Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Not Like Chicken

Why does everybody assume meats they haven't tried taste like chicken? By my recollection, here's what some of the less-common meats I've eaten taste like (some of these are based on only a couple of samples):
  • Ostrich: Beef
  • Venison: Gamier beef (my favorite meat)
  • Rabbit: Sort of like chicken, but really more like gamy turkey
  • Duck: Oily turkey
  • Goose: Beefier turkey
  • Goat: Lamb
  • Whale: Beef
  • Frog: Halfway between fish and chicken
  • Alligator: Consistency of maybe pork, with a lighter flavor
  • Buffalo: Beef
  • Ants: Crunchy lemon (the formic acid does it)
  • Squab: Yeah, squab tastes like chicken.
So there you have it: Squab tastes like chicken. I guess maybe pheasants do, too. What do you expect? Today on Chowhound I saw someone speculate that goat would taste like chicken. How could goat not taste like lamb? They're almost the same animal. I've been asked if whale meat (I was in Japan; I guess it was probably minke whale) tasted like chicken... how on earth could that be? I guess I don't have much experience eating small animals like squirrels or rats; asking if those tasted like chicken would be legitimate. Or even ostrich, since it's a bird. But seriously, a lot of the things people say taste like chicken --- like duck or rabbit --- really taste more like turkey. So come on folks, let's put this common misconception to bed.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Celebrity & Pop News Crap

1. Joey Lawrence now sports the Bruce Willis look. Whoa.
2. Remember Kenneth Starr of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal? Now he's doing pro bono work in Alaska representing the Juneau School District in its fight against the free speech rights of a teenager who held up a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" sign at an Olympic torch relay. And it may go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
3. Ouch. If celebrity catfights entertain you, check out this video of Tara Reid being turned away from a Hollywood nightclub while Paris Hilton waltzes right in. Personally, I would totally let hot party-girl Tara into my club while leaving bony-ass rich-bitch Paris on the sidewalk.
4. Non-celebrity news: Now they say that sunscreen can actually be harmful if not applied properly. One more thing to worry about.

Muslims in America

The Washington Post has an ominous headline, "America's Muslims Aren't as Assimilated as You Think." The article begins:

If only the Muslims in Europe -- with their hearts focused on the Islamic world and their carry-on liquids poised for destruction in the West -- could behave like the well-educated, secular and Americanizing Muslims in the United States, no one would have to worry. So runs the comforting media narrative ... But
over the past two years, I have traveled the country, visiting mosques, interviewing Muslim leaders and speaking to Muslim youths ... and I have encountered a different truth.
Oh no! Are American Muslim communities running rampant with alienated native-born would-be suicide bombers? Are mullahs leading crowds in chants of "Death to America?" Here's what the reporter found:
I found few signs of London-style radicalism among Muslims in the United States.
Whew, OK. Let's read on:

A new generation of American Muslims ... [is] more likely to take comfort in their own communities, and less likely to embrace the nation's fabled melting pot of shared values and common culture. ... [T]he Sept. 11 attacks also had the dual effect of making American Muslims feel isolated in their adopted country, while pushing them to rediscover their faith.

So, the big news is that Muslims feel isolated, and they're becoming more religious. Then the writer gets down to specifics:

Young, first-generation American Muslim women ... are wearing head scarves ... increasing numbers of young Muslims are attending Islamic schools and lectures; Muslim student associations in high schools and at colleges are proliferating; and the role of the mosque has evolved from strictly a place of worship to a center for socializing and for learning Arabic and Urdu as well as the Koran.
Student associations? Studying your parents' native language? What's this world coming to? Surely American Muslims must be seething with anger and resentment! OK, maybe not:
"After I covered, I changed," Rehan told me. "I felt I wanted to give people a good impression of Islam. I wanted people to know how happy I am to be Muslim."

Hm. What about those Islamic lectures?
"So we have to be strategic in our thinking, because people who are our enemies are strategic in their thinking." The "enemies" Yusuf referred to that day were not non-Muslims, but rather those who use Islam as a rationale for violence.

