Wednesday, December 24, 2008

White noise

We have so many things fighting for our attention nowadays. Prior to starting this entry, I was multitasking: importing a CD to mp3s; listening to new music; browser tabs tracking New York Times articles, friends' blogs and online profiles, and best-of lists. In a time of information overload, it's a struggle to discern what sources of information are important and vital from that of ephemera.

Bree Nordenson's article in the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review presents a convincing case for how journalists and newspapers can adapt in our age of informational white noise. She argues that journalists and newspapers need to become guides through the information jungle we find online, rather the gatekeepers of the news. They are in a unique position to gather and disseminate a story from multiple angles.

Journalists need to become synthesizers on behalf of the public. One prime example of this role Nordenson cites is the subprime mortgage crisis and NPR. Listeners and even fellow journalists were confused by the complexity of the situation, so NPR News and This American Life devoted an hour-long episode to the topic titled, "The Giant Pool of Money." It became the program's most popular episode in its 13-year history. They followed up the episode with another episode and a blog called Planet Money.

We are in a position where, thanks to the Internet, access to multiple news sources are readily available with almost no monetary cost (unless you consider creating a user account costly). We should be able to discern the truth of the matter due to the multiple sources of information we have on hand. One website I use frequently is Metacritic. It compiles reviews from several sources and tries to calculate an average review score for the movie, DVD, TV show, video game, or music album. (They used to include book reviews, but unfortunately it has since been dropped from their site.) I stick to a handful of reviewers for my entertainment/cultural intake, and the website accomodates that most of the time. I can choose to read about the newest Amadou & Miriam album and find what my favorite critics are saying. It is so useful to have all of that information in one site. And that's what journalists and newspapers need to do now.

That isn't to say that there's no place for a straight news story. There's always a need for nothing-but-the-facts approach to an event. But with everything that's out there on the Internet—news sites, online magazines, personal websites, blogs, discussion forums, article comments, email lists, chatrooms, and so on—it is difficult to stay on top of the news. To stay informed nowadays can be considered a Herculean task, probably akin to cleaning the Augean stables with nothing more than a hand trowel.

I consider myself to be well informed on most subjects, but I sometimes find myself beleaguered by the array of online resources. What's NPR's take on the story? NYT's? Washington Post's? How about The Guardian or The Globe & Mail? What does The AV Club think of this album? Pitchfork? Village Voice? Phoenix New Times? What about that team blog? What is their opinion?

Then there are issues that go a little deeper. How do I handle the underlying biases? Should I be looking for a differing opinion in order to get a balanced view of a story? Is this critic/journalist/writer missing something I should know? All of these are questions I ask myself whenever I approach a topic, and it can be daunting to address them.

When confronted by this white noise of information, what can a reader do? Trying to convert pure information into knowledge and wisdom seems to be the challenge now. Granted, it's not necessarily a new challenge, but the scale of it makes it novel. I'll try to outline my process for dealing with this glut next time.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

How High the Moon, or How These Lists Never Really Work Out

I. Put your iTunes/Ruckus/Napster/etc. on shuffle.
II. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
III. You must write that song name down, no matter how silly it sounds!
IV. Tag friends who might enjoy doing this.

1. If someone says "is this okay" you say?
"Wish I" by Jem
2. What would best describe your personality?
"The Two Lonely People (aka The Man and the Woman)" by Bill Evans
3. What do you like in a guy/gal?
"Groovin'" by Booker T. & The MGs
4. How do you feel today?
"Aunt Hagar's Blues" by Louis Armstrong
5. What is your life purpose?
"Only This Moment" by Royksopp
6. What is your motto?
"Honky Tonk Hiccups" by Neko Case
7. What do your friends think of you?
"Roots Natty" by the Gladiators
8. What do you think of your parents?
"Satisfaction (Live)" by Otis Redding
9. What do you think about very often?
"Africa Centre of the World" by Fela Kuti, remixed by DJ Spooky
10. What is 2+2?
"By the Throat" by Pretty Girls Make Graves
11. What do you think of your best friend?
"Anos Dourados" by Antonio Carlos Jobim
12. What do you think of the person you like?
"The Moon in June Stuff" by The Brunettes
13. What is your life story?
"One to Three" by Les Savy Fav
14. What do you want to be when you grow up?
"Sunshine" by Lupe Fiasco
15. What do you think when you see the person you like?
"Theme From to Kill a Dead Man" by Portishead (?)
16. What do your parents think of you?
"Scientist Ganja" by Dub Scientist
17. What will you dance to at your wedding?
"Sweet Savannah Sue" by Louis Armstrong & the Hot Sevens
18. What will they play at your funeral?
"Flowing Spring on the Rock" by Chinese Plucked Instruments Quartet
19. What is your hobby/interest?
"Dreams and Lies" by Laurel Music
20. What is your biggest secret?
"Best Week Never" by Patton Oswalt
21. What do you think of your friends?
"Destroy Everything You Touch" by Ladytron
22. What's the worst thing that could happen?
"bambi" by advantage Lucy
23. How will you die?
"Ogi no Mato (The Folding Fan as a Target)" by Ensemble Nipponia
24. Does anyone like you?
"Wow" by Kylie Minogue
25. If you could go back in time, what would you change?
"Underwater" by Ghostface Killah
26. What hurts right now?
"Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig" by Jens Lekman
27. What will you post this as?
"How High the Moon" by Art Tatum

Tags to anyone reading this!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekend plans

Study microbiology
Arizona Daily Wildcat party @ 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Nick Seibel's after-party @ 8 p.m. (Possibly going - may need wine for that)

Study microbiology
Courtney Johnson's arts desk party @ 8 p.m. (Will need wine/cheese/gifts for that)

Study microbiology
Grocery shopping
Sleep well

Microbiology test @ 11 a.m.!
Eat celebratory lunch
Plan desk party?

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winter plans

Finals are approaching and my days as the copy chief at the Daily Wildcat are coming to an end. I'll finally have time between finals to catch up on the world at large and the music landscape.

One thing I'll need to do during the winter — aside from getting more sleep — is work on this blog's design. I haven't updated it in almost a year, and it shows. Another thing to work on is more frequent posts. Hopefully, with more free time next semester, I'll be able to post something at least once a week.

In working on the NutClub's blog (another project I need to revamp), I find that Wordpress offers a little more flexibility with its design than Blogger can afford.

