July 2005

2005 07 31
Sea Bass and Dijon Potatoes

Posted by in: Food

This is extremely simple: Lay some fillets of sea bass in a baking pan, after coating them with a bit of salt and olive oil. Slice a lemon and lay the lemon slices on top. Cover with tin foil and cook at 350 for about half an hour or 40 minutes or whatever – as long as it takes for the sea bass to be flaking off with a fork. For the last bit of cooking, you can remove the foil. Meanwhile, boil some potatoes. Don’t over do it. Remove the potatoes from water, and fry them up in butter and Dijon mustard. You’ll probably want to halve or quarter them with a spatula while they’re frying. We also blanched some asparagus to go along with the meal, by throwing them for 40 seconds into the still boiling potato water.

Man, sea bass tastes like butta! Too bad about the high mercury levels, eh?

Howls of outrage (15)

2005 07 30
Washington Square Park

Posted by in: History, New York City

Says The Gothamist:

Before becoming a park Washington Square was a burial ground for a synagogue, an African Methodist church, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Veterans, not to mention poor people from the state prison on Gansevoort Peninsula and the Alms House by City Hall). Over 20,000 bodies are anywhere from 8-13 feet below the surface of the park. . .


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2005 07 30
Death, causality and mourning

1: Thousands of people die in car accidents every year. Why do we treat these deaths any differently from the way we treat deaths due to terrorism?

2: Well, they are and they aren’t different. Deaths due to car accidents are tragic for the families of the victims and the victims, and I don’t want to minimize that. But terrorism involves moral choices on the part of particular agents, and that seems to make a difference. We’ve accepted a certain number of deaths by traffic accident as a part of modern life, but not deaths by terrorism (nor should we). With a car accident, the thought is: If not for this twist of fate or error of judgement, so and so would be alive today. With a terrorist attack, the thought is: If not for this deliberate act of evil, so and so would be alive. And that makes a difference: the latter kind of death strikes us differently because it’s pointless (in the sense that there’s no good point to it). Just think: Would you rather hear that a relative had died in a car crash or been murdered? A horrible choice, but of course you’d chose the latter. Not to mention the fact that the level of traffic accidents shifts a bit from year to year, but it would be very unusual to have any big, unpleasant surprises in the overall level of fatalities. Not so with terrorist attacks, which remind us that the next could be much, much worse. Mourning these deaths plays a double role: We mourn the loss, which would be tragic whether it resulted from terrorism or a traffic accident. But we also lament the fact that the victims would be alive had it not been for some deliberate, hateful act, and we remind ourselves that it could happen again, and in much larger numbers.

. . .

2: Oh, for pity’s sake, they’re mourning Menezes by the thousands. It’s just one guy. Why such a fuss over one person, when so many others, including victims of terrorism, have died too?

1: Well, as you’ve just pointed out, we don’t just look at the numbers when we call attention to victims. In this case, we have what appears to be a badly thought out policy or a decent policy very badly applied, that led to the death of an innocent man. And the policy, whether good or bad, was never publicly debated, even though anyone formulating it and instructing others of it would have to know the futility of trying to keep it a secret after an incident- and even though this is precisely the sort of policy that ought to be the subject of public debate. There is the very real fear that without some changes it is more likely than otherwise to happen again to another innocent person. Mourning in this case plays a double role: We mourn the victim, whose death would have been tragic however it came about. But we also remind ourselves that the death may well have been preventable, that it may well have been the result of policy failures, that it might happen to other innocents in the future, and that that is unacceptable to us.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 07 30
Is that legal?

Posted by in: New York City

I’m apartment hunting these days. (By the way, if you know of a good, cheap one bedroom in Brooklyn for September 1st, let me know!) Last week I saw a place that wasn’t really right for us, but decided to take a rental application anyway, in case I changed my mind. When I got home, I looked at the application. Stapled to the credit/background was a sheet titled “You Do Not Qualify to Rent This Apartment If,” which contained a number of conditions, some reasonable and some perhaps not. One section of the sheet was titled “DO NOT FILL OUT THESE FORMS IF YOU ANSWER “YES” TO ANY OF THESE QUESTIONS.” And the first question was:

Have you ever been taken or gone to Landlord/Tenant Court?

Now, granted that there are some pretty lousy tenants in this world. And I’ve heard that in NYC it’s much easier to get someone to move into an apartment than it is to get them to move out of one, even when the tenant’s behaviour is outrageous. Still, this is madness. In an attempt to weed out deadbeats and the hyper-litigious, this restriction also rules out anyone who has ever been frivolously sued or insisted on his or her legal rights. It’s also obvious that if this criterion for screening prospective tenants were more common, it would shift even more power towards landlords, since all it would take to blacken someone’s name is to take them to court, regardless of the merits of the case or the outcome.

