Wednesday, December 31, 2008

MM and Friends Wave Goodbye to 2008 and Hello to 2009

Auld lang syne time, baby.

Well, it's been one heck of a year, and it's New Year's Eve for 2009. I think I'm quite ready to wave goodbye to 2008! It's certainly been an . . . interesting year.

So I'm off: the gang's all here to celebrate the New Year! Some of my buddies live here in town, while others have come from far away. Regardless, tonight we're getting all dressed up to go to a nice dinner (we made reservations -- and started saving pennies for a splurge -- long ago), go to a party being hosted by another group of friends, and then we're planning to stay up until midnight playing Wii and other games while hanging out at Ladybird's house and then watching fireworks from around the world on TV. Yep, we just might be wearing silly party hats and playing with noisemakers and -- I hope -- sparklers. I love sparklers!

Plus we all almost never get a chance to get dressed up for an evening out with old friends, so this should be fun! We only ever get to do this maybe once a year -- and not always then either. After this, the fun's over, and I'm back to Nerdworld.

The rowdy guest list for tonight? Some of the regular guest stars you've come to know and love on MM Blog: Foxtrot, Ladybird and her husband, Alessandra d'Ambrosio, Il Barista and La Parisienne, and -- of course -- the Cinema-Mad Sibling and others.

So, gentle reader, let me wish you all a cheerful end to 2008 and a great beginning to 2009. I leave you with JibJab's musical cartoon of 2008 in review!

Nerd Journal: MM in the Kitchen and a Progressive Dinner, Part 1: Chicken-Pancetta Sausage

I love the holidays! I'm away from Nerdworld and back with my peeps in my native climes. I am socializing like crazy, because as soon as I go back to campus for the spring term, I'll be in nerd-exile and near-solitary confinement again.

Carpe diem and all that, right? So last night, the Cine-Sib, Il Barista, La Parisienne, and I got together to make a gorgeous dinner together, with the cooking being as much fun as the eating. So . . . I am food-blogging, one post per dish.

First things first: Il Barista and I decided to try our hand at homemade sausage -- with a recipe of our own invention. Here's the process and the product!

We decided to make a chicken sausage using about a pound and half of chicken breast (i.e., 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into large dice). A good sausage needs a bit of fat in it, so we included half a pound of diced pancetta. We then added kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, chopped basil and parsley. Next: chill the entire mixture and then grind it up (we used the grinder attachment on Il Barista's beloved Kitchen-Aid stand mixer). The result:

Now came the rather nasty bit: stuffing the sausage mix into natural casings. I didn't bother taking a photo of the casings themselves because the long, slimy strands were -- frankly -- disgusting. Run water through them to clean them, and they puff out into bumpy coils of membrane.

"EW, YUCK!" La Parisienne and I yelled. "They look like alien guts! Barista, YOU can do this part; we're going to the living room to watch Supernatural DVDs." (The chivalrous response: "WUSSES!") All of us ended up working together with the Kitchen-Aid to fill the casings, and we finished with this:

From this, it was an easy matter to make the long sausage rope into individual links. Don't they look lovely? They look darn near professionally done, don't they?

Well, then there's nothing left to do but cook the sausages to a golden brown state of deliciousness and eat them all up!

So how good were they? Il Barista and I looked at each other across the table, grinned, and agreed: "We still have it. We're awesome!"

The Gaza Conflict and the Argument of Proportionality

Power Line takes a look (with links to other analyses) at the idea of "proportionality."  

Frankly, I've never thought the idea of "proportionate response" was much besides "Defend yourself militarily -- but make sure folks don't think you're being a bully to people who keep trying to kill your civilians."  Oh, and add some moral equivalency, muddled history, and biased advocacy media.  

Anyway, various arguments about proportionality and related ideas basically advocate the preservation of whatever enemy organization (Hezbollah before, Hamas now) is being pounded by the justifiably irate Israelis at the moment.  In the grand scheme of things, note also Jules Crittenden's timely and astute question: "What if the destruction of Hamas is the best thing that ever happened to the Palestinian people?"

I rather like Victor Davis Hanson's satirical "modest proposals" for proportionality.  They include:

1) Request that 50% of Israel's air-to-ground missiles be duds to ensure greater proportionality.

2) Allow Hamas another 1,000 free rocket launches to see if they can catch up with the body count.

3) Have Israeli soldiers congregate in border barracks so that Hamas's random rockets have a better chance of killing military personnel, to ensure it can claim at least a few military targets.

Predictably, the global elites are calling for a truce in Gaza.  

UPDATE: See what blogfriend Dignified Rant has to say about proportionality.  This bit is piquantly relevant: "In my view, it isn't a disproportionate response if your enemy keeps trying to kill you."

Minerva at the Pentagon

Alas, I'm not part of this, but it sounds interesting.  Take a closer look at the Pentagon's Minerva Initiative.  (It was orginally announced by Secretary of Defense Gates back in April.) Aside from its various research projects, the Minerva Initiative is also an attempt to bridge the chasm between the military and academia.  It's already controversial, and I think we can expect even more controversy as time goes on.

(Hey, Pentagon!  I looooooooove the name!)

New Year's Resolution: Take Better Photographs in 2009!

If you've made the same resolution, join me at Photojojo!  First things first: how to take better food photos.  Mmmm, yeah.

(Stereotype?  What stereotype?)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Movie Review: "Twilight" by La Parisienne

Zoning out.

The lovely La Parisienne is my guest blogger and movie reviewer for this post! She and I (along with the intrepid Cine Sib, but not Il Barista, who fled in horror from the very idea) went to see "Twilight" earlier tonight. The result? The most entertaining night at the cinema in a very long time -- because we were treating the whole thing like a big episode of "Mystery Science Theater." This film is unintentionally hilarious! She and I had been waiting since Thanksgiving for me to come home for the holidays -- so we can hang out.

