Sally Schneider (A New Way To Cook) has a blog. Why knew? Today she is writing about roasted pears.

I made a variation on her roasted apples last night — two diced apples, poached for about 12 minutes in white wine with a sprig of rosemary, a few grinds of pepper, and a dash of birch syrup. Went nicely with cold roast beef.

Oct 09 29 2009

E-Lit Camp

E-Lit Camp

E-Lit Camp: Write, Code, Create

eLit Camp
December 11-13,2009
Registration: $50

You can always remove it later.

E-Lit Camp is an informal weekend gathering for writers, artists, and programmers currently involved or interested in electronic literature. Work on your projects, give a presentation, collaborate, and learn from others.

If you're a writer, artist, journalist, coder, or some combination of the above, E-Lit camp is for you. Have a project? Bring it. Don't have one? Bring your skills and creativity. Fiction is fab; documentary is cool. Bring your camera, laptop, projector, ideas, and anything else you need to be creative. Bring electronic works, Interactive Fictions, and videogames that you like, so we can try them out!

This is an Unconference, loosely based on BarCamp and RailsCamp. Think of it as a weekend-long writers colony for electronic literature. If you have something to share, bring it along; there's no approval process.

One evening, some of us are hoping to see "Sleep No More", a hyperdrama at the American Repertory Theatre.

Time: Friday afternoon, 11 December, to Sunday night, 13 December.

Location: Eastgate Systems, Watertown Mass.

Registration: email for details. After registering, join and post to the Google Group a brief bio, your interests, and what you're bringing.

Cost: $50 for supplies and snacks. Theater tickets extra.

Accommodation: Need hotel suggestions? Need a couch? We can provide suggestions.

Google Group:

People, Projects, and Technologies: We are trying to get a critical mass of projects. Here is the list so far:

  • Bill Bly
    • We Descend, Volume 2: an artifactual novel in hypertext
  • Mark Bernstein (Eastgate Systems)
    • Tinderbox
    • StorySpace
    • Card Shark, Thespis, and the Generalized Stretchtext Library
  • Nathan Matias (World University Project)
    • Tinderbox
    • Emberlight, a web publisher for Tinderbox
    • Ruby on Rails
    • WordPress
    • Inform 7 (a bit)
    • Electronic documentary
  • Sarah Smith, novelist
    • Pinebank or Titanic
  • Stacey Mason (Eastgate Systems)
  • Steve Ersinghaus (Tuxnis New Media)

Get added! Email me.

Register: just $50 per person.

eLit Camp
December 11-13,2009
Registration: $50

You can always remove it later.

Peter Merholz, whose writing I seem to miss a lot these days, revisits his famous old pasture of desire lines—paths people wear into the grass because that’s just where they want to go. A canny writer, Merholz saves his best point for the last, “one more thing” bullet:

• It intrigued me that though this event was about the “next web”, it felt very much to be about figuring out the current Web. Considering how many blowhards have dismissed the Web as a solved problem, the conversation among these very smart people suggested it is anything but.

This is really too charitable. It's all just the Web. There was no Web 2.0. What we call Web 2.0 is mostly marketing copy grafted onto better software engineering (AJAX, CSS) and a new visual style (big fonts, reflections). When conference speakers show you graphs of Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 and whatnot, they are hucksters blowing smoke.

It’s the Web.

A fresh installment in the Tinderbox Map Tutorial that describes the increasingly complicated Romero case is now available. A simple, late-night fender bender after a school party has ramified through a second accident, an unwilling witness, any number of liability issues, and a very confused fact picture. To keep the sticky notes from taking over, we use graphic cues and Tinderbox prototypes to record things quickly while helping to make sense of a baffling array of facts.

As usual, the episode concludes with R&D notes, this time on prototype-based programming and inheritance in knowledge representation.

I am lying in bed early this morning, Linda is in the shower, and I am reading Daring Fireball on my iPhone and looking at this extraordinary graph of the collapse of newspaper circulation and I am thinking that this very unusual situation will lead to lots of the usual talk.

