July 19, 2005

Blocking the sweetness   {Comments: 2}

Tom over at BTD has an informative/linkrich post about ethanol, corn syrup, and agricultural subsidies that might answer some of the questions posed in comments here.

Meanwhile this business about glucose-powered Mexican/Passover Coke took me by surprise, because I have always believed the dramatic taste difference between Coke in the US and Coke abroad was due to the fact that Coca-Cola Classic was peculiar to America, and that a different forumla was used for Coke elsewhere. But I guess the Mexican Coke story isn't necessarily incompatible with this view (?).

Not by nature, but by choice   {Comments: 0}

Stanley Fish's teacherly piece on authorial intention (via Sean McCann at The Valve) in re the Constitution is an instructive exercize if you don't have a background in the philosophy of language -- even if it sweeps aside the whole Judeo-Christian tradition of "revealed" word/name that would seem to prefigure the Constitution, or at least certain people's view of it.

But then at the end of his piece he tells us that we won't learn much from the Supreme Court nominees:

If the nominee identifies himself or herself as a textualist or a strict constructionist and pledges to be a faithful interpreter of the Constitution (as opposed to an unfaithful one?), you will know that he or she is blowing smoke and laying claim to virtues no one could practice. If the nominee promises to test the Constitution against the needs of our present situation, you will know that he or she will not be an interpreter but a rewriter, and no one on either the left or right wants that. And if the nominee says, "I am an intentionalist," the declaration will be uninformative, because every interpreter is necessarily an intentionalist -- not by choice but by definition.
Hasn't he just spent his whole piece telling us that meaning is about authorial intention? And yet he's dismissing the protestations of these hypothetical nominees by promoting his own set of meanings for these words rather than looking at the authorial -- ie political -- context, in which, of course, the statements are highly charged and dripping with meaning.
July 13, 2005

Service interruption   {Comments: 3}

We're moving tomorrow, and unfortunately it looks like we won't have internet access until at least Monday. I'm actually pretty sore about this, but at least we've finally severed our ties with the evil SBC. At any rate, don't expect anything new in this space until early next week. (If you're looking for something to read, Sweth's response to the Economist piece on the housing bubble seems particularly timely -- for this new homeowner at least.)

July 11, 2005

Chameleon-like capacities   {Comments: 0}

1. PG's post a year or so ago about American vegetarianism being an exercize in faking it really stuck in my head (more on this later, perhaps), and now I'm wondering what she has to say about this development.

2. Contra Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein sees the differences in the left and right political blogospheres as supporting different models of activism -- commmand and control on the right, grass-roots on the left. Meanwhile David Galbraith thinks both sides are worthless because there's no credible, responsible, non-activist middle (except, possibly, in MSM).

3. And Michael Kinsley has an unusual but surprisingly compelling reading of the press's reaction to demands by the Plame investigation. His view of civil disobeience may be a little naive, but it's hard to see a justification for it when the leak itself was illegal.

July 10, 2005

All CS, all the time   {Comments: 0}

Raffi is here with a post on pecorino romano as a reasonably approximating substitute for parmesan; I wrote him a quick email earlier to recommend stravecchio, which has lately been a stand up stand in for me. But after writing him I wondered what stravecchio was, and a Google search just confused the issue further. It seems that stravecchio may refer to a number of different cheeses, and even some kinds of alcohol, so I began to think of it as just a kind of superlative modifier meaning extra old (vecchio means old in Italian, and stra seems to stand in for extra- a lot, eg strangere vs Spanish extranjero). There exist, for instance, a stravecchio parmeggiano reggiano, a stravecchio grana padano, and a cheese from Wisconsin simply called stravecchio (a name, by the way, which makes perfect sense if they're trying to differentiate their product from its European counterpart -- either for legal reasons or otherwise -- and they still want to maintain a European feel). In any case, I feel a bit foolish having passed along this essentially meaningless suggestion to Raffi, but it turns out I'm not the only one to have been addled by stravecchio's unfamiliarity.

Oh, by the way, I should also mention that my experience with pecorino romano is also good, and that it's a decent parmesan alternative (even though one is made with sheep's milk and the other with cow's), but I definitely prefer the full flavor of parmaggiano, particularly for eating by the slice. I get mine on the cheap from Caputo's Cheese Market in Melrose Park, which unfortunately (or fortunately, if Will's analysis is to be believed) doesn't have much of a web presence.

