one man's ceiling
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
  lentil (s)oops!

yeah, this was brilliant. it's late afternoon, time to start thinking about timing dinner. i pull out the book to see how long this lebanese-indian lentil soup is going to take--
"...allow soup to set for 4 to 6 hours, preferably overnight..."

one of the joys of lentils is that they are quick-cooking! 15 minutes tops! what's this mess about setting overnight so it properly thickens?

danger, will robinson! take evasive action! dive! dive!

eh, that recipe wasn't so good anyway. where was the spice, where was the garlic? no, this is no soup for us! time to improvise! replace the cooking water with stock. reduce the amount of water so it doesn't have to thicken. add leftover chopped onions and tomatoes from taco night on sunday. add some chopped carrot. say, this looks good. let's see what i can do about those spices... ah, that's much better!

lentil (s)oops heat the stock in a soup pot to boiling
pour in the lentils and boil for a few minutes, but don't let it boil over
turn it down to medium heat. see that weird scum? spoon it off.
add the bay leaves
add the onions, carrots and tomatoes
go ahead and add the garlic as well
using a mortar and pestle crush the whole spices together, tie into a small cheesecloth pouch, and toss it in the soup.
don't have a mortar and pestle? lay everything out on a cutting board and crunch it with a rolling pin
don't have cheesecloth? do as i did: toss everything into a loose tea ball
add the garam masala and a little salt and pepper.
this should be ready in about 20 minutes, tops. if the stock boils out too quickly, add a little water.

my zuska requested i not serve this with crostini, or little cheese breads. okay, but i was feeling it was a little weak in the protein department. we had ours with little slices of homemade country kielbasa, cooked and sliced into little disks. i'd like to suggest a nice dollop of sour cream in the bowl when serving. or for a more traditional feel, yogurt and a wedge of lime.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007
  coming soon, to vending machine near you!
i dunno. could this really be far behind? if you're interested in more like this, take a gander over at cotton and sand.

i'd say you could probably get kids to go with the vegetable-flavored skittles...

or not.

you know, these remind me of those wacky packages that came with a cardboard flavored stick of gum back in the 1970's.

y'know, it isn't like we need more t-shirts in the world, or more vintage ones for mopey-looking hipster kids to wear with their designer jeans and cell phones, but perhaps if kids had more exposure to this kind of corporate mocking they might be less inclined to eat the stuff.

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  lazy hash browns
late saturday night i realized i didn't have the makings of a nice sunday breakfast. nothing. so i went to the only market opened after 11 pm and attempted to buy eggs, sausages and hash browns. yes, i could make the hash browns myself from potatoes, but i was being a lazy slug and wanted a shortcut.

because i'm not a morning person (hello! i went to art school! we have diplomas that state quite clearly we do not have to fully functional before noon on any given day) the thought of getting up before everyone to prepare potatoes just didn't sit well with me.

okay, okay, it really is because i'm lazy.

but did this store have any regular old hash brown potatoes in the freezer section? no. did they have home fries or anything of the sort? no. apparently the only kind of breakfast potato people want from their supermarkets these days are those skillet meals with potatoes, meat and other things all mixed in.

just add your own eggs! and we can charge you $5 for a package that includes less than half of a package of hash browns! and charge double for the privilege! aren't you happy for this wonderful convenience we are providing you!

honestly, are americans the dumbest consumers on the planet, or are we just treated that way?

anyway, lazy but undaunted, i decided to make hash browns out of the next best things: tater tots. the recipe follows, but i don't recommend it.

lazy hash browns (not recommended) in a skillet on medium heat saute the onions until soft
add the tater tots and let them sit a bit
add the spices, and flip to mix
let them sit until the start to brown and then flip them and cook another five minutes or so
once they are cooked through (about 15 minutes total) set the heat to low and let them sit until you're ready to serve.

the problem is that the tater tot is meant to be eaten crispy on the outside, soft and potato-y on the inside. that gets messed up once you chop up the tots. once they cook they begin to crumble and then you have a sort of potato gravel that, while good, tends to get a little heavy with oil and become less distinct as potato.

no, i say if you're going to cheat on hash browns use the tater tots as-are, baked to perfection in the oven per instructions on the package. also, if you're going with tater tots for breakfast just toss a few in a tortilla with scrambled eggs and some chopped up sausage. a breakfast burrito is a wonderful thing. salsa is good with it, or just plain hot sauce, but ketchup works for me as well (you have to be a ketchup-with-eggs person, i realize). and don't forget cheese! yum!

