Sunday, October 31, 2010

Size Disadvantage?

According to a BU professor, the general public is nauseated by ... this figure?
In her new documentary, Picture Me, Columbia University student Sara Ziff chronicles her 4-year rise and exit through the fashion modeling industry, zooming her personal camcorder onto supposedly systemic abuses—sexual, economic, and emotional—suffered by fashion models. Among the many complaints launched in the film is an aesthetic that prizes uniformly young, white, and extremely thin bodies measuring 34-24-34” (bust-waist-hips) .... What’s the appeal of an aesthetic so skinny it’s widely described by the lay public as revolting?
Uh huh. Turns out the professor is also a former model. Does she actually think that the average person finds her body "revolting"? If so, how sad. But if not, why gratuitously insult women like herself? Does she think to gain points somehow?

Recipe: Homemade Spinach Pasta

I started out using this recipe, then lost faith and winged it. It came out quite tasty and toothsome. There would be a photo, but I ate it all already.
  • 1 large bunch spinach
  • 2 eggs
  • salt
  • 300 or so grams flour
Wash, trim, and blanch spinach. It should be bright green and just wilted. Toss in food processor and puree. Follow the above linked recipe, placing
  • 250 grams of all-purpose flour
  • one egg
  • an eggshell-full of spinach puree, and 
  • salt sufficient to cover the egg yolk twice 
in the classic volcano setup inside a large bowl. Realize that 1) there's a bunch more spinach you could add, and 2) the recipe is from an alternate dimension in which flour has unusual absorption properties. Add another egg, another 1/4-ish cup of flour, and the remaining spinach. Mix in food processor until horrible grinding sounds begin to emerge from the motor. Remove the dough back to the floury bowl and knead the remaining flour in by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic. Divide into three balls. (You should really cover it and let it rest for at least half an hour here.) During downtime, saute two cloves of garlic in olive oil until just golden. Roll out dough to maximum achievable thinness using rolling pin and cut into noodles of desired width. Cook in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Serve with garlic and olive oil.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Size Advantage

This honestly never occurred to me:
Having someone stand too close to us can feel like a form of intimidation, no matter what the person’s size. I can remember three occasions in which short, petite women made me uncomfortable by standing too close to me during casual conversations. In one case it was a colleague’s wife, and it was impossible to look down at her without being distracted by the cleavage being displayed by her provocatively low-cut dress. A petite woman once confessed to me that she sometimes liked to intimidate large women by standing very close to them. She was aware that being close to her tiny, svelte figure sometimes made larger women feel awkward and huge.

I wish I liked pupusas.

Tyler & Co. went to El Salvador. Although it has the highest murder rate of any nation, the economists felt quite safe. Then again, reference to this chart reveals that Belize is up there, murder-rate-wise, but it also did not feel particularly dangerous. It's worth digging into the data to see who's getting murdered, I suppose; traveling to a country with a high murder rate that chiefly applies to, say, members of drug gangs, seems like a better option than a place with a lower overall rate that includes more tourist victims.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How Elite Are You?

There's a test to see how elite (per Charles Murray) you are.

1. Can you talk about "Mad Men?" Yes.
2. Can you talk about the "The Sopranos?" No.
3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right?" Drew Carey? Yep.
4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? Yes, in high school.
5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? Not really.
5. How about pilates? Nope.
5. How about skiing? Nope.
6. Mountain biking? I can't ride a bike. I can ride a horse. Western-style, so not elite. 
7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? Nope.
8. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you? I know what it means and have (HLS grad) friends who like it.
9. Can you talk about books endlessly? For the non-elite definition of "books."
10. Have you ever read a "Left Behind" novel? No, I prefer more believable subgenres of fantasy.
11. How about a Harlequin romance? Harlequin, no. Other generic Fabio-cover stuff, yes.
12. Do you take interesting vacations? Yes, although of late I have switched to less "elite" (N. American) destinations.
13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? No.
14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? Where's that?
15. Would you be caught dead in an RV? I've been to Disney World in an RV.
16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? Only if it's got sails.
17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo? Yes, it's Vegas for religious conservatives.
18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? Do they even accept women? Oh, since the 19-fracking-80s? Bless their hearts.
19. How about the Rotary Club? See No. 18.
20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town? My town turned from a small town to a suburb during the eight years I was living in it.
21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? Probably not. Cumulatively, several months.
22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line? Somehow I think "family" doesn't mean me on my own.
23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? I did. 
24. Have you ever visited a factory floor? Yes.
25. Have you worked on one? Yes.

