Friday, September 21, 2007


This is a total cliché, but I didn't really understand bagels until I came to NY; I had only had them in Texas and Chicago, so I thought, "This is just round bread; what's the big deal?"

When I finally had a good bagel it was a real scales-fell-from-my-eyes kind of moment (I had trouble with the lox). Shortly followed by the thought: "It is a shame someone can't figure out a way to export this new 'boiling' technology to the central time zone. I guess it's too groundbreaking and advanced. Or maybe the convection oven lobby has something to do with it." And then I imagine I got sleepy and/or watched TV.

Regardless, we just moved back to Chicago, so so long to you, decent bagels.

And so long, as well, foie gras, sort of, since the city-wide band on duck-flavored butter just passed its one year anniversary. Another reminder, as if I needed one, that Chicago is not New York: Norma's at Le Parker Meridien has Foie Gras Brioche French Toast. In Chicago, you have to settle for French Toast with something called "syrup". Step up to the plate, Chicago.*

But I am not one to fret overmuch, and I am thankful that no such ban exists on the ortolan, that tiny, crunchy songbird, which you may remember from the book William S. Burroughs' Cooking for Beginners.

If not, you could do worse than learn about it from this article from The Stranger that came out around the time the foie gras ban went into effect, viz--

You catch the ortolan with a net spread up in the forest canopy. Take it alive. Take it home. Poke out its eyes and put it in a small cage. Force-feed it oats and millet and figs until it has swollen to four times its normal size. Drown it in brandy. Roast it whole, in an oven at high heat, for six to eight minutes. Bring it to the table. Place a cloth—a napkin will do—over your head to hide your cruelty from the sight of God. Put the whole bird into your mouth, with only the beak protruding from your lips. Bite. Put the beak on your plate and begin chewing, gently. You will taste three things: First, the sweetness of the flesh and fat. This is God. Then, the bitterness of the guts will begin to overwhelm you. This is the suffering of Jesus. Finally, as your teeth break the small, delicate bones and they begin to lacerate your gums, you will taste the salt of your own blood, mingling with the richness of the fat and the bitterness of the organs. This is the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the Trinity—three united as one. It is cruel. And beautiful.

And now the sockdolager:

According to Claude Souvenir, chewing the ortolan takes approximately 15 minutes.

Let the word go out: I will not rest until I have watched someone else eat one.

* related: I was always vaguely annoyed whenever I had to go to SoHo for something, but yesterday, sitting in my crappy cubicle in the Chicago office of my place of employ, I had a wave of sadness that I won't have to go to SoHo for something maybe ever again. If you are reading this, and you have the ability to do so, maybe you can go be annoyed at SoHo for me? Thanks, man.

New Design for Five Dollar Bill Announced

[Here it is]

I like this quote from the AP article about it:

"We wanted to put a giant purple five on the back," Larry Felix, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, said in an interview with The Associated Press, "Like, really huge. So we used a powerful new design tool that we recently learned about called 'Microsoft Word Art'. You just go Insert>Picture and then choose Word Art, and you get like 30 options, some of which are sort of 3D and some have like rainbow colors in them? Like, all the colors of the rainbow? And then a shadow effect, so it looks like it's standing up? We may use some of those when we redo the ten. We might also add clipart of a unicorn or something; we're looking into the options on the Office site. So far, nothing as Lisa Frank-y as we would like, but we're still poking around. Oh, hey, and also? We are complete fucking retards."

Hamilton riding a unicorn? That would be awesome, actually. I'd totally use that in exchange for goods and services, if you know what I mean.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bad dates

Karen Allen will reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood in the new Indiana Jones.

This is the only thing I've wanted for the past 26 years, and now that it's actually happening, I realize it will just make the inevitable disapointment hurt that much more.

This is my own personal Britney-at-the-VMAs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


On NPR this morning, I heard this thing about crazy bazillionaire Richard Branson trying to help find crazy bazillionaire Steve Fossett via Google Earth (what are the odds that two crazy bazillionaires would meet and become friends? they must be astronomical!): Google convinced the companies it buys the satellite images from to give them updated images of Nevada, and then they turned the images over to Amazon who put them all into a tool (link) that allows volunteers to search 300-square-foot patches for planes, or plane wreckage, or a scattered pile of "I Hold Five World Records For Circumnavigating the Globe Via Varying Means And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt" t-shirts.

I *guess* this raises questions about why we're helping bazillionaires or what it means that this kind of surveillance is even possible, so I'll just say: (1) I don't want anyone to die (least of all, our crazy bazillionaires) and (2) who cares when Google Earth now comes with a flight simulator, because what I was most excited about was that the tool, which NPR didn't name (racist-sounding? would derail the story because you'd have to explain it?), is the Mechanical Turk! I love the Mechanical Turk (even when it's not being used for good, especially)! Also, I am a pedantic know-it-all!

So here!
The Mechanical Turk is called "The Mechanical Turk" because in the late 1700s, illusionist gadabout and frequent baron Wolfgang von Kempelen created a real live automaton (geddit?) called "The Turk" which traveled around Europe and America kicking butt at chess. The Turk was a wooden, beturbaned mannequin that was connected to some cabinetry, which Kempelen would open up to reveal a mass of elaborate clockwork and gears. Then he would close the cabinet, light a candle, and the automaton would, using its elaborate clockpunk proto-A.I., play chess, and much more often than not win, against such latter-day Kasparovs as Ben Franklin and Napoleon. It could also do a Knight's Tour, and ouija it up.