Um, so, how exactly were these Islamic lectures a bad sign, again? And what about that alienation?
I spoke with them ... after they had been to the mosque one Sunday for a halaqa (a study circle) focused on integrating faith and daily life. They were in their twenties: Hayat, a psychologist; Ismahan, a computer scientist; and Fatma, a third-grade teacher. ... "Some Muslims do anything to fit in. They drink. They date. My biggest fear is that I might assimilate to the American lifestyle so much that my modesty goes out the window."

And overall:

Imam Zaid Shakir ... refers to such young Muslims as the "rejectionist generation." They are rejectionist, he says, because they turn their backs not only on absolutist religious interpretations, but also on America's secular ways. ...
In my years of interviews, I found few indications of homegrown militancy among American Muslims. Indeed, thus far, they have proved they can compete economically with other Americans... the average annual income of a Muslim household surpasses that of average American households.

So, let me get this straight. A group of immigrants and their children are getting in touch with their roots and becoming more pious. They're socializing largely within their own group while succeeding in the business world. They wear head scarves out of pride, not of oppression. They're intellectual and struggle against the temptations of modern life. They reject extremism as well as materialism. Heavens to Betsy!

So, what was up with that alarmist headline and introduction? It sounds to me like Muslims may be encountering some expected difficulties in America but overall are doing just fine. If Muslim communities in the rest of the world did as good a job integrating modern and traditional values as the Muslims in America do, we'd all be a lot safer and happier.

Update: A Muslim blogger repudiates the article. Essentially, the Washington Post article confused secularization with assimilation.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Two Environmental Success Stories

From the L.A. Times:

1. Californians Now Recycle Half of Their Trash. The state passed a law in 1989 mandating that 50% of our trash be recycled by 2000. It took us until last year to do it, but I think it's pretty remarkable that we got it done at all. This is the sort of thing that takes a concerted effort by all segments of society: households, businesses, construction, etc., but it wouldn't have come through without the law mandating it. Efforts like this need the framework and critical mass provided by the law; only a few people are going to recycle if it means having to haul empty bottles and newspapers to a recycling plant, but if the city provides a recycling bin and pickup service, then just about everybody will do it. As a result of these efforts, no new landfills have opened in California in a decade.

2. Bolsa Chica Wetlands and the Pacific Meet Again. The many years of hard work by community environmental groups has paid off as they've restored the tidal action to the Bolsa Chica wetlands. With so much development around, it's heartening to see some critical land not just being preserved but even being restored to its natural state.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto's Demotion

Yesterday's vote by the International Astronomical Union to strike Pluto from the list of planets was a great teaching moment not only about the solar system but also about science in general, how our increasing understanding of the world around us requires us to constantly re-assess our thinking. Many of you may not know that before I was an urban planner, before I made universal remote controls, I spent two years as a Planetary Science major at Caltech until I got fed up with all the extra physics and math I'd need and decided to jump to jus' regular ol' Geology for my Bachelor's degree. As such, I'm glad we finally have a definition of a planet (notwithstanding Wikipedia's insistence that the IAU was "redefining" the term), and I'm also glad that the definition is based on significant physical and orbital properties of the bodies instead of arbitrary lines of demarcation or a sentimental attachment to Pluto:
(1) A planet1 is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

I think there are still some loose ends to be tied up in the definition, though. First is clause (a), which presumably is in there to differentiate planets from moons but also excludes extrasolar planets from achieving planet status and would also leave a hypothetical "rogue planet" not in orbit around any star without planet status, either. Why not just say, "not in orbit around another planet, dwarf planet, or minor solar system object?"

Clause (b) is good because it sets a minimum size that isn't just a dividing line at 1000 km or "the size of Pluto." (Wikipedia has an interesting list of solar system objects ranked by radius.) It's the difference between a celestial body that looks like Enceladus (a moon of Saturn):
and one that looks like Proteus, a moon of Neptune that looks like a charcoal briquette:

I also like that they used the term "round" instead of "spherical," since it leaves open the possibility of an ellipsoid planet.

More problematic, though, is clause (c), since "clearing the neighborhood" is a pretty vague term. At the simplest level, sure, Pluto's orbit takes it inside Neptune's, and Ceres hasn't cleared the asteroid belt. But, conversely, Neptune hasn't cleared Pluto out of its orbit, and there are small asteroids that cross even Earth's orbit. And what about objects orbiting at Lagrangian points L4 and L5? Or moons? If Pluto and Charon still had a similar orbit around each other but orbited the Sun in a much less eccentric, planet-like way, would Pluto be accused of not clearing its orbit of Charon?

