the gumbo pages

looka, <'lu-k&> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look", in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans; usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  

2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news, movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor, reviews, rants, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 7:28am PST, 2/27/2004


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Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

January 2004

2003:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

Regime change for America, 2004.

Kick 'em out!

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You can get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
pat and paul
tracy and david

Talking furniture:

KCSN (Los Angeles)
   Broadcast schedule
   "Down Home" playlist
   Live MP3 audio stream

   Subscribe to the
   "Down Home" weekly
   playlist email service

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream
   (Comprehensive listings)

Grateful Dead Radio
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KPIG, 107 Oink 5
   (Freedom, CA)
KRVS Radio Acadie
   (Lafayette, LA)
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
   (Science fiction radio)
Radio Free New Orleans
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Cocktail hour:

The Sazerac Cocktail

   (A work in progress;
   Martin Doudoroff &
   Ted Haigh)

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

Alcohol (and how to mix it)
   (David Wondrich)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

DrinkBoy and the
   Community for the
   Cultured Cocktail
   (Robert Hess, et al.)

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
   (Sando, LaDove,
   Swanky et al.)

Nat Decants    (Natalie MacLean)
   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

Let's eat!

New Orleans Menu Daily

Food-related weblogs:
Hacking Food
Honest Cuisine
KIPlog's FOODblog
Mise en Place
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu

à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

Click here for a new daily recipe from Chef Emeril!
In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine

Wally's Wine and Spirits

The Wine House

The Wine Spectator

Wine Today

Reading this month:

Dude, Where's My Country?, by Michael Moore.
Timequake, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Best Food Writing 2003, edited by Holly Hughes.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Uncle Tupelo

Miles of Music

No Depression


New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

San Francisco Celtic Music & Arts Festival

Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project


Bloom County / Outland,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

Xquzyphyr & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

Cold Mountain (****)
The Last Samurai (****)

Lookin' at da TV:

"Six Feet Under"
"The Sopranos"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"Odyssey 5"
"The Simpsons"
"Iron Chef"
"Father Ted"
The Food Network

Weblogs I read:

The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
Anil Dash
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
The Leaky Cauldron
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Ted Rall
This Modern World
Web Queeries
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

Must-reads: (progressive politics & news)
Borowitz Report (political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Daily Mislead
The Deduct Box (Louisiana politics)
The Fray (your stories)
Izzle Pfaff! (my favorite webjournal)
Landover Baptist (better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (news, opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (news 'n laffs) (not the actual White House, but it should be)

The Final Frontier:

Astronomy Pic of the Day
ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple iBook 2001 running MacOS X 10.2 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)

weblog and (almost) daily blather

  "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to
  stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is
  morally treasonable to the American public."

  -- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918

  Sunday, February 29, 2004
Cocktail of the day.   According to Gary Regan in his book The Joy of Mixology, "This cocktail was created by Harry Craddock, for the Leap Year celebrations at the Savoy Hotel, London, on February 29th, 1928. It is said to have been responsible for more proposals than any other cocktail that has ever been mixed," reports The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930). This recipe is adapted from Craddock's original, but can certainly be enjoyed at any time of the year." Or certainly today, 76 years to the day after Harry created it for us.

Leap-Year Cocktail

2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 lemon twist, for garnish.

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

And happy birthday to all you Leap Year babies!

Again. And again. And again.   I read yet another article like this one, and I find myself tearing out more clumps of hair. If we don't get rid of this bastard by November, I'll be bald as an egg.

Bush Dismisses Members From Bioethics Council

WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Friday dismissed two members of his Council on Bioethics -- a scientist and a moral philosopher who had bn among the more outspoken advocates for research on human embryo cells.

In their places he appointed three new members, including a doctor who has called for more religion in public life, a political scientist who has spoken out against the research that the dismissed members supported, and another who has written about the immorality of abortion and the "threats of biotechnology."

The turnover immediately renewed charges by scientists and others that Bush is increasingly allowing politics to trump science as he seeks advice on ethically contentious issues.

One of the dismissed members, Elizabeth Blackburn, is a renowned biologist at the University of California at San Francisco. She said she received a call yesterday morning from someone in the White House personnel office.

"He said the White House had decided to make some changes on the council. He wanted to express his gratitude and said I'd no longer be on the council," Blackburn said.

She said she had no warning and had not heard from the council's director, University of Chicago ethicist Leon Kass. She said she believed she was let go because her political views do not match those of the president and of Kass, with whom she has often been at odds at council meetings.

"I think this is Bush stacking the council with the compliant," Blackburn said.

The other dismissed member, William May, an emeritus professor of ethics at Southern Methodist University, is a highly respected scholar whose views on embryo research and other topics had also run counter to those of conservative council members.

Asked why Blackburn and May had been let go, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said the two members' terms had expired in January, and they were on "holdover status." Asked whether, in fact, all the council members' terms had formally expired in January, she said they had. Pressed on why Blackburn and May had been singled out for dismissal, she said: "We've decided to go ahead and appoint other individuals with different expertise and experience." She would not elaborate further.

Don't even get me started with his cynical, politically desperate announcement of support for amending our Constitution by way of writing discrimination into it for the first time.

The joy of marriage, period.   A wonderful article by the New York Times' Frank Rich, about whom self-proclaimed devout Catholic Mel Gibson said, "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. I want to kill his dog." Let's hope he doesn't. (Thanks, Haven!)

Here's the denouement of the epic drama over gay marriage. It's going to happen, it's going to happen within a generation, and it's going to happen even though George W. Bush teed off his re-election campaign this week by calling for a constitutional amendment to outlaw it. As the country has now had weeks to digest, it has already happened in bulk in San Francisco, where images of couples waiting all night in the rain to be wed finally wiped Janet Jackson off our TV screens. The first of those couples, Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin, 83, were celebrating a partnership of 51 years. Take that, heterosexual marriage! The most famous practitioner of mixed-sex nuptials this year, Britney Spears, partook of a Vegas marriage that clocked in at 55 hours.

Whatever their short-term legal fate, the San Francisco weddings mark a new high-water mark in one of the most fast-paced cultural tsunamis America has seen. As Evan Wolfson, the civil rights lawyer who founded Freedom to Marry, says, "An act as unremarkable as getting a wedding license" has been transformed by the people embracing it, much as the unremarkable act of sitting at a Formica lunch counter was transformed by an act of civil disobedience at a Woolworth's in North Carolina 44 years ago this month. Gavin Newsom, the heterosexual, Irish Catholic mayor of San Francisco, described his proactive strategy for advancing same-sex marriage to Time magazine: "Put a human face on it. Let's not talk about it in theory. Give me a story. Give me lives." And so now there have been thousands of gay wedding stories, many of them with the couples' parents and children in the supporting cast, at the same City Hall where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio famously got hitched to no good end a half-century ago.


*sniff* ... I always cry at weddings.

Rumsfeld imitates The Onion ... again.   Gee, I sure am glad this guy is in charge of our national defense -- confident and decisive leadership, that's what we need! (Via NTK)

Rumsfeld Says Osama Will Probably Be Found One Day

KABUL (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden will probably be captured or killed one day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday, but he added he had no idea when.

Rumsfeld was addressing a news briefing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that comes amid stepped up U.S. and Pakistani operations against bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the Taliban.

Asked if U.S. and allied forces were getting closer to capturing the world's most wanted man, Rumsfeld said: "Close doesn't count. The world will be a better place when he is captured or killed. That is the goal of a great many nations... I suspect that we'll find that it is accomplished at some point in the future and I wouldn't have any idea when."

I feel ever so reassured.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, February 28, 2004
Ardent Spirits and The Cocktailian.   Gary and Mardee managed to squeak out a February issue of Ardent Spirits just before March came upon us -- read about discussing politics and religion, brandy defined, 19th Century bar life and more.

In this fortnight's Cocktailian, The Professor twists the venerable English classic of Port & Brandy into something ruby and delicious.

The world's scariest musicians.   This is hilarious, although a few of these folks (like doddering Ozzy) aren't really scary anymore. And Alice Cooper's a nice guy! He was once the grand marshal of a Mardi Gras parade when I was a kid (to the snorting disgust of my mother), and he skips rope with that little girl in the TV commercial ...

  (Monday, February 16, 2004  ::  Galway)
The Playboy of the Western World.   We were mulling over what to do in Galway during our four days, when Paul said, "Hey, did you know they're doing Synge's 'Playboy of the Western World' in Galway, with Cillian Murphy in the lead role?" No, we didn't! And we'd love to go, thanks very much! It was a production of Galway's distinguished Druid Theatre Company, who are embarking on a long-awaited attempt to stage all of Synge's plays in a two-year run. "Playboy" had just opened in Galway for a several-month run that would take the production to Dublin, Mayo, Kerry, Cork and the Aran Islands, and was being very well-reviewed in Ireland and in Britain as well. This is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for us to do in addition to the Planxty show and pub crawling for pints and sessions; I wanted Wes to have a great time too, with a variety of diverse experiences, 'cause as far as I was concerned everything outside the Planxty show was lagniappe.

Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), when we rang the Town Hall Theatre we were informed, with regret, that the show's two-week run had been sold out since before it opened. (Feck.) Did we have a chance of getting in on a cancellation? She hesistated and said, skeptically, that we were welcome to come in and try, but she couldn't promise anything.

So Monday night we headed to the Town Hall, one hour before showtime, hoping for tickets ... and there were none. "You're welcome to wait," said the nice girl at the box office, "and the bar opens in 15 minutes." If nothing else, those last six words made my heart glow. Unfortunately, the pint was shite (should've gotten whiskey, like I noticed a few in-the-know gentlemen doing), and so we waited ... and waited, and waited, and waited, and inquired (no, sorry) and waited and waited and hesitantly inquired once more jesus I hate to bother you again but could you just check ... ah, no, nothing yet, sorry. (One girl in the box office giggled to the other as she asked, incredulously, "Chuck? That's really his name?" ... aah, I should've given my middle name, Éamon, as "chuck" in Ireland is a verb meaning to toss something into the bin.)

