Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bill Evans on "Piano Jazz"

Here's a rather extraordinary episode of Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" with Bill Evans from November 1978, two years before his death in 1980.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mrs Palin

At a time when Russia and US seem to be experiencing another cooldown in relations, we all need more of grassroots acts like this.

It's not you, it's your brain wiring

This article says that we might now know why some people get such a high from new experiences:
Have you got the new iPhone yet? Do you like changing jobs now and again because you get bored otherwise? Do you go on holiday to different places every year? Then maybe your neural connection between ventral striatum and hippocampus is particularly well developed. Both of them are centres in the brain. The reward system which urges us to take action is located in the striatum, whereas the hippocampus is responsible for specific memory functions. ... With people who constantly seek new experiences, striatum and hippocampus are evidently wired particularly well. 
 Look, a squirrel!

Honk for french cafe owners

When the french were going to introduce their smoking ban legislation, I correctly predicted that decision would put the world on the brink of apocalypse. Now, with ripples going through the whole world, stock markets in the dumps and panic reigning supreme, the boomerang has come the full circle and struck home. As NYT reports, "Across France, Cafe Owners Are Suffering":
In Paris, Bernard Picolet, 60, is the owner of Aux Amis du Beaujolais, which his family started in 1921 on Rue de Berri. “The way of life has changed,” he said. “The French are no longer eating and drinking like the French. They are eating and drinking like the Anglo-Saxons,” the British and the Americans.
“They eat less and spend less time at it,” Mr. Picolet said.
People grab a sandwich at lunchtime and eat as they walk or sit at their desks. They stand in line to buy prepackaged espresso sachets, to drink coffee at home, or have coffee at the office, at the boss’s expense.
 O my french brothers and sisters, if that is happening, then truly the dark times are looming. You are the only ones who can still avert the global catastrophe and the wrath of gods. First, ban the smoking ban, and second, institute an program of mandatory early childhood smoking. If you don't, I'm terrified to think about the world we might leave to the future generations. Act now! Won't somebody please think of the children?

For dessert, here's Sartre's Cookbook by Eric and Kathryn Meyer.

It's that most wonderful time of the year, again.

Modern technology is most wonderful. Now as I make my way to work through heaps of snow in Ottawa, I can listen in on Toronto traffic on and rejoice in other people's misery. Or tune into SF's KCSM and envy their climate. Fortunately, both of these stations also broadcast jazz.

If you excuse me now, I'll go OD on mistletoe.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Philosopher-king sought to run country

Yahoo! UK News has today this wonderful article that claims that in a survey containing questions on civic knowledge, American elected officials scored lower than the general population, and both groups failed at 44% and 49% correspondingly.
"It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned," said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.
 In defence of the American governing elites, the people classified as elected officials in the survey were "self-identified", which leaves us wishing for the statistics of prevalence of megalomania among the study population.

Still, aspiring philosopher-kings out there, please send your resumes and portfolios to Swedish High Conspiracy Commission at 1501 M St NW, Washington, DC 20005. Please include two passport-size photos and a one-page commentary on your favorite passage from Machiavelli.

Friday, November 21, 2008

World Philosophy Day Complement -- Exclusive coverage

Yesterday, November 20, was the World Philosopy Day, and while I was getting my sleep after pulling an all-nighter, Gregory Levonian beat me by blogging about it first. Darn. Well, I'm going to blog about it anyway, because it's just such a great occasion and it's not getting enough coverage.

In fact I think it's a shame that the World Philosophy Day is limited to only one day, given the place that dualities and dichotomies of all sorts take in philosophy. Therefore it's only logical to declare today, November 21, World Philosophy Day Complement. And I'm going to blog about it first. Hear that, Greg? I don't see you blogging about World Philosophy Day Complement on your blog.

And to give this day an air of credibility, I'd like to announce a very special event happening today: World Philosophy Day Complement Hour of Thinking. Today, join millions in this charity event by taking one hour and thinking between the hours of 8 and 9 pm, Eastern Standard Time. You can pick any topic as long as you think. The proceeds of your thinking will go to support Canadian Cancer Federation, so be generous.

And after the Hour of Thinking, you are welcome to join us for a little wine and celebration. We will also chop up a healthy person for organs to save five sick people.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bankruptcy management for the american dream

Mitt Romney on letting the Big Three eat cake.

Great Northern War

Gregory Levonian asks why, if Swedes are indeed so cool, did they have their arses handed to them by Russians in the Great Northern War of 1700-21. Well, Gregory, it's a widespread misconception (apparently shared by Wikipedia and Peter the Great) that Russians supposedly won the war. An interested student of the conflict will soon discover the falsity of this belief, which we further explore in more detail.

