
Love Potion #9

I took my troubles down to Madame Ruth
You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth
She's got a shop down on 34th and Vine
Sellin' little bottles of Love Potion #9

I told her that I was a flop with chicks
I'd been this way since 1956
She stretched out her palm and she made a magic sign
She said 'What you need boy is Love Potion #9'

... I started kissin' everything in sight
But when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion #9...

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A beautiful settee at the NC State Fair

We were very tired after our many hours of walking up and down the fairway (because Menticia and her friend had to consider very carefully just exactly which rides would give them the most gut-wrenching blast for their bucks) when we decided, at the last moment, to go into the Village of Yesteryear. We saw a lot of great crafts, but this piece of furniture made me gasp and I immediately ordered one, even though it's very expensive and there's a two year waiting list.

When I got home I looked around and realized that, contrary to what a curmudgeonly visitor told me a few years ago, I DO have an aesthetic sense. It's just ... based on a strange principle. What I like: things I can see under, over, around, and through. All my furniture has legs - my cabinets don't have doors on them - there is nothing with a dust ruffle in this house. My stairs are open. There are few walls. My windows have large panes.

So you can see why I thought this settee was the perfect piece of furniture. Now I feel like Calvin waiting for his beanie (click for larger shot).

People have been asking to see a picture of the table my neuropsychiatrist singing student and I finally finished welding (well, we had to figure out how to weld first, that's why it took so long). Here it is. Notice that you can see over, under, around, and through it.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Halloween Songs

Shorty PJs asked for good Halloween songs and my band Mappamundi just happens to have a whole big pile of them. Monster Mash, as she mentions, of course. But here are some more good ones, originally conceived as a "disaster set" for the anniversary of Hurricane Fran (which hurled eight trees on my roof, crushing it completely). It then got revamped as a "death set" and is a natural for Halloween programs.

No Es Serio Este Cementerio
By Mecano, a Spanish rock group, about the cheerful perambulations of the ghosts in the cemetery. "The niches are better than the mausoleums because they are cheaper and don't have as many insects."
Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst
"Some drink champagne, some die of thirst... the world's a stage, we're unrehearsed... Some reach the top, friends, while others flop, friends..." Mel Brooks' words of wisdom and a perfect theme song.
Strange Things Happen in this World (Laurie)
An ultra-bizarre song from the 50s by Dickie Lee. A really cute girl borrows a sweater from the protagonist. He falls in love with her, gives her a ride home, and then realizes he forgot to get his sweater back. The next day he returns and a grieving father informs him that Laurie died years ago and that last night would have been her birthday. The sweater is later found in a cemetery. The ingenuously lame song is a favorite of mine because it has a dumb tune and also doesn't rhyme.
Teen Angel
An obvious one. Why did she go back for that stupid high-school ring - didn't she hear the train coming?
William Glenn
An English song about the near-annihilation of a sailing ship due to the previously undisclosed dastardly deeds of the captain. "Never go sailing with a murderer."
Death & the Maiden
If you ever meet up with an old bald guy in the road, and his clothing is made of "the cold earth and clay," you're in trouble.
Chorni Voron (Black Raven)
A Russian song about a dying soldier trying to beam a message back to his love at home while a raven circles overhead, awaiting his demise.
The Cloudburst
About a hurricane in 1916 which caused terrible mudslides and many deaths in the North Carolina mountains - from the singing of a woman in Ebenezer North Carolina (long since swallowed - Ebenezer, I mean, not the woman - by Raleigh).
The White Cockade
Her fiance is "pressed" into the army and she curses the man who took him: "Oh may he never prosper and may he never thrive in anything he turns his hand, as long as he's alive; may the very ground he treads on the grass refuse to grow..."
Charlie and the MTA
He has only a nickel but the subway fare is raised while he's in transit. He never leaves the subway again. "Charlie's wife goes down to the Scollay Square station every day at quarter past two, and through the open window she throws Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumblin' through."
Lid fun Titanik
A Yiddish song describing the destruction of the great ship. A young, newly married couple asks God why he has brought this upon them.
Oh Death
"What is this that I can see, these icy fingers taking hold of me?"
That Was an Awful Night
A ballad I wrote about Hurricane Fran crushing my roof.
A Greek widow tries to get her boyfriend to stop gambling and smoking the black hashish, and he promises to reform. But then he doesn't.
Kelesh Doncho
A Macedonian farmer is caught by the Turks with bombs hidden under the rye in his wagon. He's thrown in jail but betrays nobody. The reason is, he didn't know the bombs were there - he was an unwitting accomplice. Now he's a dead hero.