We sighed, and figured we'd salvage the evening by going to the very interesting-looking Indian restaurant around the corner, and then heading to An Púcán or Tigh Colí for a session (as unlikely as that might be on a Monday night off-season). They were flashing the lights, herding the people inside and warning that no latecomers would be seated until the break after Act I. Then ... "Mr. Taggart? We have one upstairs and one downstairs." WOO! "We'll take 'em! T'anks!" And clever Wes added, "We'll swap seats at the intermission," prompting expressions of great approval from the girls at the ticket counter, applauding his sense of fair play.

The play was brilliant. Murphy was superb, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Anne-Marie Duff (of "The Magdalene Sisters") as Pegeen Mike, the female lead. It was the first time I'd seen a Synge play performed, and I was delighted by the beauty and lilting musicality of its language. It was funny as well as emotionally intense, and for the most part beautifully performed by all the actors (although I did share in some criticisms I read later of Duff's performance, which did seem a bit rushed); Aisling O'Sullivan was particularly wonderful as the Widow Quin. During intermission the lady seated next to me told me in no uncertain terms that compared to the early 1970s Druid Theatre production of the play, there was "no comparison" to Siobhán McKenna's performance as Pegeen back then. Ah well, I was only 10.

It was a wonderful and thoroughly Irish cultural experience, being perhaps the only foreigners in an entire theatre of natives enjoying one of the great works of drama in their culture (and, by ancestry, my own heritage and culture). Brilliant.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, February 27, 2004
Yeesh.   That bug I picked up in Ireland turned out to be the mathair of all head colds -- I've been completely wiped out all week. I'm mostly better now, but I think I'll put off any exercising until next week. Oh, speaking of which ... unsurprisingly, I put on 4 pounds whilst in Ireland, but it all came off this week, and I'm just about back where I was when I left. I suppose that cold was good for something.

I'm a distorter, not a divider.   Naturally, that includes not giving a crap about anyone living on it, if they stand in the way of one's profits. Wired News reports on how "the Bush administration has distorted scientific fact leading to policy decisions on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry, a group of about 60 scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, said in a statement on Wednesday. Appalling, but unsurprising. (Thanks, Wes!)

  (Sunday, February 15, 2004  ::  Galway)
Best meal I've ever had in Ireland.   And I've had some good ones, too. People in the past have told dire tales of the food scene in Ireland, and in some ways for good reason. Such folks have undoubtedly had bad pub grub, or have been regaled with the classic Irish traditional dish called "bacon and cabbage", which tends to consists of three ingredients -- a chunk of raw pork shoulder, a head of cabbage, and boiling water. No herbs, no spices, no spuds, no pepper or even salt. As much as I love pigmeat, that's not exactly my favorite.

As I mentioned earlier, the raw ingredients of Irish cooking are top-notch, and many of the traditional dishes are quite hearty and actually very good. Fortunately, over the last ten years or so (and particularly with the advent of "The Celtic Tiger", the booming Irish economy) the restaurant scene has really been looking up. The day after Valentine's we decided to dive right in, with dinner at a place that came highly recommended by an email correspondent: Cooke's Restaurant and Wine Bar on Upper Abbeygate Street in Galway.

Cooke's of Galway The restaurant is in a restored medieval building, with lovely atmosphere and an attentive, friendly staff. (We had been warned about service in Irish restaurants by one of our friends in Galway, who's American; she's singularly unimpressed with the quality of the service, particularly in relation to the prices at nice restaurants. We'd heard this in other quarters as well, but found it to be a bit overblown. The only major differences in what we're used to is that it takes a while to get the bill, and sometimes we had to ask for it. Big deal.) The menu is vibrant and creative, focusing on seafood and the use of native Irish ingredients, all done to excellent effect. The prices were described as "moderate", and while that might be the case for your average €-spending European, the lousy state of the dollar against the euro made this a fair bit more expensive than we had anticipated (about €90, or $120). Back when the dollar was strong (i.e., before BushCo came in and wrecked the economy), this meal would have been a bargain).

Irish erstas Mmmm, chicken liver âté...

The starters were absolute knockouts. I had the Galway Bay oysters with crabmeat and smoky Irish bacon crust. (above left) They were baked ever so briefly, just to warm the oysters through a bit. The little puddle of oyster liquor at the bottom of each shell was infused with the flavour of the bacon (that's good, lean Irish back bacon, not the "streaky" kind like we have in the States), and the oysters were plump, juicy and intensely flavorful. In the center of the ring of oyster shells was a cucumber and red onion salad with a tangy vinaigrette, a perfect foil for the richness of the oysters. Bhí sé go h-álainn! Wes had the House-made Chicken Liver Pâté with red currant preserves and toast points (above right), flavored with brandy and also absolutely amazing. When chicken liver pâté is this good, you could even call it the poor man's foie gras. Gorgeous.

The monkfish What about the DUCK, Fawlty?!

The mains didn't fail to impress, either. Being a huge monkfish fan (and wanting to keep the Irish bacon theme going for the meal ... mmmmmmm, baaaaconnnn ...), I had the Pan-fried Monkfish with Smoked Bacon and Garlic Cream Sauce (above left), served atop scallion mashed potatoes (good old scallion champ!). My only minor quibble is that there was so much sauce it tended to get the breading of the fish a little mushy, and the crispiness of the crust would have helped set it apart from the potatoes, but that wasn't too big a deal, as the flavor of the dish was wonderful (they should probably only drizzle the sauce on top, and pool it around the sides). I tend to avoid cream sauces anyway, and did so even before venturing to WeightWatchers, but this one had a light touch and wasn't heavy at all. Duck fanatic Wes chose one of the evening's specials, One-half Crispy Roast Duck with Orange and Cointreau Sauce (above right). While admittedly it wasn't Irene's Duck St. Philip (or Tommy's Duck Tchoupitoulas), it was an excellent duck, and the sauce's classic flavor was perfect for it.

Dessert, yum.

The dessert was on special as well, their Valentine's Day Special Dessert -- Bailey's Cheesecake in a chocolate cup, with fresh cream; Strawberries tossed in Grand Marnier with passion fruit coulis; and Mint Ice Cream in a pastry cup with chocolate sauce. They didn't exactly tie together, sort of a dessert sampler plate, but they were all very good. The Bailey's cheesecake was particularly good, and we began to see various offerings of that dish at several other nicer restaurants in Galway and Dublin.

Taaffe's Pub Traditional musicians

After dinner we went pub crawling, first stopping in Taaffe's on Shop Street in Galway City centre. It looked good, was picturesque and friendly enough and the pint of Smithwick's was lovely, but the traditional music that night didn't blow me away -- they were playing sets of tunes right from the classic albums they'd learned them from. (Later in the trip, the sessions were to get very mighty indeed.) Unfortunately the best pub in Galway, Tigh Neachtain, was both packed and not featuring traditional music that night (a songer-singwriter type that wasn't floating my boat), so we ended up at Tigh Colí, where the music was better and even my abortive attempt at unobtrusive, non-flash photography was frowned upon (all the better to concentrate on the music, as I should have been doing). The craic was ninety and a grand time was had.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, February 24, 2004  ::  Mardi Gras
Happy Mardi Gras!   Hope it don't rain on no parades today, 'cause it was looking a little dicey yesterday (the Krewe of Proteus parade was cancelled, but I think Orpheus was going to parade). Have fun, be safe, and I hope your biggest worry today is that there ain't no place to pee on Mardi Gras Day.

If you don't have any appropriate music handy, tune into's Mardi Gras Radio.

  (Sunday, February 15, 2004  ::  Loughrea)
There's nothin' like a full Irish breakfast.   Or, as some people call it, "a fry." In fact, if you're in Norn Iron (i.e., the north of Ireland) they'll call it an "Ulster fry", in which you get fried bread on top of everything else that's been fried in an ocean of grease. Our first full day in Ireland a week ago Sunday greeted us with what was probably the healthiest Irish breakfast ever prepared -- in a nonstick skillet with a minimum of grease. Still, it was just as good and filling as always -- we didn't have lunch that day, 'cause we didn't need it.

Full Irish breakfast Mmmm, black pudding...

That's eggs over medium, rashers of Irish bacon, plump breakfast sausages, Clonakilty black pudding, smoked salmon, potato farls, raisin scones, brown soda bread and beautiful Irish butter and, of course, tea. Pork-o-rama and carb-o-rama. Jaaaysis, is it good!

Breakfast view of the neighbours' sheep Across the road.

From the breakfast table we also had a lovely view out of the window of the neighbour's sheep grazing and baaa'ing at us, and a look out the opposite window had a view of the property across the road, about a kilometer outside Loughrea (Baile Locha Riach), County Galway. Y'know, this is the life ... a nice, good-sized, beautiful house out in the country, a few minutes outside a small town but 25 minutes from Galway City, nice neighbours, sheep gently grazing outside, pitch blackness and a stunning starscape in the sky at night, and where the major complaint from our friends seemed to be that they were 1/10 of a mile too far outside Loughrea to get DSL and had to suffer through dialup. Ah, one could get used to almost anything ...

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, February 23, 2004
Home again, home again, jiggity-jig.   And I miss Ireland already.

It had been way, way too long and it was great to be back. I'll have to make sure that I get back there every couple of years, if humanly possible. That said, it wasn't all a bed of roses; Irish showers suck, and the Irish people, whom I dearly love, still seem pathologically incapable of heating their bathrooms (there's nothing like a trickle of a hot shower cascading down your chest whilst at the same time your back and arse are a trembling mass of gooseflesh because the temperature in the bathroom and shower is about 7°C/45°F).

Anyways, the people were lovely and the hospitality was tops and the craic was ninety; we never had a bad meal (although a few greasy fast food ones which were still good) because the food has come a long way, the pints were perfect and the whiskey was wondrous (with a cocktail or two thrown in for good and surprising measure) and the music ... oh, the music. We'll let that one in a few dribs and drabs over the coming days.

Unfortunately, on our last night in our last pub whilst quaffing our last pint, I started feeling poorly, and by bedtime I was feverish and my head transmogrified into a phlegm factory. It wasn't a fun (11-hour) flight home, and I'm still sick today. We'll hop into and out of the Wayback Machine, though, and go over some travel highlights over the next week or so.