Here's the plan for winter and beyond (Skip ahead if you don't like lists):
- Restore power to my bedroom and living room
- Finish my tenure as copy chief at the Daily Wildcat
- Prepare visual editing sheet
- Clean up desk and computer
- Finish my finals
- Clean up room
- Make plans with a certain someone (Too obvious?)
- Sort through old assignments and papers to see what's worth keeping
- Prepare writing samples and complete applications for Daily Wildcat
- Compose list of potential dietetics internships locations
- Reserve hotel room at the Oberlin Inn for journalism conference
- Prepare materials for the conference re: ethics, copyediting
- Sort through comics for donation or sale and for Rian
- Sort through clothes for donation
- End-of-the-year lists and gifts!
- Prep winter holiday gift for friends - something art-related.
- Computer clean-up
- Collect writing samples for studying

So, lots to do and little time to do it. I'm going to have make a step-by-step list to tackle each item.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sounds of Silence and Ice Packs for Tired Eyes

I finally have a break in my schedule to post something here.

So I've been busy. The Arizona Daily Wildcat was following the election and accidentally found itself in the middle of a controversy concerning a cartoon from Keith Knight, creator of The K Chronicles. We accidentally printed a two-week-old cartoon that contained a racial slur. Not the complete word, mind you, but it had enough that you can tell what it is.

For some people, this confirmed their suspicions of the Daily Wildcat as being racist, on top of being libertarian, right-wing, radically liberal, Republican, and an agent of censorship. Oh, and I can't forget the misogyny and misanthropy that seep into our articles. But that's a whole matter altogether. [Peruse the Opinions section and search for "libertarian," "liberal," "right-wing"...]

No, what happened was a production error and for that reason, the Daily Wildcat accepts full responsibility. The content was never up for discussion for print, so for anyone who believes otherwise, the paper has never made a stance of condoning or condemning the cartoon.

To me, the content of the cartoon points out the fact that issues of race and politics in the U.S. are never as black and white (uh, right) as some people may want to believe. Then again, I don't believe that we, as a nation, are in a "post-racial" state, especially when I consider the vehement reaction people in Arizona and around the nation have toward the issue of immigration.

Anyway, the controversy launched a storm of letters and articles and people were shouting without thinking clearly while multiple sides were drawn around the paper. Two local TV stations (NBC and Fox) covered the controversy, both of whom presented their own biases in their reportage.

As for me, it meant I had to double my efforts as copy chief in making sure that the people who wrote to the paper, often for the first time, and their message were presented in the best light possible. This meant taking out spelling errors, making sure their grammar and syntax were smoothed out, and modifying the letters to adhere to AP and Wildcat style. In the end, after all the readings and re-readings and edits, I'm certain I read approximately 12,000-16,000 words in the Opinions section every weeknight after the election. That comes out to be 36,000-48,000 words for Opinions, never mind the rest of the paper with the election coverage and a spectacular football season and the separate, weekly section for WildLife (i.e. Arts).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that's the equivalent of a paperback a sliver under 200 pages (based on 250 words per page).

Whenever my copy editors (or anyone else, actually) ask me how and why I do my job after telling them the above anecdotes and facts, I tell them, "I don't know. I just do it."

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lykke Li's "Hanging High" (Live)

Some great videos:

Also, new I'm From Barcelona songs, "Paper Planes" and "Music Killed Me" and a Marcus Worgull remix of The Juan MacLean relatively recent, "The Simple Life", of which the original is a B-side to the amazing "Happy House".

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Paranoia or just knowing too much?

Was the Bush administration setting a scorched earth policy in place for its second term? That is, was it intentionally laying the groundwork for the next administration's abject failure in all the public arenas (economy, health, war, culture, jobs, education, international affairs)? To show that whoever comes in will utterly fail and thus drive the public to the neoconservatives? But this is too paranoid sounding...isn't it?

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

And I'm Back with a Head Full of New Knowledge

Summer school ended Wednesday and it appears that I barely passed organic chemistry II. I'm not entirely happy with my grade, but I believe it is enough to allow me to enroll in upper division nutrition courses. I will have to improve my grade for that course at a later date.

Sports nutrition was a different story; I did quite well in the class in spite of my lack of knowledge in the area. Now that I've completed the class, I wish I had this knowledge back when I was playing varsity tennis in high school. I can remember a few matches where a better diet and hydration plan would have helped me play better or helped me recover from fatigue much more quickly.

Speaking of fatigue, my final project for the nutrition class was to prepare for a debate arguing the merits of branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements. I approached my topic with a lot of skepticism (I'm skeptical about any supplement or product aimed at athletes), but I found, to my surprise, a growing body of scientific evidence that supports BCAA supplementation.

BCAAs seem to have a positive effect ameliorating central fatigue. Central fatigue is fatigue that affects the central nervous system (what I'll call c-fatigue), but its causes and the possible mechanisms involved are not well understood. There's also peripheral fatigue (or p-fatigue) that originates in the muscles. With p-fatigue, the muscles use glycogen (stored glucose) and blood glucose for energy via the Krebs cycle. Your glycogen stores are limited so once these stores have been exhausted during a workout or competition, your body will break down muscle tissue to amino acids for more energy. Insulin comes into play here; as I understand it, insulin breaks down stored lipids into free fatty acids (FFAs) for energy use. (They can also come from digested food.)

One working theory regarding the cause of c-fatigue relates to p-fatigue. Many amino acids are released after the catabolism of muscle tissue; among these free amino acids are the BCAAs and tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and a precursor for 5-hydroxytrytamine (5-HT), or as it is commonly called, serotonin. The brain converts tryptophan to serotonin. One of serotonin's many effects on the brain is sleepiness.

After you finish exercising and feel exhausted, FFAs and tryptophan are released into the blood. The protein transporter, albumin, carries both of these molecules, but albumin will prefer to bind to FFAs over tryptophan. So you have a lot of tryptophan circulating in the blood.

At the barrier between the brain and blood, there are protein transporters that will take in both BCAAs and tryptophan. The theory goes that with more free BCAAs circulating in the blood, they will outcompete tryptophan for these transporters and decrease the amount of serotonin in the brain, thus relieving the strength of c-fatigue.

BCAAs supplements are as easily digestible as other amino acids, comparable to how the body quickly absorbs a sugar-and-electrolyte solution for hydration. So with greater uptake of BCAAs, you would have more BCAAs in your blood and decrease the brain's uptake of tryptophan. This is the reasoning behind using these supplements and the evidence used to support it.

There are, of course, some flaws and problems with all of this, chief among them is that the scientific evidence surrounding c-fatigue is still limited. The reason for this is that scientists can have great difficult measuring brain chemistry. There are published studies that show BCAA supplementation has little or no effect on muscle catabolism. Another argument is that muscles use 6 essential amino acids for anabolism of which BCAAs constitute only 3 of them.

At the moment the evidence is leaning toward BCAA use, but as with any supplementation, caution is the word.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

August Update

It is now August and I'm still in the middle of the second semester of my organic chemistry. I don't know how I'll do in the end. Sports nutrition has been interesting; I have a whole set of factors to consider in the future.