The Reactionary guys say that nobody wants to read these days, and they blame television and the public schools and the internet. The Cluetrain medics blame the decline of advertising, especially in a bad economy, and prescribe conversations. The Web fellows tell you that nobody wants to pay any more, and blame the internet. Rupert Murdoch proposes to make everybody pay for news on the Web by forming a big cartel and building a big fence, and while Mr. Murdoch has a great many dollars and I do not, I am not convinced that this fence can be built, and I suspect that the price-fixing laws might express an opinion on the subject of that cartel.

All these guys are missing the real story. Why have newspaper circulations — not just revenues, but circulation — collapsed so far, so fast?

The reason is that newspapers are a bundle, tied together with string. The link and the Web have been yanking on that string for twenty years now. When you do that at first, nothing much happens, especially if the bundle is big and heavy. But, if the knot comes undone, very suddenly papers are flying all about and you no longer have a bundle at all.

The newspaper we know in the US is a bundle, created (roughly speaking) by Pulitzer and by Hearst. At one time, everyone is buying a paper — some paper — because every one wants to know something. If you want to know what the President is going to do next, you buy the paper. If you want to know who wins the third at Aqueduct (where wallets go to die), that is in the paper too. If you want to know when the movie about Guys And Dolls is going to start, you get the paper and look it up. If you want to know the closing price of hog bellies, T-Bills, or Pan Am, it is in the paper too, along with which ships are arriving at the pier and which fashions are departing in Paris.

Now, these papers are not interchangeable; and that is why we have Mr. Pulitzer, who invents what we call the good paper, and Mr. Hearst, who invents the other kind. My mother is at one time a newspaper woman, and though she is a nice Jewish girl from a nice socialist family, she works for Mr. Hearst, who is not socialist, or Jewish, or nice except that he pays my mother very well and invites her to swell parties. I mention this just to explain my biases, as the FCC wants me to do. But all the newspapers are big bundles. This guy is a mensch and wants to read the Forward, and that putz, who is hardly more educated than a neanderthal, likes the Sun. But if the Herald-Tribune or the Sun or Forvertz want you to buy their paper, they need to have theater reviews and stock prices and pretty girls and the latest on pork bellies and of course the eighth at Saratoga. Besides, the Sun has Archy and Mehitabel.

But all these papers are bundles. This happens naturally, because these papers all need huge printing presses, and they keep stables of horses and teamsters (and now fleets of trucks) to make and deliver the paper. This is why newspapers organizations are so large.

And,now, very suddenly, the Web yanks on that string and the bundle is not a bundle but instead is paper flying all about. If you want to know when a movie starts, you use your cell phone. If you want the winner at Aqueduct, it has a Web site. Josh Marshall will tell you what the president is thinking, and Matt Drudge will tell you where he ought to go, and Craig will tell you who is wishing to sell you their sofa or their car. If you are the kind of guy who buys the paper for the stock prices or the funnies, you go online and read them and you do not get whole sections of book reviews and fashion advice and gossip about people you do not know.

For some years, the Web is inconvenient and expensive and slow, and many things the newspapers do are still better in the newspaper than elsewhere. But the Web is always improving, and with ubiquitous iPhones and Kindles you can find out about the Cubs without unfolding a paper, or buying one, and if you are really interested in the Cubs you can read seven columns about the Cubs from seven different angles and you are not reading about fashions or Fassbinder while your train is stuck again at Downtown Crossing and you have nothing else to do. Even if Mr. Murdoch got you to pay him to read his writer’s take on the Cubs, it would not help him much because you will buy only the part about the Cubs, there being no reason for you to take the part about Fassbinder because it does not come tied up with the real story about the bottom of the eighth with two out and runners at the corners.

