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 of the reality-based community, movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, 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 @ 2:59pm PST, 2/28/2005

RSS Feed

If you like, you are welcome to send e-mail to the author. Your comments on each post are also welcome; however, right-wing trolls are about as welcome as a boil on my arse.
Search this site:

Now available!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores, or order from

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute long profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005. Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)

*      *      *

"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans

"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.

"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune

"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times

"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.

"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan,

"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy,

"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times


"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

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."

-- George W. Bush, describing what it's like to be governor of Texas, Governing Magazine, July 1998

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

-- George W. Bush,, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."

-- George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001

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

January 2005

2004:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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.

How to donate to this site:

Your donations help keep this site going. PayPal's the best way -- just click the button below, and thanks!

You can also donate via the Honor System, if you wish (but they deduct a larger fee from your donation and I keep less).

(Also, here's a shameless link to my Amazon Wish List.)

Buy stuff!

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

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
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)

Air America Radio
   (Talk radio for the
   rest of us)
Joe Frank
Grateful Dead Radio
   (Streaming complete
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 Internet's most comprehensive
   and indispensible database of
   authenticated cocktail recipes,
   ingredients, reseearch and more.
   By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits, Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.

*     *     *
The Sazerac Cocktail
   (The sine qua non of cocktails,
   and the quintessential New Orleans
   cocktail. Learn to make it.)

The Footloose Cocktail
   (An original by Wes;
   "Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
   "Very elegant, supremely
   sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)

The Hoskins Cocktail
   (An original by Chuck;
   "It's nothing short of a
   masterpiece." - Gary Regan)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
   (A few things we like to
   drink at home, plus a couple
   we don't, just for fun.)

*     *     *

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

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

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

The Cocktailian Gazette
   (The monthly newsletter of
   The Museum of the
   American Cocktail.)

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

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)
   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

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:
Chocolate and Zucchini
Honest Cuisine
KIPlog's FOODblog
Mise en Place
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu
Waiter Rant

More food!
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:

The Value of X, by Poppy Z. Brite.

The Cat's Pajamas, by Ray Bradbury.

Microcosmic God: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 2, by Theodore Sturgeon.

Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, by Mort Rosenblum.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
The Frames
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Professor Longhair
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

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
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3.)

Chuck's Photo of the Day Archive


The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
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

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

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

by Walt Kelly

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

Meet the Fockers (***)

Lookin' at da TV:

"The West Wing"
"Battlestar Galactica"
"The Sopranos"
"Six Feet Under"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
"Father Ted"
The Food Network


Polly Ticks: (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

Borowitz Report
(Political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (Your stories)
Landover Baptist (Better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.) (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
Anil Dash
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
Jesus' General
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Right Hand Thief
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
Ted Rall
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Under the Gunn
Whiskey Bar
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

My Darlin' New Orleans:

Gambit Weekly


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home:

Library Chronicles
Metroblogging N.O.
Right Hand Thief

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 G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.3 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.)


Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

  Monday, February 28, 2005

Yawn.   Our friends' Oscar party is always fun -- that's always due to the great people there and the great food (with awfully punny names, based on one of the nominated movies), and never due to the Oscar telecast itself, which this year was as boring as ever. Wes sent in a quote from Slate that he felt summed it up:

"Except for Foxx's speech and a few funny moments courtesy brash host Chris Rock, the 3-hour show remained stubbornly boring and insipid despite efforts by its producers to funk it up."

Yeah, that's about it. Even Rock was below his usual standards, for the most part. (ABC probably didn't let him say most of what he was planning.) There were a few entertaining (if not memorable) moments, though:

* That putz singer from Counting "Are They Actually Still Together" Crows, showing up with a hairdo that immediately made him the winner of the Sideshow Bob Lookalike Contest.

* Noticing (after the fact) that was Tim Robbins, as he was laughing at Rock's dig at his politics, was also flipping him off. (Mary adds, regarding Robbins' apparently genuine amusement, "at least SOMEONE is a good sport here, unlike Spiccoli..." I would have enjoyed seeing Spiccoli pick a fistfight with Sideshow Bob, actually.)

* Michael Myers being declared the winner of the Viktor Yushchenko Lookalike Contest (Post-Dioxin Poisoning).

* The winner of the Best Live Action Short award getting past ABC's gobshite censors by declaring that "In England I'd say that this is the dog's bollocks."

* Dustin Hoffman, apparently piss-drunk while he was presenting the Best Picture award with Mecha-Streisand.

* And "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" winning Best Original Screenplay, at least, when it should have won Best Picture, for feck's sake! What's wrong with these people? (Fair play to Charlie as well, for wanting to get off that stage as soon as possible.)

Best parts of Oscar night for me:

* That fabulous duck liver pâté (from "Vera Drake". Get it?) with fig preserves on top

* All the delightfully stinky cheeses (I forgot the movie title pun for them, but I kept calling them "Passion of the The Lord Cheeses")

* Additionally, there was a lovely red berry crisp called, of course, "The Passion of the Crisp"

* Rick's crudite and cold cuts platter, with each baby carrot, celery stick and slice of salami individually plastic-wrapped in honor of the germ-phobic Howard Hughes.

* The milk bottles filled with apple juice (you'd have to have seen "The Aviator" to get this one; unsurprisingly, this presentation got the most laughs but the least number of people actually drinking any).

* A great dim sum spread (for "House of Flying Daggers").

* Pasta Puttanesca (one of Wes' favorite dishes anyway, and a quick specialty of the Baudelaire children).

* Plus our Aviation Cocktails were a big hit ... we might have made some Lemony Snicket Cocktails, but Yellow Chartreuse is expensive.

Ehh, it's all about the food, anyway.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, February 25, 2005

Quote of the day.   From "The West Wing", set in a world where good people run the United States, a world into which I try to retreat as often as possible so I can forget the ugly, grim reality of the actual current presidency, just for a little while ...

This scene took place just before Thanksgiving, as C. J. was explaining the White House turkey tradition to the president:

Press Secretary C. J. Cregg: The more photo-friendly of the two turkeys gets a Presidential pardon and a full life at a children's petting zoo; the other one gets eaten.

President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet: If the Oscars were like that, I'd watch.

Me too.

We're gonna watch it anyway, though; it's a good excuse for a party, and an annual tradition at the home of a coupla friends of ours. There'll be a big spread of food, all of which will be related to an Oscar nominee, however marginally, plus lots of hooting, jeering and making fun of people's outfits. We're not sure what food item we're bringing yet, but drinkwise I'm thinking of bringing fixins for making Aviation Cocktails, in honor of "The Aviator".

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wilco, live on NPR, tonight!   Starting about 9:30 ET / 6:30 PT, NPR will webcast Wilco live from the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, it's on opposite my own radio show, so I can't hear it (argh). I give you official permission to skip "Down Home" tonight. (Thanks to Robin from "All Songs Considered" for the tip!)

The Cocktailian.   Today Gary Regan, in his fortnightly column in the San Francisco Chronicle, takes on a classic with a bit of an Oscar tie-in. I don't know if "The Aviator" Howard Hughes' associates drank these cocktails while he was drinking from his milk bottle, but The Aviation Cocktail would have been an appropriate choice.

It's a 1930s-era classic, beautiful, delicious and elegant, and you can (and should) make them often. The key ingredient, maraschino liqueur, can be a bit hard to find these days, not quite as common as it once was (behind every bar, in its day). Los Angelenos can find my preferred brand, Maraska from Croatia, at Beverage Warehouse on McConnell in Marina del Rey; Luxardo, the more well-known brand, can be had at The Wine House on Cotner and Wally's on Westwood. New Orleanians should try Martin Wine Cellar on Baronne or Vets, or Dorignac's. Everyone else, mail-order it from Beverages and More.

Maraschino (ma-ra-SKEE-no) is an essential part of any serious cocktailian bar, and will open a wealth of new and classic recipes to you.

Frackin' brilliant!   Via Wes, VFXWorld offeres a news release:

Sci Fi Channel has renewed BATTLESTAR GALACTICA for a second season.

The critically-acclaimed show has been a ratings powerhouse catapulting SCI FI to the top spot in cable among P25-54 for five consecutive Fridays. With an order for 20 episodes, BATTLESTAR will begin production in Vancouver in March for a summer premiere, returning as the anchor of the channel's SCI FI Friday block of primetime original series.

The entire ensemble cast will return for season 2, including Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer and Grace Park. Also resuming their roles are exec producer and writer Ronald D. Moore and exec producer David Eick.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is the drama of the last remnants of the human race and their struggle for survival. Desperately attempting to regain some semblance of normalcy after a devastating nuclear attack, humanity's few survivors are on the run from a sinister enemy and searching for a new planet to call home.

I was not a fan of the original series. Good ideas, but (I thought) stupid execution. The new "Galactica" is far, far better than we could ever have hoped. The writing is excellent, aimed at grown-ups and succeeding brilliantly in depicting the anguish of an attack on a civilization-wide scape (out of twelve planets full of humans, only 50,000 remained alive after the Cylon attack). It's smart. It's gritty. The documentary feel of the cinematography makes it feel more real to the audience. The acting is top-notch, especially Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. The effects are outstanding, given 2005 technology vs. 1978 technology (and we don't see the same four effects shots over and over again!).

This show is so good that it softens the blow of "Star Trek: Enterprise" being cancelled. That show had its ups and downs, but was exponentially better this season after my old Loyola classmate (for a brief period, at least) Manny Coto took over as executive producer. I'm really sorry to see it go, but "Galactica" will go a long way toward filling that hole.

(Speaking of Manny ... I've been meaning to write to him to see if I can find out why the lead character in his previous series "Odyssey 5", Peter Weller's space shuttle commander, was called "Chuck Taggart" ...)

NY goes to NO.   The New York Times pays another visit to the Crescent City, this time stopping at Uglesich's, Upperline, Crabby Jack's (a new place from the Jacques-Imo's folks, on Jefferson Highway) and Herbsaint. I should give Herbsaint another try. I really wanted to like it, but I really didn't. It didn't help that we went during Jazzfest and they were mobbed, but my shrimp gumbo had no actual shrimp in it, the fish was burnt on one side and raw on the other, and the meal was saved only by chocolate beignets filled with warm chocolate sauce, which is one of the three finest desserts I've ever had in New Orleans.

Sazeracs in St. Louis.   Via Brennan, the St. Louis Riverfront Times tells us there's a bar in that town now serving what seem to be pretty damn good Sazeracs. They're so rare outside of New Orleans that I think this warrants a mention.

Erato is a nice-sounding wine bar in St. Louis that features a small cocktail menu as well, containing five wonderful classics -- Sazerac, Bellini, Kir Royale, Mojito, Caipirinha -- and one bucket of swill called the Deposition, made from vodka and Red Bull and, as far as I'm concerned, fit only for spraying on plants to kill aphids. Very bizarre.

Great to know, however, where one can get a Sazerac in St. Louis. This is important information (well, if you're ever in St. Louis, at least).

Hey!   Robert has updated the DrinkBoy site, and I noticed that he's added my very own Hoskins Cocktail to the collection of recipes. This is the first time (as far as I know) that the Hoskins has found its way into a permanent compendium of cocktail recipes. Thanks, Robert!

Fakin' bacon.   Header egregiously purloined from Brennan, but it's his own fault 'cause he sent me the link in the first place. What link, you ask? Well, the lifelong dream of every red-blooded heterosexual male (or lesbian) on the planet, that's what -- hot babes come to your home and cook bacon for you. It's an idea whose time has come (although a division staffed by hot guys to cover bacon-loving gay men seems an egregious omission at this point).

Delightfully clever website, but alas, to paraphrase the repeated-ad-nauseam tag line of the now-defunct AMC TV show "FilmFakers", "we're not makin' bacon ... we're fakin' bacon!" So many dreams dashed ...

You melon-farming Ashcroft ...   The dubbing of movie dialogue for TV and airline versions has always cracked me up. My personal favorite was way bak in high school, when I saw a TV version of Alfred Hitchcock's final film, "Family Plot". Bruce Dern was a chauffeur, driving a car with Barbara Harris in the back seat, and she said something that caused him to exclaim, "Oh, for Christ's sake" ... except that's not what we heard. What we heard was, "Of, for rice cake."

I don't think any actual native English speaker in the history of the spoken language has ever once exclaimed, "For rice cake."

I also loved the scene in a "Father Ted" episode where a guy at a picnic site screams at Ted, "Fup off! Fup off, you fuppin' baxter! Fuppin' fup! You pedrophile!" Bewildered, Ted asks him what he's going on about, whereupon the man points to a sign posted at the picnic site that says "No swearing."

Wes' longtime favorite was in "Repo Man", when "motherfucking son of a bitch" became "melon-farming son of a buck". Again ... never in actual speech. The funny thing is, it's patently obvious to anyone with half a brain, even kids (in fact, especially kids) what they're actually saying, and what they dub into these poor actors' mouths is an insult to our intelligence.

Well ... until recently, anyway. Heh. (Via Wes.)

"You're an Ashcroft! No, you're the Ashcroft!"

Imagine hearing that exchange in a movie -- you'd think that Hollywood had come up with a crazy new insult. Well, it turns out that some airline passengers watching the Oscar-nominated film "Sideways" on foreign flights are, in fact, hearing "Ashcroft" as a substitute for a certain seven-letter epithet commonly used to denote a human orifice.

The Post's Monte Reel, based in Buenos Aires, tells us he heard the former attorney general's name substituted at least twice in "Sideways" dialogue when he watched the film earlier this week on an Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Lima, Peru. The movie was shown in English and the dubbing was done "in the actual voices of the actors," Reel reports. Star Thomas Haden Church utters the A-word.

Profanity is typically cut from in-flight movies to make them suitable for general audiences, but how did the studio come up with "Ashcroft"? Hoping for enlightenment yesterday, we queried Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio behind "Sideways." A spokeswoman initally e-mailed us to say she had "all the info" about dubbing, then failed to respond to our followup questions.

Ashcroft did not return our phone message, but we're certain he was busy and not just being an ...

Bein' a fuppin' Ashcroft, no doubt! The fecker.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bush chickens out of German "Town Hall".   Via Kos, Der Spiegel reports that Bush's highly touted Amreican-style town hall meeting with average Germans was cancelled after he realized he couldn't pre-screen the audience or script their questions.

During his trip to Germany on Wednesday, the main highlight of George W. Bush's trip was meant to be a "town hall"-style meeting with average Germans. But with the German government unwilling to permit a scripted event with questions approved in advance, the White House has quietly put the event on ice. Was Bush afraid the event might focus on prickly questions about Iraq and Iran rather than the rosy future he's been touting in Europe this week?

The much-touted American-style "town hall" meeting the White House has been planning with "normal Germans" of everyday walks of life will be missing during his visit to the Rhine River hamlet of Mainz this afternoon.

A few weeks ago, the Bush administration had declared that the chat -- which could have brought together tradesmen, butchers, bank employees, students and all other types to discuss trans-Atlantic relations -- would be the cornerstone of President George W. Bush's brief trip to Germany [...]