The nutrition club's blog is up, but still undergoing some changes. I'm working at the university newspaper as copy chief. And I have a full-time course schedule for the fall.

It promises to be a busy season.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Okay, Just One Song

Now back to studying...

(Edit: Fixed the link so it should direct you to the correct website now.)


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Friday, June 13, 2008

Organic Chemistry or Why I Won't Have Much Time Here

I'm taking a year of organic chemistry this entire summer along with one organic chemistry lab and sports nutrition.

What this means is that I won't be posting stuff here as frequently or as in depth, at least not until toward the end of July.

Back to studying...

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Summer and more on the Jamie Lidell concert

There are times I really wish I lived some place cooler, that is, a place where I can cook outside with the aid of fire (and not sunlight) one day and the next be accosted not with a torrential downpour but a gentle breeze to complement the loveliness that surrounds me. So summer has arrived here in Arizona. The weather signaled this shift when there was one day last week that was in the mid 90s and the following day presented itself in the 105-110 F range.

I celebrated this turnabout in climate by going to see Jamie Lidell in concert. As I made my way to the venue, I wasn't sure how well his songs would translate to the stage since they're a blend of soul and electronic-based music. I worried needlessly: the man (and his backing band) was amazing. Jamie was quite the entertainer, even though at times he expressed amazement at how receptive and responsive the crowd was to him. (James Pants opened with an eclectic set of dance music which covered house, soul, R&B, pop, grunge, and straight rock that drew a tepid response from the mostly seated crowd. I loved it despite only recognizing a quarter of the songs.) I was surprised by the crowd as well, at both the size--this is a college town in the summer--and at their willingness to see a relatively unknown performer, as indicated by the mob at the merch table afterwards. The band also fed on the crowd's energy, first with the mustachioed drummer making his way through the crowd, handing his tambourine to a random person while he danced every which way, and then with the guitarist and wind instrument guy (he played the baritone and alto sax--sometimes simultaneously!--and an oboe with a vocoder attached to the reeds) trading riffs between each other and swaying back and forth as if they were at a high school dance as imagined by Steven Spielberg. I had a lot of fun and was out of breath (a first for me) when the concert finally ended.


Most recently I've been making my way through some wonderful music: a Stax/Volt singles collection (covering 9 years of singles!), the Otis Redding Sings Soul reissue, a Marshall Crenshaw collection (he's someone who deserves more recognition), some Al Green reissues, and Caetano Veloso's A Foreign Sound. Oh, the curse of recorded music...!

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Jamie Lidell is "Jim"

I just got back from a great concert held by Jamie Lidell. I sweated so much that I stopped sweating. The cause? Me. Dancing.

Yeah. So if Jamie (or "Jim") is heading through your state, go see him and say hello for me:

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008


So I have a problem: I have ten pounds of peaches sitting in my kitchen. And they're all ripening as I type this. I've been looking over any and all recipes in my cooking library in the hopes of finding dishes and desserts that can hold back the mountain of peaches, recipes that can use as many peaches as possible before they become overly ripe.

I entertained the possibility of inviting friends and colleagues to a peach feast, but many have left town for the summer.

There is a bright note to this, however, in that I get a chance to test new recipes and use favorite recipes with peaches as a stand-in. However, my sister, her boyfriend, and I can only eat so much yet we don't want to waste such delectable fruit.

Any suggestions?


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Great Soy Conspiracy and A Word on Accountability

So here's my analysis of the article I mentioned last time, of which this is excerpted and edited from the email:

I can see why you’re concerned about soy after reading the article. I read it and it lulled me into a false sense of objectivity before smacking me with its biased and inflammatory statements. It’s child abuse to give an infant soy formula? Seriously? (Breast milk is best for an infant, actually, and normally all he or she needs nutritionally.) The article is the antithesis of how I would like people to approach science and nutrition, especially when it comes to looking at primary research. Marc Leduc, the article’s author and creator of the website, presents an absolutely one-sided argument against soy. Here’s one of the many problems I have with what Leduc wrote:

Some sources claim that "soy has demonstrated powerful anticancer benefits...the Japanese, who eat 30 times as much soy as North Americans, have a lower incidence of cancers of the breast, uterus and prostate."(7)

Indeed they do. But the Japanese, and Asians in general, have much higher rates of other types of cancer, particularly cancer of the esophagus, stomach, liver and pancreas.(8) Asians throughout the world also have high rates of thyroid cancer.(9) The logic which links low rates of reproductive cancers to soy consumption requires attribution of high rates of thyroid and digestive cancers to the same foods, particularly as soy causes these types of cancers in laboratory rats. [Emphasis mine]
Why the sudden lack of citation(s) here? He doesn’t point to any studies that would support this last statement, and he doesn’t cite any research dated after 2002, the year the article was written, even though the website seems to have been last updated in 2006. There are also limitations with looking at rat studies and cancer that he doesn’t address. (Consider the amount of soy that would need to be given to rats and the fact that no one can ever conduct an intervention study on humans where they are fed possible carcinogens, at least, not without breaking several laws.) Speaking of citations, the fact that he only highlights links to other parts of his website is somewhat disconcerting. If those articles follow a similar standard as this one on soy, then I’m even more troubled.

Oh wait. Here’s something troubling. An article from the Complementary Alternative Medicine Association:
The second main "anti-nutrient" soybeans contain is phytic acid. Present to some degree in all types of beans, phytic acid blocks the uptake of important minerals, such as iron, magnesium, calcium and especially zinc. Soybeans have the highest phytic acid levels of any legume, and as such have an extraordinary ability to cause mineral deficiencies. Third World countries with diets high in grains and soy have the most profound deficiencies of these minerals. []
From Leduc’s article:
Soybeans also reportedly contain an anti-nutrient called "phytic acid", which all beans do. However, soybeans have higher levels of phytic acid than any other legume. Phytic acid may block the absorption of certain minerals, including magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Epidemiological studies have shown that people in 3rd World Countries who have high consumption of grains and soy also commonly have deficiencies in these minerals. It must also be noted that this may be of particular concern with regard to babies who are using soy-based infant formulas. [Paragraph 5]
To me, the wording is a little too similar to go without a citation. (Plagiarism…) Also, notice that Leduc says phytic acid (or phytates) “may” interfere with some mineral absorption, but then when he restates this fact three paragraphs later, he declares that phytic acid does indeed block this absorption. (As a writer, he should have noticed that.) To be clear, phytates can hinder the overall absorption of the above minerals by binding to them, but most cooking and preparation methods can reduce the amount of phytates to varying levels. In the case of nonheme (plant) iron and phytates, simultaneously consuming vitamin C or a little meat with the phytates can counteract some of phytates’ binding effects.

