Sunday, 31 January 2010

just in case...

...you don't religiously follow all the people I follow, for some reason, please do read this post, part of a really good recent set of round ups on Light Reading. If you don't enjoy it, I literally cannot understand why you might be visiting my blog.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

smackdown at the museum

This story from Deadspin is brilliant. In a nutshell, the directors of the New Orleans and Indianapolis art museums are getting stuck in with Super Bowl trash talk.

The Indianapolis guy proposed a wager, with the loan of a minor-ish work of art as the prize. Soon the directors were tweeting that they were spackling bits of wall ready for the new arrival. After a process of raising and re-raising, which involved slagging off each other's chocolate box offers and so on, Indy put up a magnificent and massive Turner, suggesting NO's Marie Antoinette by Vigee Lebrun would make a suitable return stake.



NO replied:
I'm glad to see that Max has gotten serious. Certainly the Turner painting in Indianapolis is a masterpiece, worthy of any great museum. Regretably the size, over ten feet high with its original elaborate frame, and the fragile condition of New Orleans' Portrait of Marie Antoinette prohibits it from traveling. I propose instead our large and beautiful painting by Claude Lorrain, Ideal View of Tivoli, 1644. This great French artist is considered the father of landscape painting and was one of Turner's great inspirations. These two paintings would look splendid hanging together in New Orleans -- or miracle of miracles, in Indianapolis.
Cool. Also, unless I don't know anything at all about the world, the start of a soon-to-be-beloved annual Super Bowl tradition.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

wodehouse. no particular reason

'They are engaged, Clarence'

'Eh?'

'They are engaged.'

'Ah,' said Lord Emsworth, becoming interested in a plate of cucumber sandwiches. 'Sandwiches, eh? Sandwiches, sandwiches. Sandwiches,' he added, taking one.

'They are engaged,' said Lady Hermione, raising her voice.

'Who?'

'Veronica and dear Tipton.'

'Who is dear Tipton?'

'"Dear Tipton,"' explained Gally, 'is Hermione's nickname for young Plimsoll.'

'Plimsoll? Plimsoll? Plimsoll? Oh, Plimsoll? I remember him,' said Lord Emsworth, pleased at his quick intelligence. 'You mean the young man with the extraordinary spectacles. What about him?'

'I am trying to tell you,' said Lady Hermione patiently, 'that he and Veronica are engaged.'

'God bless my soul!' said Lord Emsworth, a look of startled concern coming into his face. 'I didn't know these sandwiches were cucumber. I thought they were potted meat. I would never have eaten one if I had known they were cucumber.'

'Oh, Clarence!'

'Can't digest cucumber. Never could.'

'Well, really, Clarence. I thought you might take a little interest in your niece.'

'What's she been doing?'

'They keep these things from you, Clarence,' said Gally sympathetically. 'You ought to be told. Veronica and young Plimsoll are engaged.'

'Ah,' said Lord Emsworth, now thoroughly abreast of the position of affairs. 'Well, that's all right. No harm in that. I like him. He is sound on pigs.'

(Today's reading is taken from Full Moon.)

Monday, 25 January 2010

hello, robert hudson, you shrimp maniac

You know how when you set up a Google alert to tell you when someone mentions you online? Well, the main thing you learn is that you're not alone. There are all kinds of me wandering around, including a Robbie Hudson who is the wife of a sea captain and has a similar email address to mine and whose husband sometimes accidentally sends me emails he meant for her.

My new all-time favourite doppelganger, though, is on a shrimp forum in Southern California. He starts a new thread with the following news: RARE INDONESIAN SHRIMP

I like the guy already. But what about the shrimp?