Murray should know that only when like marries like can there be any happiness, but he's apparently distracted by the lament that elite men no longer have an easy and socially acceptable way of keeping in touch with what poorer, less educated people think and like. In any case, Murray's own observation that "few [elites] grew up in the small cities, towns or rural areas where more than a third of all Americans still live" carries its own rebuttal: most Americans (nearly two-thirds, by his account) don't live in small cities, towns, or rural areas. And nearly three-fourths of Americans are not evangelical Christians. Most Americans don't take any real vacations at all. The safe money says that a majority of Americans have not voluntarily watched a full episode of Oprah, either. I could go on. It's not even possible for some Americans to have certain of the traits he lists: older women were shut out of the clubs, for example, and the chance of non-Christian Americans (15-20% of the total) reading a Left Behind book except by mistake or ironically is practically nonexistent---for good reason.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pig Inflation

Wealth streams into a developing country, but social norms don't change:
Hamon Matipe, the septuagenarian chief of Kili, confirmed that he had received [USD 120,000] four months earlier. In details corroborated by the local authorities, Mr. Matipe explained that the provincial government had paid him for village land alongside the Southern Highlands’ one major road, where the government planned to build a police barracks. ... Mr. Matipe said he had given most of the money to his 10 wives. But he had used about $20,000 to buy 48 pigs, which he used as a dowry to obtain a 15-year-old bride from a faraway village, paying well above the going rate of 30 pigs. He and some 30 village men then celebrated by buying 15 cases of beer, costing about $800.

“All the money is now gone,” Mr. Matipe said. “But I’m very happy about the company, ExxonMobil. Before, I had nothing. But because of the money, I was able to buy pigs and get married again.”
Although some land in PNG is customarily held via matrilineal descent, even in those instances, men make the decisions about its use. I'm sure that there are better things that could have been done with proceeds from a sale of village land than for a seventy-something to purchase marry a teenage eleventh wife. I wonder: what did his ten existing wives do with the unspecified share(s) they received? Did the reporter ask?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekend Bake: Chocolate Buttermilk Doughnuts with Chocolate Glaze

I am pleased to report that one can make doughnut holes using this recipe and a mini-muffin pan if one lacks a dedicated and specialized doughnut pan. (Who has a doughnut pan???)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

U.S. Const. amend. XXVIII: Valarin as Official Language

Terrific discussion on Ta-Nehesi Coates's blog on how inability to code-shift nearly smothered a burgeoning career:
[A] person who I'd written about (not an employee of Atlantic Media) came into the tent and aggressively challenged me on something I'd written about him.

We spent ten frankly embarrassing minutes jawing back and forth. That's fine. People should aggressively challenge you. Toward the end, Carr, wondering where I was, came in and saw me in mid-argument, which by this point had gotten heated. He gave me that "you damn fool" look and said "I'm going to be there, [whatever the restaurant was] either you're coming or not. But this is stupid." He left, and shortly thereafter I started walking away with Alyssa and few of the other bloggers who were hanging out. The gentleman kept after me, even following me out the tent, and by this point, taunting.

At the door of the tent, and I looked at him and said, "You really need to back off."

He looked back and said, "Or what."

I closed in on him, and quietly but seriously, responded, "You really want to find out?"

He walked back inside.