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  stalking the wild burrito

when you grow up in a culturally rich and diverse part of the country -- or any country for that matter -- you come to take for granted the foods available to you. once you move out of that area, or even your comfort zone, it doesn't take long to realize what is or is not specific to that region and quickly discover what it is you miss.

after a good four decades in california -- half in southern, half in northern -- i was ready for a move across the country. or so i thought. when i sat down and imagined the people, places and things that i would miss i never took into account the seriousness of the geography. yes, having never really known a season i was (and still am) ecstatic to actually know that there are, indeed, as i was taught in school, four distinct seasons in new england. a lifetime of watching the sun set on the ocean had to be replaced with the weirdness of watching it rise over a different ocean, but easily so.

but then came the food.

all over the west it isn't hard to find mexican food in all its many shades of authenticity, style and price. the proximity to mexico and the many workers, documented and otherwise, that comprise a good majority of the population makes it difficult to justify the taco bells and del tacos and other fast-food style mexican eateries to all but the most sheltered. if your introduction to a taco is that soggy 99 cent shell harboring barely-spiced ground beef, processed shredded cheese product, flavorless lettuce and equally tasteless tomatoes with a small foil packet of chemical hot sauce than it becomes a revelation to find a man on a street corner selling 50 cent tacos out of a small push cart or from the back of a truck with chunks of real beef (or chicken) steeped and slow cooked in traditional spices on a pair of warm corn tortillas with perhaps some crumbled mexican cheese on top and a salsa fresca with the strong taste of onion and clilantro.

the same rings true for a quality burrito, enchilada, tamale and anything else you may (or may not) be familiar with as the staples of ouir neighbors to the south.

my first glimpse into the problem of authentic mexican food in the boston area came with the search for a burrito. these are not rocket science, they are simple tortillas filled with simple ingredients, rolled and served up with chips and a choice of salsas. it was a relief to find early on a place called anna's taqueria which reminded me of home; they have the same signage, layout and prices as a place i was familiar with in the bay are called gordo's. a quick internet search shows that they were, indeed, founded by the same person. (i like how the wiki cite for anna's indicates that the info may be biased.)

that said, i was satisfied that i'd found my "base", my bottom rung of acceptability in satisfying burrito cravings. the problem is, once i started doing the research, this was the place people fell all over themselves as calling extraordinary. from various on-line review and restaurant comment spaces the only nay-sayers in the bunch were, well, people who knew better and they fell into two different camps: west coast and southwest. there is a difference between tex-mex and coastal and the rivalries between them are fierce but both sides would have to agree that what gets called mexican food east of the mississippi is a bit disappointing.

i gave up pretty quick in hoping for better because i had to acknowledge the simple fact that the further away from the source, the lower in quality and experience. you can't push off crappy ethnic food where there is a thriving population that not only knows what to expect but what to pay for said comfort foods.

that said, an impassioned, unobjective gringo's guide on what to look for when stalking the wild burrito:
all in all, i'd welcome views from those in other cities and what their burrito experiences have been. any other general "rules" you go by? and for the sake of dog, if anyone in the boston area can hip me to a real burrito hang i'd reatly appreciate it.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
  the alcohol metabolism thing

having given up pasta for lent inspired my zuska to give up her much-loved wine for the next 39 days or so. she posted about it here. she mentions that i had long suggested that eliminating alcohol would help in her quest to lose weight as it effects metabolism.

in the comments one of her faithful readers demanded, nay SHOUTED at me to site my sources. it's funny, because you accumulate knowledge over a long period of time and you just get to the point where you accept your knowledge as fact. then one day someone says "oh yeah? prove it, pasta boy!" and then you think hmm, where did i hear that? was it someplace credible, or did some homeless guy on the street shout that at me one day and it just lodged itself into the fact-y part of my gray matter?

this was one of those times where i love the internet.

after a few minutes of searching (something that could have been done in the time it takes to SCREAM AT ME to cite sources) i accumulated the following quick response (if you've zoomed over to zuska's site, or read it already, you can skip ahead):
two general problems with alcohol: it provides empty calories (they have no nutritional benefit) that the body cannot convert into energy and it weakens the liver which is the primary organ for dealing with fat metabolism. in addition, alcohol is full of sugars, stimulates the appetite, and prevents the body from recognizing when it has been sated, especially by fats, allowing for an over-stimulated appetite and excess eating.