Without further ado, I give you . . . La Parisienne's review! The friend mentioned in it isn't me, by the way. LP had seen the flick once before tonight, but she insisted that it was so funny it warranted a second screening.


I had high expectations for "Twilight." I expected it to be bad -- very, very bad. Anyone who read the book couldn’t honestly expect a great film or even a good film. Seriously, the majority of the book was Bella droning on about the beautiful vampire who wants to eat her, all in between fainting spells and make-out sessions. So, when I finally conned my friend into watching "Twilight" with me, I warned her that it would be bad. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to discover that it was wonderfully bad. Allow me to point out particular scenes of hilarity. Sorry, it is more of a recap than a review, but I love it when directors inadvertently make comedies.

Bella’s first day of school in Forks is interesting. She meets Eric and Mike, who are infatuated with her in the book, but I’m pretty sure that movie Eric doesn’t like girls. Maybe they can all go shopping together. The vapid Jessica and bookish Angela complete her social circle, and then she sees the pale and pretty Cullen clan. Jessica explains that all of the foster siblings are “together,” but Edward just happens to be single. Bella has Biology class with Edward where he first catches her scent; apparently vampires are immortal but not immune to seizures. This scene is hilarious. Pattinson promised to play Edward as a “manic depressive who hates himself,” and he delivers. Edward is everything I ever imagined and more.

We see the tortured soul in Biology another day where he attempts to strike up a conversation with our heroine. You'd think a century-old vampire would have improved his social skills by now. Every time Edward was in a scene, my unbiased friend simply said, “AWKWARD.” Anyway, their relationship finally progresses when Edward saves Bella from an out of control vehicle by jumping between her and it. He leaves without warning or explanation. Now we come to a departure from the book that I greatly appreciated. Bella doesn’t pass out or go out of her way to keep a secret, at first. She wants answers, which leads to more odd scenes with our self-loathing hero who warns her to stay away from him while simultaneously poking his nose into her personal life. AWKWARD. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

When Bella runs into her family friend, Jacob, during a group outing, he tells her an old Native American legend about the Cullens. I also think that his story about wolves and enemy tribes is vague, so I understand why she decides to do some more research on the subject. I like movie Bella better than book Bella. I just have to mention that this is also the part where Bella talks Angela into asking out Eric. I can only guess that people in a town where vampires can lead normal lives aren’t all that observant. Angela is now a beard.

Bella’s research leads her to a bookstore out of town, but as she is leaving it, to meet up with her friends, a group of men surrounds her. All is well though, because Edward drives up and gives the monsters a scary stare. HILARIOUS! The comedy continues when they find Jessica and Angela, who ate while their friend was in mortal danger. Edward tells them that he will drive Bella home because he wants to make sure she eats. They have the typical teenage response and gush about how “thoughtful” he is. I now laugh like a mad woman every time I hear the word. The restaurant is a time of revelation. He admits to stalking her and being able to read minds, every mind but Bella’s. Of course, the stalking is all in the name of protecting her, so it is all right. He also watches her sleep, but that must be because he's thoughtful. Sure, it isn’t creepy at all. Bella finally figures out the truth that night when she reads her newly acquired book and surfs the internet.

The next day, Bella leads Edward into a secluded part of the forest for the confrontation. Nothing like making sure you are completely alone with a vampire before telling him you know his secret. In my opinion, this is the best scene of the movie because most of the dialogue is straight out of the book. We establish that he is a vampire, finally. When that doesn’t scare her off, he throws her on his back and quickly carries her to the sunny side of the mountain. They really had no budget for effects. He shows her what he is by opening his shirt in a ray of sunlight. It looks like Tinkerbell has been showering vampires with fairy dust again. Think happy thoughts, Edward. Never mind, I forgot that you can’t; good thing that you can run like the wind. Anyway, after warning her that she is his “brand of heroin,” he admits that “the lion fell in love with the lamb.” I told you it was straight out of the book.

Meanwhile, a small vampire gang has been snacking in the area. Bella’s father, Sheriff Charlie Swann, has been investigating the deaths along with Edward’s father, Dr. Cullen. One of the vamps must be a dance choreographer because that is the only thing to explain their moves. It is also nice to see that the female vampire was able to borrow some fur off the White Witch from Narnia. I guess Hollywood really is going green. The interloping vampires concern the “vegetarian” Cullen family who need to keep suspicion away from themselves. I mean, vampire attack is always the first theory in a suspicious death investigation.

Edward takes Bella to a family baseball game where the players all have Matrix-like skills. There is fun for all until the other vampires show up. What? Is this a hint at a plot? The Cullens, in their baseball uniforms, contrast with the wild vampires nicely. That’s right; they wear uniforms like civilized people… vampires… whatever. The new vampires want to play, and things look friendly at first. Edward and Bella are about to leave when one of the vamps catches her scent and decides it’s snack time. The two groups dramatically snarl at each other and game over.

The movie moves far too fast at this point. We finally have an actual plot line with action and it is smashed into the last half hour. Anyway, Bella leaves with Edward’s brother and sister, Jasper and Alice, while the others try to lead the James, the obsessive and hungry vampire, on a wild goose chase. I like Alice and I wish we saw more of her here, but -- alas -- Edward was given most of her lines. It does make him more honest and likeable, but it still sort of stinks. Jasper always looks pained because he is new to the vegetarian lifestyle and not used to eating only animals when people are around. I’m not allowed to kill people at will either, so I have little sympathy.

