. And here's our recipe for homemade eggnog: 6 eggs (separate, whip whites and add at end), ½ cup sugar, 3 cups whole milk, 2 cups heavy cream, 1½ cups spiced rum, and a bit of vanilla and nutmeg.
November 26. As usual, for Thanksgiving, here are my recipes for pumpkin pie, gravy, and stuffing, with minor updates for 2014. And here's our recipe for homemade eggnog: 6 eggs (separate, whip whites and add at end), ½ cup sugar, 3 cups whole milk, 2 cups heavy cream, 1½ cups spiced rum, and a bit of vanilla and nutmeg.
Also here's a surprisingly good food-related article, How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? You might expect the author to make fun of hipsters paying $4 for a slice of toast, but he brushes right past that and seeks the origin of the trend, and most of the article is a fascinating character study of coffee shop owner Giulietta Carrelli.
November 24, late supplemental post: Right now there are full-scale riots after a grand jury did not indict police officer Darren Wilson on any charges for shooting and killing Michael Brown. To me this is only tangentially about race, and more deeply it's about troubling rules for the behavior of police. If I had been in the position of the cop, and I had shot the guy one time, I think I would be tried and acquitted. But if I had chased him and shot him five more times, I would be correctly convicted of second degree murder. In an acceptable society, police would be held to the same standards as ordinary citizens -- or stricter standards. If Wilson is cleared because he did what he was trained to do, then the American police are a legally murderous institution. Black people can see this because they are more likely to be victims of the police, but those guns are potentially pointed at all of us. Here's a great article from The Nation on this subject, Why it's impossible to indict a cop.
This article has lots of info on one of my first world problems, that
November 24. The last Monday of every month is Finger Pointing Day, when I post links about those bad people doing those bad things, so I can avoid that frame of mind for the rest of the month. If you want more of this stuff, check out TrueReddit and Food for thought. I'll be busy the rest of this week with travel and holidays and will not be posting much.
Why 12-foot traffic lanes are disastrous for safety and must be replaced now. Yeah, good luck with that. Every time someone says "We must do this now" or "It's time to do this," I know they have no power and they're making a futile attempt to "raise awareness" among people who also have no power and already too much depressing awareness of all the ways they're unable to make the world better. Anyway, the reason 12-foot lanes are worse than 10-foot lanes is that the extra width makes drivers go faster, and the interesting thing is how bad we are at anticipating that kind of reaction.
The real reason wheat is toxic, according to this article, is that farmers saturate the fields with Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides, which disrupt your gut bacteria and cause many modern diseases. I'm not endorsing this theory, but it's certainly plausible, and there's more discussion in the long comments section.
This article has lots of info on one of my pet issues, that a good toothpaste ingredient is unavailable in America. I researched this a few years ago and stocked up on Burt's Bees toothpaste, which has an ingredient called calcium sodium phosphosilicate (brand name NovaMin) that has been proven to remineralize teeth. Now Burt's Bees no longer makes toothpaste, tubes are going for $20 on eBay, and the toothpaste that has the ingredient in Canada and Europe does not have it here. I don't think this is a conspiracy, just corporate incompetence, but it's creepy when the author tries to get a straight answer from GlaxoSmithKline and just gets PR bullshit.
Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns. What, doesn't she remember being a student herself, and being exhausted from sitting still all day and passively absorbing boring information with no participation in the learning process? Anyway, the article does a good job describing that world, and offers some ideas for how teachers could do things differently, some of which would actually be permitted in a public school.
Related: Iggy Pop's incredible John Peel lecture, with good stuff about how art is made for reasons other than money, but if it's too successful, money kills it.
October 27-29. . Julian Assange writes about being interviewed by some people from Google who appeared to be politically neutral, but they turned out to be representing the American foreign policy establishment, and he argues that Google has been allied with these people and their world view for a long time:
By all appearances, Google's bosses genuinely believe in the civilizing power of enlightened multinational corporations, and they see this mission as continuous with the shaping of the world according to the better judgment of the "benevolent superpower"... This is the impenetrable banality of "don't be evil." They believe that they are doing good.
If you think about this, it puts a twist on the popular idea that the elite simply rule the world. On a deeper level, the world is ruled by the stories the elite have to tell themselves to feel like they're the good guys. These stories include: that global-scale decisions must be made from the top (or center); that political stability is more valuable than political participation; that "economic development" (the definition is too big to get into here) is a good thing; and the story I find most interesting, that you raise the quality of life of ordinary humans by taking away their pain and giving them stuff, not by giving them interesting choices. I've been thinking a lot about interesting choices, partly inspired by Sid Meier's famous description of a good game as a series of interesting choices, and partly by an email I got more than a year ago from Owen. Here's some of it:
This is important so I'll say it again in my own words. If the choice doesn't effect your path, like Coke or Pepsi, then it's not interesting; and if one choice is obviously stupid, like keep your car on the road or run it off, then it's not interesting. But deprive people of interesting choices for too long, and they start making the obviously stupid choice just to feel alive. Another way to say it: we would rather do the wrong thing that we choose ourselves, than the right thing that is chosen for us. I think this explains a lot of behavior that otherwise doesn't make any sense, and it's why even the most benevolent central control can never make a good society, or a good family.