Fáilte romhat isteach!

Recipe of the day: Irish Stew   After a long, hard day of travel and a 3-hour drive to Galway, this is what was waiting for us on the stove when we got to our friends' house in Loughrea. I don't think we could have had a better meal waiting for us.

One of the great things about Irish cooking is that the raw ingredients are just about the best anywhere -- the milk, the butter, the cream, the eggs, the cheese, the beef, pork and lamb ... just gorgeous. I can safely say you probably haven't had lamb until you've had Connemara lamb, so find the best quality stuff you can for this dish. It's hearty, filling and great for a cold night.

Our friend Amanda in Co. Galway got this recipe from a friend's mom in Killarney, Co. Kerry, so it doesn't get any more authentic than this. Still, it contains a couple of small tweaks from me and an idea from our friend Terri, chef and co-owner of Auntie Em's Kitchen in Eagle Rock.

Mrs. O'Sullivan's Irish Stew with Lamb and Guinness

3 pounds lamb shoulder with a little fat, cubed
1/2 cup flour
3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
6 stalks celery, cut into 1/2" slices
2 large yellow onions, cut into large dice
3 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh parsley
2 quarts lamb or beef stock, or as needed
12 ounces Guinness stout
1 cup pearl barley (optional)
2 teaspoons corn starch
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For a real Irish country touch, include the barley -- cook it for 20 minutes in 3 cups of lamb or beef stock, then add when you return the meat to pot with the vegetables.

Cut off some of the parsley leaves and chop enough to make 2 tablespoons; reserve. Cut off some parsley stems, and tie them into a bundle with a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme; reserve.

Season the meat with salt and brown the meat in a little oil. Remove and reserve, and sprinkle with a little flour, shaking off excess. Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery to the pan and sauté, tossing to coat with the fat. Add the Guinness and deglaze, scraping up any caramelized meat juices. Add the potatoes, return the meat to the pot (and the barley if you're using it). Add enough stock to barely cover, cook over medium heat until just boiling, then reduce heat to very low and simmer 2 - 3 hours, until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally.

Check seasonings, add salt and pepper to taste, then remove from heat, stir in parsley and the cornstarch (mixed into 4 teaspoons water) and stir. Cook over low heat for a few more minutes to thicken. Serve with plenty of Irish brown or white soda bread, tea and more Guinness if you like.

YIELD: 6 generous servings

Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras. (Or, "hunger is a tasty sauce" ... this'll certainly satisfy it.)

Cocktail of the day.   This one was strictly therapeutic, but fortunately it tasted really good too. This one's right out of the annals of Irish medicine, with one little touch added by meself. It didn't exactly cure what ailed me, but it soothed the soul, spirit, nose and tummy.

Hot Irish Whiskey Toddy

1-1/2 ounces Irish whiskey.
6 ounces extremely hot tea (Irish blend preferred).
1 tablespoon honey.
2 cloves.
1 cinnamon stick.

Prepare your tea and pot according to the standard method
(which you should already know by now), adding two cloves per
cup to the pot. Add the whiskey to the mug, then the honey
and cinnamon stick. When your tea is brewed (5 minute steep
in the pot is grand), add to the mugs and stir thoroughly,
leaving the cinnamon stick inside to steep.

Ehh, feck what I said earlier ... it will cure what ails ya.

I feel better already.

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  Friday, February 13, 2004
I'm off.   Our flight leaves at 5pm, shuttle comes at 1:30, and I'll be very, very busy before then. We'll be in Ireland tomorrow morning, I may or may not have time to post whilst I'm away (if not, posting will resume on or around February 23), and on Wednesday we see Planxty. I'm very much looking forward to that first pint, too ...

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, February 12, 2004
The Cocktailian.   Today the Professor comes up with a south-of-the-border version of the venerable Singapore Sling, called the Horseshoe Sling, which sounds delectable and perfect for a balmy summer's day.

Curiouser and curiouser.   Via USA Today:

Ex-officer: Bush file's details caused concern
White House denies allegation about Guard records

As Texas Gov. George W. Bush prepared to run for president in the late 1990s, top-ranking Texas National Guard officers and Bush advisers discussed ways to limit the release of potentially embarrassing details from Bush's military records, a former senior officer of the Texas Guard said Wednesday. A second former Texas Guard official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, was told by a participant that commanders and Bush advisers were particularly worried about mentions in the records of arrests of Bush before he joined the National Guard in 1968, the second official said.

Bill Burkett, then a top adviser to the state Guard commander, said he overheard conversations in which superiors discussed ''cleansing'' the file of damaging information.

The White House dismissed Burkett's charge Wednesday. It is an "outrageously false statement," said White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who handled the records in the late 1990s as an aide to Gov. Bush. Administration officials dismiss Burkett as a disgruntled former Guardsman who had a falling-out with his superiors.

Two forms in Bush's publicly released military files -- his enlistment application and a background check -- contain blacked-out entries in response to questions about arrests or convictions. Bush acknowledged in biographies published in 1999 that he was arrested twice before he enlisted in the Air National Guard: once for stealing a wreath and another time for rowdiness at a Yale-Princeton football game.

The nature of what was blacked out in Bush's records is important because certain legal problems, such as drug or alcohol violations, could have been a basis for denying an applicant entry into the Guard or pilot training. Admission to the Guard and to pilot school was highly competitive at that time, the height of the Vietnam War.

Here's The Daily Mislead's take on it, and here's Burkett's side of the story but as Wes points out, he does seem to have a bit of an ax to grind). Still ... curiouser and curiouser. This story just won't go away, will it? There's been very interesting coverage on Calpundit and Billmon's Whiskey Bar as well.

Oh, and there was a hilarious White House press conference yesterday -- don't miss it. McClellan flops around like the proverbial fish out of water, and much worse at not-answering questions that Fleischer was.

Why Dean had to be crushed.   It's sad ... I supported him for so long, and now, as his ruined campaign flounders he's resorted to attacks on John Kerry that are best left for George Bush (and which will likely alienate a number of the small percentage left that'll vote for him). He might have shot himself in the foot a couple of times, but this fascinating article sees Dean's plummet in a different perspective -- he dared to take on the media, and they crushed him.

On December 1, 2003, Howard Dean was ahead by twenty points in the polls when he appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews and said, "We're going to break up the giant media enterprises." This pronouncement went far beyond the governor's previous public musings about possibly re-regulating the communications industry, and amounted to a declaration of war on the corporations that administer the flow of information in the United States.

It was an extraordinarily noble and dangerous thing to do: when he advocated a truly free press, Dr. Dean was provoking the corrupt media conglomerates that control what most Americans see and hear and read, and thereby control what most Americans think.

The media giants quickly responded by crushing his high-flying campaign with the greatest of ease. This time, they didn't even have to invent a scandal in order to achieve the desired result; merely by chanting the word "unelectable" at maximum volume, the mainstream media maneuvered Democratic voters into switching their support to someone who poses no threat to the status quo.


I won't go quite as far as the author did, but he raised some interesting and cogent points. While I'm still not sure Dean would have been able to translate his initial appeal to the unwashed masses, the media went after in a way that leaves one almost speechless; the media coverage of "the scream", just to name one, was unconscionable.

Yay, Josh!!   Finally! A big, slobbery Newfoundland with a heart of gold -- a dog's dog, a real dog, not an absurd walking hedge -- won Best of Show in this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Josh! Steve remarked that he felt like he did the night Bill Clinton first won the presidency, a real dog after all those years of Republican topiary dogs (and meringue dogs and dogs that look like something the cat coughed up). Mary said, "I love that part of the reason the crowd and the judge loved Josh was that he acted like a real dog, with dog personality -- licking, barking, slobbering and apparently watching himself on a video monitor." Good boy, Josh!

Don't get all excited and run off to a breeder to get a Newfie, though -- they are huge dogs, they drool a lot, they're a lot of work and they're not for everyone ... like people who live in one-bedroom apartments. I once knew an awful eejit who went to see the live-action "101 Dalmatians" movie and then ran right out and bought a full-grown Dalmatian. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and kept the poor creature cooped up inside all day ... whereupon the dog, driven nearly mad by confinement and boredom, basically ate his entire apartment. The poor creature went from the pound to bad owner and then back to the pound again; I can only hope he was adopted by people who knew what they were getting into. Such awful eejits should never be allowed to have dogs.

Atkins diet centers on the green.   No, not the green vegetables, the green cash money, as this Boston Globe article asserts in an examination of the "ghoulish Atkins postmortem imbroglio":

A vulgar, agenda-driven invasion of privacy? To be sure. An unnecessary and ultimately irrelevant spectacle exploiting unknowable facts about a man 10 months in the grave? Yes. But let's not forget: This is not a battle over ideas or public health. This is a dispute about money. Lots of money.

Dr. Atkins and his successors who manage the booming $200 million Atkins Nutritionals business were not working for the betterment of mankind, to borrow Mary Baker Eddy's phrase. They were working to sell diet books, millions and millions of them, and specialized food products with the Atkins label. "Atkins" is a registered trademark, and people pay to use it. Most recently, the sandwich chain Subway and the fern bar/pickup joint T.G.I. Friday's have signed partnerships to sell food with the Atkins "seal of approval." The Atkins brand has power, and it uses that power to boost profit margins.

Business Week has noted that Atkins charges $4.99 for a box of soybean-based pasta, twice the price of wheat-based noodles, even though the ingredients cost roughly the same. A Boston private equity company, Parthenon Capital, now owns a majority of Atkins Nutritionals shares and has talked about taking the rapidly growing firm public. "It is something we are considering," says co-chief executive John Rutherford.

Remember: It's all about the green. And I don't mean broccoli.

Soybean-based pasta? Ewwww.

Apparently the Atkins folks recently published an adaptation of one of the recipes from my site (and thanks for asking first ... oh wait, you didn't ask first -- never mind), and instead of flour for making the roux it calls for something called "Atkins Bake Mix", consisting of "Wheat Gluten, Corn Starch, Leavening (Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Casein Protein, Whey Protein, Salt."