So, I hope we all agree that this is horrible. My question is, in NYC is it legal? Anyone know? If it’s illegal, I’d like to report it.

Howls of outrage (13)

2005 07 28
Permanent bases

Upyernoz reminds me how strange it is that the mainstream media has so little interest in whether U.S. bases in Iraq are supposed to be permanent.

As Upyernoz points out, the question is really important, since your view on this one question influences your view on a whole lot of other ones. Anyway, I got half-way through a longish post on the subject and then thought, “Aw, fuck it. I’ve been there, done that.”

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 07 28
History is like candy

Posted by in: Canada, History

Noodling around in this Canadian Archives collection online, I found what I think is a view of our streetcorner 125 years ago! Maybe drawn by someone perched in our building! How random and neat is that?

It is labelled as being a view of the corner of Wellington and Brock streets, decked out with a floral arch and banners etc for the Vice-Regal Visit in 1879:

Here is (what I think is) the same corner today.

The view that the 1879 artist used is almost exactly the view from our living room windows; our building was built in 1841. (Our windows don’t open enough for me to take a picture out of them — so this photo is from the street.)

The artist obviously made some changes, narrowing the street for one. The most notable difference is that the “top hat” of the building on the corner is absent in the 2005 photo. Maybe it was removed? I need to do some more snooping around to see if there’s a building near here with the right look; maybe the artist grafted it from something nearby.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 07 28
Subway searches

To coin a phrase:

Then there�s the fact that, in its futile attempt to skate just this side of constitutionality, the city is promising that no one can be arrested for refusing to open his bag; he�ll only be asked to leave the subway station. But this leaves a number of unanswered questions, or, as I like to call them, bombertunities.

But how is it working out?

At two other stations police attempted to mitigate the burden of the searches�and perhaps elicit cooperation�by allowing riders who submitted to the search to ride for free. Is this incentive really enough to get a suicide bomber to open his bags? Maybe Al Qaeda�s financial network isn�t as vast as we�d feared.


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2005 07 26
Please . . . no

Has anyone given some thought to the costs and benefits of this policy?

The U.S. military is embarking on a long-term push into Africa to counter what it considers growing inroads by al Qaeda and other terrorist networks in poor, lawless and predominantly Muslim expanses of the continent.

The Pentagon plans to train thousands of African troops in battalions equipped for extended desert and border operations and to link the militaries of different countries with secure satellite communications. The initiative, with proposed funding of $500 million over seven years, covers Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia — with the U.S. military eager to add Libya if relations improve.

The Pentagon is also assigning more military officers to U.S. embassies in the region, bolstering the gathering and sharing of intelligence, casing out austere landing strips for use in emergencies, and securing greater access and legal protections for U.S. troops through new bilateral agreements.

The thrust into Africa is vital to head off an infiltration by international terrorist groups, according to senior U.S. military, Pentagon and State Department officials. The groups are recruiting hundreds of members in Africa and Europe, attacking local governments and Western interests, and profiting from tribal smuggling routes to obtain arms, cash and hideouts, they say. Meanwhile, small groups of Islamic radicals are moving into Africa from Iraq, where Africans make up about a quarter of the foreign fighters, the officials say.

Foreshadowing a new phase in the war against terrorism, the Pentagon plan is to mobilize Africans to fight and preempt militant groups while only selectively using U.S. troops, who are already taxed by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in mustering African forces, the U.S. military confronts not only a highly elusive enemy across a vast, desolate terrain but also the competing agendas of authoritarian African governments and corrupt and chaotic militaries on the ground.

So . . . yeah. If the U.S. trains the troops well in counter-terrorism (very difficult), and the troops don’t use their new skills to further entrench authoritarian regimes, and if the latter should happen, those rebelling against the authoritarian regimes don’t come to associate the U.S. with the repression and provide fresh momentum to the global jihadist movement against the U.S. – (big breath) well, then there are some possible benefits to the policy. Because there clearly are Islamic radicals in Africa, and those radicals might provide assistance to global jihadists that the U.S. has a legitimate interest in combating. (Think of bin Laden in Sudan, or other Al Qaeda figures in Somalia.) It’s not crazy to hope to do something or other about that.

But how plausible is it to think that those conditions will be met? Not very, in my opinion. We’ve been here before, for example with the School of the Americas. (The WaPo piece I quote from above is extraordinary in that it completely omits this obvious historical parallel, even though I’m willing to bet that the reporter had it in mind.)

Let me make a prediction: This will backfire. Soldiers trained by the U.S. will inevitably help to prop up authoritarian regimes, even if it says specifically in their training manuals not to. They will commit atrocities. U.S. administrations will make a show of trying to restrain this behaviour while at the same time lying about the exact connections between troops benefiting from U.S. training and those atrocities. They will fool no one. And even where the connection between the training and the atrocities and the support for authoritarian regimes is fairly remote, the whole thing will look bad. Whatever gains the policy has produced will be eaten away by the damage done to U.S. reputation and influence – reputation and influence that is absolutely necessary to fighting the war on terror. It just won’t be worth it.