So that is why the collapse is so sudden and so complete. The knot has come loose. Those astonishing iPhone numbers, and the success of the Kindle, are for newspapers the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

I am also reading this morning in Jimmy Breslin’s wonderful biography of Damon Runyon that Runyon stole his style from Coleridge, and that it is nothing more than writing in the first person present, combined with avoidance of contractions at all times. I am thinking this is not quite the whole story, but Breslin is a smart fellow and I thought I might take it out for a spin.

Newspaper circulation is collapsing. Year over year, the Boston Globe is down 18%, the SF Chronicle is down 26%, he LA Times is down 11%. Everyone is down; the NY Daily News shed 76,000 subscribes (down 14%), USA Today is off 17%.

The collapse of advertising in this economy has crippled papers, but these circulation figures are astounding. I knew the Globe was off, but I’d assumed this was a consequence of the NY Times’ corporate decision to reinvent the Globe as a sort of big neighborhood paper, the extremely Northern Suburban edition of the Times, and to shift readers of the front section to become NYT subscribers. The Boston Herald, however, is also down 17%.

We tried a Sunday Supper this week. The extra weekend day makes prep more relaxed. I did the usual marketing on Saturday, did a little extra baking on Sunday morning (scones!) and stayed out of the weeds until I knicked my finger on the mandoline.

But I also had a bad attack of the dumbs all day. At breakfast, I made whole wheat scones — and forgot to cut the scones before putting them in the oven. Linda charitably points out that this error is not without precedent:

The Quaker’s wife, she baked a scone
And Johnny danced while it was on
Merrily danced the Quaker’s wife
And merrily danced the Quaker.

Linda also encouragingly prophecied that I had made my mistake for the day, the spirits would be satisfied now and the rest of the menu would go off without a hitch. It did not. I underbaked the madeleines for no good reason, scorched the roast beef badly on the charcoal grill while listening as the Patriots scored another pointless touchdown, indulged in a protracted a wrestling match with a pie crust that tried to be light and flaky before baking, failed to note when the mignardises were put into the oven and so had no clue when they were to be taken out, and then, disastrously, believed my instant-read when it said the beef had reached 135°. Somewhere, no doubt, the sun was over the yardarm, somewhere children were shouting, and somewhere someone’s beef as in fact done. Mine was not. (An indoor grill is a handy thing in such an emergency.)

What I was trying to do was to adapt the Blowtorch Beef from the new Ad Hoc book to manage without the blowtorch, searing the beef over charcoal and then finishing it in a slow oven. I even got permission, or perhaps absolution, from Michael Ruhlman for this innovation. But I assumed that the beef would look after itself for a couple of minutes while the Patriots amused the crowd at Wembley, and when I returned to check the flames were engulfing the grill and threatening the house, the tree, and the neighbors’ pets. This turned out to be a good, fast sear, but it wasn’t relaxing. (Solution: grab mitts. Reach into conflagration. Grab large, flaming, grass-fed organic beef. Avoid setting fire to shirt, trousers, or cutting board. Allow beef, and cook, to rest before proceeding.)

  • little sandwiches of home-made short-rib pastrami on home-made rye
  • carrot-ginger soup, garnished with cilantro, crème fraîche, and ifs and buts.* Mounettes (a sephardic roll from Claudia Rosen)
  • duck confit, Clotilde’s anchovy mashed potatoes
  • summer squash ☙ daikon ☙ almonds ☙ dill
  • roast beef, sauce champignon. sage madeleines. mushrooms and chard
  • apple pie
  • Clotilde’s trés chocolate biscuits

So, dinner was a bit ragged. But you know what? It was pretty tasty! Even the bits that weren’t right were still good food.

(*) ifs and buts are candied nuts.

Oct 09 24 2009

Sleep No More

Punchdrunk's Sleep No More is an astonishing production that does nearly everything I had imagined hyperdrama could achieve, and much that I had assumed it could not.

Get to Boston and see it. It runs through January 3. Cancel a class. Buy a plane ticket. Seriously.

Sleep No More
Tori Sparks in Sleep No More, a Punchdrunk and A.R.T. presentation. Photo by Stephen Dobbie and Lindsay Nolin.

