Monday, March 31, 2008

Sometimes fewer is better

I was looking through my cookbooks for a new lentil recipe this morning, something quick that I could finish in the hour I have to kill between getting up and eating breakfast, and found a terrific recipe for rice and lentils in the Dad's Own Cookbook: Everything Your Mother Never Taught You, by Bob Sloan. It's just a handful of ingredients: a bit of oil, onions, water or broth, lentils, rice, salt, and cumin.

You saute the sliced onions in the oil while cooking the lentils part-way, then dump the cooked onions, the cumin, the salt, and the raw rice onto the cooking lentils for another 20 minutes. I was pretty sure from reading the recipe that it would taste fine, although I was imagining it with something else: chopped tomatoes or a cucumber and parsley salad to brighten up the flavors.

It doesn't need it! It's a deep, satisfying bowl of goodness; I had some with my lunch and I'm still shocked at how good it was for such a simple dish. It's not soup, it's a pilaf, but interesting beyond the simplicity of the ingredients list. Hard to ruin: you're supposed to cook the onions until they're almost burnt, and I'm sure that's where a lot of the flavor comes from. I put in more cumin than the recipe suggested because I like cumin, and I know from previous experience with this recipe book that the herbs and spices are underdone for my taste (it's food meant for children, after all, and many people think children only like bland things).

And now I have a another delicious dish in my repertoire, although as usual I'm going to resist the urge to have it again soon, so I don't burn out on the pleasure.

Drawn out

A tribute to Sir Arthur C. Clarke at Indexed.

Seeing the possibilities

Mind Hacks talks about what you perceive in your environment:

Psychologists have something they call affordances (Gibson, 1977, 1986), which are features of the environment which seem to 'present themselves' as available for certain actions. Chairs afford being sat on, hammers afford hitting things with. The term captures an observation that there is something very obviously action-orientated about perception. We don't just see the world, we see the world full of possibilities. And this means that the affordances in the environment aren't just there, they are there because we have some potential to act (Stoffregen, 2003). If you are frail and afraid of falling then a handrail will look very different from if you are a skateboarder, or a freerunner. Psychology typically divides the jobs the mind does up into parcels : 'perception', (then) 'decision making', (then) 'action'. But if you take the idea of affordances seriously it gives lie to this neat division. Affordances exist because action (the 'last' stage) affects perception (the 'first' stage).

This could be the reason some people make it out of bad circumstances and others don't. If you don't perceive yourself as having the ability to act, as having agency in your own life, then you won't interpret the environment as containing possibilities you can affect by your action.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Courage

I'm trying a new thing this weekend, and I'm adrenalized--jumpy, my heart beats quickly and my blood feels fizzy. That is, I'm a little fearful, a lot excited, and very tentative.

It would be easy to interpret the physical arousal state into just one emotion, like fear, but I'm choosing to be excited about the possibilities. I look forward to this weekend as an adventure that will test me in certain ways. I'll learn a lot whether I have a good time or a bad time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Peeps for Passover

What it says.

Hat tip Megan McArdle.

Shaping your life to your goals

More than 10 years ago on a newsgroup or mailing list (I don't remember which) I was discussing scrapbooking--you know, cutting up your photos and combining them with colored papers, stickers, and pens into attractive pages that tell stories. Some historian or archivist jumped into the conversation to deplore this practice, telling us that we were evil and moaning that it would someday make her job (and the jobs of people like her) harder because sometimes it's those very peripheral details that tell the most for history, and snipping the photos was decontextualizing them. And she was right--it will make their job harder.

But she wanted everyone who was scrapbooking to arrange their lives to accommodate her life goal, learning things from photos. The rest of us had completely different goals in life, and cutting up our photos aided our goals. Once I recognized that her perspective wasn't mine, it was easy to understand but dismiss her concerns.

I don't believe you need to drop everything and figure out your goals in order to shape your life to them. I mostly work in the peripheries myself; straight ahead is an unknowable vortex, but all around the edges and in the depths are the pieces that flitter and vibrate and soak up information and practice, and aggregate into the collage that is my goals. I'm making choices all the while that perambulate, dance around, spiral in and out towards my goals. And when I discover them, I'm usually already far into the practice of achieving them.

If you aren't sure what your goal is, maybe you are approaching it cattercorner or widdershins. Maybe you're sidling up to it for good reason.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It comes out of my mouth.

Not always out of the mouths of babes: sometimes the truth comes out of my mouth, the truth that I needed to hear.

