...Views from mid-Atlantic
18 March 2006

This Washington Post story is headed Cooking 101: Add 1 Cup of Simplicity - As Kitchen Skills Dwindle, Recipes Become Easy as Pie. But if you read the story, it quickly becomes apparent that it's not kitchen skills they mean - it's language skills. "At Kraft Foods, recipes never include words like 'dredge' and 'saute'. Betty Crocker recipes avoid 'braise' and 'truss'. Land O' Lakes has all but banned 'fold' and 'cream' from its cooking instructions. And Pillsbury carefully sidesteps 'simmer' and 'sear'. When the country's top food companies want to create recipes that millions of Americans will be able to understand, there seems to be one guiding principle: They need to be written for a nation of culinary illiterates."

I'd say the truth of the matter is that educated Americans are getting better and better at cooking. One way of telling is to look at the profit of companies like Williams-Sonoma, which sells high-end cookware. They're reporting 2005 Q4 earnings on Monday. Analysts expect that the company will report that sales grew by 12.5% and earnings grew by 15%, year over year. That's not going to set Wall Street on fire, but it is demonstrably solid growth.

By the way, the story includes a little test of basic cooking knowledge.

1. To blanch a vegetable means to:
a. plunge it into boiling water briefly, then immediately into cold.
b. boil it into soft
c. steam it until it turns very pale, or blanched.

2. If a recipe says to 'cream the butter and sugar', it means to:
a. add cream to the butter and sugar.
b. beat them together until creamy.
c. melt the butter, then add the sugar.

3. The instructions say to 'dredge' the chicken in flour. That means you:
a. lightly coat the chicken with flour.
b. use the chicken to hollow out, or dredge, a ditch in the flour.
c. sprinkle flour over the chicken.

4. If a recipe instructs you to 'fold in the egg whites', that means you should:
a. briskly stir them in.
b. use a mixer to quickly beat them in so the mixture doesn't fold.
c. gently combine them by folding the heavier mixture into the lighter whites.

5. To simmer means to:
a. cook over high heat in a liquid that's at a rolling boil.
b. gently cook in a liquid over very low heat.
c. cook in a liquid that's just hot enough that tiny bubbles break the surface.

C'mon, anyone who can't get five out of five on that test ought not to be allowed on the street without a minder.

The Wall Street Journal doesn't think much of the law the Justice Department is using to extract information from Google about Web searches. "The judge indicated that he was inclined to give both sides something, and Justice later agreed to limit its request to 'just' 5,000 sample searches and 50,000 Web addresses.

"This outcome may seem Solomonic, but the precedent is still troubling. The subpoena that started it all emerged from a separate case being tried in Pennsylvania. In that case, the ACLU is challenging the constitutionality of the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, or COPA.

"That law has never been enforced owing to an injunction and multiple unfavorable rulings, including one from the Supreme Court. But it nonetheless aims to protect minors from 'harmful' material on the Internet by making it a crime to allow them to access it. The ACLU suit claims the law is a restriction on free speech. The Supreme Court said it might be, and sent the case back to trial for the government to prove that it wasn't.

"Which is where Google, Yahoo and MSN come in. The government wants to use their search data as part of its effort to show that the law is necessary to protect minors from the Internet's seamier side. But these companies are innocent bystanders in the dispute over the constitutionality of COPA. It is one thing when company data are pursued by the government as evidence in a criminal proceeding. Most Americans would probably accept if otherwise private information were turned over to law enforcement in a case where the request is narrowly tailored and probable cause exists."

I'll never miss an opportunity to sing the praises of Chip Kidd - long acknowledged to be in a class of his own in the business of book-jacket design. He was singled out again in the Guardian this week because he's published a book, Book One (Work, 1986-2006) for which John Updike has written a piece. "Can he draw," he asks. "Presumably, yet the mark of his pen or pencil rarely figures into his work. His tool is the digital computer, with its ever more ingenious graphics programs. In the ever-expanding electronic archives of scannable photographic imagery, he is a hunter-gatherer.

