Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Secret Science North: The Trek's Not That Far

Tonight I'll be heading down to Manhattan for the inaugural Secret Science Club North event at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For once, I won't be the guy trekking on the train for an hour- I will be able to take my beloved 1 Train from 238th St in the Bronx to 96th St. Me being me, I look at this subway route as leading from one El Malecón location to another. The trip will probably take no longer than a half-hour. I'll miss the wonderful staff of the beautiful Bell House, but there's an upcoming SSC event there in October.

The last event I attended at Symphony Space was a performance of Carmina Burana by the Young New Yorkers' Chorus, a group to which a friend and former co-worker belongs. Tonight, though, the Symphony Space is going to be transformed into Science Space.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Make Mine a Double!

I live in the tavern district of the City of Y______. When I returned home a couple of nights ago, I had a sinking feeling that I had had too much booze... I was seeing double:

Technically, I suppose this is a double-double, although the folks at both Tim Horton's and In-N-Out Burgers would beg to differ. At any rate, I shouldn't have been drinking doubles... nor should the street-painting contractor.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Oh, Piliones!

Last week, I was lucky enough to enjoy some beautiful weather on my day off, so I headed over to the local, lovely Tibbett's Brook Park for a good, long stroll. While I was sauntering along the beautiful pathways, I caught a couple of harvestmen (locally known as "daddy longlegs") making the beast with sixteen legs, IYKWIMAITTYD:

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine repeated the myth that daddy-longlegs are the most venomous arachnids of all, but that their "fangs" were too small to pierce human skin. I had to set her straight- the opiliones lack venom glands, so they aren't poisonous at all. You want to most venomous arachnid of all? Smut's got that covered.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Banned Books Week, Eh?

Via Tengrain, I realize that this week has been Banned Books Week. Here's a rundown of the ten most "challenged" books for the past fourteen years.

My mother never forbade us from reading any book, no matter how young we were. She always figured that reading anything was better than reading nothing at all, and that she had instilled her values into us when we were little children, so we could "handle" just about any material. She herself had been granted full access to an uncle's library when she was young, and she followed his example of allowing full access to the family library. Hell, even a collection of salacious medieval tales (much along the lines of the saltier sections of The Canterbury Tales) wasn't off limits... and Till Eulenspiegel was a favorite character of mine even as a child. Even if there had been a copy of the dreaded Necronomicon around, mom would have placed no limitations on it.

Banning books is always a foolish attempt to ban thoughts, a theme similar to the concept of "Newspeak" enumerated in George Orwell's sometimes banned 1984- if you haven't read this particular book, it's doubleplusgood. My attitude is that, if your view of the world can be utterly changed by reading one particular book, then the problem is with your view of the world. Sound ideas cannot be destroyed that easily. I have to confess that I don't celebrate Banned Books Week myself, seeing that I'm a proponent of reading everything any week of the year. Just as I've long suspected that Valentine's Day is a plot to sell cards, flowers, and chocolates, I suspect that Banned Books Week is a plot to sell Captain Underpants books- not that there's anything wrong with that. While I don't celebrate the week per se, I fully support those who do, largely to spite the sort of people who support book burning.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Quiverfull of Queer

Ordinarily, I don't think about the quiverfull movement all that much. I was reminded of this Dominionist subset by TBogg's latest piece about **shudder** the Duggars giving advice about sex. Given the number of kids they have, odds are that one or two of the Duggar brood are LGBTQ. I sincerely hope that all of the Duggar kids are gay. A "Quiverfull of Queer" would be awesome! Hmmmm... wasn't Quiverfull of Queer an album by the Smiths?

Hey, how about a hymn from the Smiths?

Heaven knows I'm miserable contemplating the Duggars bumping uglies.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rouhani's Right

While I think that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is a scumbag, having presided over a surge in executions (though, as a citizen of the United States, I really can't take the moral high ground here, even though I am against the death penalty), I have to say that the guy was correct when he stated that the western powers have helped to spread terrorism around the globe- in Rouhani's own words, translated into English:

I deeply regret to say that terrorism has become globalized: From New York to Mosul, from Damascus to Baghdad, from the Easternmost to the Westernmost parts of the world, from Al-Qaeda to Daesh [the Arabic acronym for Dawlat al-Islamiyah f'al-Iraq wa al-Sham]. The extremists of the world have found each other and have put out the call: extremists of the world unite. But are we united against the extremists?

Extremism is not a regional issue that just the nations of our region would have to grapple with; extremism is a global issue. Certain states have helped creating it and are now failing to withstand it. Currently our peoples are paying the price. Today’s anti-Westernism is the offspring of yesterday’s colonialism. Today’s anti-Westernism is a reaction to yesterday’s racism. Certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hand of madmen, who now spare no one. All those who have played a role in founding and supporting these terror groups must acknowledge their errors that have led to extremism. They need to apologize not only to the past but also to the next generation.