When I wrote to you about soy, I didn’t cite any primary research articles to you for a few reasons. Unlike Leduc, for each study that presents a conclusion one way, there can be a handful or more of other studies that present the opposite conclusion. For example, here’s the link to a full text of a meta-analysis from a 2002 Journal of Nutrition issue that looks at data from studies on the possible effects of soy on premenopausal women and men: Here’s the abstract for a study from the most recent issue of Topics in Clinical Nutrition that looks at soy and postmenopausal women: (Unfortunately, the full article is only available to subscribers or through database access to the journal.) I could keep going with similar citations and counterexamples, but then it would be inappropriate overkill here and counterproductive as well. Unless you want to know where my information comes from (lectures, nutritional science textbooks, journal databases, primary and secondary sources, and some computer searches) or you want to know the scientific details behind what I say, I see no reason to write that way to you. You’re a person asking my informed opinion about something related to food and nutrition, and that’s the context to which I’ll respond.


And this is how I see my site here. As I've mentioned before when I started developing this blog, I am learning nutrition as a student. There's no RD after my name nor do I claim to be offering any health advice in any capacity beyond that of another person on the street. What I will endeavor to do here, however, is to write responsibly, especially when it comes to nutrition.

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Here the Enemy Awaits

I just wrote a long email to someone dissecting this article about the dangers of soy. The person who wrote to me loves soy foods and is now freaked out about it because of that article, which is a shame. The problem with the article, and the website as a whole, is that the guy has good intentions with what he presents. He wants to share what he knows about good health. Then again, we all know the consequences of good intentions except this guy is carrying out his intentions in a confused way here. (I'll reprint my review of the article next time.) This sort of thing makes it difficult for anyone who is concerned about nutrition to discern the truth from lies and exaggerations. Leduc begins well and the article looks to be informative, objective and mostly balanced until you come across this sentence:

It is child abuse to feed a baby soy formula.

Wait, what? There may be ignorance or an overzealous approach to health or something else involved in feeding a child soy formula, but that decision may not be the same as child abuse. Soy-based formulas are not the ideal food for babies; that honor goes to breast milk. There are more problems with the article, but my reprinted letter will cover them next time.

The article is symptomatic of most Internet articles coming from personal websites or websites that put on airs of professionalism in that you can write whatever without accountability or strict standards. Even websites that claim to offer helpful and friendly advice (including mine) should be approached with some skepticism.


I encountered this sort of problem with my nutrition courses this semester, especially in my food science lab. The professor asked us to bring in recipes for assignments throughout the semester, so many students (myself included) would begin our searches on the Internet. Unlike other students, however, I have a modest library of general cookbooks on hand to consult as references and guidelines, and I usually use recipes from them rather than those from the Internet. As the professor mentioned on a few occasions, and as I have witnessed first-hand, many recipes online are unreliable. Even recipes from the Food Network can fail spectacularly.

The premise for one of the food science labs was that a coffee cafe owner wants to update old recipes and add new items to their menu. We are tasked with bringing in a scone, muffin, or quick bread recipe and testing it over two lab periods. Of course, most people brought in recipes they found online. One pair brought in a muffin recipe from the Food Network. This recipe had them placing dried cranberries at the bottom of each muffin cup before pouring in the batter and baking. Everyone went about making their respective recipe. We then had an informal taste test. After their muffins cooled, the partners using the Food Network recipe turned them upside down, as stated in the recipe. The dried cranberries had all burned black and were hard as rocks. What had happened was that the batter did not reach the bottom of each cup due to the layer of dried cranberries placed there (as per the recipe). So the cranberries had no buffer against the heat from the oven. Thankfully, the two mixed the cranberries into the batter for the following lab, and everyone who tasted it liked it.

So the moral from these stories is don't blindly trust everything on the Internet.

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Lucky Soul

Great pop music. It's shame their album hasn't been released in the US yet. But! You can visit them here and at their new blog. Say hello for me.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Power and Responsibility

In a moment of weirdness, I have been elected as vice president of the university nutrition club, despite certain factors against me winning. But now that the easy part is done (ha), I have to plan for the next school year. At Oberlin I have been in various organizations and given responsibilities for which I was not entirely qualified. But I carried out my responsibilities as best as I could, given my greenness and the steep learning curve I always faced. I hope to not repeat mistakes from those ventures here because I see a lot of untapped potential in the club. To prepare, I'm starting to gather books on leadership from a business and nonprofit standpoint and to evaluate at the club as an outsider, an easy task to perform.

I have never been fully comfortable with most leadership positions, especially when it involves money. My parents' admonitions (what they consider as advice) about future careers--don't enter the restaurant industry, essentially--have always kept me away from devoting more than an iota of thought-space to different aspects of business such as management and leadership or even professional social skills. The fact that the business deals involving family was always tinged with nepotism and inconsistent accounting also played a role in my avoidance of all things related to business. Biographies of famous leaders sounded interesting (they can make for fascinating stories in and of themselves) but I was biased against them, mainly because I thought there wasn't much to gain from them.

Now I must look to these long-neglected areas for inspiration, models of behavior, and the necessary self-questioning. What is a leader? Who do I consider a leader? What qualities does that person possess to characterize them as a leader? (Why are all the books that deal with leadership specifically found only in business section of the bookstore? Are poets, writers, artists, philanthropists, scientists, historians, soldiers, et. al. not leaders as well? You'd think certain biographies [another problematic area of major chain bookstores] would be grouped with books on leadership...) For now, the path to these answers seems to lie with self-knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses, knowing how to complement or negate them, and an awareness of others and of what they can and can't (or won't) do.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Book Meme and the Literacy Meme

I'll start by saying I blame Liz for this meme:

These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing's users. [Edit: I use Goodreads, which doesn't have this sort of metadata. Edit #2: And it's free.]

Bold what you have read, italicize those you started but couldn't finish, and strike through what you couldn't stand.
Add an asterisk* to those you've read more than once.
Underline those on your to-read list.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina

Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov

Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
Atlas Shrugged?
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha*
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault's Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels and Demons
The Inferno?
The Satanic Verses?
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D'Urbervilles?

Oliver Twist
Gulliver's Travels?
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes : A Memoir
The God of Small Things
A People's History of the United States : 1492-present

A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas

The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an Inquiry into Values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity's Rainbow
The Hobbit
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

So what does this tell you about me? There are many books out there that I haven't read and just as many that I don't wish to read. Of the ones from this list, the only one I've been re-reading is Lolita, which I really enjoyed the first time. I'm in the middle of re-reading it because I wanted to re-examine the weirdness between HH's obsession with Lola and his observations of the mundane details of bourgeois--oops, I mean middle class--American culture.