I think the definition is a good start, but it's probably going to need to be refined at some point within the next 20 years as we learn more about distant objects.

Incidentally, I think the really amazing thing about study of the solar system is that planets and moons and such aren't just points of light in the sky or even things only to observe at a distance from space. These are actual places one could theoretically go, just like I could theoretically go to Antarctica or Wisconsin. And yet the environment would be so bizarre --- ice volcanoes, methane seas, carbon dioxide atmospheres, and views that are literally otherworldly. This is an actual photo from the surface of Titan:

Thursday, August 24, 2006


My older sister had these questions up on her LiveJournal blog; I figured I'd answer them, too, for all of my screaming legions of fans.

1. Elaborate on your default icon.
When posting on LiveJournal, I use a portrait photo of a monkey (a capuchin?) by Jill Greenberg. Recently Greenberg became the subject of some controversy because of a serious of photos of crying children she made, since she supposedly "abused" the children by making them cry. All this "abuse" really amounted to giving them candy and taking it away, which is a stupid thing to get in an uproar over. Anyway, they're great photos qua photos, although they're better if you just consider their inherent qualities instead of hearing the photographer talk about how she imagines the kids crying over the re-election of George Bush, which makes them sound like the lamest protest ever.

2. What's your current relationship status?
Happily married for close to four months now.

3. Ever have a near-death experience?

4. Name an obvious quality you have?
Retention and recall of trivia.

5. What's the name of the song that's stuck in your head right now?
Some godawful crap by AFI that's only suitable for whiny teenagers.

6. Any celeb you would marry?
There are plenty of hot ones, but they're all probably nuts.

7. Who will cut and paste this first?
Maybe my younger sister.

8. Name someone with the same birthday as you.
Shannon Elizabeth. Same day, same year.

9. Do you have a crush on someone?
From time to time, yeah, sure.

10. Have you ever vandalized someone's private property?
One time I stuck a note with chewing gum onto the driver's side window of a car that was taking up two parking spaces.

11. Have you ever been in a fight?
Yes, but not in years.

12. Have you ever sung in front of a large audience?
Depends on how large. With Stale Urine, I sang solo in front of crowds many times but never before more than maybe 100 people at most. As a kid I was in a chorale called the International Children's Choir where we sang at various public events around Southern California, including an indoor soccer game and Carnation Plaza at Disneyland.

13. What's the first thing you notice about the opposite sex?
It depends on whether I see them from the front or the back.

14. What do you usually order from Starbucks?
I never drink coffee and almost never go to Starbucks, but when I do I get a steamed vanilla milk or something like that.

15. Have you ever hurt yourself on purpose?

16. Say something totally random about yourself.
I once had my vomit cleaned up by a pitcher on the Atlanta Braves.

17. Has anyone ever said you looked like a celebrity?
Yes, Drew Carey, on multiple occasions.

18. Do you wear a watch?
Yes, on my right wrist, even though I'm right-handed.

19. Do you have anything pierced?

20. Do you have any tattoos?
No way.

21. Do you like pain?
No, but I think I have a fairly high tolerance. What's up with all these masochistic questions?

22. Do you like to shop?
Oh yeah, if it's fun stuff to shop for.

23. What was the last thing you paid for with cash?
Lunch at the Mediterranean Cafe.

24. What was the last thing you paid for with a credit card?
Dinner at Black Angus (technically a debit card, I guess). This a day after I submitted some environmental documents that would allow the place to be torn down in favor of a mixed-use development.

25. Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone?
A co-worker from the San Diego office.

26. What is on your desktop background?
A photo I took in the Florida Panhandle last year of a field of black-eyed Susans:

27. What is the background on your cell phone?
The default.

28. Do you like redheads?
I don't dislike them, but they're not generally my bag.

29. Do you know any twins?
Not since college.

30. Do you have any weird relatives?
Yes. Who doesn't?

31. What was the last movie you watched?
At home, Master of the Flying Guillotine. In a theatre, Snakes on a Plane. I thought it was a pretty solid B-movie, hitting the right balance of being knowing without being a parody, though Vern makes some valid criticisms. The internet hype around this thing was pretty stupid, though, and this photo is stupid on so many levels that it boggles the mind:

Note that this guy got his tattoo several weeks before the film opened. So he wasn't a fan of the movie per se, just a fan of the internet meme surrounding the movie.