all things you'd want to avoid if you were trying to lose weight.

general stuff here on diets and alcohol

i find dr. weil fairly credible

here the point is that while alcohol itself doesn't add to weight increase in and of itself, the addition of alcohol to a person trying to lose weight is negatively impacted

yes, it's thin on supporting documentation, but consistent WITH WHAT MY DOCTOR ONCE TOLD ME

here we get a report that says alcohol increases metabolism, but in doing so slows down the ability to burn off fat

more of the same

what i have found is that nay-sayers tend to suggest that alcohol in moderation is fine, and there are those studies showing the medicinal benefits of red wine, but the fact remains that alcohol has more going against it than for it in a person looking to modify their diet and or weight. zuska gets more benefit out of the cup of red grapes i put in her morning smoothie than she would in a glass of wine at the end of the day -- nutritional benefits of the grapes, medicinal from the skin, and lower in calories.

is this enough documentation?
looking over the various sources i can safely say the two primary points (i don't know which came first) were dr. dean ornish's and dr. andrew weil's work. ornish is a physician whose worked at the preventative research institute where he pioneered a study where people lost weight and reversed the effects of heart disease simply by changing their diet. dr. weil is a harvard educated physician who has been espousing the effects of spontaneous healing of a variety of minor and chronic ailments through the uses of alternative medicines, natural remedies and dietary changes as well. ornish initially may have alerted me to the idea that food isn't the enemy, and weil finally broke down my resistance to eastern and alternative medicines.

i hate to take such defensive stances on things, or beat them into the ground, but i was forced. had one harmless error not shouted at me i would never have been compelled to go digging. and as a former twenty-something know-it-all i can remember just how resistant i was to ideas that shattered the very foundations of my long-held (occasionally hyper-ignorant) beliefs. my current stance on such things is to let them brush past with a knowing laugh, but once i get shouted at, well, the gloves come off.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007
  gung hay fat tuesday!

yes, it is the conflagration of celestial events that pushes the chinese new year up against the end of mardi gras. and being neither chinese nor any sort of practicing christian it may strike some as a bit odd that i tend to observe the forty days of lent by giving up some food item, but there it is: i am that bit odd.

in the past i have gone to extremes. i have given up chocolate (very heard) and all carbs (extremely hard) all meat (not so bad for the first 20 days or so, but then i was living a few doors down from a burger joint...) and once i gave up on giving things up, what you might call a protest against an idea that i really don't find fault with. yeah, i do that as well, protest things in principle that i later have to admit i don't quite believe in.

and just to be fair, i have twice practiced daytime fasting during ramadan just to see if i could do it. you know, it really wasn't so bad, but it also wasn't that hard to slip back into a regular eating schedule either.

this time around the word is pasta. givin' it up in all its many glorious forms until some time after easter. since i'm normally only eating pasta once a week i'm only giving it up for a five or six weeks, but that's not going to be as easy as it sounds. i like pasta.

i also recognize that those are very heavy carbs and i could really use to drop a few pounds.

like maybe forty pounds.

like between now and the end of july. when i'm hoping to go to europe and not wanting to be the ugly american schlepping his lard ass around the great cities of the old world. but that goes into diet and exercise and not what i'm talking about now.

right now i'm talking about the last meal. i'm talking about dropping huge piles of chili with beans on top of spaghetti with two kinds of cheese, 'cause that's the way i roll when the pasta's goin' down.

having consumed more than i should have -- because, yeah, it tasted superfine yummygood -- i now feel bloated and i don't give a damn. the next week will trot by like a breeze and then things will get rough. but i know i can handle it. i know because last year i pretty much cut all high fructose corn syrup out of my diet, with a handful of exceptions. i know because i was once heavier than i am now -- not by much, but enough -- and i know i've lost that weight in the past. and i know that as an american male in his midlife i need to get back down to a more human size if i expect to live to see 92, which i do.

and i know that the journey of a thousand calories begins with a single bite. and that i can cut back on the evil foods of my life if i cut them back ever so gradually. the same way i gained all that weight. and after forty days i hope to find that i don't crave the pasta, and that i can build on that by dropping something else just slightly more significant. like sugar.

so tonight, hey! pasta away! and tomorrow, when i wake up groggy with the carb hangover i'll know i partied about as hard as i wanted on the eve of lent.