The shrimp and collard greens gumbo on my site calls for 2 tablespoons of flour to make the roux for a pot of gumbo that serves six people. That comes down to one teaspoon of flour per serving, for the roux. One teaspoon of flour is going to make you fat? Please. The WeightWatchers Points® value of one teaspoon of flour is ... zero. (The Points value for the whole 2 tablespoons of flour for the recipe is one.) They also change the shrimp stock the recipe calls for -- included so that, y'know, a shrimp gumbo tastes like shrimp -- and substitute canned (eww) chicken broth and water ... so that the supposedly shrimp-based gumbo tastes like chicken with some shrimp in it instead.

The Atkinsites were kind enough to at least give credit to the original recipe that was adapted; that said, we disavow the recipe on the Atkins site. When I say shrimp stock I don't mean canned chicken broth, which I find salty and schmaltzy and which I think generally tastes horrible; in school I saw and tasted dishes which were ruined by the use of Swanson's canned chicken broth. If you're going to make a roux, make a roux, fer Chrissakes.

Any fierce anti-carbohydrate regimen that even calls for the elimination of one teaspoon of flour from a gumbo, there simply to make the roux, doesn't border on the obsessive, it crosses that border and seems to me to be an invader. Eat a balanced diet with a reasonably sized serving portion! Get outside or to the gym and move that big arse of yours! (I've power walked 3.3 miles every day this week, and if lazy Chuck can do it, anyone can.)

Furthermore, "Atkins Bake Mix" is not real food, and it contains corn starch. (What is corn starch, anyway? Car-bo-HY-drate!) The most shocking detail of all ... it's $12 for a 20-ounce can! You can get five pounds of flour for two dollars. That's a price difference of 60¢ per ounce versus 2.5¢ per ounce. The Atkins product is 24 times more expensive than flour.

I'm beginning to see what yer man is talking about when he says it's all about the money, rather than being able to enjoy food (one of the great pleasures of life) and still lose weight. Oh, and speaking of taking things from my web site ...

Get a life, honey.   Jeanna Marie, sweetiedarling, I would really appreciate it if you would get your own life and refrain from appropriating mine. (For comparison's sake, this is my life, the page for which has been up, with this design and content, for several years).

I've had people copy recipes from my site, remove my attributions and credit to themselves, and I've seen people steal other people's page designs, but this is the first time I've seen anyone steal another person's biography -- in many instances on the page, verbatim. Word for word. The irony is that she even appropriates my life's motto -- "Whatever you is, be that!" Topping it off, when she substituted her picture for mine, she also neglected to remove the photo credit linking back to my friend's photography website, which is how she got caught (via his referral logs).

I know, what's the big deal, it's only some little piddly personal bio page. But stealing is wrong, and in this case it also shows a rather egregious lack of imagination. I think this is more sad than malicious, but still ... the noive! Good grief.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, February 11, 2004
One week!!!   I'll be seeing Planxty one week from tonight, something I've very dearly wanted to do since 1982. I still don't quite believe it's actually going to happen.

Planxty at Vicar Street, Dublin, 2/4/2004

Here's what I'm in for, from a review of the first Dublin show by Siobhán Long of The Irish Times. ("The Good Ship Kangaroo" was the first Planxty song I ever heard, and the Irish word "gabháil", generally meaning "to catch, to take, to seize" has many, many shades of meaning, including that of a musical performance in which the listeners are completely captivated.)

There was an air of expectation hanging over the crowd beforehand that would fire a rocket launcher. 23 years is a mighty long time to wait for the rekindling, but somehow we guessed that the wait would be worth it.

Just as soon as Liam O'Flynn exhorted the rest of them to "take it away, boys," we knew we were on home turf and not only would the sods be cut, but that they'd be turned, footed and loaded on the trailer by the time the lights came up, an exhilarating two hours later.

O'Flynn's invisible readying of the bellows, Lunny's and Irvine's intricate tapestry of bouzouki and mandolin and Christy's nervy introductions had the sardine-packed audience on the edge of their seats from the get go. Lunny's bouzouki has always been credited as the engine of the band, and rightly so, his muscular, driving rhythms marking out their territory. Andy Irvine's mandolin and guitar cross-stitched in between with that old familiar ease, his vocals lending their characteristic finesse to the pot. And Christy's sheer ebullience guaranteed that epic sagas such as "The Good Ship Kangaroo" gathered all before them in their welcoming gabháil.

But Liam O'Flynn was the lynchpin that not only held them together but bolstered them so securely that they could take flight. His utterly controlled, surgically precise reading of everything from "Sí Bheag Sí Mhór" to "Tabhair Dom Do Lámh" and "An Buachaill Chaol Dubh" was enough to lure the hardiest of piping allergists into the midst of the mêlée. And when he sidled into the heart of Christy's ultimate set piece, that spellbinding, 26 verse tale of adultery, murder (and true love) that is "Little Musgrave" ... well, some of us simply exited the planet at that moment, content to float free on the sheer genius and magic of the ensemble playing.

They acknowledged their inheritances generously, from Ballyvourney's Elizabeth Cronin to Mickey O'Connell and John Reilly. They traced the tread from Turlough O'Carolan all the way to the anonymous donation of 'Little Musgrave', found by Christy on a series of loose pages languishing on an auctioneer's floorboards.

There were punters there who probably still have the stubs of their tickets from the early days. Everyone just knew that this was going to be something special. For those of us who'd lived their music through the albums, never having witnessed them in 3D, it was akin to an awakening. Liam O'Flynn's pipes were the real revelation, the Marilyn Monroe who burst from the cake at JFK's birthday party. Breaths will be held in anticipation of their live album, and after that, who knows? But these boys' appetites for one another's company won't be easily sated by a dozen New Year gigs. New tunes are lurking very close to the stage door. We could almost hear them tiptoeing towards Lunny's bouzouki as we floated home.

Oh, Jesus.

Yay!   This just in: Chocolate is good for you!

Some of the world's most highly respected chocolate experts met yesterday at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington for tastings, lectures and discussions that focus on environmentally friendly ways to produce cocoa -- the powder that forms the basis of chocolate -- and the health benefits linked to it.

Chocolate contains chemicals called flavanols that have been shown to improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure. The compounds also are found in apples and other plant-based products such as wine and green tea.

The potential health effects of flavanols were discovered two years ago, when studies of blood-vessel function compared individuals who ate dark chocolate, which has high levels of the chemicals, to those who ate chocolate with a lower amount of flavanols.

An 80-calorie bar, which contains 100 mg of flavanols, is the industry's first step toward creating a truly healthful chocolate, Harold Schmitz, director of science at [candy manufacturer] Mars, told the conference.

The hell with Mars -- I've found that Scharffen-Berger, the finest chocolate maker in America, is now producing their chocolates packaged in boxes of 12 little squares. Each individually-wrapped square is 5 grams, and four squares constitutes a two point dessert (of roughly 80-100 calories). Break each of those squares into fourths and let them dissolve slowly on the tongue ... mmmmmm. That's sixteen little minisquares of intense, chocolately delight.

Absolutely. Perfect.

Dr. Atkins' post-mortem.   It seems to me to be an invasion of the man's privacy, but you can't un-leak a document, and since the information is out there I do have some comments.

Dr. Robert Atkins, founder of the controversial and bizarrely popular diet that bears his name, died from head injuries following a fall and now is reported to have been obese, with heart disease and blocked arteries. His widow admits to the blocked arteries, but says that his excess weight was due to "bloating" due to cardiomyopathy and a viral cardiac infection (and people with that affliction do indeed bloat).

I'm still skeptical of Atkins, and so is my doctor -- many, if not most, of his patients who are on the diet also have huge spikes in their cholesterol and triglyceride readings. For the last month I've been talking to many friends and acquaintances about this, and hearing stories about their friends and acquaintances as well. From what I can tell no one within that circle who tried Atkins has stayed on Atkins and kept the weight off. Conversely, everyone who's followed and stayed on WeightWatchers (with one exception, who stopped following the program and returned to her former eating habits) lost the weight and kept it off. (Your mileage may vary; my circle of friends and acquaintances is stacked with foodies, people who love to eat and who would never dream of completely eliminating bread, pasta, fruit and other carbohydrates from their diets.)

I really don't believe in these bizarre diets where you cut out certain foods and gorge on others. I think the answer, hard though it is to achieve, is really very simple -- get plenty of exercise, and eat a balanced diet ... just not so goddamned much of it.

I've been good this week -- I'm looking forward to Friday's weigh-in.

O'Neill's documents to be posted online.   The Price of Loyalty: An Experiment in Transparency -- "These documents are drawn from a collection of 19,000 files of Paul H. O'Neill, the U.S. Treasury Secretary for the first two years of the Presidency of George W. Bush... Documents cited in the "The Price of Loyalty" are presented with explanations of context and little comment. They speak, as does all irrefutable evidence, for themselves. More files of compelling public interest will be released in the coming days and weeks."

Ooo, here's a good one. Page 83 (22 pages), First Week's Plans For Iraqi Takeover:  His papers for February 1, 2001, included an agenda for an NSC meeting to be held in the White House Situation Room that afternoon on U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf. The agenda -- an unclassified cover sheet to classified documents that were not included in O'Neill's papers -- refers to a secret paper on a "Political-Military Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq."

Fascinating, Captain. (Thanks, Teri!)

Unrest.   (Via Jason) Not only have the Bush administration's policies poisoned international relations, it seems that there's been an impact on interplanetary relations as well. I guess we'll be cancelling that pork-- er, manned Mars mission thing now, huh?

"Er, I have a question ..."   That quote will be remembered by my old college and gradual school classmates, for being uttered in a parrotlike squawk, several times a day, by one particularly beloved classmate of ours. However, I won't be telling old college stories; I refer to Michael Moore, who asked some very, very good questions of George W. Bush in his excellent book Dude, Where's My Country? and now asks some more very, very good questions of Bush:

1. How were you able to jump ahead of 500 other applicants to get into the Texas Air National Guard, thus guaranteeing you would not have to go to Vietnam? What calls did your father (who was then a United States Congressman representing Texas) make on your behalf for you to get this assignment?