The Germans, though, insisted that a free forum should be exactly that. Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's Ambassador to the United States, explained to the New York Times last week: "We told them, don't get upset with us if they ask angry questions."

The German word for "yellow" is "Gelb". The German word for "chicken" is "Huhn".

Oh, by the way George and Karl, the German people had quite enough of loyalty oaths back in Hitler's day.

Media double standard.   Via AmericaBlog, a BuzzFlash interview with communications expert and professor Mark Crispin Miller:

The media's bizarre avoidance of this very juicy story makes a few things very clear -- or I should say, very clear again. First of all, it's further proof that there is no "liberal bias" in the US corporate press -- none whatsoever. It also reconfirms the fact that this media system is not simply "sensationalistic," and therefore apt to print whatever lurid stories its employees can dig up. There is a tabloid element, of course, but it works according to a double standard that is more ideological than commercial. Simply put, the US media reports sex scandals only when they seem to tar "the left," i.e., the Democratic party. As long as they involve the Democrats, the press is clearly willing to report such scandals even when they're fabricated. On the other hand, the press goes deaf and blind to "moral" scandals that involve Republicans, no matter how egregious and well-documented...

Now Bush's White House is embroiled in a sex scandal that is both more sordid and more serious than anything involving Clinton's infamous libido. This involves not just a huge security lapse, but what appears to be yet one more case of the Bush White House illegally deploying propaganda tactics through the institutions of the Fourth Estate.

Moreover, Gannon/Guckert seems to have been given classified information. He evidently knew of "shock and awe" before it was announced, for instance. The story's busting out all over, and getting uglier and weirder by the day -- but not on the networks, not on cable, and, in print, primarily in opinion pieces. If this had happened in a Democratic White House, there would be no escaping it, and the rightists would be shrieking that the President of the United States had taught our precious children all about gay sex for hire. (According to the right, remember, it was Clinton -- not his enemies, and not the press -- who went public with the news about those blow jobs.)...

The same silence persists today; and what's crazier about it now, of course, is that this bunch purports to be real big on "moral values." In other words, they -- unlike Clinton -- just don't do that stuff. These are the ones imposing giant fines on radio stations for "indecent" speech, and the ones pushing abstinence-only sex education, and -- above all -- persecuting gays in every way available. And yet their various illicit recreations get no press outside of cyberspace...

Those liberals who refuse to speak out on this issue just don't get it. They think they're being politically correct concerning gays, when all they're really doing is covering for the sickest homophobes...

The point of going after Gannon/Guckert for his day job -- and outing all his rightist clients -- is not an anti-gay move. Rather, it's a way to demonstrate the bad faith of the homophobes, and, still more important, the psychological impossibility of their position. To note that this whole gay-baiting movement is itself the work of closet cases is to illuminate the pathological dimension of that movement.

Remember what the right was like during the Clinton years. Can you imagine if something like this had happened under Clinton or Kerry? (Then again, as far as I know no Democratic presidents have felt the need to hire propagandists and have them masquerade as journalists ...)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Cocktailian Gazette.   After some difficulties accessing the page, we now seem to be able to view this month's issue, which covers the opening of The Museum of the American Cocktail, written by its curator Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh.

I missed the festivities by one day (d'ohhh!), but enjoyed the museum all the same on day two. I've got a bunch of pictures from that day, which I'll post when I get them organized.

Fear and loathing.   Daniel sent in a reminiscence of Hunter S. Thompson yesterday, remembering when Nixon died how everyone fell all over themselves saying we'd been too harsh on him, what a great guy he was, and how he'd accomplished so many wonderful things ... and then came Thompson, whose "obituary" for Nixon appeared in Rolling Stone. Here's a taste:

Richard Nixon is gone now and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing -- a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that "I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon."

I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.

Nixon laughed when I told him this. "Don't worry," he said. "I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you."

It was Richard Nixon who got me into politics, and now that he's gone, I feel lonely. He was a giant in his way. As long as Nixon was politically alive -- and he was, all the way to the end -- we could always be sure of finding the enemy on the Low Road. There was no need to look anywhere else for the evil bastard. He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death, which confuses the dogs and lures them in for the traditional ripping and tearing action. But it is usually the badger who does the ripping and tearing. It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.

That was Nixon's style -- and if you forgot, he would kill you as a lesson to the others. Badgers don't fight fair, bubba. That's why God made dachshunds. [...]

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern -- but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man -- evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him -- except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship. [...]

He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

"Seems so clear," he added, "how much Thompson loved his country, despite its flaws."

Chocolate and ginger tartlets!   Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini (one of my favorite food weblogs) came up with a delectable little recipe for Valentine's Day last week, and the lovely folks at NPR braodcast the recipe and her commentary as well.

This looks fantastic, and I can't wait to try it. It's only got eight ingredients (and one of them is just "a dash of milk"), and even someone who's as baking-challenged as I am could do it easily. (I'm a good cook, but I suck at baking. Too much math and science!) Make sure you use the best chocolate you can find, too -- Scharffen Berger or Valrhona. Don't use Hershey's.

Y'know, between all these Recchiuti chocolates we've been eating and my reading Mort Rosenblum's new Chocolate book, I think I may be writing a lot about chocolate in the near future.

Quotes of the day.   Where does one begin?

"Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

"I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling."

"America: just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable."

"We cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws."

"We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world -- bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are whores for power and oil with hate and fear in our hearts."

-- Hunter S. Thompson

There are many more.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, February 21, 2005
As your attorney, I advise you to begin drinking heavily.   Awful news ... Uncle Duke has left us. Hunter S. Thompson, one of the great journalists/writers of the last 30 years, shot himself yesterday. The fear and loathing is great today.

Most of the so-called journalists working in today's mainstream media aren't fit to wash his socks.

Die Prinzessbohnen sind nicht salzig.   Brian alerted me to a new film coming out soon, which I've never heard of and which looks completely delightful.

From Germany comes Schultze Gets the Blues, the tale of an accordionist in an oom-pah-pah band who hears a zydeco song on the radio, falls in love with it and travels to Louisiana to find the music that's captivated him so. I can't wait to see this!

Bonbons du jour.   Working our way through our Recchiuti Confections box ...

We tried a couple this weekend: Rose Caramel: "Delicate rose geranium oil swirled into light, buttery caramel. Cast in a white chocolate couverture and capped with bittersweet chocolate." Very unusual, and again, very intense. The caramel was a lot thinner than I expected (which is, I suppose, what he meant by "light"), and almost dripped out of the white chocolate shell onto my hand. (Eat these carefully.) I'd tasted rose geranium before -- a friend of ours used some leaves from his rose geranium plant to make an infused simple syrup that was lovely. To have that flavor in a caramel ... well, take that syrup and raise it to a few powers of ten. Wow.

Next, Lemon Verbena: "Fresh lemon verbena infusion blended in extra-bitter chocolate ganache. Enrobed in pure bittersweet chocolate." Sounds simple, but oh so complex. If you've never tasted lemon verbena, it's not dissimilar to lemongrass; lovely, perfumey lemon flavor with none of the sourness or acidity. Imagine that infused into a ganache ... oh my. It was wonderful. Again, it's blissful torture to only have one of each in this box.

Chocolate for wine lovers.   A Los Angeles ChowHound reports that the San Francisco Chocolate Factory makes a line of chocolate that's specifically meant to be paired with specific varieties of wine. ChowHound Jamie has tried them all and says that "the chocolate, while not spectacular, went well with the intended wines." Six 3.5-ounce tins of little chocolate buttons with varying percentages of cocoa solids, for pairing with Port, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and and Pinot Noir, in a nice box, for 40 clams. Interesting, if not quite as interesting as the fabulous chocolates I've been writing about in the "bonbon du jour" posts.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, February 19, 2005
My heart's tonight in Ireland.   I'm so bad with remembering dates, unstuck in time as I usually am, but Wes reminded me today that last night was the one-year anniversary of reaching one of my life's dreams -- seeing Planxty in Dublin. (My JAYsus, the time is just speeding by.)

I enjoyed looking through the pictures, and re-reading my journaling of that day. The Live 2004 album is playing as I write, and I think we'll probably have it on all day today. That opening twinkling of Dónal's and Andy's bouzouki and mandolin, Liam's bubbling tin whistle, Christy's ethereal and sublte keyboard backing never ceases to make my scalp tingle, as it is at this moment. The strings just shifted into overdrive, and my heart starts to pound. Liam kicks in the drones, then lets loose full on the pipes, and as Andy said in his song, the tears well in my eyes.

Buíochas mór le Dia.

Here are a few links, in case you missed them last time around:

The Planxty Reunion, from Tara Records.

A review of the February 13th show, the one five days before mine, from Ireland's Hot Press.
"It was better than anyone could have hoped."

Buy the Live 2004 album, from Mulligan Music in Galway (they deduct the VAT for US residents!), Christy (who don't deduct VAT but do include shipping), or

Buy the Live 2004 DVD, from Mulligan, Christy, or

Read a review of Live 2004 from Hot Press, the BBC, China to Galway, and

I'm sure I said it last year, but I'll say it again -- if you're a fan of music, not just Irish music, you need to buy all their albums. There aren't that many, so it's not going to set you back too much. Here are the titles:

Planxty (a.k.a. "The Black Album", 1972)
The Well Below the Valley (1973)
Cold Blow and the Rainy Night (1974)
The Planxty Collection (1975; a compilation but contains one new song)
After the Break (1979; the first one I found, and the one that changed me life)
The Woman I Loved So Well (1980)
Live 2004 (2004)
Do what I say. Trust me.

Bonbon du jour.   Working our way through Recchiuti Confections' Black Box, after a lovely (and cheap!) meal at El Huarache Azteca in Highland Park. (We'll get to the bonbon after dinner.)

Me: Especial No. 3: Tres Tacos, two pollo and one al pastor (pork marinated in an achiote and chile paste with cumin and vinegar, then rotisseried or barbecued, which is one of the best feckin' things on the face of this planet). Simple as can be -- just soft corn tortillas tossed on the grill, two per taco, and filled with meat. Nothing else, just meat; you embellish as you choose. I decorated mine with a sprinkling of onion and cilantro and drizzled some of their three superb salsas (deep, complex and hot roasted red chile, medium-hot salsa verde from tomatillos, and a thick, creamy and damned spicy avocado salsa). Trying feebly to be WeightWatchers-friendly tonight, I removed one of the layers of tortilla, thereby saving myself three points (hey, they add up). Didn't matter, really; the flavor was concentrated in that meat, and the tortillas, tasty in their own right and part of the overall flavor of the taco, worked in this case primarily to get that delectable meat up to my mouth without it ending up in my lap.

Wes: Costillas de puerco, which is chunks of pork sparerib on the bone, stewed for what seems like hours in a thick, spicy, tomato-based red gravy. I'm not entirely sure, but I think it's entirely possible that this may well be a Platonic dish. The layers of flavor in this sauce, made by hardworking Mexican family in their tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant with zero atmosphere, a smidgen of decor and some of the best food in the city, would put to shame many of the efforts of French sauciers with tall hats, little moustaches and bad attitudes (as Mario would say). The chunks of pork are cooked on the bone for maximum flavor, and they're still a little fatty, but that fat is like butter; it melts away in yoru mouth, and isn't chewy like the fat on an overcooked roast of beef. It's served with some yellow Mexican rice and pinto beans sprinkled with cheese, but these trifles are almost entirely disposable; you only really want a little of the rice to help soak up all that marvelous gravy, and unless you need some fiber from the beans they're skippable (perfectly good, but superfluous).

On the side (as if any one really needed anything on the side) he had a huarache, a signature specialty of this joint. It's a shoe sole-shaped thick corn cake like a sope but not quite as thick, delightfully crisp on the outside and chewy but not too heavy on the inside, topped with any of the offered meats (Wes wisely chose al pastor), decorated with more onion and cilantro and drizzled with a generous amount of Mexican crema (unpasteurized cream, like a pourable crème fraîche). They were out of horchata, so we settled for some aguas frescas of melon and hibiscus -- excellent, and not too sweet. We were stuffed afterward, and all that together set us back the princely sum of $13.

I love Eagle Rock and Highland Park.

We decided to forgo a cocktail before dinner so we could make it to El Huarache before they started running out of things (and, sadly, had already run out of the especiales del día, like fish and shrimp soup, and a spinach dish called something like huauzontli). An after-dinner digestif was Plan B, and when we got home we ended up with a shot of Booker's Bourbon, enjoyed neat. Heady stuff -- barrel strength at about 126.8 proof, aged 7 years. Layers of honey and nougat and nuts and vanilla, yummers. But there's chocolate to talk about, and I digress ...

Today's bonbon was Sur de Lago: "A kiss of extra-bitter chocolate ganache sits atop a pure Sur de Lago chocolate disk. Topped with crushed Sur de Lago cacao nibs and enrobed in pure bittersweet chocolate."

Intense, intense, intense. In this case, extra-bitter meant extra-intense, with none of the almost-have-to-spit-it-out bitterness of Scharffen Berger's "Extra Dark" (which at 82% cacao is almost inedible as an eating chocolate, and seems better for melting and baking). The nibs provided an even further little extra jolt of bitter cacao, but by comparison the "extra-bitter" ganache was sweet, although it wasn't actually sweet. The depth of flavor of that Sur de Lago chocolate from "below Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, where the best chocolate comes from," as Mort Rosenblum said, is amazing.

We had already finished our Bourbon (which would have gone well with chocolate, but we didn't want to overpower these), and cleansed our palates with water when we removed the Black Boxes from The Chocolate Closet downstairs. Fortunately, we only just noticed, Chef Recchiuti says in the little booklet/map packed inside the box, "The flavor subtleties of each confection come forward when tasted at room temperature (approximately 62-71°F). To fully experience each confection's character and bouquet, we recommend a pairing with still spring water." Well, it was plain old tap water in this case; close enough, I hope. We'll obey Chef next time and pull out some Arrowhead.

Goddamn, I could eat a whole box of just these Sur de Lagos. I'm beginning to think I could say that about every chocolate in this box, even though we've only tried two so far.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, February 18, 2005
The end of an era?   We knew this would be happening soon, but via Michael comes some more definitive-sounding word: Anthony and Gail Uglesich will apparently be closing Uglesich's Restaurant for good after this year's Jazzfest, and possibly before; Anthony's having some health problems. If they remain open for Jazzfest, Anthony says it'll be with a limited menu.

It makes me sad, but I wish them all the best and hope they can finally relax in their retirement.

Bonbon du jour.   The other night we opened our Black Boxes from Recchiuti Confections. Wes gets to choose which ones we eat, since it was his present, and as the first one he chose Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn: "Fragrant star anise and crushed pink peppercorn infused in semi-sweet chocolate ganache. Enrobed in pure milk chocolate and tipped with Venezuelan white chocolate."

Oh. My. It was good. The anise flavor was there but beautifully subtle, infused into the chocolate ganache. I'm guessing that he infuses the cream with which he then makes the ganache ... you know what ganache is, right? A mixture of (usually) equal parts melted chocolate and heavy cream. It's the basis for truffles, icings, soufflés and much more. Anyway ... the pink peppercorn was even more subtle, a little spicy perfumey bite in the background. Rosenblum was right -- these chocolates aren't as sweet as one might expect, and therefore the flavor of the chocolate and the beautiful infused flavors isn't overwhelmed by cloying sweetness.