The play refracts Macbeth through Hitchock’s Rebecca. It is performed in a disused public school. There is no dialogue. The audience is free to wander everywhere. You wear a white mask, a spirit who can witness but cannot intervene. Some of the characters sometimes see ghosts.

At one point, a bunch of us spirits were watching a strange, agitated woman, The Second Mrs. DeWinter (Poornima Kirby), trying to comfort an agitated, alarmed Banquo (Jeffery Lyon) in a 1920’s dressing room cluttered with torn almanac pages and bric-a-brac. The scene ends. Banquo flees. The spirits file out the door.

As I am leaving, Mrs. DeWinter reaches out a hand to stop me. She closes the door. She locks it. She sits on the couch. She points to a small stool at her feet. I sit. Leaning close, she begins to tell me a whispered story about a dead girl who finds the moon made of rotten wood. She leans very close, her hand brushing the back of my neck.

And then, very slowly, she removes my mask.

This was extraordinary theater, an unforgettable penetration of the fourth wall. It is also extraordinarily difficult. It’s not improv: the story, it turns out, is scene 21 of Woyzeck. You’re acting across from a stranger. A different stranger every night. In a closed room. The rules are unclear, we’ve just started. It seems that anything can happen. And there’s no distance at all; the acting and the sets have to work from the back of the room and they have to work if you're standing right there, reading the slip of paper someone left on the dresser, feeling the actress stroke the back of our neck.

Nor is this, I think, a throwaway, a casual interpolation. There’s a lot going on in Sleep No More, but of course a lot of Macbeth is about the intersection of the world we know and the spirit world. In the bar after the performance, the third song just happens to pick up the story about the dead girl and the moon of rotten wood, a story Mrs. DeWinter told to a ghost:

Say it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me .

There are wheels within wheels. The work is layered and detailed. After the show — the story repeats so you can see more — I thought I’d managed to witness most of the major scenes and to see most of the settings. But the American Repertory site has five publicity stills, and I saw none of those moments.

Hypertext skeptics often wring their hands about what people don’t see, about the work spent by the author on a path not taken. The experience works here, but it is going to be different for everyone. How many people get to see Mrs. DeWinter’s scene? Of those, how many are in the bar when the band strikes up Paper Moon ? How many get the Woyzeck allusion the next day, or ever? This is the nature of the medium. It has always been the nature of theater. We accept that the performance will be different every night; every reading of a hypertext, or experience of hyperdrama, will vary. And, as in all Mysteries, much depends on what you yourself bring into the room.

The sets are elaborate, intricate, and worth study as installation art. They place incredible demands on showmanship. Somehow, it’s entirely convincing. Here, too, I sense lots of thought, and layers of meaning at which I can hardly guess.

Which is, again, Macbeth’s problem.

Macbeth is also about rules: how do you know what to do? Here, you don’t. (Am I supposed to tell you about what happened in that closed room? Is it a mystery? A secret? )

Many scenes are danced, the dancing is both excellent and difficult and, I would think, dangerous — perching on incarnadine bathtubs, armoires, shelves, and a billiard table — and of course there are spirits wandering everywhere. It’s hard to sell a fight scene to the camera, still harder to sell it in the round; here, they sell Banquo’s murder in a bar room as a knockdown, drag-out choreographed brawl with the audience wandering all over the place and a floor coated with sawdust. How do they keep things from going off the rails? How do they keep from bumping into spirits and breaking the props, the mirrors, the ankles? They do, somehow, and the evident hazard only heightens the drama.

Sleep No More could have succeeded with half the thought, energy, and intelligence expended here. See it.

