28 fevereiro 2006

The Connoisseur's Guide to Sushi:

Everything You Need to Know About
Sushi Varieties and Accompaniments,
Etiquette and Dining Tips, and More
by Dave Lowry
Tell the truth: When you go out for sushi, don't you worry that you're not doing it quite right? And don't you hate feeling ignorant and inept about such a popular food category? If you do, you're going to love this informative little handbook by a St. Louis food writer who clearly know his way around a sushi-ya.

A present for: Anyone who doesn't want to look like a dork at the sushi bar.
What it is: A rundown on sushi fish from aji to uzuri tamago.
Required readings: Washing It Down: What to drink with sushi. (Hint: It's not sake.)
How the wasabi and soy sauce ritual got started, and why it's wrong.
Chopstick etiquette.
The training of an itamae, or sushi chef.
What's the deal with that ceramic Hello Kitty.
Something extra: A glossary of sushi-ben, or slang, with a warning that using it incorrectly will make you look really dumb.
Publisher and price: Harvard Common Press, $14.

Got this on my Observer print magazine (will snail mail) :-)

When I started cooking professionally, it was hard, if not impossible, to find a decent vegetarian meal. So-called top restaurants concentrated on the main course - meat - and never the vegetarian option. When I became head chef at one of London's most expensive restaurants, the Lanesborough Hotel, I was happy to cater for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Other chefs often asked me why I bothered. After all, vegetarians didn't want to eat at such grand establishments, did they? I saw it differently, however. Why shouldn't vegetarian dishes be interesting and imaginative? Even nowadays, it is not unusual for high-profile chefs to talk contemptuously about vegetarians, but to me they are just customers who have decided to forsake meat and fish in their diet.

[Read all the recipes, again, from the Guardian-Observer]

How sushi ate the world

We don't have an address for Mr Sawada, the sushi master. Just a card with the samurai symbol of a red dragonfly and the name of a street off Tokyo's Ginza. We find the tiny dragonfly engraved beside a buzzer in an unremarkable doorway. 'This is a very extraordinary moment for me,' says Chie, our translator, as we troop up some shabby stairs. 'I could never eat here. I am not rich, I am not old enough.' She's in her mid-thirties; I think she means - 'not wise enough'.

Ordinarily you would pay some $500 in advance just to make a booking here at the table of one of Japan's most talked-about traditional sushi chefs. But then, we could never have made a booking, because Sawada serves at most eight people each mealtime and is booked up years ahead. He has given us a few minutes at the end of his day to photograph him in action.

We find a small square room made entirely - floor, ceiling, walls, chairs, counter and even the fridge - of pale lemon hinoki wood. This signifies luxury; it's used for the coffins of the emperors of Japan. There is no other colour in the room except a single pink camellia in a tiny vase on the counter.

The sushi master is solemn, shaven-headed like a Buddhist priest, and a dead ringer for Brian Cox. He shows us his knives, his charcoal stove, his rice cooker and his prep surface. His sushi is served plateless, on to the hinoki-wood counter, which is planed down after each meal until it is virgin again.

Sawada heaps rice straw on the charcoal burner, lights it and then passes a slab of bonito back and forth through the smoke. This is an ancient method, taken from the Tokyo Bay fishermen. When it's sufficiently scorched he takes the fish to the counter and cuts two finger-sized slivers from it. Beside him is a basket of warm, vinegared rice, Sawada takes a breath. He shapes his fingers into a position known as ninjitsu - aping Ninja fighters - and begins the gentle, rhythmic hand-jive that makes the nigiri sushi.

His palms move from side to side under his bent head, shaping a mini-loaf of rice. He smears it with a fingertip of wasabi. Then he lays the curved strip of lean fish-flesh over it, as though fitting a delicate piece of marquetry. He places the mouthful, precisely angled, on the counter. This is nigiri sushi, the original, unchanged in 180 years.

I have to ask him what he thinks of 'new sushi' - California roll, for example. He repeats the Japanese translation - kashu-maki - as though it's new to him. 'California roll? I find it - chaotic.'

A few months later, at 6pm in the Yo! Sushi shop in Haymarket, off Piccadilly Circus, a man is slicing a roll of raw red snapper, matter-of-fact even though he is - like all sushi chefs - on stage. The waxy flesh falls away from his knife like loam behind a plough. When he's done, using every last scrap, he starts on a beefy log of raw tuna. Shape, aim, cut, push. It's hypnotic. Soon, with some slices of bright orange farmed salmon, and a nest of shredded daikon radish and mustard cress, this will be a seven-slice Assorted Sashimi, yours for an amazing £5.

The sashimi goes on to the conveyor belt. Watching the bowls in their Habitat colours ride the track is just as monotonously mesmerising as watching the chef coddling his fish hunks: in front of the conveyor you turn train-spotter, wondering whether that piece of yellowtail and salmon roe will come round again.

The mechanical ballets of sushi and sashimi-making are an art whether you're in Tokyo, at Nobu, or at Yo! Sushi. There are differences, though. Sawada trained for six years, and at Nobu the chefs do three years before they are allowed to lay hands on the fish. (What do the novice chefs do for those three years? They wash the rice. They do the dishes. They watch and they meditate.) At Yo! the training is just two months. Across town at Nobu or at Zuma in Knightsbridge seven slices of purple, orange and white sashimi, not very different from Yo!'s Special Assorted, will cost you an easy £20, before service.

[From the Guardian-Observer tandem]

[Quien tenga oidos que oiga]

[Chema Madoz]
When Nikita Khrushchev took the podium on the final day of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the speech he gave was so surprising and unexpected that some members of the audience actually fainted.

It was Feb. 25, 1956, three years after the death of Josef Stalin and Khrushchev’s accession as first secretary of the party. Although the speech was made in closed session, and has been known forever after as the “secret speech,” it did not remain secret for long. The text had been given to local Soviet organizations to be read aloud and to East European Communist parties. A Polish version soon reached the West, and although its authenticity was denied for a long time by Moscow, it soon became obvious it was genuine.

Why was the speech so shocking? Because it came at the end of decades of totalitarian terror during which millions of people died, in a country where the misuse of power had gone virtually unquestioned and unchecked (and where anyone who dared question the state’s authority was courting arrest). Yet on that February day, 50 years ago this week, Khrushchev cut through years and years of unwavering propaganda to reveal not all, but many, of the crimes of Stalin — his predecessor and mentor — to the world.

Officially, the speech was an attack on the “cult of personality” that had grown up around Stalin. This may sound like little more than a critique of a certain vanity and self-advertisement on the part of the longtime vozhd, or great leader, and that was certainly part of it.

“It is impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person,” Khrushchev said, “to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics akin to those of a god.”