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Monday, February 12, 2007
  cookbook: arabesque
in case it hasn't been obvious, there's been a certain middle eastern influence in the kitchen lately. and i blame this book.

arabesque: a taste of
morocco, turkey & lebanon
by claudia roden
knopf 2006

i've probably got a dozen pages marked with post-it notes and i'm only half way through. the book is broken down by geographical region and there is some overlap with recipes, but the duplicates are all slightly different either in ingredients, spicing or proportions.

each section begins with an overview of the country and its relationship with its food. festival and restaurant menus are discussed along with examinations of staples both common to westerners (couscous and breads) and not-so-common (preserved lemons, regional alcohol).

unless you eat a lot of middle eastern food there is much newness to be discovered here.
never before have i been tempted by a quince in so many ways; i don't even have any idea what a quince tastes like! the pairing of meat and fruit isn't new to me, the but the recipe for chicken with plums seems opulent and obscene all at once.

as i write there are beets roasting in the oven for a salad with yogurt and mint, and eggplants soaking in salty water to be stuffed and baked later. some of the recipes invite shortcuts (i could have bought perfectly acceptable prepared beets) but there's something nice about going the slow route when time permits.

as much as i am in love with the recipes in this book, and the way they will no doubt add new members to our meal rotations, i am about to give it a break for a few weeks. i have another book entirely of indian cooking that looks just as promising.

my thanks to the bbc/pri radio concoction the world and their wonderful programming for introducing me to these books. here's a sample from them. check the book out at your local library.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007
  it was supposed to be white bean chili

but my local whole foods has the lamest bulk selection in town, and it's practically the only bulk selection in town as far as i know.

you buy dry beans and soak them for two or three hours, something should happen. well the "something" that happened was that almost half of the beans failed to absorb any water. most of the others had soaked and split open, or were totally discolored, all of it just nasty.

so i had to improvise.

i found a couple cans of black-eyed peas in the cabinet. i changed the meat to bean ratio. i forgot and later added ingredients. it was originally a crock pot recipe but the way it turned out would have been better on the stove. i should have included the sweet potato i've been meaning to use.

anyway, without further ado

black-eyed pea chili with sausage and chicken heat the olive oil in the bottom of your chili pot on medium, add sausage and break up while it cooks a bit
add the chicken, cook it up a bit as well, about 3 more minutes
add the onion, peppers and spices and heat until everything smells fragrant
toss in the peas and the broth, turn up the heat to medium high until everything boils
then turn it down and simmer for about 20 minutes

it's a very soup-y chili, or a chunky soup. you can thicken it by not rinsing the black-eyed peas before you add them, just dump them in straight from the can, but that will increase the likelihood of gas.

additional possible add-ins: chopped carrots, chopped celery, diced sweet potato (only with drained peas), making sure to add a cup of broth for every additional cup of add-in.

best served with a dollop of light sour cream on top, or perhaps some grated cheese, and a sprinkle of green onions (which i forgot to do last night).

makes 6 to 8 servings, depending on the company
kid approved
leftovers store well for a week, if they last that long

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Saturday, February 10, 2007
  what's up with oily peanut butter?
Food and Wine isn't normally a mag i pick up because it just feels to much like a big-budget advertising circular for the American Express Publishing Corp. but this month they have a taste-test on supermarket peanut butters, and i was in the market for peanut butter this week, and i got to thinking about peanut butter...

yes, i know why peanut butter is oily. all good peanut butters that haven't been filtered will have oil because it's a part of the separation that comes from processing. the only peanut butters that won't separate have their oils replaced with something to keep them smooth, otherwise they just get dry and taste like cardboard.

i like peanut butter in a bowl mixed up with chocolate chips. i may have confessed that before. just the peanut butter and chips in a bowl with a spoon. it doesn't take much and it beats the pants off of some hydrogenated peanut butter cup candy sitting on the shelf in the store for several weeks.

but here's the thing: you open up the new peanut butter and there's the pool of oil, all the way up to the lid, probably to avoid spoilage. so you dig in and start to gently stir to get the oil mixed, because otherwise the top half of the jar is always going to yield oily peanut butter and the bottom half is going to be dry enough to give you flash cotton mouth.

but there it goes, oil spilling over the top and down the side of the jar. you stir more carefully but it doesn't integrate, so you try dredging from the bottom up and... there goes more oil.

how the hell are you supposed to stir up peanut butter in the jar without losing oil?