The Russian domination of the Baltic from 18th century on, annexion of Estonia and Ingria and the founding of St Petersburg in Ingria "to secure the acquisitions" are all widely recognized as clear indications of Russia's victory in the war. To concentrate on them, however, would be to ignore the much more interesting story of Sweden's victory by infiltrating Russia from within. The Swedes who are, as we have learned, a tough and clever nation, came to a conclusion that it would be to their benefit to let Russia enjoy the so-called victory with the Baltic and everything while taking advantage of the moment when Russia's focus was elsewhere (undoubtedly, on drinking themselves silly a la russe in celebration of the "victory") and establishing presence in strategic locations on Russian soil, and, of course, in key positions of power. The strong velvet influence of the Swedish lobby lasted well into the twentieth century, culminating in a Swedish-initiated social engineering experiment that lasted for over 70 years from 1917 to 1991. Acquiring by proxy control over what came to be known to the world as the Soviet Block (Svenskablok), the Swedish overlords took the opportunity to try different brands of socialism. A notable crisis in the experiments happened in 1968, when a senior agent broke loose and went on to reveal to the world the true, highly classified, objective of the experiments, the creation of the "Socialism with a human face". The complete objective was, of course, the creation of socialism with a human face in Sweden and only in Sweden, so that the rest of the world, imperfect and envious, would look at Sweden with everlasting admiration. Fortunately, nobody took Agent Dubcek's revelation seriously, but the Swedes had to cancel the otherwise well-going Chekhoslovak experiment, reverting it back to the older, stable model. Sensing at that point that it was too dangerous to not immediately make use of the research findings (lest somebody else should file for patent), the Swedes have reluctantly started applying their research findings in their own country, which today are responsible for the only known functioning example of the Socialism with a Human Face.
In fact, here's that face:
And, finally, Gregory, you were looking for the third negative thing to say about Sweden. You were probably looking for word "ABBA". It was an effective psychological weapon at the time, but now the Swedes acknowledge it was unnecessarilly cruel, and they are sorry.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Sweden... the land of groundbreaking cinematography, affordable wooden furniture, the dynamite, whopping income tax, lovely lakes, wonderful telephone system and many interesting furry animals. (The person in the third row -- did you really have to mention ABBA? the Swedes are trying so hard to forget!) With exception of cinematography, furniture, dynamite and many other things, our little country is a lot like Sweden. And yet, strive as we may to copy Swedish public health prevention policies, we will never have one thing Sweden does -- the high culture of producing and consuming fermented herring or, as it is affectionately (and unaffectionately) called, Surströmming.

Surströmming stands for "sour herring" and stands for a traditional way of preserving herring by packing it into a barrel with just the right amount of salt and letting it spend a couple of months in this delicate state between not quite being salted and yet not quite rotting. Then it is packed into tin cans where the fermentation process continues, the poor beheaded corpses of herring emitting meanwhile all sorts of invigorating gases and with time transforming the cylindical can into more of a spere-shaped one. The resulting product has a smell and a taste that are, reportedly, both worthy of superlatives, albeit different ones. Surströmming is traditionally consumed in a sandwich of thin bread, onions, butter, boiled potatoes and, of course, surströmming. From what I hear, sometimes sour cream or milk is consumed with it, and, of course, beer, vodka or aquavit to taste.

So, what are the conclusions that we can reach about the Swedish nation by extrapolating from a tidbit of trivia about this undoubtedly national-character-defining dish?

Here's what. Swedes are a tough and clever nation. Having a climate slightly more harsh than that of Bahamas, with slightly shorter days during their correspondingly slightly longer winters, and substandard salt supplies back in the days of old, they came up with a novel solution to preserving their national treasure: the herring. In other words: when life gives you lemons, make fermented lemons. What we can learn from that: If you haven't heard, the end of the world as we know it is coming. Everything might be in short supply, and although we have the Windsor salt mines nearby, there won't be enough for everybody. Therefore those of us who can make their own surstromming (second recipe) during the traditional months of May to August will enjoy a significant advantage over the unlearned folk. Plus we might be able to scare off the hordes of predatory vegetarians with the smell alone, or intimidate them into sharing the crops from their naturally-cultivated vegetable gardens (remember, we need the onions for the sandwich).

Personally, I haven't yet tried surstromming, but my heart and gut are burning with the desire to experience this character-building delicacy. If anybody knows where to buy it in Ottawa, please let me know! Conversely, I will share the information I come by as well.

And finally, so that you wouldn't accuse me of writing another meaningless post, here are
The 3 facts about surströmming you will have learnt by the end of this blog post:
  1. British Airlines and Air France forbid taking tins of surstromming aboard, as checked luggage, carry-on, and in any print or electronic representation, so help us God. The reason is that the bulging little containers of joy are pressurized and have been known to explode in mid-flight, rendering the air-freshener systems of the air vessel tragically ineffective.

  2. If you wake up with a hangover in a Stockholm apartment (after a memorable night in the hot hands of an Oslo dentist) and, seeing a can of surstromming in front of you, are tempted to open it, resist the temptation, for the following reasons. Firstly, opening (pressurized!) tins of surstromming inside apartments is forbidden by a Stockholm bylaw and, besides permanently staining your expensive IKEA carpet, can affect the relationship with your neighbors, those weird American expat snobs who are utterly incapable of appreciating the unique culture of the host country. Secondly....

  3. ... true connoisseurs of surstromming recommend opening tins of surstromming underwater, which greatly reduces the smell released into the air and, consequently, makes surstromming a snack of choice for scuba diving enthusiasts.

Car workers of the world, unite!

Washington Post has an article today that succintly summarizes my feelings about subsidies to and bailouts of north american automotive industry. And subsidies in general. Except maybe to educational institutions. Oh, and CAW of Oshawa can join in with their colleagues from UAW when the latter go fuck themselves.