28 fevereiro 2007

How to have meat with your veg

What do you do if you're a meat-eater living with a vegetarian? Chef and committed carnivore Tom Norrington-Davies knows - he has been in a relationship with one for almost 10 years. Here he offers some tips on keeping things cooking

A famous London restaurateur once boasted that he loved taking calls from vegetarians. "Do you have anything for us?" they would ask. "Yes," would be his reply. "Contempt."

Funny, isn't it? Nearly as good as this one from a radio phone-in. A vegetarian asked a cookery writer how she could liven up her lentils. "Add bacon," came the answer, with howls of laughter from the production desk. Ha. Ha. Ha.

It is a truth, fairly universally acknowledged, that chefs hate vegetarians. It's not about them refusing to eat meat, per se. Chefs, male and female, posh or not, see themselves as butch, no-nonsense, pragmatic types who will eat anything. All diets, therefore, are a load of girly nonsense. Customers can just about get away with one of those no-carb or glycemic-index type regimes without drawing attention to themselves. But the minute you ask the waiter if there is gelatin in your wobbly amuse bouche, the game is up. This is probably why I get looks of pity from people (or at least other chefs) when I tell them I live with a veggie. I have spent the best part of a decade with someone who will never appreciate the gory sinfulness of foie gras, blue steak or pork crackling. We will never be one of those couples that share Peking duck in a Chinese restaurant. We don't do Sunday roast lunches or full English breakfasts.

Around one in 12 carnivores shares his or her home with someone who doesn't eat meat, whether it's a sibling, partner or flatmate. How easy is this alliance? My own insider information and some interviews with other vegetarians (who all, curiously, wanted to remain anonymous) has led me to some surprising discoveries. Here are some key revelations from my "veggie Babylon".

Any carnivore out hunting a vegetarian date might be in for a long wait. There are numerous vegetarian and vegan singles websites out there. "I simply couldn't kiss a man who had just eaten meat," said one subscriber. "He might have some stuck between his teeth." The same interviewee might have been scarred by an earlier encounter when one date had almost choked on a chicken bone. "Outwardly I looked concerned," she admitted, "but inside I was thinking it served him right."

If you manage to get that date, don't diss vegetarian restaurants. It will make you look very square. There are now award-winning establishments up and down the land without so much as a sliver of liver on the menu. The clientele is hardly likely to be exclusively herbivore. Neither is the staff. Celebrity chef Simon Rimmer took on Greens in Manchester 10 years ago despite being a consummate carnivore. "The site was veggie," he tells me, "so I kept it that way, and just ditched the stodgy wholefood side of things. Lots of customers fail to notice that we are meat free. One regular who has eaten here loads recently asked me why there was never any steak on!"

If you are going to discuss the ins and outs of being vegetarian, there are some traps you should avoid falling into. The most boring question in the world is: "But don't you miss bacon butties?" Furthermore, you don't impress a veggie by telling them you only eat "white meat". You will never convince them that roast potatoes taste better with duck fat and your relationship is probably doomed if you "veggie-bait". Pointing out the hypocrisy of wearing leather, drinking wine, eating cheese, or that the Dalai Lama's doctor has allegedly told him to start eating animals, won't get you far. Some people just don't like meat.

If you thought eating out was bad, wait till you get a vegetarian round to meet the family. Serving them "the vegetables" at a Sunday roast is plain wrong. Giving them cheese with the above is even worse. Expecting them to self-cater is worse still. One interviewee got hitched to a man who committed this very sin. "When we first married," says Julie, "my husband, who loves to cook, was a total neanderthal about me being veggie. He'd serve roasts and casseroles when we had people over, and expected me to cater for myself. Now I notice him eating far more vegetables and trying dishes such as risotto or stir fry."

If you get past Sunday lunch and on to dinner, let me tell you what food the veggies I spoke to hate more than any other: aubergine. I'm as shocked as you are. Fear and loathing of the eggplant seems to be equal among meat and non-meat eaters. Yet lots of the former think they are a nice, meaty thing to offer to the latter. The most dreaded aubergine scenario is the veggie kebab. By the time the hard heart of an aubergine has just begun to yield, the peppers, onion and courgettes are charcoal, and the tomato has exploded. To win hearts and minds you can do a lot worse than risotto, but watch what goes into that stock.

I could tell you it has been hell for me and my partner, but I would be lying. First, since we both work shifts (I'm a cook, he's a nurse), our domestic life is what you might call semi-detached. We probably only eat two or three meals a week together. The rest of the time I could be gorging on bacon sandwiches. At work, of course, there is meat everywhere and I love to cook and eat it. But, totally through my own choice, there is no meat in the flat bar a few tins of cat food. The cat is the biggest carnivore in the building. I have a mild horror of eating meat in front of my other half, even though I've been reassured a million times that it isn't gross. I've only convinced myself that he isn't fibbing a handful of times, usually in Spain. (It's the Serrano ham that does it.)

Second, I have a bit of veggie form. In 1985, the Smiths released Meat is Murder. At the time, everything about them was gospel to me. By my twenties, however, I was more agnostic than zealous about both Morrissey and meat. But two formative years working and travelling in south-east Asia gave me a taste for the region's food that I have never shaken off. Outside India, where many people avoid meat for religious reasons, there is little understanding of a nominally vegetarian lifestyle. But from China to farthest flung Indonesia the diet is rich in barely cooked greens, beansprouts, fruit and nuts. Then, of course, there is bean curd (oh, stop making that face). Tofu is delicious until you try to turn it into something po-faced like a veggie burger. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then I got there via a lot of stir fries.

The verdant oriental diet has its roots in poverty more than anything else, of course, but if my time in the far east convinced me of one thing, it is this: in the developed world people eat far too much meat. Unthinkingly.

Our society's over-reliance on cheap animal protein, and the subsequent boom in intensive or battery farming, has been at the heart of nearly every food scare during the past 20 years. This has led to the rise of the farmers' market movement and a boom in the sale of organic and free-range meat. Even fast food is getting a makeover. If they haven't appeared already, guilt-free burger joints and sustainable chippies are coming to a high street near you. While most ethically concerned people choose to spend more money on meat or fish, and to eat less of it, few have given it up. Only a steady 4% of the population has been vegetarian for the past 10 years.

While it is easy for chefs to laugh at vegetarians, it is also easy to forget that, increasingly, meat-free cooking is a string to Britain's culinary bow. From the new wave of Indian eateries that are so much more than curry houses, to places such as Greens, our restaurant scene is one of the most diverse in Europe. It is also, like my home kitchen, one of the most vegetarian-friendly destinations in the world.

India's missing girls

"The death of a man is a tragedy, the death of 1 million is a statistic" - Stalin

Bhavia is sleeping swaddled in a woolly peach cardigan amid the wailing and flailing limbs of 20 other babies. Nurses in lilac saris and face masks scoop the bundles from rockers and jig them under the wintry Delhi sun. Two days ago, the baby girl became the newest arrival at Palna, an orphanage in the capital's Civil Lines district. But Bhavia is not an orphan. She is what used to be known as "a foundling", abandoned by her mother in a local hospital.

When Bhavia came to Palna she was nameless, with no date of birth. What is certain, from a cursory glance at the line of babies, is that an orphanage is one of the few places in India where males are outnumbered. For every boy lying in the sunny courtyard, there are four girls. Some have been dumped outside police stations, some in railway toilets, crowded fairgrounds, or the dark corners of bus stations. Others were left outside the orphanage in a wicker cradle, in a specially built alcove by a busy road. The weight of a child here will set off an alarm, alerting Palna's staff to a new arrival.