Problems and solutions   {Comments: 5}

Baude, in comments below, rephrasing from his post at CS:

[W]hy can't private education campaigns and for-profit weight-loss groups along with more government *in-action* (no corn syrup subsidies, no candy vending machines in subsidized public schools, &c.) solve the problem?
I think basically this is the right idea, but I have my doubts that private efforts are enough -- I'd like to see the government put some money into your education campaigns are try to change public awareness. This kind of approach has been successful in the past, whether it's been changing the public perception on seatbelts, the recycling, or smoking (and I think the PR component in every case could have stood apart from other policy instruments, which we could argue about some other time). Ironically enough, the reason I think the private efforts are not enough is also about revealed preference: the equilibrium we're in right now on obesity appears to be completely dysfunctional, which means that these private efforts just haven't been up to the task. This could be, as Baude mentioned in his post, because some people are not behaving rationally. And I should also bracket this by saying that I think a lot more data is probably needed.

But I also see this as a big free rider problem with the health system, a view Baude doesn't seem to share. I guess this perception on my part is shaped by my experiences working as a claims rep for Social Security: there I watched (and helped) as the unbelievably obese (who also seem to be the unbelievably poor) came in to file disability claim after disability claim. Obviously this is anecdotal, but I'd say something like half the claims I saw there were joint or back problems, and highly correlated with obesity. Some of these people were denied, others were approved, and others still were approved not for the joint or back problems, but simply because they were diagnosed by Social Security's (notoriously stingy!) disability determination services as obese. Again, this is all anecdotal; but if there are so many people under 65 applying for and getting disability payments due to their obesity, then the situation over at Medicare or Medicaid must be truly staggering -- and of course, we know this to be the case, for example from the statistic I mentioned in this old post.

In any event, my point is not that the government needs to step in and force people to lose weight, or buy certain foods, or whatever the case may be. I would oppose measures such as these. But there is a freerider problem here, both in the disability system and (much more importantly) in the health care and insurance systems . Individuals are not taking care of this problem, whether it's because they're irrational, uneducated, duped by fast food, or just principled freeriders; and the problem is too big -- both in its consequences for the individual and the society -- for the weight loss club on the corner or a privately-motivated education campaign. We allow Cialis to flood the airwaves with advertisements promising a different lifestyle, and they can do so because it's profitable for them. Why shouldn't the government be allowed to engage in a similar campaign, in this case against obesity? Surely such a campaign would be cash-positive; and if you'll admit the possibility that people might actually be acting irrationally, or against their own interests, then it's practically a moral imperative.

But apparently suggesting something like this, or even -- in this case -- linking to a piece by Paul Krugman with vague enthusiasm, is enough to get you branded a champion of regulation in today's kneejerk anti-government environment, because the Market is operating, people are Rational, and the public doesn't have any interests that transcend the Individuals it comprises. For me this just doesn't describe the real world.

MORE: Forgot to mention: I'm of course against all American agricultural subsidies, for both efficiency and equity (for foreign farmers) reasons; but I don't understand the mechanics of the claim that decreasing corn syrup subsidies would help with obesity. Wouldn't eliminating these subsidies just mean that the sweetener market would go to foregn sugar farmers, who couild then provide sugar at roughly the same price? I suppose there would be some minor price change that would be equal to the amount the subsidies to corn farmers allow them to undercut the sugar world price, but unless the idea is that the US has grossly mistaken that price point and is actually subsidizing much more than it needs to to keep corn syrup at a lower price, then the change ought to be quite small. Is there something I'm missing?

July 9, 2005

Particularly appalling   {Comments: 3}

Baude gets it entirely wrong with this bizarre accusation that I "champion government regulation of obesity." My post below says nothing of the sort -- in fact, I didn't propose any kind of policy at all, but rather drew attention to Krugman's broader argument about how we should interpret revealed preference. It turns out I'm actually quite conflicted about how to deal with obesity, as I've written before; yes, depending on the data I might advocate some policy solutions, but they would have to fall well short of "government regulation of obesity."