But the full text went a good deal further, citing “grave perversions of party principles.” Stalin (although Khrushchev defended him against Trotskyites and other “deviationists”) came out badly. He had, according to Khrushchev, made fearful mistakes in World War II; he had ruined the country’s agriculture; V.I. Lenin, the revolutionary Bolshevik leader who governed the country after the revolution, had condemned him; he had wrongly broken with Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslav leader.

Even more shocking than these criticisms were the “glaring violations of revolutionary legality” Khrushchev referred to, particularly in Stalin’s treatment of those of his followers he had purged and executed.

[Read on at Statesman Journal]
[Read the real speech here]

27 fevereiro 2006

What Does Islam Look Like?

THE West and Islam are on a cultural collision course. That's the best-selling fiction that many people — politicians, religious leaders and the media on both sides of the equation — are working overtime to turn into fact. Actually, it's a very old story, and art is routinely pulled into it.

Always, we hear Islamic art talked about in the way something called the "Islamic world" is talked about, as if it were unitary, unchanging, inscrutable and over there. We hear that Islamic art is, by definition, religious art, and we hear about its hostile relationship to the human image.

We got an earful of this with the furor over Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. The fact is, images of the Prophet abound in Islamic art and culture; the Metropolitan Museum has several examples in its Islamic collection. But unlike the cartoons, such images are not caricatures.

More from The NYTimes

Illustrate Life of Pi Competition

More illustrations here

The New 7 Wonders of the World

Only they're not so new...


01 Acropolis, Athens, Greece
02 Alhambra, Granada, Spain
03 Angkor, Cambodia
04 Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
05 Christ Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
06 Colosseum, Rome, Italy
07 Easter Island Statues, Chile
08 Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
09 Great Wall, China
10 Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
11 Kyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan
12 Kremlin/St.Basil, Moscow, Russia
13 Machu Picchu, Peru
14 Neuschwanstein Castle, Füssen, Germany
15 Petra, Jordan
16 Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
17 Statue of Liberty, New York, USA
18 Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom
19 Sydney Opera House, Australia
20 Taj Mahal, Agra, India
21 Timbuktu, Mali

To vote one has to pay.

24 fevereiro 2006


Los libros son vitaminas

fortalecem-nos para a vida, diz Arturo Pérez-Reverte, agora em Lisboa para o lançamento do seu primeiro livro, O Hussardo.
Quanto ao Capitão Alatriste, com Viggo Mortensen, está pronto e recomenda-se :)
Trailer aqui e fansite aqui

A Scanner Darkly

Trailer here :)

23 fevereiro 2006


The Anagram London Tube Map was censored, the page that was serving it now says «Content removed at the request of Healeys Solicitors acting on behalf of Transport for London and Transport Trading Ltd».
The previous post about it on this blog was redone, and here it goes again, since it's being served elsewhere, and that's what matters.
Tá bonito, isto... :(


Brokeback Mountain

18 fevereiro 2006

J.M. Coetzee on Translation

BOOKS of mine have been translated from the English in which they are written into some 25 other languages, the majority of them European. Of the 25 I can read two or three moderately well. Of many of the rest I know not a word; I have to trust my translators to render fairly what I have written.

Whether that trust is well placed I find out only rarely, when a bilingual reader who has compared translation with original happens to report back to me.

Some such reports come as a jolt. In Russia, I discover, The Master of Petersburg has been renamed Autumn in Petersburg; in the Italian version of Dusklands, a man opens a wooden crate with the help of a bird (what I wrote was that he used a crow, that is, a crowbar).

Most reports, however, are reassuring. Even in the money-driven world of modern publishing, shoddy translations seem to be rare. In the translation of literary works in particular, the urge to give of one's best even when it may not be noticed still seems to reign.

As author I find it gratifying when a translator contacts me for advice. Among those who regularly confer with me are my French, German, Swedish, Dutch, Serbian and Korean translators.

On the other hand, there are some who have never been in touch, among them my Turkish and Japanese translators. Given the differences of linguistic structure and cultural background between Turkish and English, and between Japanese and English, I would have thought that these two would find my texts more troublesome than their European confreres do. Or perhaps it is out of politeness that they do not contact me.


In A House in Spain, the house in question lies in a Catalan village off the highway. But in the new Europe supervised from Brussels, my Dutch translator informs me, there is a strict and exhaustive hierarchy of road types, with associated maximum speeds. This hierarchy does not include cognates of highway.


This leads to my final question: Is there a high road (a highway) to excellence in translation, and might that high road be provided by a theory of translation? Would mastery of the theory of translation make one a better translator? There is a legitimate branch of aesthetics called the theory of literature. But I doubt very much that there is or can be such a thing as a theory of translation - not one, at any rate - from which practitioners of translation will have much to learn.

Translation seems to me a craft in a way that cabinet-making is a craft. There is no substantial theory of cabinet-making, and no philosophy of cabinet-making except the ideal of being a good cabinet-maker, plus a handful of precepts relating to tools and to types of wood.

For the rest, what there is to be learned must be learned by observation and practice. The only book on cabinet-making I can imagine that might be of use to the practitioner would be a humble handbook.

Fascinating... Read all, from The Australian

Top 10 Creation Myths

Click on the images to see a descripton of the Myth :)
From LiveScience

17 fevereiro 2006

What novels/literature books would you recommend to scientists and vice versa?

Great question. [To the scientists] I would recommend “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino, “Blindness” by José Saramago, “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, and “The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam.”

And for works of science for non scientists, I would recommend first of all “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin, “The Character of Physical Law” by Richard Feynman, and “A Mathematician’s Apology” by G.H. Hardy, the great Cambridge mathematician. Although that’s mathematics and not science, it’s a stunning book.

The Future of Science: A Conversation with Alan Lightman

On-Site: New Architecture in Spain

A quarter-century ago, the idea that Spain might be considered a vivid center of architectural creativity would have been considered definitely silly, and possibly cruel.

The great nation was still awakening from the long cultural slumber enforced by dictator Francisco Franco, who died in 1975. Franco's idea of great architecture was a deadening, nationalistic sort of classical kitsch. Modern architecture, for the most part, was just something for the tourists -- mile after banal mile of hotels that were degrading to local culture and the fine beaches they were built on.

And, yet, here we are. Spain today is "an international stage for architectural innovation and experimentation," says Terence Riley of the Museum of Modern Art. Riley backs up his words in "On-Site: New Architecture in Spain," a riveting exhibition of models, photographs and words that opens this morning in Manhattan.

Contemporary is the word. Of the 53 projects in the MoMA show, 35 are under construction or in design. The oldest of the 18 completed projects was built all of eight years ago, and the others were completed since 2000.

This up-to-the-moment focus has its drawbacks. Each unfinished project is represented by a splendid scale model and informative photographic panels showing site plans, floor plans, cross sections, various kinds of renderings and other important data. Even so, a visitor often finds himself mumbling: "Hmmm. Maybe, maybe not."

