1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

At a conference: GSLIS Champaign-Urbana

A quick note: I've been at a conference on the digital humanities all week, which explains the paucity of posting. BUT I've been learning some fascinating, exciting, and (I think) revolutionary stuff which I'll be sharing as soon as I get the chance. Tomorrow I fly with The Talented Videographer and a couple of Good Folks out to Miami for some vacay, but I'll post soon.

A link for the conference.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

The Big Easy stole by baby: Absinthe my Sazerac

The Talented Videographer is off to Nawlins for her bachelorette party. In honor of her trip, I wanted a Sazerac (the state drink of LA) but didn't want to pony up the $60 for a bottle of absinthe. So I decided to make my own. And it turns out this is really cheap ($20-$30, depending on base liquor), and really easy.

Believe it or not, wormwood, the key ingredient, is available at the local Fiesta Mart for $2 a quarter oz (I stumbled across it looking for Chamomile for my Pithy Wit). You mix a whole ounce of this stuff in a 750 ml. bottle of 150-proof alcohol (I used Bacardi 151) and leave it for seven days, then strain it through a coffee filter. Add some spices (I used 1 tbs. anise seed, 1 tsp fresh sage, 1 tsp. spearmint, 1/2 tsp. coriander seed and 1/4 tsp. caraway seed, plus a pinch of ground cardamom--make sure to crack the whole seeds in a mortar and pestle or w/ a rolling pin). Let that sit for another four days, then strain again through a coffee filter. Lovely and complex licorice flavor w/ spicy background, a rich green-brown (from the rum coloring) and a very, very nice Sazerac.

The Sazerac:

2 oz. Rye whiskey.
1/2 tsp. absinthe
4 dashes Pechaud bitters
1 sugar cuber or 1 tsp simple syrup.

Pour whiskey over ice and stir in bitters and simple syrup or sugar cube for 20 seconds. In the meantime, pour small measure of absinthe into the serving glass (I like short martini glasses) and swirl it around to coat the glass. Strain mixture into glass, garnish with a lemon twist if you'd like.

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Can you remember the last time a team was so popular at home it didn't matter if they clinched the semi-final series? Houston is CRAZY IN LOVE with this team.

On a related note, did you catch Aaron Brooks' standup last week? Smokin:

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Measure of Happiness

There's a startling and moving article by Joshua Wolf Shenk over at The Atlantic that I enjoyed more than anything else I've read in some time. It's about something called the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has tracked a group of more than a hundred male sophmores from the 1940's until the present day, in order to try and get a sense of what makes people happy, and why. The group included at least one best-selling author and John F. Kennedy (though apparently, his records have been sealed until 2050).

Here's a sample, about the man who's overseen the study for the last fifty years, and what he and others have learned:

Vaillant brings a healthy dose of subtlety to a field that sometimes seems to glide past it. The bookstore shelves are lined with titles that have an almost messianic tone, as in Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. But what does it mean, really, to be happier? For 30 years, Denmark has topped international happiness surveys. But Danes are hardly a sanguine bunch. Ask an American how it’s going, and you will usually hear “Really good.” Ask a Dane, and you will hear “Det kunne være værre (It could be worse).” “Danes have consistently low (and indubitably realistic) expectations for the year to come,” a team of Danish scholars concluded. “Year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Of course, happiness scientists have come up with all kinds of straightforward, and actionable, findings: that money does little to make us happier once our basic needs are met; that marriage and faith lead to happiness (or it could be that happy people are more likely to be married and spiritual); that temperamental “set points” for happiness—a predisposition to stay at a certain level of happiness—account for a large, but not overwhelming, percentage of our well-being. (Fifty percent, says Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness. Circumstances account for 10 percent, and the other 40 percent is within our control.) But why do countries with the highest self-reports of subjective well-being also yield the most suicides? How is it that children are often found to be a source of “negative affect” (sadness, anger)—yet people identify children as their greatest source of pleasure?

The most moving take-away, I think, is a discussion of how rich and complicated all of the surveys and tests are as a body. It's not really possible to boil down the quirks and vicissitudes of someone's entire life into an empirical data set with any clear answers. Many start out happy and end in divorce and suicide; some come from poor, broken homes, and end up successful philanthropists and civil rights leaders. And I suspect many more are just Willie Lomans, lost in unextraordinary lives that lack clear-cut plot lines or turns of fortune. It's the kind of article that hits me square in the chest.

Here's a sample of one of the portraits:

After college, you got an advanced degree and began to climb the rungs in your profession. You married a terrific girl, and you two played piano together for fun. You eventually had five kids. Asked about your work in education, you said, “What I am doing is not work; it is fun. I know what real work is like.” Asked at age 25 whether you had “any personal problems or emotional conflicts (including sexual),” you answered, “No … As Plato or some of your psychiatrists might say, I am at present just ‘riding the wave.’” You come across in your files as smart, sensible, and hard-working. “This man has always kept a pleasant face turned toward the world,” Dr. Heath noted after a visit from you in 1949. From your questionnaire that year, he got “a hint … that everything has not been satisfactory” at your job. But you had no complaints. After interviewing you at your 25th reunion, Dr. Vaillant described you as a “solid guy.”