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From the New Yorker magazine, c. 1980s.

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The Ig Nobel Awards

The Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded every hear at Harvard University. At the website you will find links to the magazine, the newsletter, and the books, as well as links to the winning research papers. Here are a few highlights from recent years:


PHYSICS: John Mainstone and the late Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland, Australia, for patiently conducting an experiment that began in the year 1927...
In which a glob of congealed black tar has been slowly, slowly dripping through a funnel, at a rate of approximately one drop every nine years.

MEDICINE: Gregg A. Miller of Oak Grove, Missouri...
For inventing Neuticles -- artificial replacement testicles for dogs, which are available in three sizes, and three degrees of firmness.

LITERATURE: The Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria...
For creating and then using e-mail to distribute a bold series of short stories, thus introducing millions of readers to a cast of rich characters -- General Sani Abacha, Mrs. Mariam Sanni Abacha, Barrister Jon A Mbeki Esq., and others -- each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled and which they would like to share with the kind person who assists them.


PUBLIC HEALTH: Jillian Clarke of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, and then Howard University...
For investigating the scientific validity of the Five-Second Rule about whether it's safe to eat food that's been dropped on the floor.

ENGINEERING: Donald J. Smith and his father, the late Frank J. Smith, of Orlando Florida, USA...
For patenting the combover (U.S. Patent #4,022,227).

BIOLOGY: Ben Wilson of the University of British Columbia, Lawrence Dill of Simon Fraser University [Canada], Robert Batty of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Magnus Whalberg of the University of Aarhus [Denmark], and Hakan Westerberg of Sweden's National Board of Fisheries...
For showing that herrings apparently communicate by farting.


PHYSICS: Jack Harvey, John Culvenor, Warren Payne, Steve Cowley, Michael Lawrance, David Stuart, and Robyn Williams of Australia...
For their irresistible report "An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces."

CHEMISTRY: Yukio Hirose of Kanazawa University...
For his chemical investigation of a bronze statue, in the city of Kanazawa, that fails to attract pigeons.

LITERATURE: John Trinkaus, of the Zicklin School of Business, New York City...
For meticulously collecting data and publishing more than 80 detailed academic reports about things that annoyed him such as:
  • What percentage of young people wear baseball caps with the peak facing to the rear rather than to the front;
  • What percentage of pedestrians wear sport shoes that are white rather than some other color;
  • What percentage of swimmers swim laps in the shallow end of a pool rather than the deep end;
  • What percentage of automobile drivers almost, but not completely, come to a stop at one particular stop-sign;
  • What percentage of shoppers exceed the number of items permitted in a supermarket's express checkout lane;
  • What percentage of students dislike the taste of Brussels sprouts.

ECONOMICS: Karl Schwärzler and the nation of Liechtenstein...
For making it possible to rent the entire country for corporate conventions, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other gatherings.

INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH: Stefano Ghirlanda, Liselotte Jansson, and Magnus Enquist of Stockholm University...
For their inevitable report "Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans."

BIOLOGY: C.W. Moeliker, of Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, the Netherlands...
For documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.


LITERATURE: Vicki L. Silvers of the University of Nevada-Reno and David S. Kreiner of Central Missouri State University...
For their colorful report "The Effects of Pre-Existing Inappropriate Highlighting on Reading Comprehension."