Almost always, it is girls who are left in the cradle. Healthy boys are only deserted in India if born to single mothers; boys left by a married couple are the disabled ones. Not all abandoned girls come from families too poor to feed them, however. Some have been found with a neatly packed bag containing a change of clothes, milk formula and disposable nappies.

Girls such as Bhavia are survivors in an India where it has never been more dangerous to be conceived female. A preference for boys, who carry on the family bloodline and inherit wealth, has always existed in Indian society. But what has made being a girl so risky now, is the lethal cocktail of new money mixed with medical technology that makes it possible to tell the sex of a baby while it is still in the womb.

Although gender-based abortion is illegal, parents are choosing to abort female foetuses in such large numbers that experts estimate India has lost 10 million girls in the past two decades. In the 12 years since selective abortion was outlawed, only one doctor has been convicted of carrying out the crime.

This hidden tragedy surfaces not only in the statistics of skewed sex ratios, but also in the back yards of clinics that hoped to bury the evidence. Earlier this month police arrested two people after the discovery of 400 pieces of bones believed to be of female foetuses in the town of Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh. Last September, the remains of dozens of babies were exhumed from a pit outside an abortion clinic in Punjab. According to investigators, that clinic was run by an untrained, unqualified retired soldier and his wife. To dispose of the evidence, acid was use to melt the flesh and then the bones were hammered to smithereens.

Last year, in a series of reports entitled Kokh Me Katl, or Murder in the Womb, two journalists working for India's Sahara Samay television channel found 100 doctors, in both private and government hospitals, who were prepared to perform illegal terminations of girl foetuses. In the grainy TV pictures, doctors from four states and 36 cities talked with chilling casualness about how to dump the remains. Many weren't bothered about the foetus's age, just that it was a girl that could be got rid off. The average cost of the procedure was a few thousand rupees (around £30).

In Agra, one doctor told the reporters to get rid of the dead foetus in the Yamuna river, which curves past the Taj Mahal. "That is not a problem. Take a rickshaw and throw it in the river," he said. In Dholpur, a town in Rajasthan, a female medic said the fields were pitted with the unmarked graves of unborn girls. She told the undercover couple that if their foetus was too big to easily be disposed of, they should pay a street sweeper to get rid of the body.

The latest estimate of India's sex ratio at birth (SRB) can be gleamed from a sample registration system that covers 1.3m households. For the two years up to 2004, India had just 882 girls per 1,000 boys. Only China is worse. Beijing's harsh, yet effective, family-planning policy limited urban couples to a single child -which was usually a boy. China's sex ratio stands at just 832:1,000. Sabu George, a Delhi-based researcher who has worked for two decades on female foeticide, describes the first few months in the womb as "the riskiest part of a woman's life cycle in India". The sex ratios in the country, he says, are getting worse "day by day". India, he says, now has 930,000 missing girls every year. "What we are talking about is a massive, hidden number of deaths."

Although ministers in India have woken up to "a national crisis", the response has been to condone the abandonment of female babies. "lf you don't want a girl, leave her to us," Renuka Chowdhury, India's minister of state for women and child development, said recently. The government "will bring up your children. Don't kill them". The announcement was a desperate response to stem India's dramatic deficit of women. In the west, women outnumber men by at least 3%. India has almost 8% more men than women. The question for India is what sort of future it faces without enough women. One dystopian answer, given by academics Valerie M Hudson and Andrea den Boer, is that a generation of men unable to find wives has already emerged. In their book, Bare Branches, they write of men who will never marry and have children. It is these men, they say, who are already largely responsible for social unrest in those areas where women are in short supply.

Indian scholars, they say, have noted a growing relationship between sex ratios and violent crime in Indian states. When potential wives are scarce, it is the least-skilled and educated men who are left on the shelf. Hudson and Den Boer put forward a scenario where large areas of India could be overrun by this under-class, with marauding groups of under-educated testosterone-high youths wreaking havoc. "It will mean a stronger masculine and macho culture," says Den Boer, co-author and lecturer in International Politics at the University of Kent. "Men do change their behaviour when they settle down. Those growing pools of men that don't are more likely to congregate to take part in stealing, gangs, bootlegging and terrorism."

In villages across the flat plains of north India, two decades of widespread female foeticide is already felt by thousands of families who cannot find brides for their sons. One local leader in the state of Haryana likened the lack of marriageable women to the shortage of grain in a famine.

It is an apt simile, given that the response to the catastrophe has seen women from poorer states being traded like a commodity by bride traffickers. As little as 10,000 rupees (£125) is paid to impoverished families in Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh for a daughter who will supposedly be found a job in a more prosperous part of India. The reality is that she will be sold into a forced marriage to a family in a richer state.

So significant has the lack of brides become in Punjab and Haryana that the issue has seeped into its politics, engulfing local elections. Candidates standing for office pledge that they will "help provide girls" if elected. Village leaders are accosted by unmarried men and asked to find them brides. Meanwhile, activists say that trafficked girls - who are often underage - are treated as bonded labour and sex slaves once married. The groups supporting trafficked brides are overwhelmed by the extent of the problem. "We're losing the battle," says Ravi Kant, executive director of Shakti Vahini, an organisation working on the ramifications of female foeticide. "It is in every village. The police are saying these families are doing nothing wrong. There's collusion between the law and the politicians, and it's destroying the whole social fabric."

India's paradox is that prosperity has not meant progress. Development has not erased traditional values: in fact, selective abortion has been accelerated in a globalising India. On the one hand there has been new money and an awareness of family planning - so family sizes get smaller. But wealthier - and better- educated - Indians still want sons. A recent survey revealed that female foeticide was highest among women with university degrees.

The demographic consequences of mass female foeticide are most pronounced in the most developed parts of India. In Delhi, one of the richest cities in India, there are just 827 girls per 1,000 boys being born. Not far away, in the wealthy farming belt of Kurukshetra, there are only 770.

At the heart of the matter lies the most sacred institution in Indian life: marriage. New money has raised the price of wedlock, a ritual still governed by the past. Not only do most Indians believe in arranged marriage, in which dowry payments are made; there is also a widespread acceptance of the inequality between bride-givers and bride-takers.

The bride's side, according to convention, is supposed to give but never take from the groom's family. In today's India that translates into an evermore expensive gift list of consumer goods. Decades ago, a wealthy bride's father would have been expected to give gold bracelets. Today it is jewellery, fridges, cars and foreign holidays - and the bride's family may end up paying the bill for the rest of their lives.

A son, by contrast, is an asset to his family. Even leaving aside the wealth his bride will bring, a boy will retain the family - and the caste - name. He will also inherit the property, and is seen as a way of securing parent-care in old age.

Indians, therefore, have come to view the girl child as a burden, an investment without return. A favourite Hindi saying translates as: "Having a girl is to plant a seed in someone else's garden." One of the results is that women themselves face immense family pressure to get rid of the girl in their womb. Feminists in India argue that criminalising women who have done so is to ignore how fiercely patriarchal the value system is. As some see it, a woman who participates in the killing of her own child is actually denying her own self-value and should not be punished but be treated with concern.

Some of India's traditional attitudes are changing, with women fighting to choose partners and different lifestyles. In some urban parts of the country, live-in relationships are tolerated. Parents accept boyfriends in a manner unthinkable even a decade ago. "There's no obvious sexual revolution, but things clearly are changing," says Mary E John, director for India's Centre for Women's Development Studies. But technology is spreading faster than such western values. Clinics spring up daily offering amniocentesis and ultrasound, scientific advances that are capable of predicting the sex of a foetus.