Moving on, Alice has a vision of the future and where their adversary will end up in a ballet studio. This happens, of course, when Bella, thinking that he has her mother, meets him there. She pepper sprays him at first and tries to run away, but he is too fast. Surprise. Personally, I would bring sharp objects and fire. His torture of her ends when Edward enters. There is a hilarious fight scene right with lots of broken glass and then some group vampire killing and burning. Edward is forced to drink Bell’s blood to remove vampire venom and almost kills her. I told you it all moved too fast. She wakes up in the hospital with her mother and Edward. There is the typical “I should leave you for your own good” scenario. The movie ends with a romantic moment at their prom and promises of sequels. As we left, my friend said, “I’m glad it was entertaining, but I don’t get it. Why did she fall in love with him?” I’ve got nothing.

"Twilight" runs for 122 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some violence and one (hilariously terrible) kissing scene.

RottenTomatoes gives this film a rotten rating of 49%.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 in Review: A Roller-Coaster Year for Starbucks

The food/drink mavens over at Serious Eats have devoted an entire year's-end retrospective to Satan Coffee. 2008 was a whirlwind year for the world's most famous coffee company.

Il Barista and Noli Me Tangere!, this post is for you.

My favorite Starbucks-related news item for 2008? Comedian Stephen Colbert's meltdown from coffee deprivation. Classic.

Venti humor, no whip.

Stupidest Starbucks-related news item? The prudish, near-Victorian kerfuffle over the mermaid logo revamp. Grow up, people.

Geek Fun in the Kitchen: A Cooking Robot!

From a laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, comes this latest project: a robot that learns how to cook! (Longer version with explanation here.)

Nerd Analysis: Michael Oren on Gaza Conflict

Oren's written several notable books on the Middle East in general and Israel in particular, and he has a new article (written with Yossi Klein Halevi).

The Cine-Sib Recommends: "Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Li"

The Cinema-Mad Sibling has been throwing all kinds of movie trailers, videos, and recommendations at me, but I haven't gotten around to posting any of them (hey, it's the holidays, and I'm busy!).

The Cine-Sib is beginning to pout, though, so I think I'd better give you one of his recommendations: "Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Li." Link includes video.

He gave this to me with only one comment: "LANA!" (Well, boys will be boys.)


China, Taiwan, and Panda Diplomacy

Everyone's been talking about the two pandas that China recently gave to Taiwan. Chen Shui-bian had refused this gift, but Ma has accepted it as a "goodwill gesture."

Oh, PLEASE. The entire exchange is rife with implications.

Perhaps I'm in a nasty temper, but I'm in no mood to be happy about two pandas whose names together mean "reunion." One news story refers to the little furballs as "the unity pandas," a term that sounds all nice, but you'd be a fool to think that they come with no strings attached. The Foreigner in Formosa isn't happy about it either, so do read why. It's a matter of calling the pandas' export from China to Taiwan as a "domestic transfer." Got that? A domestic transfer -- and the de facto classification of Taiwan as a Chinese territory. (Update: more details via Foreigner in Formosa.)

Maybe the pandas aren't laced with lead or melamine, but they're full of political poison.

Dignified Rant uses the term "charm offensive," with emphasis, I think, on the "offensive."

Anyway, here is my totally reductionist and biased opinion:

Timeo Chinese Communists dona ferentes.

Taiwan Retrospective: Top News Stories of 2008

Taiwan's CNA has its annual list of top Taiwan news stories of the year. Here's the list, and it's a mostly depressing one.

Number one: the arrest and indictment of former president Chen Shui-bian, of course.

Other highlights (or "lowlights"?) include poisoned milk from China and this little gem of financial news:
Since the May 20 inauguration of the KMT administration, Taiwan's stock index plunged from more than 9,200 points to far below the 10-year average of 6,560 and even continued its downward spiral toward a low of 4,000 points before rebounding to hover around 4,300 points.

Gee, what was that Ma said about boosting Taiwan's economy if he got elected?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nerd Analysis: Israel, Hamas, and the Current Gaza Conflict

From Harvard's Olin Institute's Middle Eastern arm comes this commentary (my emphasis):
The Gaza conflict was born the day Hamas took control of the Strip; the clock started ticking the day the “calm” began six months ago. Unlike all of Israel’s other neighbors, save Hezbollah, Hamas is an existential adversary of Israel, not a competitor for some slice of territory or for the affection of Washington. This current round of fighting might not be determinative but it certainly provides the international community—led by the United States—with an opportunity to achieve certain objectives that are necessary to a successful outcome of eventual peace diplomacy.
Conflict was a matter of when, not if, as soon as Hamas took over. Now Israel's patience has finally run out, though -- predictably -- already voices of advocacy on both sides have taken their stands in the media.

Power Line has a report by foreign policy analyst Dan Diker.

Members of the Palestinian leadership are blaming Hamas, while Egypt says that Hamas is preventing wounded Palestinians from seeking medical help in Egypt.

Best Cartoon Commentary on the Obama + Rick Warren Kerfuffle

Come on, a little perspective, people. Check out this little cartoon:

Selective tolerance.

Throwing/Fetching Sticks is Dangerous for Your Dog

Thus spake a British vet. Is there no limit to the determination of "health and safety advocates" to crush the fun out of every part of life? Not even poor Fido is safe from the reaches of the nanny mindset.

Amusement of the Day: Dave Barry Looks Back at 2008

The end of the year is fast approaching, so it is time for retrospectives! Humorist Dave Barry has his all ready. Do take a look. Here's a piece of it:
A mesmerizing speaker, Obama electrifies voters with his exciting new ideas for change, although people have trouble remembering exactly what these ideas are because they are so darned mesmerized. Some people become so excited that they actually pass out. These are members of the press corps.

Here's even more:

Internationally, the big story is the Olympic games, which begin under a cloud of controversy when journalists in Beijing, who were promised unfettered Internet access by the Chinese government, discover that no matter what address they enter into their browsers, they wind up on Chairman Mao's Facebook page (he has 1.3 billion friends). But even the critics are blown away by the spectacular opening ceremony, which features the entire population of Asia performing the Electric Slide.