The only book here that I've recently read was Guns, Germs & Steel, which was two years ago. All the others I've read during high school with The Hobbit being the exception (5th grade summer). Moby Dick was a pain to try to read, but I approached it after finishing the 8th grade so I'll have to revisit it at some point to see what I think of it now that my approach to reading has changed.

Of the ones I've already read, I want to re-read Crime & Punishment and GGS; the former because there's a recent translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that is supposed to be the best thus far, and the latter because the ideas there have seeped out into what I've read this year and I want to reacquaint myself with their nuances.

Many books with question marks are ones that I may read, but friends have given me bad or ambivalent reviews about them. For example, I don't really look forward to reading any Ayn Rand since she's supposedly a terrible writer. However, since I still run into people who espouse her philosophy based on her books and the work of her institute, I sometimes feel that I need to have the necessary ammunition to counter their idiocy. And reading her books would give me a better understanding as to how to do that.

I'm a fairly slow reader when it comes to novels or books so I tend to stick to short stories, essays, articles, and the occasional novella. I guess what I seek when I read is a high idea density to length ratio, which is almost pulpy in execution. This may also be why I like comics and movies; they tend to have this high ratio.

This meme reminds me of the recent lamentations about the state of reading in America. (See the NEA's report and Ursula Le Guin's response in The Atlantic, where the entirety of the latter is only available to subscribers unfortunately.) The list is comprised primarily of bestsellers or "classics" so the originator of the meme presumes that everyone would be familiar with them. Does that familiarity mean people have read the majority of the books? Does reading a significant number of these books translate into being a "well read" or literate person? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that many of the books are classics and thus heavily referenced in our culture so every educated person needs, at the very least, to know how that book fits as a cultural reference. No, in that, granted, it's still possible to conduct an intelligent conversation with someone who hasn't read the same books. However, these conversations may not have the same sense of depth or cultural and social resonance that they otherwise may have. And this was one of the (many) points raised in Le Guin's Atlantic essay, that books are a "social vector" in that it spurs a shared sense of culture and literary camaraderie. These types of conversations and the literary references are, in one sense, the verbal analogues to online dialogues/writings that have hyperlinks imbedded in them. So the existence of these types of online memes, their proliferation, and the responses to them can be seen as indicators of cultural health.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008


In a rare night of TV watching, I saw Santogold perform on one of the late night shows. (Its name escapes me at the moment.) There's something about "L.E.S. Artistes" that caught my ear immediately. Was it the buzzing sound that forms part of the music's tapestry? The strained voice singing about a desire to leave behind noxious people and metamorphose into someone different, someone better? Either way, the cultural and musical signifiers embedded in this song are very appealing.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tumblelogging and Social Connectivity

Sorry but this thought is going to be rambly and incomplete.

Do you really need to follow everything I'm not doing? The soda I didn't drink, the girl I didn't kiss, the jerk I didn't punch in the groin? It amazes me sometimes how much of ourselves we're willing to put on the Internet for free without consideration as to who may be watching or reading.

There are some persuasive and legitimate uses for free content online: short stories, articles, photography, work portfolios and the like. Posting such items online can improve someone's presence and further their artistic and business goals. But content that enters the social realm tends to reveal too much.

To me there's too much of life that veers toward the mundane that doesn't need to be shared with others. If there were insights to accompany it or some unexpected angle to these entries, then I would find it interesting and useful. But I don't need to follow every detail and object a person encounter in your life and online. Our thalamus edits the information that comes from our sensory organs for a reason.

Thankfully, people are using tumblelogging for artistic purposes or to maintain contact with like-minded friends and colleagues. It does seem to reveal the inner workings of people's minds, especially writers and those who work in mixed media.

But. The greater and greater convergence of the personal and public spheres online remains a nagging concern in my mind, like that buzzing feeling along my spine when something feels amiss. My main concern is that this information is gathered as a means for focused marketing (edit: it's behavorial targeting). For every great artistic and social experiment, there follows advertising and business. So far, business analysts have not seen much money to be made from sites like Tumblr or Twitter. But the adoption of these methods is still relatively young and few.


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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Microwaves and Food

I'm a little behind in catching up on reading my NYT subscription, but here are some interesting articles that revisit the culinary uses for our friend, the microwave:

You Use It Every Day. But Can You Make It Cook? (from Mark Bittman's The Minimalist column)

On Food and Zapping (from Harold McGee's The Curious Cook column)

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Sunday, April 13, 2008


I accidentally erased most of my mp3 music recently. I was in the process of cleaning out my hard drive and didn't realize what had happened until it was too late.

There's not much I can do at this point. Granted, a portion of song titles and artists are saved on my iTunes, but I didn't import all of them and it'll take forever to hunt for them online. (Many of the songs were mp3-only or never saw official release such as the Hunter Sykes Duo.) Well, this is a good opportunity to review my music tastes and see if what I heard 10 years ago still lingers in my mind today.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Moby's "Last Night"

Been watching the first music video and a few tracks. Haven't heard the whole album yet. Can't see the music working without the video. Reminds me of late night television during the dead hours of the week, those times when you can catch someone local broadcasting whatever they wanted without scrutiny. Obscure cultural ephemera revived only to live within the gaps of a television transmission. Reminds me of a catalogue I received when I was 8 or 9 that promised esoteric skills and newly recovered secrets for the right price. The artwork was similar to the video: the results of drugs, long odd hours, and physiologically altering music distilled into a compact cultural object that you could hold in your hands.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

Baring Your Soul On the Court's Time

I spent an entire day of my spring break exercising a right granted to each and every U.S. citizen, that is, I served a jury summons.

A jury summons is a notice for you, as an American citizen, to go to the courts and wait to be called upon to serve as a juror in a civil or criminal trial. I discovered that it wasn't just a civil duty I was carrying out, but an exercise in cathartic release.

My day began at 8 am with a walk through security. I went to the jury assembly room where the women who would spin out our collective fates at the administrative desk, handed me a biography slip. I grabbed a seat among a crowd of bored, irritable, indifferent, anxious, and semi-alert people who greeted me with cursory glances. I looked around and saw people trying to pass the time: texting, talking to their chair neighbors, grabbing the nearest magazine. I pulled out a book and read. And read. And read. The ceiling-mounted TV screens surrounded me with their incessant low murmurs: of war, of the Democratic race for the presidency, of movies you couldn't pay me to watch. Like Miss Congeniality, which the Fates deemed entertaining.

Thankfully, that didn't last long because then I was listening to a video explaining the jury selection process and its history in Arizona. Arizona allows jurors to take notes and present questions over the course of a trial. The state asks each person to serve their jury duty under a "one day or one trial" rule, that is, a potential juror spends the day being scrutinized and either rejected or accepted for a trial. If you are rejected, you may be asked to undergo the selection process at another trial.