We're going to try to make these last a while, 'cause otherwise we'd eat most of the entire box in a day or two. Yeesh.

Which celebs make the best wine?   Seems to be a trendy thing now, but there are more and more celebrities making wine these days. Of course, Francis Ford Coppola is the winemaker emeritus of this group, and his stuff is pretty darn good. But now there people from Sting to Emeril Lagasse to Olivia Newton John (!) and Jerry Garcia (I miss Jerry) making wine now. Yep, dead celebs are getting into it as well; there are Elvis wines too (Blue Suede Chardonnay, Jailhouse Red Merlot and Blue Christmas Cabernet). We can only presume that Elvis and Jerry's participation is via, er, spiritual inspiration. Odd, though ... I never associated Elvis with wine, only with fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches, and I would have thought that Jerry would have preferred a spliff to a Sauvignon.

Apparently some of these celeb wines are quite good, and others, not unexpectedly, are bad bad bad. ("The thin, medicinal Jailhouse Red Merlot is bad enough to start a jailhouse riot.")

Don't panic!   I must be the last person in the blogosphere to see the new trailer for the movie adaptation of "The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy" (okay, I've been busy). Unfortunately it was only available as an "exclusive" on the home page, and now it seems to have vanished from there; there's only the old teaser on the official movie website. Annoying.

[UPDATE: I found a much better copy of the trailer, high-quality Quicktime instead of Flash and downloadable to boot. Woo!]

I thought the trailer was pretty intriguing, actually. The look of the film is great -- they had a budget, unlike the old BBC TV miniseries, which had a budget of about £12 and which I liked despite its cheesiness -- and most of the casting seems strong. I've seen Martin Freeman before, and he'll do a great job as Arthur (although it's hard not to see Simon Jones in that role, as he was so perfect in both the radio and TV series). I've always really liked Sam Rockwell, and he seems to be able to pull off the zaniness you need to play Zaphod. Alan Rickman is perfect as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android, and as Peter Jones is sadly no longer with us, I can't think of anyone better for the voice of the book than Stephen Fry.

My only potential qualm was with the casting of Mos Def as Ford Prefect. I really like him as an actor, but for playing Ford ... well, he's not English! Then again, neither was Ford; he wasn't from Guildford at all, but from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. The director of the film thought he was perfect, and commented that Mos is from another planet himself, so perhaps he'll be suitable as well.

We must also remember that Douglas Adams wrote the screenplay, and was involved in the pre-production up until hsi death (there's an interesting FAQ I found that helps to quell people's fears about the adaptation).

When my friend Zack wrote to tip me off to the trailer's existence and to express his reservations about it looking too "epic and actiony", I told him not to worry too much. It's the job of the trailer editor to sell tickets and get people's asses in the seats, and they have a tendency to edit lots of exciting bits together to make the movie look exciting. I suspect this was the studio's marketing department's take on this, making it look epic and actiony to appeal to Joe Moviegoer. True fans of the books such as we will need no piffling trailers to get us to the theatre to see this; I've been looking forward to it since they first announced the production.

Speaking of trailers, it was once my lot in life to pay my dues by working at the dreaded Cannon Films, the movie company owned by Israeli producers Menahem Goland and Yoram Globus, and the homes of grade-B to grade-Z schlock like "American Ninja" (Parts One through Twelve, or so it seemed), "Death Wish" (Parts Two through Seventy-One, or so it seemed), lots of other direct-to-international-video crapola and a handful of truly good movies (through no fault of their own). One thing Cannon had going for them was one of the best and most talented trailer departments in the industry. Those folks could take any Cannon piece of shit and for two minutes make it look good enough at least to get someone to buy a ticket, which is really all that mattered.

So, don't be fooled by a trailer. I'm confident that the people behind this film will do justice to Douglas Adams and his wonderful writing, because if they don't I won't rest until I see the lot of them fed to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal after listening to several hours of Vogon poetry.

O freddled gruntbuggly, thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee...

(Okay, okay, I'll spare you further torture.)

Quote of the day.   From the BBC's h2g2 site:

And now we have the World Wide Web, the only thing I know of whose shortened form - 'www' - takes three times longer to say than what it's short for ...

-- Douglas Adams

(Nine times if you're on dialup.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, February 17, 2005
Getting closer to Jamaica, mon.   Okay, last night I tasted the last batch of pimento liqueur. It's ... close. It's a little heavier than the real thing from Wray & Nephew, but flavorwise it's all there -- pure allspice, sweet and with the spicy characteristics of the rum used as the base. It was a little heavier than I expected, though, and maybe the next batch should be made with light brown sugar instead of dark brown sugar.

This isn't definitive just yet, but if you want a decent homemade pimento liqueur to add a few dashes or teaspoons to cocktails that call for it, this'll do rather well for the moment.

Jamaican Pimento Dram (Allspice Liqueur) No. 3

2-1/4 cups 151 proof Demerara rum.
1/2 cup whole dried allspice berries, crushed.
3 cups water.
1-1/2 pounds brown sugar.

Crush the allspice berries in a mortar and place in a 1-liter jar with a rubber seal. Cover with the rum and allow to steep for at least 10 days, agitating the maceration daily.

Pour through a fine strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquor as you can, then pour the strained liquor maceration through another strainer lined with a coffee filter (this'll take a while).

Make a simple syrup with the water and brown sugar; heat until dissolved, then allow to cool. When cool, combine with the rum maceration and allow to age for at least one month. Decant and enjoy.

This will almost fill two 750ml bottles (we use the ones they sell fizzy French lemonade in, because of that nifty resealing rubber-lined ceramic stopper), so you can cut the recipe in half to makes less, unless you want to give some away.

New Springsteen album!   This one sounds exciting. Via Michael:

The rumor mill has this being very much in the vein of The Ghost of Tom Joad, though with a bit more instrumentation from some E Street Band members as well as other musicians. "The Hitter" and "Long Time Comin'" date back to the Tom Joad tour; they're both very good.

The rumor mill also has a strange tour schedule that will start with theater shows that are either solo or with one or two E Street Band members, and then gradually more band members joining the tour until there would eventually be shows with the full band. The idea is supposedly to spotlight Bruce as a writer/solo performer, with an emphasis on how the E Street Band complements his music. I've always wanted to see Bruce do some stripped down, 2-guitars+bass-and-drum shows, so maybe this will be my chance.

All this fits within Bruce's cycle of the past 25 years of releasing a big rock record aimed at a mass audience, followed by a more low-key record.

Gawd ... I haven't seen The Boss in concert since I was about 19. It's about time I saw him again, and I'd love to see him in a stripped-down, low-key manner. 'Course, I wanna see the E Street Band tear it up too ...

Exactly how much money will Bush screw you out of?   As the wise old owl once said, "Let's find out." Senator Charles Schumer of New York provides a nicely designed, handy-dandy actuarial calculator of Social Security benefits -- what you'd normally get, and what you'd get if Bush's disastrous privatization plan is passed. My own annual percentage cut would be 14%; i.e., under the Bush privatization plan my Social Security benefits would be 14% less than if he just left it alone.

(Oh, and for those niggling grammarians who are upset at the wording of this post's header because ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which they will not put, I'll happily rewrite: "Exactly how much money will Bush screw you out of, the lying bastard?" There.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, February 16, 2005
The Cocktailian.   'Cause, you know, sometimes we really, really need a drink. Like now, and until 2008.

I'm thrilled to post the latest edition of Gary Regan's fortnightly exploration of cocktails with The Professor, because it features a drink created by a friend of ours. Daniel Reichert of Vintage Cocktails came up with a lovely, lovely drink called the Jamaica Farewell, and when he sent me the recipe a couple of weeks before last Christmas he reminded me (and all of us) that rum is something to keep you warm on cold winter nights, and mustn't be confined to the summer. (That Cadenhead's 12-year-old Jamaica rum I had the other night attests to that ... good Lord, mon. My aged rum fanatic period is coming ... and there goes my money, honey.)

Gary, as he often does, published an adapted version of Daniel's cocktail -- still quite good, but lacking one ingredient that was originally specified. This is unsurprising, because the aforementioned ingredient is, as we've noted in the past, extremely difficult to obtain, and Gary wants people to be able to make these cocktails with relative ease. The drink calls for a small amount of pimento (Jamaican allspice) liqueur. Here's Daniel's original recipe:

Jamaica Farewell Cocktail
(Created by Daniel Reichert)

2 ounces Appleton Estate V/X rum.
3/4 ounce Marie Brizard Apry.
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice.
1 teaspoon pimento (allspice) liqueur.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass;
garnish with a lime wedge.

Gary suggests kicking up this drink with Appleton Estate 21-year-old rum, and that'll certainly make it more special. However, to make it truly special ... that teaspoon of pimento liqueur transforms the drink, lifts it be an exponent or two and carries you off to the beaches of Montego Bay. I'll be finishing my lastest batch of pimento liqueur tonight, and I'll let you know tomorrow morning how it turned out.

Now, let's everybody sing along with Harry ...

Down the way, where the nights are gay
And the sun shines daily on the mountain top,
I took a trip on a sailing ship
And when I reached Jamaica I made a stop.

But I'm sad to say I'm on my way,
Won't be back for many a day,
My heart is down, my head is turning around,
I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town...

Yah, bredda ...

On bullshit.   Let's just cut through the bullshit, shall we? In an age in which we are inundated with bullshit and governed by liars and bullshitters, we're well overdue for a philosophical examination of bullshit.

Such an examination was actually written 20 years ago, by Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt. "On Bullshit" was originally written for an interdepartmental seminar in 1986, and its enduring popularity has prompted Princeton University Press to publish it as a standalone book, one whose no-bullshit title prompts the staid New York Times to publish an unintentionally funny review that bowdlerizes the title and refuses to come right out and mention the subject of the book. In this excerpt from the article I have restored the term to its original cutting glory.

"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry."

The essay goes on to lament that lack of inquiry, despite the universality of the phenomenon. "Even the most basic and preliminary questions about bullshit remain, after all," Mr. Frankfurt writes, "not only unanswered but unasked."

The balance of the work tries, with the help of Wittgenstein, Pound, St. Augustine and the spy novelist Eric Ambler, among others, to ask some of the preliminary questions - to define the nature of a thing recognized by all but understood by none.

What is bullshit, after all? Mr. Frankfurt points out it is neither fish nor fowl. Those who produce it certainly aren't honest, but neither are they liars, given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not identical, regard for the truth.

"It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth," Mr. Frankfurt writes. "A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it."

One of the problems facing this country today is that we are governed by lies, which are then covered up and publicly spun via bullshit, layer upon layer of it. Worse, a simple majority of the American public is, in fact, being taken in by the bullshit. Maybe they should all read this essay.

Janet Eisner, in her review in the Philadelphia Inquirer (a paper not too timid to print the book's actual title), said:

I think Americans crave authenticity and truthfulness; we're just afraid to admit it. So political candidates who exude honesty and straightforwardness -- Howard Dean, John McCain, for instance -- capture the public imagination until they are beaten down by the cynical status quo.

We crave this so much that we may mistake faux truthfulness for the real thing. When a leader creates his own reality and relentlessly markets it as truth, moving the goalposts to fit a prescribed agenda, our outrage is muted because we'd rather believe than not believe.

When crucial public issues are misrepresented, when elected officials are not held accountable and the goalposts slyly shift, there is a terrible price to be paid. Not the price paid by those who lie and get caught -- if anything, that only strengthens the standing of reason and fact.

No, the trouble with bullshit is that it undermines cultural respect for the truth. And what else does a democracy have?

Right now, not much.

Compassionate conservatives supporting our troops.   I read this yesterday, but have been in relative disbelief until today. Here's the Bush administration's latest act that makes one want to pound one's own head against the wall:

White House Turns Tables on Former American POWs
Gulf War pilots tortured by Iraqis fight the Bush administration in trying to collect compensation.

by David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The latest chapter in the legal history of torture is being written by American pilots who were beaten and abused by Iraqis during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. And it has taken a strange twist.

The Bush administration is fighting the former prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for their torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The rationale: Today's Iraqis are good guys, and they need the money.

The case abounds with ironies. It pits the U.S. government squarely against its own war heroes and the Geneva Convention.

Many of the pilots were tortured in the same Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib, where American soldiers abused Iraqis 15 months ago. Those Iraqi victims, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said, deserve compensation from the United States.

But the American victims of Iraqi torturers are not entitled to similar payments from Iraq, the U.S. government says.

"It seems so strange to have our own country fighting us on this," said retired Air Force Col. David W. Eberly, the senior officer among the former POWs.

The case, now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, tests whether "state sponsors of terrorism" can be sued in the U.S. courts for torture, murder or hostage-taking. The court is expected to decide in the next two months whether to hear the appeal.

Congress opened the door to such claims in 1996, when it lifted the shield of sovereign immunity . which basically prohibits lawsuits against foreign governments . for any nation that supports terrorism. At that time, Iraq was one of seven nations identified by the State Department as sponsoring terrorist activity. The 17 Gulf War POWs looked to have a very strong case when they first filed suit in 2002. They had been undeniably tortured by a tyrannical regime, one that had $1.7 billion of its assets frozen by the U.S. government.

The picture changed, however, when the United States invaded Iraq and toppled Hussein from power nearly two years ago. On July 21, 2003, two weeks after the Gulf War POWs won their court case in U.S. District Court, the Bush administration intervened to argue that their claims should be dismissed.

"No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of this very brutal regime and at the hands of Saddam Hussein," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters when asked about the case in November 2003.

Government lawyers have insisted, literally, on "no amount of money" going to the Gulf War POWs. "These resources are required for the urgent national security needs of rebuilding Iraq," McClellan said.

BushCo wants them to get nothing. Nada. And to think that at the same time, these American servicemen and servicewomen were brutalized and tortured by the then-Iraqi regime in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which our new Attorney General described as "quaint", and which our own government and their advisers now think can be easily tossed aside in their "war on terror" because "everything's different now." The word "irony" doesn't even come close. It's not in the ballpark; I'm not sure it's even in this galactic cluster.

As Oyster pointed out in his post on the topic, "If we paid these victims of torture in full from the funds currently earmarked for the new U.S. embassy in Iraq, we'd still have about $400 million to build and staff the place ..."

To use Molly's expression from yesterday, I think I am neurochemically incapable of being more angry at and more disgusted with this administration. It's painful to think of the further depths to which they will sink.

Calling Rev. Niemöller.   Via Lyn, a chilling observation from Digby:

We are disappearing people, rendering them to friendly governments that aren't afraid to put the electrode to genitals and threaten with dog rape. And we are building our own infrastructure of torture and extra legal imprisonment. It is a law of human nature that if you build it, they will come. This infrastructure will be expanded and bureaucratized. It's already happening. And when they decide, as Professor Yoo has already decided, that an election is a sanctioning of anything the President chooses to do in the War on Terror, it is only a matter of time before internal political enemies become a threat.