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cellphone irritations

I've been in a multi-month wrangle with Verizon Wireless. I needed a new phone because I fried the last one's battery and blackened its display trying to make calls from Vermont (Tip for cellphone health: When your phone burns your ear, hang up!) last summer. It still works but gasps for a recharge almost immediately, reinforcing my phone phobia.

Cellphone coverage is bad here. Neighbors routinely return several phones before they find one that works. Good luck, though, going in and asking for "the one the Cutler family got." Models are rotated so frequently, it will no doubt be long gone.

I went to the kiosk at Circuit City about five times. The first four times there were other customers, and since each customer takes more than half an hour, I couldn't stay.

The fifth time I went in, I managed to secure an idle salesboy. The model he recommended was similar to the one I bought for Melina last year for $29.99 - this new one (which looked just like the old one) was twice the price. "Why is it twice the price now?" "I don't know -- it's awfully old by now."

Glancing warily at the expensive ones with space-age features: "Well, which other model has good reception?" "None of them."

I asked why the Verizon website doesn't give information on reception. The guy looked at me pityingly and said they can't admit some phones have better reception, it would offend the other vendors!

He looked at my old phone, which was considered humble and lacking in bells-and-whistles even when I got it three or four years ago, and said, "Actually the one you have already has the best reception of all."

I gave up. But this past Monday, with Zed's moral support, I made a sixth trip.

At this moment they are offering a recommendable "tri-mode" which I got and which seems to be working.

However, it has a 146-page owner's manual (six chapters) and requires multiple combinations of button-presses to function in any of its modes. This manual makes me tired and irritable.

Blame my flu for this febrile, bourgeois whining. I hope to be back to more worthy subjects soon.

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Hebonics (Jewish English)... ok, so it's a little stupid...

A friend just sent this and I've got the flu, so this is it for now ...

According to Howard Schollman, linguistics professor at Brooklyn College, the sentence structure of Hebonics derives from middle and eastern European language patterns, as well as Yiddish.

Prof. Schollman explains, "In Hebonics, the response to any question is usually another question -- plus a complaint that is implied or stated. Thus 'How are you?' may be answered, 'How should I be, with my feet?'"

Schollman says that Hebonics is a superb linguistic vehicle for expressing sarcasm or skepticism. An example is the repetition of a word with "sh" or "shm" at the beginning: "Mountains, shmountains. Stay away. You want a nosebleed?"

Another Hebonics pattern is moving the subject of a sentence to the end, with its pronoun at the beginning: "It's beautiful, that dress."

Schollman says one also sees the Hebonics verb moved to the end of the sentence. Thus the response to a remark such as "He's slow as a turtle," could be: "Turtle, shmurtle! Like a fly in Vaseline he walks."

Schollman provided the following examples from his best-selling textbook, Switched-On Hebonics.

Question:"What time is it?"
English answer:"Sorry, I don't know."
Hebonic response:"What am I, a clock?"

Remark:"I hope things turn out okay."
English answer:"Thanks."
Hebonic response:"I should be so lucky!"

Remark:"Hurry up. Dinner's ready."
English answer:"Be right there."
Hebonic response:"Alright already, I'm coming. What's with the 'hurry' business? Is there a fire?"

Remark:"I like the tie you gave me; I wear it all the time."
English answer:"Glad you like it."
Hebonic response:"So what's the matter; you don't like the other ties I gave you?"

Remark:"Sarah and I are engaged."
English answer:"Congratulations!"
Hebonic response:"She could stand to gain a few pounds."

Question:Question: "Would you like to go riding with us?"
English answer:"Yes."
Hebonic response:"Riding, shmiding! Do I look like a cowboy?"

Question:To the guest of honor at a birthday party:
English answer:"Happy birthday."
Hebonic response:"A year smarter you should become."

Remark:"It's a beautiful day."
English answer:"Sure is."
Hebonic response:"So the sun is out; what else is new?"