Robert (hello, Robert) is an aquaculturist, and he has found a source in the USA for this shrimp. Via an Indonesian website, he shares some details:
The Celebes beauty Shrimp
I sometimes refer to myself in these terms, interestingly
is native to the rivers and lakes of Luwuk district, Sulawesi, Indonesia, it has a mixture of three colors: black, red and white. These three colors offset each other very well and offer a very unique contrast
Black, white and red. It is incredible that no one has thought of that.
Some peoples called it “Flag Beauty” because of the body stripes appearance looks like a flag if we look it from side. The name Harlequin Shrimp may very well have derived from the D.C. Comic Book character "Harley Quinn" who has very similar coloration
I would be surprised. I think that Harley Quinn might have got her name because... Look. I don't speak ANY Indonesian. Why am I being snarky? This is Harley. If you search for pictures online like I did, in a mood of innocent inquiry, be warned. There are lots of not very innocent people out there.



Did you know that the bat got its unusual name because it looks like the logo on Batman's costume? No. I'll stop. You mainly care about the shrimp, I know.
while the scientific name comes from it’s habitat in the lake. It actually lives and eats off of the freshwater sponges that exist in the lake. That is why it was given the name Caridina spongicola, finally (maybe) the most suitable name is Celebes Cola Shrimp, Celebes is the old name of Sulawesi island.

Scientific name: Caridina spongicola
Common name: Harlequin Shrimp, Flag Beauty, Celebes Beauty
Range pH: 6.5 ~ 7.5
Life Span: About 1 Year
But what do they taste like?
Temperature Range: 25 ~ 28ยบ C
Size Range: About 1.5 cm
So to see how pretty they are, you have to be very close.
Hardness Range: 1 ~ 4 dkh
Seriously, there is a hardness scale for shrimps? Like the Mohs Scale but with puny armour? What is the top score? Something like calcite, I guess (Mohs 3) but maybe, with those boxing prawn affairs that are just this side of lobsters, maybe we reach towards Orthoclase Feldspar (Mohs 6). Let me investigate [wibbly wobbly line indicating time-shift] Oh, misery. Not what I thought at all. It's water hardness. You were almost certainly ahead of me.
Type/Food: Omnivore - Deteritus
Shrimps/prawns eat poo. It's one of their main things. The next time you laugh at the companies trying to sell you delicious tasty crickets as an alternative, remember that crickets eat normal food, and are exoskeletal little creatures with a similar flesh to size ratio as a prawn which eats poo. (I'd rather eat a prawn, but I'm heavily sponsored by the land shrimp marketing board, as they call themselves.)
It is a dwarf freshwater shrimp, the smallest of all of recently discovered Sulawesi Shrimp. This Celebes Shrimp is also extremely shy until it is comfortable with its new environment,
We can all get behind that
it can hide in the shadows and sometimes not appear often
Also, it is 1.5cm long. Do you really need this much hassle in your life?
Once it is acclimated to the aquarium it will come out more and its colors will really show
If you have really good eyesight
Like other shrimps, sexing of this shrimp determined on the size of the shrimp
This does not sound very feminist
female looks bigger than the male with larger curved underbelly, while male more slender than the female
The unequivocal voice of the patriarchy. But I shouldn't be snarky, since I can't even speak Indonesian
we can’t see and determine the sexing from it’s coloration, because all males and females have the exact same color
But they vary hugely in size, from up to 1.5cm to much smaller than that
Breeding is done in complete freshwater, not salt or brackish water is required whatsoever
With me: the other way around
There is also no larval stage
Ditto
The adult females carry the eggs until they hatch, producing miniature shrimp
If, in the context of this shrimp, you can imagine such a thing
The females carry roughly 10-15 eggs. It takes approximately 21 days for the eggs to hatch. The babies immediately show the same color as the adults but in transparent shapes. It’s highly recommended to feed up these shrimps at night
because they turn into gremlin shrimps
as it m I caostly comes out from their shelter, they will feel more comfortable
Ok, I see, sorry, I was getting carried away, though I am not actually certain what this means. But I can tell you for certain that I will not be feeding harlequin shrimps at night. This is the end of the Indonesian info, and here is Robert:
I'm going to bring some in, anybody interested? I am also getting a load of nerite snails and assassin snails, CHEAP. Group buy anyone? I can also get red nosed shrimp if any one is interested
I wish him luck, out of nominal loyalty. I like the sound of assassin snails. If they want to get the shrimp they had better have good aim.