any and all suggestions greatly appreciated.
  venison burgers, moroccan style (kefta)
last weekend when the father-in-law visted (official first in-law visit) he brought some venison with the intention of making meatballs to go with a pasta and sause. but he didn't want to cook and i made a meat sauce without the venison and it was all good.

honestly, venison kinda scares me.

but as i was considering menu ideas this week i ran up against a couple recipes for an arabesque ground meatball-burger thing that i tend to like when i can find it in mediterranean restaurants -- kefta. the original recipe calls for fatty ground beef and ground lamb but it seemed like i could swap out the lamb for venison and it would be fine.

it was. mighty fine.

these are going to be smallish mini burgers, each person getting a few. i'm pan frying them here, but you could skewer them like in the picture and grill them up.

venison-beef kefta just like with meatloaf, you gotta mix this stuff up with your hands until it's all blended
divide and form into patties about 1.5 inches across; you should get about 20 mini burgers
heat the oil medium-high in a large frying pan
cook as many as will fit at once (probably two batches if pan frying) about 4 to 6 minutes a side

now, about serving these...
you can't just serve these up like regular burgers. the collection of flavors in the meat begs for your attention, the kind of attention that gets squelched with ketchup and mustard. no, for this what you need is a side tabbouleh salad and...

cucumber salad with mint yogurt
you could also have this on the side, but we spread it on top of the burgers and it was fantastic.
also, make this while the burgers cook or risk the over-runny salad monster from leaking cukes
you mix the mint and garlic with the yogurt in your serving bowl
you toss in the cukes, mix to coat, that's that

i promise you, it's like a little hint of spring in winter to eat these, like the promise of summer. and a great alternative to a regular old burger night. no reason why you can't make them bun-sized, though i'd still recommend the cuke yogurt salad along side in a mini pita.

kid tested and approved.
mini burgers give dieters portion control (unless they dip for seconds).
who knew venison could be a good lamb replacement?

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Sunday, February 04, 2007
  6 weird things about me (although 5 would be better)
lyco tagged me on this one. gotta list six weird things about myself. how weird is that?

1. kindergarten. this is where i established my true weirdness. when we were all asked what we wanted to be when we grew up all the boys either said firemen or policemen. i was the only boy who said something different and i said swimming pool builder. can you tell i grew up in LA? what the hell? i think i took that natural boy idea of digging and projected it to its most natural conclusion. another piece of personal weird for me in kindergarten was when i waited outside the bathrooms and when elaine k. came out i kissed her. why? because i liked her. oh, but what a firestorm i created! conferences were had and i was asked repeatedly if someone had put me up to it or if i meant to hurt elaine. hurt her? i kissed her! why was that so hard to understand? but, oh, the trauma, the drama. after that i had kids calling me weird and my response was uniformly "yeah, so i'm weird." i knew it then, i was proud of it, and embracing it early on prevented my enemies from using it against me.

as a side note, i ran into elaine k. at my 20 year high school reunion. she introduced me to her hubby as "that guy i was telling you about." for years, all the way through high school and up until that night in the convention center i had assumed elaine hated me. and she had assumed i hated her because she had spurned me at the tender age of 6. truth was, i never hated elaine, and just assumed her distancing from me was a sort of smugness. but there we were, 32 years after the fact, still talking about that kiss outside the bathroom. that's pretty weird when you think about it.

2. a buffalo once snotted all over my hand. true. i was driving through golden gate park in SF when i noticed they had an enclosed field with a small herd of buffalo in it. i pulled over to an area that had a sort of feeding paddock where there were a couple of buffalo next to the fence. one in particular seemed to have it's eye on me and defying all logic and safety i stuffed my hand through the chain link fence to pet it. the friendly buffalo moved forward and made contact with my hand, rubbing the flat of it's face against my palm, the part right between the eyes. a couple of strokes later it backed up and sneezed, covering my entire hand in buffalo snot. apparently the buffalo had a need for an irritant to make it sneeze and clear out it's nasal passages. extracting my hand through the fence essentially acted as a squeegee, leaving a long ribbon of buffalo snot hanging there for all to see. extract the lesson and moral you see fit, few can say they've pet a buffalo much less had one deliberately sneeze on their hand.