November 21. Some fun stuff for the weekend. Trepanation: Elective Surgery You Need Like A Hole in the Head. It's a comic about the long history of drilling a hole through your skull. We don't know why ancient people did it, but modern people report that it makes them feel more relaxed and motivated, and can cure chronic headaches. Because a controlled study is impractical, we might never know if it's working on a level other than the placebo effect.
Patricia sends this review of a great children's book, Wild by Emily Hughes, about a girl who is raised by wild animals, brought to civilization, and escapes. The best nonfiction I've seen about feral children is this 2002 Fortean Times article, Wild Things.
The funniest Onion article I've seen in a while, Astronomers Discover Planet Identical To Earth With Orbital Space Mirror.
And some music that is not at all fun. I've been listening to playlists on 8tracks.com trying to find someone else who sings like Colleen Kinsella of Big Blood, and I haven't yet, but yesterday I found another great singer-songwriter named Nicole Dollanganger. This has to be the saddest song I've ever heard: Please Just Stay Dead.
. Like a good song, his argument starts slow and keeps building. He explains the old system and how all but the most popular artists were screwed, and then the excitement of the independent music scene, and then the emerging system in which cheap recording technology and internet file-sharing have created a musical utopia for listeners and most artists. But the middlemen and owning interests are being cut out of the action, and Albini spends more than 1600 words dissecting their plea, "We need to figure out how to make this digital distribution work for everyone." His conclusion:
November 19. Awesome new speech by Steve Albini on technology and the music industry. Like a good song, his argument starts slow and keeps building. He explains the old system and how all but the most popular artists were screwed, and then the excitement of the independent music scene, and then the current system and how cheap recording technology and internet file-sharing have created a musical utopia for listeners and most artists. But the middlemen and owning interests are being cut out of the action, and Albini spends more than 1600 words dissecting their plea, "We need to figure out how to make this digital distribution work for everyone." His conclusion:
I believe the very concept of exclusive intellectual property with respect to recorded music has come to a natural end, or something like an end. Technology has brought to a head a need to embrace the meaning of the word "release", as in bird or fart. It is no longer possible to maintain control over digitised material and I don't believe the public good is served by trying to. ...
Music has entered the environment as an atmospheric element, like the wind, and in that capacity should not be subject to control and compensation. Well, not unless the rights holders are willing to let me turn the tables on it. If you think my listening is worth something, OK then, so do I. Play a Phil Collins song while I'm grocery shopping? Pay me $20.
And continuing on Monday's subject, Anne explains why Voldemort and other Hollywood villains are so ridiculous:
How can you make the ministry of magic, which is more or less MI5/GCHQ for wizards, look sympathetic? You need an opponent who, unlike real criminals - who tend to be motivated by rage, addiction, poverty, and mental illness - acts on motives and methods so devious and dense that they make a regulatory apparatus look benign in comparison. Snape is a tragic antihero. Voldemort? Evil (tm). He has to be, otherwise the Death Eaters start to look pathetic, the way neo-nazis or the National Front look in real life, the kind of broken losers whose childhood dreams of being awesome were damaged by bullying and irrelevance, stolen opportunities, bad decisions, and depression.
To put it another way: when Obama said that Americans get bitter and cling to their guns and religion, the Right made him walk it back. He shouldn't have done that; he should have said "What, you don't have an uncle like that? a brother-in-law? a coworker?" Because basically everyone does. Would you go to see seven movies in a row about straight-A students from a top school with connections in government beating the snot out of your Drunken Uncle Howard? That would just be sad. Straight-A students with connections have been beating up on Drunken Uncle Howard his whole life, that's why he's such a dick.
November 17. Two weeks ago The View From Hell had a short post called Impro and the Cultural Destruction of Creativity. The whole thing is just an excerpt from the book Impro by Keith Johnstone, arguing that the modern western idea of art as self-expression is really weird. Other cultures view the artist as a conduit for something beyond them, not as an isolated sole creator. I would add that the word "genius" used to mean some kind of magical entity that gave the artist ideas, and it would have been ridiculous to say a person is a genius. And here's the kicker: because we now think of creative work as self-expression, and because the self is bound up with social status, someone who cares what other people think cannot be really creative, because they're always thinking about how it will make them look to others, and they're afraid to get in touch with anything that might make them look crazy. Loosely related: a few nights ago Leigh Ann and I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I liked the first book and the third movie, and otherwise the entire Harry Potter franchise bores me. Goblet of Fire might be the most uninspired of all the movies, and by the time Voldemort appeared I had enough distance that I was able to wonder: why does he act that way? I'm talking about the cartoon Hollywood villain personality. You've all seen it a hundred times, but where does it come from? It can't be based on an actual person, because nobody really behaves like Voldemort. Even Hitler, while tactically very much like Voldemort, didn't have anything like the same persona. My guess is that the villain personality is a meaningless accident, like the shape of men's suits or the Nike logo. Maybe it developed out of a few 19th century authors and silent movie actors, but we could just as easily live in an alternate universe where fictional villains behave completely differently. What's important is 1) there must be a uniform standard so that uncreative writers and actors can communicate to unperceptive audiences that this character is evil; and 2) it must be nothing like the behavior of actual powerful and harmful people, because that would be too emotionally troubling and politically dangerous.