The games themselves are dominated by swimmer Michael Phelps, who wins eight gold medals, thus putting himself on a sounder financial footing than the U.S. Treasury.

Barack Obama, in a historic triumph, is elected the nation's first black president since the second season of "24," setting off an ecstatically joyful and boisterous all-night celebration that at times threatens to spill out of the New York Times newsroom. Obama, following through on his promise to bring change to Washington, quickly begins assembling an administration consisting of a diverse group of renegade outsiders, ranging all the way from lawyers who attended Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration to lawyers who attended entirely different Ivy league schools and then worked in the Clinton administration, to Hillary Clinton.

The end of the story contains this glorious caveat: "Dave Barry is making most of this up. But not all."

Coal for Home Heating

Well, HEY!!! The New York Times reports that coal-burning stoves are having a renaissance in private homes.

Now I know what to do with all the coal I got in my Christmas stocking. This couldn't come at a better time -- baby, it's cold outside!

I also found this fun little ad for coal from the early 1950s. The girl in the ad is very . . . Marilyn Monroe-ish, no?

Coal: the new hotness

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nerd Journal: Quote of the Day From the Cine-Sib

From the Cine-Sib, expressing surprise (that bordered on flat-out astonishment) at my iTunes music collection:

"I didn't know you listened to classic rock! You're not as boring as I thought you were!"

Gee, thanks, pal.

MM in the Kitchen: Lamb Tagine

I made this for the family the other night, and the dish is really good. It has a mountain of ingredients, but the effort is worthwhile. The finished dish is glorious on top of fluffy couscous.

Check out the recipe for lamb tagine. It's too good to keep to myself. Oh, and I've made it with beef instead of lamb; just cook it for a bit longer.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Chilling out.

Take a look at this tale of a huge snowman named Snowzilla. Snowzilla lives! And that despite all local government efforts to shut him down in the name of "safety."

Friday Fun Video: Chinese Food on Christmas

The "Friday Fun Video" feature has a seasonal twist today! Check out Brandon Walker's playful video about what a nice Jewish boy might do on Christmas. Link via Serious Eats. (And yes, Brandon plays with Jewish stereotypes because he's a comedian.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Better Christmas Post, I Hope: Handel's "Messiah" in Japan

Not, you understand, that I willingly confess to having an actual conscience or anything like that, but I'm beginning to think that inflicting an obnoxiously pink, cute Hello Kitty on you on Christmas Day, dear unsuspecting gentle reader, is a deed of such surpassing depravity that not even Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch himself would condone it!

Let's try again. I give you a glorious bit of East-Meets-West plus Christmas choral music as the Bach Collegium Japan under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki performs "For Unto Us A Child Is Born" from Handel's immortal "Messiah." Consider it too the culmination of my (rather desultory) Advent music countdown.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

This post has put me on Santa's "naughty" list already for NEXT year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Baby! Hurry Down the Chimney Tonight!

Well, I can't say that I'm surprised.

The Major League Dreidel Championship

For MM Blog readers who celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas, here's a fun little story about championship dreidel!

NORAD Tracks Santa 2008!

It's a Christmas tradition here at MM Blog to highlight Santa-tracking with the fine men and women of NORAD.

Enjoy the fun as NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve 2008!

Iran's Ahmadinejad's Christmas Message on BBC

I guess it wouldn't be Christmas without a big nutty fruitcake.

But also, I suppose BBC is busy congratulating itself for its "bold" stand in favor of "diversity" and "free speech" by granting air time to an anti-Semitic, hate-filled fanatic who has publicly and repeatedly called for the annihilation of Israel. And BBC granting this creep air time ON CHRISTMAS DAY! I'm putting BBC on my "naughty" list.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Festivus!

No bagel, no bagel, no bagel.

Festivus!  The airing of grievances!  The feats of strength!  The Seinfeld tributes!  Gotta love this humorous pseudo-holiday.  Oh, and you can get your very own Festivus Pole too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quirky Euro Files: Evil Greek Christmas Goblins

Here's a story about an odd Greek folk tradition connected with Christmas. Take a look at evil Greek Christmas goblins.  What?

The news article has this to say:
Who says Santa Claus is the only one trying to come down your chimney during the festive season? According to Greek mythology, a gaggle of goblin-like spirits are trying to slide into homes -- and instead of presents they are intent on leaving a trail of destruction.

As the Greeks tell it, it wouldn't be hard to confuse the Twelve Days of Christmas with the Twelve Days of Hell. That is if you believe in the Kallikantzaroi.

These mythical, goblin-like spirits are said to pop up between Christ's birthday and Epiphany on Jan. 6, days they devote to wreaking their unique brand of havoc. John Tomkinson, the Athens-based author of "Haunted Greece: Nymphs, Vampires, and other Exotica" compares their behavior to "…drunken yobs coming out of a pub."

. . . Opinions differ on what they look like, both because of active imaginations and Greece's once-isolated regions, separated by the Hellenic nation's many mountains and vast seas. As a result, some say the Kallikantzaroi resemble humans with dark complexions, ugly, very tall beings that sport iron clogs. Others say they're short and swarthy, with red eyes, cleft hooves, monkeys' arms, and hair-covered bodies. There's another school of thought which describes them as lame, squinting and stupid. They survive on a diet of worms, frogs and snakes.

. . . The uninvited festive guests are said to sneak into homes through the chimney or, more boldly, by using the front door. And, surprise surprise, Greek families are keen to ward off the gaggles of goblin louts. Some use the legendary precaution of a black-handled knife. Others swear by hanging the lower jaw of a pig behind the front door or inside the chimney. "It's the thing to have over Christmas," Tomkinson said. "Don't ask me why."