"His jackets for books of poetry, exempt from any demand for mass-market appeal, show him at his freest and - see the snuggled spoon and fork for Vikram Seth's All You Who Sleep Tonight - wittiest. There is a playful thinginess and a stern dimension of concreteness to Kidd's designs: Robert Hughes's essays on art are fronted by the back of a canvas, a Cuban novel by Cristina Garcia is wrapped in cigar-box imagery. A book on Samuel Beckett, stunningly, floats the subject's miniaturised head in a sea of black. And so on, idea after idea after idea. Kidd has the good humour and spendthrift resourcefulness of an artist who trusts the depth of his own creativity. In an edgy field, he is not only edgy but deep."

If you want to see more, the paper provides a little gallery of images.

17 March 2006

Newspapers like the Daily Telegraph keep failing to properly make the real point about Aston "Family Man" Barrett and his $60 million suit against the Marley estate and Island Records. He, and other members of the Wailers, reached a settlement over this a decade ago. They've been paid and they signed for the money. You can't have your cake and then try and eat it again ten years later.

They call him Family Man because he's had over 50 children. They should call him Piggy Man from now on - it fits nicely.

This would be a scream, if it weren't so damned depressing. MEMRI is featuring an interview with Egyptian Performer Sha'ban Abd Al-Rahim. He's the guy who made headlines with his pre-9/11 hit, I Hate Israel, I Love Amr Moussa, and followed up with an album featuring the song Hey People, It Was Only a Tower and I Swear by God that They [the US] Are the Ones Who Pulled it Down.

His latest release is about Denmark...I guess especially cartoonists in Denmark: When You All Meet in Hell, the Flames Will Burn Your Faces.

Pondblog readers will know that residents of the area in which I live in Bermuda were humbugged at the beginning of the week by a failure of the local telephone company's DSL service. On Wednesday, the third morning, not having been able to learn much from the company about what was going on, I posted some rather pointed comments about it, as did my fellow blogger, A Limey In Bermuda, on his site.

Yesterday, I had an agreeable surprise in the form of a letter from Barry P. Catmur, the Director of Business Development for KeyTech Ltd. which owns 100% of BTC, as well as Logic Communications, M3 Wireless (formerly Mobility) and Bermuda Yellow Pages.

He says that a colleague "forwarded me your comments posted on your Blog concerning your BTC and DSL issues. It was actually very helpful so I thank you. We (at KeyTech, BTC, and all the subsidiaries) have been working very hard to turn certain historically set precedents around. These include, obviously customer satisfaction, customer service, communication, service delivery and repair times, all of which have been admittedly way below acceptable standards, for a very long time and all of which have been improving steadily over the past 18 months that I have been working for KeyTech due to an enormous concerted effort by everyone at BTC and KeyTech.

"Unfortunately we still run into cases such as yours that are indicative of past problems, mainly communication, both internally and externally to you the customer. As you indicated in your post, things happen, technology fails, people make mistakes, but if someone is simply caring and responsive, apologizes for your inconvenience(as the customer) and commits to trying to solve the problem and cares enough to follow it through it goes along way towards customer appreciation, understanding and tolerance. Your point is well taken and believe me that is what we are working towards.

"I wanted to respond to you directly, not defensively, but in appreciation for your feedback, and also to say that a majority of the employees at BTC do care and are making a concerted effort and producing a measurable difference. I want to appreciate and commend their effort and communicate that to you as a valued customer having a frustrating and in the past, all too common negative experience. I also want to say with all honesty that we aren't there yet, but we are heading in that direction and making progress every day.

"I wanted to personally apologize for your inconvenience and frustration and ask you to please let me know what the current status is so I can follow it up personally and see that it is resolved.

"I hope my apology is not too late (I just received a copy of your comments late yesterday) and that you take to heart my commitment to do everything within my power to resolve any and all situations within a timely manner. I would also ask that you and any other customers attempt to keep an open mind, as I believe you did, by writing about your experience, and feel free to escalate to me any unresolved issues you may feel are not being dealt with to your satisfaction."

A pretty positive letter, I thought, which was addressed to me but obviously was meant for all in St George's and, by inference, the rest of Bermuda. KeyTech's phone number, by the way, is 295-5009. Might want to scribble it on the wall near your computer, if you have DSL!