Joining a pool of potential jurors was a strange, double-edged affair. I spent a lot of time waiting around, hoping that I was either chosen or ignored as a potential juror. If I was called, then I wouldn't have to sit around all day in a room full of bored people. But if I was called, then there was the chance that I would've been spending a number of days participating in a criminal or civil case, away from the rest my spring vacation.

Not that the actual selection process itself proved to be mundane, however. The judge and lawyers raised questions that tapped into the more violent aspect of people's pasts. By the end of the day I knew more about the tragedies of my fellow potential jurors than of my closest friends.

There was one man who was on the phone with a female friend when someone assaulted her from behind. He offered to give his testimony, but the detectives handling the case never took his statement. There was one older woman with whom I spoke whose son was a graduate of Oberlin College. He graduated as an environmental studies major, but like many Obies, his interests ranged beyond that. He loved Oberlin and what he was learning there. He was going to graduate school to become an engineer, but before he graduated, someone murdered him. Every year since his death, this woman sent money to Oberlin on his behalf. Given the number of years that have passed, I asked her why she had not created a scholarship in his name. She said that she lived modestly and didn't have enough savings to start anything to honor him. I didn't know what to say.

I encountered similar stories during the selection process and all without learning anyone's name. For the sake of privacy, security, and impartialness, everyone had a number and only that number was given along with your answers to the court's probing questions. The prosecutor asked the CSI question, that is, she wanted to know if anyone had problems with a criminal case that lacked physical evidence. A few people had issues with it, but they did not seem adamant about it. The defense attorney seemed fixated on one woman's hooded sweatshirt, which he deduced to be from an Texan Christian university. No one could discern why he had to identify the origins of her sweatshirt, but many thought that he was going to choose her as part of the jury. She was not chosen.

And I shared the same fate. I'm not sure why they did not choose me. I didn't share any particularly strong views about domestic violence or skepticism about the integrity of the police. (This was a domestic violence case involving three people, a man and woman pressing charges against another man.) Perhaps my relative youth played a role; the selected jurors ranged in ages from 30s to 60s. Whatever the reasons, I left the courthouse feeling strangely lighter, as if I had finished my confessions with the judge and my sins taken off my shoulders, which is a unusual analogy for me to discover.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Vietnamese Food

Nam-Son is a restaurant near my parents' home that serves Vietnamese food. It used to be run by someone named Avina and her mother. Their food was above average but not something that qualified it for repeat visits. Due to health-related problems, Avina and her mother sold the place to a new set of owners. And their food is delicious.

Whenever I approach the restaurant, I'm always struck by how unassuming the front is. It is located in a small plaza where the main attractions are a Fry's supermarket and a Bank of America. If I didn't bother to glance over that corner of the plaza three years ago, I would've easily missed it. On this day, I walked in and noticed that the place is a little darker but full of brilliant colors: blood-red tablecloths that remind me of Chinese New Year's; bleach white tiled walls covered with large photographs of Vietnamese sub sandwiches, each one a burst of orange carrots, green spinach, and white mung bean sprouts.

There was one other customer who was enjoying a bowl of pho, something a poet once called the soul of the Vietnamese. He had bare sprigs of Thai basil, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, and lime wedges spread across his entire table.

I sat down and looked over the menu. It hadn't changed with the new owners. I ordered some comfort food: spring rolls, a beef curry stew that came with a loaf of French bread, and a honeydew boba. Boba is a cold tapioca and tea drink that supposedly originated on the streets of Taiwan and spread like influenza among East Asian countries. In the decade since its invention, the flavors of boba have moved beyond sweetened tea to include guava, jackfruit, lychee, cantaloupe, coffee, and, one of my favorite fruits, honeydew melon.

The spring rolls were tight; their contents remained within the diaphanous rice wrapper with every bite. The fresh mint leaves, dried pork, and snappy rice noodles melded with the fish sauce into a blend of contrasting flavors and textures. As I finish my last bite, the waiter arrived with my bowl of beef curry stew and a loaf of French bread. Saliva flooded my mouth. The bread had a crisp and chewy crust; the crumb was tender and blinded me with its steam. The bowl held a pool of brilliant, earthy orange liquid, a hue that reminded me of the embroidered ceremonial robe of the Qianlong emperor, and dotted with slivers of tender beef and golden chunks of deep-fried potatoes. I had to pace myself with sips of the honeydew boba--itself a mildly sweet slush punctuated with big balls of black tapioca--or I would've burned my tongue.

As with all good things in this world, my meal came to its natural conclusion. I paid my bill and left Nam-Son knowing that that drab-looking restaurant still held many treasures waiting to be rediscovered.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Just ignore this. I'm testing new desktop-based blogging software. Let's see how this goes...Tags: ,

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Current Media

On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Best Food Writing 2006 & 2007 edited by Holly Hughes
Food for Fifty by Molly Molt
Best American Magazine Writing 2004

Goldfrapp's Seventh Tree
Lucky Soul
Jens Lekman - Oh You're So Silent Jens; Night Falls in Kortedala
The Archives

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Word About Porn

(I can see the hits increasing already.)

I am prudish when it comes to the inner workings of relationships. But I am open-minded about ideas, which include ideas about sexuality, sex, gender, and porn. This doesn't mean I condone everything or even most of what's out there. And there is some weird stuff out there, which I get somewhat filtered via Warren Ellis's website. While he finds the often horrific extremities of porn and body modification as part of his research, Susannah Breslin finds these extremities in the business of porn and in the people who work in it. Her blog, The Reverse Cowgirl, is one of the best sites I've come across that looks at the porn and the sex industry shrewdly and from a perspective that doesn't stem from hysteria or a religious agenda. I've been following her writing for half a decade now and it is incisive and unrelenting. I mention her blog now because her recent book proposal fell through, which is a damn shame. I was looking forward to what she had to say about her time in Porn Valley. Thankfully, Breslin is working on her next projects, which can be found here and here, and she also continues The Reverse Cowgirl. If you want to track America's culture of porn and sex, Susannah Breslin is the person to read.

Educating the Younglings

I've started teaching a class on comics again, only this time it is for a class of 5th-8th graders in a small town in the middle of the desert. (I last taught this course to peers my age in a small town in the middle of farmland.) I try not to let the fact that I am twice as old as them bother me since I get to expose them to the wider world of comics. (The phrase "literary terrorist" comes to mind as I plan the semester for them. [Welcome NSA! Please alert the FBI of your findings here.]) Finding appropriate material among my personal library is proving to be more difficult than I expected. I'm discovering that I'm reduced to using excerpts that I may have to scan on my own time. But that's not the most interesting part about the first class. What surprised me was how they couldn't wait to rip the comics out of my hands, tearing my arm off in the process. My revenge will come in the form of the work I have in mind for them.