My younger son came up on the train this morning for a visit, and on the way home from the station we stopped to get sandwiches. As we were leaving the bakery I handed him the bag and said "Be my beast of burden!" He laughed and replied "I've been here less than an hour and you're already loading me down with stuff. And I shot back "Why do you suppose people have kids? Because they're tired of carrying around their own baggage!" And then we both laughed and I said that was probably the most profound thing I've said all week.

Medicine

There's a video I've been watching recently, and it taps the wellspring of my joy in life. I can use it like medicine when I'm down or tired.

Whenever I find things to eat (watch, hear, grasp) or to do that help me lift off the cover that sometimes slides over the spring, I put them on my list. The longer the list, the better.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Da Vinci? No.

Video of some amazing kinetic sculptures. (Also, it's a BMW ad.)

Hat tip Mighty Girl.

Unintended consequences

Marginal Revolution asks why burglaries have declined (in the US). Apparently criminals can't find buyers: everybody already has everything, from iPods to televisions to pirated movies on DVD.

In other words, we have fewer burglaries because of low wages in China.

Also has interesting responses in the comment section about robbery (usually targeting cash), fraud as a tool for stealing services, victim choice in home invasions, and the castle doctrine.

Olympic Spirit

Next week the Olympic torch will be lit in Greece and its journey to the site of the next Games begun. According to Girlhacker, the US has chosen only one city for the torch to visit this trip: San Francisco.

San Francisco is not called Little Beirut by the Bush family (unlike my home town), but it is nevertheless renowned for its protest-happy populace. Why is the torch going there, and only there? Could it be that somebody *wants* protests? The USOC says no:

"We absolutely anticipated that (in San Francisco), but that freedom of expression is something we very much stand for as a country," said Darryl Seibel, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

And the City of San Francisco is taking steps:
City leaders organizing the event are keeping secret even the most basic details, including its route and the time it starts, because of fears that protesters critical of the Chinese government will disrupt or stop it.
[...]
Because of the controversy generated by China hosting the Olympics, city officials coordinating the main torch relay event plan to designate areas for people to protest the Chinese government or other issues. The designated "free-speech zones" have been used at large events in other cities but have not had a significant presence in San Francisco.

Yeah, I think that's gonna go over well.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bad writing

"It was a dark and stormy night...." Bad writing, right?

I don't think so. It creates a clear visual of the scene in my head. Some nights there's a lot of cloud cover but no rain, which reflects back the city light; if it's snowing, it can be pretty bright at night.

Other nights it's clear but the moon is full. But when it's both cloudy and the rain is coming down hard, and the wind is blowing, that's a dark night all right.

Sometimes, I think I'm an alien. This is one of them.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Not really the lesser evil.

My husband is funny.

I like this kid.

From The World of Bea, a lovely description of her child at night:

Just as a dragon likes to sleep on a pile of gold, so Kai likes to sleep on a pile of books.

Some nights, when I go in to check on him before going to bed, his bed is piled so high with books and toys that he is squashed into a tiny corner of the bed, books sticking into his ribs or face. Often, he is sleeping on the pile and a few times, the cat has been sleeping on him sleeping on the pile!

He tells me he has to pile all his books in his bed at night in case he gets “read-y”, and he has to put all his toys in bed with him, including the cat, because they help to keep the bad dreams away.


Oooh, I get "read-y" myself at night, but I never thought of my books as a dragon's treasure hoard.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Amazing art

Courtesy of Dr. Brat, some amazing art. Be careful about your assumptions; these are carved wood and dye, not fabric.

I get it!

I finally get black tea.

I never really understood the appeal. I've had tea plenty of times; growing up, nobody in our household drank coffee, and tea was the hot beverage my mom always made for herself. Eventually I drank a bunch, too: Constant Comment, an orange-and-spice flavored black tea in bags. It was good, especially with some sugar, but then, I like cinnamon and oranges and that's what it mostly tasted like.

Later on I started drinking herbal teas, and there are quite a few that I enjoy, but black tea has mostly left me cold.

And now I know why. It's because I was drinking crappy tea in bags. Earlier this week I received a tea infuser and 2 ounces of black tea from Stash. It's rose-flavored, but it's actual loose tea leaves with rose petals. And the tea is intoxicatingly marvelous! The depth of flavor is surprising. I even like it without sweetener. Next order is going to be an assortment of plain black teas. Any suggestions?