The trickle down of cash means that even lower middle-class families can afford a few thousands rupees on the technology. Before sex-selective abortion was outlawed in 1994, clinics would advertise terminating girls as "spend 3,000 now and save 300,000 later".

Multinational companies began to sense a huge market opportunity in the mid-90s in India. Every three years the market doubles, and sales of scanners are thought to be running at 10,000 a year.

First American, then Korean and now Chinese companies have pitched up to make and sell scanners. Some campaigners claim that the American giant General Electric's early arrival in the market indirectly led to millions of aborted girls.

Although there is a law forbidding sales of scanners to unregistered clinics and quack doctors, the campaigner Sabu George talks of a widespread "indifference of ethics". He says 16m illegal ultrasound scans have been conducted since India's law was introduced. "How many more millions of girls will have to disappear from India before companies such as GE will recognise their responsibility?" he adds.

General Electric counters that such accusations are like blaming car manufacturers for road accidents. "We support efforts to strengthen protection against sex determination and misuse of diagnostic equipment," the company says in a statement.

The diffusion of medical technology and India's traditions are not the only reason for the country's endangered daughters. India's medical profession, which works in one of the most privatised systems in the world, is certainly culpable. Some doctors, it seems, will do anything for a fee.

Many of those caught on camera in the Murder in the Womb operation were open about using high-quality ultrasound machines to determine the sex of the foetus. Under Indian law, however, doctors who use "sonography" are forbidden to tell mothers the sex of the child. The penalty is prison and a fine of up to 100,000 rupees (£1,200). They were also undeterred by performing late abortions - in some cases happily willing to terminate pregnancies months after India's 20-week limit.

Despite being caught red-handed and on tape, a year later just seven doctors have been suspended. Two dozen are under police investigation, but no charges have, so far, been brought. Many of the clinics continue to operate despite campaigners staging sit-ins in waiting rooms. The journalists have received death threats.

"Doctors are millionaires in India. They are politically and socially well-connected. Powerful people can slow and stop investigations," says Shripal Shaktawat, one of the reporters who conducted the exposé.

India's labyrinthine laws and its antiquated judicial system have also created mixed messages regarding abortion rights. The banning of selective abortion has led to many women thinking they no longer have a right to a legal abortion. Some feminists are concerned that the campaigns against female foeticide have inadvertently driven women to seek backstreet abortions.

No one has any quick-fix answers to deeply held and pervasive prejudices against women. The question for India is whether girls like Bhavia, that abandoned and unwanted bundle lying in a Delhi orphanage, will have choices that her own mother never did.

Before anybody knew Mandelbrot, artists were seeing fractals in nature and transfered the patterns in painting, design and sculpture. Fractals, as you know, are geometric patterns that are repeated on smaller and smaller scales to produce intricate designs outside the scope of classical geometry. They are described by a Mandelbrot equation.

The mind has always had a fixation with recursive and fractal patterns,
largely because our environment is filled with them. Only in the last 40 years
have we been able to finally describe this exquisitely subtle math of interacting patterns. Fractals may have become a cliche in modern computer graphics, but they have a long and rich history in art:

Medieval Celtic Book of Kells (597 A.D.):

This cultural treasure contains every variety of design typical of Irish art at its best. The most characteristic ornaments of the Book of Kells, as of other illuminated Irish manuscripts of the period, are the closely coiled spirals connected with each other by a number of curves and terminating in the so-called "trumpet fractal pattern".

Judaic tradition:

Hindu tradition:

Not only they Fly, now they Glow in the Dark ;)

24 fevereiro 2007

Fou4 (incidentally ;)

Com direcção criativa de Michael McPherson, ex-performer do Cirque du Soleil, FOUR: ESPÍRITO DOS ELEMENTOS recorre a inovadores efeitos especiais e soluções de multimédia que se aliam a surpreendentes números aéreos e acrobacias, criando uma exaltante dinâmica sequencial aos elementos base do universo que nos envolve.
Se o AR é o elemento em que se gera a vida, indispensável ao ser para ser, a TERRA é a envolvente que o rodeia, onde ele se move e interage, fazendo emergir a sua personalidade e permitindo-lhe a construção relacional com os demais. Mas a vida só sobrevive se houver ÁGUA, esse líquido incolor e inodoro que flui e vivifica o ser, estimulando-o na aventura de existir. E, finalmente, surge o FOGO, evocativo da paixão que arrebata os espíritos e inspira o ser a alcançar a diferença que o converte em criatura única entre os seus pares.

Casino Estoril, Royale ;)

The Casino Estoril of Lisbon, Portugal
was the inspiration for the casino gambling scene and title
for the Ian Fleming novel of "Casino Royale".
This was a location where German agents would frequent during World War II.
On his visit, Fleming bancoed three times and lost three times,
yet little did he know that his future James Bond novel title
would be made as a movie three times.

Casino Estoril

23 fevereiro 2007

Os 100 Melhores Vídeos Portugueses no YouTube


Os portugueses vão poder assistir no primeiro sábado de Março, se as condições do céu o permitirem, ao primeiro eclipse total da Lua desde 2004, visível em toda a Europa, África e Ásia ocidental.

O fenómeno terá início às 21h30 (hora TMG e de Lisboa) de 03 de Março, depois da Lua entrar em penumbra às 20h18, e terminará à 01:20 dessa noite, com o eclipse total a ocorrer entre 22h44 e as 23h58, precisou à agência Lusa a astrónoma Albertina do Campo, do Observatório Astronómico de Lisboa (OAL).

Se as nuvens não interferirem, a Lua "cheia" estará nessa noite bastante alta no céu, virada a sul, em muito boas condições para se observar a sua ocultação, referiu. O eclipse resultará da interposição da Terra entre o Sol e a Lua, que fará projectar nela a sua sombra em forma de cone.

Mas mesmo no meio da fase de ocultação total, às 23h21, a Lua não irá desaparecer completamente devido a radiações luminosas de partículas da atmosfera terrestre que se projectam nela. É por isso que o disco lunar estará sempre visível, com várias tonalidades entre o cinzento e o avermelhado, explicou a astrónoma do OAL.

Foi a partir a observação dos eclipses que os antigos gregos descobriram que o planeta era redondo, recordou Alfredina do Campo. A palavra eclipse vem aliás do grego (ékleipsis), que significa desaparecimento.

Sessões em todo o País

Em todo o país haverá sessões públicas de acompanhamento do fenómeno, com explicações detalhadas, com o Observatório Astronómico de Lisboa a abrir as suas portas ao público na noite de 03 de Março e o NUCLIO (Núcleo Interactivo de Astronomia) a promover uma sessão idêntica no Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Ponta do Sal, em São Pedro do Estoril.

Embora o eclipse seja facilmente visível à vista desarmada, o OAL disporá de telescópios para os curiosos e o NUCLIO dará aos interessados a possibilidade de observarem em directo, via Internet, a evolução do fenómeno noutros países, caso a Lua esteja encoberta nessa noite.

A norte, o Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto organiza também uma sessão de observação do eclipse na sua sede, na rua das Estrelas, durante a qual reunirá uma "Tertúlia" animada por um astrónomo, onde o público poderá esclarecer as suas dúvidas.

Este é o primeiro dos dois eclipses totais da Lua de 2007, com o segundo a ocorrer a 28 de Agosto, mas dessa vez não será visível na Europa.

