Archive for September, 2007

Founding Fathers and the Law –

7 September 07

The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were some of the greatest and smartest people who ever lived. But – they screwed up in a place or two.

Now, this time, we will take a look at the law, just as a concept. The sole and only purpose that a law in the United States should have is to protect individual freedoms and/or protect an individual from exploitation by others. Period. Interstate commerce? Well, yes, that eventually filters down to protecting a citizen from abuse. Sometimes the trail is long.

A look at the history of law goes from the Egyptians to Hammurabi, to whichever way you want to go from there. One thing that emerges is the notion that we humans can make a pretzel out of anything. Take the Talmudic interpretation of the simple “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” Exodus 34:26, I think. By the time the rabbinical philosophers got through with that one it had evolved into a whole system of kitchen cleanliness. Including four separate sets of dishes and some very convoluted recipes (good though). Mr. Spock was only partly right. Logic is great until you make one wrong step. Everything after that is garbage.

OK, back to law. “The law is an ass” Everyone has heard that one – here’s the whole thing from Dickens’ Oliver Twist:
“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.” It is not that the law is an ass, it is that laws are made by humans. Most of our laws are compromises to start with, they are written down. Then they must be interpreted and enforced. Oh my, what is written and how it is interpreted may be two different things. And what was intended may not come through at all.

We are looking at criminal law here.

Let us look at a small part of the world of the Founding Fathers. Just the forensic science part. It didn’t exist. Fingerprinting wasn’t there. Blood testing wasn’t there. DNA matching wasn’t there. Ballistics wasn’t there. In fact, physics was just beginning to be explored and codified. Electricity was the new kid on the block (Franklin, remember).  Calculus was understood and beginning to be used for less than 100 years. The only thing that the Fathers had to go on was eyewitness testimony.

Humans have evolved to be pattern matchers. We have to be able to jump to a conclusion based on partial information. Does the grass move the wrong way? Might be a lion. Run. Now it could be many things other than the lion, but those that jumped to the conclusion and acted on it survived. Those that waited for full data and deliberated the implications became lion food. Guess which set of genes we carry. Back to the discussion. Human eyewitnesses depend on two things: Perception of events seen in an emotionally stressful situation. Memory. Oh boy, memory. Now we got two immediate strikes. Interpretation of perception and memory. I can’t think of any things that we humans do any worse. The FFs were really smart guys and tried to take that into account. Now we get what they wrote and then we get how the lawyers and courts interpret. Ouch! We now have the logic guys in the picture. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d way more rather use logic than emotion, but it is a razor. You can get hurt if you are not careful. So – we get into the whole Catch-22 about admissible vs. inadmissible evidence. There is no justice in our courts. There is a rather horribly beautiful exercise in insane logic and acting that takes place. Watch court TV for a while and you will find a fascinating/repelling experience. The FF wanted to be as sure as they could that the innocent did not suffer falsely. Even if it meant turning some of the guilty loose. Anyway, back to admissibility of evidence. A fact is a fact, but said fact is not admitted if the cop at hand did not play the game according to the rules. All Ts crossed. All Is dotted. Didn’t even slap an uncontrollable wild man on the wrist. Look here, any rational human knows that people in positions of authority can become bent. We need to be protected from the protectors. But try this on instead of this admissible evidence crap: All evidence is admissible. No matter how it was gotten. A fact is a fact. However (twist!), if it was improperly gathered or falsified, make the individual cop personally responsible, with rather stiff penalties. This way we still protect individuals from abuse. We also protect the next child by not turning molesters and serial killers loose on technicalities.

I don’t think we need to twiddle the Constitution. I don’t trust this current crop of politicians to look past their bribes and bigotries. I do think we need to take a fresh look at what we think the Constitution says.

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Girls have more fun –

4 September 07

Just about all of Robert Heinlein’s later books beginning with Time Enough for Love touch on male/female sexuality, similarities and differences. (Actually, he started it in Stranger, but didn’t develop it much at the time). This is particularly a theme in Fear No Evil. But even RAH, genius that he was, missed a couple of major differences. Now, I’m not here to debate whether it is inborn or cultural. I will just observe. BTW – The conclusion of RAH is usually that women are superior. I won’t disagree with the master.