This is the way you lose a war of ideas.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 07 25
If it works, go for it

Posted by in: Political issues

If teaching women to crush windpipes and gouge out eyes in junior high is something we really ought to be doing, I see no reason why Congress can’t fund it.

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2005 07 25
Canada Diary #3

Posted by in: Canada, Language

1. The postal service. So far, pretty poor. For a while we weren’t getting any mail at all, then we started getting mail very late. We figured this must be because things are getting forwarded to us from the US, so I decided to run a little experiment: I mailed 2 postcards from the post office on our block — one addressed to our place in Canada, one addressed to our old place in the US. Then I mailed 2 postcards, addressed the same, from the US. This is all ten days ago. I just got the first postcard, from the US. So far no hint of the one mailed from a block away.

2. Credit is different here; it’s as if the industry is run by adult humans, rather than children or vampires. In the US, credit card companies will try to give cards to criminals, infants, dogs… anyone whose name will fit on a form letter. In the US, we each have credit cards with credit limits that exceed our annual income.

But in Canada, we had to apply, hats in hands, at a bank. The woman who interviewed us wanted to know why we wanted a credit card. Then after we explained, we went through a long application, listing all our assets, educational attainment, personal references, and so on. She looked it over dubiously, and submitted it to the credit card company… and four days later, we got a call saying our application had been denied. She said we were free to apply for a “secure card”, where the company holds a sum of our money equal to our credit limit for the entire time we have the card, so we can’t just skip town without paying the bill.

It’s a shockingly primitive form of life… It’s as if they want to be sure you can pay them back, rather than hoping you will fall into inescapable debt.

(It’s actually heartening, even though it’s inconvenient for us at the moment… Maybe Canadian bankruptcy laws actually protect you from your creditors?)

3. I’ve noticed a general tendency to shorten routine expressions to fun nicknames; I feel like I’ve joined a cool club. “Cash register” becomes “the cash”. (“Take this slip up to the cash, and someone will help you there”.) “Changing room” becomes “the change”. In keeping with this trend, the standard way of referring to my country of origin is “The States” — never “the US”, which is what I was expecting for some reason.

And finally: Our milk says “tastes like homo!” in big bright cheery letters on it*. Yes, the rich taste of homo would be a selling point in the States too.

*I assume this means “homogenized milk”, as a name for what I would call “whole milk”? Can anybody solve this for me?

Howls of outrage (5)

2005 07 25
Civilian deaths and U.S. policies in Iraq

Go read that Henley guy on neocolonialism in action.

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2005 07 23

Posted by in: The "War on Terror"

On Friday, London police shot the wrong guy; they had been following him, he had a heavy coat on and went into the subway. They now say he was not connected to either of the two attacks on London.

Witnesses say police shot him in the head and torso while he was pinned to the ground.

Police say they will still have a “shoot-to-kill” policy toward anyone “who might be a suicide bomber.”

All three of these make my stomach churn. Now, I don’t know the facts in this case; I don’t know how this guy was acting, or what the police tried before shooting him. And obviously, shooting the wrong guy is the worst nightmare of any police officer; this is not something they would have wanted.

But it seems to me that giving a blanket shoot-to-kill authorization, toward anyone a hyper-aware, newly armed officer thinks might be a suicide bomber, is a bad, bad idea. Guys with heavy coats running to catch a subway train, nervous young men with backpacks, brown people talking quietly and looking around, non-English speakers or mentally ill people who won’t respond predictably to police orders — there are a lot of these in London.

Howls of outrage (15)

2005 07 23
The Oompa-Loompa Controversy

Posted by in: Odds and ends

Kerim investigates.

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2005 07 23

Here’s an intriguing interview/question period with Adam Nagourney, chief political correspondent for the New York Times. Nagourney spends most of the time talking about the last American election and looking forward to 2006 and 2008. He has some insights, though it’s mostly the conventional wisdom (unsurprising given his job). What makes the interview intriguing is the kind of indirect light it shines on Nagourney’s own prejudices and reporting, prejudices that he surely shares in common with much of the “liberal” media. The most striking thing is the way that Nagourney repeatedly speaks of what the public is or isn’t convinced by in some politician’s message, as though the choices that he and the rest of the media make aren’t themselves a significant part of that story. The interview ends up making a great general primer on the sort of glib, superficial, horse-race style reporting that characterized so much of the mainstream reporting on the last election.

I don’t have the time or the energy to go through the interview in detail. But if you’re looking to sharpen up your media-criticism chops, give it a listen and judge for yourself.

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2005 07 22
Random NYC subway searches

Lindsay is absolutely right. This is just fucking ridiculous.

Howls of outrage (2)