As far as the question about why some problems require government intervention, it's hard to argue with someone who doesn't seem to believe in public problems. But I guess I'd just refer him to his own list of non-coercive solutions, at least two of which (the campaign by medical experts and the decrease in land-use regulations for grocery stores) would almost certainly require government action and/or funding.

Vicewire   {Comments: 0}

1. Charles Shaw -- not the winemaker, but the Newtopia Magazine editor -- has been convicted and now incarcerated for possession of a small amount of pot and extacy. For this trifle he'll be in jail for a year (and he was lucky). I'm not a regular reader of the magazine, but Shaw has been an active member of the blogging community in Chicago; if I'm not mistaken, he was one of the loudest voices in town during the whole flashmob phenomenon.

2. Paul Krugman's op-ed on obesity is worth a read, despite the fact that he doesn't really propose a policy solution; the real dragon here (and I think he needs a bigger forum to slay it) is the wrongheaded faith that markets always magically locate the best (or even the most efficient) outcome.

3. Meanwhile, this study on dieting (via ALDaily) would seem to bolster the case that obesity really is about getting what you want -- at least if you think higher self-esteem is the psychic biproduct of making the right choices. And for Krugman there's the question: how do you valuate self-esteem?

4. Finally, former IU basketball star Alan Henderson, who has a big enough intellect that he would have gone to medical school if he hadn't ended up with the Atlanta Hawks, was arrested the other day for having a loaded 9mm in his suitcase at JFK airport. He could get up to 15 years.

July 8, 2005

Inappropriation?   {Comments: 4}

Notwithstanding my earlier comments about the availability of amateur photo reporting on the bombings today in London, it's important to point out that many of the pictures in this photostream are either screencaps from other media or out-and-out grabs from online mainstream media sources -- and of course, none of it has been paid for. This is so interesting because conceptually there's no difference between photo sharing services like Flickr and the music sharing services that are under attack from the recording industry -- they both facilitate the exchange of valuable digital information. The difference is in the way the two kinds of services are used: for whatever reason, there hasn't been the same culture of content theft in photography as there is in digital music.

Anyway I doubt anybody is going to go to war over these stolen photos, and I certainly don't expect to see a shift in Flickr, but the line between content creation and content is continuing to blur, and as usual it comes at the expense of mainstream media.

Cancellations   {Comments: 0}

Incredibly, Chicago Public Radio's board has decided to cancel both Odyssey and Schadenfreude. Joshua Andrews, Odyssey's senior producer, discusses the cancellations at his new blog. I was under the impression that Odyssey, which is syndicated far beyond Chicago, was one of their most popular shows, so I found the news a bit puzzling -- although this piece (scroll down) from the Reader fills in some details. There's plenty of outrage on this comment board, but nobody (yet) threatening to withhold pledge dollars.

July 7, 2005

He showed these men of will   {Comments: 1024}

1. If you don't know anything about Scientology (or even if you do), this WaPo chat with reporter Richard Leiby (sent by a reader) is quite an entertainment:

In the secret texts, portions of which have been widely leaked by disgruntled members, Hubbard wrote that Xenu, the leader of the Galactic Federation, solved an overpopulation problem by freezing excess people in a compound of alcohol and glycol and transporting them to Teegeeack -- which we now know as Earth. There they were put in volcanos and exploded with hydrogen bombs.
2. Baude remembers basically what I do about Admiral Stockdale, but the man's experiences as a POW in Vietnam are truly amazing:
Stockdale was taken to Hoa Lo Prison, known as the "Hanoi Hilton." His shoulders were wrenched from their sockets, his leg had been shattered by angry villagers and a torturer, and his back was broken. But he refused to capitulate. Rather than allow himself to be used in a propaganda film, Stockdale smashed his face with a mahogany stool.
3. And James Wood contemplates perfect endings, including the end of the otherwise humdrum Before Sunset (let's hope that bit from Ethan Hawke about making more of those movies is just a nasty rumor).
Thoughts about London   {Comments: 4}

Is it really true that this kind of attack is largely unpreventable? That seems to be the consensus view of all the MSM commentators I've been reading/watching/listening to today -- in particular they seem to be pointing to both the nature of public transit (mainly its density, I guess) and the the freedom essential to liberal democracy. So, intelligence and surveillance can't work because there are too many commuters to keep track of, and in any case keeping track of us all would infringe on our rights. You could read this whole sentiment as a sort of unarticulated cost-benefit analysis: our freedoms are worth more than these lives, this carnage -- certainly a true statement, grim as it might sound. That consensus view turns out to be a kind of moral political statement as much as an organizational one.