Of course, that's the nature of architecture exhibitions -- they always are made up of representations. The only way to experience the real thing is to go to it, walk around it, get inside. Even artful photographs of completed buildings can deceive.

I'm convinced, for instance, that the Barajas Airport terminals in Madrid, designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership in collaboration with Estudio Lamela, are as smart and as beautiful as photographs make them seem. But I will not really know until I go there.

Nonetheless, this exhibition is completely convincing as to its main point, and thoroughly fascinating in particulars. An amazing amount of exciting, imaginative, provocative architecture is being built in Spain -- designed by Spaniards and foreigners alike -- and much of it is world-class.

This is due in part, as Riley emphasizes in his catalogue essay, to the intelligent way Spain has spent the $110 billion in financial assistance the country has received since it joined the European Union in 1986. Not only has Spain's antiquated infrastructure been overhauled, but the job has generally been done in ways that extend the benefits beyond this particular road or that particular bridge.

In Barcelona, for example, planning for a creative outbreak from Franco's rule started in the universities even before the dictator was dead, and this emphasis on excellence has continued to this day.

Other Spanish cities and regions followed suit -- the spread of the "Bilbao effect," for instance, is due not simply to the choice of American architect Frank Gehry as designer of an extraordinary riverside museum, but also to the fact that Gehry's building was part of an intense overall strategy to improve that run-down northern city.

Quite a few of the projects in the exhibition illustrate the close relationship among planning, infrastructure and architecture. In particular, the question comes down to such issues as: If you are going to build an outdoor escalator, of all things, why not make it beautiful?

That is exactly what the medieval mountain city of Toledo did to solve problems of tourist access. To get visitors comfortably from an underground parking garage up to the historic city's core, architects Jose Antonio Martinez Lapeña and Elias Torres Tur carved escalator slots into the city's old walls. The result is an original piece of infrastructure-architecture that is supremely convincing -- the right, if surprising, thing to do, done in the right way.

The variety and ambition of civic projects throughout Spain, in city and suburb alike, is genuinely impressive: athletic stadiums, contemporary art museums, city halls, convention centers, low-income housing, theaters, health clinics, public markets, parks. But what really stands out, especially when measured by American standards, is the degree of originality.

In Spain, as throughout the European Union, architects for civic projects are chosen by competition, but that cannot be the sole reason for the daring inventiveness of so many of the projects on view. Maybe it's just something in the air, a continuing post-Franco ebullience bolstered by civic vision and confidence.

How else to explain medieval Seville's selection of a series of wildly biomorphic forms, made of laminated timber, to cover a new downtown park like a field of giant mushrooms? Designed by Berlin architect Jurgen Mayer H., these definitely avoid my maybe, maybe-not list. They're due to be completed next year, and I'm betting they'll be useful, elegant and perfectly playful.

Similarly attractive, and almost as surprising, is the wavy, colorfully tiled roof invented by architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue to cover the Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona.

Sometimes the inventiveness of the program for civic buildings is as important as formal originality. The Ciudad del Flamenco in southwest Andalucia, said to be the cradle of flamenco music and dance, is a hybrid that includes an auditorium, dance school, research center and museum. The building, designed by the star Swiss team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron and due for completion in 2008, is astutely complex. But its sheathing, in a stucco pattern loosely based on traditional Arab and Gypsy ornament, is one of those maybe, maybe-not propositions.

Biomorphic shapes and picturesque profiles are plentiful, of course.

Gehry is present not with his famed 1997 Bilbao Guggenheim but with a winery and hotel (designed with Edwin Chan) in the Basque countryside that are scheduled to open in September.

The project is, as might be expected, at once curvy, complex and comely.

And the Museum of Cantabria, by Emilio Tuñon and Luis M. Mansilla, to be completed by 2009, consists of a series of jagged peaks -- surrogate mountains, in effect. The floor plans, however, look to be adaptable to traditional and unorthodox installations.

By contrast, the sharp concrete folds of the Valleaceron Chapel play against the gentle curves of distant mountains. The building, completed in 2000 and designed by Sol Madridejos and J.C. Sancho Osinaga, proves there still can be fresh takes on the late buildings of the 20th-century Swiss master Le Corbusier.

Even more plentiful than unpredictable shapes, however, is the rationalist box. That is hardly surprising -- rectangular buildings, after all, remain the most efficient containers for many everyday functions, and in recent years there has been a pronounced rebellion against quirky, computer-driven shapes.

But the boxes here are subjected to all sorts of twists and turns, and many are sheathed in brightly colored materials or even translucent panels that allow a viewer to half-see colorful shapes inside. Occasionally, however, it appears the boxmakers are reverting to unpleasant modernist habits.

The panel accompanying the model and photographs of four "Bioclimatic Towers," designed as part of a larger housing development by Iñaki Abalos, Juan Herreros and Renata Sentkiewicz, refer to the sophisticated, sustainable elements underlying the design. But, isolated in a field, the towers definitely recall the bad old days of modernist planning. Of all the maybe-nots in the show, these head the list.

Riley said he took some flak from Spanish architects for including many buildings by non-Spanish architects, but it was the right choice. For one thing, many of the Spanish architects measure up, and then some. For another, the inclusion of such compelling talents as Zaha Hadid, Toyo Ito, Thom Mayne, Jean Nouvel and Alvaro Siza, in addition to those already mentioned, drives home the show's main point.

Something's happening in Spain. The country has a history, and it is exciting and important. Maybe-nots and all, the exhibition affirms the creative fecundity of today's architecture, and it celebrates the role of civic leadership in the creation of bold plans, bold buildings.

On-Site: New Architecture in Spain will be on view through May 1 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St., New York. For ticketing and other information, call 212-708-9400 or visit http://www.moma.org.

16 fevereiro 2006

The Illiad... according to the Uncyclopedia

Agamemnon steals woman from Achilles. Achilles is sad. Achilles complains to his mommy, who happens to be a god. More woman stealing occurs. Pertinent descriptions of the crews of a large number of boats. Achilles whines to his mommy. Rocks no ten men today could lift are thrown into soft and yielding left nipples. Everyone dies. Achilles whines to his mommy.
Casts of characters:
  • Achilleus - Momma's boy; application for the US Postal Service rejected due to his inability to control his "menis" or god-like wrath.
  • Agamemnon - Once leader of a group of kindergarten schoolchildren; now believes he has the capacity to lead an entire army. The only army he is in control of are the ones attached to his torso. Everyone hates Agamemnon.
  • Patroclus - his mom thought "Patrick" was a cool name, but his father wanted something cool, so your mom agreed to name him Patroclus
  • Hector - The Trojan who reaks the most havoc and heck. Hence the name "Heck-tor"
  • Priam - Hector's mother who has parenting issues. Like Oedipus's mom, Priam has a thing for her beautiful transfestite, Paris
  • Paris Hilton - Hector's beautimous transfestite sibling and offspring of Priam with a pay-as-you-go cell phone plan
  • Helen - The most unimportant character ever. Menelaus's boyfriend, seduced by Paris (what a nightmare, right?). Forced unwillingly (or was it willingly?) to be in the company of Trojans during copulation.
[From the Uncyclopedia]

Hitler collected cartoons

From the book

15 fevereiro 2006

A text to speech interface in many languages :)

Obrigada ao caracolito!