Oct 09 22 2009

Balkan Woes

Last night I heard an interesting segment on NPR about Black Sea Hotel, an American quartet who sing tightly harmonized Balkan folk songs. The Balkan song, it is clear, is a strange concoction, and there is nothing else quite like it. One singer translated a lyric off the cuff; I remember something along these lines:

Wake up, my sleepy preteen son!
Wake up! It’s miles and miles to market.
The trail is long, our horse already tired,
And if we don’t get through [Unpronounceable place] before dawn
The [unpronounceable ethnicity] blacksmith
With his bottle
Will be standing in his doorway, and he will
Abduct your sister Galina, or
Say unkind things you should not hear.

This is very different, of course, from the folk songs of other places. Take Scandinavia.

We are riding, riding, across the snow.
They are probably gaining on us.
We will arrive too late.
We are riding, riding anyway.

This is the Swedish Moderne version, of course; in past times, we would have take the time to describe our horse, hurrying hence from home, harried by hunters’ hounds but hoping to help the honest husband flee the horrid, hungry horde.

I myself am more familiar with the English folk song, which is basically the Swedish theme transposed to a new mode, and to which a new element has been added.

Riding! We are riding!
Together at last we are riding!.
And though my husband the blacksmith
Is probably pursuing, with his hawks and hounds
My own true love is faster, and far better in bed.

This leads to the shores of the Atlantic (Liverpool and Harlem) and to Rock, which Bruce Springsteen once described as having one essential lyric:

Oh girl, won’t you take off your blue jeans?

But though rock has been influential, it does not sum up American music, for as Andrew Sullivan observed yesterday, the US is a darker, stranger, place than Americans appreciate. Blues, for example:

My baby, Delilah, she took off her new blue jeans.
I say my sweetheart Delilah, she took off her new blue jeans.
But I’m confined here in this jailhouse, and she’s down in New Orleans.

And then there are all the other influences, like Klezmer.

Ikh shlep arum zikh fun baginen,
keyner git nisht tsu fardinen
ale lakhn, makhn fun mir shpaz.
I shlep from dawn, but nobody’s buying
My cigarettes because it’s raining,
and if I asked about the blue jeans she would just laugh at me.
Oct 09 21 2009

English Woes

HTLit points out a fine piece by William M. Chace on The Decline of the English Department.

What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.

Those who follow the issue might be led by the language here to conclude that Chace is merely reviving the canon wars, but I think there’s more to see here.

Chace, I think, does overlook a further important factor. The late age of print led English departments to question whether there could be a single correct answer to any of the important questions that one might ask of an English professor. This leads, for example, to the strange situation where a prominent marketing pro Twitters:

Thinking of writing a book? how U structure a book is important 2 the success of a book. R there any books on how 2 structure book content?

Harvard and Tufts and BU and Brown and Brandeis are right down the street, and they all have English departments who, in principle, know a lot about the structure of books. Or maybe not.

This uncertainty has a deeper consequence for students: if any answer might be defensible, if the whole question is how adeptly you defend your position, then grading is arbitrary and capricious. Your math teacher may dislike you, but if you answered 0.707 on the test, well, that’s the answer and there’s nothing more to be said. The absence of that certainty, at least in the airy heights of research, has got to dismay students. (I’ve never studied in an English department, but I’ve dealt with reviewers and critics and referees and I know it dismays me.)

Oct 09 20 2009

Some issues

The wikipedia page on countertransference is marked with a template:

This article or section has multiple issues.

My particular issue is whether countertransference has a hyphen, on which wikipedia is silent.

I wanted to know this because I was just rereading E. B. White’s “Second Tree From The Corner” while waiting for in my doctor’s office for my annual physical. In this classic piece, a man is pitying his psychiatrist. “He stepped into the street, turned west toward Madison, and thought of the doctor all alone there, after hours, in that desolate hole — a man who worked longer hours than his secretary.”

Isn’t that a sign of the times? Nobody has a secretary any more, of course, but surely, if you do, you work longer hours than your secretary. Secretarial work is proverbially 9 to 5. I suppose there was a time when professionals came late and knocked off early, but those ancient times have vanished save for this dim literary trace.