First of all, I hope that I (and you) don’t have any illusions about little girls being made of sugar and spice or any such silliness. The idea that girls are not as cruel as boys is most inaccurate. Little girls are different, but both girls and boys are unformed humans that need to be civilized. 

Having said the above, I note that little girls do silly playing. Little boys may do so for a short while, but they quickly become sober-sides and silly pretending usually stops. Pretending does not stop, but it is usually somewhat more serious. Adult role-playing type. Girls do this too, but they can also keep the playful silliness. It is instructive to note that one of the many things that the Red Hat Society does is to allow fully mature women to be silly together again. Men’s clubs do have lots of fun. But fun is usually serious business, and playful silliness is not to be found. (Not manly and dignified, y’know). 

I will admit that I have perhaps a somewhat biased view. My beloved wife seems to think that she has been a failure if she can’t get me to laugh once a day. Well – some days she can’t. But I am usually amused. My oldest and dearest friend spent hours being quite silly in a really brilliant improv fashion to get me laughing. This may or may not have been a motive. It was certainly an effect. 

My dear friend sent me a picture of the first grade class that we were in together. I am on the end, glowering as usual. My wife claims that I was born a grumpy old man. I am probably guilty as charged. I have usually had a solemn affect, I think. 

I was probably pretty sullen throughout public school. I was bored out of my mind. I remember a big hooraw that my fourth grade teacher made when book reports were assigned. I did my book report on Edison Marshal’s West with the Vikings. Now this was the story of Leif Eriksson. Adult. Fictional, but somewhat accurate. And yes, there was some sex. And some violence. It was also the most recently read book at the time. The other candidate for the report was The Campaigns of Alexander the Great. Or something like that. I didn’t think an historical analysis of Alexander’s battles would make a good report, and we had been limited to two pages or some such anyway. So – the note got sent home, and my mother had to come in to answer as to why I was doing a report on an adult book some 2” thick when the rest of the kids were doing Nancy Drew mysteries or Hardy Boys or some equivalent. I don’t remember what my mother said. I do know I didn’t get hassled about what I read again in that grade. Like I said, I was bored. And probably sullen. 

I remember being sent to the principal’s office in the 8th grade, I don’t remember for what. I was sitting outside the office. It was one of those hot, drowsy spring days (before A.C.) and late afternoon. I was nearly asleep in the chair. The receptionist may have spoken, I don’t know. I do know that she came up and asked me if I were sick. I was quite groggy, not thinking. My nose was clogged with the spring Atlanta air. I said (and this is exact) “Yes, ma’am, I have a sinus headache.” The next thing I knew, I was in the principal’s presence being dressed down for being rude to the receptionist. She had gone to him in tears. This was a big deal. My father got to come in for a conference the next morning. I got beatings from both of them. To this day I don’t know what that woman thought I said. It certainly wasn’t what I did say. And I really wasn’t rude. I swear. 

That was only the first time it became apparent that people could misinterpret what was actually said. I had that problem several times when I was younger. I have been told that people were afraid of me. I have been told that I project danger. I have always been somewhat amused/bemused/confused by this. I am not and never have been all that strong compared to many of the manly-man football player types. I have never started a fight. I always considered fighting to be foolish. I have always avoided fights. I only fought if I could not get out of it. I did usually finish them in at least marginally better shape than the aggressor, for whatever that may be worth. (I might be able to whip a wet piece of spaghetti now that I am old and out of shape). I have always tried to be kind to others. I like to think that the only people that I have been rude to needed and deserved it. (At least deliberately rude). None of the above seems to have meaning where people’s perceptions are concerned. 

Anyway, as I matured I learned to try to present a somewhat less intimidating affect most of the time. It seems to work ok. I haven’t had any trouble in years. 

I’m still a grumpy old man. And I do think that girls have more fun!

Resources: Cookbooks –

3 September 07

Hey – yo’ mama was wrong – do play with your food; enjoy making it and eating it.