Use of Force

As part of my job I am preparing exhibits for an upcoming hearing, and one of the exhibits is a form about the continuum of force used by a law enforcement agency. It’s not what I’d expect, and it’s not easy to understand.

Because I think of use of force as a continuum of escalation, I’m surprised that this table is set out with the highest level of force first. I remember when I went shopping for a mattress, and the salesman had me try out the most expensive mattress first: every other mattress seemed inadequate after that. This is a report, not (as far as I know) a training tool, but I wonder about this decision, to order the elements in decreasing amount of force.

As I look at the individual entries I’m trying to imagine the use of each one from several perspectives: as an LEO, as a person being restrained, and as an observer. This is a very helpful exercise; try to get your local agency(ies)’s use of force policies and evaluation materials for your own review.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For valor

A 19-year old soldier in Afghanistan will become only the second woman to win the Silver Star since WWII. (The first served in Iraq.)

Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown saved the lives of fellow soldiers after a roadside bomb tore through a convoy of Humvees in the eastern Paktia province in April 2007, the military said.

After the explosion, which wounded five soldiers in her unit, Brown ran through insurgent gunfire and used her body to shield wounded comrades as mortars fell less than 100 yards away, the military said.

[...]
The military said Brown's "bravery, unselfish actions and medical aid rendered under fire saved the lives of her comrades and represents the finest traditions of heroism in combat."

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, of Nashville, Tenn., received the Silver Star in 2005 for gallantry during an insurgent ambush on a convoy in Iraq.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Nagging

I've been in a great mood today, except I keep feeling sudden attacks of crankiness. I just realized I'm in pain from my workout this morning--just slight achiness. All those little tears in the muscle that I accomplished with my puny dumbbell are paying me back.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Nothing tastes like bacon except

Bacon Cups!

Roads not taken

I'm mourning the loss of a dream this week, the dream of celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary with the person I married, had children with, and worked out life's problems with. That anniversary would be this week, if I were still married to him.

It was a fantasy, not even an achievable dream, because I loaded it up with the fantasized resolution of every family relationship I have: I would be reconciled with my parents, who would show their love and appreciation of me and be proud; I would have a close relationship with my birth family; my children would be happy, healthy, and on the way to success in their lives. The problem with this fantasy was that it was mostly out of my hands. I can't control how my family reacts to me; it isn't even true to say that if I'd done exactly as they wanted, they would react the way I imagined, and I'm nowhere near willing to do as they wanted.

And that's leaving aside the problem of staying married to my first husband, which again was partly out of my hands. I chose to leave that marriage, to petition for divorce and end the legal relationship, but the social and emotional connection was already long gone.

I might yet celebrate a 25th anniversary with my current husband, but it won't be the fulfillment of this fantasy from my youth: my mother is dead, my father and I haven't spoken in years, and the family I grew up with (excepting my brother and sister) no longer seem so desirable as they did when I was a young adult. So I mourn the dream I had, which would not have made me happy even had I achieved it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

It's formal.

Courtesy of my favorite fantasy author in the world, Robin McKinley, the following links:

Dog dressage.

More dog dressage.

!!!

The Earth and the Moon

...as seen from Mars.

So beautiful.

Hat tip Instapundit.

Catastrophic failure

Gary Gygax has been reported dead. May the mourners be comforted and may his memory be a blessing.

Causation

Correlation is not causation. Paul Cassell at the Volokh Conspiracy asks whether more prisons have been accompanied by less crime, in response to the recent Pew Center on the States study showing that 1 in 100 persons in the US is in jail or prison.

The Pew Center claims that we are not really getting anything in return for the moneys spent on prisons. But curiously, despite the claim that this expenditure is "failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime," the study never attempts to assess the impact on overall crime.

As a quick way of assessing the return is interesting to compare the moneys spent on prisons over the last twenty years(collected in the Pew report) and crime rates over the same period of time.


[See chart at link.]