Os último ocorreu na madrugada de 28 de Outubro de 2004, uma quinta-feira, entre as 03h23 e as 04h45, sendo o de 03 de Março a horas bem mais convenientes, já que tudo se vai passar depois da hora do jantar de um sábado à noite.

Wishlist: The Little Book of Hindu Deities

20 fevereiro 2007

A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

This is just the colour caption (click the above link for the table)

The Laserium set to PF Music

In the beginning, there was only light. Then inflation kicked in, and that light energy condensed and cooled into the matter that formed the stars, planets, nebulae and other heavenly bodies that illuminate the firmament. This we learn in planetarium shows, like the one projected onto the interior of the dome theater at Griffith Observatory. Then there’s that other power of light we learn about at the observatory — the kind you discover if you stick around for the late show, when the academic astronomy is over and the Laserium kicks in, turning that same dome into a kaleidoscopic display of colorful beams and patterns set to music, and the eager audience, admonished against “smoking of anything during the performance,” explores the universe in a whole different way. Or so it used to be. In 2002, when the observatory closed for its $93 million renovation, the Laserium lost its home of nearly three decades. To the surprise of many, when the observatory reopened last month, the Laserium didn’t. A tragic loss, as it is a little-known fact that Griffith Observatory was the very first venue for what became an iconic pastime for a generation of stoned high-schoolers. That venue was also its last. The once-pervasive Laserium phenomenon, having peaked in 1978 at 46 locations, was then besieged by the unlucky combination of market forces, technology’s onward march, changing tastes and the Reagan era. The final public Laserium was clinging to life at its birthplace until the Observatory Renovation Committee unilaterally decided to exclude the extracurricular show from its grand plans. “Remember,” said Dr. E.C. Krupp, the current director of the observatory, when I asked him about the Laserium, “our main mission is education, and the Laserium was not so much educational as entertaining.” Apparently Dr. Krupp is unfamiliar with the educational benefits of hot-boxing a caravan of cars, winding up the mountain, and then leaning back in the wooden headrests for an aurora-enhanced audiovisual ballet of Dark Side of the Moon at midnight. When I expressed shock that the observatory would abandon such a long-standing program, Dr. Krupp explained, with the slight weariness of a serious professional who’s had to explain the obvious a hundred times too many, that the Laserium was not the observatory’s program to begin with. “The Laserium borrowed the theater for the empty hours after the regular planetarium shows,” he said. “They were always run by an outside party.” That outside party is Ivan Dryer, creator of the Laserium and founder of Laser Images Inc., which has been based in Van Nuys since 1973. “We’re still kicking,” Dryer said when I reached him at his office. “And working on a new plan to bring the Laserium back to the public.” The old laser and projector equipment from Griffith Observatory, unceremoniously stashed in a basement when renovations began, is back at the Laser Images facility, and when I asked if I could see it, Dryer said, “It’s in pretty bad shape, but you can visit us here — and see a show while you’re at it.” It turns out that Dryer and his crew of laserists and technicians have been putting on small, occasional Laserium performances in a converted studio for the past couple years. “This Saturday is the Beatles, then Pink Floyd, then Led Zeppelin. Come on up!”

Read all from LA Weekly

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

by Cory Doctorow,
courtesy of The Rake online magazine:

Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

When U Don't Speak the Language

A fast-thinking pilot, with the help of passengers, fooled a gunman who had hijacked a jetliner flying from Africa to the Canary Islands, braking hard upon landing then quickly accelerating to knock the man down so travellers could pounce on him, Spanish officials said Friday.

A lone gunman brandishing two pistols hijacked the Air Mauritania Boeing 737, carrying 71 passengers and a crew of eight, Thursday evening shortly after it took off from the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott for Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, with a planned stopover in Nouadhibou in northern Mauritania.

Speaking to the gunman during the hijacking, the pilot realized the man did not speak French. So he used the plane’s public address system to warn the passengers in French of the ploy he was going to try: brake hard upon landing, then speed up abruptly. The idea was to catch the hijacker off balance, and have crew members and men sitting in the front rows of the plane jump on him, the Spanish official said.

The pilot also warned women and children to move to the back of the plane in preparation for the subterfuge, the official said.

It worked. The man was standing in the middle aisle when the pilot carried out his maneuver, and he fell to the floor, dropping one of his two 7mm pistols. Flight attendants then threw boiling water from a coffee machine in his face and at his chest, and some 10 people jumped on the man and beat him, the Spanish official said.

Oh dear... Limited Edition... Wishlist

The Horn of Plenty for MAPS

yeyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy :-)))))))))
St. Petersburg in the middle... and so much more

Wishlist: ahhhhhhhhhhhhh

18 fevereiro 2007

Sex Poems


Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds on which you lay,
but also those desires for you
that glowed plainly in the eyes,
and trembled in the voice—and some
chance obstacle made futile.
Now that all of them belong to the past,
it almost seems as if you had yielded
to those desires—how they glowed,
remember, in the eyes gazing at you;
how they trembled in the voice, for you, remember, body.

Constantinos Cavafis (1863-1933),

translated from the Greek by Rae Dalven


You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper's on the table, and we'll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

Robert Frost


I dream'd this mortal part of mine
Was Metamorphoz'd to a Vine;
Which crawling one and every way
Enthralled my dainty Lucia.
Me thought, her long small legs & thighs
I with my Tendrils did surprize;
Her Belly, Buttocks, and her Waste
By my soft Nerv'lits were embrac'd:
About her head I writhing hung,
And with rich clusters (hid among
The leaves) her temples I behung:
So that my Lucia seem'd to me
Young Bacchus ravisht by his tree.
My curles about her neck did craule,
And armes and hands they did enthrall:
So that she could not freely stir,
(All parts there made one prisoner.)
But when I crept with leaves to hide
Those parts, which maids keep unespy'd,
Such fleeting pleasures there I took,
That with the fancie I awook;
And found (Ah me!) this flesh of mine
More like a Stock, than like a Vine.

Robert Herrick
(17th century)


If you were coming in the Fall,
I'd brush the Summer by
With half a smile, and half a spurn,
As Housewives do, a Fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls—
And put them each in separate Drawers,
For fear the numbers fuse—

If only Centuries, delayed,
I'd count them on my Hand,
Subtracting, till my fingers dropped
Into Van Dieman's Land.

If certain, when this life was out—
That your's and mine, should be—
I'd toss it yonder, like a Rind,
And take Eternity—

But now, uncertain of the length
Of this, that is between,
It goads me, like the Goblin Bee—
That will not state—its sting.

Emily Dickinson

The Shins

The Shins, live performance at BBC6.

17 fevereiro 2007

For us expats

Ratatouille ;)

Insert Caption contest from Cinematical.



Virgin No. 1: Yuck.

Virgin No. 2: Ick.

Virgin No. 3: Ew.

Virgin No. 4: Ow.

Virgin No. 5: Do you like cats? I have fourteen!

Virgin No. 6: I’m Becky. I’ll be legal in two years.

Virgin No. 7: Here, I’ll just pull down your zipper. Oh, sorry!

Virgin No. 8: Can we cuddle first?

Virgin No. 9: It was a garlic-and-onion pizza. Why?

Virgin No. 10: . . . so I see Heath, and he goes, “Like, what are you doing here?,” and I go, “I’m hangin’ out,” so he goes, “Like, what?” . . .

Virgin No. 11: First you’re going to have to show me an up-to-date health certificate.

Virgin No. 12: Hurry! My parents are due home!

Virgin No. 13: Do you want the regular or the special?