Friday, 22 January 2010

up pompey!

is the name of a book I'm reading by Chuck Culpepper, an American sports journalist falling in love with soccer. It is eerily familiar given my journey into NFL fandom, but it's different in as many ways as it's similar. One thing that massively resonates early on is:
I knew nothing of the specific fraudulence of any player or manager
Whatever to that. Portsmouth are now facing administration. It's not because they are unlucky. It's because they are incompetently run and live beyond their means. They're not the only ones. Football is laughably badly run.

I know it's apples and oranges, but it's a bit unfair on law-abiding bankers (who are nothing like as clever as they pretend) that people are angrier with them than tax-dodging football clubs. People are sympathetic to Portsmouth because lots of people are fans, and it's not Portsmouth's fans fault, and nobody likes the taxman. But I have to pay my taxes, and so do they. If they don't go into administration and get screwed over, then they will carry on behaving deludedly and badly (like the banks). Of course, unlike the banks, they do go into administration and get screwed over. I feel sorry for them.

prince (like, as in the singer) and the vikings

I have never been a fan of Prince. And the video below features a terrible song he has written. He wrote it because he saw the Minnesota Vikings beat the Dallas Cowboys last weekend. The thing I can get behind, Prince-wise, is that he marches to the beat of his own tinny drum.



Truly, odd.

big up bureaucracy

Things that drive me crazy: people who knee-jerk use the words bureaucrat and bureaucracy to mean things we all self-evidently despise. I know I have said this before.

Without paying the tenner that the post office wanted to check my passport application form was properly filled in (four questions: what is your name, address, previous passport number, signature); or even the fiver they ask to make you less scared they'll lose your mail, I sent off my old passport on Thursday last week and got a new one on Tuesday this week. Obviously you want to cut waste; obviously some things are tedious; obviously some things go wrong; but do people really not get that most things in Britain work well by any rational standard?*


* Yes

Thursday, 21 January 2010

see me live; cakes; new yorker pitch

This evening I will be mostly in Windsor co-hosting the monthly bookswap which, when it was co-hosted by Scott Pack and Marie Phillips, used to be an excellent event. If you are not doing anything, or feel like getting out of something like a weasel*, come and join us.

There is either free cake or you get in free if you bring cake. I have, for some time, wondered at the publishing industry's fetishistic attitude to cake. Everyone I know in publishing talks a lot about cake, and periodically takes cake into work. It's a black economy of some kind. If I were Malcolm Gladwell I would get the New Yorker to let me write an essay about how it symbolises something. Let Them Earn Cake might be the title.



* Not in that way, you dirty child

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

the birth of venus williams

At the Australian Open:



It sure looks like Venus isn't wearing any pants. Ah, but what's this?



She's wearing skin-coloured undergarments. An interesting choice. She wishes to appear naked but not be naked. I don't really have a take on this.

But it makes me think my tediously oft-repeated thing about the camera that looks up the skirts of female tennis players when they sit down, and how I would have fun with this if I were a top international women's tennis player. Instead of demurely draping a towel over my knees, I'd wear pants saying, 'Fuck Off'. If anyone complained, I'd ask why the camera was looking up my crotch.

Obviously, this feminist argument is subverted by players whose skirts flash their knickers, or whatever, all the time. But lots of skirts don't.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

you just won't care

I love This American Life, on NPR. The most recent episode, on long shots, is not about sport, but it opens with a couple of sporting examples. One is a high school football team which, unlike the ones in top American teen dramas, is mocked and derided in the corridor for losing every game for nearly three seasons. The other is the out-of-nowhere winner of last year's Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird.

