Mark Twain on Local Food

A great article about Mark Twain and his love of region specific food:

Whether he was in San Francisco savoring Olympia oysters, rafting down Germany’s Neckar River with a cold beer, or in Hawaii tasting flying fish for the first time, Mark Twain had a love of food that was inseparable from his love of life. Remembering the fried chicken, cornbread, and fresh garden vegetables served on his Uncle John Quarles’s prairie farm, he wrote, brought him nearly to tears. Whenever he recorded in his journal that he’d enjoyed a trout supper, it was certain that he’d ended the day content. And when he recalled stage coaching through the Rockies, he reflected that nothing helps scenery like “ham and eggs … ham and eggs and scenery, a ‘down grade,’ a flying coach, a fragrant pipe and a contented heart—these make happiness. It is what all the ages have struggled for.”

But the joy Twain took from food was most vivid in a long fantasy menu of favorite American dishes he composed towards the end of his 1879 European tour . Having suffered through more than a year of dismal hotel cooking, he wrote down the 85 dishes he said he wanted waiting for him the moment he arrived home. The menu ranged from fresh American produce like butter beans, asparagus, pumpkins, and “green corn, on the ear” to meats like porterhouse steak and broiled chicken to regional dishes like Southern-style hoe-cake and “oysters, roasted in the shell, Northern style.” But of all the fresh, local dishes of his imagined feast, the most deeply rooted , the most inherent to specific American places, were wild.

(Found via The Atlantic Food Channel.)

I’m Still Here

All reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I am in fact still alive and well, my silly California-raised self in the Midwest. Due to magically unforeseen budget shortfalls (wait for it) on behalf of my local school district, we are closing eight (8) schools this summer. One of which is a middle school that is melding with my own. So they hired me and my closed-school counterpart to wipe out and pack up both schools in preparation for next year.

In short, I have been hired on for extra hours through the end of the month. So not only am I working when I previously thought not, I was also fully informed of it a week before I would begin. M and I have been scrambling to figure out where on Earth our children should go. And we, being the impoverished homebody black sheep that we are, have not yet established a strong network for impromptu child support.

At least this week has been very productive, to the point of being over halfway finished with a three-week project in four days. Best to tackle overwhelming projects like a well-trained wolverine, I suppose.

I am not in the process of going into blog-suicide by talking about not writing. I’m just busier lately, and shorter evenings are spent recovering from more intensely laborious work during the day (read: old computers are fucking heavy!) with a cold beer and attempting to remember to breath from the gut instead of the shoulders.

I do want to apologize for the lack of pictures of the local offspring. We’ve been lax for sure, but May into June is simply second only to the Thanksgiving to New Years gauntlet in terms of ‘things going on’. I hope to make it up to you soon.

Through it all, though, I make room to be creative. Here is the email I sent out to my building’s faculty today, warning them of impending doom:

Greetings One and All Summerites!

Starting today and through a fortnight, I shall be declaring war on information by calling forth the demons from the fiery pits of our servers, flinging their evil across the Ether(net) to destroy everything held dear on each and every computer at our institute of learning! MWAHAHA! If you wish to save your precious Data, I will listen to your pleas, whither electronic or vocal, with utter delight and amusement! Rest assured, though, my wrath shall be wrought no matter what you say!

Nutshell:

I’m erasing the computers. Talk to or email me if you need help saving stuff or need use of your computer for a longer time. Don’t call, I won’t be at my room much.

Have a fun summer. Don’t forget to read a book.

A good book. None of that Twilight nonsense.

Best,

Evan

PS, MWAHAHAHA! (Sinister laugh)

Actually, looking back, I’ll probably take some shit about the Twilight thing.

Creativity and smarts ain’t the same thing, is they?

Adjectives

As I was getting my bag ready for work this morning, I pulled out some papers left from last week. They were work from my son’s school. Glancing through them while setting them aside, I found he had started doing more work for grammar. He is now identifying adjectives.
My son is 6. He is very much a six year old, oft found bouncing off the walls pretending to be inside a video game. He is the epitome of a six year old boy.

My son is six and knows what an adjective is.

This is added to the list of nouns, verbs, articles, and prepositions he already knows about.

I explained this to him last week: I didn’t start learning grammar until 8th Grade. Until I was 13. Over twice his age. And I didn’t even fully grasp it until 9th Grade when I had an awesome English teacher who kicked my butt. And I was one of the bright kids. Plenty of people I knew, even while in the midst of coursework, couldn’t point out a noun even if it bit them in the face.

My bouncing boy of six is learning grammar nearly ten years before I did and, as his teacher told me early last week, he just gets it.

Let this wash away any doubts about the self-directing, self-correcting Montessori method of education.

That, and my son is a genius.

