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Procrastination: Women's Health Edition

So, I was reading the William Carlos Williams Memorial Blog today, and all I can say is, if domystic ever opens up her lifespan women's health center, I'm applying for the psychologist job. (Oh, and I know exactly the right surgeon for her to call in for the occasional consult, too.)

Anyway, I'm not accomplishing the work I've set out for myself this afternoon, but at least I'm feeling momentarily heartened by the state of modern American medicine.

Also, I've signed up for NaPoWriMo again this year. Not much to see until April, but I've got a placeholder up to make me nervous until then, at least.
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Polar Bear Plunge to Fight Global Warming

My New Year's Resolution for 2007 (remember those?) was to do something about global  warming and climate change.  It never hurts to think big (!), but in general my progress this year has been a wash. I have written a few letters to our congresspeople, gone to a few political rallies, bought a hybrid car, switched to those swirly lightbulbs, changed to a mostly vegetarian diet, done all my washing in cold water -- and moved to a part of the country where I heat and light my house with oil, coal, and nuclear, and commute 50 miles a day. In Minneapolis our electricity was all wind power and we walked everywhere, so this isn't impressive progress. Phooey.

Still, I am undaunted! So, on Saturday, I am participating in the Chesapeake Climate Action Network's (CCAN) Third Annual Polar Bear Plunge. To give you a better mental image, I'll be jumping headlong, in my $10 uninsulated bathing suit, without any grace or style whatsoever, into the freezing cold Chesapeake Bay in order to raise awareness about climate change and funds to keep it appropriately brisk and icy for the future.

If you share my concern about this issue and would like to help out, you can pledge to support me in the plunge by filling out the (secure) online form here. To sponsor me, you'll need some of my personal details, so if you're an online friend of mine and you don't have those necessary details, reply to this post with your email and I will see to it that you get them. (Comments are screened so that only I will be able to see your email, or even whether you've replied.)

You'll also get pictures, an account of the event, and my eternal gratitude afterwards, naturally.

Contributions are tax deductible, and more information about CCAN is available on their website:
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Urban Legends Everyone Believes, Halloween Edition

Greg Brown's lyrics always strike a chord with me this time of year:

"The scariest thing I ever seen
Is the death of Halloween.
No treats for the children,
Just all these grown up tricks.
Well let's dress them up dandy;
They can come to our door for candy
And one more goodnight kiss."

I just hate the fear-mongering that goes with trick-or-treating. I hate it when I see "check over children's candy" or "don't consume open food or drinks" as a halloween safety tip on public safety websites, as if this was something important for parents to do to protect their children.  

I hate this for the same reason that I hate horror movies, gory poster advertisements for TV shows at bus-stops, and talk radio of all persuasions. The world, you might have noticed, is scary enough. We do not need any more hysterical media excrescence to stoke our fears. We are frightened badly enough.

In fact, there isn't a single documented case anywhere in the U.S., ever in its history, of a child being killed or seriously injured by a halloween treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating. It's never happened. Not once.  (And props to Delaware sociology professor Joel Best, who has evidently made what I hope is a lavishly well funded sideline career out of investigating this issue, and pointing out the underwhelming statistics involved).

If you want to be a conscientious parent, you can skip x-raying the candy. You're actually better off teaching your children never to cross the street in Las Vegas in a rainstorm, and always to carefully scan their surroundings for flying fire hydrants. At least those rules, assiduously observed, might have prevented an actual death.

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My Grandfather at Dachau

My grandfather's official intelligence report on Dachau is now available online. It's chilling reading. Reuben told the story for years that he was at Dachau three days after its liberation. I was sitting with him in the Minnesota Historical Society archives, looking through these documents, which he'd donated years before, when he realized it had been three weeks, not three days. He was horrified at this evidence that he'd embellished the story for so long that he'd forgotten the truth, and finally decided that the horrors he had seen even three weeks later were so incredible that he must have convinced himself they had been more freshly uncovered.

I think Reuben gave MHS his own copies of these documents, and I rather suspect he didn't ask the military's permission first. I wonder if they have ever been officially declassified.
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(no subject)

The I35W bridge over the Mississippi River here in Minneapolis has collapsed, wholesale, north and southbound lanes, at the height of rush hour, with the northbound lane packed with people going to the baseball game and the southbound lane packed with commuters going home. 

My household is all fine and hanging out at home, cancelling the evening grocery run.

If you live in Minneapolis and read my journal, please post that you are ok, because I am probably worrying about you.