2. Why were you grounded (not allowed to fly) after you either failed your physical or failed to take it in July 1972? Was there a reason you were afraid to take the physical? Or, did you take it and not pass it? If so, why didn't you pass it? Was it the urine test? The records show that, after the Guard spent years and lots of money training you to be a pilot, you never flew for the rest of your time in the Guard. Why?

3. Can you produce one person who can verify that he served with you in the Guard during the year that your Texas commanders said you did not show up? Why have you failed to bring forth anyone who served with you in the Guard while you were in Alabama? Why hasn't ONE SINGLE PERSON come forward?

4. Can you tell us what you did when you claim to have shown up in Alabama for Guard duty? What were you duties? You were grounded, so what did they have you do instead?

5. Where are the sign-up sheets that would have your name and service number on them for each weekend you showed up? Aaron Brown on CNN told us how, when he was in the reserves, he had to sign in each time he reported, and his guest from the Washington Post said, that's right, and there would be "four copies of that record" in the files of various agencies. Will you ask those agencies to release those records?

6. If you were in fact paid for that time when you apparently went AWOL, will you authorize the IRS to release your 1972-73 tax returns?

7. How did you get an honorable discharge? What strings were pulled? Who called who?

He's already responded, via Scott McClellan, to the first (responded as opposed to answered) by claiming that no calls were made on his behalf, and saying that none of the other 500 was willing to make a six-year commitment.

As for the first assertion, I add an additional question: How is it that you were so rapidly promoted within the Texas Guard, from Airman 2nd Class to 2nd Lieutenant and a pilot, after only six weeks of basic airman training and a score of 25% on the pilot aptitude test?

Bush and his father have adamantly denied that he received preferential treatment, despite the fact that his father was then a U.S. Representative from Texas and his grandfather Prescott had been a prominent U.S. Senator from Connecticut. But the Speaker of the House in Texas at the time, Ben Barnes, admitted under oath last year that he had received a request from a longtime Bush family friend, Sidney Adger of Houston, to help Bush get into the Air National Guard. Barnes further testified that he contacted the head of the Texas Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. James Rose, to pass along Adger's request.

... After he completed only six weeks of basic airman training, Bush received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard. This was by means of a 'special appointment' by the commanding officer of his squadron, with the approval of a panel of three senior officers. This 2nd Lieutenant commission was extraordinary, since it normally required eight full semesters of college ROTC courses or eighteen months of military service or completion of Air Force officer training school. It was so unusual that Tom Hail, the Texas National Guard historian, told the Los Angeles Times that he "never heard of that" except for flight surgeons.

As for the claim that not one of the other men on the waiting list were willing to make the time commitment, not one of five hundred ... well, that's just absurd, isn't it?

This story isn't going to go away, because as everyone from Michael Moore to John Kerry has pointed out, Bush sent our sons and daugters, brothers and sisters into war on false pretenses (and if he was a victim of faulty intelligence, as he keeps claiming, he certainly was a very eager victim), and that makes his military record to be very, very relevant indeed.

Quote of the day.   "Marriage as we understand it -- voluntary, monogamous, legally egalitarian, based on love, involving adults only -- is a pretty recent phenomenon. For much of human history, polygyny was the rule -- read your Old Testament -- and in much of Africa and the Muslim world, it still is. Arranged marriages, forced marriages, child marriages, marriages predicated on the subjugation of women -- gay marriage is like a fairy tale romance compared with most chapters of the history of wedlock."

-- Katha Pollitt, writing in The Nation, November 26, 2003.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Edwards for Prez!   Well, not just yet; I've been a Dean supporter, even though he's doomed. But y'know, this little tidbit might just help edge Sen. Edwards forward, although you have to cough up $50 to get it.

Hrmmm, can his Momma's peanut butter pie possibly be as good as my sister Melissa's peanut butter pie? (By the way, last time I made it I substituted mascarpone cheese for the garden variety cream cheese ... oh, my, Gawd).

Woo, news!   Wes just me a whole pile of interesting movie news, so let's slog through it all:

The Return of the King: On Sunday, February 8, the Directors Guild of America named Peter Jackson best feature film director for his final Tolkien chapter... The award is considered a predictor for the Oscars still to come on February 29. Jackson recently told Entertainment Weekly that he is attempting to work an hour of footage cut from the theatrical release of The Return of the King into the expanded DVD.
Yay Peter! Actually I heard this yesterday and wasn't surprised. If he doesn't win Best Director and Best Picture (really, an award for all three), then it means the forces of Sauron are at work once again.

Philip K. Dick: Variety announced Utopia Pictures & Television has acquired the rights to a number of genre projects, including three science fiction novels by Philip K. Dick. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is a futuristic thriller in which a TV celebrity loses proof of his existence; Valis concerns a messianic prophet who reveals an unexpected truth about the existence of God; and Radio Free Albemuth is Dick's brilliant, but indescribable last novel, published posthumously in 1985. Dale Rosenbloom and John Alan Simon will produce.
He says, "Wow! Wow! And wow! Just don't fuck them up, is all I ask." Me too.

Anonymous Rex: The Hollywood Reporter states that the SciFi Channel has greenlit the production of a two-hour cable movie, based on Eric Garcia's novels, starring Vincent Rubio as a private investigator who is actually a velociraptor evolved to bipedal form and disguised inside a human-looking costume. Screenwriter Joe Menosky has been hired to write the adaptation and two further scripts, with a view to development as a TV series. Julian Jarrold will direct the pilot. Production is expected to involve CG, prosthetic and animatronic effects.
Wes says, "Wow again! This was a GREAT book." I haven't read it yet, but I remember him describing it with breathless delight as he was reading it. I have great trust in the SciFi Channel, given what a great job they did with the "Dune" and "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries. And speaking of which ...

Battlestar Galactica: THR states that the SciFi Channel has picked up the casting option for a new TV series based on its recent miniseries which, in turn, was based on the 1978 ABC TV space opera. If the series launches, episodes will reportedly start shooting in Vancouver in April, with production costs estimated at $1.5 million per show. Zoic Studios supplied impressive visual effects for the miniseries.
Wes comments, "This is only .5 million per episode more than the original series cost... in 1978. Not sure what that comes to in adjusted dollars, but I'm sure it's actually LESS expensive." I hated the original series, and I loved the remake last December -- it was well-written, well-acted, and a meaningful, grown-up story. Nowadays that same effects budget will make anything from 1978 look like stone knives and bearskins. I'm really looking forward to this.

The Bride of Frankenstein: Variety reports that Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the directing team behind "American Splendor", are teaming up with producer Brian Grazer to shoot a remake of Universal's 1935 bee-hived horror matriarch movie, "The Bride of Frankenstein". Variety states that the film will not resemble Universal's recent horror romps, but instead will be a character-driven tale more akin to Rosemary's Baby -- about a New York college student who learns she is a reanimated corpse.
"Risky proprty, great team." I agree. I adored "American Splendor", and it was one of my favorite movies of last year. Speaking of which, I still haven't posted my favorites lists for movies and music from last year ... I'd better get my arse in gear. It's the middle of February already!

That's enough news for now.

*gasp* ... *clutch chest*   Via Tom Tomorrow, who has reason to believe there is snowfall in Hell today:

Conservative television news anchor Bill O'Reilly said Tuesday he was now skeptical about the Bush administration and apologized to viewers for supporting prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The anchor of his own show on Fox News said he was sorry he gave the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons program poised an imminent threat, the main reason cited for going to war.

"I was wrong. I am not pleased about it at all and I think all Americans should be concerned about this," O'Reilly said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."

And while I'm nicking things from Tom, we'll paraphrase Christopher Durang's title and give you a little lesson, in today's installment of "Mr. Tom Tomorrow Explains It All For You":

Why Bill Clinton's statements on Iraq are completely irrelevant to the current debate

Since some of our slower friends are having trouble with this one, I'll try to put this as simply as possible.

1. President Bush said many, many times that he had no intention of attacking Iraq before 9/11.

2. President Bush said many, many times that he only decided to attack Iraq because of 9/11.

3. President Bush, in fact, was actively planning to attack Iraq from the moment he took office.

4. President Bush lied.

All clear now? Good. Now run along and play.

Try to avoid the traffic, though.

"Please, sir, don't make me laugh."   From today's Washington Post column by Richard Cohen:

During the Vietnam War, I was what filmmaker Michael Moore would call a "deserter." Along with President Bush and countless other young men, I joined the National Guard, did my six months of active duty (basic training, etc.) and then returned to my home unit, where I eventually dropped from sight. In the end, just like President Bush, I got an honorable discharge. But unlike President Bush, I have just told the truth about my service. He hasn't.

At least I don't think so. Nothing about Bush during that period -- not his drinking, not his partying -- suggests that he was a consistently conscientious member of the Texas or Alabama Air National Guard. As it happens, there are no records to show that Bush reported for duty during the summer and fall of 1972. Nonetheless, Bush insists he was where he was supposed to be -- "Otherwise I wouldn't have been honorably discharged," Bush told Tim Russert. Please, sir, don't make me laugh.

It is sort of amazing that every four or eight years, Vietnam -- that long-ago war -- rears up from seemingly nowhere and comes to figure in the national political debate. In 1988 Dan Quayle had to answer for his National Guard service. In 1992 Bill Clinton had to grapple with the question of how he avoided the Vietnam-era draft. Now George Bush, who faced this question the last time out, has to face it again. The reason is that this time he is likely to compete against a genuine war hero. John Kerry did not duck the war.

But George Bush did. He did so by joining the National Guard. Bush now wants to drape the Vietnam-era Guard with the bloodied flag of today's Iraq-serving Guard -- "I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard," Bush warned during his interview with Russert -- but the fact remained that back then the Guard was where you went if you did not want to fight. That was the case with me. I opposed the war in Vietnam and had no desire to fight it. Bush, on the other hand, says he supported the war -- as long, it seems, as someone else fought it.