I think as a younger man, I would have been proud of that moment. For surely, I had adhered to Article 2 of the Code Of The Streets--"Thou Shalt Not Be Found A Punk." Had the gentleman stepped outside, I had already made the decision that I was going to swing. I didn't believe in threatening people and then not following through. Perhaps as 14 year old, on the streets of West Baltimore, back at Mondawmin Mall, the response would have been correct. In fact, I was a 33-year old contributing editor at a well-regarded magazine who'd just implicitly threatened someone on the property of my brand new employer.

Coates uses this embarrassing moment as fuel for a more general observation on the effect of a "culture of poverty":
I think one can safely call that an element of a kind of street culture. It's also an element which--once one leaves the streets--is a great impediment. "I ain't no punk" may shield you from neighborhood violence. But it can not shield you from algebra, when your teacher tries to correct you. It can not shield you from losing hours, when your supervisor corrects your work. And it would not have shielded me from unemployment, after I cold-cocked a guy over a blog post.

I suspect that a large part of the problem, when we talk about culture, is an inability to code-switch, to understand that the language of Rohan is not the language of Mordor. I don't say this to minimize culture, to the contrary, I say it to point how difficult it is to get people to discard practices which were essential to them in one world, but hinder their advancement into another. And then there's the fear of that other world, that sense that if you discard those practices, you have discarded some of yourself, and done it in pursuit of a world, that you may not master.

Some of the commenters, though, pushed back, asking

[W]hat about the other fellow? That is, what is it in his personality, upbringing, and so on that convinced him haranguing, provoking, and so on was a way to exact some sort of justice for whatever he had perceived as an insult worthy of rebuke.

With that reframing in mind, I read this comment with a different perspective:

I feel this ties back into "the ignorance of what's possible" thread in a couple of different ways. Most obviously there's the realization that the rules of the street aren't the bedrock of reality, that there are worlds of people where the threat of violence doesn't underpin the hierarchy.
The ignorance goes both ways. It's quite easy to muddle along in our WEIRD bubbles, but sometimes ignorance of what is possible---namely, that wrongdoing on your part may be met with more than just bluster---can be dangerous or even deadly.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekend Bake: Lemon Raspberry Muffins

These are pretty great, especially in the mini-muffin version. The raspberry center forms a delicious little puffed pocket of pure fruit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

I am interested in educating myself about the Roma. Any suggestions for Kindle books?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recipe: Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Cream Sauce

I'm not a huge gnocchi fan, as a rule (potato often makes them unpleasantly heavy) but these are dreamy.

Ricotta Gnocchi

2 cups whole-milk ricotta
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 large egg
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Drain ricotta through paper-towel-lined strainer in refrigerator for one hour. Then food-process ricotta for ten seconds, add egg, basil, salt, and pepper, and process to blend. Turn into a bowl and mix in bread crumbs, flour, and Parmesan. Chill mixture for one hour, then divide into eight pieces and roll each by hand on a floured surface into a 2 cm cylinder. Cut cylinder into 2 cm pieces, spread gnocchi out on board, and put in freezer for fifteen minutes.

Tomato Cream Sauce:

1 clove garlic, pressed
1 small can diced tomatoes
1 pinch sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp chopped basil
2 tbsp cream

Saute garlic in a little olive oil until just beginning to color, then add tomatoes, sugar, and salt and cook down until thickened. Add basil and cream and stir to blend.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a low boil, spoon in chilled gnocchi with a slotted spoon, and cook until all pieces float, then for 2 minutes more. Toss gently in sauce and serve right away.