For a bit of history and samurai prints, click here

Thanx to Mawalien

A arquitectura da densidade

God bless my ground floor apartment with me tiny gardencinho

14 fevereiro 2006

Cheney jokes

‘Late Show with David Letterman,’ CBS
“Good news, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally located weapons of mass destruction: It’s Dick Cheney.”

“We can’t get Bin Laden, but we nailed a 78-year-old attorney.”

‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,’ NBC

“That’s the big story over the weekend. ... Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter, a 78-year-old lawyer. In fact, when people found out he shot a lawyer, his popularity is now at 92 percent.”

“Dick Cheney is capitalizing on this for Valentine’s Day. It’s the new Dick Cheney cologne. It’s called Duck!”

‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,’ Comedy Central

“Now, this story certainly has its humorous aspects. ... But it also raises a serious issue, one which I feel very strongly about. ... moms, dads, if you’re watching right now, I can’t emphasize this enough: Do not let your kids go on hunting trips with the vice president. I don’t care what kind of lucrative contracts they’re trying to land, or energy regulations they’re trying to get lifted — it’s just not worth it.”


Dresden has become a particularly charged symbol of suffering, in part because the former East Germany encouraged commemoration of the bombing, and questioning of the Western powers and reunification has brought the discussion of the Dresden fire-bombing to the entire country. But there has also been prodigious recent literary attention focused on it. The destruction of Dresden has been taken up by historians and literary humanists, including W.G. Sebald in On the Natural History of Destruction (who spreads his ruminations across many bombed cities), Jonathan Safran Foer in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, German historian Jörg Friedrich in Der Brand (The Fire), and British historian Frederick Taylor in Dresden, as well as in a new film melodrama, Dresden, which just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival.

More from Slate

13 fevereiro 2006

«at the end of the day, we all just want to have a good rant»

When I finally catch wind of Sleepless in Sudan, it closes :(
Still, lotsa stuff to catch up on - 9 months of posting - and the promise to be continued.

The Anagram Map of the London Tube

10 fevereiro 2006

Toon time :D

E claro, Conchita é um nome muuuuuuito português!

09 fevereiro 2006

After caviar ... the new luxuries

Two shock announcements yesterday - first a ban on the trade in caviar, second the news that balsamic vinegar is naff, according to top chefs - have left middle-class kitchens dangerously short of overpriced gourmet foodstuffs. To find replacements that can quickly achieve the same cachet among people who can't really cook will take, at the very least, some lateral thinking. Below, the long list:

Apple hearts. Top British apples whittled down to their nutty, woody essence by teams of poorly-paid eastern Europeans, the only ingredient to use for a proper tarte au coeurs des pommes.

Pure Scottish dishwasher salt. The saltiest salt, pound for pound, on the planet. OK, so it's not actually fit for human consumption, but that's what they used to say about mouldy cheese.

Foetal peppers. It's hard to believe that once upon a time English cooks discarded the little tiny peppers you sometimes find growing inside big peppers. With recipes such as foetal pepper, truffle and apple heart salad on the horizon, these little delicacies will soon cost more per gram than smack.

Line caught mackerel eyes. Mackerel may be relatively cheap, but you only get two eyes per fish, so it costs almost £400 to fill up a good-sized tin. Connoisseurs say they taste a bit like chicken eyes.

Mini-dwarf-baby-fine beans. Exquisite to the point of being invisible to the naked eye. At a suggested price of £80 per kilo, it's sometimes known as the emperor's new delicacy. It's that posh.

Cat-licked butter. Premium lightly salted butter is left uncovered until it develops the tiny, tell-tale indentations which show that the cat has been at it while no one was looking. An acquired taste to be sure, although kids don't usually notice the difference.

Silver balls. This most exotic of cake decorations - often called the jelly diamond of kings - aren't just for cakes any more. They can be used to garnish gourmet soups, or to add a touch of class to an eyeless mackerel. And what gives these little baubles their mysterious silvery sheen? It's the much-prized E173 - or, as it used to be known - aluminium.

Tinned hot dogs. Italy has bottarga, Spain has baby eels, but does anyone do a canned hot dog to rival Britain's? It's high time we applied for regional status, before France starts copying them.

Hob Nob dust. Great for thickening sauces, flavouring risottos, or making a light batter for frying just-picked courgette flowers. Environmentalists, however, fear that a worldwide surge in demand may lead to the extinction of the Hob Nob. Still, you only live once.

It´s a Guardian day

In praise of... corks

Quercus suber is among the noblest of trees and not just because this oak has traditionally produced corks for wine bottles the world over. But the cork oak's bark can only be harvested every ten years and it can take up to 50 before the outer bark is ready for its first cutting. Cork, like wine, needs patience, so it is impossible to suddenly boost supply.

But patience is now running out in Portugal, the world's main cork producer. Increasing competition from modern alternatives like plastic tops, synthetic stoppers and, dare one mention it, screwcaps is hurting the Portuguese economy as well as removing a little magic from wine drinking as surely as a corkscrew does with a cork.

Even the prestigious Wine Society dispatches wine in screwtop bottles these days. So now there is a fightback on behalf of the environmentally friendly cork, none of whose supposed defects such as "cork taint" cannot be dealt with by modern methods. Leading the fight is José Mourinho, Chelsea's Portuguese coach who has been chosen to spearhead a Portuguese government campaign.

The Special One has been chosen because he is "sophisticated and appeals to the wine consumer". We wish him well in his part-time job - though doubtless Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson will hope it expands into a fulltime one. But if Mr Mourinho can revive the cork as he has revived Chelsea the celebrations will be sincere - and accompanied by that time-honoured, irreplaceable popping that is special to corks.

The Guardian

Enough is enough

I feel offended.

Zealots are nailing veils onto the faces of my sisters in Afghanistan and Pakistan and are busy hanging women, homosexuals, adulterers and non-believers.

But human rights, women's rights and the right to liberty are the most exalted in the history of humanity; this is the tradition in which I was raised. Values that make the world better and more peaceful.

I demand that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Indonesia and Egypt apologise to me. Otherwise I am unfortunately forced to threaten, beat up, kidnap or behead their citizens. Because I am somewhat sensitive about my cultural identity.

I feel offended.

Fanatics are blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, marvellous cultural monuments.

But art is an expression of universal beauty and innocence to me. It is a value that makes the world better and more peaceful.; this is the tradition in which I was raised.