Answering a phone call from son:
English answer:"It's been a while since you called."
Hebonic response:"You didn't wonder if I'm dead yet?"

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Lies My Teacher Told Me

I've been reading a thought-provoking book by James W. Loewen called Lies My Teacher Told Me - Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Since there are 302 reviews of this book at that Amazon link, I won't review it; I'll just give you some excerpts.

"A colleague of mine calls his survey of American history 'Iconoclasm I and II' because he sees his job as disabusing his charges of what they learned in high school. ... The stories that history textbooks tell are predictable; every problem has already been solved or is about to be solved. ... They leave out anything that might reflect badly upon our national character. ... 'Despite setbacks, the United States overcame these challenges,' in the words of one...

From the chapter about Columbus - "Every textbook account of the European exploration of the Americas begins with Prince Henry the Navigator, of Portugal ... The textbook authors seem unaware that ancient Phoenicians and Egyptians sailed at least as far as Ireland and England, reached Madeira and the Azores, traded with the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands, and sailed all the way around Africa before 600 B.C. ... Omitting the accomplishments of the Afro-Phoenicians is ironic, because it was Prince Henry's knowledge of their feats that inspired him to replicate them. But this information clashes with another social archetype: our culture views modern technology as a European development. So the Afro-Phoenicians' feats do not conform to the textbooks' overall story line about how white Europeans taught the rest of the world how to do things. None of the textbooks credits the Muslims with preserving Greek wisdom, enhancing it with ideas from China, India, and Africa, and then passing on the resulting knowledge to Europe via Spain. ... 'people didn't know how to build seagoing ships, either.' Students are left without a clue as to how aborigines ever reached Australia, Polynesians reached Madagascar, or Afro-Phoenicians reached the Canaries."

Loewen provides a terrific chart of known or suspected early voyages to the Americas and adds - "While the list is long, it is still probably incomplete. A map found in Turkey dated 1513 and said to be based on material from the library of Alexander the Great includes coastline details of South American and Antarctica. Ancient Roman coins keep turning up all over the Americas, causing some archaeologists to conclude that Roman seafarers visited the Americas more than once. Native Americans also crossed the Atlantic: anthropologists conjecture that Native Americans voyaged east millennia ago from Canada to Scandinavia or Scotland. Two Indians shipwrecked in Holland around 60 B.C. became major curiosities in Europe."

"...In 1823 Chief Justice John Marshall of the United States Supreme Court decreed that Cherokees had certain rights to their land in Georgia by dint of their 'occupancy' but that whites had superior rights owing to their 'discovery.' How Indians managed to occupy Georgia without having previously discovered it Marshall neglected to explain."

From the chapter on Thanksgiving - "The notion that "we" advanced peoples provided for the Indians, exactly the converse of the truth, is not benign. It reemerges time and again in our history to complicate race relations. For example, we are told that white plantation owners furnished food and medical care for their slaves, yet every shred of food, shelter, and clothing on the plantation was raised, built, woven, or paid for by black labor. Today Americans believe as part of our political understanding of the world that we are the most generous nation on earth in terms of foreign aid, overlooking the fact that the net dollar flow from almost every Third World nation runs toward the United States."

Memory says, "I did that." Pride replies, "I could not have done that." Eventually, memory yields.
--Friedrich Nietzsche

From the chapter on slavery - "In 1848 Thomas Hart Benton, a senator from Missouri, likened the ubiquity of the issue to a biblical plague: 'you could not look upon the table but there were frogs. You could not sit down at the banquet table but there were frogs. You could not go to the bridal couch and lift the sheets but there were frogs. We can see nothing, touch nothing, have no measures proposed, without having this pestilence thrust before us.'