32. What was the last book you read?
I'm 2/3 of the way through Moby-Dick*. The last book I read in its entirety was Freakonomics.

*or, The Whale

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Vote Match

Earlier today I found this website, Vote Match, which compares your answers to several policy questions with how various politicians have voted. There are lots of political compass-type quizzes out there on the web, but I liked how with this one actually used a position-by-position comparison rather than just telling me where I fell on a map of the political spectrum. The problem with this site, though is that it's way out of date, treating the 2000 election as a current event.

Two questions, then.

1. Does anybody know of any good political comparison sites out there that are more up-to-date, especially ones that compare issue-by-issue?

2. I noticed that even for the politicians whose positions I most closely match, my similarity score is pretty low. Compared with the various California congressmen, for example, my closest match is only a 55%, for Howard Berman. The social/economic splits can be pretty severe, too. I'm a 42% economic match for both Berman and Bob Dornan, but while I get rated a 75% social match with Berman, I'm a 0% (that's right, ZERO --- even though we're both anti-abortion) match with Dornan.

While overall I tend to be a much better match with the Democrats than with the Republicans, I have enough beefs with them that every time I vote, I feel like I'm making a compromise and voting for the lesser of two evils. My question, then, is whether the rest of you are able to find politicians (congressmen, specifically) who are better matches than 55%. Do others who feel more confident supporting their parties find better matches, or is my case not that unusual?

Aztec Cannibals

Archeologists have figured out some details on Aztec cannibalization of some captured Spaniards.
The prisoners were kept in cages for months while Aztec priests from what is now Mexico City selected a few each day at dawn, held them down on a sacrificial slab, cut out their hearts and offered them up to various Aztec gods.
The priests and town elders, who performed the rituals on the steps of temples cut off by a perimeter wall, sometimes ate their victims' raw and bloody hearts or cooked flesh from their arms and legs once it dropped off the boiling bones.
Some pregnant women in the group had their unborn babies stabbed inside their bellies as part of the ritual.

In the meantime, La Voz de Aztlan thinks that the Mel Gibson arrest was all part of some big Jewish conspiracy. Gibson is one of the only American gringos these loonies like, mostly because they approve of his anti-Semitism.

In further race-relation news, the next series of "Survivor" will split up the contestants into four tribes based on their race or ethnicity. While on the one hand experiments like this at least have the potential for some interesting sociological results, that all tends to get obscured by the dictums of reality TV production. Namely, contestants are selected for their inherent obnoxiousness and the shows are edited to emphasize conflict.
Update: Defamer comments on Survivor, delves into where they seem to get their casting pool.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Piling On

I know I'm guilty of piling on about Cory Doctorow's excitability, but this latest one is a doozy. Some guy got stuck in one spot of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland with the lights on and felt compelled to post a boring, 5-minute, herky-jerky, lamely-narrated video of it to YouTube. This happened to me on the Indiana Jones ride the last time I was at Disneyland and it was kind of interesting for a little while but mostly it's just being stuck on a ride. Cory was a bit more impressed than I was:
Hot damn this is a kick-ass piece of video -- the Mansion with the lights on, it's like a cross between seeing your parents having sex and catching the hand of God rearranging the laws of physics while your back is turned.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

And on the mound... Jose Canseco?

I know minor-league teams will do anything to attract a crowd, but this Wednesday the independent Long Beach Armada's starting pitcher will be none other than Jose freakin' Canseco. Yes, Mr. Steroid himself. Putting him on the team is one thing, converting him into a pitcher is just nuts. Well, they're in last place already; they must be desperate.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Dairy Question

My Ralphs butter lists the ingredients thusly:

What does that mean?

1. The butter's natural color varies from season to season, so they color it for consistency,
2. The butter's natural color is steady, but they color it due to consumer demand for yellower butter at different times of the year,
3. The color is added to "season" the butter, or
4. Something else entirely?

Follow-up question: Why?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Speaking of Qaddafi...

I had no idea until yesterday that he surrounds himself with 40 badass female bodyguards.