I demand that Hamas, the spokesman of the French Muslims and the Director of the Al-Azhar-University apologise to me. Otherwise I will never spend a holiday at the Taj Mahal, I will call for a boycott of Palestinian fruit and I will set the embassies of Tunisia, Qatar and Bangladesh on fire.

I expect understanding for this at the very least – my feelings are absolute and must be expressed globally.

I feel offended.

Videos show journalists, truck drivers and NGO workers having their throats slit or their heads chopped off. Jews see themselves represented as cannibals and pigs, Western women as decadent sluts. Apolitical engineers have to fear for their lives.

All in the name of God.

I demand that all the editors in chief of newspapers and television broadcasters in the Islamic world apologise to me, because they do nothing to prevent these obscenities.

Many people are concerned that the clash of civilisation is near. Oh please, it has been going on for a while now, not only manifest in the monstrosities mentioned above but part of everyday life. How fragile, how superficial must Muslims' religious values be. How can cartoons in an unknown newspaper in a little European country cause such an upset and allow a handful of organised agitators to be able to drive many thousands onto the streets.

Joking how the prophet Mohammed is running out of virgins because so many suicide bombers are standing at the gates of paradise is dark and mean. And, given the reality of global attacks, lamentably effective (just as a side note). But I did not find it especially funny that the misogynous Taliban availed themselves regularly of prostitutes. Or publicly "executed" video recorders and televisions in order to watch pornos in privacy.

Just a reminder: the earth is not flat. It should go without saying that individuals in a secular democracy have every right to caricature and mock authorities, even religious ones. They should be prepared to meet criticism but not punishment. Freedom of expression has to be understood broadly and there are sufficient laws and rules that can be employed to prevent abuse.

The film "The Life of Brian" annoyed a lot of Christians and provoked letters to editors, calls for boycotts and quarrels within families. But nobody in New Zealand suspected a conspiracy against Christianity, nobody in Malta felt compelled to burn the Union Jack. Nor do political authorities have a natural right to protection. Margaret Thatcher was chopped to bits by British journalists, comedians and screenwriters and then put back together in a ghastly way; it was good for the mental sanity of that era and did not kill anyone.

Everyone had the right to turn it off, look away or toss the newspaper in the bin. Freedom of opinion was the Siamese twin of freedom from fear.

The fact that fundamentalists of all persuasions are completely incapable of self-reflection, self-criticism, and self-irony would not warrant a mention, were it not for their practice of imposing their issues on me and my world. They assume that we will kowtow to them as soon as we recognise who they are: "Look out! Religious feelings! We're leaving the private sphere."

In the self-referential world of God or Allah or Jahwe warriors, feelings are increasingly used as weapons and honoured as the highest authority. Readily summoned, merciless.

In the debate over the cartoons, the prohibition of pictures is being presented as a compulsory principle of belief. To be respected everywhere, even in the state of Denmark.

It gives pause to think that those who claim to be offended are so proficient with the Internet and other modern communication technologies but know little about their own cultural history. In Islam's heydey, pictures were made of the Prophet. Mohammed lightly veiled, for instance, on a horse riding to heaven – a wonderful Persian miniature in the Chester-Beatty-Museum in Dublin. (more)

What next, bearded one? Boycott Irish butter?

I do not have to concern myself with the sales figures of Danish yoghurt. I am not easy to blackmail and I am free to find Immanuel Kant's "sapere aude" more conducive to successful communal living than a Fatwa.

I hereby refuse to feel badly for the chronically insulted. I refuse to argue politely why freedom of expression, reason and humour should be respected. I do not want to continue to have to provide creationists scientific proof that the earth has been around for more than 10 000 years. And I am going to stop waiting for them to say on Al Jazeera, "Did you ever hear the one about the Prophet's beard?"

[From SignandSight]

08 fevereiro 2006

Should we swallow this?

The health food section at my local supermarket seems a bit of a reproach, when you eventually find it sandwiched between instant packet sauces and speciality olive oils. This is where you can buy products made by the Food Doctor. His cereal, fruit and seed bars may consist of 26.6% sugar in its various guises and cost 75p each; they are, however, "designed for a balanced metabolism". Most of the food here makes similar claims for itself. But an unspoken question hangs uncomfortably over the shelf flyer: if this is healthy, what does that make the products in all the other aisles?
Well, some of them have now started making claims for themselves too. Over in yoghurts you can buy pots of Danone's Activia with its patented bifidus "digestivum" bacteria. You've probably seen it advertised on television. Cod Latin names may clog up the brain, but this bacterium is "clinically proven to help improve digestive transit". Which presumably explains why it is twice the price of ordinary yoghurt. The same company's Actimel yoghurt drink, with the bacterium L. casei "imunitass", wants to "help support your body's natural defences". (For some reason cod Latin in France is different; Danone sells the same bacterium in the drink there as "defensis".)

These products are described as as "probiotic"(see glossary). No one is quite sure who first coined the word. In the 1950s,veterinary reports talked of pig feed with probiotic-added bacteria to help the animals gain weight faster. The current use of the word aims at something rather different, though, and seemed to come into vogue in the mid 1990s. Müller, meanwhile, has just launched a Vitality yoghurt drink which it calls not only probiotic but "prebiotic" (see glossary), with added omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil "for the functioning of the brain".

Walk down a different aisle in the supermarket and you'll find a different cure. In among the yellow fats, as food manufacturers call them, a tub of own-label sunflower spread costs just 38p per 500g. For 13 times the price, you could buy Benecol Light, one of the newer brands of spread that are "clinically proven" to reduce cholesterol. Its main ingredient by weight is water, followed by sunflower oil and other oils, vitamins, colouring and flavouring and other additives, a list very similar to the cheap brand. But Benecol also contains 7% plant stanols, that "lower bad cholesterol ... as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle". These are primarily hydrogenated sterols (see glossary) made from the wood pulp of pine trees. Plant sterols are also presumably what make Flora pro.activ's cholesterol-lowering spread 11 times the price of the cheap brand. Pro.activ's hydrogenated sterols come primarily from soybean oil. The Flora leaflet says pro.activ spread is "clinically proven to lower cholesterol in just three weeks ... when moving to a healthy diet".

Some academics and nutritionists call this new category of processed foods "techno foods". Market analysts have come up with the more clinical term "nutraceuticals", to acknowledge the blurring of the lines between hi-tech food production and the drug industry. (Pharmaceutical companies are heavily involved in these new products. GlaxoSmithKline, maker of Lucozade sport and energy drinks, now leads the way in drinks that make health claims, while Johnson and Johnson owns the company that makes Benecol.)

But the term preferred by the food industry is "functional foods". Several multinational manufacturers such as Nestlé, Unilever, Danone and Kraft have invested heavily in these, and little wonder: the market was worth $9.9bn in 2003, and is predicted to grow by 16% a year. Nestlé's head of nutrition summed up the trend, telling the Economist in December 2003 that his company was "moving from an agrifood business to an R&D-driven nutrition, health and wellness company".