That is all.

Fighting For The Past

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

[From 1984 by George Orwell]

There is an easily understandable truth to the phrase, History is written by the victor. The victorious are the ones left after the battle to tell the tale, so it is their story. Even ‘his story’ seems like the etymology of the word, though it is not.

Logically, however, it seems as though it should not be the case. Fact is fact. What happened, happened. Right? The American Revolution went from this, to this, to this.

But we humans are limited, isolated souls. We cannot truly know anything beyond our own experience. So when we look upon the past, we see it through our own eyes and nothing more. Try as we might to keep the past even-handed, it remains clouded by what we believe actually happened.

And that belief as to what happens tempers our current state of mind. We justify our current decisions based on that foggy history, to either follow the path or run counter to it. The hardest to cope with of all is when evidence points to a different conclusion than what is believed to be true.

This is where a new battlefield has opened up, and it follows the words of George Orwell exactly.

In Texas, there is a board of education that controls the content of a huge amount of school textbooks. A single board, in one state, dictates the content they want in most schools.

How this is possible is through textbook manufacturing. Texas publishes a single list of approved textbooks for all of its schools. Texas is a huge state. So, if a publishing company wants guaranteed millions in sales, they cater to Texas. And since they’ve catered to Texas, those books become the books for much of the whole country.

As one would expect, Texas, as a whole, has stronger religious leanings than average. And this board has a solid voting bloc of religious conservatives. This fact would normally be balanced out by California’s liberal-secular leanings, but since that state won’t be purchasing textbooks for another half a decade (good planning, that’s what that is), Texas is now wielding far more influence over the market than it previously did.

Up now for their curriculum decisions is social studies. History. Our very past is going to be altered by the present. Alterations to make sure that there are well-mentioned gaps in Darwin’s and Galileo’s advances in our very world. Show Reagan as a hero, followed by the grandeur of Newt Gingrich. And be sure people see that our very founders were espousing Christianity and rule under Biblical law.

It is the last point that is most confounding to my knowledge. I have read our founders, not just read about them. Most of them were Christians, yes, but that was merely the default. The far more reaching fact about them was that they divorced their personal faiths (which were from numerous sects) and knew that their inspirations came from Enlightenment philosophy of reliance on themselves to get through existence.

These people honestly believe they are setting history right. That is what is so tough to fight. And it is a subtle fight over words. What is most impressive is that they are thinking in terms of generations. If they rewrite history now to deceptively emphasize the religions of our Founders over their actual beliefs, then it will be thirty years before the ramifications are fully felt.

As Mr Coates mentioned when I first read about this on his blog (also followed up by Mr Sullivan), it is hard not to leave this subject on a sour, depressing note. The effects of such an intellectual coup are difficult to see as too harmful in a world becoming coated with ubiquitous information. It also requires a vast amount of effort to maintain a campaign such as this over decades.

Still, it is always worth fighting against such willful acts of ignorance and deception.

Reading Lots

I’ve been reading a lot more. I knocked out Prisoner of Azkaban in just about a week. This week I read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Now I’m back onto Machiavelli after taking a break from it to read a couple of novels (and to catch up with my niece who is reading the Harry Potter series for the first time).
The speed reading is definitely coming along, I think. My retention is higher. I’m getting closer to my goal of reading about a book a week, plus I’m able to consume more delicious content online. Hopefully that’ll make up for the fact I can’t listen to podcasts any longer since my kids keep getting louder.

So here are a few lines from The Art of War that struck me. From Chapter 2, Waging War:

3. If the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

Chapter 3, Attack by Strategem:

18. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Chapter 13, The Use of Spies:

4. What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

5. Now, this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

5.1 If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.*

6. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

27. Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are the most important element of warfare, because on them depends an army’s ability to move.

That all spoke quite a bit about what has happened in the world in the past decade, and even so about the Cold War as well. Who would have thought that actual, evidential knowledge would be useful in conducting war?

*Not actual quote from Sun Tzu.

Neglecting to Write…

At some point today, I was talking to a coworker. I can’t remember which coworker, and I don’t even remember the topic, but I do know that at some point in a conversation I had today, I had a ping in my mind. It was a little idea, phrased a certain way, that I wanted to tease out possibilities for writing on.
That’s how it happens: little pings of thoughts. Rarely are they fully formed. Mostly they are just half-thoughts, waiting for a rational mind to talk to them and see if they are fleshy or hollow.

But I didn’t write it down. My little black notebook sat in my bag. I can’t even remember the topic of conversation that led to the tidbit of thought. And I’m not yet in the habit of writing something down while in the midst of talking to someone. I need to be, because things get lost.