I will pause while you bask in the awesomeness of all of that before I add that it should come as only the gentlest of surprises that "elaborate clockpunk proto-A.I." is late-1700s code for "there was not really any elaborate clockpunk proto-A.I., it was just that there was a (short!) chess master hidden inside the machine". (I am sorry to let you down.)

(But hence the name: people doing things that computers are not able to do quite yet. And moreover: doing it twice, since most Mechanical Turk HITs involves responding to CAPTCHAs.)

As usual, Wikipedia will tell you more than I care to type right now about the whole thing, but if you've been tolerant enough to read this far, you also might be interested in:
  • Edison's Eve by Gaby Wood, which has a chapter on The Turk, and which I just reviewed on GoodReads because I am lame.
  • this Sound of Young America interview with Ricky Jay where Jesse Thorn totally nerds out because he can't believe he's interviewing Ricky Jay.
  • this hobo drawing I did of Replicant Wemberly Plastiskin and his Clockwork Squrrel [sic], Toothy.
  • all forty-three short stories that Steven Millhauser has written about German automaton makers who take their obsession too far, causing their public to turn away. Or you can read this sentence and save yourself time and money: Steven Millhauser reuses the same ideas over and over all the time and so I think he sucks.
At any rate, good luck being alive, crazy bazillionaire Steve Fossett!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle Dies: ))<>((

According to the obit, she leaves behind a "philandering husband".

Note that although Madeleine L'Engle did die, the character who bears her name in this post is a complete fiction, as is the character of her husband.

Next Year: Deep-Fried Acrylamide

(on a stick)

Hot on the heels of last year's Deep Fried Coke, this fall's Texas State Fair is offering up Deep Fried Latte. (via, via)

Interestingly, the mixing of "Deep Fried" and "Latte" does not create particle annihilation yielding high energy gamma rays equal to the difference of the rest mass of the products of the annihilation and the rest mass of the original ingredients.

See also: Snook, TX Favorite Son Frank Sodolak's chicken fried bacon (with cream gravy!).

You know, I was going to say if next year's fair has deep fried Charles Portis novels, I would move back to Texas (I could buy, like, three houses there!).

But: Texas is a trick; if you read too many stories about it (I'm not (necessarily) speaking of the deep fried comestibles stories), it starts to feel like Dostoevsky is in charge of event planning down there, but the allure of Aggressively Eccentric Mythic Existential Outlaw Texas is only actualized if you move way the fuck off the Grid, and even then I don't know if it really exists.

I lived there for twenty years, and I only got to see Townes Van Zandt once before he died and I've never seen the Marfa lights; the Cadillac Ranch is just kind of silly and the "Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere" isn't exactly the good kind of eccentric.
On the other hand, it's totally possible that the main problem is that I'm lame (evidence supporting this might be: I didn't learn to pronounce "museum" correctly until I moved out-of-state; I probably have to take some of the blame there).

In conclusion, I would describe my attitude toward the new Coen Brothers movie as "guardedly excited".
Please don't let me down, Aggressively Eccentric Mythic Existential Outlaw Texas!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dismal Science

With the meeting of the European Central Bank coming up tomorrow, we thought it might be useful to go over some of the “code words” that ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet (full disclosure: we’re in the same BDSM community) uses to telegraph the bank’s intentions.
  • Acting in a “firm and timely manner” - “Rates moving closer to estimated neutral rate.”
  • “Accommodative” policy - “Rates likely to rise in coming months.”
  • “Monitoring risks closely” - “Rate hike in three months’ time.”
  • “Monitoring risks very closely” - “Rate hike in two months’ time.”
  • “Vigilance” - “Rate move soon, possibly at next meeting.”
  • “Strong vigilance” - “Rate hike extremely probable — likely at the next meeting.”
  • “Aardvark” - “OK, that’s starting to hurt. Let’s stop a minute.”
  • “Vigilent aardvark, aardvark, strong aardvark” - “Please? I mean it, seriously. Please stop. Oh God. I'm being serious. Stop. Oh God, oh God, please stop. I can’t breathe.”
  • “Aardvarkaardvarkaardvark, seriously, please, aardvark” - “I keep blacking out. You have to stop. Oh God, oh Christ, please, please. I need this to stop now. Oh Christ please help me, please stop, please.”
  • “Aardvargh, aardvargh” (followed by vomiting, then soft weeping, usually in fetal position, though not always) - “Rates likely to fall by next meeting.”
That’s everything I know! Good luck making money!

Victory Over Typographitardedness

This is old news, but I just found out that the fifteenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style reverses ("abandons", actually) its previous stance on the use of a sans-serif typeface for letters representing shapes:

Rule 7.67: Letters representing shapes. The rule about using sans serif type for letters representing shapes has been abandoned (e.g., "an L-shaped room").

No word yet if the previous opinion on using medical illustrations to represent body parts is still in place (e.g., "a à-shaped pool").

(that's supposed to look like a kidney. for laughs.)

I love the Chicago Manual of Style. Maybe more than Fowlers.
Back in 1997, I would have asked Table 6.1 (from the thirteenth edition) to marry me if I thought she would have said yes.

Now: if we can get the New Yorker to coöperate and reëvaluate the use of the phonological diaeresis, I can stop complaining inside my head.

(I admit to being on the fence about "naïve" though, but only because it isn't in the dictionary).
(I'm looking at you, Malaysia.)