. . . Fire is another deterrent: many households maintain a crackling blaze in the hearth throughout the holidays. The smoke is said to keep the pesky Kallikantzaroi out of the chimney. On Christmas Eve, the household patriarch tosses a big log from a thorny tree, such as prickly pear or wild cherry on to the blaze. This Christmas log is known as the skarkantzalos, from Kallikantzaroi.

Sometimes an old shoe is burned, the stench of seared leather augmenting the fire's repellant effect. A handful of salt, which gets things crackling, is also said to scare off the beasts.

And Greeks born on Christmas Day are at special risk. That can be construed as trying to upstage Christ and the child can turn into a Kallikantzaroi -- unless the mother binds her newborn with garlic, that is.

Fire?  SALT??  

I'm sorry, but I can't help myself.  This seems far too much like "Life Imitates TV."  I have the sudden urge to throw down all my books and journals and pop a certain DVD into the player.  My Evil Enablers know very well which DVD too, since "wicked supernatural creepy-crawlies + Christmas + fire + salt" is a holiday recipe that needs a secret ingredient called . . . Winchesters.

O Christmas tree!

"Twilight" Derangement Syndrome from Princeton

Oh, I feel much better about my own raging case of TDS after reading this from the blog component of the Daily Princetonian campus newspaper. A student journalist and book reviewer demolishes the "Twilight" book series.

La Parisienne, this one's all yours. Blurb:
But, as you may have heard, there is virtually no Edward in the second book, New Moon, and that’s where things start to fall apart. You start to realize that, hell, this book is all about some self-indulgent, prissy, ridiculously sexually frustrated, needy teenage girl who spends half her time bemoaning her fate and the other half messing up other people’s lives . . .

Regrettably, I assumed that Meyer was working up to some big thrill, a real shocker that was going to turn the series around and make up for hundreds of pages of sloppy angst. I assumed, kept assuming, and kept waiting, right until the end of the fourth book, which ended in the most ridiculously anticlimactic battle scene I have ever had the misfortune of reading.

China: Labor Strikes as Chinese Economy Stumbles

Public unrest bubbling?  Keep an eye on China.  Its economy is not invincible, and as its weaknesses appear, I think we can expect more of this.

RELATED POST:  Economic troubles could shake the Chinese Communists' grip on power.

Cute Critter of the Day: a Purple Squirrel

How odd!

Quirky Asia Files: Chinese Sailors with Beer Bottles 1, Somali Pirates 0

I can't make this stuff up if I tried.

Beer!  Is there anything it can't do?

2008: A Year in Photos

See this fascinating collection of photos (divided into 3 galleries).

Nerd News, Financial Apocalypse Edition: University of Tennessee's Physics Department and the Financial Meltdown

From University of Tennessee law professor and blogger Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds comes a report of tough financial times in his school's Department of Physics.

The report is bit detailed, but if you want a window into the nuts and bolts of academia's working conditions, it's a good glimpse of one department's attempt to operate in trying times. Here is a sample, and fellow nerds (especially science ones) may well cringe to read it:

So how do these budget cuts influence our department? Profoundly! We now have 25.5 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) faculty members in our department. This is two less than just a year ago, since we lost two positions as a result of the budget cuts in June. We have to go all the way back to around 1960 to find fewer faculty members in our department. We have partly compensated for this loss in FTEs by having more Joint Faculty positions with ORNL, so the 25.5 FTE correspond to 33 actual living beings!

Our department used to have a large group of lecturers and adjunct teaching staff, who would be responsible for many of our large service courses and general education courses. Over the past several years we have lost many of them and have not had any funds to replace them, so we are now down to only 3 lecturers. This has placed a strong teaching responsibility on our faculty and they have responded extremely well. Our physics faculty is now teaching more student credit hours than any other department at the university . . .

This high efficiency, however, is coming at a cost. There is no more "slack" in the system in the form of professors that can teach more courses. If we have to implement additional budget cuts, we will have to cancel classes . . .

We have also had to reduce our staff in the department. We are now operating our Electronics Workshop with only two people instead of three, and our Mechanical Workshop will now be run by only four people after the untimely death of our workshop supervisor, Jodie Millward, since we do not have any funds to replace his position. Our administrative and financial staff now consists of only five people, who manage to run a "business" with approximately 200 employees.

The financial meltdown is hitting campuses hard. The reports keep coming, so I think it's time to create a new tag: "financial meltdown on campus."


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cartoon Commentary on Bailout-a-palooza: Big Government Santa

Yes, Taxpayer Virginia, you WILL be paying for this until you die.

Nerd News, Financial Apocalypse Edition: Yale Endowment Down By 25%

The widespread financial meltdown is hitting the Ivory Tower as much as it's hitting everybody else.

The latest gloomy news: Yale's endowment is down by 25%. Yale has not (yet, anyway) instituted hiring freezes, but it will delay several major construction projects on campus.


Nerd Journal: Snow-Blogging AGAIN

Global warming, my eye.  Pfffft.

If Dean Winchester can glower with annoyance at the falling snow, then so can I.  Snow -- and lots of it -- is pouring out of a pearly-gray sky again -- and horribly so.  Yet another huge, powerful winter storm system is slamming my part of the country, making it the third to dump the white stuff within the last two weeks  (previous snow-moaning here and here).  It doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon either.

Now I'm starting to worry that I won't be able to flee Nerdworld.  I'm supposed to leave soon, but if the weather doesn't clear up, the airport will be hopeless.  I'm not going to panic (yet) about not being home in time for Christmas Day, but I'm definitely beginning to think about it.

First things first, though: I'm going to bake some cookies to warm up the apartment!  It is COLD!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Amusing Video of the Day: "Twilight" Performed By Puppets

Oh, I do hate "Twilight," but puppets amuse me! (Via the Thompson on Hollywood blog.)