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(no subject)

Shakesville points out this Brazilian advertising image:

which is a take-off of this image, from the film American Beauty:

The ad copy apparently reads, "Forget it. Men's preferences never change. Fit Light Yogurt." The point: all men obviously believe Mena Suvari looks better wearing nothing but roses than their zaftig model, and thus you, gentle reader, better make with the calorie counting and yogurt swilling if you want to snag a boyfriend. 

I get tired of people equating fat acceptance with pretty zaftig girls (and Laurie and Debbie over at Body Impolitic, who know all about photographing women so they're not just pretty zaftig girls, have an interesting discussion about this problem with respect to rock diva and cover model Beth Ditto). I get tired of love in two dimensions in general, tired of the implication that being pretty and hot is a woman's main job. But I'm going to let all that go for the moment. 

I'm just curious. Is there anyone on the planet who thinks Mena Suvari looks prettier or sexier in the image above than the yogurt model? And if you think Mena wins the beauty contest, can you tell me why?

'Coz my Barbie Miss America glasses tell me the gold crown (and the rock star drinking-and-photo-shoot afterwards) definitely goes to Yogurt Girl.  And that can't be selling much low-cal yogurt in Rio.

(Credit goes to elisemfor the pointer.)
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Pirate Beans

We've been going through a pirate phase at our house. Floppy rode on this genuine pirate ship on our recent trip to Baltimore:

Aboard ship he signed the articles (there were clauses requiring him to keep his room clean and obey his parents, which I appreciated), captured a mutinous crew member, engaged in sword fights with other little kids (my mother asked, "With real swords!?"), searched for treasure, and shot an honest-to-God blackpowder blunderbuss (someone had stolen the pirates' cannon, which seems ironic). 

It's been pirates-pirates-pirates ever since. So much so that even at school they set up a pirate ship for the "dramatic play" area, to which we contributed treasure maps, coloring books, spy glasses, and compasses. 

So for dinner last night we had pirate beans. I got this recipe from a friend, who claimed he got it from an actual pirate, which is not a report I can confirm. However, I do note that the ingredients make for reasonably authentic shipboard fare for a privateer marauding in American or Caribbean waters in the 18th or 19th centuries, provided you allow for dried rather than canned ingredients, reconstituted in sea water (I'm assuming Napoleon's technological innovation of canned food wouldn't have made it all that far, all that fast). Pirate beans are worth their weight in gold doubloons as a recipe, too: They're hearty and good-tasting, nutritious, cheap, edible across the generational spectrum, and ultra fast. What else do you want?

Pirate Beans

1 can black beans, drained (or equivalent cooked beans from dried)
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (or equivalent chopped frozen; you can use fancy tomatoes with spices pre-added, but it's no requirement)
10 ounces frozen corn (it might be interesting to try this with hominy, which seems more piratical, but I haven't done this)
1 T olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
Spices (I usually add 1 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, 1 t coriander, and 1 t garam masala, which is a mix I think a well-traveled pirate might approve; you can do what you like, though)
Pan of cornbread

Saute the garlic in the olive oil and add the rest of the ingredients. Let simmer while you bake the cornbread. Cut the cornbread into wedges and place in bowls. Ladle the beans on top. Eat wearing eyepatch.

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Another reason to read only the method and the results

Morton Ann Gernsbacher has a brilliant presidential column in this month's Association for Psychological Science Observer about how bias and stereotyping have tainted neuroscientific research. I wish everyone interested in how the brain works and in how we study how the brain works would read it. Preferably before telling me that the work of psychologists who do not use psychophysiological measures in their research is obsolete. 

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City Pages has listed Old Man Summer as today's Minnesota Blog of the Day, so I figure I should come up with some good stories. I did come prepared: I had a truly epic date last night. I went to a matinee of Pan's Labyrinth, then had dinner at La Belle Vie.

The review of Pan's Labyrinth that resonated most with my own was, unsurprisingly, Anthony Lane's (it's only a capsule review; you'll have to scroll down). I found it distressingly graphic and kind of depressing, although it was beautifully (maybe too beautifully) shot. Visually it looks a bit like Agnieszka Holland's version of The Secret Garden, only with a lot more Spanish gold and crimson.