"History textbooks now admit that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War ... Before the civil rights movement, many textbooks held that almost anything else -- differences over tariffs and internal improvements, blundering politicians, the conflict between the agrarian South and the industrial North -- caused the war. ... Before the 1960s publishers had been in thrall to the white South. In the 1920s Florida and other Southern states passed laws requiring 'Securing a Correct History of the U.S., Including a True and Correct History of the Confederacy.' Textbooks were even required to call the Civil War "the War between the States," as if no single nation had existed which the South had rent apart."

From the chapter called 'Watching Big Brother' - "J. Edgar Hoover explained the antiblack race riot of 1919 in Washington D.C. as due to "the numerous assaults committed by Negroes upon white women." In that year the agency institutionalized its surveillance of black organizations, not white organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. In the bureau's early years there were a few black agents, but by the 1930s Hoover had weeded out all but two. By the early 1960s the FBI had not a single black officer, although Hoover tried to claim it did by counting his chauffeurs. ... the FBI refused to pass on to [Martin Luther] King information about death threats to him ... The FBI repeatedly claimed that protecting civil rights workers from violence was not its job."

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dawn of the Dead and Armageddon via BoingBoing

Above, one picture from a slideshow of the knitted version of the Dawn of the Dead.

Via the post entitled Awesomely Weird Jehovah's Witness Art, also at BoingBoing, I found this picture and many more at the deadpan, a site with this explanatory subheading: Quintessential, Decisive, Conclusive: "...delightful, correct words of truth"

People bearing the "Watchtower" magazine used to come to our door all the time. Now that I have a deerfence, though, they stay away.

This picture of happy Witnesses escaping Armageddon reminds me of my own born-again brother expounding: "I'm not afraid of dying, because I know I'll go to heaven. What makes me sad is that some people I love..." (looking pointedly at me) "will not be there."

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

At the North Carolina State Fair

The trip Menticia and her friend Natoshia planned during the Maple View Farm Expedition took place yesterday. We got there at 3:30 and left at 9:15, having been on our feet the entire time with the exception, for the girls, of $45 worth of rides and, for me, of a few minutes on the ferris wheel, the only ride that does not make me want to hurl.

The last of these pictures shows them enjoying indigenous fare. For dinner Menticia had a corn dog and a cheeseburger - each with ketchup, mustard, and pickles - curly french fries, funnel cake, cotton candy, and a caramel apple. Did that cover all the major food groups?

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Bad spelling and weird food at the State Fair

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Friday, October 14, 2005

The Locrian String Quartet

So Mr. Sugar asked Tar Heel Tavern contributors to write about a favorite t-shirt this week. I can't take a picture of mine because it's buried in the attic somewhere, but it's very plain - a ragged brown t-shirt that says
String Quartet

The summer after graduating from Yale, unable to decide what to do with my life, I played violin in the pit orchestra of the College Light Opera Company, a concern I'm delighted to see is still in operation all these many years later. Spend the summer on Cape Cod, play "The Merry Widow" and "Guys and Dolls" etc., go swimming, make friends ... learn how to cook gigantic vats of hippy food ... you get the idea.

I made a dear friend there: a willowy strawberry-blonde violinist named Claria. She had a life plan which included moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts after leaving Falmouth. I decided to do the same - the deal being clinched when four of us (the whole violin section) visited an outdoor festival and met up with Laduvane, a women's Balkan ensemble also based in Cambridge. OK, that would be my plan. I would go to Cambridge, sing Balkan music with Laduvane, and play violin with Claria.

Claria and I did very well busking in Harvard Square, playing Bartok (and other) violin duets. We sometimes made $40 an hour, which seemed pretty great to us. She got a Real Job, I became a temporary typist. My father wrote me a letter saying: "If I knew how you were going to squander your education, I would never have sent you to college."

Eventually we managed to find a violist and a cellist, and as the Locrian String Quartet we spent many, many happy afternoons and evenings playing Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and whatever else we could fish out of the music library. I was in hog heaven.

Our high point was a concert at Tufts University, doing the Brahms piano quintet with a pianist the violist's coach found for us. This picture was taken after the concert: violist, pianist, Claria, cellist, and me. We were so proud.