Holiday Cheer: Unusual Christmas Trees

Christmas at Nerdworld

Take a look at Neatorama's delightful collection of unusual Christmas trees!  It includes the "tree" above.  I wish I'd thought of that idea!

I must say, though, one year (a looooooong time ago when I was an undergrad and actually had time for such things) I made a fake fireplace from posterboard and put it on my living room wall.  It had a fake fire (yellow, red, and orange paper) and all, but the stockings and string of lights were real.  The whole project cost about $20 and made a great conversation piece for the holiday party!  Hmmm, perhpas I should try making a flat paper Christmas tree?

Literature Humor: "Casey At The Bat" and Baseball Cards


Holiday Silliness: Mistletoe Mania

This utterly frivolous post is for my Evil Enablers La Parisienne and Kamikaze Editor, both of whom will appreciate #1 in this silly list of mistletoe targets (even if some of the other names are -- ewww, yuck!).

Holiday Satire Alert: Santa Wants Bailout

Iowahawk is feeling festive with a new satire for Christmas. 

Here's the start of it.  Hilarious!
WASHINGTON - Flanked by officials from the United Elf Toytinkerers union, SantaCorp CEO Kris Kringle today told the House Ways and Means Committee that without immediate government financial help, his firm would be forced to declare bankruptcy, lay off thousands of elves and reindeer, and potentially cancel its annual worldwide Christmas Eve toy delivery.
Now who's been naughty?

Nerd Journal: Snow-Blogging Part Deux

The horror, the horror!

As the temperatures plummet, another massive snowstorm arrives, and it's covering Nerdworld with a blanket of white doom.  I moaned about the last snowstorm, and I am (predictably) moaning about this one too.

Oh, I have plenty to do at home (a nerd's work is never done), but there's something really depressing about being snowed in with piles of work when Christmas is so close.  I really just want to leave, but I won't be able to do that for a few days -- and anyway the entire region is under a nasty Winter Storm Warning.  (I am now morbidly addicted to the Weather Channel.)

Here's a related note.  Alessandra and I were talking about food for snowstorms.  Everyone knows that in the winter here, you should have a nice little stockpile of non-perishable food in your pantry in case you get snowed in and can't leave the house for a few days.  I was looking at my cupboards while talking on the phone with Alessandra, and we were both doing a mental check-list of our caches.  

We came to the same conclusions:
  1. We have plenty of "emergency provisions."
  2. We actually don't want to eat them.
  3. They are depressing to look at.
What does this mean?  Well, by their nature such stores are non-perishable: they're dry goods or cans or boxes or packets or packages.  (Or frozen.)  None of it's that appealing, really.  Come on, they're in BOXES.  The stuff is practically indestructible.  Call me crazy, but to me "real food" is kind of . . . well, er, perishable.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Fun: What If the "Peanuts" Cartoon Were Japanese?

From Dirty Harry's Place comes this playful look at cartooning styles:

It's the Great Manga, Charlie Brown!

I *Heart* Nature -- in Photos

This is delightful!

Note the one from Taiwan, too.

Nerd Journal: Sleepless, Cynical, and Sassy

Latest nerd update: my universe now consists almost solely of coffee, my laptop, and the endless piles of papers and exams scattered willy-nilly all over the living room floor. It's not just squalor. It's nerd squalor.

WILL THIS NEVER END? I can't wait to flee from Nerdworld and rush home to my native climes (and fellow evildoers), but right now that happy moment seems centuries away.

To make my joy complete, I'm still coughing up my lungs, I can't sleep, and now winter weather is here with a vengeful fury. How is my general outlook on life, you ask? Well, how about this little visual summary of my mood:

Fire bad, tree pretty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nerd Journal: Sick of Books, Papers, Exams, Etc.

Yep, it's that time of year again. The expressions and the piles of books in the following image say it all:

Diagnosis: bibliophobia.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quirky Euro Files: Italy's Great Parmesan Cheese Bailout

OK, this is possibly the only government bailout I could even think about supporting! Yes, we're talking about Parmigiano Reggiano, the undisputed king of cheeses -- and a 50 million euro bailout.

Link via Serious Eats.

In all seriousness, though, I would buy more of this glorious cheese, but it is so dreadfully expensive.

(At least the online Parmigiano cheese game is free. Oh, those darn Italians!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent Soundtrack: Track 14: "Ave Maria"

Here is your daily dose of holiday music, with today's song performed by the late, great Luciano Pavarotti.

Che and Celebrity Communist Chic

Fashion faux pas.

You know how I feel about "Communist chic" and about the stupid celebrity-cult of Che Guevara. Rich celebrities (and whining undergrad poseurs) can't seem to get enough of glamorizing and romanticizing this bloody-minded, murderous thug.

A recent film about Che has been released (see Fausta disassemble it here, with more from Cuba-blogger Babalu). In response, Reason has a very good video about Che and Communist chic. Pay particular attention to the testimony of two people who lived under actual Communism -- Paquito D'Rivera of Cuba and Kai Chen of China. Both managed to escape their Communist hellholes; both are now living in the US.

Watch it here:

I won't even burden your patience by ranting about "Mao chic," a phenomenon of sheer idiocy and historical denial that makes me want to scream.

UPDATE: Awesome!

Taiwan: More on Chen Indictment; Investigators Go After Lee Teng-hui Also?

You all know about Chen Shui-bian's indictment. Michael Turton has more, including a link to this disturbing report by AFP that investigators are now going after Lee Teng-hui.

Corruption charges aside, is it not rather ... odd-looking that the targets are the two Taiwanese politicians whom Beijing hates the most?

Cool Photos of the Day: the Splendors of Coincidence

Never estimate the entertainment value of perfect timing and perfect placement.

Kitchen Notes: Chocolate Ginger Slump Cake

Hey, here's a dessert with a name that suits the economic climate!