Two years later, at 49, you were running a major institution. The strain showed immediately. Asked for a brief job description, you wrote: “RESPONSIBLE (BLAMED) FOR EVERYTHING.” You added, “No matter what I do … I am wrong … We are just ducks in a shooting gallery. Any duck will do.” On top of your job troubles, your mother had a stroke, and your wife developed cancer. Three years after you started the job, you resigned before you could be fired. You were 52, and you never worked again. (You kept afloat with income from stock in a company you’d done work for, and a pension.)

Seven years later, Dr. Vaillant spoke with you: “He continued to obsess … about his resignation,” he wrote. Four years later, you returned to the subject “in an obsessional way.” Four years later still: “It seemed as if all time had stopped” for you when you resigned. “At times I wondered if there was anybody home,” Dr. Vaillant wrote. Your first wife had died, and you treated your second wife “like a familiar old shoe,” he said.

But you called yourself happy. When you were 74, the questionnaire asked: “Have you ever felt so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up?” and gave the options “All of the time, some of the time, none of the time.” You circled “None of the time.” “Have you felt calm and peaceful?” You circled “All of the time.”

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The Federation's Starfleet Defense: Rumsfeld Mark IV?

Michael Peck over at Wired critiques Starfleet's defense strategy and wonders if Rumsfeld wasn't in charge. On a slightly different note: surely, the technology used to engineer Sulu's collapsible Katana might better have been spent creating a back up sidearm. I mean, hand-to-hand was an awesome feature of all the original Star Treks shows; but perhaps the most ridiculous. If you can master faster-than-light travel and matter/energy conversions, can't you arm individuals with more than one post-fourteenth century weapon?

On a celebratory note, frenetic battle scenes aside, Simon Pegg's belated appearance as Scotty made by heart skip a beat.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hating on Hate Crimes

There's a running debate online about whether or not we should support hate crimes. Lots of ostensibly liberal commentators, as well as many libertarians, think that hate crime legislation is redundant; if they're already committing a violent crime, shouldn't they just be prosecuted for that? It's a slightly different tack than the conservative/Republican critics who argue that hate crime legislation is "thought" policing, because it requires jurors to get inside the head of the offender and figure out whether the crime was motivated by racism, homophobia, etc.

Over at Sullivan's blog, he has an astute letter from a reader who responds to Sullivan's reservations about hate crime bills:

But I've often found myself questioning whether or not you and/or folks of your ilk would be against any kinds of legal distinction under the law. For example, should aggravated sexual assault simply be considered a violent crime, rather than a specific crime having to do with non-rape violence of a sexual nature? Or perhaps, from the same viewpoint, all crimes of a sexual nature ought to be considered sex crimes. In that case, should there be a distinction between aggravated rape, coerced statutory rape, consensual statutory rape, and child molestation?

I like this point. I have a tendency, when I hear an opposing opinion that seems well-thought out and consistent, to take it very seriously. Sometimes, when scanning blogs, I'll even accept such arguments without much reflection. But this letter raises a serious problem for the whole "redundancy" argument.

The emphasis upon the importance of distinctions also brings me to an additional thought: perhaps it is not that hate crimes legislation is over-specified (both "hate" and "crime"), but because the legislation is under-specified that it's a problem. "Hate" is a pretty broad designator for a class of crimes -- and while the legislation does suggest what kinds of racism, homophobia, etc., the law should apply to, maybe we should have separate crimes. "Racist assault and battery." "Aggravated homophobic manslaughter." "Anti-Semitic aggravated assault."

This may sound tongue-in-cheek, and like it'd be a huge pain in the ass, but perhaps part of the difficulty critics have with this legislation is that it seems it could be applied whenever you proved some kind of systematic hatred, and insofar as hatred is perhaps the sine qua non of violence, if not human emotions (sorry, love), the law should apply to TONS of crimes -- maybe too many. On the other hand, I think it would be pretty hard to criticize, and more palatable to accept, legislation specifically aimed at KKK thugs wielding bats.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Smoked Rye Whiskey

In the wake of the opening of Anvil last month, and a few more visits to Beavers to chat with Ryan Rouse, I've been experimenting a lot more with Rye. Something they have over at Beaver's is a house-smoked Sazerac Rye (lots easier when you're a barbecue joint). But insofar as I've been cold-smoking stuff lately (bacon, cheeses, cherries), I thought I'd go ahead and smoke some myself. The smoked Old Fashioned I had at Beaver's was *way* too smoky for me, so I aimed to get a little less smoke out of it. And because my wallet's perennially light, I fell back on the good Old Overholt to play around with it. After two batches, smoking with about 2 parts cherry to one part hickory, I think 30 minutes in a 9x12 pan is perfect (the size of the pan matters relative to the volume, because it determines how much surface area is exposed).