If you watch the race, and it's very short, you'll notice that halfway through the horse is separated out the back of the pack. This is what everyone expected. Reporters did no background. It was a 50-1 shot. I have now watched the video very carefully for twenty minutes, freezing frames, and I still can't quite see where the hell it comes from and how it made up the ground. The commentator doesn't notice the horse until it's leading by three yards.

Monday, 18 January 2010

duke amused, father in law angry

There is not world enough and time, for now, to take you by the hand and walk you through the streets of the Dukes of Manchester, but believe me, one day...

This post's headline is from the NY Times report of the Duke arriving with Miss Zimmerman, as per the wedding mentioned below. In 1935 he would narrowly escape prison when he pawned some jewels he didn't own. Time, which as previously mentioned is full of pungent and brisk stuff like this, wrote:
The Lords of Appeal, topped by puffy Lord Chief Justice of England Baron Hewart, last week saved from languishing in jail 3% of Britain's dukes—i. e. one,. His Grace the Duke of Manchester, spendthrift extraordinary and bankrupt plenipotentiary.
Manchester once owed $5,000 for tennis balls alone, probably a record
* His childbearing wife was American, the next Duke's was an Australian from Melbourne called Sydney, and the 12th Duke's was a South African. The 12th Duke, Angus, was described by one newspaper as 'a one-man argument against the hereditary rights of peers', and his obituary called him a life-long fantasist and con man. He spent time in an American jail for fraud. The present Duke lives in California.

This is all just the tip of the Dukeberg.


* In the Time article on British society crime, which I heartily recommend, is the story of the famous 'Mallet Murder' of Bournemouth. Sentimental Lyric Writer Mrs. Alma Victoria Rattenbury, the villainous, fed her adoring eighteen year old Chauffeur some cocaine sandwiches and got him to kill her old, rich husband, whose pet name was 'Rats'. The judge pitied the drug and passion crazed chauffeur, but he still had to hang. The Sentimental Lyric Writer stabbed herself to death soon after, watched by a herdsman.

It's amazing I get any work done. Oh, wait.

i really want to meet more dowager duchesses

NY Times headline of the day:
DUKE OF MANCHESTER WEDS MISS ZIMMERMAN; Married to Daughter of Cincinnati Railway Man Nov. 14. RELATIVES NOT NOTIFIED Dowager Duchess Did Not Credit Re- port Until Examination of Register of London Church Convinced Her It Was True
The report goes on to say that the Duke wished it be known that he had married for love, and that Miss Zimmerman had $10,000 a year now and almost unlimited prospects, since her father was one of the richest men in America.

He was a bankrupt spendthrift too, which isn't mentioned.

Friday, 15 January 2010

end of civilisation

There's an Angostura Bitters shortage, caused by problems at the bottling plant in Trinidad:


For legendary New York barkeep Tracy Westmoreland, owner of the defunct Siberia Bar and The Manhattans in Brooklyn
Tracy is a funny name for a boy, and he doesn't sound like a very good barkeep. Maybe he is legendary at not keeping bars open?
, the loss of any kind of drink ingredient is devastating, but none more so than the beloved bitters.
"I believe it is the end of civilization as we know it if we can't have bitters," he said
He is wrong about this
"It's like when the saber-tooth tiger went extinct
Totally. I hated that
It's a terrible thing. There is no replacement. Trying to replace bitters is like trying to replace mother's milk"
Apparently Nestle are working on it. This is bitter satire

stupid aardvarks

I saw a bargain on Abebooks. I bought it. A day later, the bookseller wrote that they didn't have the book. I looked at their website, and the book was there for a much higher price.

Don't buy books from Aardvark Books. I bet this brings them to their scrawny knees. I don't think the mighty Cuppy annotated the aardvark, and I always wondered why, and now I know. If I were annotating the aardvark, I would annotate it thus:
The aardvark is a sort of weasel. I do not know how big it is and I do not care but its fingers or claws are nimble enough to bilk online purchasers out of their online purchases, as is its mean-spirited brain. Who knows what it thinks about the knotty problem of procreation. I hope it never thinks about it at all and we won't hear as much of it in the future.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

a good day's work*

Thomas Young made the first breakthrough deciphering the Rosetta Stone's hieroglyphs, demonstrated that light was a wave**, and realised that eyes must contain different receptors for registering blue, green and red light.