And then it will be us.

Read it all.

Questions for the Secret Service.   U.S. Representatives Louise Slaughter and John Conyers have written letters to the director of the Secret Service (and to Plame case U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald) about the Gannon affair -- how he got into the White House with a false name and no credentials, and how he got access to classified CIA documents. An interesting MeFi comment, in a post that emphasizes that this story is not about the sex or anyone's sexual orientation, says this:

There's still very little of this in the regular "mainstream" media, and it's just mystifying. Or wait... enraging. I still know where Lewinsky bought her stained dress. Gannon is ten times more salacious/explosive, and they keep trying to snuff out his story. If you ever needed a case study of Republican control of US media then my friend, you have it.
It's about someone with a false name and no credentials getting access to the President and the White House press room so that he could lob softball questions. It's about Secret Service and FBI failure to vet this guy (and I'm not sure what's worse, if they knew and let him in anyway, and if they didn't know and let him in ignorance). It's about why this guy among all others got leaked classified documents about the Valerie Plame case. There are so many different things going on here one hardly knows where to begin.

In the New York Observer Joe Conason writes (read now, 'cause it rolls into the pay archive soon):

Imagine the media explosion if a male escort had been discovered operating as a correspondent in the Clinton White House. Imagine that he was paid by an outfit owned by Arkansas Democrats and had been trained in journalism by James Carville. Imagine that this gentleman had been cultivated and called upon by Mike McCurry or Joe Lockhart.or by President Clinton himself. Imagine that this "journalist" had smeared a Republican Presidential candidate and had previously claimed access to classified documents in a national-security scandal.
In a sign that the media (at least the print media) might just be starting to do their jobs, this editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune (not known to be a particularly liberal paper, as far as I know) chimes in:

Grigori Potemkin was an 18th century Russian general who is said to have built sham villages to impress Catherine the Great with his administration's good work. In an America hypnotized by Faux -- sorry, Fox -- News, President Bush and his Svengali, Karl Rove, have proven how easy the trick is.

After a campaign marked by rallies where right-wing credentials were the price of admission, they now want you to believe that a "reporter" for a Web site run by Republican political operatives wasn't given preferential access to the White House.

In George Bush's Potemkin America, we now have a Potemkin reporter.

[...] This makes the fourth revelation of media manipulation in barely a month. Besides Armstrong Williams, conservative columnists Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus also received previously undisclosed payments to promote administration policies.

"In this day and age," said [White House Press Secretary Scott] McClellan about [Gannon/Guckert], "when you have a changing media, it's not an easy issue to decide or try to pick and choose who is a journalist." Imagine. The White House press secretary doesn't know what a real journalist is. Perhaps he also agrees with the 36 percent of American teenagers who think the government should pre-approve news stories.

They only focused on the preferential access issue, and not on the potentially more explosive questions about access to the classified Plame documents, but it's a start.

A real press secretary, like C.J. Cregg, would never have let someone like this into her press room.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Valentine's din-dins.   We started off with just a tantalizing peek and intake of aroma ... I got Wes some chocolates from Recchiuti Confections, which according to Mort Rosenblum (author of Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Light and Dark) are "the best chocolates in the United States." From the L. A. Times Food Section article I linked to a while back:

"[Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti is] in Burlingame, near [the San Francisco Airport], and he makes the best chocolates in the United States. Most American chocolates are too sweet. The rule in the U.S. with almost everything is 'if a little is good, more is better,' so they use too much sugar. The trick to making good chocolate is to be subtle. That's why the French, who are relative latecomers to chocolate-making, now make the best chocolate in the world. They understand the secret of subtle blending."

Recchiuti gets his chocolate from the Caribbean and Central and South America. "His best product is made with chocolate from Sur del Lago, below Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, where the best chocolate comes from," Rosenblum says.

Two minutes later, the always ebullient Sherry Yard [Spago's pastry chef] bounces up to our table. She spots the Recchiuti box immediately and begins expostulating on how great his chocolates are.

I can't wait to taste them. Rosenblum says to eat them first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and before coffee or tea, to truly appreciate them.

Dinner was at Xiomara, a Cuban/Nuevo Latino place we've been wanting to try for ages. Chef Xiomara Ardolina's cooking has had a great reputation, and when we finally got a look at the menu my knees got weak. (Duck ropa vieja, Nicaraguan-style skirt steak with huitlacoche and Cabrales blue cheese mashed potatoes ... ay!) There was a special five-course prix-fixe menu for Valentine's, and while we didn't see it beforehand we were so excited by the look of the regular menu that we were up for anything. (No pictures, sorry; I didn't feel like photographing food on Valentine's Day.)

We started with "Xiomara's Mambo", their own take on the Mojito. We were already looking forward to it, as its reputation preceded it, and when the waiter described it as "the best Mojito in the city" we immediately ordered two of them. The secret? Instead of sugar or simple syrup, Xiomara's Mojito is made with freshly pressed sugar cane juice. The complexity of flavor that this gives to the drink is amazing -- hints of honey, vanilla, nougat, nuts were in there, and it was far less sweet than so many people make Mojitos. "These are dangerous," Wes said. Nodding, I said, "I could drink these all night." We resisted the temptation, though, because we had other plans for imbibing over the course of the evening. I was also a little worried about knocking something over if I had had more Mambos; Xiomara's nifty tall glasses for serving them are angled like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They look really cool, but for a klutz like me it'd be a cinch for me to make a huge mess.

First course: Traditional Lobster Bisque, with lobster wonton and salmon caviar. The bisque was perfect -- lobstery and creamy, and that hint of brandy in the background. (I wonder what it'd be like to flame an aged rum in this instead of brandy ... hmm.) The wonton was tasty but I would have preferred it to be crisper. That's the danger with deep-frying when everybody's getting the same thing; some items have to be made in advance, and a fried wonton doesn't hold very well. Minor quibble, though, and the wee spoonful of salmon roe atop the wonton helped quell my quibbling.

Second course: Crispy Goat Cheese Salad with Smoked Bacon and Beets, with old red wine vinegar dressing. Lovely salad, with red and yellow teardrop tomatoes and a pretty standard mesclun mix. The bacon was cut into about a quarter-inch dice, with a good smoky flavor and a nice chewiness to it and provided a good balance to the ball of crumb-coated, deep-fried goat cheese that topped the salad. Altogether pleasant.

Third course: Pan Seared Sea Bass, with stir-fry vegetables and a ponzu sauce. This was the only disappointment of the meal, although the disappointment was slight. The flavor was lovely, actually; I love ponzu sauce, and it went well with the fish. It was the texture of the fish that wasn't working for me; sometimes it felt underdone but some bites felt like overcooked crabmeat. It was weird; I'd never had bass that was like this before. It tasted great, but I'm not sure what was up with the texture issues. The wine helped a lot -- 2002 Sacred Hill Sauvage Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I love Sauvignon Blancs, and I could really taste the peach and lychee they talk about in the tasting notes.

Fourth course: Rack of Lamb, served on a boniato, chestnut and ginger purée in a cherry vanilla sauce. This was spectacular, the crowning dish of the meal.

Fortunately it wasn't a whole rack, but three perfectly-sized little chops with rosy pink interiors, just like I like 'em. That mash was amazing too -- I'd never had boniato before. It's a Cuban sweet potato, with a white rather than orange flesh and not nearly as sweet as a standard sweet potato or yam. The chestnut added richness and nutty intensity, and the hint of ginger cut right through that. Marrying all that with that fantastic sauce ... ohhhhhh. When I took in the aroma of the plate at first it almost smelled like a lamby dessert, but the sauce wasn't overly sweet. The cherry flavor wasn't overly jammy, adding a fruity depth to the lamb jus-based sauce, and the vanilla was like perfume. There were a few vegetables alongside (baby bok choi, julienned carrot and red sweet pepper), and the whole thing was tied together by the wonderful wine they served with it -- a 2001 Lynmar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The cherry notes of that wine zeroed right in on the complementary flavors in the sauce, and the spice was even further seasoning for the lamb. It was a huge pour, too, and I was delightfully giddy by the end of that dish.

Fifth course: Crunchy Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse Heart for Two, with raspberries and vanilla sauce. It looked big. It was big. A big chocolate hawt. Filled with chocolate. Hoo-boy ... fortunately, the chocolate shell was very thin, and the mousse was as light as a cloud. Lovely gianduja flavor, and so light it practically vaporized when it hit the tongue. Half a hawt turned out to be just right, light as it was, and sauce spoons provided to help get every drop of the vanilla crème anglaise.

"Do you think we should get a dessert wine?" I asked Wes, actually meaning one of the six we were considering for a wine tasting we're planning in a couple of months, when a voice from the next table piped up, "Are you kidding? Of course you should!" (We had been chatting with the couple at the table next to us on and off.) Well, who am I to argue? Dow's 20 year old tawny Port finished us off, or so we thought. The nice couple next to us wanted to keep chatting, and didn't want to leave, so they very kindly offered to buy us another drink. (Yeesh ... a Mojito, two glasses of wine plus Port. Maybe I should call in sick in the morning and sleep in.)

They had some lovely after-dinner spirits on the menu, but I was finding myself intrigued by aged rums instead of the usual whisk(e)ys or brandies. We ended up with a rum of a brand name I had only associated with Scotland -- Cadenhead's. Turns out they make rum too (and goes to show how little I know about rums at this point), and this one came from Jamaica -- a 12-year-old and another very generous pour. This stuff was outstanding, the kind of thing that threatens to turn me into an aged rum fanatic. Hmm, I'd better start reading The Ministry of Rum.

Three hours, forty-five minutes. As a dinner should be.

I couldn't recommend Xiomara more highly, despite my little quibble over the fish. Big holiday occasion nights like this are always really hard for any restaurant to pull off anyway (by the way, do yourself a favor -- stay home and cook for Mom yourself on Mother's Day). We can't wait to go back to Xiomara and start diving into the regular menu.

Yep, just like we said: they're big bugs.   A new study has concluded that it's highly unlikely that lobsters feel pain when they're cooked. Its primitive nervous system and tiny brain are similar to those of an insect.

Not that this ever worried me, mind you -- it's basically like a big crawfish. As a Louisianian I've boiled millions of those little bugs in my day and eaten them with glee. It's just that as someone who was once loudly and rudely accused of being a "murderer" by a nutty PETA-vegan acquaintance who shrieked his accusation across a crowded café when he overheard me describing the lobster dish I had prepared earlier that week ... well, it makes me snicker. (If you're still out there somewhere, E., you're an ill-mannered wingnut.)

I'm still planning to cook some butter-poached lobster in a few weeks. We hope to have a full report.

How to cut.   I thought my knife skills had gotten pretty good after my initial training in culinary classes years ago, and with all the practice I've had since then, but it's always good to pick up some more tips. Peter Hertzmann, on his excellent site À la carte, has a handy-dandy chart of proper knife techniques for cutting all kinds of things, complete with diagrams for both right- and left-handed users. Pretty nifty! Now get some good, sharp Japanese knives, find some recipes that call for lots of slicing and dicing (plus some julienne fries!), and have at it.

Quote of the day.   From Digby's site, via Orcinus, a comment left by Molly in New York City:

The Right figured out a while back that they don't have to grift everyone in this country -- just the dumbest 50%, plus one. When you're running a con, the last thing you want is for someone to sit your mark down and explain what's going on.

Since the November elections, I feel like the woman whose husband refused to listen when she told him not to sell the family cow for magic beans. She's still forced to consider his welfare, but it's neurochemically impossible to be more angry. And she can see that, irresponsible as he was to do it, as soon as it dawns on him that he's been rooked, he won't repent or apologize -- he'll blame her.

Calling Dems traitors is the build-up to blaming us for their mistakes. More of that famous GOP responsibility.

Neiwert also talks about how the fight over the election of Washington's Democratic governor (by 129 votes, which means, like, she wins) and the relentless attacks from right-wing radio and the right-wing blogosphere "is in fact representative of Republicans' larger effort to remake America into a one-party state. The whole idea, it seems, is to attack relentlessly, barraging the public with a steady drumbeat of misinformation and wild speculation, all designed to undermine the legitimacy of the Democrats."

Read the whole post, and the links from it. David Neiwert is doing some of the best political writing out there right now.

Gannongate.   Yesterday John Aravosis blew the Jeff Gannon story wide open (link not necessarily safe for work). Apparently this man who obtained two years' worth of White House press passes with unbelievable ease and received confidential documents about a crime that seemed to emanate from the White House is, in fact, a prostitute. How lovely.

The Poor Man actually finds this to be proof of the existence of God:

Think about it: what are the chances that a media whore like Gannon would turn out to be an actual whore? It's impossible. It boggles the mind how infinitely unlikely this is. It's like if you found someone pirating CDs, and it turns out he actually had a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder and sailed around the Caribbean saying "Arrrrrr!" and plundering booty. You wouldn't believe it. But there it is: impossible, but true. Impossible truths are miracles, and only God can work miracles. Ergo, God exists. Q.E.D.
Well, let's not start a theology debate, but it is pretty damned unlikely, isn't it? And it begs so very many other questions.

As is his singular talent, Digby puts it in perspective for us:

I personally have no problems with the Bush White House needing to blow off some consensual adult steam. It's a stressful job. If gay hookers are going to help them relax then who am I to argue? I'm a liberal. I have nothing against gays or hookers.

But for a moment let me think as a Republican would, if the shoe were on the other foot:

So many questions so few answers. Just why did JimJeff get such special treatment? It's not like they didn't already have a bunch of ready made shills to ask softball questions. Les Kinsolving's been throwing partisan bombs for years. They certainly didn't need JimJeff to transcribe RNC talking points when they have the Beltway Boys to do it on national television.

Scotty said that the president called on JimJeff of his own volition. A coincidence? Or did someone request that JimJeff get a special treat that day?

And has it ever been logical that this nobody from a vanity web site would get access to the Plame story? Why him? JimJeff claims that he never actually saw the Plame memo, yet he clearly knew of it. Could it have been pillow talk?

I don't have a clue. But, I do know that if this were 1998, we'd be knee deep in congressional investigations into the gay hooker ring in the White House. Every news crew in the DC area would be camped out on JimJeff's front lawn. A wild-eyed Victoria Toensing and panting Kelly Ann Fitzpatrick would be crawling up on the Hardball desk rending their silk teddies and speaking in tongues while Matthews'exploding head spun around on his shoulders.

But, it isn't 1998 and it will probably not even be mentioned. And I'm not a Republican so I don't think, as they would, that it's necessary to dig into every single White House staffer's sex life to find out who leaked a confidential memo to a gay hooker.

As a Democrat, however, if gay hookers are running around the White House I do find it somewhat frustrating that we have to put up with this shock and horror bullshit from the right wing about average Joe and Jane gay person wanting to get married and have a family. Please.