Take a look at Chocolate Ginger Slump Cake. It's a great name, though not quite as amusing as Il Barista's Flying Shrapnel Death Pie.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quirky Asia Files: China's Pajama Police

Leave it to China to have actual fashion police, of course. Local officials in Shanghai are trying to stop people from wearing pajamas in public.

FYI: on campus, it's not that unusual to see undergraduates show up to early morning classes in their nightwear!

Cute Critter of the Day: Meet the Frank Sinatra of the Koala World

His name is Logan, and you must see his photo! This blue-eyed furball is the pride and joy of Australia's Dreamworld.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Quirky Asia News + Geek Fun: Japanese Apples Have Apple Icon

An apple a day keeps the PC away?

There are Apples and then there are apples. Now, though, thanks to a creative (if geeky) Japanese apple farmer, you can have Apple apples!

UPDATE: Well, obviously, you can do only one thing with these fruits: make an Apple apple pie!

Nerd News: Conservative Princeton Professor Robert George Wins Presidential Citizen's Medal

Princeton blogger TigerHawk has the news about Professor George's award-- along with some cool video of the venerable professor playing banjo!

Sarko Versus the Mullahs of Iran

French president Sarkozy lit some verbal fireworks indeed:

In the speech, given on 8 December on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Mr Sarkozy said: "How is it that a people such as the Iranian people - one of the world's greatest peoples, one of the world's oldest civilisations, sophisticated, cultured, open - have the misfortune of being represented as they are today by some of their leaders?

"I have said this to my friend Kofi [Annan]: I find it impossible to shake hands with somebody who has dared to say that Israel must be wiped off the map.

"I know perfectly well that we must resolve what is perhaps the most serious international crisis we are having to resolve: that of Iran moving towards a nuclear bomb.

"We cannot resolve it without talking to Iranian leaders, but, after what was the Shoah, after what was the 20th Century, I cannot sit at the same table as a man who dares to say: Israel must be wiped off the map."

Maybe I've gotten used to hearing mealymouthed, whinging, cringing, handwringing accommodationist sap about Iran, but Sarko's plain words were . . . kind of thrilling. Plus I'm happy to see a European leader clearly call out Ahmadinejad about his anti-Semitic rants.

(And you see why I'd never make it in diplomacy.)

Cool Video of the Day: Coming To America, 1820-2007

Take a look at this neat video! My family is one of the little yellow dots during the 1960s. (Hmmm, who thought of using yellow dots for Asian immigration? I'm OFFENDED! *giggle*)

Immigration to the US, 1820-2007 v2 from Ian S on Vimeo.

Nerd Journal: Snow-Blogging

1 snowflake = a lovely bit of nature's art.
A gazillion snowflakes = nature's attempt to kill you.

You may have noticed that I've been blogging a lot today. It's because I am snowbound at home. As you may have heard on the news, a massive snowstorm is pounding the entire East Coast of the U.S., and it is a very nasty bit of weather even by East Coast standards.

At last report, 1 million people have no electricity because the snow and ice have knocked out power lines. I am lucky; I have my power still on (and I'm using it to watch the Weather Channel obsessively). Those poor people -- no power for heat in this kind of weather!

I'm peeking through my blinds (they're CLOSED in an attempt to keep the cold out), and the snowflakes are falling fast in swirling clouds from a pearly-gray sky. I feel as though I'm living in a snowglobe. The inches of snow are piling up!

The scene is all very pretty in a wintry sort of way, but it's only "pretty" because I am safe and warm indoors and I don't have to be out in the snow and wind. No cars are on the roads except for the tireless snowplows trying to keep those roads clear (thank you, snowplow driver-guys!), and this is really dangerous weather for traveling anywhere.

Schools and businesses are closed, and the governors of New Hampshire and Massachuetts have declared states of emergency for their states. Ai-ya!

Brrrrrrrr! Oh, I hate winter! Today's holiday song is NOT "Let It Snow."

The Norwegian Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square

Here is a sweet little story with a historical side.

Did you know that the Christmas tree that appears in London's Trafalgar Square has been a yearly gift from Norway since 1947? The reason: the tree tradition is the Norwegian people's thank-you for British support during World War II.

This year's tree has just been lit, with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg pulling the switch.

Link via Brits at Their Best.

Taiwan: Chen Shui-bian is Indicted on Corruption Charges

The political circus goes into overdrive.

I am not saying that Chen is a completely innocent martyr. It seems probable that he engaged in shady financial behavior. Nevertheless, in the hyper-politicized atmosphere of Taiwan right now, the Chen indictment is not only about one private individual and his possible crimes. The indictment applies also to his family.

The whole thing comes with the nasty smell of politics, and the ongoing island-internal wrangles about Ma and his KMT (the latest outrage is here) is a volatile context that freights every single move first in the Chen arrest, now in the indictment and later legal process with immense ramifications. Overdetermination? The entire Chen saga is certainly divisive.

The Time commentary says that the entire affair is "a mixed bag for Taiwan democracy." You don't say!

The entire mess has damaged the reputation of Chen's DPP, which is the main opposition to the KMT. And goodness knows that the KMT needs a vibrant and healthy opposition!

The Cinema-Mad Sibling Recommends: "The Storm Warriors"

After a very long hiatus, the Cinema-Mad Sibling is back with a new movie recommendation. Yes, it's Asian cinema, natch!

The Cine-Sib suggests "The Storm Warriors." The official website is here, and I give you a teaser trailer here. It looks good!

Nerd News: Criticizing Your University Makes You a Spammer

And therefore subject to being punished as a spammer. What? Check out the story of a Michigan State student government leader who criticized the university in an email -- and found himself persecuted as a spammer.

Best Commentary Yet on the Auto Bailout

Via Samizdata comes a piquant visual satire. The parody of a car advertisement takes a potshot at the imminent car company bailout.