Cooking is not about recipes; it is about technique and imagination. I am not a top chef and could not be one even if I were nuts enough to want that. I can and do have a ton of fun in the kitchen and (usually) get to eat pretty well. My mother taught me a lot. I was more interested in cooking than my sibs. Mama was an excellent plain cook. Herself was/is also one of the best day-to-day cooks going (even if she is messy), but with the arthritis advancing the cooking falls to me. Just as well I enjoy it.

Cookbooks are just a starting point, but here are a few that I can recommend for the adventurous cook. Most people just dive in and try to follow the recipe. Don’t. Do read what the authors have to say about technique; it will carry over to all your cooking. Use your own imagination and be prepared to fail. Don’t try something elaborate and unfamiliar and/or experimental on a can’t fail occasion.

The Foundation, you gotta’ have these:

1. Rombauer: The Joy of Cooking. Yeah, everyone should have this one. The foundation of day-to-day meals. A bit of everything in there. You can get it all over the place.

2. The Hong Kong & China Gas Co., LTD.: Gas Cookery Book. Mine is the 1964 edition. A real jewel. Half in Chinese, half in English. Designed to teach Chinese cooks about Western food and English cooks about Oriental food. Covers a ton of bases. You can learn Austrian dishes and Korean dishes. I saw several used on Amazon. Worth the effort to get one.

3. Julia Child, Simone Beck: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Be sure to get both Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One (1) (Vol 1)
and Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2. Do I need to say anything? The most necessary book(s) you can have. Just about anything else by Julia is also good.

Fun Books:

1. George L. Herter: Bull Cook. Totally full of bull and even more opinionated than I am. Some decent recipes – mostly just fun.

2. Alton Brown: Just about any of Alton’s books are fun. He has all kinds of why and wherefore stuff. I don’t always get his further out techniques to work, but he will inform you and make you think. And some of his wacky ideas are brilliant and new thinking that do work. You just have to try for yourself. Alton Brown: I’m Just Here for the Food and Alton Brown: I’m Just Here for More Food

Bread:

1. You can get the basics of good bread from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

2. Jeffrey Hamelman: Bread, A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. If you are serious about your bread, this is the book for you. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a book by a professional baker – indeed, one of the foremost in the world – or that it is for professional bakers. He also addresses the needs of the home baker. Also don’t fret all the technical stuff at the front of the book, just slog though it and all becomes clear. Actually, even the techno stuff is written clearly and understandably, even if I do sometimes have to read a paragraph twice.

References for the Seriously Addicted:

1. Larousse Gastronomique. – you really gotta’ be a serious food nut. The encyclopedia of food. But you got to be really serious. (Herself Sez: Yeah, we have it – the 1961 version – better than the new one.)

2. Escoffier: The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery. Another one that you only need if you are really serious.

3. Raymond Calvel: Le Gout du Pain (The Taste of Bread). This is the greatest bread authority and baker in the world with his capstone work. Only if you are totally nutso about all the scientific and technical details that the master achieved over the course of a lifetime. Professor Calvel can be seen in action in the DVD edition of The French Chef 2, Disk 3, Episode 5, French Bread. Wow, the man moves with poetry in his hands. Worth getting the set just to see the master make it look beautifully effortless. (You can get it from Netflix or Blockbuster.)

I should mention that I do not take my cookbooks into the kitchen at all. Too easy to get them messed up. I used to photocopy the pages and then just toss the copies when I got them all messed up. Nowadays I use a program called Living Cookbook, from Radium Technologies. This is shareware, not freeware, and you know a program has got to be quite good for me to shuck out the 30 bucks. Anyway, you can type stuff in or just capture it off the Internet, sort, classify, whatever. I just print out whatever I’m interested in. A piece of paper is a whole lot easier to schlep around the kitchen than a book or a computer. Also handy to drag the page(s) to the store to make sure you got all the necessary goodies. You can also do meal planning and grocery lists – if you are that organized – I’m not. Best food program I’ve seen. (They should pay me for all that endorsement!)