3. in fourth grade i won third place in the state-wide dental health association dental health awareness contest. i don't know if this qualifies as "weird" but it was a total rip-off in the end. everyone in our class made posters for the contest and the teacher mailed them off. i took third place with a poster of a crazy looking monster (it represented tooth decay and bacteria) with the slogan "don't let me get in your mouth." to this day i can't believe that was a third place winner for my division. my friend pat got an honorable mention for his version of uncle sam in the classic montogomery pose saying "i want you to brush your teeth." we were the only winners in our school district in any age group. we were taken to a special awards luncheon at royce hall at UCLA by the school nurse. the american dental health association had just rolled out their new slogan "operation: apple brush" with the idea that eating an apple after a meal was as good as brushing your teeth, if you couldn't brush your teeth. ha ha, how silly we were back in the 1970s. anyway at the luncheon the first place winners got a certificate and a plaque and a t-shirt with the new logo on it. second and third place got nothing but lunch. nothing. how is that any different than honorable mention getting nothing but a lunch? why did i even go to that stupid luncheon. i hated that experience, hated it. don't ever enter a contest where only first place gets something. it's a rip off. it was boring and they served us school cafeteria style salsbury steak and it sucked. no, i'm not still bitter.

4. i have supersonic hearing. a few years back i began having a problem in my ears. basically i could hear things i never used to before, like my sinuses dripping. and if i focused on it the sound of swallowing was like the roar of the ocean in my ears. i went to a dr, then had some x-rays of my perfectly round head, then went to an ears-nose-throat specialist. the ent cleaned out my ears and then did some tests, those kind where you have to indicated when you hear a tone. i'm sitting in a soundproof booth with bone crushing headphones on and poking my finger in the air when i hear the tones. it feel like forever and i'm worried i'm losing my hearing. the dr shows me my results. it looks like a bell curve with the highs and lows sitting on the "normal" baseline. but the mid-range, the top of the bell curve, had been sliced off. "your mid-rage hearing is off the charts. you probably have some problems with sounds in that frequency causing interference with other sounds." yeah, like a television studio's worth of electronic can trigger a migraine and i can walk into an en empty office suite and tell you if there is a single computer on in a cubicle somewhere. or i know when a fluorescent light is starting to die, long before it starts to flicker and hum. because i can hear all these things.

5. when i was a boy, pre- school aged, i thought that if i sat in front of the TV when it was turned off it would swallow me up. this requires a couple of explanations. first, this would be back when we had an old black and white TV that used to take a while to warm up. and when you shut it off the old cathode tube would reduce down to a glowing dot that would fade away. it's not that strange a thought to imagine those people trapped in the big TV box being shrunk into oblivion, and being afraid that, like a bathtub drain, getting sucked into the whirling vortex of the cathode rays. second, anyone who thinks i got this impression from seeing poltergeist as a kid (as some have assumed when i've told this story) you need to understand: i'm old enough to have written the script for that movie.

6. zuska says that i have to write this one: every time i pee i have to go get a glass of water. i must protest this point because it really is only at the end of the night, just before i go to bed. but even if it were every time (as she insists) how can that be weird? you replace what you lost? you're going to sleep for 6 to 8 hours and you're not going to eat, your body's going to perspire, your mouth get's parched. and there's nothing worse than waking up dehydrated. do i occasionally overdo it and need to get up in the middle of the night to pee? yes, but i'm not like some old man with an enlarged prostate like those farts on those TV ads who let a problem get well out of hand before they even go to their doctors.

i forgot what i was supposed to do here. tag some people? virtula t, do you want to take a stab? i can see you all out there on my sitemeter traffic but you don't leave comments or link to me so i can't invite many of you personally. please, feel free to take the ball and run with it. let me know who you are and what you've posted so i can see, too.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007
  the boston hoax

breaking away from the food and whatnot this time to chat about the little problem we had here in boston yesterday.

it appears that government officials and first responders -- as well as a number of this burg's citizens -- have swallowed the kool-aid of paranoia that the bush administration has doled out over the past five years and over-responded to a guerrilla marketing campaign gone awry. until i see evidence to the contrary i can now say i am living in the heart of urban dumb ass country.

there's a lot of ways to break this down, and everyone's gonna want a parse of the pie in blogland, but the basic fact remains: the city of boston shut the city down for four hours yesterday because, as much as they'd like to tout their homeland security, they didn't have the ability to actually figure out what they were dealing with until it was too late and decided not to lift the web of paranoia until they had a fall guy.

basically, until turner broadcasting came forward they weren't going to look like asses in public.

you can read the timelines and analysis elsewhere but the simple fact is that even once the city realized they weren't dealing with terrorists, even once they had enough clues to know it was a city-wide marketing event, the most they were willing to say was "it's a hoax, folks, don't worry about a thing."

a hoax. implying still that there was an intent to provoke city-wide panic. they're going to have a hard time proving that in court against those two patsies hired to put those things in place.

hoax: an act intended to trick or dupe. that's what the dictionary says. why would the mayor and newscasters call this a hoax?