And yes, I do think that Patrick Fitzgerald's boys will probably be paying JimJeff another visit. Sadly, I think it's entirely likely that they didn't know about this until today. It is impossible to believe that the secret service and the FBI would allow a known prostitute to have access to the White House after 9/11. If they did, then our national security is in very deep shit. Come to think of it, it's also pretty scary that they didn't know. What's up with that?

Remember the axiom that made everything all right for the last for years ... IARIYAR! (It's all right if you're a Republican!)

What boggle my mind are all the right-wingers who keep saying "Move along, nothing to see here" and "There's no story here" and "I fail to see what the story is, except for the persecution of a brave man who asked questions that made Democrats look bad." What planet do these people live on?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, February 12, 2005
Gannon/Guckert's Greatest Hits.   Via Steve ... Keith Olbermann at MSNBC put together clips of James Dale "Jeff Gannon" Guckert at work in the White House press room. Funny stuff ... if it wasn't so scary.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, February 11, 2005
Look out, Coca-Cola!   Your days are numbered. The next big thing that'll wipe you off the face of the earth will be ... Armenian tarragon soda!

Well, okay ... maybe not. I'm figuring the behemoth Coca-Cola Company is safe, but I'm definitely going to start stocking this stuff around my house. My friend Robb turned me onto this via a post on his journal. He works in Glendale near a bunch of Armenian grocery stores (Glendale having the largest Armenian population outside Tbilisi, apparently) and was oddly fascinated enough by this stuff to actually try it. He brought me some last weekend, and we cracked it open right away.

The bottle, in English, Russian and Armenian. We are the Armenians.  You will enjoy this soda.  Resistance is futile.

It was quite possibly the most unusual and interesting soda flavor I've ever had. Not terribly sweet (which is a plus), a bit grassy but with the full, unsubtle aniselike flavor of tarragon. The color's a little strange -- a bright green right out of a Borg regeneration chamber ("Jeri Ryan would love this stuff," my geekboy Wes remarked.) The more I drank, the more I liked it. A check of the label revealed it's definitely got less sugar than most cloyingly sweet American sodas -- and only 2 WeightWatchers points per 8 ounce serving, as opposed to 3-4 for most other sodas.

If you live in an area with Armenian or Russian markets, see if you can find this stuff. I can find out some specific places from Robb if you're in SoCal and want to find some (or maybe Robb might just fill us in in the comments); if you're an adventurous Chowhound you'll want to. I highly recommend this stuff.

Darkly compelling.   I meant to post this last week and forgot, so read it quickly before it disappears into the bowels of the Los Angeles Times' pay archive. Longtime Paris-based AP correspondent Mort Rosenblum has covered "war and peace, genocide and terrorism, floods and famines, coups and coronations, elections, earthquakes and epidemics, the rise of the Asian economy and the fall of communism." His new book is about "poverty, slavery, exploitation and corruption, economics, war and peace" ... in short, it's all about chocolate.

... Rosenblum, who's also written 11 books, on topics as varied as olives, journalism and French nationalism, says he's never taken on an assignment as challenging or as satisfying as his newly published Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light.

The book is a fascinating account of the history and mystery of chocolate. Rosenblum spent four years traveling the world, from Mexico to the Ivory Coast, exploring the origins of chocolate, its economics, its appeal, its widely varying quality and its effect on the mind, the heart, the waistline and the libido. He writes about poverty, slavery, exploitation and corruption, and he weaves through his globe-hopping narrative several explanations of different chocolate-making processes, as well as mini-profiles of a number of engaging characters in this $60-billion, often cutthroat industry.

[...] I ask Rosenblum if -- having written about chocolate and olives and, in his 2000 book A Goose in Toulouse, French food in general -- he might consider a book on cheese.

"No," he says immediately. "There's no passion in cheese."

I start to disagree, but he waves me to silence.

"There aren't really any cheese wars," he says. "Nothing like Hershey's versus Mars or Amedei versus Valrhona. I like blood in my books."

Rosenblum's account of the "candy war" between Mars and Hershey takes up several pages in Chapter 5, in which he says, "Hershey's chocolate tastes like sugared wax, the end result of monster mass production with all corners cut."

A few years back during my intermediate pastry class we had a blind chocolate tasting -- we tried about 18 different kinds of chocolate over the course of one evening, making detailed tasting notes and drinking lots of water to cleanse our palates between each taste (it's a lot harder than it sounds). Hershey's came out at the absolute rock bottom of our ratings. Which one came out on top? Seems our class agreed with Mr. Rosenblum's opinion:

Rosenblum isn't any more favorably disposed toward Mars' chocolate, so I ultimately found his account of the Hershey-Mars battle somewhat less riveting than his report on the struggle between French-based Valrhona, which he says makes the best chocolate in the world, and the Italian firm of Amedei.

As he tells the tale, the people who run Valrhona are appallingly arrogant and secretive.

"Valrhona is the living exception to 'Rosenblum's First Law of Chocolate,'" he says. That law is, "The more someone refuses to talk about what he does, the more he is likely to be involved in a lousy product. Applying the converse of this law, I resolved to look for people who were happy to talk about what they did."

The book's on its way. I can't wait to read it.

Boggling news item of the day.   Holy crap ... the US media isn't touching this one yet, apparently. The BBC is reporting that Pakistan, our anti-terrorism ally in the Coalition of the Willing, is funneling money directly into the coffers of al Qaeda.

Pakistan says it has paid 32m rupees ($540,000) to help four former wanted tribal militants in South Waziristan settle debts with al-Qaeda.

Military operations chief in the region, Lt Gen Safdar Hussain, said the payments were part of a peace deal signed on Monday with tribesmen.

It is the first time Pakistan has admitted making such payments.

More links and further coverage are available at this DailyKos link. I cannot believe that there isn't a single mention of this in the American media (then again, given the nonexistent job they're doing, I suppose I can. Hey, let's cover the Michael Jackson trial instead!)

Condi lied, Condi lied, Condi lied lied lied.   Newly declassified documents demonstrate that when she claimed in March 2004 that "no al-Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration," she lied. The document, written January 25, 2001 by then-counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, clearly states among many other things, "We urgently need such a principals-level review on the al-Qaeda network." (Image of the declassified document, plus more coverage at dKos.)
From The National Security Archive's story:

Clarke's memo requests an immediate meeting of the National Security Council's Principals Committee to discuss broad strategies for combating al-Qaeda by giving counterterrorism aid to the Northern Alliance and Uzbekistan, expanding the counterterrorism budget and responding to the U.S.S. Cole attack.

And she will get away with it, too. Why? Because the amoral Republican Congress refuses to clean their own house. Because our print media has completely abrogated their duties. Because the majority of the American public seems not to give a shit, which boggles my mind more than almost anything else.

You KNOW that if anything like this had happened during a Democratic administration the Republicans would be howling for blood.

Quote of the day.   Via The 2 Millionth Weblog, who notes that in this quote Josh Marshall not only exposes Bush's absurd claims about Social Security in one paragraph, he does it in one sentence:

As we've discussed here many times, President Bush's gloomy predictions about the demise of Social Security are premised on a 21st century of anemic economic growth while his claims for private accounts are based on a 21st century of robust economic growth.

-- Josh Marshall

Here's the Post article Josh links to as well.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, February 10, 2005
Live music from Jazzfest for sale!   Man, why didn't I notice this before? Maybe because it's too new.

You can now buy selected live performances -- entire sets -- from last year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They're available on CD or, for less money, as high quality (192-256 kbps) FLAC, AAC/MPEG4, WMA9 or MP3 files for which you can download cover art. You can check setlists before you buy, and listen to some pretty damn good sounding samples from each track.

Artists available so far are Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Orleans Avenue, Los Vecinos, Galactic, John Mooney & Bluesiana, Astral Project, Amanda Shaw & The Cute Guys, Rockin' Dopsie Jr. & the Zydeco Twisters, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians, Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, 007, Irie Dawtas, Lafourche Legends: A Tribute to Vin Bruce, Allen Toussaint, Tab Benoit, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Anders Osborne, Lil' Band O' Gold, The Radiators, Eric Lindell, Chris Smither and a 2-disc compilation.

This is a fantastic thing, and something I wish had been available years ago. My only potential qualm is that until now the only way you could get live Jazzfest material was on WWOZ's semi-annual fundraising CD compilations, which are marvelous. I hope this doesn't cut into 'OZ's ability to put these out and fundraise. There were problems over the last few years with the live broadcasts from the Fair Grounds that 'OZ has done for many years -- some new contract-with-the-Devil that Festival Productions signed with Acura threatened to interfere with that.

A warning to Jazzfest -- don't fuck with the locals, cap. I'll write more on this subject later.

Quote of the day.   A truly mind-boggling utterance from the so-called President of the United States, The Gadflyer. Paul Waldman says, "In case you missed it, this exchange took place in one of President Bush's pseudo-events touting Social Security privatization, in Omaha on Friday," and he was speaking with a woman of late middle age who was invited to the event:

THE PRESIDENT: Good. Okay, Mary, tell us about yourself.

MS. MORNIN: Okay, I'm a divorced, single mother with three grown, adult children. I have one child, Robbie, who is mentally challenged, and I have two daughters.

THE PRESIDENT: Fantastic. First of all, you've got the hardest job in America, being a single mom.

MS. MORNIN: Thank you. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: You and I are baby boomers.

MS. MORNIN: Yes, and I am concerned about -- that the system stays the same for me.


MS. MORNIN: But I do want to see change and reform for my children because I realize that we will be in trouble down the road.

THE PRESIDENT: It's an interesting point, and I hear this a lot -- will the system be the same for me? And the answer is, absolutely. One of the things we have to continue to clarify to people who have retired or near retirement -- you fall in the near retirement.

MS. MORNIN: Yes, unfortunately, yes. (Laughter.)


THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but nevertheless, there's a certain comfort to know that the promises made will be kept by the government.


THE PRESIDENT: And so thank you for asking that. You don't have to worry.

MS. MORNIN: That's good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute.

THE PRESIDENT: You work three jobs?

MS. MORNIN: Three jobs, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)

MS. MORNIN: Not much. Not much.

I am speechless.

Paul Waldman again:

Yeah, it's the Democrats who are out of touch with regular people. Here's something somebody should have clued you in on when you were summering in Kennebunkport: when somebody works two or three jobs, it's not because they've got can-do American spirit. It's because their first job doesn't pay enough for them to make ends meet, and they're faced with a choice between running themselves ragged or seeing their kids starve, you goddamn idiot.

Working three jobs as a single mother with a mentally challenged kid is not "fantastic," it's a trial worthy of Job. Maybe if you had ever held a real job in your life -- or had a moment of worry about paying your bills, or wondered whether you were going to be able to feed your kids this month, or hoped they wouldn't get sick because you had no health insurance, or had a financial problem your daddy's friends didn't bail you out of, you'd understand that.

How in the good Christ does he get away with this shit? (Oh yeah, that "liberal media.")

Quote of the day, part deux.   From Jonathan Weiler, also in The Gadflyer:

[The Bush Administration's] conception of democracy as nothing more than electoralism is so impoverished that by itself it should scarcely merit the appellation "democracy." Jon Stewart summed this up well following the President's state of the union address. After showing Republican members of Congress holding up painted fingers in solidarity with Iraqis who bravely voted on January 30, Stewart commented that those members of Congress also showed solidarity with Iraqis by "shitting into buckets in unlit shacks."
Quote of the day, part trois.   Busy day for quotes today. Via Atrios:

Having worked in the White House, I can assure everyone that not only would it be impossible to get a White House pass using an alias, it is impossible even to get past the gate for an appointment using an alias. Thorough FBI background checks are required for the former and a picture ID is necessary for the latter. Therefore, if Gannon was using an alias, White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.

-- Bruce Bartlett, writing at Romanesko

Washington Post White House reporter Dan Froomkin doesn't think so, but faults Scott McLellan for calling on the wingnut more than the wingnut for using a pseudonym and weaseling his way into the White House press room.

As for the allegations into the personal life of the "reporter" -- if he's parroting the BushCo party line, lifting White House press releases wholesale for his "articles" and writing his own articles which further an anti-gay agenda, then turns out to own Internet domains relating to male prostitution ... well, I think that it's not beyond the pale to note that particular bit of hypocrisy. The main point is that this man seemed to pass the vetting procedure far too easily, was frequently called upon to throw softball questions and was the only person to whom classified documents were leaked.

Ouch.   Via Wes, this commentary by Rev. Madison Shockley of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad and Rev. Kelvin Calloway of Second AME Church in Los Angeles lash out at black ministers who betray their own people by kowtowing to the GOP:

It is a sad beginning to Black History Month when a group of black preachers have so forgotten the past that they agree to be tutored in "moral values" by Republican operatives in sheep's clothing.

[... T]he recent invasion by Karl Rove's minions into the heart of black communities and black churches across the country -- most recently on Tuesday at the Crenshaw Christian Center, one of Los Angeles' biggest churches -- has been downright offensive.

Seventy pastors apparently turned out for Tuesday's meeting, which was supposedly organized by conservative black ministers who had backed George W. Bush in November and who are seeking to promote what they say is a new agenda for the black community.

Are they doing it with programs that bring jobs, education and opportunity? Nooooooooooooo. They are doing it with a campaign against gay marriage. They are unveiling a "black contract with America on moral values." That's right, Newt Gingrich is back and he's black! And in case you didn't know, gay marriage, not gang violence, gay marriage, not hyper-unemployment and undereducation, is what has destroyed our jobs, closed our schools and forfeited our opportunities.

That the ideological descendants of the architects of Jim Crow would be setting up shop in inner cities to structure a solution to the problems of being black in America is beyond ludicrous.

Read the rest.

Ho-hum.   Is it just me, or are the Mardi Gras photo contest winners at really pretty dull? I did better stuff back when I was in college (the last Mardi Gras that I photographed extensively) and tanked on supersweet Hurricanes. I'll have to dig around and see if I can find that old stuff.

Any of y'all got any good Mardi Gras photos?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Ash Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust ...   Let's just hope that's not what the inside of your head feels like after all your Mardi Gras revelry. I got seriously depressed at work yesterday morning, wondering what the feck I was doing there, and why didn't I take a day off, so I called in one of my relief staff and took off at lunchtime.

True relief came in the form of a "Zeek" poor boy from Uncle Darrow's, a Creole restaurant that's not at all far from the day job. The Zeek must be particular to owner Norwood Clark's family, and it climbs to the very pinnacle of evil genius: perfectly fried shrimp and catfish, piping hot, piled up on a poor boy loaf that's also piled with creamy, cold potato salad. The juxtaposition of hot and cold, spicy and sweet, crispy breading and soft potatoes, the tang of the mayonnaise, mustard and pickles in the salad, is out of this world. Nowadays given my propensity for smaller portions (and my smaller stomach, actually; I really can't eat as much as I used to since I dropped the 35 pounds), I wouldn't have finished my Zeek. Last time I barely ate more than half. This time there was nothing left but crumbs. Man, I needed that.

That was accompanied by the best gumbo in town (other than my own, of course), and my friend Shari had a perfectly lovely fried oyster poor boy (next time I'm gettin' me one of those but with half shrimp, if I can stand to pass up the Zeek).