As can be seen, significant increases in spending on prisons has coincided with significant reductions in crime. Of course, proving causality would require a more sophisticated analysis. But it would be remarkable to think that the prison growth has had nothing to do with the fact that violent crime rates have reached their lowest point in recent years, according to the Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. [internal links omitted]

I'm amazed that there are "significant reductions in crime" considering how many things we've made crimes that were not so when I was a child. On the other hand, the comments tell some interesting tales. One commenter asserts that there is a study saying that if you look at the number of institutionalized mentally ill people and the number of imprisoned people, the total is the same (as before the great de-institutionalizing movement of my youth) but the proportions have roughly reversed, and wonders how it helps the mentally ill to be imprisoned instead of institutionalized; in response another commenter writes:

It doesn't help the mentally ill. To the extent that it reduces violent crimes committed by the mentally ill, it helps society. It is a very clumsy and crude "solution," however. The decision to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill meant that people who in 1960 might have been institutionalized before they got around to murder, rape, kidnapping, or mayhem, now have to pretty near kill someone before they get any attention.

Los Angeles County Jail has effectively the largest mental hospital in the country now because of the decision to largely destroy the public mental hospital system, starting with the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963.


Another commenter compares our prison rate unfavorably to China's, but is rebutted by a response that points out China's death penalty numbers and suggests that if we killed 8,000 convicted criminals per year we might well have more people afraid of being caught and therefore deterred from crime.

I am drawn to the intuitive (but not necessarily empirical) truth of the age theory of crime (that is, most crime is committed by men from the age of puberty through about age 30), and a commenter makes that point, too:
I am a career prosecutor (and have handled death penalty cases both in my state Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit, so I am no soft-on-crime liberal).

That said, I agree with Public Defender. We are going from the "baby boom" to the "baby bust"--and I believe there is a strong corrolation between an aging population and a drop in crime.

I remember my very wise Criminal Procedure professor (who moonlighted as a Federal Magistrate Judge) saying, "The greatest indicator of recidivism is age."

What he meant, and which I have observed over the years to be true, is that if you walk into an average state courtroom on arraignment day, most of the defendants are under 30. If you see a 40-something charged with burglary or robbery or drug offenses, you can almost guarantee that person is in not in court on their first offense.

[...]
[T]here is a sharp drop-off between 20-somethings commiting crimes and 30-somethings committing crimes. It is as if a lightbulb goes off in many criminals' heads around the age of 30 and they think:

"This is really stupid. I don't like having people watch me take showers and tell me what to do 24/7. Prison and jail sucks."


I don't have a conclusion here, just lots of ruminating over this rich and varied thinking meat.

Be afraid, but do it anyway.

Via Instapundit, an article on fear. There are a lot of dubious claims about women and men, but these parts are true for everyone:

Anxiety and fear are paradoxically often a product— not a failure— of a woman’s being both astute and perceptive: The most fearful are often those with the most imaginative intelligences.
[...]
Displacement of fears from the actual to the imaginary leads not to reassurance but to a deluded sense of protection from danger. Even when we know that our imagined fears typically outnumber our actual we continue to displace our feelings of fear onto other, perhaps even more potentially destructive, emotions and behaviors. We can’t help it.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Guilty pleasures

When people ask what my guilty pleasures are, I always say I don't have any: I don't feel guilty about the things I like. Exhibit 1: I like the Osmonds. Notice that's not in the past tense! I started listening to their music when I was 11 or 12 and I still listen to it.

Not as often as I used to, of course, not nearly as often as I did when I was 12 and 13, but occasionally I'll hear one of their songs on the radio and remember how much I enjoy their music. They did a lot of perfectly ordinary pop songs, of course, and that's probably what most people remember. I think they did two good albums, neither of them pop. The Plan is a concept album; it tells a story, but most of the songs stand alone just fine. And Crazy Horses is a rock album, with a great title track, much harder than the pop the Osmonds are known for.

I must have listened to The Plan a hundred or more times. I lost track of the record sometime during my high school years, but I've never forgotten the music and lyrics and the experience of listening to that album from start to finish.

I was channel surfing Saturday night and stopped on PBS because I recognized the music. Just one bar in I exclaimed, "That's Down by the Lazy River!" Sure enough it was an Osmond reunion concert special. I sang along with so many songs, even knowing I'd liked them so much I was surprised. And I realized that many of the snippets of music and lyrics that drift through my head are from those Osmond songs of long ago, snippets I haven't been able to place and that nobody ever gets when I quote them.

So I downloaded the album The Plan (yes, I paid for it) and I've been listening to it yesterday and today, and it's really brought back the good parts of my early adolescence, plus giving me insight into the connections I've been making between things all these years. It's been great to rediscover this music, and a real treat that something I liked when I was young is still good.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Edited

At the end of a story on birding in Israel I noticed this terrific comments policy at Nextbook:

Comments may be edited for clarity, syntax, and length, and will be published at Nextbook's discretion. By filling out this form, you give Nextbook permission to publish this comment.