Virgin No. 14: I’m eighty-four. So what?

Virgin No. 15: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Virgin No. 16: Even I know that’s tiny.

Virgin No. 17: “Do it”? Meaning what?

Virgin No. 18: I’m saving myself for Jesus.

Virgin No. 19: Somewhere on my body I have hidden a buffalo nickel.

Virgin No. 20: Don’t touch my hair!

Virgin No. 21: I hope you’re not going to sleep with me and then go sleep with seventy-one others.

Virgin No. 22: Do you mind if we listen to Mannheim Steamroller?

Virgin No. 23: Are you O.K. with the dog on the bed?

Virgin No. 24: Would you mind saying, “Could I see you in my office, Miss Witherspoon?”?

Virgin No. 25: Ride me! Ride me, Lucky Buck!

Virgin No. 26: You like your vanilla hot?

Virgin No. 27: Does Ookums like Snookums?

Virgin No. 28: It’s so romantic here, dead.

Virgin No. 29: Well, I’m a virgin, but my hand isn’t.

Virgin No. 30: You are in?

Virgin No. 31: Hi, cowboy. I just rode down from Brokeback Mountain.

Virgin No. 32: I’m a virgin because I’m so ugly.

Virgin No. 33: You like-ee?

Virgin No. 34: I’ll betcha you can’t get an erection. Go on, impress me. C’mon, show me. Show me, big shot.

Virgin No. 35: By the way, here in Heaven “virgin” has a slightly different meaning. It means “chatty.”

Virgin No. 36: Sure, I like you, but as a friend.

Virgin No. 37: No kissing. I save that for my boyfriend.

Virgin No. 38: I’m Zania, from the planet Xeron. My vagina is on my foot.

Virgin No. 39: It’s a lesion, and, no, I don’t know what kind.

Virgin No. 40: I’m Jewish. Why do you ask?

Virgin No. 41: Hi, I’m Becky. Oh, whoops—you again.

Virgin No. 42: I just love camping! Camping is so great! Can we go camping sometime?

Virgin No. 43: In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a single mom.

Virgin No. 44: You like my breasts? They were my graduation gift.

Virgin No. 45: When you’re done, you should really check out how cool this ceiling is.

Virgin No. 46: I’m almost there. Just another couple of hours.

Virgin No. 47: Get your own beer, you nitwit.

Virgin No. 48: No, you’ve got it wrong. We’re in the Paradise Casino.

Virgin No. 49: I really enjoyed that. Thank you very much. Gee, it’s late.

Virgin No. 50: You make me feel like a real woman. And after this is over I’m going to find one.

Virgin No. 51: What do you mean, “move a little”?

Virgin No. 52: Not now, I’m on my BlackBerry.

Virgin No. 53: I love it when you put on your pants and leave.

Virgin No. 54: We’ve been together twenty-four hours now, and, you know, sometimes it’s O.K. to say something mildly humorous.

Virgin No. 55: That was terrible. I should have listened to the other virgins.

Virgin No. 56: I think I found it. Is that it? Oh. Is this it? Oh, this must be it. No?

Virgin No. 57: It must be hot in here, because I know it’s not me.

Virgin No. 58: Those are my testicles.

Virgin No. 59: Did you know that “virgin” is an anagram of Irving?

Virgin No. 60: First “Spamalot,” then sex.

Virgin No. 61: Great! I was hoping for circumcised.

Virgin No. 62: Was that it?

Virgin No. 63: Dang. George Clooney was being reckless on a motorcycle, but instead I got you.

Virgin No. 64: Tonight, I become a woman. But until then you can call me Bob.

Virgin No. 65: They’re called “adult diapers.” Why?

Virgin No. 66: We could do it here for free, or on a stage in Düsseldorf for money.

Virgin No. 67: I’m just Virgin No. 67 to you, right?

Virgin No. 68: Pee-yoo. Are you wearing Aramis?

Virgin No. 69: Condom, please.

Virgin No. 70: My name is Mother Teresa.

Virgin No. 71: I’m not very good at this, but let’s start with the Reverse Lotus Blossom.

Virgin No. 72: It was paradise, until you showed up.

16 fevereiro 2007

Cool ads

Feeding the inner geek

So that's what Macs are good for

Japanese food with a twist

A Cuteness Dose of the Day

Baby Kangaroo

Baby Squirrel

15 fevereiro 2007

Strange Maps

Luv this website...

Dark blue: drives on left (mainly British ex-colonies).
Light blue: used to drive on right, now on left (Namibia).
Purple: used to have mixed system, now drives on right.
Light red: used to drive on left, now on right.
Dark red: drives on right.

The island of California

The Empire of Love...

Sugar rush

Once, sugar was all delight: from the land of milk and honey to Shakespearean innocence - "white-handed mistress, one sweet word with thee ... honey, milk and sugar, there is three". But now it's the devil incarnate; or, at least, the new nicotine.

"Sugar is as dangerous as tobacco [and] should be classified as a hard drug, for it is harmful and addictive," according to a recent article in the British Medical Journal. Sugars in all forms are seen by many as dangerous to health and our food is packed full of them: not just sucrose (plain sugar as we know it) but other forms of refined sugars from cane, beet and corn.

Eat too much of them and you may become fat, sick and miserable. Sugars rot your teeth and encourage a calorie-rich but nutrient-low diet that contributes to obesity - and obesity is a high-risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

The rhetoric from the government's food standards agency is more muted but the aim is the same: having waged a successful war against excess salt, next on the watchdog's agenda is shifting the balance of our diets away from processed sugars and fats to less energy-dense and more nutritious foods. It has begun the drawn-out process of consulting industry and health groups on what should be done and is expected to ratchet up the campaign over the next few months.

The watchdog is focusing on both sugar and fat because they are closely linked in food manufacturing: reduce one and the other has a tendency to go up. The health-conscious have been reducing their fat consumption for a while, but if they've been doing it by eating more reduced-fat products, such as low-fat yoghurts, or "lite" mayonnaise, or reduced-fat biscuits, then they will be eating more sugars instead.

But how have we become so devoted to sugar? And what has the sweetening of our diets done to our palates along the way?

At East Malling research station in Kent, Vicky Knight is a raspberry plant breeder, Dave Simpson a strawberry expert and Ken Tobutt an apple, cherry and rootstock man. I took them a bag of supermarket fruit and they used a Brix refractometer, an instrument used by industry to measure sweetness, to test the sugar content of my purchases.

Foods are definitely getting sweeter and our palates altering, say the East Malling plant breeders, but when it comes to fresh produce the change is more subtle than just upping the sugar content. "Our perception of fruit varieties and their taste is affected by acid levels. People tend to talk about things being sweeter but sometimes what's actually happened is they've become blander. You can eat blander fruit in larger quantities, you come back for more of it than of the richer varieties, and that can increase sales," Tobutt explains.

Apples and strawberries, for example, have been bred to taste sweeter by greatly reducing their acid levels. The problem is that if acidity is too low, the fruit is left with little flavour at all - just sweetness.

Many breeds of raspberries are also a lot sweeter. It used to be that it didn't matter that the fruit was sharp because sugar was added by consumers (and a third of the crop went for jam). But now most raspberries are sold fresh through supermarkets. "A new variety, the Canadian Tulameen, was released in 1989," says Knight. "It has a higher Brix score for sweetness than some older varieties, so all new varieties being tested for market are now compared with a sweeter standard than 10 years ago, and supermarkets will reject them if they are not sweet enough," Knight says. She crushes a handful of the raspberries I have brought in a pestle and mortar. "There's no smell at all, but a slightly bitter undertow to the taste as though you could be chewing the leaves of the plant." But they are sweet on the Brix measure, showing as 10% sugars - about the same sweetness as a milkshake.