All day long, at least hourly, half-thoughts ping through my mind. And they never reach paper. I need to put them on paper, because, for some reason, they stick better in my mind. Typing it out doesn’t have the same kinetic, tangible connection to the saving function of ink for the thought.

So, after dealing with this dilemma of lost thought today, I can’t help but recalling a bit from an episode of Mad Men this season. One character, Paul, had a brilliant idea in the middle of the night, one that was perfect for the product they were going to sell. But he promptly passed out and never wrote it down.

Paul’s frustration with himself is met with sympathy, as I think he deserves. But he sums it up with a Chinese proverb: “The faintest ink is better than the best memory.”

Now my lost memory only recalls that proverb. Hopefully it will keep repeating itself to make sure I that when I hear a ping, I write it down.

Had To…

Just had to pass this IMMD along…

In English class we finished reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ and were supposed to create a little joke about how mean Scrooge was. My friend said ‘Scrooge is so mean, for Christmas he got tiny Tim a 3 legged dog. IMMD

Speeding My Reading…

A project I have started working as of late is learning to speed read. I want to do more with the free time I have outside of kids and work, but I have long been a slower reader and my comprehension is somewhat weak. A big reason for it is because the level of distraction around me seems to grow anytime I stop moving for a few minutes. I do remember halfway through college, ditching the TV in my room and my focus and endurance for reading and schoolwork shot right up.
But my free time for reading, for pleasure or knowledge, is lacking. So I started learning a bit about speed reading. There are a number of different approaches that make a difference for me. And between Lifehacker and The Art of Manliness, I think I’m off to a good start.

First, I have started trying to stop subvocalizing as I read. Subvocalization is when you pronounce the words you read in your head, even though you’re not reading aloud. It’s a natural consequence of learning to read, since we learn to read out loud so we can correlate the larger vocabulary we speak as children with the little scribbles in Harold and the Purple Crayon.

The trick I use is to whisper A-E-I-O-U as I’m reading. You can count to four or five to accomplish the same thing. Basically, you’re forcing a divorce between what your vocal chords are doing and the words your eyes are bringing in.

Second, I am learning to fight against backtracking. I know that so often I would be reading along and suddenly I’d have to bounce back to previous statements or even paragraphs. For some reason, I would zone out or not retain what I had just read (again, often it is a distracting environment) and I would have to go back and re-read. To fight this, I have started using a bookmark as a way of forcing myself to focus on single lines.

I put the bookmark atop the line I am reading and keep it moving downward, so it forces me to stay ahead of it. This has proven to be one of the most useful tricks so far. It works in line with other advice to track with a finger to keep one’s eyes focused. However, there is also advice to use more of your peripheral vision, so the bookmark line aids in learning to take in a whole line as a chunk.

Third, for some of the lengthier things I have been reading online, I use bookmarklets (a program linked via a bookmark in your browser) called Readability and Spreeder.

Readability converts the main text of a webpage, say a news article, into a straight simple column with none of the other sidebars or ads to distract you from reading the information. Readability is also nice to print webpages from, again because of the clutter elimination. (I use the novel format, the medium text size, and the extra-wide margin so I can keep all the text within my single field of view and don’t have to move my eyes to go through the text.)

Spreeder is a program that you put text into, and it flashes chunks of words at you fast enough to let you read them, but not long enough to let you subvocalize them. The latest bookmarklet they added lets you highlight text from anything you’re reading, and it automatically loads it up into Spreeder so you can hit play and get to speed reading (ideally anyway). The downside to this is that if you are interrupted, then you miss some of what you read. But going back and re-reading something faster than normal won’t hurt you.

A friend of mine years ago mentioned that he went under hypnosis and learned to speed read that way. I was skeptical at the time, but now I have a feeling he may have just had the subvocalization shut off right then and there. Being an academic already gave him a head start on being able to read swiftly and well before that, but he did say he jumped from 250 to 500 words per minute shortly after being hypnotized.

I’m still working on this, but I think it’s going to come along soon. The big thing is finding a quiet place to do it. One big bummer for me is that I can’t just put on some music and read. Because of my training in music, it may as well be someone talking in plain English to me.

I’d like to create a good reading space in my home. The couch is for television and kids. The kitchen is for everything else (including a lot of my general computing). The bathroom, well, that one’s not a bad place to get some reading done. I’m thinking I want to find an old lounge chair, perhaps with an ottoman, and a side table to set up in the den. That will be where I can knock out some solid, solitary reading time.

Preprefixed…

Watch just the first couple minutes.

Now, I keep hearing about insurance companies vs people due to ‘pre-existing conditions’, and I always hear the above clip in my head. Pre-existing means conditions you had before you existed? What about post-existing conditions? Worm rot? Composting? Demons with pitchforks?

It’s an existing condition; let’s all quit being stupid.