Remember also that Bush's test scores to become a Guard fighter pilot were described as "abysmal", yet oddly enough he was "leapfrogged" to the head of a 500-man waiting list and got in. How did that happen, I wonder?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, February 9, 2004
My favorite moment of Tim Russert's interview with George W. Bush on "Meet the Press" yesterday morning was this one, where he asked a question and followed it with a quote from Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe regarding Bush's AWOL status when supposedly serving in the National Guard, then the look on Bush's face:

The statement and that sourpuss look

That was the biggest laugh I've had on TV since ... oh, since last week's episode of "Will and Grace". I don't have to give Bush's performanace on "Meet the Press" a bad review. I'll just let all the conservatives do it.

He certainly seemed to have been giving his Winston Smiths lots of work over at Minitrue; for instance, revising his rationale for war with Iraq. Oh, the war was justified because Saddam supposedly could have made weapons of mass destruction. Funny, that's not what he said last March.

There was another statement Bush made that struck me right in the middle of my forehead (one of several instances where I shouted at my television); Trapper John over at The Daily Kos picks that one apart far better than I could have, so if he'll indulge me I'll quote him (boldface emphasis mine):

There's no question that the idea that Bush may have been AWOL during part of his tenure in the Guard is intriguing. But it's not nearly the most offensive aspect of his military history, and it's mired in uncertainty. We need to avoid getting caught up in the legalistic AWOL/not-AWOL arguments, and focus on what Bush himself admits when asked how he got out of the Guard 8 months early: "I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military."

Imagine with me a soldier named Joe Smith, from Southeast DC. Corporal Smith joined the DC Guard to pay for his undergrad degree at UDC -- he was the first member of his family to earn a four-year degree. Smith has been posted in Tikrit for the past six months, and despite the fact that his Guard commitment was due to end on Dec. 31, he isn't allowed to leave the service, due to Bush's stop-loss orders. But Smith applied to business schools before leaving for Iraq, and has just been accepted into Howard Business School.

Will Corporal Smith, who has already served longer than the term for which he signed up -- and who has served in a war zone -- be able to "work it out with the military" so that he can go to the "other" HBS? Hell no. And that, folks, is a powerful testament to the arrogant sense of entitlement that permeates every cell of George Walker Bush. The fact that he can characterize his service as entirely honorable, and apparently believes that it was somehow normal to "work out" a deal with the military so that he could return to his Ivy League roots -- at the same time that he keeps Guard members in Iraq long past the time when they should have gone home -- is appalling and foreign to regular Americans.

Bush got into the Texas Guard pilot program despite abysmal test scores, during a time that there was a draft on for an overseas war, and he was able to bail out early on that because he wanted to go to b-school. Today, Bush issues stop-loss orders that keep Guardsmen like Corporal Smith -- who unlike Bush, serve in an overseas war -- in the service indefinitely. And unlike George Walker Bush, son of a Representative/Ambassador/RNC chair and grandson of a Senator, the Smiths of today's Guard don't get to make it all stop just because they want to kill time at business school.

That is an issue which will resonate with Americans. Bush has never played by the rules forced on the rest of us, and his b-school/Guard dealings highlight the imbalance of the playing field.

As we say back home, yeah you rite.

The sky is falling.   Except this time, it isn't just Chicken Little ... it really is falling. All you Bush administration apologists who scoffed when we warned you that our civil liberties were in grave danger should read this article. If this is upheld and the government gets away with this, this is a very dangerous precedent for the criminalization of dissent and crackdowns on constitutionally mandated freedoms of speech and assembly.

Food journalism blossoms.   Via the American Journalism Review: "Food journalism, once a throwaway compendium of recipes and 'what's hot' articles, has gone upscale. Newspapers and magazines are dedicating top talent to the food beat, and they are hungry for sophisticated stories with timely angles. (Thanks, Meredith!)

If I ignore it, it will go away.   Er, no.

Bush, Aides Ignored CIA Caveats on Iraq
Clear-Cut Assertions Were Made Before Arms Assessment Was Completed

In its fall 2002 campaign to win congressional support for a war against Iraq, President Bush and his top advisers ignored many of the caveats and qualifiers included in the classified report on Saddam Hussein's weapons that CIA Director George J. Tenet defended Thursday.

In fact, they made some of their most unequivocal assertions about unconventional weapons before the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was completed.

Iraq "is a grave and gathering danger," Bush told the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002. At the White House two weeks later -- after referring to a British government report that Iraq could launch "a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order" is given -- he went on to say, "Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX -- nerve gas -- or someday a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally."

Three weeks later, on the day the NIE was delivered to Congress, Bush told lawmakers in the White House Rose Garden that Iraq's current course was "a threat of unique urgency."

On Thursday, summarizing the NIE's conclusions, Tenet said: "They never said Iraq was an imminent threat."

It's amazing to me that these people think that we'll forget things from just a year ago. (Unfortunately, a lot of the American public probably do. Fortunately, there are those of us who do remember.)

The Onion: Remarkably prescient.   On January 18, 2001, I posted a link to a story on The Onion that at the time I thought was funny. One year and seven months later, on August 1, 2002, I posted the article again, saying that "it is so eerily prescient that I'm compelled to link it again." My friend Robb sent it to me again last weekend, and I'm sad (and a little terrified) to say that I no longer think the article is funny.

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."


Trackin' dem pernts.   There's an interesting site called that has, among other things, a listing of the nutritional information for dishes at dozens and dozens of chain, franchise and fast food restaurants. I try to avoid eating at most of these places anyway, but when I'm stuck at one it's good to know what I'm getting into. For instance, I was shocked to find that what I thought was healthy eating at Baja Fresh really wasn't, and there are only a few dishes there I really shouuld be eating.

Some of the items they list are just shocking. There's a chain restaurant I've never heard of called O'Charley's; they offer a menu item described as "O'Charley's® Ribs, Full Rack (baby back ribs basted in O'Charley's special-recipe sauce, served with fries and cole slaw). This one meal contains a staggering 2,872 calories, 190g of fat (292% of your RDV) and nearly 6 grams of sodium (245% of your RDV) for a whopping 72 points ... in other words, three days' worth of eating for me, and none of it good for you. Good Gawd. (Thanks, Robb!)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, February 6, 2004
Weekly weigh-in.   182. Four more pounds and I reach my first WeightWatchers goal of losing 10% of my previous body weight. 16 down, 24 to go. Woo! Let's see if I can get there by summer.

RIP Alligator Annie.   Via Mary Katherine, who sends in sad news from Terrebonne Parish:

Annie Miller, a Cajun naturalist credited with founding Louisiana's first swamp boat tour business 25 years ago, has died. She was 89. Miller, better known as "Alligator Annie," suffered from heart disease and died Monday. Her health forced her to turn her well-known swamp tour shop over to her son Jimmy Bonvillain last year.

She was born west of Houma on the Bayou Black river, grew up trapping with her parents and raised two children on the swamp. For 18 years, she and her late husband Eddie Miller caught up to 200 snakes a day to sell to zoos and laboratories. In the early 1970s, the couple tamed two otters they had caught playing in the Bayou Black swamps. The animals were later sold to Walt Disney Productions and featured in two movies: "An Otter in the Family" and "A Day in Teton Marsh."

I remember Annie quite well, having met her the first year my friend Nancy invited me to tag along on her wonderful "Creole and Cajun Country Tour", which is part of her company Festival Tours' trips to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Annie was a real hoot, and knew the land, its flora and fauna like the back of her hand. The tour was interesting and entertaining enough, but then at one point she stopped the boat at a watery crossroads, put the anchor down, and began to call out in a high, sing-song voice ...


And about half a dozen alligators came out from wherever they were hiding, and began to swim toward the boat. (*gulp*) It was the first time in my life I had ever met an alligator named Isabel.

She knew these gators by name and by sight, and they obviously knew her. They knew what she had in store for them, too -- a big bag of whole chickens. Annie would then spear a chicken on the end of ... well, a pretty long spear, then hold the chicken out several feet outside the boat. The gators would rise up of the water to practically half their body length, then ... *GOBBLE*GNAW* ... back into the water they'd go, with an easy dinner.

She obviously cared very deeply for these creatures, too; she pointed out a scar on Charlie's snout, where he had been shot by a hunter, and she got visibly choked up when telling us about one of the gators which hadn't come to greet us, as he'd gotten caught. (I felt a little guilty at the time, because I really like alligator meat; fortunately, alligators are no longer endangered, and are even being farmed.)

Annie was one of those rare humans who care about the land, who get to know it, cherish it and do what they can to take care of it. It's a pity that there are so few of her kind left.

Cocktail of the day.   This one came in from our friend Daniel, which he found while playing around with CocktailDB (something I highly recommend doing). None of us had heard of it, although he pointed out that it does appear in Jones' Complete Bar Guide (then again, that book is so big and full of thousands of tiny recipes that it's easy to overlook something). Perhaps its name comes from its Kentucky-born "thoroughbred" spirit, but in any case it's a very tasty twist on a Manhattan.

Riding Lesson Cocktail

1-3/4 ounces Bourbon whiskey.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur.
1 dash Angostura bitters.
Cherry garnish.

Stir (or shake) and strain; garnish with stemless cherry.

Although we have yet to try it this way, Daniel suggests doubling the amount of Bénédictine for an even more distinctive taste. We'll try that variation next.

Uh huh.   So Bush has hand-picked the commission, and says, "Members of the commission will issue their report by March 31, 2005." How convenient. He's rushing the 9/11 commission to get their report in early, and refuses to give them the time they say they need to be thorough. But this commission, whose findings could potentially be damaging to him in the election, gets a whole 13 months. How very convenient. Here's another telling tidbit:

Bush pushed the due date for the commission's report until more than 13 months from now because, aides said, he did not want the probe to become embroiled in election-year politics. British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a similar commission this week and called for its report by July.
Ain't that ironical? I'm very much looking forward to hearing Blair's commission's report in five months. I wouldn't be surprised if their results end up putting a great deal of pressure to get this side's commission's results in sooner.