Next Knight casts her experienced eye over some apples in a plastic, cling-wrapped tray: British Cox, grown in Kent, sell-by date January 31. "They'll be more than four months old now, picked mid-September, I guess, and kept in modified atmosphere storage to switch off the ripening mechanism." She sniffs. "Zero aroma." The new variety, Pink Lady, sell-by date January 30, has what breeders call good crunch, but it tastes unpleasantly sweet to me. According to the Brix measure it is 12.5% soluble sugars, high but not that high, but it probably tastes so sweet because there were few other flavours to counteract it. The Cox tastes much less sweet but has more depth and complexity of flavour. Its sugar levels are surprisingly higher on the Brix measure, at 16%, but are balanced by greater acidity.

Red grapes turn out to be the sweetest of the fruits I take. A new trademarked variety called Absolutely Pink from South Africa, these were indeed very more-ish, little explosions in the mouth of sweet liquid with no clearly identifiable flavour, more like a sweetened drink than a fruit. "Ooh, they are absolutely tasteless," Knight says, handing me the refractor for inspection. "But look, they are staggeringly high on the Brix. Twenty per cent soluble sugars. Exactly what we said, all sugar and no real flavour." That 20% compares with an average of 16% sugars recorded in red grapes in 1940 in the official bible of food analysis, The Composition of Foods.

We are born with an attraction to sweetness, taking our first gulps of it in the womb, when we swallow amniotic fluid. The evolutionary explanation is that this is how we learned to distinguish foods that are generally safe - since there is nothing in nature that is sweet and poisonous - from bitter edibles that may contain toxins.

Breast milk, too, is sweet. But flavours from the mother's diet during pregnancy and after birth are transmitted both to the amniotic fluid and to breast milk, so that breast-fed babies experience not only sweetness but a wide range of tastes from sour to spicy. This early exposure to a varied diet makes them more likely than bottle-fed babies to try a range of new flavours later.

Sugar, say its fans, helps make new foods palatable. East Malling Research's chief executive, Colin Gutteridge, worked for Cadbury Schweppes for 23 years before joining the research station and can see a "taste evolution". "I remember being presented with yoghurt for the first time when I was nine. It was acidic and I thought it was repulsive. If there is a trend over the past 100 years it is taking products that are marginal in taste and making them more acceptable to a wider range of people by adding in sweetness. Does any of this matter? Personally, I don't think so. Without it I would never have enjoyed yoghurt."

A whole science has grown up to try to understand how our early taste preferences are formed and how these may affect the way we eat later, with much of the cutting-edge research being conducted at The Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, a research establishment that is part-sponsored by the food and drink industry. "Babies around the world can detect sweet tastes at birth and can distinguish between different types of sugar," says researcher Dr Julie Mennella. Mennella has also shown that sweet tastes can act as analgesics and reduce the sensation of pain in children. "The heightened taste for sweetness occurs during periods of maximum growth and doesn't diminish until after adolescence, suggesting we crave sweetness when we have the greatest need for density of calories."

Bitter tastes, on the other hand, are learned. Before mass industrialisation of the diet, culinary traditions helped in the process of getting young children used to foods that are not sweet but are valuable sources of vitamins and minerals.The problem now is that there is a mismatch between our food supply and our biology. Weaning on manufactured baby foods means that we take our palates in a different direction. Before the 1970s few parents used processed baby foods, but now they are regularly served up by a large numbers of parents as their confidence in what is wholesome and safe has disappeared. Although few baby-food manufacturers supplying Europe add sucrose to their products these days, they are often very sweet, making use of concentrated fruits such as apple and sweet vegetables such as sweet potato. A 213ml jar of junior baby food apple and blueberry has 33g of sugars, for example - that's the equivalnent of 11 sugar cubes. Baby vegetable purees are noticeably sweet - 12g of sugars in a 213ml jar of sweet potato, for example; meat dishes have an underlying sweetness too: beef and spaghetti has 4g of sugar per jar.

The way baby foods are processed plays a part too, according to Gerrie Hawes, who used to work for a leading baby-food maufacturer and now runs her own baby-food company, Fresh Daisy. "Nearly all are long-life products. The process involves cooking the food once, putting it in jars and then cooking it again in the jar under pressure to 121C or more for up to 40 minutes. The high temperature achieves the desired sterilisation of the food but also changes the taste, texture and colour; it caramelises the sugars in fruit and vegetables. Babies acquire a taste for that caramelised flavour. Home-cooked food is different, it has a graininess and mix of flavours even when pureed that manufactured food does not."

The food industry, of course, is reluctant to surrender the power this sweetness has over its young customers. Global standards for foods are set by the international Codex Alimentarius Commission and these are increasingly used as benchmarks in World Trade organisation meetings. At the last meeting of Codex in November 2006, the Thai government introduced a proposal to reduce the levels of sugars in baby foods from the existing maximum of 30% to 10%, as part of the global fight against obesity. The proposal was blocked by the US and the EU.

Patti Rundall, policy director of Baby Milk Action group, is convinced such early exposure to refined sugars is how babies get hooked on sweetness at the point at which they would otherwise be weaned off it. "You are altering the taste profile and palate of babies. Follow-on formulas are often incredibly sweet, and can contain 60% more sugars than regular milk." She points out that several research studies have shown correlations between bottle feeding and subsequent obesity. "A bottle-fed baby consumes 30,000 more calories over its first eight months than a breast-fed one. That's the calorie equivalent of 120 average chocolate bars. It's hugely important to obesity."

For a palate trained this way it is only a short step to sweetened snack foods and to foods claiming to be healthy that are anything but. Fruit-flavoured yoghurts have not simply had their sourness reduced, they can be sweeter than a chocolate mousse and be up to a fifth sugar. A "light" strawberry yoghurt may be virtually fat-free but it is 7% sugars, with not only added fructose but extra artificial sweetening too.

Even salty snacks are sweetened - Pringles Originals are flavoured with dextrose; some children's crisps are sweetened with aspartame; while upmarket crisps may be sugared with "sea salt and black pepper flavouring" that contains the milk sugar lactose, or with "sea salt and west country cider flavouring" that contains not a hint of west country cider but milk sugar, sugar and flavouring instead. A whole new marketing language has been created to signal sweetness in supposedly savoury foods: spicy Moroccan, Thai sweet chilli, caramelised onion, balsamic vinegar.

The staples are not immune either. Look at the nutritional label on a traditionally-made cheese and the line for sugars will read zero. Pick up a cheese spread or processed children's cheese and you can find it contains 6% sugars, thanks to the milk sugars in the skimmed milks powders from which it is manufactured. Pizzas, buns for burgers, sausages and ready meals all get sweetened. Beer is the same: learning to like the bitter taste of ale is no longer an adult rite of passage. "Industrial global beer brands are being dumbed down. They are not necessarily sweeter but they are less bitter and blander. Manufacturers use fewer hops and rather than using malt, bulk them out with brewing sugars," says the Campaign for Real Ale's research manager, Iain Loe.

Campaigners think it does matter. "We are raising our current generation in the sweet shop," says Neville Rigby, director of policy at the International Obesity Taskforce. "Sweets themselves are ubiquitous but the food industry also has some 30,000 varieties of chemical powder to tweak their artificial ingredients in other products to make them sweet. Why do they add sugars to savoury products? Presumably because their research tells them children like it, and it sells."