This information from We Need to Talk About Kelvin, whose author, Marcus Chown, is guesting with Matt Beaumont at this month's Firestation Bookswap, where I am a stand-in host.


* It actually took him longer than a day. Loser
** For now, let's say it is 'wavelike' and leave it at that

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

kurt warner, the great unknowable freak of the nfl

What a great headline. The whole article by Will Leitch, about Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, is here. I'd be interested to know whether it's interesting/fun for a non-NFL fan. It's very zesty. Warner's storybook storyline is that no one wanted him as a young player, he stacked shelves, he sort of hung around for years as a backup, and in his first season he was the NFL's most valuable player. This is the Sports Illustrated cover from a few weeks into that season. Friends of mine will instantly see why I love it:



As the article hyperbolyses, Kurt Warner
exploded into the public consciousness more than a decade ago, the most cliched and therefore most true of unlikely stories, then essentially disappeared for seven years, before re-emerging to lead the NFL's worst franchise to the Super Bowl. Whatever your thoughts on the man, it is impossible that he exists. He has no comparables: He is his own species.
This is because he is unreally unflappable. He is the anti-Brett Favre, who is a brilliant but ridiculous diva-esque hype magnet who I enjoy.

My further thought is this: Warner says that his faith is central ('What were you thinking about during that climactic final drive' 'I was thinking about God') and when I read this, my instant thought was of Jonathan Edwards. This is a ridiculous, unfair thought based simply on the fact that they are both sportsmen who gave God a lot of credit and they look a tiny bit similar.

And then Edwards, afterwards, had time to think. When he did, he decided he didn't believe in God. He explained that his belief was a very useful thing to have when competing, because it was an anchor. When I read the rest of the article, what I thought, entirely unfairly to Warner, was that he is getting from his faith exactly what Edwards got from his, and I wonder if he will think differently about it when he has stopped playing. I repeat: I know this is unfair.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

she was not only miss sweden but very beautiful

Ok, everyone already knew about the Duchess of Argyll. But you didn't know about her first husband, Charles Sweeny, whose autobiography I have just ordered after reading it all yesterday afternoon in the BL. He is destined to become quite the star of these pages.



He was an amateur golf champion, socialite and financier who founded the Eagle Squadrons - the American volunteer wings of the RAF - and he palled around with the Prince of Wales, Hemingway, the Aga Khan and everyone else:
The charm of Nehru, who became a close friend of the Mountbattens and India's first Prime Minister, I can vouch for

I read in the papers recently of Zsa Zsa Gabor's eighth or ninth marriage, to a man called Prince Vanalhardt. I'm sure many of those reading the stories would conclude that it was yet another case of a wealthy woman being exploited by an unscrupulous adventurer. Knowing Zsa Zsa, I'm not one of them
One of his friends was Vicomte Guy de la Grandiere, who was involved in all kinds of escapades. Once, before setting off on holiday, Guy phoned Charles:
'You'll be getting a call from a friend of mine in Cannes.'
'What's his name?'
'Miss Sweden.'
To my surprise, she did call me and she was not only Miss Sweden* but very beautiful
I will tell you what happens next when I have the book in my hot sweaty little hand. When I read her story I realised I had to buy Sweeny and stopped transcribing.


* Did you know that only one Miss Universe, a competition which started in 1952, has died? She was Swedish and she died in a plane crash.

Monday, 11 January 2010

kissy, kissy

I really enjoyed the darts in the last couple of weeks. The PDC, sponsored by Sky, has the best players. The BBC version, the BDO, was won last year by Ted 'The Count' Hankey, who is the reason that vampires are undergoing one of their periodic periods of being sexy.