The day was finished off with leftover red beans 'n rice and Hurricanes from the other night ... a very fat Fat Tuesday. Not a lot of revelry, but I needed the comfort more than the revelry.

To cap it off, NPR did a really nice review of "Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens" yesterday on "All Things Considered"; Michelle Mercer had some lovely, quotable comments:

[The box set] unfolds like a night out on the town with a born and bred New Orleans local. [...] On a good night in New Orleans, just about everything in music happens. The rest is up to you.
Odd thing was, they kept referring to it only as "The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" and not by its actual title. (I sent a nice letter to NPR in hopes that they'd mention that later on when they read letters.) Still, anyone who did a search on that subtitle would probably find it online, and apparently people did -- sales have spiked up unbelievably on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (#31 and #39 in music sales, respectively). Yay!

Anyway, I fervently hope you had a happy, safe and fun Mardi Gras (unlike some fun-hating sticks-in-the-mud).

All on a Mardi Gras Day.   One description of what sounds like a near-perfect time on the big day was written by New Orleans writer Poppy Z. Brite in her journal yesterday:

Up and out at 9:30 to see the Rex parade ... dressed in black long johns with skeleton bones painted on them and my new, supremely awful Nixon mask, much like the one Peter Boyle wore in Where the Buffalo Roam ... as we walked along the neutral ground, I found a huge soup bone presumably discarded by one of the real skeletons who run through the streets at dawn ... wrapped it in beads and used it as my sceptre all day ... shook it at Rex and he gave me a thumbs-up ... Red Dog tallboys at 10:00 AM ... walked up to St. Charles ... "Mr. President! Mr. President!" ... posed for dozens of people who wanted their picture taken with Nixon ... posed with two Elvii, a big one and a little one ... scared some children ... more tallboys ... spent an hour talking to three old black men about dogs and football ... "Awmygawd! Nixon's a girl!" ... tons o'beads from the truck parades ... nightmarish Portapotties ... Mardi Gras Indians on the side streets ... stopped off at Fat Harry's to see if Chef Tory from Commander's Palace was there (last year he was hanging out at the bar dressed as a cow, and his wife was a cowgirl) ... he wasn't, but some young people took my picture and insisted on buying me a kamikaze shot ... things got blurry ... we never made it to the Crescent City Steakhouse for the symbolic "last meat" ... watched the Meeting of the Courts on WYES ... today my right arm is sore from hefting that bone.

Today it is mandatory for every local sourpuss with a blog to post about how much Mardi Gras sucks, and how glad they are it's over, and how we only do it for the money because we are whores. (I am not talking about anyone on my friends list, all of whom are scholars and gentlemen, even the ladies.) My favorite quote so far:

The truth is, unless you like mindless, drunken debauchery, or you thrive on watching otherwise dull people make intoxicated asses of themselves, there's really nothing to enjoy about Mardi Gras.

May I suggest a plane ticket to Salt Lake City?

The key to helping Mardi Gras be fun for everyone is basically "be nice", and don't act like a jerk. Then we all get to have fun.

Quote of the day.   Also from Poppy's journal yesterday:

Reason #5,944,023 Why I'll Never Become a Catholic
Because I am the kind of person who can leave the house on Ash Wednesday with every intention of going to Mass to get the smudge, and end up eating a bacon cheeseburger instead.
Not only do I like her writing, but I think I like her too. (I can't wait to get started on The Value of X and Liquor.)

Another right-wing GOP stooge outed ...   in more ways than one, apparently. The big news about this one, though, rests on why this unqualified, inexperienced would-be "journalist" who hid behind a pseudonym was allowed in the White House press room, four rows away from the president. Could it be because they wanted him there? From Media Matters for America:

Talon News "reporter" Jeff Gannon's softball questions often steer White House press secretary Scott McClellan away from more difficult inquiries raised during White House press briefings; on several occasions, McClellan has turned to Gannon for his questions after other press corps members have asked pointed questions on controversial topics. In reviewing White House press conferences from the past year, Media Matters for America has noted numerous instances in which Gannon's lobs -- leading questions that often include false assumptions favorable to the Bush administration -- have allowed McClellan to move to friendlier turf, away from having to answer questions on such issues as the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment; the Bush administration's relationship with former Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi; the growing trade deficit with China; and President Bush's Texas Air National Guard record.
Here's what New York Representative Louise Slaughter had to say in her direct request for an explanation from the president:

Dear Mr. President:

In light of the mounting evidence that your Administration has, on several occasions, paid members of the media to advocate in favor of Administration policies, I feel compelled to ask you to address a matter brought to my attention by the Niagara Falls Reporter (article attached), a local newspaper in my district, regarding James "JD" Guckert (AKA Jeff Gannon) of Talon News.

According to several credible reports, "Mr. Gannon" has been repeatedly credentialed as a member of the White House press corps by your office and has been regularly called upon in White House press briefings by your Press Secretary Scott McClellan, despite the fact evidence shows that "Mr. Gannon" is a Republican political operative, uses a false name, has phony or questionable journalistic credentials, is known for plagiarizing much of the "news" he reports, and according to several web reports, may have ties to the promotion of the prostitution of military personnel [...]

And just this morning we have learned that "Mr. Gannon" has resigned his post at the, so called, Talon News amid growing concerns over his controversial background and falsified qualifications. In fact, it appears that "Mr. Gannon's" presence in the White House press corps was merely as a tool of propaganda for your Administration.

Why don't they just get it over with and start referring to their Ministry of Propaganda? It's getting that bad.

UPDATE: It looks as if Rep. Slaughter will be calling for a congressional investigation within 48 hours, so that we the people may find out why an individual from a partisan political organization with no credentials as a reporter and apparently operating under an assumed name was able to land a coveted spot with the White House press corps. I'd certainly like to find out why that happened, wouldn't you?

Kos adds the bottom line:

A potential male prostitute gets White House credentials using a fake name, provides McClellan a welcome ideological lifeline during press conferences, and somehow gets access to classified CIA documents that outs an undercover CIA operative.

White House-credentialed fake news reporter "Jeff Gannon" from fake news agency "Talon News" was cited by the Washington Post as having the only access to an internal CIA memo that named Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA agent. Gannon, in a question posed to Wilson in an October 2003 interview, referred to the memo (to which no other news outlet had access, according to the Post). Gannon subsequently has been subpoenaed by the federal grand jury looking into the Plame outing.

More from John Aravosis at

Just imagine if some guy with alleged ties to male prostitution were given unprecedented access to the White House, and given a White House press pass that didn't even have his real name on it in order to throw fake softball questions at the press briefings to help make the president look good.

Now imagine that president were named Bill Clinton.

Now imagine what would happen next?

* Congressional hearings in the House and Senate.

* Demands for a Justice Dept. investigation - how did this man get past security, who let him in, what were his ties to these male prostitute URLs, and who else on the White House staff may have been involved?

* Appointment of a special counsel.

* Demands for a slew of firings of White House staff.

* Never-ending questions about Hooker-gate directed to the White House staff and the president from the Washington media.

* All sorts of questions about what the president's wife knew, and when she knew it.

* And non-stop 24-hour coverage on CNN and FOX.

Keep that in mind in the next 24 hours when we see how the "liberal" media handles this story, if at all.

Curiouser and curiuouser ...

Ammunition.   Via Rick ... next time someone says "we need less governmental control over big business", whip this one out:

W.R. Grace Accused of Hiding Cancer Risk

W.R. Grace and Co. and seven high-ranking employees knew a Montana mine was releasing cancer-causing asbestos into the air and tried to hide the danger to workers and townspeople, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday. More than 1,200 people became ill, and some of them died, prosecutors said.

The asbestos was naturally present in a vermiculite mine operated by Grace in the small town of Libby for nearly 30 years.

The federal grand jury said that top Grace executives and managers kept secret numerous studies spelling out the risk the cancer-causing asbestos posed to its customers, employees and Libby residents.


Is this what President Gobshite had in mind when he referred to "frivolous asbestos claims" during the Scam of the Union address?

Oh, great ...   Via Steve (a guy with 35,000 CDs) to me (a guy with a mere 5,000 CDs):

CD-eating fungus discovered

A Spanish scientist has discovered a fungus which eats CDs.

Geologist Victor Cardenes says he stumbled across the microscopic creature while visiting Belize. The discovery came after friends complained that one of their CDs had developed an odd discoloration that left parts of it virtually transparent.

Using an electron microscope, Cardenes and colleagues at the Madrid-based Superior Council for Scientific Research later observed that fungi had burrowed into the CD from the outer edge. It had then devoured the thin aluminium reflecting layer and some of the data-storing polycarbonate resin.

Cardenes said: "If you look at the CD from the shiny side, in the places where the fungus has been you can see all the way through to the painted surface on the other side. It completely destroys the aluminium. It leaves nothing behind."

Biologists at the council concluded that the fungus belonged to a common genus called Geotrichum but had never seen this particular species before.

They add that, fortunately for Europeans, the fungus only survives in the sultry weather conditions that prevail in Belize.

Make mental note: when traveling to Belize (or anywhere equally sultry), bring only the iPod and leave the CDs behind.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Mardi Gras, February 8, 2005
What are you doing here?   Go away and have fun.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Lundi Gras, February 7, 2005
The "Weekend Edition" piece.   I only caught a little of it (Gawd, I can't stand to listen to myself on the radio), but from the feedback I got from friends, apparently the piece was really good. I was astounded that they gave us so much time ... fifteen minutes! As host Sheilah Kast told me last Thursday, "it'll be a slow news day on Sunday, so we might go for a double-length piece." Turns out it was more like a quadruple-length piece. Thanks to Sheilah and to supergenius producer/editor Ned Wharton for all their great work.

You can hear the NPR story about "Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans", and a bit about Mardi Gras and Louisiana music in general, on their online archive via RealAudio or Windows Media.

Funny, in a sad way.   Via Fred, Ken Capobianco writes in the Boston Phoenix on being a freelance arts writer over 40 in a retracting economy:

Don't let anyone tell you differently: in this economic climate, especially at this time of year, the term "freelance arts writer" is a euphemism for "unemployed." Ad sales are down. Papers are relying on staff reporters. There's very little to write about because there are so few shows and new record releases, and there are simply way too many writers to fill the void. So I've been living close to the vest (note to Bill Safire: just what does that mean?) and watching the bills pile up.

Recently, therefore, I did something I swore I'd never do: I went to a suburban shopping mall and applied for a part-time job at a record store. Needless to say, it didn't go well.


[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, February 4, 2005
The waiter you stiffed has not forgotten you.   I've been following a newly-discovered weblog of late, entitled Waiter Rant. At first I found him a little grating, but as I continued to read I found him to be an excellent writer, putting a lot of humanity into his tales of what it's like to make your living waiting tables in a fairly high-end restaurant. He can get cranky (and who could blame him?) but he's a good person, and tries to be the best person he can even in the midst of some astonishingly abominable treatment by some of his customers.

I swear, I don't know what it is with some people. Are they that small and petty, do they thrive on the power they must feel when they abuse the staff in a restaurant, someone whose job it is to help them derive pleasure from their meal and their entire dining experience? I do not understand people who behave that way, and frankly I don't want to know them or be around them. The venerable old Golden Rule pretty much applies here.

Lots and lots of waiters are weblogging now, and the New York Times ran a piece the other day on the phonomenon. Some are better than others (in fact, some are so poorly written that I gave up on trying to read them pretty quickly), and the aforementioned Waiter Rant is currently my favorite. Some of them bear reading, though, if for no other reason to help you think twice before you behave like a jerk to your server when you go out to eat. If he or she is openly rude, hostile, lazy, insulting, whatever ... that's one thing. But if the kitchen gets something wrong, it's not the server's fault. If you didn't make a reservation and had to wait a half an hour for your table, it's not the server's fault. If you're having a bad day, it's not the server's fault.

I read the venting on these weblogs, and just when I thought some people's behavior could not get any worse in a restaurant, up comes another story that tops it. Don't be one of those stories. The bare minimum tip is 15%, and really, don't tip less than 20% unless the service was only minimally acceptable. Service would have to be truly awful for me to tip less than 15%, and I can count the number of times I've had to do that in the last several years on one hand. That's how it works in the U.S. If you don't like it and don't want to cooperate, well ... try working for tips sometime.

Hey Iraq! Welcome to democracy!   Via DailyKos:

[Here's a]nother troubling, yet not absolutely shocking, [bit of] news about the new rules forced on the newly liberated Iraqi population... according to provisions signed by CPA Iraqi farmers are not allowed to save their seed from one year to another. Instead they are required to apply for new licenses every time and buy new seed from (surprise) ... Monsanto.

As part of sweeping ''economic restructuring'' implemented by the Bush Administration in Iraq, Iraqi farmers will no longer be permitted to save their seeds, which include seeds the Iraqis themselves have developed over hundreds of years. Instead, they will be forced to buy seeds from US corporations. That is because in recent years, transnational corporations have patented and now own many seed varieties originated or developed by indigenous peoples. In a short time, Iraq will be living under the new American credo:

Pay Monsanto, or starve.

It looks like the great friend of corporations -- Paul Bremer -- decided to update Iraqi intellectual law to "meet current internationally-recognized standards of protection". So rather than continuing centuries-long tradition of developing and using their own seeds now that have to fall in line with rest of the "civilized world" -- embrace genetically modified seeds produced by large corporations.

Iraq law Requires Seed Licenses: November 13, 2004
"According to Order 81, paragraph 66 - [B], issued by L. Paul Bremer [CFR], the people in Iraq are now prohibited from saving seeds and may only plant seeds for their food from licensed, authorized U.S. distributors. The paragraph states, "Farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties or any variety mentioned in items 1 and 2 of paragraph [C] of Article 14 of this chapter."

No, we are not going "to force our form of government on others", only our form of business...

God bless the American way, eh? We'll be closing all the family-owned shops in Baghdad when the Super Wal-Mart opens, too.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, February 3, 2005
I'm gonna be on NPR!   This morning I went over to NPR West in Culver City and was interviewed by Sheilah Kast for a spot about the "Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens" box set that'll run this coming Sunday on "Weekend Edition Sunday", two days before Mardi Gras.

I was startled by how nervous I was. I've been doing radio for 17 years, but today I was never so nervous since my very first day on KCRW in May of 1988. (Probably that little fecker inside my head who kept saying, "NATIONWIDE radio, Chuck! You're on NATIONWIDE radio now!" I kept feeling as if my brain was going to shut down, and who knows if anything I said made any sense. My grammar was even fleeing from me; I even once said "farther" instead of "further" ... ah well, you wince and move on and hope they'll cut it out. Thank Gawd it wasn't live.

We were at it for nearly 40 minutes, and it'll probably be cut down to a three- or four-minute piece, so I'm really curious to see what they end up using. I can only hope that NPR's legendary audio editors use all their powers and all their skills to keep me from sounding like an awful feckin 'eejit.