The reason all these sugars are both attractive and pernicious is that our physiology is geared to eating food in its whole, natural state rather than concentrated form. Refined sugars, and highly refined carbohydrates generally, are converted very rapidly to blood sugar which gives you a burst of energy and a high - rapidly followed by a low as the pancreas releases insulin to reduce blood-sugar levels, leaving you hungry for yet more sugars. Moreover, if up to a quarter of your calories are coming from the empty calories of refined sugars, the sugars inevitably displace fresh food with vitamins and minerals. You simply don't get enough nutrition.

"The blood sugar curves are quite different with whole foods. They give you a feeling of satiety and fullness and are metabolised slowly so that energy is released steadily over a longer period," says Aubrey Sheiham, emeritus professor of public health at University College, London. "But as you expose yourself to sugar, your liking for it increases, and your taste threshold changes. You start needing more. Manufacturers have exploited that." Intriguing evidence is also beginning to emerge that explains why high sugar consumption becomes quite so addictive. In animal experiments at Princeton University, Carlo Colantuoni has shown that rats that have been fed large amounts of sugar in their food and then have it removed show signs of opioid withdrawal. "The indices of anxiety and other symptoms were similar to withdrawal from morphine or nicotine," he reports in the journal Obesity.

The industry will have none of this. It still maintains through its trade organisations such as the Food and Drink Federation that all calories are equal; the developed world's obesity epidemic is, it says, the result of too many calories consumed compared with the number of calories expended through physical activity. British Sugar, which controls 60% of the UK domestic market, follows the typical line on its website: "Sugar is a natural carbohydrate ... a source of glucose, the vital fuel for the brain and body ... an essential part of an active lifestyle."

If our palates have indeed been sweetened, you would expect to see it in consumption figures. But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cheerfully announced last month that the latest statistics from the official Expenditure on Food and Drink survey show that fruit and vegetable intake was 7% up year on year for 2005-6, while confectionery purchased for the household was down 6%, and our total intake of added sugars also fell, albeit only a fraction of a per cent.

Sadly, it looks as though we may all be telling something less than the truth. The EFS data is collected from self-reported diaries. Research at the Medical Research Council's human nutrition unit in Cambridge has shown that people under-report their consumption by up to 34%. Market analysts Taylor Nelson Sofres, by contrast, collects its statistics from till receipts of what has actually been sold. Their figures for the year to December 2006 shows that sales of small bottles and cans of drink were up 34%, cakes were up 2%, chilled juices and juice drinks were up 30%, and chocolate biscuit bars were down 9%, but that fall was made up more than three times over by a rise in chocolate confectionery sales, which were up 5%, from £1.6bn in 2005 to £1.7bn in 2006.

Sales of sweetened soft drinks overall have fallen slightly in the past couple of years, as fresh fruit juice sales have risen, but they remain far higher than a decade ago. In 1992 we drank 1.5l of soft drinks per person per week; that rose to about 1.8l in 2003/4, and dipped down to about 1.7l in 2004/5. (Most of this, 1.4l, is sugared, not low-calorie.) And even the fruit juice seems to be getting sweeter. Sainsbury's has started selling a fresh pressed, not from concentrate, red merlot grape juice that is delicious but contains a breathtaking 44g of sugars per modest serving. That is more than in a can of cola, albeit in a different form. A traditional pressed apple juice next to it on the shelf has 27g of sugars per serving.

Accurate figures on how consumption patterns have changed over a longer period are hard to come by, because the way data is collected has been changed. But Barry Popkin at the University of Carolina has looked at more than 100 countries going back to 1962. In his report The Sweetening of the World's Diet, he shows that as the gross national income per capita of a country goes up with industrialisation, so too does consumption of sugars. As populations have become urbanised and dependent on processed foods, the number of calories they get from sugars has increased by a third.

It has been on the increase for some time. At the beginning of the 18th century, per capita consumption of sugar in England was still only about 4lbs - less than two of today's packets of sugar; by the beginning of the 19th century consumption had soared to 18lbs per person per year. Sugar, produced by slaves and imported from the colonies, fuelled the industrial revolution. In the form of sweetened tea and jam, it fed the factory workers of the 19th century. By the 1890s, the price greatly reduced after the abolition of slavery by the removal of free-trade barriers, it had become a necessity in the labouring diet: consumption touched 90lbs per person per year.

Today, boys and girls in this country get 16-17% of their daily calories from processed sugars when the maximum recommended by experts, if you want to avoid diet-related diseases, is 10%. (There is no physiological need to eat any refined sugars at all.) By the age of seven children are eating an average of half a kilo of sugary foods a day. By the age of 15 boys typically have a habit of nearly 80lbs per year, the equivalent of 1,000 cans of cola or 11,800 sugar cubes, and that's only counting what gets owned up to in food diaries. Taking into account under-reporting, they are matching or exceeding the consumption of impoverished manual workers of the 19th century whose requirement for calories was determined by 14 hours or more of physical labour a day.

For the food industry, cutting back on sugar is far tougher than dealing with salt. Sugars have so many functions, quite apart from sweetening. They add cheap bulk. They draw off moisture, prolonging shelf life. They are so valuable to the economics of the business, in fact, that far from reducing sugars, a new class of additives has been developed to disguise them. "Sweetness modifiers", which may be labelled as "flavouring", prevent the taste receptors in the mouth registering sweetness. They are recommended in trade catalogues for processed foods such as cheese, meat and salad dressings where sugars are being added at levels that "taste wrong", even to our bamboozled senses.

The guilt associated with the pleasure of sugar used to arise from slavery - "When we work in the sugar mills and catch our finger in the millstone, they cut off our hand; when we try to run away, they cut off our leg ... it is at this price that you eat sugar in Europe," says the native of Surinam in Voltaire's Candide. Today there is a different kind of guilt, at the possibility that we might be harming ourselves - without knowing how.

14 fevereiro 2007

Language, truth … and wine

An early reviewer of the writings of DH Lawrence remarked with some degree of accuracy and exasperation: “For Mr Lawrence, everything is always like something else”. In the belle epoque of Edwardian Britain, when a kind of debonair confidence made all knowledge unproblematic, it must have been puzzling for a stolid Times of London reviewer to have a chap come along insisting that things could only be understood by appreciating their likeness to other things.

This probably explains why there was never much writing about wine in those days. Wine is always described as being like something else. This is appealingly post modern. If a chardonnay tastes a bit like a peach, what then does the peach taste like? A chardonnay? And if so, what does either taste like? If you must describe the Van Loveren 2001 limited edition Merlot as being “chocolately”, does it mean that chocolate tastes like the Van Loveren Merlot? And if we like the Merlot on account if its tasting like chocolate, why don’t we eat chocolate instead of drinking wine?*

These are questions of a profound epistemological weight. They reflect the uncertain status of anything we claim to know and understand. If I don’t understand the meaning of a word, and I look it up in the dictionary, I see it explained in other words. Those other words, in case I don’t understand them either, are explained by yet further words. There is no absolute point of reference. So where does knowledge begin? Aren’t we all just refracting meaning around from one word to another in a pleasant verbal gavotte to fill in the time as we wait for death?