This raises that uncomfortable thought again: if these are functional foods, is the rest of our industrialised diet not functional?

The pioneer in functional foods was undoubtedly Yakult, made by the Japanese company of the same name. It burst upon the European market in the 1990s as a fermented milk drink with an added strain of healthy bacterium, Lactobacillus casei Shirota. The strain had been isolated by Yakult's Dr Minoru Shirota in the 1930s and marketed in Japan as good for the digestion. It was sold in pharmaceutical form from 1975. Then it was launched in the UK in 1996, in what look like toy milk bottles. Sales took off, helped by £40m worth of extensive marketing in the UK alone. French multinational Danone was quick to follow with Actimel, which now outsells Yakult; and now Danone has formed a strategic alliance withYakult, owning 20% of its shares.

The idea of adding specific nutrients or substances to processed foods to make them healthy is not new of course. In 1940, the government decided that the over-refining of flour was depriving the nation of vital nutrients and ruled that vitamin B1 should be put back into bread. Millers are now required to fortify flour not just with B1 but also with B3, iron and calcium. The new wave of breakfast cereals, breads, and even fresh fruit juices, milk and eggs that are marketed as healthy because they have added vitamins, minerals or essential fatty acids such as omega-3, are simply continuing the tradition. The problem is, they hardly ever restore everything the factory processes or intensive farming have taken out. During the milling of grain to white flour, for example, the 20 or so vitamins, minerals and essential fats present in the original wheat grain are reduced by at least half.

Intensively reared cows kept indoors produce milk that is lower in omega-3 essential fatty acids than organic ones that graze on grass. Again, industrial hens lay eggs that are lower in nutrients than those that are genuinely free range. In one study, farmyard hens in Greece were found to lay eggs with 20 times more omega 3 than US factory hens. Omega-3-enriched functional eggs such as Stonegate's "Intelligent Eating" brand are produced, however, by feeding hens a novel diet that includes tuna or salmon oil ... They trade on the association between general deficiency in essential fatty acids and impaired brain development.

"The question is, how much do these functional foods actually deliver," says Dr Alex Richardson, the Oxford researcher, who has carried out the largest trial to date on the effects of omega 3 on children's behaviour. "From the research so far, EPA [another omega-3 fatty acid] seems to be more effective than DHA for brain function but we can't be sure. And you would need to drink nearly two-and-a-half litres of semi-skimmed clever milk to get the benefits we saw in our study, or 50 omega-3 enriched eggs a day might just about get you there."

Kath Dalmeny of the consumer watchdog the Food Commission is equally unimpressed. "What the food industry is doing is taking out the wonderful nutrients nature provides in the right combinations and sticking some of them into expensive products and pills and selling them back to us. You shouldn't need all this stuff if you are eating lots of fresh, plant-based foods."

Stonegate's marketing manager Richard Langdon argues, however, that many people don't eat well and are short of nutrients. "We're not claiming that we improve the intelligence of your children but we're helping make up a deficiency."

The efficacy of probiotics is little clearer. In the old days, beneficial gut flora could be boosted by the live cultures found in plain yoghurt. However, industrial processing of cheap yoghurt with its high-speed machinery pumps the culture along miles of pipes and kills the live micro-organisms.

Today's probiotic foods claim to act by restoring the balance of microflora in the digestive tract. Many of the dairy-based functional foods contain lactobacillus and bifidobacterium bacteria, which are already naturally present in the gut and aid digestion. The theory is that eating extra good bacteria top them up and keep bad bacteria at bay. But does it work?

A report for the Food Standards Agency on probiotic products found that some of the added bacteria did not actually survive in the digestive system to reach the parts they were supposed to help. The strain used in Yakult was one of those that survived in some tests but not in others. The Japanese company says, however, that it has its own independent research to support its claims.

Danone, too, points to extensive research on the value of its probiotics and says various studies are underway to show that its added bacteria survive. It concedes however that "results reported by individual Actimel users can be as individual as their gut flora profile and overall diet and other lifestyle factors."

The independent Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin says that the evidence as to whether probiotics work is patchy in relation to the gut and non-existent in terms of improving general wellbeing. The evidence for probiotic effect was strongest for helping with diarrhoea caused by antibiotics and infections or with flare-ups of inflammatory bowel disease. "There are a lot of, how shall we put it, interesting claims out there. We don't know whether they are true or not," says Michelle Smythe, of the Which? food campaign team. Which? wants products properly evaluated by regulators before they are sold.

One of Smythe's concerns is that probiotic foods claiming to be good for you are often high in other unhealthy ingredients. Two thirds of the probiotics Which? looked at were high in sugar, for instance Actimel has 14% added sugar, while Yakult has 18%. But without sweetening, these probiotics full of very sour bacteria would be simply "unpalatable", as Yakult puts it.

Proposals were brought before the European parliament last year to prevent foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt making other health claims, and to ensure that any health claims were proved before the products reached the shelves, but they were rejected. New proposals to introduce an approvals scheme that would replace the current voluntary code of practice come back to the EU next month, but there has been heavy lobbying from industry to stop it, according to Smythe.

Some of the health claims made for functional foods have been evaluated by regulators, though. The plant sterols that claim to lower cholesterol needed EU safety approval as novel food ingredients before they could be used, and extensive clinical trials have been conducted on their effects. The government's expert committee on novel foods concluded they were effective in lowering cholesterol but advised that foods to which they have been added "are suitable only for 'at risk' groups, namely those who have been advised by their GP to reduce their blood cholesterol levels by altering their diet." The committee also emphasised the other ways of lowering blood cholesterol - cutting down on biscuits, cakes, pies, sausages and dairy fats, taking regular exercise, and, if necessary, drugs.

For those without high cholesterol, sterol products are less suitable as they interfere with the absorption of key nutrients. The carotenoids, needed to make vitamin A and, to a lesser extent, vitamin E, are affected.

What all these functional foods do is medicalise food. The labelling used echoes the language of drugs. Flora pro.activ yoghurt drinks are labelled "one a day", as are Benecol's. The leaflet that comes with Flora pro.activ spread follows the format of the advice leaflets that come with medicines, covering such questions as: "What happens if I have less than three portions a day? How long should I continue eating Flora pro.activ?" Answer, of course, stick with it long term.

Both Unilever, manufacturer of Flora, and Benecol deny that manufacturers are encouraging consumers to think of foods as medicines. Benecol's director of regulatory affairs, Colette Short says: "Benecol came about as a public health initiative in Finland, where rates of heart disease are very high and it was backed by the Finnish government. We reiterate that it should be part of a healthy diet." But should they be promoted to those who do not have a diagnosed problem? She is reluctant to be drawn. "They are for people who have high blood cholesterol." But what about the general population? "They are for health maintenance."