I had a lot of energy in those days. For instance, when I decided we needed t-shirts, I learned to silk-screen, built myself a wonderful silk-screening studio, and designed and cut the stencils and did the t-shirts myself. It seemed a pity to make so few after all that effort! I think there were only 6 or 7 altogether.

Times change. The cellist, a chemist, got a gig as professor in Oxford Mississippi and had to leave us. The violist likewise left town. The pianist, whom we had not known well and whom we hadn't seen again after our glorious performance at Tufts, died. Claria married my best old boyfriend and moved to New Jersey.

That was the end of classical music in my life. I couldn't play those quartets now without putting in way more time than I'd be willing to devote to the experiment. The t-shirt fell to rags and is buried upstairs.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

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Consolation (Billy Collins)

It's Yom Kippur and I'm not in a blogging mood so I'll just post another poem by Zed's favorite poet, Billy Collins. See you tomorrow...


How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hill towns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every road sign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Inistead of slouching in a cafe ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom flowing freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car
as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

29 Healthiest Foods on the Planet?

... at least, according to bellybytes... At that site, more explanation.

My ex-husband had very decided ideas about "strong" and "weak" vegetables, scoffing at celery and cucumber while advocating heavily for broccoli. In fact, he occasionally dressed himself as "The Broccoli Monster" when the kids were little and came out of a closet in green clothing items, suggesting darkly that they eat their vegetables. This sometimes made them cry.

His favorite "strong" fruit, blueberries, does not appear on this list.

I'm not sure any fish or shellfish can be considered healthy any more. Surely some of the possible health benefits are outweighed by the shoving of more mercury and other heavy metals down our gullets?

  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Raspberries
  • Mango
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cranberry Juice
  • Tomato
  • Raisins
  • Figs
  • Lemons/Limes

  • Onions
  • Artichokes
  • Ginger
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Bok Choy (Chinese cabbage)
  • Squash (Butternut, Pumpkin, Acorn)
  • Watercress and Arugula
  • Garlic

  • Quinoa
  • Wheat Germ
  • Lentils
  • Peanuts
  • Pinto Beans

  • Low fat Yogurt
  • Skim Milk

  • Shellfish (Clams, Mussels)
  • Salmon
  • Crab

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Life without Mozart

Was anybody else blown away by that story on NPR yesterday about Lorenzo Da Ponte, the man who wrote libretti for Mozart?
While Mozart and da Ponte collaborated on only three operas ... these three operas are considered by everybody to be among the greatest ever written. ... Le Nozze di Figaro (1786); Don Giovanni (1787); and Così fan tutte (1790). Note how much faster this pair worked than Strauss and von Hofmannsthal: three operas in four years compared to six in 24. (Just by way of comparison, Gilbert and Sullivan wrote 14 operas in 25 years.) More.
The thing is, though, that Mozart died the following year, in 1791, at the age of 35. So instead of having another few decades in which to write sublime operas with his friend Mozart, Da Ponte went bankrupt and emigrated to America where he opened a grocery store, first in the Bowery and then in Elizabethville, PA. The store failed and in 1807 he returned to New York, where he died in 1838 at the age of 89. He was buried in an unmarked grave - like Mozart, who also died penniless.

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Hot Brides Dancing

Yesterday I wrote about wet brides. Mirty commented:
I've sat through so many outdoor wedding in the summer in Texas. Folks, it's really, really hot here in July! Even in September, honestly. We're all shvitzing and the Rabbi says, "Don't worry. I haven't lost a bride yet! Someone might faint, but not the bride!"
Here are a few stories about hot brides dancing:
  1. My accordion-playing friend David DiGiuseppe has a band which was hired to do a contra-dance for a wedding held IN A TOBACCO BARN in the dog days of August one year. The barn, decorated nicely, was of course not air-conditioned and the band was UPSTAIRS where the air was glowing and pulsating. The bride did faint and had to be taken to the hospital, which sobered the festive atmosphere somewhat. Then the check bounced.