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Afterwards, I matched the movie's sins with lesser ones of my own, specifically gluttony. My meal was worthy of a declining empire in every way; never have I felt so thoroughly like a slavering Roman empress (and of course, I wasn't buying). Even if I was, though: There is a secret to successfully spending half a month's mortgage payment on a single meal: If you spend even one second, one brief tragic sigh, contemplating how much the bill will be between the time you sit down and the time the check comes to bitter up the last of the coffee: You have wasted your money. You have to throw yourself into the experience headlong, or you might as well stay home. Both my dining companion and I are skilled at this sort of hedonistic mindfulness, and also well aware of proper deportment in a Temple of Gastronomie, which is to say that since you're paying dearly for the pleasure, you should take off your shoes as soon as you sit down, and start opulently kissing your date between courses such that your waiter will have to tap your shoulders and tease you for attention. (After all, why else did they seat you side-by-side on those handsome leather banquettes?)

At any event, I started off with a sidecar enriched with tangerine juice and probably other aphrodiasic substances, and mixed, I hope, by the devastatingly gorgeous colt behind the bar; my date had an "old Cuban," which was made with ginger beer rather than champagne and tasted complicated and rich, rather like a real New Orleans Pimm's Cup. A handsome and stocky busboy who reminded me of a Nuyorican mafioso crossed with my grandfather brought good bread, and then a plate of gougeres arrived: diminuitive Gruyere-flavored popovers. The amusee was a bite of King Crab topped with slivered black truffle and what were pretentiously described as "minigreens," floating in a pool of salsify soup that had been drizzled with some beguiling oil and fish roe. Yummmm. Then our kindly and maternal waitress showed up with some sort of blanc de blanc Champagne.

I'm not much for wine, ordinarily, but I am surprised at my ability to nevertheless learn and remember quite a bit about it. We enjoyed passing one another our glasses (we split the Sommelier's wine flight, because neither of us have the stamina for seven glasses of wine, even if they were tasting pours) and sniffing and tasting elaborately. I was amazed at all the wine-snob flavors I could pick up in this way. The champagne really did smell like crisp green apple, new-mown hay, and dust, just like they tell you it should, and it was the driest champagne I've ever drunk, but not at all tannicky and puckery: just clean as empty sky, and delicious. I can imagine acquiring the skills necessary to be a first-rate chef, but the sommelier's job undoes me. How do you ever acquire the body of knowledge necessary? How do you imagine in your head the flavors and memorize the associated names of an entire cellarful of hundreds, maybe thousands, of different wines, and then pick out the one -- the one! -- that will create alchemy with any given dish? I can choose something adequate for a dinner party, but whoever picked the wine I drank with my meal last night is a magician.

The rest of the menu you can follow for yourself:

Langoustine (hello, they're crayfish, but whatever, they are good)

Seared crispy Arctic char with black ravioli (with another clean, apple-y, but simpler Sancerre)

Pheasant served with mushrooms and risotto that was bar none the most delicious thing I have ever put in my mouth (served with a Chateau du Pape red that was dirty, mysterious, and yummy in a muggy, overcast way)

Duck with carmelized roasted chestnuts, a parsnip puree that tasted like what mashed potatoes dream of being, and fried parsnip chips that had been dusted with what tasted like garam masala (with a Russian Valley red that I thought was boring, but my date said he could drink gallons of it)

Lamb with tomatoes and sausage (served with a red I can't even remember)

A cheese course: a pear poached in some sort of red wine filled with and sitting next to some sort of nearly levitating blue cheese panacotta, with curly endive (served with a pale amber colored dessert wine that my date thought tasted like epoxy remover, although I liked it, specially with the cheese)

A cone-shaped popsicle (!) made from two kinds of citrus (one I'd never heard of, and then also blood orange) and mascarpone cheese, poked into a little honey cake (and served without wine, because really, what pairs with popsicles?)

And four leetul desserts: a molten chocolate cake, a chocolate truffle-type cake topped with two impossibly fresh and flavorful and steroidally huge raspberries, a raspberry-goat cheese "spring roll" (really sort of a tiny, delectable, deep fried blintz), and a scoop of black-peppery raspberry sorbet, served on a peppery chocolate leaf (and of course this came with a red dessert wine that tasted like chocolate and raspberries, even I could've managed that pairing)

And then because too much is never enough, they showed up with the check, excellent coffee, and four little "petit fours" -- an apricot linzer torte the size of a matchbook, a coconut macaroon, two bitty meringues glued together with a circle of ganache, and a blackhearted truffle that had been rolled in what tasted like powdered raspberries. We actually, absurdly, ate all these -- stuff, stuff, stuff -- leaving me feeling feloniously guilty: Dear Mary in Heaven, what kind of a mother am I, that I didn't steal even one petit four for Floppy?

A bad one: naturally I tossed all night with indigestion and nightmares, the nasty minor fate of empresses at the sunset of empires everywhere. 

A memorable night, indeed.