I don't like Old Fashioneds done with muddled fruit; I like a clear cocktail w/o pulp, and usually the sharpness of lemon peel beats out orange. But with the smokiness of the Rye, orange zest is the way to go. Anyway, here's the Old Fashioned I've settled on, and is 95% likely to feature at the wedding in October:

2 oz. smoked Overholt Rye
1/4 oz. simple syrup
4 dashes Fee Brother's Old Fashioned Bitters.
1 Twist of orange zest
2 brandied cherries

Make this in an Old Fashioned glass: pour whiskey over ice, add syrup and bitters, stir for 20 seconds. Twist the orange zest over the cocktail so that the oil spurts out onto the surface, add the cherries, and you're done. Yum.

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Beer Bulletin: Pithy Wit

Brewed Pithy Wit a couple of days ago. Right now it's still fermenting up a storm -- going to 1L starters and a stir plate really boosted the pitching rate. (BTW building a stir plate is pretty easy if you can handle a soldering iron, directions here. A note of caution: I had trouble finding the right rheostat, and ended up playing around with resistors.)

Anyway, I'm excited about the Wit for two reasons: first, it gives me the chance to play around with what are rumored to be the two key ingredients to Celis White -- chamomile and cumin. And I've developed a (secret) bittering process that should change the character of the beer pretty radically, making it more crisp, with a drier (but not more bitter) finish. I'm keeping mum, but I'll give a hint: NO HOPS.

Oh, and I'm also excited because it gave me a chance to play around with Photoshop masking:

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Monkey Gangs, Beware

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Flat Eric, Flat Beat

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TNC on racism and Joe the Plumber

Ta Nehisi Coates, over at The Atlantic, has another thoughtful post up about racism. The key point, and one he's made before, is that to defend prejudice, even in soft ways--like attacking affirmative action or "the sanctity of marriage"--requires you to dumb yourself down. That doesn't mean you're not smart, or that you can't cobble together a smart argument; it just means you still have to cheat your brain a little to get there.

He has a rich quote from Joe the Plumber (yet another lasting gift from McCain--will we ever give him his due?), in which Joe plays the moderate on homosexuality:

Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do--what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children.

As TNC puts it: "So much of this is so perfect--including the idea that "honkey" is the worst slur Joe can think of." The post also put me in mind of a comment I heard today at the gym (which here in H-town has TWO separate Fox News TVs on at all times) where someone suggested that Conservatives need to find someone who can talk moderate. What I love, is that's exactly what Joe's trying to do here. As a formula for the kind of "moderating" statement Obama has mastered, you couldn't get better than:

(1) State something anodyne which tries to defuse the topic by shifting it in a more culturally-neutral direction.

(2) Spice it up with something that shows you Feel the Pain of the other side and respect their opinion.

(3) Dip back into the well of common opinion for another injection of the anodyne.

(4) Use (3) to make an argument that everyone, even those who don't agree with (3) itself, would agree with.

(5) Return to (2) if necessary to burnish your cred before

(6) Make your final position clear, and if you've done 1-5 right, they may not agree with you, but they'll appreciate your opinion.

Back in college I had a prof who called this a "Rogerian" argument, based on the writing of psychologist Carl Rogers. It's essential to drawing people of opposing views into, if not out right agreement, at least appreciation of your opinion and moderation of their views. But for it to work, you have to find those "common ground" bona fides that the other side will recognize and respect. Joe's got the form of the argument down, but citing 19th-century diction, biblical wisdom, and knee-jerk homophobia isn't gonna get him anywhere. I mean, even conservatives must cringe when he gets more air time.

The key point is, you can't just try to talk like a moderate. You have to be able to adopt more moderate views, and to recognize what kinds of arguments others will recognize as moderate. Until Republicans can do that they're toast.

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$2.00 Deluxe Hugs

Someone pranks one of those "Free Hugs" hippes.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Everything Old is New Again: Texas Burger

Last night I sat down with M and the folks for burgers. For a traditional Texan burger, you have to have mustard and jalapenos, with bacon a much-appreciated option. But in an effort to give this formula a facelift, I cured my own bacon (a lot easier than you think; check out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Cookbook). After curing the bacon for five days, I cold smoked it over a mix of cherry and hickory wood. And I pickled some jalapenos with fresh oregano and cilantro, coriander, black mustard and cumin, using a brine of vinegar and my Yellow Rose beer (pretty yummy on their own).

Finally, I bought whole beef round and ground it coarsely (thank you kitchen aid mixer), adding a little softened butter, salt, and fresh black pepper.

So how'd it taste? Pretty damn good.

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