Such are the existential problems confronting the wine writer. It is my purpose to solve them by describing the experience of drinking a bottle of wine using facts alone. Nothing will be like anything else; everything will be simply itself. Take this wine here, for example. It is a Malbec 2004, from the Ashanti estate, in the Western Cape near Paarl. This is a fact. See, already I prove my point. (Did I write “Western”, by the way? By what galactic point of reference can it be considered “western”? Planet Earth is round; where does “western” begin and end? Does the infinitude of the universe, of which the Cape is a part, admit of having a western end?). But anyway, here I go opening the bottle. Fact. I pour the wine into my glass, and it gurgles, pleasantly. Fact. Well, OK, fact spiced up with “pleasantly”, no more than a little adverbial seasoning. Although now that I think of it, I see that “gurgles” likens the sound of my pouring wine unto a babbling brook. Oh dear – “babbling”? Is “gurgling” like “babbling”, or is “babbling” like “gurgling”? This gavotte is an intricate dance. What colour is my wine? It is red, deep red, with a hint of beetroot, and yes, if you look at the wine where it touches the glass, a suggestion of brown is apparent, because this wine has done a little aging. Fact.

Fact? But what then is “red”? Can you describe what “red” is in words? Well, only if you make it like something else that is red. In fact, red is, to use the name of a band that I believe exists, simply red; it has no meaning of its own, in it adheres no fixed truth, it defeats definition. Red is nothing but a mysterious code word which can never be deciphered. We all speak in a code without ever knowing what the code encodes. Language is nothing but a shadow, and – like the denizens of Plato’s cave - we never get to see the substantive shapes that cast the shadow. We think it makes sense; but what sense does it make? No-one can say what redness is, we can only agree that the colour we see when we look into a glass of Ashanti’s finest Malbec is much the same as the colour of congealed blood, and as a matter of opportunistic convention, we agree to call it red. I’m already beginning to feel the certainty of knowledge evanesce, and I understand the infinite regression by metaphor of Lawrence’s world.

I swirl the wine in the glass. Ah, see how the wine remains clinging to the sides of the glass. This suggests to me that the wine has a notable sugar content. Now there’s a fact. So, explain again: how do I know that the wine has a notable sugar content? Well, from the way it leaves legs on the inside of the glass after being swirled around. Legs! There’s another metaphor for you, one you can’t get away from, moreover, because if I tried to explain “legs” in scientific language, the attempt would fill half a page, and you probably still wouldn’t know exactly what I meant.

What does the wine taste like? Like? Why, the metaphorical approach to truth is already embedded in the question! We do not ask: “what is the taste?”, we ask: “What does it taste like”. The question predetermines me to provide a metaphorical reply, so I will: like a black velvet ball gown that hath been delved a long age in my grandmother’s bottom drawer, or, say, like the inky ejaculate of a Pacific tossed squid (for instance). “Ah” I hear you say, “but you strain credibility, for it’s impossible to taste a ball gown, and as for a squid’s ejaculate – come come, be reasonable”. Be reasonable! That’s my whole point, there is no reason to this business of describing things. If I can’t say what the taste of a banana is, but only what it’s like, and what it’s like will in any case only be like something else, then what difference does it make if I compare my Malbac with the taste of things no-one has ever tasted, like ball gowns or squid ejaculate? I am merely obeying the metaphorical imperative.

I’ve had to give up on so-called facts. They don’t exist. It took wine writers to prove this to me. Nothing is ever knowable for what it is. Admit it, you can no more say what a taste is than you can say what a colour is or what a feeling is.

I’ve drunken quite a lot more from the open bottle in front of me whilst wrestling with this problem (wrestling?), and with the challenge of describing my experience by reference to facts alone, but my resolve - to say nothing of my capability – now seems somewhat diminished. One fact that I think I’m sure of is that I’m feeling strangely euphoric right now, and it doesn’t matter much to me any more what this Malbec is like at all. Apart from the fact that it is spare, regal, well-structured, and delivers more than it promises (that glowing feeling that enshrouds your consciousness 30 seconds after you have swallowed - that is what it delivers). And so I pose myself the question: what, after all, is truth? The answer is quite simple Mr Wittgenstein. The veritas is simply in the vino.

Bad Translation

My father, a translator, was hired by a man who suspected that his wife was unfaithful and married him only to get a green card. He had my father translate photocopied pages from her diary. Family members think this was unethical. My father maintains he simply did his job. You? (Incidentally, the diary confirmed the devastated man’s suspicions, and he is initiating divorce proceedings.) — Nicole Schou, San Francisco

Although your father was only following orders (sorry, just doing his job), he must subject his actions to moral scrutiny. Because those pages were ill gotten and their possession violated the privacy of the diarist (albeit a two-timing diarist), your dad should have declined the job. The diary’s revelations are beside the point. What’s at issue is his abetting the misconduct of the understandably dismayed but unduly snooping cuckold.

The code of ethics of the American Translators Association requires a member “to refuse any assignment he believes to be intended for illegal or dishonest purposes, or against the public interest,” an impressively broad proscription. (The public interest might be affronted by sentimental folderol like “Chicken Soup for the Nascar Soul,” but the A.T.A. would not bar anyone translating it or its companion volume, “Chicken Soup for the Soul Nascar Xtreme Race Journal for Kids.”) While this taboo does not quite describe this situation — the diary contains no industrial secrets or military plans — the dubious way in which it was obtained forecloses your father’s involvement. The law may allow translation — he has a photocopy; he is not in possession of stolen goods — but ethics does not.

A translator can not investigate the source of every document he encounters, but if he knows that he’s perusing a purloined letter, he should demur. A clerk at a copy shop must perform only the mechanical function of reproducing whatever he is handed; he need not actually read it. But a translator cannot avoid scrutinizing the document put before him and, in many cases, inferring how it was obtained. That knowledge compels him to make ethical choices.

My son is an athlete at a small college. He and many teammates have jobs supervised by assistant coaches who encourage them to “round up” the number of hours they work — to say they worked longer than they did. My son is efficient enough to finish his work faster than the time allocated. Is he an “honest sucker” if he alone reports accurately? — name withheld, San Francisco

It is reasonable for an employer to calculate a partial hour worked as a full hour — i.e., to pay X dollars for each hour or portion of an hour worked. Reasonable, but foolish. Who’d work two hours when he could receive the same pay for working an hour and a half? (An employer may not round down, of course; all time worked must be compensated.) If the college has such a (silly) policy, nobody is doing anything unethical; if not, the coaches should be rebuked for encouraging deceit. But your son’s conduct should not be contingent on the honesty of others.

A better approach for the school: pay not by the hour but by the task — thus your son would not be penalized for his efficiency. Another way employers respond to excellent workers: promote them and give them raises. (As opposed to the way some corporations respond to ineffectual bosses: retire them and give them millions of dollars.)

09 fevereiro 2007


if it were pink twould be sashimi :)

Under Translation

Morocco is too curious, too beautiful, too rich in landscape and architecture, and above all too much of a novelty, not to attract one of the main streams of spring travel as soon as Mediterranean passenger traffic is resumed. Now that the war is over, only a few months' work on roads and railways divide it from the great torrent of "tourism"; and once that deluge is let loose, no eye will ever again see Moulay Idriss and Fez and Marrakech as I saw them.

Stained glass-they don't make it like this anymore: brilliant purples, deep rose, rich gold, all melded to depict the Gates of Heaven, the centerpiece of an old-fashioned, whitewashed church. The morning sun filtered in, casting colored shadows upon the host of parishioners, some there because they wanted to be, most because they had to be. And like in any house of worship, no matter the denomination, there were the people who sat in the front pews as if their proximity to the altar made them closer to salvation. The ladies in their fine dresses, the men cologned, blazered, and adorned in their best silk ties, all thinking it was the clothes that made the saint.

Before Marrying

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?