I'm not sure at what point in the show it'll run, but if you listen to "Weekend Edition Sunday" this coming Sunday, February 6, you'll hear it, or at least a promo that'll give you an idea of when you can expect it. So, if you're outside the L.A. area and you never managed to surf over to KCSN's web site to listen to my own radio show, and you're the tiniest bit curious as to what your favorite (or second favorite, or seventy-eighth favorite) weblogger actually sounds like (not like an babbling, fumbling idiot, we can only hope), then tune in if you dare!

Congratulations, America!   You are now a nation of torturers, having confirmed as your chief law enforcement officer a man who wrote the torture justification memos, defined torture so narrowly that you could do anything other than kill someone or cause "major organ failure" and it wouldn't under his definition qualify as torture, and advised the president to declare our current wars exempt from the provisions of the "quaint" Geneva Convention because otherwise we'd likely be guilty of war crimes. This isn't even to mention minor trifles like hushing up Bush's drunk-driving arrest. This is now the senior government official responsible for upholding the laws of the land. Your senators, who represent you in our government, seem to say on your behalf that you condone this.

This is where our country is now. Are you proud? Is this what you voted for? Is this the America you know?

We, ladies and gentlemen, are fucked.

Quote of the day.   From Duncan Black, a.k.a. "Atrios".

It is not partisan for anti-torture Democrats to oppose Gonzales. It is partisan for anti-torture Republicans to support him.

Pro-torture Republicans, of course, love the guy.

Republicans crow on and on about how Gonzales is the American success story who worked his way up from nothing. Yeah, that's great. I congratulate him for his personal success. However, he still advised the White House on how to get away with torture. Some are even making not-so-veiled accusations of racism; i.e., if you oppose Gonzales you're anti-Hispanic. No, if you oppose Gonzales you're most likely anti-torture.

To paraphrase Paul Simon, I wanna look down and spit on the ground every time their names are mentioned ...

Kennedy letter claims "smoking gun" against Gonzales.   This is what every Senate Republican (and five Democrats whom I will work toward seeing that they never hold public office again) voted for when they voted to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. Read it all. Curt Matlock writes at

Senator Edward Kennedy stood on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday to denounce torture and to denounce Alberto Gonzales. Kennedy later released from his office a letter, Kennedy Urges Senate to Deny Gonzales Nomination Over Torture Policies, detailing his objections to Gonzales and providing evidence of a "smoking gun" regarding Gonzales efforts to provide a legal rationale for subverting international law and inoculating against later war crimes charges.

In his long, detailed, damning letter, Senator Kennedy made no effort at sugarcoating his words and made the moral and ethical case against Gonzales in stark terms. In his lead paragraph he lays out what is at stake for America:

The issues raised by Mr. Gonzales's nomination go to the heart of what America stands for in the world and the fundamental values that define us as a nation - our commitment to individual dignity, our respect for the rule of law, and our reputation around the world as a beacon for human rights, not as a violator of human rights. [...]

President Bush said it well in his Inaugural Address last month: "From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth." The world is watching to see if our actions match our rhetoric.
After quoting the President, Senator Kennedy moves on to the specific case of Alberto Gonzales.

How can the Senate possibly approve the nomination of Mr. Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, the official who symbolizes our respect for the rule of law, when Mr. Gonzales is the official in the Bush Administration who, as White House Counsel, advised the President that torture was an acceptable method of interrogation in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and Iraq?[...]

Americans agree that torture is, and should remain, beyond the pale. A recent poll in USA Today showed that Americans strongly disapprove of the interrogation tactics that have been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo - including the use of painful stress positions, sexual humiliation, threatening prisoners with dogs, and threatening to ship them to countries known to practice torture.

The American public has held fast to our most fundamental values. How could our government have gone so wrong?

After a short recitation of the way in which Alberto Gonzales pulled himself up from modest beginnings to his current position, Senator Kennedy then details the specific acts which have led to his decision to vote against Gonzales for the position of Attorney General:

But, Mr. Gonzales is at the center of a torture policy that has run roughshod over the values that Americans hold so dear. On issue after issue in developing this policy, he has endorsed expediency over the rule of law.

He adopted an absurdly narrow definition of torture in order to permit extreme interrogation practices.

He advocated an unjustifiably expansive view of presidential power, purporting to put the Executive Branch above the law.

He ignored the plain language of the Geneva Conventions in an attempt to immunize those who may commit war crimes.

He continues to push a discredited interpretation of our treaty obligations to permit the C.I.A. to commit cruel, inhuman and degrading acts outside the United States.

He refuses to be candid about his interpretations, policies, and intentions.
Constitutionally, the President does not have the power to violate law.

The President is not above the law. Yet, Gonzales legal opinions have attempted to place the President above the law. Therefore, as confirmed by Senator Specter, those opinions are wrong.

But unconstitutional presidential actions are not all that Senator Kennedy believes the Administration is guilty of. There is reason to believe war crimes have been committed:

A second memorandum, the so-called "Goldsmith Memorandum" is next introduced and discussed. Senator Kennedy refers to this as a "smoking gun". The Goldsmith Memorandum outlines a policy to "ghost" prisoners by hiding them from the Red Cross and other agencies. General Taguba, in his official report, refers to this as a violation of international law. Senator Kennedy directly ties Gonzales to the adoption of this illegal practice by U.S. Forces and thus of culpability in war crimes.

Since then, we've learned that Mr. Gonzales was a major architect of this policy. On March 19, 2004, the Justice Department provided him with a draft memorandum - the so-called "Goldsmith Memorandum" - to allow the C.I.A. to ship certain persons out of Iraq. Once again, the memo's first page reads, "Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President." A separate cover page confirms that the opinion was requested by him. It's hard to imagine a clearer smoking gun.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically states: "Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive." Violations of Article 49 constitute "grave breaches" of the Convention and therefore qualify as "war crimes" under federal law.

In spite of the clear, unequivocal language of this provision, the Justice Department ruled that Article 49 does not in fact prohibit, for the purpose of "facilitating interrogation," the temporary removal from Iraq of "protected persons" who have not been accused of a crime. Scott Silliman, an expert in military law at Duke University, observed that the Goldsmith memorandum "seeks to create a legal regime justifying conduct that the international community clearly considers in violation of international law and the Convention."
[...] The uplifting rhetoric used by the President in his Inaugural Address invoked words and phrases which speak to America's highest values. Freedom. Human Rights. Dignity. Matchless Value. But the actions of President Bush and Alberto Gonzales reveal the fact that they do not believe those rights apply to everyone. For them, much depends on whether you are wearing a uniform and who you are fighting for when deciding whether you are subject to torture. The decision to torture no longer rests on morality or values, but on expediency and immediate need. If you are an especially frightening or brutal enemy like al Qaeda, then you are subject to torture. If you are held by the CIA then you are subject to torture. If the warfare is of a "new" type, then you are subject to torture.

Unlike every other war fought throughout its long history this war is deemed unique in the way the U.S. treats its enemies. The needs of this war and this generation are paramount. Tradition, Values, Law, and the U.S. Constitution be damned.

[Much, much more]

Read this post and its analysis of Sen. Kennedy's letter, and make sure you read all of the original letter at Sen. Kennedy's website. It's amazing.

There's more great commentary from Digby:

The idea that al Qaeda is some unique form of evil that requires we cast out all norms of civilization is simply mind boggling (Indeed, I get the feeling that it illustrates nothing more than ego run amuck -- some kind of competitiveness with the Greatest Generation.)

The biggest threat we face is from nuclear weapons in the wrong hands. But we need to remember that this is not a new problem. Nuclear weapons have been in the hands of America's mortal enemies for more than 50 years and while they may not have been as nihilistic as these terrorists, they were certainly as prone to accident and misjudgment as any group of humans. The stakes were unimaginable. These were not "suitcase bombs" or "dirty bombs", as awful as those may be, they were ICBM's aimed at every American city and if they were launched, the result was likely to be annihilation of the planet. That's the threat we lived with for almost 50 years. We can handle this terrorist threat without completely losing our values, our wits or our moral authority. [...]

The Bataan death march, the holocaust, the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo and the dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were fresh memories when the Geneva Conventions were signed. The people who conceived them had intimate and personal knowledge of the kind of inhumane actions against millions of prisoners, civilians and soldiers the horrors of war can bring. Please don't say that attacking civilians is unprecedented. It's just ridiculous. Ill treatment of prisoners? Jesus. Inhumanity wasn't invented on 9/11, for Christ's sake.

The reason for the conventions was to establish written civilized norms. There were no illusions about the "binding" of a future Hitler or a future bin Laden, but they sure as hell thought it would bind the United States of America! The idea that 9/11 is something so unique and the hatred of our enemies so threatening that we must discard all the rules that we created in the wake of the most horrifying conflagration in human history is intellectual bankruptcy of the highest order.

Nobody disputes that it was a terrible day or that we had to respond. But this wholesale redefinition of what constitutes torture and what constitutes a nation state in order to accomodate an allegedly unprecedented threat appears more and more like a self-serving excuse to broaden the executive's power. Re-writing the rules of warfare as necessary to fight this unique threat can then be seen as an extension of that power grab. All the subsequent hemming and hawing is a cover-up of that essential extra-constitutional action.

There are people who have the kind of temperament that is drawn to authoritarian modes of governance. People like ... George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales. These are people who saw 9/11 as a reason to do what they always do when given the opportunity -- make their own rules.

The terrorism that people like these are arguing requires a wholesale rejection of all the norms and rules that have brought us to this point in human history is another of the phony crises, like WMD in Iraq and Social Security solvency that they have perpetuated since George W. Bush took office. Al Qaeda is a serious threat. But it is not so serious that WWI and WWII pale in comparison or that we face an unprecedented existential threat. It's absurd to put it in those terms and it's a misunderstanding of the problem on such a vast scale that we are actively making the threat worse instead of better.

We are being led by a man who has been convinced that "his" war is bigger than the big one and anything goes. Yet, the single most searing image of our warrior leadership is the president with a bullhorn leading a cheer. I think that says it all.

I'm ashamed of my country today.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, February 2, 2005
King Cake time!   Time's running out for you to get your traditional dessert for Carnival season -- after Mardi Gras day (next Tuesday!), there ain't no more King Cakes. Sure, there are a few bakeries who do them year-round, but it's just wrong to have King Cake when it's not Carnival season.

Last year we got one from Chef Jean-Luc Albin at Maurice French Pastries (one on Carrollton, one in Metairie). It was pretty good, a chocolate Bourbon pecan filled one that we enjoyed, although it had too much white icing and not enough purple, green and gold sugar. I finally caved on the filled King Cakes and stopped shrieking "They're not traditional!" like some deranged Ignatius J. Reilly clone (as I am as slow to accept change as many typical New Orleanians), but there are some traditions about which there is no discussion -- I want colored sugar on the cake, and lots of it.

The ones I remember best from my childhood were the really old-school, very traditional (i.e., dry) King Cakes from the late McKenzie's Bakeries (which most people hated), and the really good ones from the late, lamented Lawrence's Bakery. Lawrence Aiavolasiti, a.k.a. "Mr. Wedding Cake" had a family-run bakery on Elysian Fields for years with an enormous picture of himself propped up on the roof. For most of my life, I must admit, the sight of Mr. Wedding Cake's picture scared the shit out of me, mostly because Lawrence's Bakery was right across the street from my pediatrician's office. Dr. G (who's still around and from what I heard still practices a couple days a week) was great, but a visit to his office usually meant that I'd be getting some enormous needle stuck in my tiny, sickly little body. Mr. Wedding Cake suffered from the juxtaposition, unfortunately. But I digress...

This year I wanted to try one I hadn't tried before. Fortunately for my taste-testing needs (and unfortunately for my diet) there was not one, but there were TWO King Cakes in my office today, one from Manny Randazzo's* and one from Haydel's. Of course, I had to try them both. Two not-so-big pieces later there was so much sugar in me I thought I was going to have a seizure.

(* - I went to high school with a guy named Manny Randazzo. I don't think this is him, because he's a court reporter now, but I'd imagine it's someone in his family. Unfortunately the site's FAQ didn't include the question I really wanted answered, which was, "Hey, you're not the same Manny Randazzo that Chuck went to school with, are you?" It's obviously a deficient FAQ. Anyway, I'm digressing again.)

Both were traditional, non-filled cakes. Here are my brief tasting notes:

Randazzo's: The more moist of the two, VERY sweet, with a cinnamon swirl and a pronounced almond extract flavor. Quite tasty. Lots of gloppy white icing on top and not so much colored sugar (I don't like it when they do that).

Haydel's: More traditional, less sweet and less moist but moist enough. Just the slightest drizzling of icing and lots of purple, green and gold sugar, so thumbs up on that. More of a cinnamon streusel flavor, no almond. There was something else in the background I couldn't place, though ... not necessarily unpleasant, but for a minute I thought it tasted like the person who had been mixing that dough had just been eating boiled crawfish. (You should've seen the face my cow-orker Elaine made when I said that.)

Both were good. I think I'd have to choose the Haydel's cake because of the sugar/icing issue, despite that last subtle (if not entirely imagined) perception.

I didn't get the baby in either piece.

Quote of the day.   From an unnamed New Orleanian, from a comic strip by Bunny Matthews entitled "F'Sure! Actual Dialogue Heard on the Streets of New Orleans":

First guy: "When I was a kid at St. Rita's, I got da King Cake baby five pawties in a row. Ma momma almos' died."

Second guy: "Yeah bra, ya shoulda swallowed dem!"

I had that cartoon on my fridge when I first moved out here, and when my L.A. friends would look at it with bewilderment and not laugh, I'd try to explain it but usually ended up just saying, "It's a New Orleans thing. You wouldn't understand." Feel free to use the latter explanation if you're bewildered and not laughing.

Mmmm, blood oranges.   Today's Los Angeles Times Food Section features an article on blood oranges, which I absolutely adore. Beautiful color, wonderful sweetness, and far less acid than a common navel orange, these beauties are great for savory or dessert dishes, and make great drinks.

The article gives some nifty-looking recipes for blood orange marmalade and a blood orange sangría, but c'mon ... is the best cocktail they could come up with a "Blood Orange Blossom"? The orange blossom, which is basically "gin and juice", has got to be near the bottom of the barrel cocktail-wise, and was originally invented during Prohibition to cover up the flavor of awful homemade "bathtub gin". Do something more interesting than that, for gawd's sake. I came up with something off the top of my head one day that's better than a bloody Orange Blossom:

(or, "Italian Screwdriver")

1-1/2 ounces Luxardo grappa (or any inexpensive grappa)
3/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is good)
3 ounces freshly squeezed blood orange juice
2 dashes of Campari

Build with ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Stir for 8-10 seconds,
garnish with a blood orange half-wheel and serve.

Try a Campari and blood orange juice. Try something with Charbay's Blood Orange Vodka (but the cocktail ideas on their site are boring) ... maybe 1-1/2 ounces blood orange juice, 1-1/2 ounces bianco vermouth (that's sweet white vermouth, not the dry; Martini and Rossi Bianco is a good one) and an ounce of Charbay blood orange vodka. Hmm, that sounds kinda good. Might have to try that one soon.

You might also wanna try my recipe for Blood Orange and Rosemary Sorbet, which is really fantastic.