...because they're clueless.

...because modern news is no longer based on facts, it's based on the same tactics used by the administration: fear. don't believe me? watch you local news for half an hour and count the number of stories that are doom and gloom, meant to make you feel small, bad about yourself, bad about your neighbor, or just plane afraid of the world.

...and because the government as a whole has no mechanism in place for admitting blame or guilt when they overreact.

government and first responders aren't the kind of people watching cartoon network's adult swim. they just aren't. so when they find a little homemade LED display on some public infrastructure the first time they blow it up, just to be on the safe side. that's what happened a little after 8 am yesterday morning. if had electronics, it was attached to a highway structure, play it safe and blow it to bits with a water cannon.

typical american response: blow up what you don't understand.

but four hours later the city is getting calls from people who have spotted more of these little things. bomb squads are dispatched. roads are shut down. public transit is halted. in those four hours leading up to this point has anyone bothered to analyze the first object they destroyed? are they comparing notes in the field? what conclusion are they drawing?

the news stations are picking up that the city is shut down. helicopters are showing bomb squads investigating. wall-to-wall coverage begins.

hmm. it looks like it's a character from a computer game. hey, it's giving us the finger! it's giving us the finger! it's in our face telling us we're fools and asses! that does it! this is a hoax! it was meant to provoke us into overreacting! get the mayor on the horn, we're being made fun of!

pride before the fall and all.

no, the poor little mooninite didn't register with homeland security because it isn't a "known threat" or some sort of symbol affiliated with a terrorist group. it's a cartoon, and had it been a more widely known figure like bart simpson people i sincerely doubt anyone would have given it half as much notice. see, the police couldn't tell reporters "yeah, we've got some sort of light thing with bart simpson on it" all they said was "it appears to be a battery operated electrical device with blinking LED lights on it." that's what one guy said yesterday. doesn't that sound scarier than a lighted cartoon character? but because of their cultural ignorance the emergency crews didn't know the character and took it's meaning personally.

screw you, homeland security.

when turner broadcasting finally came forward and the origins of the "hoax" were explained it was clear that so many people over-responded in such a way that you just had to figure real terrorists were watching the news (a) laughing their asses off and (b) kicking themselves for not thinking about something like this themselves. in fact, i wouldn't be surprised to find the rest of the western world laughing at the city too dumb to know a fake "threat" when they see it. dude, check out boston shutting down the harbour because some hacker dudes put little lights on the bridges! yeah, that makes us look really intelligent.

during the whole ordeal, before there was much info, an "analyst" (and really, isn't that just a fancy title for a person who passes off quasi-educated opinions as facts?) was talking about how this looked more like a dry run by terrorists to see how quickly emergency response teams react and to test their ability to tie up a city.

fascinating. so now we know how easily it is to divert a city's attentions away from real terrorist threats and targets. it's going on 6 years after 9/11 and a city can be crippled by lite brites.

so here we are with all the morning-after quarterbacking. the mayor is promising law suits against turner, hoping to get sanctions against them by the fcc and make someone accountable for a minimum state cost of three-quarters of a million in frosties. the news media continue to refer to the incident as a hoax because they refuse to accept any responsibility on their part for perpetrating the paranoia. and people are rabidly badmouthing the firm that created the campaign by accusing them willfully disregarding how this would all turn out.


if the reports are correct that there were 15 other cities where this campaign was carried out, why was boston the only one to react like this? either the other cities failed their homeland security tests or boston is too stupid to know the difference between a real and an imagined threat. and public response, judging from comment sections on news websites and elsewhere, is 9 to 1 leaning toward blaming the blamers.

the campaign was lame, perhaps criminal in failing to get a permit in advance but of little else. the government responded inanely. the news media fanned the flames. and in the end i didn't hear one word about the terror threat level being raised or lowered.

when you're raised on a diet of fear you can expect this kind of regurgitation. enjoy life, folks, the terrorists are winning. they also happen to be your elected officials and your news media.

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recipes and musings on food -- and anything else for that matter -- from a guy with a sticky brain who likes food. perhaps he likes food too much.

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