However, in order to get my revenge, I'll need resources and comics. So I am in need of suggestions. Anything come to mind?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Reading white noise in America

I've been on a literary kick lately. I've been cutting my way through the National Book Critics Circle's blog, Critical Mass, semi-regularly since discovering it a few months ago. (They have such an awkward name for a literary organization.) What got me over there was a review of a book on book reviewing (yes) written by Gail Pool, Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America (via Bookslut, also a good blog covering parts of the literary world). There's a good essay/review of Pool's book here.

There's also NEA's grim report on reading habits in the USA and Ursula Le Guin's sobering response in Harper's Magazine (subscribers only unfortunately).

The NEA's report seems much more pessimistic than it should be. And I think Le Guin is right in her suspicions about the report's so-called decline in reading. She points out that there have been factors contributing to the current state of reading habits, chief among them is the social aspect. During what she calls the "century of the book" (1850-1950):
Literacy was not only the front door to any kind of individual economic and class advancement; it was an important social activity. The shared experience of books was a genuine bond.
This experience consisted of a private and, more importantly, a public aspect wherein people talked with each other about what they read. Then there's this great quote:
Books are social vectors, but publishers have been slow to see it. They barely even noticed book clubs until Oprah goosed them. But then the stupidity of the contemporary, corporation-owned publishing company is fathomless: they think they can sell books as commodities.
Le Guin notes that until recently (a decade or three?), most major publishing houses and bookstores were happy with what might be called mid-sellers, books that had steady sales over the years while in print, with the occasional bestseller to help finance the mid-sellers and smaller imprints. Having annual flat sales was not seen as an anathema on the industry. Once restrictions on mergers were lightened or disappeared altogether, the major publishing houses and chain bookstores began to be run by profit- and growth-minded executives who did not care about the quality of their stock nor their backlists. (Sadly, there are many parallels here with the music and comic book industries.)

The rest of the essay is great, though I have some problems with some of the comparisons Le Guin makes, especially regarding some of the unique qualities of books over other media.

In any case, this all seems symptomatic of my generation and the ones that follow at my heels: we have to learn how to make decisions about what information we take in and how to process the information before us. Critical thinking skills are probably the most important thing we all need to learn in this and every century.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Among the Critical Living

Apologies for the lack of presence; my current semester is slowly solidifying itself.

January is normally a dead month for the music industry. Very few albums that come out this month do well in sales and within the critics' circles. (The Strokes come to mind.) So I've used January as an opportunity to catch up on older music and new music I missed the first time around, and it gives me a chance to look through the "best of" lists that flood December. (Thank you Metacritic.)

I admit to being a regular Pitchfork reader (no need for a url there) for the past 5 or 6 years, a witness to Brent DiCrenscenzo's then ongoing meltdown as a writer. I miss the nonsensical writing littered with inaccuracies and laced with snark, though, but not that much. Thankfully, they've improved in the last few years, both in terms of overall content and with their reviews. This year's lists had some surprises that I'll have to check out. Elsewhere, the Village Voice published their annual Pazz and Jop poll results along with the usual essays commenting on music culture and music criticism. The usual gripes about the commercial appeal of artists from the non-mainstream arena were there (Feist is representative of the present Age of Accessible Hotness? I must be living in a wholly different era and country then.)

Some of their essays did manage to change my mind about certain artists, though; Amy Winehouse and Miranda Lambert will have some attention along with Britney Spears.

My reconsideration of Spears came from Tom Ewing's often brilliant Poptimist monthly column on Pitchfork (no fixed url unfortunately). His comparison of Spears latest album (and possibly her last until the personal life/career reboot) with Twin Peaks' central mystery and off-screen focal point, Laura Palmer, gave me pause in my dismissal of Blackout. The album will get a few listens.

Ewing's recent column addresses something that annoys me occasionally and relates to my friend Matt's question about my "singles vs. album" listening perspective. Matt wanted to know what constituted a single for me. Listening to an album on its own terms can make it difficult for him to separate the potential singles and from just the album songs. I grew into my teen years with the radio and the DJ setlists at school dances (I recall house party DJs or mix CDs played during parties being barely tolerable or being as awful as the music at school dances). I had distinct tastes at the time: mainly hip-hop and R&B with the occasional Top 40 or old rock and pop thrown in. Then, and even now, it's hard for me to say what a good single is. I can break down the common components possibly (strong, clear melodies; good rhythm; discernible lyrics that can be said without music; and so on), but I don't know if others see it the same way. (The Village Voice's pollsters often didn't.) Ewing talks about how people would choose their best song or album based on what would "stand the test of time". He argues that that criterion is functionally useless, especially if you're engaged in pop music and its culture. The best that anyone can say, according to Ewing, is that the music you choose satisfies some present need you have, that it fires up some sort of music-culture dependent pleasure centers residing in your brain for this period of time.

And I agree with him. You and I can't tell if new music will sound dated in the future until the music and us reach that future. The exception to this would be new music that already sounds dated and sounds terrible at its release. (Then again, history and future generations of music critics can change public opinions.) So if you like a song or an album, then great. Enjoy it and pass along your recommendation. Don't worry about whether it will stand the test of time. Let time (and future generations) take care of that. Think about how important the music is to you right now and how it fits into your life.

This may explain why I have an affinity for pop and singles: moments of music intertwined with formations of memory.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Some Notable Items and a Word on Cloned Animals

In the news:
The US government has given the green light to the production and marketing of foods derived from cloned animals.

Then there's this:
US scientists say they have produced embryos that are clones of two men, in an attempt to produce patient-specific stem cells.

Why is it that these two articles make me think long pig is not too far away? Will dietitians soon have to counsel their clients on its nutritional benefits and drawbacks?

To be serious though, the end of the FDA's six-year investigation into the possible effects of clone-derived food showed nothing harmful. Given FDA's history of leniency toward food producers and their close ties with the food industry, this isn't a shocking surprise.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with evolutionary biology, genetic diversity decreases the virulence of diseases through the development of more effective biological defenses. One of the ways to increase genetic diversity is DNA recombination via sexual reproduction. Without this diversity, we would see more animals getting sick (think bird flu) more frequently and faster than we can cope. There is also the problem of antibiotics in that food producers who use cloned animal stock will have to rely on more antibiotics to prevent disease outbreaks from happening. The US's epidemic and bioterrorism containment programs rarely work effectively in practice runs - what makes us think we can deal with animal epidemics any better?

Right now, the final decision on whether or not cloned animals products should be labeled as such is still pending.

