Monday, October 23, 2006

My Mother's Favorite New Testament Quote

"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

--James 1:27


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On Jouissance

"But sometimes desire is not to be conjured away, but appears as here, at the centre of the stage, all too visibly, on the festive board, in the form of a salmon. It is an attractive-looking fish, and if it is presented, as is the custom in restaurants, under a thin gauze, the raising of this gauze creates a similar effect to that which occured at the culmination of the ancient mysteries.

To be the phallus, if only a somewhat thin one. Was not that the ultimate identification with the signifier of desire?"

From Jacques Lacan's "Direction of treatment and principles of its power" in Écrits: A Selection (Tran. Alan Sheridan, 1977), 262.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Racial Hatred: Strategic Good? Bad.

Jim Henley decribes the problem with the current neoconservative dreams of supporting "dissident sectarian" movements within Iran better than I could.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Recent Comments--arrgh!

Although I was not mentioned in Becks's shout-out to blogs without recent comments, I felt her cri de coeur as a call to action. After all, I had managed to install a "recent comments" hack on "Hating on Charles Bird"; that hack was so easy, and it changed everything about that site. I'm all in favor of recent comments hacks.

So, alas, the template for the old "Hating on Charles Bird" site got corrupted during the recent move to its new digs (which are here, should you need to hate on Charles Bird for some reason), and I can't find the elegant hack I used back then.

I've been mixing and matching from lesser sources, and I'm not getting any closer to what I'm looking for. For now, you can mouse over that hideous "BlogItemURL" business to see the desired result. Any suggestions? Anyone?

[Update: Fixed! Thanks again, Jay Sundahl!]


A Blogging Meme Unlikely To Catch On

Since I don't have an ipod, and I don't really care what songs show up on people's randomized or most-played lists, I suggest that people instead play "what unnerving sites is Google currently advertising on your gmail account?".

I'll go first: Apparently the "world's largest matrimonial service," specializing in hooking up people with middle-eastern and subcontinental names, or those who correspond with them. Fun fifteen-question quiz geared towards people who talk about children in email and want to give up a whole bunch of information to advertisers. Plastic surgery options for Asian-Americans and anyone who talks about Hawaii and hyphens in a single email thread.

Who wants to play?


Bronx Botanical Gardens

I took a trip up to what I suppose I should call the "New York Botanical Gardens" this Sunday, in the hopes of seeing some of the fall colors. It's a bit early yet for vibrant color there---although some of the maples are already flaming up in orange and red---but I'll bet that a couple more weeks will do it for the rest of 'em. One of the maples at the right, right along the Bronx River, is showing that wierd "flesh-colored," peachy-pale deviation.

Astonishing to me were the number of rose bushes still in bloom at this late date; it's clearly these plants' last huzzah before the winter, but still. I wanted to gather up some of the fallen rose petals to use for advieh, but the late blooming and the giant blossoms on some of the showier varietals made me think twice about how much pesticide I want to ingest.

It made me a little sad to realize that the fancy, award-winning roses had very little smell. If ever I were to breed roses, I'd be aiming for perfume and longevity; showy petal-bursts would be a very low priority. And if I wanted to maximize perfum, it seems that I would have to start with the much simpler, less tinkered-with, shrub rose varietals.

However, I have to admit that I also really liked the looks of the tomato-like rosehips on this here rosa rugosa. Fortunately, as a less refined varietal, the blossoms on this rose also smelled delicious.

One last note: the gardens have been infested by the glass sculptures of some workshop called "Chihuly." I would hope that the Chihuly workshop paid the garden a nice chunk of change to get them to alter their maps, signposts, and advertising to feature its products, but experience suggests that, instead, money might actually be moving towards the artistic concern. Ticket prices to the gardens for non-Bronx resident, non-student adults can be as little as $6, and they can be as high as $20---if you want to see silly glass sculptures under dramatic lighting. Alternatively, if you take a sharp right along the street in the valet parking lot across from Fordham, you can get into the grounds for free!


Sunday, October 15, 2006


This is really a very easy recipe, but it needs some attention and timing. Since challah is so good in the morning, and since there's a big raising lag in the middle, Your best bet is to make the dough the night before and then wake up at least an hour and half before you want to start eating it.

Recipe adapted from The Joy of Cooking.

1. In a large bowl:
combine 1 package (2 1/4) teaspoons active dry yeast and
1/2 cup of warm (105 to 115 F) water. (Not too hot, or you'll kill the yeast!)

2. Add:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sugars
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Mix until thoroughly blended.

3. Gradually stir in:
2 1/2 cups bread flour. (By which is meant some less refined, less bleached, more glutinate flour. I didn't have any on hand this time, and substituted all-purpose flour, and it turned out fine. I feel bad, though.)

4. Knead for about 8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands or bowl. (Or until you sense enough of a change in the dough, you're tired, and you worry about denaturing the dough; this is one sticky dough.)

5. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, turn it over to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place (75-80 F) until doubled in volume.

6. 1-1/2 hours later, punch down the dough. Knead briefly. Cover it, and refrigerate it until it's almost doubled again. 4-12 hours.

7. Shaping the dough:
Get out a baking sheet, grease it, and dust a bit of cornmeal over it. This is the surface on which you'll braid your challah strands.

The picture above is a four-strand challah loaf, but a three-strand loaf is easier. Start by dividing the dough into equal parts. Roll each part out into one-inch thick snakes. Dust the snakes with rye flour if you have it, other flour if you don't; this step helps you keep the snakes separate. Secure the top end by pressing the snakes together. If you need instructions on braiding, the Joy of Cooking actually has diagrams. The tail-end of the braid can just be tucked under the loaf.