Scam of the Union.   Josh Marshall:

If we're not mistaken, tonight's State of the Union address (aka, the kick-off of the Bamboozlepalooza Tour) should knock the Fainthearted Faction and the Conscience Caucus into utter turmoil. And pretty much every member of Congress is going to be asked by some reporter somewhere what they think of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan.

And let's be clear, that's what this is. The idea of phasing out only part of Social Security is just a con. The plan here is to get rid of Social Security entirely and replace it with a government system of private investment accounts in which everyone can sink or swim as well as they can manage.

If you don't make enough during your working life to save much, you're out of luck. If your investments go bad or you die young, you and your kids are out of luck too. On the margins there may well be a new system of elder welfare for those who can prove they would die or be without any means of support absent a government hand-out. But gone entirely will be the current Social Security system in which every American who pays into the system over their lifetime has a guaranteed bedrock of retirement security which can't be taken away ever, not as a matter of a handout or disgrace or pity, but as a matter of right to a modicum of comfort and dignity in retirement after a lifetime of work.

If you doubt that the plan is to get rid of Social Security entirely you are simply naive. Look at the structure of all the phase-out proposals. They don't really envision a hybrid system for the longterm. They are all designed to siphon money out of the system, weaken it, trigger the crisis President Bush now falsely claims exists and create an accelerating pressure to complete the process of phase-out.

If you think about it, nothing else would really make sense. If partial phase-out is a good thing, why isn't total phase-out even better? This isn't about solvency; it's about the ideology of people who don't believe in or approve of the near-universal, defined-benefit program America has had for seven decades.

That's the plan and that's what's at stake.


Don't buy it.

I don't know if I'll be able to bear to listen tonight. The mere sound of his voice sets my teeth on edge, and the sound of his voice uttering an hourlong tissue of lies and jintoistic flag-waving will be even worse.

We'll need a big, big drink tonight.

Ignorance is ...?   Here's the mind-boggle of the day, via Wes:

Bush tells CBC he's 'unfamiliar' with Voting Rights Act

President George W. Bush met with the Congressional Black Caucus Wednesday for the first time as a group in nearly four years, but what CBC members said stood out the most was the president's declaration that he was "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in the history of the United States.

At the conclusion of yesterday's 40-minute meeting, Bush -- who attended along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- was asked by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd) whether he would support the re-authorization of a portion of the Voting Rights Act that must be approved every 25 years (it will come up for consideration next year).

"I don't know anything about the 1965 Voting Rights Act," Jackson recalled the president saying in an interview with the Chicago Defender.

He said that a hurried Bush went on to say that "when the legislation comes before me, I'll take a look at it, but I don't know about it to comment any more than that, but we will look at it when it comes to us."

"It was so unbelievable to me that as soon as I walked out, I got Frank (Watkins, Jackson's top legislative aide) on the telephone, put (Congresswomen) Maxine (Waters, D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), so that I could confirm what he just said is what I heard," Jackson said.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) said he recalled the president saying he was "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act.

This makes the Republicans' attempts to recast themselves as the "party of civil rights" even more laughable than before.

He's such an empty suit ... that is, he would be, if he weren't so goddamn dangerous.

Morons. You do not own their courage.   Via Atrios:

In the latest sign that the G.O.P. is intent on politicizing everything Iraq-related, Congressional Republicans are reportedly planning to show up at tonight's State of the Union address with purple ink on their fingers to send the message that they support Iraqi voters.
As Charles Pierce of Newton, Massachusetts wrote in to Eric Alterman at MSNBC:

You do not own their courage.

The people who stood in line Sunday did not stand in line to make Americans feel good about themselves.

You do not own their courage.

They did not stand in line to justify lies about Saddam and al-Qaeda, so you don't own their courage, Stephen Hayes. They did not stand in line to justify lies about weapons of mass destruction, or to justify the artful dodginess of Ahmad Chalabi, so you don't own their courage, Judith Miller. They did not stand in line to provide pretty pictures for vapid suits to fawn over, so you don't own their courage, Howard Fineman, and neither do you, Chris Matthews.

You do not own their courage.

They did not stand in line in order to justify the dereliction of a kept press. They did not stand in line to make right the wrongs born out of laziness, cowardice, and the easy acceptance of casual lying. They did not stand in line for anyone's grand designs. They did not stand in line to play pawns in anyone's great game, so you don't own their courage, you guys in the PNAC gallery.

You do not own their courage.

They did not stand in line to provide American dilettantes with easy rhetorical weapons, so you don't own their courage, Glenn Reynolds, with your cornpone McCarran act out of the bowels of a great university that deserves a helluva lot better than your sorry hide. They did not stand in line to be the instruments of tawdry vilification and triumphal hooting from bloghound commandos. They did not stand in line to become useful cudgels for cheap American political thuggery, so you don't own their courage, Freeper Nation.

You do not own their courage.

They did not stand in line to justify a thousand mistakes that have led to more than [fourteen hundred] American bodies. They did not stand in line for the purpose of being a national hypnotic for a nation not even their own. They did not stand in line for being the last casus belli standing. They did not stand in line on behalf of people's book deals, TV spots, honorarium checks, or tinpot celebrity. They did not stand in line to be anyone's talking points.

You do not own their courage.

Damn right.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, February 1, 2005
January's gone.   At this rate it's beginning to feel like I'll be dead of old age by Mardi Gras after next. Is one officially an old fart when one starts saying things like this?

Oh, and apropos of nothing, this month's tag line was a quote from our friend Gregg, who said that when he was trying to describe the flavor of Laphroaig Scots whisky (the really smoky one).

Flavor of the day: Szechuan peppercorns.   Or Szechwan peppercorns, or to give it the proper Pinyin, Sichuan peppercorns. Or just say huajiao as they do in Sichuan province, and mispronounce it by getting the tones wrong.

Sichuan peppercorns
I'd read about these little jewels for ages, and had undoubtedly had them in Sichuan restaurants, as they're a big part of what makes that cuisine so distinctively flavored. The flavor is described in Chinese as "ma la", which means "numbing and burning". It's not related to the familiar black peppercorn of Western cooking, but is actually the seed husk of the prickly ash shrub (the inner black seed is bitter and is discarded by knowledgable users and fans of the spice). Some have likened its flavor to lemon pepper with aniseed, but it's really unique -- particularly the numbing, tingling effect it causes.

I'd never cooked with them and was keen to do so, until I read a while back that they were now illegal in the United States. Apparently the imported huajiao carried a bacteria that is harmless to humans but that destroys citrus trees, and the USDA has this annoying tendency to be disinclined to allow significant portions of our agriculture to be destroyed. (A necessary tradeoff, we suppose.) But dammit, what about my peppercorns?

A new heat-treating process apparently now renders them harmless (and only reduces the potency of the spice in a very minor way), so now Sichuan peppercorns are once again available Stateside. As soon as I read that, I immediately ordered some from Buffalo Creek Spices (who appear to be out of them now).

They were waiting for me at work a couple of weeks ago after I got back from New Orleans. I could tell as soon as I walked into my office; the intense aroma of the spice (bolstered by the pound of Jamaican allspice it was packed with) filled the whole room. The Sichuan peppercorns were triple-bagged, and it was easy to see why -- if they hadn't been they'd be smelling them down the block.

I was curious, so I tasted some immediately -- I took a small pinch of the hulls, crunched them up for a few seconds and let the peppercorn pulp rest on my tongue for half a minute or so to take in the flavor.

Aromatic, perfumey, flowery. A bit of lavender, and that lemon is definitely in there. Woody, barklike quality to the spice flavor. I can see that hint of anise too, and ... ooo, pretty peppery. Then ... um, what's all this? Tingling. Numbing "that'd be the 'ma' part", certainly. Then what I felt was the full force of the spice directly on my tongue, even after I swallowed them, and for several minutes afterwards. It was not unlike having a large pile of those little fizzing candies called Pop Rocks on my tongue, except I had nothing on my tongue except the residue from the Sichuan peppercorns. Tingle, sizzle, snap crackle pop.


One uses this in far less concentrated doses in food, of course, but it still imparts subtler levels of that peppery tingle to dishes. I'm goig to start using them right away, and here are a couple of interesting looking dishes I came across, but the one I really want is Iron Chef Chen Kenichi's reicpe for Ma Po Do-fu (Pork and Tofu with Hot Bean Paste and Sichuan Pepper).

First off, make a Sichuan salt and pepper blend. Take a few tablespoons of Sichuan peppercorns and roast them in a hot skillet for a few minutes until they become aromatic (be careful not to burn them), then grind them in a mortar or spice grinder, strain to remove large pieces of husk, and mix with a slightly larger quantity of sea salt. Store in a tightly sealed jar.

Millionaire's Chicken
(or Pork, Shrimp, Scallops, Squid, Tofu, etc.)

1 pound of one of the above meats, seasoned with the Sichuan salt and pepper blend and stir-fried in a teaspoon or two of oil.
Sauce A:
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon salt

Sauce B:
3 tablespoons light oil
2 green onions, chopped
4 slices fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon toasted crushed Szechwan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
Mixed greens with thinly sliced red cabbage

Heat Sauce A and Sauce B separately. Just before you are ready to serve, combine both sauces and warm.

Do a platter of the greens then put the sliced chicken, whole shrimp or scallops on the greens. Dress with the Millionaire's Sauce. Serves 4.

Baked Chicken with Szechuan Peppercorn Spice Paste

2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced orange peel
1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil
6 10-ounce chicken half-breasts with ribs
5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

Heat heavy small skillet over high heat. Add first 3 ingredients; stir until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Transfer spices and salt to processor; blend 30 seconds. Add cilantro, garlic, orange peel and oil and blend 30 seconds. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead; cover and chill.)

Preheat oven to 375?F. Place chicken in baking pan. Brush with soy sauce. Rub spice mixture over both sides of each chicken breast. Let stand 15 minutes. Bake until chicken is cooked through and brown, basting occasionally with pan juices and adding chicken stock or water to pan if juices evaporate, about 25 minutes.

Baste again before serving. Serves 4.

Here's another one, Salt and Pepper Shrimp, adapted from Jeffrey Steingarten's book on an eGullet post, but the author seemed to be more delighted with the fact that he was cooking with a then-illegal ingredient than with the flavor of the dish.

Here's to cheap vodka.   I don't drink much vodka, actually -- not the plain stuff, at least. I favor flavored and infused vodkas, and mainly use the plain stuff for homemade infusions or for the few very cocktails we make that call for it. There are subtleties apparent in different vodkas, but by definition vodka is "tasteless and odorless." I also boggle at the fact that vodka has for years on end been the most popular spirit in this country, and has supplanted gin in many cocktails that originally and properly called for gin. Next time a bartender makes me a Martini with vodka without asking me, I may just have to slap him around (okay, given the fact that I haven't struck another human being in anger since 1975, I'd probabably just send it back).

The New York Times food and wine section held a blind taste test of 21 vodkas recently, including expensive "super-premium" brands. Which one came out on top? Good ol' $13 Smirnoff.

In this era of small batch Bourbons and artisinally made spirits, it's interesting to note in the article that "vodka does not necessarily benefit from artisanal manufacturing."

In the United States almost all vodka producers buy neutral spirits that have already been distilled from grain by one of several big Midwestern companies like Archer Daniels Midland. The neutral spirits, which are 95 percent alcohol or more, are trucked to the producers, where they are filtered, diluted and bottled. In our tasting only one brand, Teton Glacier Potato vodka, was distilled by the producer. Another producer, Hangar 1, distills a portion of its spirits and buys the rest.

What sets vodkas apart from one another are essentially the base ingredients used in the distillation and the water. Most spirits can be made only from certain prescribed ingredients, but vodka can be distilled from just about anything that can be fermented into alcohol: grains, vegetables, even fruits.

The Times article also has a nifty interactive feature with the tasters discussing how the tasting went, with comments on six of the vodkas they tried.

There's an interesting thread on eGullet about the article as well, including some illuminating comments:

"A friend in the beverage industry was once given a tour of the Smirnoff distillery. The same company, of course, bottles Popov, which sells for a lower price. 'I've seen where you make the Smirnoff,' my friend said at the end of tour, 'but where do you make the Popov?' His guide merely chuckled."


"What the text I quoted above suggests to me is that the Smirnnoff "distillery" doesn't actually do any distilling. It would seem that they get the raw neutral spirit from Archer Daniels Midland (or similar), then treat that spirit in different ways to make the different brands. In other words, perhaps they send the spirit through a charcoal or quartz filter for Smirnoff but not for Popov. Increased "improvement" of the raw spirit may explain the difference in price -- although, as noted by the panelists, sometimes a product is priced higher simply because this increases the perceived quality of the product. For sure, they aren't using one grain and one still for Popov and a better grain and better still for Smirnoff."

While it'd be interesting to taste many different vodkas made of different bases and note the subtle differences, I don't have the interest or budget for that. I want more distinctive flavors in my spirits, and I couldn't be less interested in a vodka on the rocks or, God forbid, vodka tonic or vodka and soda. Give me something complex and multi-nuanced any day.

If you're just going to mix vodka into a cocktail, I think we can dispense with the "Garbage In, Garbage Out" excuse for using high-end spirits in cocktails (one which I tend to go with most of the time). All the "microscopic" subtlety of flavors in a vodka is going to be wiped out once you mix it. I'd say use Smirnoff for mixing, and if you like to sip chilled vodka, try something else.

I must confess I've been wanting to try the Wyborowa Single Estate vodka, but primarily for its really cool-looking Frank Gehry-designed bottle.

Technology is your friend. We're here to help!   It's a little amazing to think that in the 21st Century there are still communities in the United States with no telephone service. Naturally, one of the last would have to be in Louisiana.

The future comes a-marchin' in, though, in the tiny northern Louisiana hamlet of Mink, about 25 miles south of Natchitoches -- yesterday they finally got telephones.

With technological innovation comes its down side, though, as the AP reported:

It didn't take resident Elaine Edwards long to find out that having a phone can be a mixed blessing. Fifteen minutes after hers was installed, a telemarketer called.

She told him she wasn't interested and hung up.

Let's hope Bellsouth also gives them Privacy Manager and Caller ID, too.

January '05 Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

[ Link to today's entries ]

Several of my friends and loved ones (and a few kind strangers) contribute regularly to this weblog. Thanks to Wesly Moore, Mike Luquet, Andy Senasac, Michael Yasui, Steve Gardner, Michael Pemberton, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Eric Labow, Tom Krueger, Greg Beron, Sean Burke, Shari Minton and Barry Enderwick.
chuq's links | the gumbo pages
creole and cajun recipe page | search this site

chuck taggart | email chef (at) gumbopages (dot) com
This site ©1994-2005 by Chuck Taggart.
All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
This means that you may not copy my writing onto other web pages or anywhere else without my specific written permission. (Quotes of short passages, properly attributed, may be considered fair use.) If you do copy my work, it's called "stealing".

People who steal my stuff will be étoufféed and served to Dr. Lecter, with a nice Chianti. (I'm serious. Just don't do it. Thanks.)