I can't wait to hear how food companies are going to present and justify the use and sale of cloned animals in the coming months.

At the Movies

Saw No Country For Old Men last week before heading back to Tucson. One of the best movies of 2007 and one of the best from the Coen brothers.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

United States of Arugula review

David Kamp of The ____ Snob's Dictionary's fame (notably Rock Snob's and recently Food Snob's) presents a journalistic account of America's contemporary food pedigree in The United States of Arugula. It follows the current tide of food books that goes beyond actual food and recipes to look at the people involved. Kamp proposes a food pantheon comprising three figures who have shaped today's food culture: Julia Child, James Beard, and Craig Claiborne. Child showed America in her idiosyncratic manner that French cuisine need not be inaccessible to the home cook. She also paved the way--for better or worse--for TV chefs and the idea of the chef as a TV personality (think Food Network's Emeril Lagasse or Rachael Ray, both industries unto themselves). Beard was a believer in American cuisine and mentored many of today's notable chefs. Claiborne was a pioneer in food journalism at the New York Times who held restaurants to greater standards and introduced Americans to ethnic fare.

Kamp profiles other well-known and obscure figures who have played roles in altering how Americans view, treat, and demand their food. These profiles are usually peppered with colorful anecdotes, juicy gossip, and contentious quotes. Rivalries, affairs, and arguments between the different players are laid bare with Kamp offering those involved (and still alive) the opportunity to respond. Oftentimes, I felt as if I were reading a celebrity magazine in between the layered narratives of recent food history. Kamp often inserts his own take on certain figures and institutions (he doesn't hold back his exasperation with the Beard Foundation) without great detrimental effect on the narratives. I found it interesting that he concludes the book by noting the major issues confronting various food camps and the entire food industry and culture, e.g. organic production, the viable sustainability of gourmet cuisine and consumption. The United States of Arugula is an engrossing look at how America's cuisine reached its current gourmet status.

Next on the "To Read" list:
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma & the follow-up In Defense of Food, both by Michael Pollan
  • Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
Today's Supplements:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mongolian Death Worm

Today I finished Spook Country by William Gibson. This is the second book I've read of his, after Pattern Recognition. (I'll have to read Neuromancer at some point.) As in Pattern Recognition, his writing style here is sparse and honed down to the essentials, reminiscent of noir and hard-boiled detective stories. I find Gibson's fascination with objects and their cultural signification to be very interesting, especially since one of the main "characters" of the story was locative artwork, a form of art that, as presented in the story, connects and reformulates our sense of location, locational history, the physical, and the virtual. (Is this a prominent feature in his earlier books as well?) Full of astute observations about the world today, right now, and of the all-too-recent past, Spook Country is a great successor to Pattern Recognition.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Eat Here review

Brian Halwell's Eat Here is an economically elegant argument on why we need to eat more locally produced foods. Unlike other polemical works on this type of topic, Halwell provides us with not only a summation of the issues and problems surrounding food and the food industry, but also a summation of simple solutions.

There is a definite slant to it all. The book is published by the Worldwatch Institute, an organization and magazine that focuses on the environment and social justice, and the author is a senior researcher for the institute. Halwell also avowed his membership to a Slow Food chapter within the book. Despite this bias, or perhaps because of it, Halwell presents a surprisingly reasonable case on behalf of eating local foods.

Halwell highlights the numerous, widespread problems surrounding corporate-raised, nonlocal food. There is the enormous amount of fuel consumption involved in transporting produce across states. This has come about due to cheap oil prices and government trade incentives and subsidies further lowering the cost of gasoline. The result of this, alongside highly efficient industrial food production, is that the price of food commodities (yes, commodities) on the global market is artificially low. How can the Oklahoman garlic farmer compete with the Chinese farmer who grows the same type of garlic under a weaker currency, thus allowing for "cheaper" heads of garlic?

Safety standards by the USDA have little power of enforcement beyond censure and reluctant recalls in light of food outbreaks with little fear of penalty. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, an arm of the USDA, works with food processing plants to detect sources of contamination and formulates a plan of prevention. These are voluntarily followed and the plants are infrequently inspected due to shortage of inspectors and funding for inspection and testing. These concerns are further compounded by the centralization and internal expansion of food processing plants whereby one weak spot along the line can result in a few tons of ground meat being contaminated with E. coli or bushels of spinach being cleaned with sewage water.

The current business model for industrial farmers is akin to that of indentured servants where farmers often have little choice but to buy seed, fertilizer, pesticide, and equipment from different sources that are often owned by one major conglomerate. There are also the high suicide rates among farming families, children abandoning the family farm in favor of better employment elsewhere, decreasing financial returns for each successively larger harvest.

Thankfully, as often as Halwell puts a central problem under the spotlight, he also presents individuals and organizations who are working on solutions. One privately owned fast-food chain based in Oregon and Washington called Burgerville uses local ingredients for all its franchises. Halwell notes the need for farmers to group together their selling power and diversify their partnerships in order to compete with corporations.

For us, Halwell points to several steps we can take to become more involved with local food. We can visit farms near us to learn more about what is grown there. Granted, this may not be entirely possible for anyone who lives in the middle of an urban area. But that doesn't mean we can't find a farmer's market or produce grown from converted lots and rooftops. With a little knowledge and help from experienced growers and farmers, we can even harvest our own vegetables and herbs in our backyard or in pots. For the more ambitious of us, we can join food policy councils (or start one) and lobby for greater use of local food in our schools and businesses. Our concept of and relationship to "local food" does not have to remain confined to farms and ranches.

Next on the "To Read" List:
  • The United States of Arugula by David Kamp (review in process)
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Today's Supplements:


My best friend helped out one of his friends on this animation short, "IM IN UR MANGER, KILLING UR SAVIOR." And a friend of a friend is also your friend. Check it out:

for tax reasons

I have good friends.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Happy New Year!

Am I late? Or not? I like having two new years every year - a good excuse to eat good food each time. I've made resolutions that I won't share here, though they're more like long-term and short-term goals made more concrete. Hope you all have been good to each other over the holidays and that it was abundant with tasty food and lovely company.

I still have irregular access to the Internet so postings will happen whenever I have the opportunity. However, I am working on a few book reviews at the moment, and there is the ever present news.

In the meantime, here's a shortlist in no particular order of singers and bands who put out some great music in 2007:

LCD Soundsystem
Suzanne Vega
White Shoes & Couples Company
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
Roisin Murphy
Jens Lekman
White Stripes
St. Vincent
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Sally Shapiro
The National
Kanye West
Iron & Wine
Modest Mouse
Arcade Fire
Anoushka Shankar & Karsh Kale
Blonde Redhead
The Field
New Pornographers
Simian Mobile Disco