You know I normally post entertaining images, but this one has a bit of naughty language, and this is a family blog!

Still, the last line is a kicker: "We're the Big Three. We Don't Need to Compete."

Imagine that. Hey, Big Three: How about making cars that people actually want to buy? What a novel idea.

UPDATE: The auto bailout just went belly-up in the Senate.

Advent Soundtrack: Track 12

A previous post about Christmas pudding inspires the choice for today's song, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

Why? The song wants a figgy pudding, of course!

Oh, OK, here's an actual recipe for figgy pudding.

Kitchen Notes: George Orwell's Recipe for Christmas Pudding

Who knew he was a foodie? Check out Orwell's recipe for Christmas pudding! Yes, he really does instruct you to steam the pudding for "5 or 6 hours."

Friday Fun: An Unusual Christmas Tree

From the Kitchn comes this cute and unusual Christmas tree -- it's really a whole stalk of Brussels sprouts!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Taiwan: Politicizing the Media as KMT Takes Over Public TV?

I've been much too busy in Nerdworld lately as the semester storms to a close, but Michael Turton is in the thick of things in Taiwan, and he posts a disturbing new report: KMT Takes Over Public TV.

In an open statement published in Taiwan newspapers yesterday, PTSF Chairman Cheng Tung-liao, PTSF President Feng Hsien-hsien and 13 other executives and senior managers decried the ruling KMT's effort to take direct control over the operation and programming of the TPS network, which includes Taiwan Public Television, Hakka Television and Indigenous Television and the China Television Service.

I do not like this one bit! Here is one of numerous anti-KMT editorials. Here is another. The issue is, at its heart, the independence of the media.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent Soundtrack: Track 10 (+ Lovely Beverage Recipe!)

Come now and sing "The Wassail Song" -- or make a lovely batch of wassail itself to share with some thirsty friends.

Quirky Euro Files: Swedish Dance Bands from the 1970s

I guarantee you'll have a good laugh before your eyes explode. Come and behold the polyester-swathed lunacy that is the clothing of 1970s Swedish dance bands!

Social Analysis and the Quotable Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple has recently given an interview, and he's got all sorts of interesting things to say. I give you a few notable quotables to pique your curiosity!
On Great Britain and social decline:
"Britain is performing a valuable service, by setting such an obviously bad example for others to avoid."

On the negative view of history:
"I think this negative historiography is extremely important and destructive. One of its functions, of course, is to aggrandize public intellectuals."

On why intellectuals seem to sympathize with the wrongdoer:
"Intellectuals need to say things that are not immediately obvious or do not occur to the man in the street. The man in the street instinctively sympathizes with the victim of crime; therefore, to distinguish himself from the man in the street, the intellectual has to sympathize with the criminal, by turning him into a victim of forces which only he, the intellectual, has sufficient sophistication to see."
Oh, my!

Nerd News: Princeton Economics Professors Critical of Car Company Bailout

3 economics professors from Princeton are on the record with their criticism of the proposed government bailout of the "Big Three" auto companies.

I rather like this quotation from Professor Henry Faber:

“Our history of having our government play an active role in the organization of enterprises is not great,” Farber said.

“The government should play as little [a] role as possible,” he added.

Nerd News, Financial Apocalypse Edition: Harvard Freezes Faculty Salaries, Cancels Job Searches

Here is a follow-up to a previous post about Harvard's endowment taking a hit in the economic downturn.

The latest news from Hahvahd is that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is clamping down on expenses:
A freeze on salary raises for all faculty and non-union staff members as well as a hold on the bulk of current searches for tenure-track and tenured faculty were among the cost-cutting measures announced in a letter circulated to department chairs in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences yesterday afternoon.

Signed by the top deans of the Faculty, the letter also put forward a new, more restrictive set of guidelines for what sort of candidates will be considered for “essential” instructorships and visiting faculty positions.

The new policy marks a considerable departure from the stance outlined by FAS Dean Michael D. Smith at a Faculty meeting in November, when he told department leaders to go ahead with all current searches if applicant pools remained as strong as anticipated.

Citing a projected 30 percent drop in the University’s endowment value this year, the deans wrote that the cost-cutting measures followed from a need to reduce the budget for the next fiscal year to levels at least $105 million below the current year’s budget. The Faculty’s budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2009 is set to be completed by March.

What's the upshot? Well, for every other nerdy campus, one thing seems clear enough: if this can happen to Harvard, this can happen to you too.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: the Hello Kitty Hospital

Yes, today's total Kitty Katastrophe comes from Taiwan. I'm so embarrassed!

Here is the twisted tale: the Kitty-themed area is the maternity ward. Some Einstein thinks that ladies in labor pains will find the Kitty images calming in some way. If I were there and in that delicate condition, the feline faces would probably send me into a killing rage while shrieking, "Let me out, let me out -- I'd rather have my baby in the parking lot!!"

Blurb from the news story:

The 30-bed Hau Sheng Hospital in Yuanlin in central Taiwan is reportedly the world's first Hello Kitty themed medical establishment.

From blankets and birth certificates to cots and uniforms worn by staff, every aspect of the Hello Kitty hospital is emblazoned with the feline motif.

Patients are welcomed by a statue of Hello Kitty dressed in a doctor's uniform, before travelling in a Hello Kitty elevator to a pink examination room with Hello Kitty posters on the wall.

The hospital's director Tsai Tsung-chi opened the £2m (T$100m) hospital in his hometown after obtaining authorisation from the fictitious cat's Japanese parent company Sanrio Co Ltd.

Describing the objectives of the hospital, he said: "I wish that everyone who comes here, mothers who suffer while giving birth and children who suffer from an illness, can get medical care while seeing these kitties and bring a smile to their faces, helping forget about discomfort and recover faster."

Sheer madness.

Medical malpractice.