One of the other treats is that all these big fat tattooed guys give each other a hug and a kiss of congratulation at the end. This guy, the PDC young player of the year, gives a proper kiss on the cheek. It' sweet.



His name is Adrian Lewis. His nickname is 'Jackpot' because at a Las Vegas tournament in 2005 he won a $75,000 jackpot he couldn't collect because he was too young for Nevada's gaming laws (he was 20, I think).

This is the player who, in the clips I saw, no one kissed:



She's called Anastasia Dobromyslova, and she's the women's world champion. There was some politics involved in whether she should have been given a wild card to the world championships, but that is not the reason for the clips. In the three videos I saw (not a statistically significant sample) the man involved naturally went towards her, and you saw the recalculations taking place in his head as he tried to work out what might be appropriate, and then he decided against it. Also, I think, sweet.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

neglected design classics

The most neglected design classic apart from all the things I have designed is this knife:



You've all seen one. If you are lucky, you have owned one. If you have, you must love it like I do or you are a weirdo (I do not discount this possibility). People go on and on about knives (even Jed Bartlet), but this would be my desert island knife if I had a kitchen on my desert island and was only allowed one knife. It works much better as a cheese knife than almost all official cheese knives (stiff enough blade for hard cheeses, also fairly shallow so the cheese doesn't stick to it, also very thin piece of metal); it's as good as any for tomatoes (little serrations); and very good as a bread knife for different types of bread, though a bigger, heaver bread knife would be, marginally, better). The one I've had for fourteen years, and which was cutting as well as it did when it was new, I imagine, though it wasn't new when I took over its use, as we thieves say, snapped off at the handle the other day. I am going to resolve this issue shortly. I will also buy some new roasting tins. I would tell you what happened to the old ones but it is still too raw.

Be still your beating hearts.

(The best wooden spoons, obviously, as everyone agrees, are these ones.)

Friday, 8 January 2010

dirty celebrity royals

You probably know all about the Duchess of Argyll, but I didn't.

Ethel Margaret Wigham was deb of the year in 1930, and in 1933, 3,000 people crowded to gawp at her wedding dress.



One of the things I remember from Duff Cooper's magical diaries is how far the aristocracy played the same media and public role as today's more meaningless celebs - they got stuff free, were gossiped about by more or less normal people, married briefly and often, and cetera.

Anyway, her first marriage (to an American called Charles Sweeny) didn't last forever. She married the Duke of Argyll in 1951. When they divorced in 1963, the Duke named 88 of her lovers, but the real fun (for the crowd) came in the form of some polaroids of her fellating a man wearing nothing but pearls (she was wearing the pearls). The photo only went up to his neck, and he became famous as 'the headless man'. Channel 4 are sure that this was Defence Minister Duncan Sandys, who was Churchill's son-in-law, because the Ministry of Defence had the only Polaroid camera in Britain at the time. Seems pretty conclusive.

There was also a polaroid of a man pleasuring himself, again headless. Channel 4 thinks this was actually someone else - Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The other main suspects had included Sigismund von Braun, brother of Wernher, who reached for the stars.

Why do people take pictures of themselves having sex? Is it because they hear that famous people do it? Anyway, it was all very scandalous. In later life, the Duchess adopted some kids, like beautiful modern celebrities, and kept a load of poodles, ditto, and spoke up for the armed services, ditto.

You can read all about it in the Telegraph's predictably perky obit, which also describes a feud with her Moroccan maid who said the Duchess was too drunk on whisky to remember saying she could run up thousands of pounds-worth of international phone calls and quotes a peer who was once sat next to her at dinner and didn't think much of her conversational style - 'She don't make many jokes,' he said.