  2. My band did an outdoor wedding this summer which was almost 45 minutes late getting started: the wedding couple was shlepping from one greensward to another trying to find one which was not as hot as the others. (!!)

    The bridal procession was also notable because nobody cued us and nobody told us the bride was wearing emerald green - so we kept playing, waiting for a woman in white to arrive.

    This couple had been planning to have raucous dancing outside on the grass, even though earlier in the day I surely could not have been the only one pointing out it was 100 degrees. Finally they yielded and held the dance indoors. We, the band, played in five different locations that day.

  3. Earlier in the summer, when it was hot but not killingly so, we had done another outdoor wedding where dancing on the grass was planned. We had noticed during the ceremony that the groom was wearing sneakers with his tuxedo. But what we didn't notice till we got to the greensward, where the rollicking was to commence, that the bride was wearing orange sneakers under her gorgeous gown. They danced in comfort and with great delight. (Of course, there were others in high heels who were less comfortable...)

In the coming years of global warming, when perhaps people will be wed floating on gondolas at the North Pole, outdoor weddings here in North Carolina are going to be increasingly problematic.

I think I'm may add this warning to our contract: musical instruments are put together with hide glue, which melts at high heats, and that, like the canaries in the mine, violins commence to sproinging open shortly before wedding guests keel over with heat prostration.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

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Tar Heel Tavern is up at "Nothing Could Be Finer." Thanks, Stephen!

Brides do not control the heavens.

Let's talk about outdoor weddings.

Take yesterday, for instance. I went with Jim from my band Mappamundi to do a wedding at the J. C. Raulston Arboretum.

Assessment of said Arboretum for weddings: negative.
  • No cover in case of rain.

  • Everybody has to walk a long long way from the parking lot, down a narrow muddy unattractive path, to get to this spot. No alternative for people who have trouble walking.

  • Biggest problem: the site is near a big road and roaring traffic drowns out the softspoken young people reading, generally, from Ecclesiastes.
On the plus side, now, the young man setting up chairs was nice and helpful.

It's a pity how few outdoor spaces are actually quiet any more. Weddings at Fearrington have this same problem. It's pretty there (the belted Galloways are particularly picturesque) but you might as well wed on the verge of the highway. "You'll find our wedding party on I-24 between exit 14 and exit 15 - just pull off into the breakdown lane" - at least the directions would be simple.

The weather was cold, grey, drizzly. Even in a long sleeve shirt and sweater I was cold - imagine how shivery were the bride, wearing one of those strapless wedding dresses so popular this season, and her bridesmaids, wearing thin flouncy maroon chiffon dresses with spaghetti straps (out from under several of which could be seen large, garish tattoos featuring, on one bridesmaid, bold multicolored patches floweringly blazoned CARPE on one shoulder-blade and DIEM on the other).

So everybody was late, late, late getting on site - probably hoping the weather was going to turn. So Jim and I were sitting in a light drizzle, the legs of our chairs sinking a little into the mud, playing for the few hardy souls willing to sit on damp and clammy chairs.

The huddled assemblage's few desultory conversations were punctuated by anxious looks up into the sky.

Brides, is this really what you want?

Whenever a bride calls to hire us for an outdoor wedding,
one of my first questions is:
"What Is Your Rain Plan??"
So this is a common bride's response:
OK, I say that's not a rain plan.

This type of bride, see, she think's it's "her day" so if she doesn't want it to rain it won't. That reasoning doesn't always wash, so to speak.

Here are two rainy-wedding stories.

"She's in denial."

A wedding at Spruce Pine Lodge. It is raining. There is a perfectly nice log cabin reception hall the wedding could be moved into. The guitarist and I are reminding the bride's mother, who is the only person available to discuss this with, that we cannot play our wooden instruments in the rain.

Glancing through the window at her daughter, standing defiantly out there ruining her hairdo, she says: "You're going to have to give her some time; she's in denial."