"Women should be trained for combat, so that they do not become easy prey for their enemies." In the West, "the situation for women is hardly enviable: she has left home but only to confront a difficult fate, driving trucks & trains."

Mel Gibson

Yes, I know Mel Gibson was the story everybody was blogging about last week, but Vic has been linking to me, so I figured I might as well link to Vic's take on Mel Gibson's arrest last week. My short take: I think we've pretty well proven that Gibson's an anti-Semite. But where does he go from there? Is this something he knows consciously is wrong and tries to change in himself, or is it something he just masks every time he deals with Jews in his business and personal life? Consider his father and how much of that he must have internalized. All the same, bigotry is something people can work to overcome, even if there's still a remnant bit of it stuck in the back of their psyche. I don't know what the man does in his private life, but if he wants to be taken seriously in the public realm, he needs to show that he really does recognize that this is a problem and that he's working through it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Unsavory Characters

Last week I wrote about having to deal economically with unsavory regimes partially because openness tends to erode the power of dictatorial regimes. This article in Slate today points out how the terror plot to blow up airplanes with liquid explosives was foiled by British intelligence agencies with the help of Pakistani intelligence agencies, which aren't necessarily full of the most savory characters in the world. The real eye-opener in the article, though, is the reference to a 2003 article by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker about how the U.S. had an opportunity to work with the very unsavory Syrian intelligence agencies post-9/11 but burnt that chance (and the chance to put the clamp down on Hezbollah) in the run-up to the war in Iraq. I suppose the same principle applies with ordinary domestic police work; a good detective needs to develop relationships with a bunch of low-lifes and shady characters in order to bring down the big criminals. I guess there needs to be all sorts of carrot/stick arrangements with these dictatorial regimes to work with them but not prop them up; that seems to have worked out OK with Qaddafi.

All of this is a reminder of my general feelings on the whole Global War on Terror. First, it's important that we recognize that there really is a worldwide movement that hates Western society with a passion and would like to see us destroyed. (This post from my favorite excitable moron Cory Doctorow just three days ago particularly pissed me off--- terrorist threats aren't environmental factors like lightning bolts or car crashes, they're part of a deliberate plan to disrupt and destroy our society and they'll grow if we don't stop or prevent them.*) Part of the implication of that is that we're at war now and have been at war for several years, even before we sent any troops to Afghanistan or Iraq.

The two big-picture successes so far have been the toppling of Saddam and the fact that there haven't been any successful large-scale terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 (how many people were saying at the time that further attacks would be inevitable by now?) Also, there have been baby steps toward democracy in the Muslim world where previously there had been none.

The downside is pretty manifest, though: Bush seems to have been completely unprepared for the possibility of the insurgency in Iraq, Osama bin Laden and his best pals are still on the loose, Israel and Hezbollah are engaging in open warfare, successful terrorist strikes that have avoided the U.S. have nevertheless struck in Britain, Spain, Indonesia, Russia, and elsewhere, and in general the struggle for the hearts and minds of people in Muslim countries isn't going anywhere near as smoothly as planned. To top it off, the terrorists have "won" to the extent that they've been successful in screwing up, to varying degrees, air travel, civil liberties, and reasonable political discourse. In other words, Bush has done a pretty piss-poor job, but the isolationist head-in-the-sand approach isn't going to work, either.

*A more intelligent article about our perception of terrorism dangers can be found here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pat Robertson Now Believes in Global Warming

This has to be considered some kind of tipping point, right? Either that, or its a sign that the rest of us should take a second look at the science and make sure we're correct.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thanks for the Sanctions

This article from Slate outlines how economic sanctions strengthen dictatorships and suggests using constructive economic engagement instead. I agree with this article but would add that "constructive" economic engagement should involve something of a carrot-and-stick program and not mean a completely free market when dealing with dictators, slave labor, deplorable working conditions, etc. Isolation is not a good strategy, but we need to have a distinction between friendly countries and those we disapprove of.

In the meantime, it's supposedly news that the White House is "surprised" by Fidel Castro's illness. We scour Afghanistan for five years without finding Osama bin Laden and yet we're supposed to be able to predict when the Cuban president is going to be sick? Why would know this, unless his personal physician is on the CIA payroll?