Perhaps my favourite moment is that her co-campaigner against the disbandment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was Lt-Col Colin 'Mad Mitch' Mitchell, which reads almost like a palindrome.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

athletic aesthetics

A non-sporting friend has just commented, on seeing Andrew Strauss hit in the fleshy part where chest meets upper arm by a cricket ball going at 90mph, that a footballer experiencing something that caused an equivalent amount of pain would react as if his fingernails were being pulled out of his bottom with a red hot poker.

It is not a new observation that different aesthetic codes operate in different sports with respect to expected behaviour in the wake of physical contact. Everyone knows how rugby players and American footballers don't roll around whining, and footballers do. I'd sort of not really thought about how cricketers routinely get hit very hard by a very hard ball. Footballers are just doing what all other footballers do, but once in a while someone says something that reminds you that even though they have this excuse, it is only a sort of excuse, and they really do look pathetic.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

tuna and other fishes, including concussion

Hi, just a quick round up from around the web:

1. As almost everyone has pointed out to me, and don't think I am not grateful, the tuna record has gone again (now £109,000). This is because there aren't enough bluefins left. Don't eat them.

2. At New Year in America, for some reason, giant things descend on ropes to the gasping admiration of the masses. The big one is the bauble in Time Square, if you are a square. If you are a cool cat like me, then the big one is Capt Wylie the Walleye in Port Clinton, Ohio, where you can get walleye sandwiches, walleye popcorn and walleye wine.



In a newspaper report from 1996, organiser Dan Sedlak said, 'It's the beginning of a tradition,' and he was eight. Hobsbawm and Ranger would be over the moon.

3. When I first looked up 'santharliman' on Google, it being a dialect word for some unidentified East Coast fish, nothing was forthcoming. In the search terms people have used to get to this site, santharliman has now scored quite highly. The reason is that some nickname generator allocated it as someone's nickname, and the nicknamed party told people to Google it. The only place they would have come is here. It is just him and me. No fish.

4. I have written at length about the NFL and concussion. Ed Pilkington does a reasonable enough job of rounding the story up for the Guardian, though it's odd he doesn't write about Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article on concussion and dogfighting, which was ironically and very clearly, the tipping point as far as public perception was concerned.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Damn lies?

Here is a picture via Marbury via 538, which is a great stats and US politics site:



It pretty clearly says SOMEthing. There's a debate on the site about lifestyle reasons for American ill-health, and so on and so forth. The basic issue this picture doesn't address, and I am by no means the only person in the world who knows this, is that it does not illustrate the massive divide between the insured and uninsured. The insured pay too much, and that is why the circle is on the right, but they almost certainly live longer as a result of their insurance than this picture implies. The uninsured contribute little to spending, have worse lifestyles and die younger, dragging the circle down the expectancy axis.

A problem when dealing with this, therefore, in the real world, is: the insured get good healthcare even if they do pay (invisibly via work on the the whole) through the nose. And I'd take a pretty strong punt that there is considerable overlap between the insured population of America and America's voting population. All of us, even if we are part of imperfect health systems, don't want to risk losing them for something that might be worse. Thus, Obama is trying to persuade insured Americans who vote to vote to pay more* to help uninsured Americans who don't vote. I think.

*In a more efficient system they need not pay more, but that is certainly one of the possibilities, and certainly in the short term, given the structure of the American healthcare system, it seems likely that this is what would happen.

inspiring photo essay vi, pt. 2: vegetarian feast with bonus meatballs

Sorry I have, again, been slow. Short stories literally do not write themselves.

If you are going to fill a couple of marrows, first you must hollow out your marrows:



Cook some of those nice green lentils (puy, they are usually designated, but there are ones from Sainsbury's that aren't that are very nice). At the same time, bake the marrows until they soften. This takes about twenty minutes. I am sure you are interested to learn that this is the only context in which I have ever cooked marrows. Maybe they are delicious in other contexts. From this recipe, in which they are great as a lentil-vector, I doubt it.



Also, soften 4 onions, 4-5 cloves of garlic, no cloves, and then add 10-12 normal sized tomatoes. If you don't know what size is normal for a tomato you have no place in the kitchen.