(By the way, for some prevention might just mean stamping out all the terrorists, but I think this view is pretty delusional on its face. The whole point of the above statements is that there is a fundamental structural vulnerability for dense liberal democracies, one that will likely be exploited as long as there is high stakes political conflict. Thus the war on terror can be successful only to the extent that stamping out terrorists is synonymous with stamping out political conflict -- ie not at all.)

These days I almost never read any of the old-style warblogs, but when I woke up this morning and wanted commentary on the bombings, my point of departure was this Instapundit post. From there I was quickly swept into a world of wall-to-wall enthusiastic coverage that was, despite its noticable political tint, extremely informative. Of course, even more impressive than all this largely synthesized content was the flood of original content provided by amateur photographers here and elsewhere. Many MSM outlets were carrying captures from cell phones right up there with pictures from their own photographers.

July 6, 2005

But tell it slant   {Comments: 0}

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --

--Emily Dickinson, circa 1868

Cream of poblano soup   {Comments: 2432}

Here's a recipe for some cream of poblano soup we made on Saturday. It was inspired by the cream of poblano over at Too Many Chefs, but this version is much more French, really just a classic cream soup. Roasting the poblanos and garlic may seem intimidating, but it's not really that hard to do, and anyway it's the crucial step.

1 cup minced shallots
1/2 stick butter
2 cloves garlic, not yet unwrapped
4 poblanos
3 tbsp flour
2 cups stock (I used vegetable, but chicken should work too)
2 cups milk
salt to taste

1. Lay the poblanos and still-wrapped garlic on a cookie sheet or baking dish and roast under your broiler, turning as necessary until the poblanos are blackened over about half their surfaces and the garlic is soft. Broilers are obviously going to differ, but mine takes about 5 minutes on each side, with the garlic finishing a little ahead of the poblanos.

2. Place the poblanos in a paper bag, close the top, and wait. After about 15 minutes, remove the poblanos from the bag and peel away the filmy skin -- for the most part this should be easy. Remove the stems and the seeds, and cut the poblanos into negotiable pieces (they'll be heading into the blender, so it doesn't matter too much what shapes you make, unless you intend to reserve some for garnish). Peel the garlic and set everything aside.

3. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and soften them slowly over the course of about 10 minutes, reducing heat if necessary (ie don't burn them).

4. Once the shallots are compeltely softened and even slightly brown, slowly whisk in the flour (to make a roux). When all the flour has been whisked in and the mixture is thick, add the stock and then the milk, little by little, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon.

5. Add the roasted poblanos and garlic and puree the whole mixture. This can probably best be accomplished with an immersion blender, but since I don't have one, I transferred everything to an upright blender, which did just fine. If you care about the consistency (and you should!) make sure your blending is thorough.

6. Salt to taste, and serve with a dallop of creme fraiche, sour cream, Mexican crema -- whatever you have on hand. It might also be nice to strategically place a few slivers of roasted poblano as garnish.

This recipe should also work as a cold soup, if you like that sort of thing. Also please note that it's a small recipe -- this might serve four as a starter or two as a main course.
July 5, 2005

MIA   {Comments: 2}

Sorry for the lack of new content around here -- there was the holiday weekend, of course, but I've also been turned into a pure content seeker (as opposed to a content creator) by Justice O'Connor's resignation and the resulting/pending firestorm. This last is made all the more embarassing by the fact that there's been no news since the announcement, and the whole commentating world has been put into a sort of limboish holding pattern, awaiting the Word of Bush. Still, I seek the latest.

Meanwhile on the home front I've decided to try for the Chicago Marathon, which is still 14 weeks off. I've been running reasonably consistently with a friend, but we have yet to really kick into training mode, so I guess the time is now. If anybody has any marathon related experience or advice, especially as regards training schedules, please leave it in comments or email me (though discouraging comments are discouraged). My primary objective will be not to fall down dead at the end of the 26.2 miles as Pheidippides supposedly did; I'd also like to avoid the extra mile.