Here are some comments from Bob Harris, posting in "This Modern World"'s weblog:

I hear George W. Bush's hand-picked whitewashing of the Iraq intel failures will be co-chaired by Laurence Silberman.

Described simply as a retired federal judge by most news reports, Silberman was until recently one of the three judges of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which oversees sensitive domestic surveillance issues and approves of wiretaps of suspected terrorists. After 9/11, this became the judicial body which would uphold John Ashcroft's agenda in the Patriot Act and (in the words of the ACLU -- read down in the collection of articles) "rubber-stamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants."

In other words, Silberman hardly seems disinterested, and more like a full-fledged member of Team Death Star.

Silberman is also one of the two judges who threw out Oliver North's Iran-Contra conviction. Later, he served as a "mentor" to American Spectator writer David Brock during the years of constant character assassination against Bill Clinton.

Yeah. We're reeeeeaaally gonna get an objective report, free of any political agenda.

P.S. -- More on Silberman via Josh Marshall and (as noted by Atrios), Orcinus, who has compiled a nice laundry list of evil.

I question the impartiality of this commission, and I find Bush's decision to hand-pick the members to be extremely questionable. That said, I hope we can rely on them to do the right thing, especially McCain and the president of Yale. I heard an interview with the latter on NPR on the way home tonight, and he made feel a little better. Just a little.

I also wonder that if anyone in the administration suggests to McCain that he cut BushCo some slack, then McCain might just remember what Rove and Bush did to him when he was running for President.

"Dazzlingly deceitful."   Although this piece's actual title is good too, Wes loved the phrase "dazzlingly deceitful" when he sent it to me, and I love it too. I'm a sucker for alliteration. The editorial is a must-read as well.

Sex, Lies and Bush Tapes

Using this week's White House budget methodology, I can project that if you just keep reading this column, your assets will increase by $28,581 and you will lose 12.42 pounds. And this column is projected to end after just one paragraph.

Well, so much for White House projections.

If we're serious about confronting threats to our way of life, we don't have to hunt them in the caves of eastern Afghanistan. We can find a serious threat in the West Wing of the White House as the Bush administration charts its fiscal policy.

President Bush's budget policies have mortgaged America, yet instead of repairing the damage, he is intensifying the harm by trying to make his tax cuts permanent. And this week he presented a budget that is so dazzlingly deceitful it does not even attempt to include the bills for our presence in Iraq.


If there's one thing that's going to get that man out of the White House and back to his Texas ranch where he belongs, I'll bet it's going to be the one-two-three punch of the deficit, the budget and the economy ... and the mind-boggling debt he's leaving for the next generation.

Good news?   Maybe. Crappy headline? Certainly. However, it's an interesting analysis of potentially good news.

As the Democratic presidential race enters its closing phase, the party finds itself facing prospects for the fall election that are vastly improved from just two months ago. At the same time, for reasons that are partly related and partly coincidence, President Bush is weaker than his strategists expected, spreading alarm in the White House and Republican circles, GOP sources said.

The new balance in the race, even as Democratic front-runner Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) still faces spirited challenges, is a striking circumstance in historical terms. Usually, nominating battles weaken candidates, at least temporarily, as a party's ideological rifts and personal resentments take time to heal and sometimes prove fatal in the general election. This year, the Democratic contest is likely to produce a nominee who will be stronger coming out of the process than going in, according to strategists with both parties.


The not-so-good news is ... I'm probably going to have to remove my Dean for America icon in a couple of weeks, because he's probably not going to win Wisconsin, Michigan or Washington. Kerry is not my first choice, or even my second, and although I will of course support him if he's the nominee, he and the rest of us could find things getting interesting at the convention. Dean is still only in second place when it comes to total number of delegates, so there might just be some bargaining going on with regards to policies and party platform, and all that other stuff that makes potentially boring political conventions more interesting. We'll have to stay tuned.

In the meantime, my ideal Democratic candidate from 1988 has resurfaced. The heck with Kerry -- let's draft Jack Tanner!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, February 3, 2004
The day the music died.   Forty-five years ogo, a small plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa took the lives of Richie Valens, The Big Bopper and Buddy Holly. One can only imagine what amazing things Buddy and Richie would have done had they not died at the ages of 22 and 17, respectively. And "Rave On" is still one of my favorite songs.

We're sorry, Tuba.   It's horrible that the jazz funeral of Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, in which I was proud to be a participant, ended on such a sour note, with another wholly senseless death. I had been considering heading to Joe's Cozy Corner that evening, to see Kermit Ruffins (who had been next to me in the second line for a while, with his trumpet); fortunately I decided to see Bruce Daigrepont with Michael and David Doucet and Steve Riley at Tipitina's instead, and was spared witnessing this. Nick Spitzer stuck around, though, and saw it happen.

As a folklorist I've followed famous songs about murder in New Orleans and elsewhere, like the lovers' barroom quarrel in "Frankie and Johnny" or the tough-guys' shoot-out in "Staggerlee." Even the names of this day's hero and alleged villain, Tuba Fats and Papa Joe, sound mythic.

No one can dispute the greatness of the songs or the traditions of a jazz funeral. But we also have a tradition here of resorting too easily to violence.

The conundrum of life in New Orleans is how to keep the traditions that celebrate people and their communities, but rid ourselves of equally persistent legacies of violence and lawlessness.

Tuba Fats did his part to keep the best of tradition, and everybody loved him for it. How tragic and ironic it is that a deadly battle over street turf had to be the final punctuation on the second-line that honored his life.

(Thanks, Mike.)

Pass me the bottle of Dreamy Sleepy Nighty Snoozy Snooz.   I'm spending the night in a sleep clinic tonight, as my doctor has ordered a sleep study for me. We think that Obstructive Sleep apnea might be the reason behind some of my high blood pressure, plus daytime sleepiness and irritability (both symptoms of apnea), not to mention my apparently thunderous snoring.

The guy at the frame shop I've been going for 20 years had the same problem, and last weekend told me, "I was once asked to leave a campground where I was staying. It was a big campground, too." As I'm liable to get asked to sleep in a tent all the way in the back of the property soon, this is definitely something I should look into. (Incidentally, my friend at the frame shop lost 50 pounds, after which his apnea, snoring, high blood pressure and borderline diabetes all went away. He looks great.)

It will be profoundly weird to be sleeping in a strange place tonight, connected to electrodes. It's all fascinating (and I'm very curious as to the results); I'm just hoping I can actually get to sleep all wired up like this. Gotta do lots of vigorous exercise today.

King Cake time is drawing to a close!   Mardi Gras Day is three weeks from today. Carnival season in about to kick into high gear in the Crescent City, and if any of you New Orleanians or expatriates want to throw a King Cake party, now's the time to do it -- no more King Cakes after Carnival.

A King Cake from Maurice's Follow the above link for the entire history and tradition, but briefly ... King Cakes are ring-shaped cakes of sweet dough, decorated with purple, green and gold sugar (the colors of Carnival). Buried in the cake somewhere is a little plastic baby. King Cake parties feature lots of great food and free-flowing drink (and preferably lots of great Mardi Gras music), and the cake's for dessert. Whoever gets the baby in their piece of King Cake must, according to tradition, throw the next King Cake party.

This year I've decided to try a cake from Maurice's French Pastries, founded by French chef Jean-Luc Albin, who has quickly built a reputation not only for his French pastries and his New Orleans-style King Cakes, but for his traditional French King Cakes, which are made with a flaky puff pastry and an almond cream filling. I've always been a fan of the traditional N.O. style cake, with the cinnomon sweet dough (even the old dry ones from the late McKenzie's Pastry Shoppes that Tom Fitzmorris hates so much), instead of the newer filled cakes (pastry cream, jelly, etc.) But Chef Albin has one on his menu I couldn't resist: Chocolate Bourbon Pecan King Cake, and that's the one that'll be winging its way to my house on Friday. Yeah you rite!

If you've got a mind to do some King Cake shopping, some of the other more well-known bakeries back home are Gambino's, Haydel's and Randazzo's. (R.I.P. -- McKenzie's Pastry Shoppes, in all their dry, crumbly and extremely inexpensive glory; and Lawrence's Bakery on Elysian Fields, with their huge sign featuring the smiling, mustachioed visage of Lawrence "Mr. Wedding Cake" Aiavolasiti. That picture used to scare me when I was a wee tyke, actually; Mr. Wedding Cake was right next door to my pediatrician's office, and a visit there usually meant a huge needle getting stuck into my tiny little ass.)

A periodic table.   This one is, as usual, not of the elements, but is a table of condiments that periodically go bad. If that mustard or jelly has been in your fridge since 1992, get rid of it.

Rare eloquence and astonishing conviction!   Let's hop in the Wayback Machine with Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and set the dials back a little over 32 years to October 21-23, 1971 -- when John Kerry made his first appearance in Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury".

Quote of the day.   Or rather, paraphrase of the day, since I wasn't actually watching when this line was uttered. I didn't watch the Super Bowl either (of course), so I missed all the halftime hoo-hah. (Pelvis and nipple and boob, oh my!) But I wasn't surprised to hear Jon Stewart's evaluation from "The Daily Show" the other night:

The real problem with the Janet/Justin controversy is that it takes away from what it should really be about -- that is, how bad the music sucked.
I had already expressed my opinion about a greater debacle when I rang CBS in New York the other day, at (212) 975-4321. Apparently they were being inundated (a little practice for all the boob panic) -- I got a dozen busy signals before I got through. It rang about 50 times before there was an answer. I politely asked the operator to connect me with whomever takes comments from the public regarding broadcast policy when she interrupted me to ask where I was calling from. I told her, and the next thing she said was, and I quote, "Are you for or against the ad?"

"Do you mean the MoveOn ad?" I asked for confirmation. "Yes," she replied. I said I was very much FOR the ad, and that if CBS had run an issue-oriented ad paid for by the White House during last year's Super Bowl, it's terribly unfair to refuse to run an ad by the other side this year, particularly when that ad just contains a statment of fact. She thanked me, said she'd pass my opinion on, and that was that. Not as if it did any good. Oh well. I don't think I watch a single show on CBS anyway, and I'm happy to keep it that way.