16 March 2006

The efforts of Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, and others, to force the translation of thousands of documents captured in Iraq during the invasion seem to be paying off. As he writes in the Weekly Standard, "The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has created a website where it will post documents captured in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq. The website is hosted by the Foreign Military Studies Office Joint Reserve Intelligence Center at Fort Leavenworth and will be updated continuously with new documents. The website is here. The first batch of materials, released late yesterday, "includes nine documents captured in connection with Operation Iraqi Freedom and 28 documents previously released on February 14, 2006, in conjunction with a study of those documents conducted by analysts at West Point. Sources on Capitol Hill and within the intelligence community tell The Weekly Standard that hundreds of new documents will be made available in the coming days, including 50-60 hours of audiotapes from the Iraqi regime."

Hayes's story also makes reference to a fascinating analysis published in Foreign Affairs of intelligence relating to Saddam Hussein's state of mind before the invasion. Foreign Affairs says: "Drawing on interviews with dozens of captured senior Iraqi military and political leaders and hundreds of thousands of official Iraqi documents (hundreds of them fully translated), this two-year project has changed our understanding of the war from the ground up."

One small sample - "Judging from his private statements, the single most important element in Saddam's strategic calculus was his faith that France and Russia would prevent an invasion by the United States. According to (Deputy Prime Minister Tariq) Aziz, Saddam's confidence was firmly rooted in his belief in the nexus between the economic interests of France and Russia and his own strategic goals: 'France and Russia each secured millions of dollars worth of trade and service contracts in Iraq, with the implied understanding that their political posture with regard to sanctions on Iraq would be pro-Iraqi. In addition, the French wanted sanctions lifted to safeguard their trade and service contracts in Iraq. Moreover, they wanted to prove their importance in the world as members of the Security Council - that they could use their veto to show they still had power.'"

The LA Times carries a timely feature today about the right way to pour a pint of Guinness Stout. That's a must-read story, of course, but there's another reason I call attention to it. The Times writer says "...the proper way to pour it is the reverse of how most beers are poured. With a lager or an ale, or even a Guinness Extra Stout (a different style of stout also bottled by Guinness), you should splash a nice, foamy head into your glass to waft the beer's aroma into the air, then turn the glass at an angle and slide the rest of the beer under the head to keep the carbonation alive." It's worth saying that the Americans are the only people in the world (that I've ever come across) who put lager or ale into a glass in that way. "Wafting the beer's aroma into the air" is a nice, poetic little phrase, but it's codswollop. What it really does is make the beer go flat before you can sip your way to the end.

In an article published on Sunday, the Chicago Tribune reported that by using readily available commercial data services on the Internet, the newspaper was able to assemble "a virtual directory of more than 2,600 CIA employees, 50 internal agency telephone numbers and the locations of some two dozen secret CIA facilities around the United States." The Christian Science Monitor notes that the Tribune published neither the list nor details that might put those on the list at personal risk, but did confirm that it compiled its list using tools available to the public. The implication, of course, is that in the Valerie Plame case, the crime committed (if a crime was committed) by whoever leaked her identity to the press, was not significant.

One blogger, counterterrorism consultant and former CIA employee Larry Johnson, writing for the blog on the blog, TPMCafe, makes the point that you can only identify as agents people whose names you already have. He says "Valerie Plame was safe until the White House pointed reporters in her direction. Even if Crewdson's assertion (is correct) that Valerie's cover was 'thin' (it was not), what we know for a fact is that her neighbors did not know she worked for the CIA."

That may be so, but her neighbours couldn't have cared less. There are, in the spying world, people who do care, and the point is that it was easy for them to confirm that she was an agent.

15 March 2006

For the third day running, the telephone company's DSL service in St George's, the area of Bermuda in which I live, has been out of commission. There were periods yesterday afternoon and evening when it simply didn't work at all. My colleague Phil Wells of the blogsite A Limey In Bermuda has also been affected as, apparently, have others at this end of the Island: "This week," he writes, "BTC have been running a series of half-page ads in the Royal Gazette, titled 'The ABCs of DSL'. "Learn something new every day," they promise. Here's what I've been learning:

"Yesterday, at around the same time that the first ad was telling us that 'A is for Access' and that 'BTC's DSL service gives you high speed internet access', the speed of my broadband connection dropped from 256k to something worse than dial-up. And stayed there all day. 'A is for Apathetic' was more like it."

The aggravating thing about BTC is that they don't communicate. A few days ago, they were banging on about their new internet fault reporting service - saying that customers who used it before 3 pm would be contacted the same day. I've used it three times this week (although I guess this morning's report won't count until this afternoon), and have yet to hear from anyone. People would be prepared to cut BTC all kinds of slack if they would just say "Sorry, we're busy trying to fix it for you." But they say absolutely nothing. Even the extremely nice lady I spoke to yesterday morning when I telephoned didn't bother to tell me that others were affected, or say that people were working on the problem.