Unilever's nutrition expert, Anne Heughan, argues that two thirds of the population have high cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease, and that for them Flora pro.activ is a great help. "There is scientific consensus that 2g of plant sterols will reduce your blood cholesterol by an average of 10%. Of course, healthy diets are very, very important but generally people cannot get better than a 5% reduction on healthy diets. But I don't see this as a drug at all. It's marketed as a food."

The worry for Dr Mike Rayner, director of the British Heart Foundation's health promotion research group at Oxford University, is that these products not only appeal to the healthy wealthy - those who generally need them least - but are also a distraction. "They are not something government should be encouraging. It's true that 67% of the population have cholesterol levels above five, but that's what used to be considered normal in Britain until recently. These products are very expensive and you have to eat a lot of them. I don't think they do harm in themselves but if they make you think you don't have to cut down on saturated fat, which is the most important thing, they are unhelpful."

Food manufacturers have been squeezed in the past couple of years, both by supermarkets' demands for lower prices on standard lines and by shoppers' growing wariness of processed food. Functional foods, sold at a high premium, represent a way of restoring profit margins while also wrapping brands in a glow of general health. It is no coincidence that the companies most active in developing functional foods are those who most want to dissociate themselves from cheap unhealthy products. Coca-Cola has developed sports drinks and waters with added minerals, while PepsiCo has been marketing Tropicana juices with a growing number of added nutrients.

We fall for all the marketing partly because we are confused by all the messages about diet and partly because we all want a magic bullet. But Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition Studies at New York University, and author of Food Politics, has little time for the delusion. "No functional foods can ever replace the full range of nutrients in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, nor can they overcome the detrimental effects of diets that are not healthful. The primary beneficiaries are most likely to be the companies that make them. The degree of benefit to the public is much less certain," she says.

That won't stop the bullets coming. Watch out for the new one - functional confectionery. "Infused with skin-supporting cranberry-seed oil for omega 3/6/9, blueberries, lutein, lycopene, beta-carotene, astaxanthinis" - Health by Chocolate is on its way from America.

Glossary of terms

Sterols Sterols (and stanols) are plant compounds derived from oils, trees and leaves. They have a similar chemical structure to cholesterol so that when they are eaten they seem to partially block the uptake of cholesterol from the gastrointestinal tract. This leads to a reduction in cholesterol levels in the blood stream.

Probiotic Probiotics are live micro-organisms such as bacteria added to food that is claimed to top up the good bacteria in the gut and help digestion.

Prebiotics Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that claim to favour the growth of beneficial microflora in the large bowel.

[From The Guardian]

Down to Earth still rocks :)

Bill Bryson yet again

Yep, pretty irresistible:

airlines. "It is thought the company may also be in exploratory talks with another U.S. carrier, Alaskan Airlines" (Times). It's Alaska Airlines. "It was found only a few miles from where a Swiss Air jet crashed two years ago" (Boston Globe). It's Swissair. Perhaps because airlines so commonly merge or change their names, they are often wrongly designated in newspaper reporting. The following are among the more commonly troublesome:

Aer Lingus
Aerolineas Argentinas
Air-India (note hyphen)
AirTran Airlines (formerly ValuJet Airlines)
Alaska Airlines
All Nippon Airways (not -lines)
Delta Air Lines (note Air Lines two words)
Iberia Airlines (not Iberian)
Japan Airlines (Airlines one word, but JAL for the company's abbreviation)
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (normally just KLM)
LanChile (one word, but formerly Lan Chile, two words)
Sabena Belgian World Airlines (normally just Sabena)
Scandinavian Airlines System (normally just SAS)
SriLankan Airlines (formerly AirLanka; note one word on SriLankan)
United Airlines (Airlines one word, but UAL for the company's abbreviation)
US Airways (formerly USAir, one word)
Virgin Atlantic Airways

07 fevereiro 2006

The Danish Cartoons

The Danish cartoons are all the rage now, they show freedom of expression, the single most important fixture of the Western world, and they must be defended, according to Ibn Warraq, a Muslim dissident writing in Der Spiegel:

On the world stage, should we really apologize for Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe? Mozart, Beethoven and Bach? Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Breughel, Ter Borch? Galileo, Huygens, Copernicus, Newton and Darwin? Penicillin and computers? The Olympic Games and Football? Human rights and parliamentary democracy? The west is the source of the liberating ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights and cultural freedom. It is the west that has raised the status of women, fought against slavery, defended freedom of enquiry, expression and conscience. No, the west needs no lectures on the superior virtue of societies who keep their women in subjection, cut off their clitorises, stone them to death for alleged adultery, throw acid on their faces, or deny the human rights of those considered to belong to lower castes.


Stop Paying for Ringtones

What you need

  • Cell phone with MP3 ring-tone support
  • CD or MP3 of the song
  • Any method of transferring the ring tone from computer to phone (USB, Bluetooth, e-mail, instant message, etc.)
  • Audio-editing software that allows export to MP3. If you don't already have this, Audacity is a good open-source program you can download for free, and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. You'll also need the LAME library for Windows, Mac or Linux. (LAME is a free downloadable MP3 codec that enables Audacity to encode to MP3.)
  • About 20 minutes
Instructions on Wired

06 fevereiro 2006

Alien Animal Planet

Wired reports that NASA and SETI imagine life on other worlds

Snap + Send

Still, more disposable stuff in the world?

The posties of Australia could be in for a bit of a shock.

Rather than delivering conventional postcards, they could soon be dropping off high-tech digital postcards - ones with built-in flat screens that can play a slide show of photos taken by the sender.

That's the vision of Stuart Calvey, a 22-year-old industrial design student at the University of NSW whose invention could mark the most significant upheaval for the postcard since it made its debut in an Austrian letterbox in 1869.

Calvey's Snap+Send Postcard, a disposable digital camera, is so light and inexpensive it can be sent in the mail. All it needs is a stamp. "You would buy it at a newsagent or photo developer, take a few shots and, once it's full, you stick a stamp on it, address it and put it in the postbox," Calvey says.

"Then grandma, or your girlfriend, gets it. They tear open the perforations, fold out a little kick stand on the back and sit it on a bench top. Then it's as simple as pressing a button and it will go through a slide show of images."

Snap+Send Postcard is still just a concept, but the young inventor says the technology exists to turn the idea into a commercial reality. It's just
that he, as a full-time student and casual library assistant, doesn't have the money to finance it.

The palm-sized camera-cum-postcard, housed in a cardboard shell with a two-megapixel lens, a 10-centimetre screen, digital memory and an internal battery, would cost about $25.

There would be no delete or zoom functions and it would be one-use only. "You can't get too precious about certain features," he says. However, the slide show could be watched a few hundred times and the camera could be taken to a developer to get the photos printed.