Are you thinking about NaNoWriMo? If so, Email me. We’d like to interview some NaNos.

by Patrick O'Brian

I have too much to read. So, naturally, I took a few days off and reread this wonderful adventure, just for fun.

Oh dear.

At the NY Times NFL Blog, Mike Tanier shows us how it’s done. What kind of blog might Red Smith have written?

Another week, another Seahawks injury report that could have been written by Boris Pasternak. The fourth-string left tackle Kyle Williams moved from waiver wire to practice squad to starting lineup to injury report in four days, a journey only possible in Seattle. He replaced the third-stringer Brandon Frye (shoulder), who replaced Sean Lockyer (ankle) and Walter Jones (knee). Williams promptly sprained his knee once he took the field. With Frye on injured reserve, Jim Mora may experiment with the fifth string like a jazz bassist.
Oct 09 17 2009

Lend A Hand

We’re having lots of fun at Eastgate, setting up It’s a news site for new media, a meeting place for new art, new tech, and fresh thinking.

In a NeoVictorian vein, we want correspondents. Literally: people who will drop us occasional emails or twitter messages with the URL of Something We Should Know About. If we use your link, you'll get a byline, you’ll get our thanks, and you’ll get some money by Paypal. Not a fortune, but you can exchange it for good and services and baked goods — and of course there’s nothing to stop you from sending us more links and getting even more tasty pastry.

So, Twitter @htlit, or email

I have far too much to do, and so naturally as I was waiting for the stewing beef to brown nicely I started to reread Second Tree From The Corner .

However, I do not come to this foreword in a spirit of derogation or with any idea of offering alibis. If these collected writings resemble a dog’s breakfast, I shall insist that it is because of my unusual understanding of dogs and my sympathy for their morning problems.

Worse, I’m thinking of starting more food writing. Just what my schedule needs.

Oct 09 16 2009

Romero File

Over on the Tinderbox site, I've started a tutorial series on Tinderbox Maps called The Romero File.

It’s an episodic tutorial in the form of a legal drama about two star-crossed lovers, two accidents, some pills, and a weblog.

It’s going to cover lots of depth about Tinderbox maps, from capturing quick sketches of a fact pictures to exploring complex representational issues. Indeed, each episode comes with a short afterward with pointers to the research literature.

The immediate topic is Tinderbox and the Law, which is also a big theme for Tinderbox Weekend. But if you're interested in any sort of research, fact-gathering, or analysis, I think you’ll find this interesting. (Have a different approach? Play along at home! Take the same facts, add your own ideas, show us your own maps.)

Romero File

Garrison Keillor applauds Obama’s Nobel. I generally avoid linking to NY Times op-eds, which you know about already if you’re inclined to read that sort of thing, but this is exceptionally nice writing.

He admits that winning the prize might have drawbacks:

Oslo is rather dark and murky in December. The sun rises during the first coffee break and sets right after lunch and this does not make for a festive mood.

Still, the suggestion that Obama decline the prize is outlandish.

Some conservative pundit suggested that the president should’ve declined the prize, but it is not gracious to reject a compliment, one should accept it with becoming modesty, as Mr. Obama did, that’s what your mother brought you up to do. The prize isn’t about you, it’s about Peace, or Literature, or Homecoming, or Champion Hog, or Male Vocalist of the Year, so walk up there and smile for the cameras, say thank you and sit down.

Derek Powazek sums up SEO (Search Engine Optimization) succinctly:

If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned.

Apparently, when Microsoft wanted to update the storage servers for their Sidekick mobile phones, they forgot to make backups. And, when something went wrong in the switchover, every user’s data was lost.

Hundreds of thousands of users. Contacts, email, the works. Gone.

Or, to put it a different way: there goes a business for which Microsoft recently paid a half a billion dollars when they bought DANGER last year.

Keep good backups. Things go wrong. You need them.

Keep your own backups. Even professional hosting companies make stupid blunders.