Outcome: the time available was not sufficient to bring her out of that state of denial, so Joe and I stood in the log cabin, leaning out the window, playing as loudly as we could, while drenched women in filmy and soon ultra-clingy little dresses were shuddering with cold.

Coda: after the reception, which thankfully took place under a roof, the bride and groom, dressed in white satin bicycling outfits and white helmets with white ribbons and special white bikes, went biking away into the rain to some location twelve miles distant. This had been the bride's plan and she stuck with it.

"There's room for you in the corner of the tent."

An outdoor wedding is taking place at a lovely bed-and-breakfast in Hillsborough.

We arrive before the rain; the chairs are already set out and so is the gorgeous chuppah, which appears to be of hand-embroidered satin.

As the guests begin to arrive, the heavens open up.

We scurry for the tent, as do the majority of the guests. However, the wedding party and the rabbi are trapped in the inn where they have been signing the ketubah. Water starts to collect in the chuppah and it commences to collapse.

For half an hour, we play in the tent - but not quite far enough into the tent, because there isn't space, so rain pours off the edge of the tent into Ken's guitar case.

People in the doorway of the inn look longingly through the continuing downpour at their friends and relations in the tent, and vice versa.

When the rain slackens and briefly ends, helpful guests rush out and wipe off the seats. The wedding party rushes out of the inn and the rabbi holds one of the quickest services ever.

The deluge recommences and everybody squeezes back into the tent with us, rain still pouring into Ken's case. The next time the rain slacks off, everybody goes home.

Brides do not control the heavens.

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sighing from afar...

A favorite blogger of mine, Mirty, listed her celebrity crushes and it seemed like it would be fun. (It was.)

When I looked online for pictures of these guys, I was so dissatisfied. What made me crush on them: their walking, loafing, talking, goofing, sneering, cracking jokes, getting ruffled. Most of the promo pictures are so slick and lifeless. These are the best I could come up with...

Jake Weber has a gorgeous voice, and he is very patient with his whacky wife who hears and sees the dead. He must be brilliant, he dashes off incomprehensible mathematical formulas on whiteboards.

John Cusack - had his perfect moments in Say Anything and High Fidelity. But did not strike me as a good candidate for successful self-enlightenment.

Adrien Brody - so adorable and helpless in Dummy, a much under-rated movie. Then he was, ahh, so noble and artistic in that perfect dark narrative, The Pianist. And so, so beautiful...

Jean Reno - he's usually a little bit (or a lot) scary, but was perfectly fetching and adorable as a medieval lord transported to our world in Just Visiting. That movie got rotten reviews but it made us laugh again and again. Reno has an incredibly sexy voice.

Kevin Kline - if he'd never done anything but Pirates of Penzance I would still love him forever. He sings! Dances! Swashbuckles! Wiggles the preposterous moustache! Raises an eyebrow!

Topol - I've never seen him in anything again since Fiddler on the Roof, but nothing more is necessary. An immortal performance and a permanent place in my heart. When such a man talks to God, how could God not listen? I loved the scene where he asks Golde for the first time, after so many years of marriage, "but do you LOVE me?" What a concept.

Joe Morton - after he was so heart-stoppingly perfect in Brother from Another Planet (here's my review), I never saw him again. I miss him. Come back, Joe. Or else beam me up. I can do all the talking for the two of us.

Judd Hirsch - even when I was a kid I though he had a cool voice. He was such a nice patsy in Taxi and he got cuter and cuter.

Albert Finney - my first movie crush in Tom Jones, a perfect, beautiful, winsome delight. He has continued being wonderful to this very day. He is still sexy, even as potbellied and frowsy as he has become.

Bill Bixby - I fell in love with him when he played The Incredible Hulk (here's my review). So sad, such a beautiful voice. When he tried to crack a joke, though, it was painful.

I enjoyed doing this meme, Mirty. It cheered up a lonely evening.

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