Sick Systems

Egyptian millionaire politician woos Lebanese pop singer, spending over $7 million on her. His mother refuses to consent to their marriage, so the pop star leaves him. He pays $2 million for a contract hit and has his ex murdered. Hometown reaction?
“She made him kill her, and she deserves it,” said Sherine Moustafa, a 39-year-old Egyptian corporate lawyer, an opinion that was echoed by every woman of dozens interviewed. “If he killed her, this means she’s done something outrageous to drive him to it,” reasoned Ms. Moustafa, who has no relation to the convicted businessman. Both her sister and mother, who sat next to her, agreed.
“We don’t want our daughters, sisters or mothers to be or look like her,” said one such woman, Soha Hassouna, a 38-year-old Egyptian banker. “I’m glad this happened so she can be an example to our children.”
I honestly don't know what to say. What is the lesson here? Don't become a Westernized pop star? That's not what got her killed. Refusing to be this guy's mistress after he wouldn't buck his mother and marry her is what got her killed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Adventures in Contract Law

Couple contracts with surrogate to carry fetus. Fetus turns out to have Down Syndrome. Couple invokes contractual provision allowing them to request abortion (failure to abort would mean the surrogate, not the couple, was on the hook for raising the resulting child). Surrogate balks (then has an abortion anyway).

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Testing the Harm Principle

So popular is the woodsy field below the ridge as a spot for gay sex (mostly during the day) and heterosexual sex (mostly at night) that the police have designated it a “public sex environment.”
Public sex is a popular — and quasi-legal — activity in Britain, according to the authorities and to the large number of Web sites that promote it. (It is treated as a crime only if someone witnesses it, is offended and is willing to make a formal complaint.) And the police tend to tread lightly in public sex environments, in part because of the bitter legacy of the time when gay sex was illegal and closeted men having anonymous sex in places like public bathrooms were routinely arrested and humiliated.
I wonder how this interacts with England's many footpaths (legal rights of way, dating back many centuries, that often take one through private land).

Friday, October 08, 2010

Writing what you know

I will admit, however, to feeling irritated by Ted Hughes poems that are about Sylvia Plath. One reason for this is that I already have a whole lot of very good poems about Sylvia Plath to read, and they are by Sylvia Plath. The other reason is the same reason I occasionally refer to The Birthday Letters as You Guys, What About MY Feelings: The Point-Missing Chronicles. Which is where we actually do get into the Feminist Anger At Ted Hughes Thing. Which, as with much feminist anger, and many cultural phenomena, is not so much about a terribly sad thing that happened to one family as it is about the terribly sad things that happened to the people who heard about it. ... And it went like this:
You’re talented. You’re really talented. You might even be a genius. And your gentleman, he’s talented too, though not to the degree that you are. But you type his manuscripts. But you go to his lectures, you nurture his stardom, you play the part of his loving support and fan club. But you are responsible for his domestic comfort. Oh, you have your own successes. He even encourages those. But he’s the talent; he’s the big man; he’s the star. And then you get tossed over, for someone who is nowhere near as talented and spectacular as you, because it turns out that the talented, spectacular part of you, the part that you thought made you a couple in the first place (“we kept writing poems to each other,” was how Plath described their courtship, “then it just grew out of that, I guess, a feeling that we both were writing so much and having such a fine time doing it, we decided that this should keep on”) was never enough to keep him interested. Was never essential to him, the way it was to you. Was never a part of the purpose of you — because he doesn’t need talent or spectacular qualities in girls, apparently. Because he prefers his girls to lack those. So you wind up with all the responsibilities — the kids, the house, the cleaning, the cooking — while he goes off to be a genius for some other girl who’s way more suited to play a supporting part in his life story. Who doesn’t have within herself the potential to eclipse him, to be the one that the story is actually about; who’s safer, that way. You wind up writing all your work — your work, your amazing work, your genius — at four in the morning before the kids wake up. Because that’s the only time you can write it. Because that’s what women do.
If The Fountainhead had been a story about Nick Francon and Holly Roark, I'd have been a happier and better adjusted teen.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


My hair is longer than it's been in ten years. I can almost do the Tymoshenko braid again---last time that was true was senior prom. If it was good enough for a Prime Minister, it's good enough for me. Do you feel pressured to adopt a more conservative hairstyle as you get older?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Serial Viewing

Am enjoying Dexter a lot more than anticipated, probably because I was expecting Rita to be more of a Lisa-from-Six-Feet-Under.