Bullshit talks, the truth walks.   A large segment of the American public is, even at this late date, either not paying attention to the news, willfully ignorant or just plain stupid, apparently. Via Cursor: A Newsweek poll taken after David Kay's Senate testimony found that 55% of respondents "think Iraq actually had banned biological or chemical weapons right before the Iraq War started in March," and that 49% believed "Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was DIRECTLY involved in planning, financing or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001."

Helloooo! Hellooooo! (*knock*knock*on*head*) There weren't any, and he didn't. Thank you.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, February 2, 2004
Weekly weigh-in.   Well ... there kinda isn't one. I switched my official weigh-in day to Friday.

That seemed to fit in better with the way things have been shaping up. I've been tending to behave myself (more or less) during the week, and spending all of my FlexPoints on the weekend. If the weekend is where I'm being more indulgent (although still remaining within the confines of the program), the last thing I want to do is weigh myself right after that. I decided to weigh myself right before it (aah, it's all smoke, mirrors and number-juggling anyway).

(But just for kicks and giggles, this morning the scale said 183.5 ... woo! Three pounds down from last week!)

It's not a caper.   There's a funny scene at the beginning of Philip Kaufman's excellent remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" -- Donald Sutherland's character is a public health inspector, and as the movie opens he's at work inside a French restaurant in San Francisco, holding up with a pair of tweezersan object he's found floating in a pot of soup.

French chef: Eet's a capehrrr.

Sutherland (dryly): It's a rat turd.

French chef (insistent): Eet's a CAY-pehrrr!

Sutherland: All right. If it's a caper ... eat it.

French chef: (blanches)

We love that scene. Wes and I quote it all the time. (That movie needs the comic relief at the start, because after that it gets really, really scary.)

That scene came into mind after Wes came into the kitchen the other day and saw me sampling one of the new cereals I had bought. I've been learning how important it is to a weight loss program to eat breakfast, and to do so every day; it kick-starts your metabolism. It may sound counter-intuitive, but you'll lose more weight if you eat three meals a day (or even graze 5 or 6 times a day) than if you skip meals or try to starve yourself -- your body will go into starvation mode and conserve fat. Anyway, one of those cereals was Post 100% Bran, a serving of which (a mere 1/3 cup) has so much fiber in it (9g, 36% of your recommended daily intake) that its Points value nearly cancels itself out, and only costs you 1 point. He looked at the small bowl I had poured.

"Um ..." he said, "that looks rather like rat turds."

"Yes, it does," I replied. "And it tastes rather like a whisk broom."

Folks, it may be good for you, but don't eat that cereal for the way it tastes. But hey, you'll be as regular as a handmade Swiss watch! A nice dose of fiber is good for the weight loss, too. I find that 100% Bran is best taken (rather than eaten, as I still think of eating as something wonderfully pleasurable) when mixed with another cereal that actually tastes good -- like Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries (2 points); it sublimates itself well when you've got something with some flavor. Add lots of berries to it too -- a half-cup of blueberries is only 1/2 point, and it helps hide the oh-so-delightful broomlike taste of the bran.

Even if you're dieting, eating should still be a pleasure. If it isn't, you're going to fall off the diet. I'll spend an extra couple of points at breakfast to mix the bran with a good-tasting cereal, 'cause spending the extra points to keep oneself from falling off the wagon is the only way it's gonna work.

Quote of the day.   This pretty much sums up why I'm happy with WeightWatchers and why I don't do Atkins. (Thanks, David!)

"The real joys of the day aren't found on a plate."

-- Colette Heimowitz, Vice President of Education and Research, Atkins Nutritionals

Good lord, get me far, far away from this person and her ilk! That philosophy is completely abhorrent to me. Remember that New Orleanians don't eat to live, we live to eat. We understand that a fine meal can one of the greatest joys this life has to offer, and despite the whisk broom I eat with my breakfast sometimes, I'm still eating pretty well even on a weight-loss program, thankyouverynice.

Now playing.   My favorite album of the year so far isn't a full album, unfortunately -- it's only a four-song EP. It's by The Bens, which consists of Ben Folds, Ben Kweller and Ben Lee, three artists that I really like by themselves, but together ... well, this record is exponentially good! Order it now, or check it out first at the iTunes Music Store (and if you're not married to the plastic and aluminum disc, buy it there instantly).

It's breathtaking.   This entire post from Kos is a must-read. I found the link via Atrios, who said, "For 18 months the conservative Borg blasted the CIA for not recognizing the true threat that was Saddam's moustache, and now we're going to hear them all tell us the complete opposite. These people lie without regards for the consequence. Increasingly, they lie knowing that everybody knows they're full of it." Read all the links. The piece begins with administration crowing about how we're all "safer" now that Saddam's in custody, as are our troops ... then points out that January was the second-deadliest month for our troops since "major combat operations" ceased. Here are a few highlight paragraphs.

As Iraq burns, we must ask ourselves why Bush was so desperate to go in? Despite desperate attempts to change the rationale to humanitarian grounds, the obvious reason for war was WMD, and their imminent threat to the U.S. and its allies. Nevermind our allies didn't seem as concerned -- their intelligence services simply didn't grasp the severity of the threat.

... So despite the anti-CIA cacophony we are hearing from the Right, the CIA never claimed Iraq had ties to terrorists, or had WMDs posing a threat to the US or its allies. Everyone may have thought Iraq had some mustard gass lying around from its Iraq/Iran War days, but that's a far cry from any "imminent" threat. And regardless of how we got in, how do you excuse this level of mismanagement and lack of planning?

So why are our men and women dying in Iraq? Because of Bush's irrational obsession with taking out Saddam. Because of lies of WMDs. Because of an administration that didn't feel compelled to plan for a difficult post-war governance. Incompetence all around. It's breathtaking, and given the results, heartbreaking.

Josh also points out Washington Post columnist James Hoagland's column of yesterday that endorses the "CIA sold the president a bill of goods" defense. Oddly enough, Hoagland "spent the last two years telling me that the president and his top aides had to bully the Agency and the rest of the career types in the Intelligence Community and the national security establishment into getting religion on the Iraq threat." In fact, his column of October 20, 2002 says that the CIA's record of underestimating the Iraqi threat was so dire that "it is no surprise that Bush has until now relied little on the Langley agency for his information on Iraq. There is simply no way to reconcile what the CIA has said on the record and in leaks with the positions Bush has taken on Iraq." It also describes, according to Josh, how "the president and his aides had bullied the analysts at the CIA into finally admitting what a threat Saddam posed. 'As President Bush's determination to overthrow the Iraqi dictator has become evident to all, a cultural change has come over the world's most expensive intelligence agency: Some analysts out at Langley are now willing to evaluate incriminating evidence against the Iraqis and call it just that.'"

Mmm hmm.

Thanks for the memories.   Here's a nice, big Flash animation for your enjoyment and edification. Thanks to Dave for sending it in, who says, "Sometimes, individual audio and visual elements combine to create something that has a powerful effect... even greater than the sum of its parts. I think this clip is just such a creation. It's a powerful indictment."

"Let's say one cookie equals $10 billion."   Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's (and that man knows from cookies), explains the Bush administration's budget using Oreos. (Thanks, um ... whoever emailed this to me. I forgot, sorry.)

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  Sunday, February 1, 2004
Oh. My. God.   You thought you forgot it, didn't you? Your subconscious mind blotted it out of existence, because keeping it in your memory was just too terrible to bear. And because you can't stop yourself, you'll click the link and watch the trailer for it, and all the horror will begin flooding back. Among many other reactions and emotions roiling in your soul, you will wonder what in the holy living feck made any (in fact, any number of) cokehead movie studio people think that the following would actually be an appealing tag line for this atrocity: "This summer ... only one movie will have Kristy MacNichol and Christopher Atkins ... singing!"

"The most original movie in a hundred years! It's more movie than ever before!" Sweet sufferin' Jaaaaaysis ...

Unbelievably fecking stupid.   Whoever said irony was dead was wrong, wrong, wrong. Via Atrios, who tells us that a group of high school students were "stopped from performing an anti-totalitarianist play because in it they cut up a flag. You just can't make this stuff up." (On a personal note ... during my abortive acting career, I performed this play in 7th grade, playing one of the students in the class. It was, alas, my final public performance as an actor.)

The play praises patriotism, but the judges only saw teens cutting up an American flag.

It was enough to disqualify Archbishop McCarthy High students from a competition early this week for their performance of "The Children's Story". In the play, first published in 1963 by Shogun author James Clavell, third-graders in a classroom in a United States that has been defeated by a powerful enemy, presumably Communist, cut the flag into pieces. Their new teacher tells them if the flag is so good, everyone should get a piece and tells them to hand out the shreds. It's a message about the dangers of mindless political indoctrination.

"The play is actually pro-American," said Erin Fragetta, 15, a sophomore at the southwest Broward County school who worked on the production. "It was intended to be an anti-communist message, and the judges just turned it around on us."


After receiving complaints about the flag cutting, co-chairman Melody Wicht, who teaches drama at Pembroke Pines Charter High, disqualified the McArthur team.

"Some people came to me after the play and complained about the performance," Wicht said. "So I looked into it."

Wicht said she based her decision on Florida Statute 876.52, which says "Whoever publicly mutilates, defaces or tramples with intent to insult any flag ... of the United States shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree."


"For 10 years it's been clear that these flag desecration statutes are unconstitutional," said Bruce Rogow, a Nova Southeastern University law professor specializing in constitutional law and First Amendment rights. "What's especially ironic is that this is a pro-democracy, anti-totalitarianism play, and yet they're punished for using the flag as an example of what shouldn't be done in a totalitarian society."

Rogow cited the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down such a statute in the case of Texas vs. Johnson.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the court's opinion that flag desecration is the ultimate expression of disagreement in a democracy."

Faire le boggle ...

A little trip down memory lane, promises Tom Tomorrow, as he invites us to embark on a rather entertaining Google search.

January Looka! entries have been permanentlyarchived.

[ Link to today's entries ]

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