It ought to be a crime. A hundred thousand people lose their contact lists. It’s probably not a disaster for anyone, though there’s always the possibility that some kid somewhere is going to call have to call Uncle Eddy for help next week but Uncle Eddy’s number isn’t Mom’s the cell phone anymore. But forget that: it’s also a few hundred thousand hours of rekeying contacts,. And time standing in line to get new cell phones. And time trying to find out why your phone lost all its contacts. So, whoever forgot to make those backups didn’t simply destroy a business that Microsoft bought for half a billion dollars, they also took about a couple of million dollars of labor and wasted it. Talk about public nuisance.

iPhone has the right architecture. Tethered to your computer. You have backups. You might also have backups in the cloud, which is nice. But if the cloud goes up in smoke, you still have your data. Your data is yours — or it should be.

In The American Scholar, William Chace shows us what happened, and also shows How To Do It with some lovely, magisterial prose.

English has become less and less coherent as a discipline and, worse, has come near exhaustion as a scholarly pursuit. English departments have not responded energetically and resourcefully to the situation surrounding them. While aware of their increasing marginality, English professors do not, on the whole, accept it. Reluctant to take a clear view of their circumstances—some of which are not under their control—they react by asserting grandiose claims while pursuing self-centered ends. Amid a chaos of curricular change, requirements dropped and added, new areas of study in competition with older ones, and a variety of critical approaches jostling against each other, many faculty members, instead of reconciling their differences and finding solid ground on which to stand together, have gone their separate ways. As they have departed, they have left behind disorder in their academic discipline. Unable to change history or rewrite economic reality, they might at least have kept their own house in order. But this they have not done.

Chace observes that, while Geology and Medicine have clear frontiers of knowledge, English doesn’t; it’s not patently clear that there’s more to learn about Shakespeare in the way that there’s more to learn about H1N1.

At the bottom of Chace’s article, I came across two advertisements. One promotes the University of Phoenix, which arguably is not a university. One promotes Houghton College, “Christian academic community with a Higher Purpose in Mind” – a real college, though one that might want to rethink its use of capital letters if not its ad copy. Still, can Phi Beta Kappa find a less embarrassing source of pocket change?

Elsewhere, Diane Greco is tired of magic wands and has taken to reading Damon Runyan to her daughter.

Tonight, while we are eating dinner, MJ asks Jane about a new teacher at school. What's she like? Is she tall or short? Mean or nice? Old or young?"

I will give you a hint," Jane says, in a tone that I can only call Runyonesque. "She is not young."

by Adam Cohen

A lively, engaging, and readable account of the legendary outset of Roosevelt’s New Deal. On arriving in office, Roosevelt knew that action had to be taken at once, but what action to take remained very much in question. Cohen argues that the entire shape of the New Deal emerged from the personalities and plans of a handful of aides and cabinet members, especially Ray Moley, Frances Perkins, Henry Wallace, and a late recruit who Roosevelt scarcely knew named Harry Hopkins. Meanwhile, Republicans sneered at each administration proposal, denouncing bank regulation as communist and child labor regulation as fascist, while pundits worried about partisan divisions and the Democratic majority’s ability to pass legislation despite Republican opposition. Through it all, Roosevelt’s ability to project confidence and determination steadied markets, reassured banks, and gave unemployed and desperate workers hope that, eventually, happy days would be here again.

A few years ago, I read an important food blog post. Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, was introducing a recipe, and explained that she had cooked this because friends were coming to dinner and it would go well with a bottle of wine she wanted to serve.

It had never occurred to me that you might fit your meal to the wine, instead of picking the wine for the meal. And this doesn’t just apply to wine; once you reexamine habits and prejudices, all sorts of things start making sense.