In the absence of anything like that, human nature is that you assume they just couldn't care less, and then you have to supress the urge to throw rocks at the next BTC truck you see.

But having said people would cut them slack, I have to wonder - where else in the civilised world would a DSL service provider take three days (so far) to fix a bandwidth problem in an area that includes Bermuda's second largest city?

14 March 2006

Nothing today, either. Bandwidth went from 2.9kbps yesterday afternoon to 3.4 this morning. In marine parlance, that's somewhere between Dead Slow and Stop. No word from the telephone company, despite their same-day-service promise. Suprise, surprise.

13 March 2006

It doesn't look as if blogging is going to be possible today. My DSL connection's bandwidth has suddenly narrowed to such an extent that loading one page can take five minutes. Experience suggests it's the local telephone company having difficulty again getting its staff to maintain its tired old equipment, or perhaps it's the tired old staff that is the difficulty, I can never quite get it clear.

12 March 2006

The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes plugs away at the story he's making his own, the thousands of documents seized in Iraq which haven't been translated. He offers a theory about why the American intelligence community is not interested in releasing them, which originated with House intelligence chairman Pete Hoekstra: The ones who want them kept secret are "State Department people who want to make no waves and don't want to do anything that would upset anyone."

And who might anyone be? Well, maybe Russia. Hayes refers to documents discovered by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in Baghdad which suggest Russia was training Iraqi intelligence agents, even as senior Russian government officials were touting their alliance with the United States against Iraq.

Hayes writes: "Hoekstra says Negroponte's (John, Director of National Intelligence) intransigence is forcing him to get the documents out 'the hard way'. The House Intelligence chairman has introduced a bill (H.R. 4869) that would require the DNI to begin releasing the captured documents. Although Negroponte continues to argue against releasing the documents in internal discussions, on March 9, he approached Hoekstra with a counterproposal. Negroponte offered to release some documents labeled 'No Intelligence Value,' and indicated his willingness to review other documents for potential release, subject to a scrub for sensitive material."

Victor Davis Hansen thinks there's too damn much apologising going on. In the Washington Times, Hansen writes: "With all this public contrition, we risk debasing the once-noble protocols of apology...In the old days, apologies - said once, without an agenda and involving one's own sins - revealed character. Now too often they reflect just the opposite."

Along the way, he mentions Larry Summers, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter. What a surprise.

Another fascinating new dimension to a familiar story. Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper says it was an Israeli spy who obtained a copy of Nikita Khruschev's secret speech denouncing Josef Stalin, and it was Israel which gave it to the CIA, so that the world could read it.

"After a few weeks' hesitation, the CIA leaked the speech to The New York Times in early June; the newspaper published it in full. The publication caused a worldwide sensation, and the speech became a central propaganda tool in American foreign policy. It was broadcast in many languages on Radio Free Europe, whose broadcasts from Germany were beamed to the Soviet Union and its satellites. Tens of thousands of copies of the speech, in many languages, including Georgian, were distributed from hot-air balloons that were sent eastward from Germany and Austria. In the opinion of CIA experts, the uprising in Hungary in October 1956 was a direct result of the dissemination of the speech...

"Obtaining the speech and transmitting it to the Americans was one of the high points of Operation Balsam - the secret cooperation with the CIA, which had begun several years earlier. 'To this day,' Manor (Amos, then head of the Shin Bet) believes, 'it remains the greatest intelligence-gathering achievement for the Israeli intelligence community. In terms of politics, it was an historic document. It put us on the map of the world intelligence community.'"

Only in the Guardian would you find an essay on inspiration, written by a psychoanalyst, that has a bit of a wander hither and yon, then ends up in politics, with a grim and rather murky suggestion that politicians with a calling (gosh, who could he be talking about?) are the devil incarnate. The really interesting bit, though, is at the end, when Guardian reporters interview people in the arts to find out how they have been affected by inspiration. It's a hard question to answer without saying something about yourself, and those interviewed, I thought, did all reveal something about themselves that might otherwise have remained hidden. Some did that consciously, some by accident. One or two of them seemed only about half-growed, I thought...


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

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