Stir the resulting mess into the drained lentils along with a tubful of harissa the size they sell in local Sainsbury's, which looks like it must be a standard sort of size (with the tedious predictability of an unloved season your guests will describe this as 'too much harissa'), and then spoon the results, such as they are, into your marrows.



Bake for another 25-30 minutes until the top has just a little crunch and dust heavily with parmesan.



For pudding, may I suggest Czech fancies



are something to be avoided. In real life, they look much more disgusting than they do in this picture. Ukrainian chocolates,



on the other hand, aren't bad. And there is the ever popular caramel vodka (along with delicious amaretto biscuits).



Over for now.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

inspiring photo essay vi: vegetarian feast with bonus meatballs

'What year is it again?' I know, I know, I said I would do this long ago. 'Is the delay because you have been writing the first draft of your first ever short story, for public rendition by you on Tuesday at The Good Ship?' Yes, actually. 'Will there be sexy mermaids?' I certainly originally planned that there would be. Is that the same thing? 'Not quite, but fair enough. It's your story after all, so long as there will be sexy mermaids in a story eventually.' There will. 'Ok. Did you have a Christmas Tree?' Yes.



'Did you eventually decorate it?' Yes. 'Can I see a picture of that?' Who are you, the queen?

Anyway, because of vegetarians, I often have to eat food with no meat in. For this year's Christmas dinner of friends from my year at college (this is what people from Oxford and Cambridge say to avoid saying 'Oxford or Cambridge', because they are idiots who think it sounds modest and lesser and ambiguous. It doesn't. People who went to other universities say 'When I was at university'. It's a habit I got into some time, and I am going to get out of it) the menu was turkey and pork meatballs (with bread, pepper, softened onions, a bit of milk and so finely chopped prunes, all baked) and then caponata and spicy lentils in a marrow. The caponata is via Steve-the-vegetarian and Jamie Oliver. The other was via a page I pulled out of I think the Observer Food Monthly, but I wouldn't bet money on it.

First cut up three aubergines and fry them in a generous dusting of dried oregano until the chunks are golden. This takes a little while, because you need to fry them in lots of oil and without crowding them in the pan.



While one of your guests is doing this, get another of them to chop up about a thousand tomatoes. (Twenty medium tomatoes.)



I find that guests enjoy being made part of the evening in this way.



Now, chop some parsley. (The size of bunch you would lay on the grave of a dead acquaintance you genuinely liked who genuinely liked parsley. Or four-five normal supermarket packets.) If your guests haven't had enough to drink they might start saying, 'Too much parsley! What kind of dish could ever need that much parsley!' This picture gives an idea if you accept that there was more to come, and it is a big board.



So far, you have only been making caponata. We're never going to get to the marrows in this IPE. Carry on by washing the salt off a jar and a bit of salted capers. (Again guests will say, 'Too many capers.')



Fry a finely chopped red onion (big), three cloves of garlic sliced but not chopped too fine and some finely chopped parsley stalks. Ignore the incessant cries of 'Too much parsley!' which are, quite reasonably, now getting on your wick.



After two-three minutes, add the capers, a big jar of stoneless green olives ('Too many olives!' someone will say, indicating once and for all that your guests have no comprehension of relative scale) and about 4 tablespoons of vinegar. I use red wine vinegar, usually. You might choose another, and I wouldn't be able to stop you. Evaporate the vinegar for a couple of minutes, then add the tomato and simmer for quarter of an hour.*



Finish by checking whether the whole needs salt or pepper, a bit of olive oil or some more parsley. Even if it doesn't need more parsley, a bit more parsley won't hurt it, and will tease your stupid guests, so put it in.

Then, wait until the next day (probably) for instructions on how to make the marrow, which is similarly delicious.

(If someone has bought a Christmas gift of a Ukrainian model you can dress in magnetic clothes, you can play with that.)





*Incidentally, you get best results by stirring with one of these spoons. Aren't they great!