Calvey acknowledges disposable digital camera postcards will never compete for quality with more expensive digital cameras but says his concept could be an alternative to mobile phone cameras.

He envisages the Snap+Send Postcard being particularly popular with tourists and backpackers looking for novel ways to share their memories with friends and relatives back home. "A picture tells a thousand words - as corny as it is, it just rings true," he says.

Calvey has come up with many clever concepts during his four years at university, including a wrapper designed to take the messiness out of eating a kebab. The packaging, with tapered sides and tearaway sections, won the young inventor a Packaging Council of Australia award in 2003.

He could have sold the rights to the clean-face kebab wrapper and the Snap+Send Postcard to keen companies, but prefers to just share his ideas while he's a student.

"I'd rather use them to show potential employers my ideas."

The SMH from Australia

The «Asian» characters craze =|>

Dear Cosmopolitan,

We need to talk.

Over the years, I really appreciated how your magazine and team of experts have taught millions of women how to properly perform fellatio and enjoy the soothing sensation of anal intercourse.

I am surprised to find in your latest issue, you claimed that if a man has an “Asian character tattoo”:

This stud craves mystery in his life, so expect surprises, whether it's a last-minute getaway or an out-of-the-box erotic move. “Since few will know the translation of his chosen character, he relishes the opportunity to explain the hidden meaning behind it," says Green. "He uses the symbol to give people insight into his personality and what he's all about."

Are you f*cking kidding me?

Obviously you have been cooped up inside your office for too long, over-dosing on the complementary chocolates from Godiva, but please do take a look of my site and perhaps read through some of the “Asian character tattoo” owners’ stories…

By the way, there are over a dozen countries in the Asia continent. Most of them have their own writing scripts. What you would call “Asian characters” is actually “Chinese characters”.

Perhaps you could add this tip into your next issue, so we men would not stereotype majority of your female readers as sex objects but human beings with some intelligence.

ps. Will "donut hole" be featured in your next issue?



His site: Hanzi Smatter

And this thanx to Courtney (you see, it's nowhere near pointless :))

The worst word in the language

Wog. Spastic. Queer. Nigger. Dwarf. Cripple. Fatty. Gimp. Paki. Mick. Mong. Poof. Coon. Gyppo. You can’t really use these words any more and yet, strangely, it is perfectly acceptable for those in the travel and hotel industries to pepper their conversation with the word “beverage”.

There are several twee and unnecessary words in the English language. Tasty. Meal. Cuisine. Nourishing. And the biblically awful “gift”. I also have a biological aversion to the use of “home” instead of “house”. So if you were to ask me round to “your home for a nourishing bowl of pasta” I would almost certainly be sick on you.

But the worst word. The worst noise. The screech of Flo-Jo’s fingernails down the biggest blackboard in the world, the squeak of polystyrene on polystyrene, the cry of a baby when you’re hungover, is “beverage”.

Apparently they used to have “bever” days at Eton when extra beer was brought in for the boys. And this almost certainly comes from some obscure Latin expression that only Boris Johnson would understand.

Therein lies the problem. People who work on planes and in hotels have got it into their heads that the word beverage, with its Eton and Latin overtones, is somehow posh and therefore the right word to use when addressing a customer.

Now look. The customer in question is almost certainly a businessman, and the sort of businessmen who take scheduled planes around Europe and stay in business hotels are fairly low down the pecking order. You think they turn their phones on the instant the plane has landed because the Tokyo stock exchange is struggling to manage without them. No. The reason they turn them on so damn fast is to find out if they’ve been sacked.

Honestly, you don’t need to treat them like you’re on the set of Upstairs Downstairs. They do not spend their afternoons cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches. And they do not say grace before dinner. They’re called Steve and Dave and you know what they’re doing on their laptops in the departure lounge? Organising a backward hedge merger with GEC? Fraid not. They’re looking at some Hooters Swimsuit pictures from the internet.

For crying out loud, I’m middle class. I went to a school most people would call posh. But if I came home and said to my wife that I wanted a beverage, or asked her to pass the condiments, she’d punch me.

When I travel, I don’t need to be treated like Hyacinth Bucket. I want you to understand I speak like you do and that I’ll understand perfectly if you say there’s a kettle in my room. You don’t have to say there are “tea and coffee making facilities”.

And please, can you stop saying “at all” after every question. Can I take your coat at all? Would you care for lunch at all? Or, this week, on a flight back from Scandinavia, “Another beverage for yourself at all, sir?” What’s the matter with saying “Another drink?” And what’s with all the reflexive pronoun abuse? I’ve written about this before but it’s getting worse. Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same person or thing. Like “I dress myself”. You cannot therefore say “please contact myself”. Because it makes you look like an imbecile.

If you send a letter to a client saying “my team and me look forward to meeting with yourself next Wednesday”, be prepared for some disappointment. Because if I were the client I’d come to your office all right. Then I’d stand on your desk and relieve myself.

I’m not a grammar freak — I can eat, shoot and then take it or leave it — but when someone says “myself” instead of “me” I find it more offensive than if they’d said

“spastic wog”.

Before embarking on a sentence, work out first of all what’s the shortest way of saying it, not the longest. There seems to be a general sense that using more words than is strictly necessary is somehow polite. That’s almost certainly why, on another flight the other day, I was offered some “bread items”.

We see this most conspicuously in the catering industry, where I am regularly offered a “choice of both cheddar and brie”. No, wait. I’ve forgotten the pointless adjectives. I should have said a “choice of both flavoursome cheddar and creamy brie”.

“Are you ready to order at all, yourself, sir.” “Yes, I’ll have the hearty winter-warming soup and the nourishing bowl of pasta, topped with the delicious dew-picked tomatoes, thanks. And to follow, if yourself can manage it, a plate of gag-inducing, nostril-assaulting, bacteria-laced Stilton.”

It’s all rubbish. Why is a bowl of pasta more appealing than a plate of pasta? And why not simply say pasta? Because don’t worry, I’ll presume it’ll come on some form of crockery, in the same way that I’ll presume, if you put a kettle in my room, that you might have put some coffee granules in there as well.

I’ll leave you with the best example I know of this nonsense. It was a rack of papers in a hotel foyer over which there was a sign: “Newspapers for your reading pleasure”.

All they had left was The Guardian. So it wasn’t even technically correct.

[From the TimesOnline]

02 fevereiro 2006

Antony Beevor as translator

For the finding of Vasily Grossman's masterpiece, Life and Fate

Again, the Chinese and the World Over

«A recently unveiled map purporting to show that a Chinese explorer discovered America in 1418 has been met with skepticism from cartographers and historians alike.»

This and the book 1421: the Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies, that a friend has read and liked, but if the author «argues that Zheng led a fleet of 300 ships to America in the early 15th century to expand Ming China's influence», I'd like that yarn very much indeed!

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