8. Whisk together and brush over the loaf (as much as possible, conserve the rest):
an egg
a pinch of salt

9. Cover, start heating oven at 375, and let the dough rise another 45 minutes or so, until almost doubled. (At this point, the best place to let the dough rise is certainly on top of the oven.)

10. Brush what's left of the egg from step 8 over the dough. If you like poppyseeds, now's your chance to add them.

11. Bake for 30-35 minutes.


Although this was delicious, I'm already starting to imagine alternatives. Melted butter would be so much better than vegetable oil, wouldn't it? What would happen if I added another egg yolk early on? What if I added a pinch or two of cinnamon?


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Handwriting in the Digital Age

Most corners of the blogosphere have taken a knock at this Washington Post article on the withering away of cursive writing. The article itself quotes a bunch of educators basically shrugging their shoulders and mentions anonymous "scholars" and "academics" who deplore the trend towards printing. But WaPo staff writer Margaret Webb Pressler was fairly cunning in her write-up, if she was aiming for page-hits; just the intimation of judgment against the sloppy-writing techies gets her at least hundred links.

I'm not surprised at the online backlash. For a couple of decades at least, handwriting analysts have claimed to be able to read character, class, education, what you will, from the shape and size of handwritten letters. Non-expert analysts have used their experience to prejudge people on the basis of handwriting as well. The generation of computer geeks who grew up in a world not quite ready for them found these handwriting standards oppressive and stupid; the younger generation probably thinks all handwriting is artwork.

There used to be posted here a sample of my handwriting, before I took it down because something was going funky with the site for one of my few readers. I'm willing to admit that I wanted to have "interesting" handwriting and that I worked on it; some of my lecture notes are unreadable for their "interestingness," which is more than I can say for the lectures.

Yes, I've become defensive about it.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

September 2006...

Can be summarized, pretty much, with this photo. These were some of my things--not all of them could fit in a single frame--packed up and ready to leave my old place. The packing and unpacking went on after the move, since the friend leaving the new apartment needed some help.

Sorry for the silence from this end, folks.


Monday, October 09, 2006

This Is A Young Adult Book I Wouldn't Recommend

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, by Jennifer Allison, appears to be aimed at a 9-13 year-old audience. Here's how it introduces its protagonist, in the first sentence of the book:
In the back row of Mrs. Weinstock's eight-grade English classroom, Gilda Joyce chewed on a lock of her dark hair and pretended to listen as her classmates described their plans for the summer on the last day of the school year.
"A lock of her dark hair"? This is the language of the pot-boiler romance, and that the author would resort to it at the very first mention of the heroine is a very bad sign.

The next young teenaged character introduced, the distant cousin Juliet Splinter, gets a similar treatment in the first paragraph of chapter three:
She was a very pretty thirteen-year-old, but she looked more like an eleven-year-old, since she was extremely small. Her long, fine hair was nearly as light as corn silk, and the pallor of her white skin belied her sunny California surroundings. If you looked into her icy gray eyes, you would probably decide right away that this was not a girl you could make friends with easily.
The author gives plenty of other information about this girl's situation and character, enough to make this aestheticized description superfluous, and, again, this external evaluation in the guise of description is a romance-novel writing crutch.

Then, in chapter five, we meet the amiable (if rather nosy) secretary of Juliet's father. Summer
put a grat deal of effort into her appearence. Her green eye shadow and toenail polish perfectly matched her tight green T-shirt, upon which the word AQUARIUS glittered in sparkly rhinestones, and her bleached-blond bands constrasted sharply with the dark hair on the rest of her head. She wore Capri-cut, hip-hugger stretch pants that revealed a pierced belly button and a taut, suntanned stomach.
Okay, Summer is presented as a character-actress, but the trend is already becoming clear.

Then we read, two chapters later, what Gilda Joyce, would-be Harriet the Spy, considers necessary spying equipment for her trip to San Francisco:
typewriter & lots of paper, notebook & pens, The Mater Psychic's Handbook, Ouija Board (just in case), fishnet stockings, pendulum, strand of fake pearls, binoculars, red lipstick, giant handbag, makeup kit (for disguises), fake fingernails, bug spray, crucifix, flashlight, Polaroid camera, suntan lotion, cat's-eye sunglasses, heart-shaped sunglasses, blond wig, dictionary, thesaurus, leopard-print jacket (for evening), evening gown (for seances), blue jeans, T-shirts, miscellaneous accessories, bikini, stilletto pumps, giant hoop earrings, underwear (West Coast style).

This is supposed to be the packing list of a girl in eighth grade: twelve or thirteen. This is supposed to be the packing list of a nerdy, smart, independant, and slightly odd 12 year-old girl. No, this is a Miss Preteen Magazine "Undercover You!" centerfold.

I know that young girls like to play dress-up, and of course I did too. It's the commodification I object to here. Grace doesn't just pack "big sunglasses"; she knows the difference between "heart-shaped" and "cat's-eye." Summer doesn't just wear tight pants; she's wearing a complete Gap catalogue of descriptors. Juliet isn't just small and pale; she's very pretty, with corn-silk hair and icy gray eyes. It's like these girls are playing dress-up under the commanding eye of some dark, handsome hero of a Harlequin Romance.

I couldn't read much further, even to distract myself. How on earth would I keep a daughter of mine from such material?