Did I leave out your favorite cookbook? Probably. There are 10 tons of cookbooks out there, many of them quite good. These are only a tiny fraction of the books that we have. Herself is a cookbook junkie. I approach things somewhat differently, but we are both bookworms. Don’t get a cookbook just for recipes; the best resource for recipes is the Internet – that’s how you found this! Good cookbooks should illuminate the art and science of food. Most cookbook purchases are impulse buys based on liking the looks of one or two recipes, or the latest by some celebrity chef. Be more rational in your book selection unless you’ve got bucks (and shelf space) to burn.

Does this list lean a little toward French cooking? Yes. I may despise French politics, but let’s be rational, these people made the first true study of cooking going. Their observations are the basis for all the modern food sciences. What they have had to say carries over for all cooking endeavors whether British, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, or what have you. And note – not all French cooking is Haute Cuisine, the Mediterranean French is just as hearty as any Italian, and frequently quite similar in spicing and technique.

Fact, not Truth –

1 September 07

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

“Archaeology is the search for fact… not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.”

I’m sure nearly everyone on the planet has heard that one by now. This applies to all fields of science. Now the left is busy having hernias over the “global warming” thing. Also firmly insisting that it is all America’s greedy fault. But I don’t see the libs voluntarily going to a subsistence level of living. Kennedy’s and Kerry’s give up their SUVs yet?

On the other paw – the conservatives are just as busy insisting “there ain’t no such thing, and if there were, we couldn’t do it.” Kind of like a kid in denial.

I find both positions sort of puzzling. Now, we surely don’t need people getting hysterical without facts. We don’t need lib politicians trying to silence any meteorologist who disagrees with the unproven (but politically correct) thing. Nor do we need to be running around passing laws to require cars to get a zillion miles per gallon, or light bulbs that are more hazardous waste.

Contrariwise, we don’t need to be insisting there couldn’t possibly be climate change headed our way. Sometime those crazy libs are right.

How ‘bout something unusual, like getting the facts:

Is there climate change going on?

1. If so, which direction? Good? Bad?

a. If bad, how is it going to affect the food supply?
b. Should we stockpile or take other precautions?

2. If so, what is causing it?

a. Can we do anything to ameliorate or rectify? Should we?

Let’s break this down. First question: is there a climate change?

If no, roll back over and snooze a little more and quit wasting my time and money.

If yes, then which direction is it going? Warmer, cooler? Is it perhaps overall positive for the planet? Is it going to really goof up the food supply? This translates as famine. People die. Can we stockpile enough supplies to ride this out? Do we need to take other precautions?

If yes, can we positively determine the cause? Is the sun simply going through a normal cycle? Is it something that we can address prophylacticly?

Now, lefties, I hope that you guys can see a couple of things here. One is that you can be wrong. Yes, it can happen. On the other hand, you could be right, that there is a climate change taking place. If this is true then you are only muddying the water with your hysterical calls for silly things like: use a single piece of toilet paper, change your light bulbs, ride a bicycle, and so on. If this is really true, then it is probably way beyond our ability to influence it. We should be worrying about surviving famine and pestilence and such like. Quit wasting our time with silliness and get in line to get serious science by appropriate disciplines.

Conservatives – aren’t you the guys who like to run around saying “where there’s smoke there’s fire”? Fine. There seems to be a boatload of smoke here. (Could be just hot air – but we don’t know). Quit procrastinating and fund some real research. I agree that the libs can be awfully shrill, irritating, and painfully smug. But really, guys, don’t let your dislike of these critters deter you from saving your collective butts. And those of your children. If you get facts that prove the pinheads wrong, great, beat them over the head with those facts and never let them forget they were wrong. But – we could get enough warning to survive. Not a bad idea.

See, right now the whole global warming thing is really a religious stance. The true believers on the left that have seen the light seem to think that they’ve got proof. That’s kind of like trying to prove God exists by quoting scripture. Works for true believers, but doesn’t work at all on the unbelievers. So you’d better get real climatologists, etc. to do the research. On the other hand the atheist position – “I just don’t believe it!” – of the right is just as religious. Not going to believe until bit on the butt with facts. Great. Now let’s get both sides together on getting the facts. See libs, us that don’t believe find your constant harping about as appetizing as you find having a fundamentalist preaching in your face. And you are both true believers in your causes.


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