Tragically, one cannot argue against that... the current conflagration is largely a result of the ill-conceived, poorly executed U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent power vacuum and sectarian conflicts. Even more tragically, the roots of the decades-long quagmire in the Middle East date back to the Sykes-Picot agreement, which partitioned the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Additional problems in the Middle East can be laid at the feet of the toppling of the democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in the 1950s at the behest of British Petroleum.

Rouhani further stated:

To fight the underlying causes of terrorism, one must know its roots and dry its source fountains. Terrorism germinates in poverty, unemployment, discrimination, humiliation and injustice. And it grows with the culture of violence. To uproot extremism, we must spread justice and development and disallow the distortion of divine teachings to justify brutality and cruelty.

I'll gloss over his religious platitudes, not sharing them myself, but his assessment of the recent military campaigns of the West is spot on (I have always been of the opinion that the "War on Terror" should have been conducted surgically, involving good intelligence and appropriate use of special forces on highly specific targets- one does not swat mosquitoes with sledghammers). In Rouhani's words:

The strategic blunders of the West in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucuses have turned these parts of the world into a haven for terrorists and extremists. Military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and improper interference in the developments in Syria are clear examples of this erroneous strategic approach in the Middle East. As non-peaceful approach, aggression, and occupation target the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people, they result in different adverse psychological and behavioral consequences that are today manifested in the form of violence and murder in the Middle East and North Africa, even attracting some citizens from other parts of the world. Violence is currently being spread to other parts of the world like a contagious disease. We have always believed that democracy cannot be transplanted from abroad; democracy is the product of growth and development; not war and aggression. Democracy is not an export product that can be commercially imported from the West to the East. In an underdeveloped society, imported democracy leads only to a weak and vulnerable government.

When generals step into a region, do not expect diplomats to greet them warmly; when war begins, diplomacy tends to end. When sanctions set in, deep hatred for those imposing them also begins. When the atmosphere of the Middle East is securitized, the answer will be of the same nature as well.

The interests of Western countries in our region are tied to their recognition of beliefs and the desire of the people for democratic governance in the region.

The experience of creation of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and modern extremist groups have demonstrated that one cannot use extremist groups to counter an opposing state and remain impervious to the consequences of rising extremism. The repetition of these mistakes despite many costly experiences is perplexing.

The rest of his speech degenerates into self-serving statements regarding Iranian intentions, and condemnations of "Zionists" in the Levant, but his criticism of the western powers' role in the germination and spread of Islamic extremism and terrorism was embarrassingly accurate. The fight against ISIS has to be conducted in an intelligent fashion, though the fact that one of our "allies" in the region (you know, the one which attacked the U.S. in the first place) had a hand in creating ISIS has me concerned.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Boule Bandwagon

I'm not exactly the trendiest guy, but every once in a while, something which "goes viral" will catch my attention. For instance, something called a shooter's sandwich has gained cult status- even getting the know your meme treatment. Well, as luck would have it, I found a sourdough boule in the "yesterday's bread" section of one of my local supermarkets (I always check out the day-old bread section, ever on the lookout for the main ingredient for a strata, and oftimes it pays off). Even more serendipitously, I found sirloin steaks on sale as well... it was as if fate wanted me to make this sandwich. It was a simple matter of picking up some mushrooms. I used onion and garlic instead of shallots- I've never understood the primacy of shallots over onions- I agree 100% with Craig Claiborne's 1964 quote regarding the humble onion:

ALTHOUGH many people eschew all forms of it, the onion is probably the most versatile of culinary blessings. It inspired Dean Swift's lines, now the most labored of gastro­nomic platitudes, “This is every cook's opinion; No savoury dish without an onion.” And there has been much speculation on the thought that if the onion were as rare as caviar it would be the most coveted of foods.

Assembling the shooter's sandwich is a fairly easy process- the most involved part of the whole affair is pressing the damn thing for a few hours (I wrapped the sandwich up, placed it between two boards, and put a 35-pound kettlebell on top to "smush" everything down). The sandwich is a very good one, but certainly not the "Best Sandwich Ever". In fact, in my opinion, it wasn't even the best sandwich I had all week... those honors would go to an eggplant parmigiana sandwich I made, with the typical gut-busting deep-fried, breaded eggplant typical of a good old American red sauce joint.

I jumped on the boule bandwagon and made the trendy sandwich of the moment. I'd agree with Epicurious' J. Kenji López-Alt that the shooter sandwich is not better than the sum of its parts. Luckily, while I was shopping, I also picked up a ciabatta loaf, so I may make a sausage-and-pepper "pressed" sandwich using the trendy technique of the moment.

For the record, the most decadent sandwich I ever made was an "appetizer combo sandwich" with chicken fingers, jalapeño poppers, and mozzarella sticks, dressed with blue cheese dressing and hot sauce. Damn near killed me, but a guy's got to live on the edge once in a while.