The shame of the poor

John Scalzi has a post about shaming the poor. I started composing a comment but decided it was long enough to post here, instead.

Shaming people for their poverty generally assumes that the only reason for poverty is that people are poor for reasons they can be shamed out of — i.e., poor people are poor because they are lazy and shiftless no good spongers who prefer to be poor, because really, it’s just less work. This is a nice little fantasy, which like most fantasies sort of falls apart when it meets up with the real world. People are poor and sometimes become poor for lots of reasons. The number of poor who are poor because they like it is, as anyone who thinks about it for more than half a minute may imagine, rather small. Most people would prefer not to be poor, as it happens, and would be willing to work to escape it.

That's not my experience of poor people, but my experience is more than 30 years old. Maybe they've changed, but I remember them as those lazy, shiftless, no-good spongers that Mr. Scalzi asserts are rather small in number.

The ones I knew were happy to cheat the government out of food stamps, welfare, and unemployment insurance (and I still know some of those--people who within the last 10 years bragged to my face about living on unemployment insurance without bothering to look for work). They didn't want to have to go to a regular job, and they were willing to break the law in various ways, scrabble around among friends and family, and just get by instead.

Maybe more people are poor now for other reasons. I can imagine that.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Who you gonna call?

CodePink and other anti-war groups in Berkeley, CA have been picketing their local U.S. Marines recruiting station, trying to shut it down. (IIRC the local governing body also passed a proclamation or something declaring the recruiters uninvited, unwanted aliens, and setting aside a special parking space for the anti-war protesters in front of the recruiting office.) Naturally these protests have drawn counter-protests. And when the counter-protesters verbally engaged at close range, the CodePink people called for help in a most surprising fashion.

“While we were at the protest in Berkeley from 12 to 4 p.m., a white Volvo drove by and a man spat upon CodePink,” Kelley wrote in an email to MAF’s Melanie Morgan. “They chased him down the street and got into a verbal altercation. The police were NOWHERE in sight.

“That’s not the best part, ready for this?

“Medea Benjamin yelled and I quote “Marines!” She actually yelled for our help because this man had stepped out of his car. I even asked her if she was yelling Police and she told me, “I said Marines” then put her arm around my friend Allen (the Marine Vet). Ironic?”

[...]
Now the record shows that in spite of the slogans and chants delivered in high-pitched screams, when Medea Benjamin wants to put the enemy on the run, she yells for the same relief called upon by the citizens of many trouble spots in the world: America’s brave Marines.

Connotations

When I think of a right (e.g., I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), I think of the right not to be disturbed in the exercise it. A right in this sense is most emphatically not the right to be given a good or service; that would be an entitlement.

The right to life means the government and your fellow citizens may not kill you (excepting only the punishment of death for serious crimes), not that the government guarantees you that it will help keep you alive. Ditto the right to liberty: you have the right not to be jailed, or enslaved. And pursuit of happiness never meant a promise that things would go well and you would be happy, just that you got to choose how to attempt to achieve happiness rather than being forced into a particular career path or hobby or family.

When people talk about health care as a right, they lose me; I get stuck thinking about whether I agree that it's a right, and how I define rights, and fail to follow the rest of their argument. I've read justifications about how you can't have your life without health, and what good is liberty or happiness without health, but they don't convince me. Health care doesn't fit into my general definition for the kind of right we enforce against our governments (be they private, like families, or public, like the State).

Health care is a duty parents owe their children, and I can't extrapolate from that to governments owing this duty to their citizens; we're not in a parental relationship that way, and I wouldn't want to be.

Alienation

Adopted children, when they find out they're different from their parents and feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and alienated, can fantasize that their "real" parents would understand and love them just as they are.

Birthed children, when they find out they're different from their parents, can fantasize that they're adopted.

The lesson here is that most kids at some point feel alienated. It's a normal response to the situation. Doesn't mean a thing about the rights and wrongs of adoption.

Buzz Words and Catch Phrases

Famously, on the internet nobody knows you're a dog. Mitch Wagner lists the top 6 words and phrases to prove you're a jerk.

We must hang out on different parts of the Internet, because none of those really come up where I hang out. My list would look more like:

3. But I'm not like that!
2. The people who vote that way are stupid or evil or both
1. We're more evolved


Via Monkeys in My Pants, which I have bookmarked as 24-hour drive thru