Here’s a recent weeknight dinner:

  • grilled hanger steak
  • caramelized Farm School turnips with shallots, green peppers, and wild boar bacon
  • freshly-made biscuits
  • a $7 Bordeaux
  • apple tart

Now, back in grad school I’d have thought of this as company fare. And it would work fine for company. But it also works fine for a a pickup weeknight dinner. It’s relaxing, tasty, fairly fast, and fairly cheap. Some points:

  1. Hanger steak, if you can get it, can be almost as cheap as ground beef. It tastes great.
  2. Grilling is better than broiling or pan-frying. In the Boston winter, you just aren’t going to use the charcoal grill a lot — even if charcoal is the right way. A really good range with a grill is a great investment; you spend an extra thousand or two thousand bucks, but you save restaurant bills for fifteen years.
  3. We used to eat out a lot. It adds up. For the price of takeout, you can splurge on ingredients almost every day and still wind up way ahead.
  4. Shallots are your friend. Use them like onions. They are onions, optimized for cooking. (“Shallot” comes from the city Ashkelon; they’ve been in beta for a long time.)
  5. You can buy bacon for $3 bucks. I paid $8 for my wild boar bacon. But it’s more flavorful, so I can use less. It’s leaner — those wild boars work for a living — so it’s probably a little less bad for you. It’s selected and smoked with more care, so it tastes better. And I eke it out in small amounts to spice up lots of dishes.
  6. Farm shares are a good thing; the encourage you to cook things you don’t know how to cook. Like turnips.
  7. Unfashionable wine is fun. Bordeaux from the wrong side of the river. Portuguese wine: you can get a case of Vinho Verde for $50. Super-Tuscans with bad PR departments seem to be great bargains.
  8. OK, doc. Steak, and buttery biscuits, and bacon in the turnips, and more butter in the tart crust. And wine. It’s still healthier than fast food. Even out the strain. Tomorrow you can grill some fish, and worry about the mercury instead.
  9. Ratio changed baking for me, overnight. It’s not a mystery. It doesn’t require tons of precision. Get a digital scale, use it. 3 parts flour, 1 part butter, 2 parts water, and some baking powder and salt: it’s biscuits. Scones are even easier. Bread is good for you. (I’d have used whole wheat in the biscuits, but I’d just exhausted my second 5lb bag this summer)
  10. Make a pie crust at half-time on Sunday afternoon. Roll it out, throw some apple slices on top, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Oops — no more cinnamon! No problem: they were great anyway. And they were great on Monday, and Tuesday, too.
  11. Regarding that cinnamon: I run out of ingredients nowadays that used to last me decades. One can of baking powder got me through the 90’s. I finished a can this year, and I’m half way through the second. Cinnamon’s gone, so it the vanilla. No problem: newer ingredients taste better, they’re better for you, and they’re cheap. You can buy a lot of cinnamon for the price of a trip to the diner.
  12. Warm the plates. Use wine glasses.
  13. It’s 45 minutes, maybe, from the time I pull up in the driveway to table. Less if I don’t do the biscuits – but then I’d probably want potatoes. Since I tend to leave work around 7 (on a good day), we eat late. But the delay is good; I’m less likely to obsess about work over dinner. OK: not much time for TV. Can’t have everything everyday.
Oct 09 6 2009

Urban Sketches

Urban Sketchers: an interesting community of sketchers in many media, from watercolors to pencils to iPhones.

Oct 09 4 2009


Cathy Marshall has a new friend. Gene Golovchinsky asks, "Will it have room for your hat?" Narrative ensues.

Meanwhile, pastry chef Shauna Fish Lydon tweets to warn us all not to make pie crust in a food processor, pointing toher classic post, Pie II Crust Revisited. Twitter has an intriguing propensity for rescuing good but old weblog posts.

Robert Brook finds a fine sketch of his workplace at Urban Sketchers, a fascinating site.

Oct 09 2 2009


The decision of the US District Court in Al Rabiah v. US (pdf) is devastating. (Before he was detained in Afghanistan, it appears that Al Rabiah was an overweight 43-year-old mechanic for Kuwait Air who used his vacation time to travel to disaster areas and help charitable organizations.)

US interrogators advised a suspect, who was being tortured, to confess to something, because then he could serve his sentence and be released.

“There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent. (p. 41)

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