Sunday, May 29, 2011

Biscuits and Babies

Yesterday was a bad day for Kristin, in which we (mostly me, but also Jeannie) subjected her to a string of indignities and then took pictures.

Indignity #1: I made Kristin wake up really, really early on a Saturday, advising her that I would be at her building at 8 AM so that we could leave for the International Biscuit Festival and be there by 9 AM. It was so early that the staff at her desk were asking each other why she was awake, and I had to explain that I told her 8 AM because I really planned to leave by 9 AM and knew that she wouldn't be ready on time. Sure enough, we left at ten after nine, even though I was there at eight.

She probably would have just bailed on the whole thing, but on Tuesday night I publically accused her of repeatedly ditching me for weekend plans unless we were doing something that she wanted to do, so Kristin was up bright and early yesterday, just to prove me wrong.

I should be a psychologist.

Or a manipulative sociopath.

Kristin got her own jab in, though, by tricking me into agreeing that it would somehow be better if we walked downtown instead of riding in an air-conditioned car like normal people do. I'm not quite sure how this happened, but several minutes later, there we were on Biscuit Boulevard, a temporary street set up alongside Market Square:

pre-tasting crowds

We were a half hour early for the biscuit tasting, which gave us time to get our tasting tickets:

tasting ticket (1)

(Yee Haw Industries did a really nice job on those and on the festival posters) and scope out the booths before the crowds came. It also gave us time to notice that the International Biscuit Festival is, unfortunately, not an International Spelling Festival:


Some competitors did sweet biscuits, like the UT Culinary Institute's orange glazed vanilla biscuit:

UT Culinary Institute biscuit

which was good, but not as good as Sapphire's Orange Julius biscuit:

Sapphire's booth

Tea at the Gallery also did a sweet biscuit, a cinnamon scone with creme and raspberry preserves and lemon curd:

Tea at the Gallery's biscuits

and I almost voted for it.

There were also savory biscuits, like (I think) this one:

abundant life kitchen (2)

from the Abundant Life Kitchen:

abundant life kitchen (1)

I think it was savory because we never got to actually taste one, due to Indignity #2: Crowds. Huge crowds pressing and rubbing against you as they fight for biscuit samples in a confined space.

Once the tasting portion of Biscuit Fest started, a few thousand people crowded onto Biscuit Boulevard, which was only a block long. We could barely move, much less reach any tables for a sample, and we ended up squeezing between two booths and escaping the area by sneaking along behind them. On the way, I snagged a blueberry sage biscuit with jalapeno honey from Latitude 35's table, and decided that it was decent but overcomplicated, so I didn't vote for them, either.

Freed from the mass of biscuit-seekers, Kristin and I decided to get some breakfast and go back to the tasting after the crowd had thinned a little. We ate at the Bistro at the Bijou, where Kristin had a fried egg sandwich and I had french toast made with french bread, which cracked me up because all I could think of was the scene in Better Off Dead when Lane's mom makes a french dinner and proudly announces the menu of french bread, french fries, and french dressing.

After breakfast, we went back to Biscuit Boulevard, discovered that the crowds had thinned (and at least one vendor had run out of biscuits and closed), and finished our tasting:

five biscuits later...

Both of us ended up voting for the cheese and chive biscuit from Callie's Charleston Biscuits and Pimento Cheese, which was so good that I ate mine and then ate Kristin's too.

Full of biscuits (I was more full than Kristin, because she only took one bite of each biscuit and then gave the rest to me) and breakfast, we then walked to the hospital to see Jeannie, who had a baby on Friday.

Then, Indignity #3: We made Kristin touch a human baby.

kristin and violet

And we took pictures of her doing it.

It turned out to be a pretty good day for me, but I can't say the same for Kristin.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Severed Head of Victor Ashe

For as much as I talk about art and how much I believe in it and how evil the city art task force is, I do have to say that some art just isn't for everybody.

For example, I think the sculpture in the middle of the pedestrian walkway on campus is ugly:

a startling whirlwind of opportunity

I'm not alone. The students protested loudly when it was installed, and the school eventually had to install security cameras due to damage done by vandals. They don't have cameras for the fish with legs:

fish statue

or the Torchbearer:

torchbearer with flag (2)

or the naked girl riding a bull that I don't seem to have a photograph of, but they have them to watch that fugly pile of aluminum and plastic. And yes, I realize that there is technique and symbolism and all sorts of hard work and careful thought that went into that sculpture, but no amount of education or art appreciation will make me think that thing doesn't look like the sad playground at a run-down McDonald's.

Anyway, the whole reason I was thinking about ugly art, or, more charitably, art gone wrong, was the sculpture that I saw this weekend at Victor Ashe Park. Elizabeth and I met Kay there very early on Saturday morning to volunteer for the Great Strides Walk to end cystic fibrosis. We had a lot of fun handing out t-shirts all morning, and everyone else seemed to enjoy it, too.

They had face painting, a clown making balloon animals:


food and drinks:

food and registration

a silent auction:

silent auction

and the whole thing was presided over by a creepy severed bronze head on a pike.

Yeah, you heard me.

This has to be the most horribly misguided memorial sculpture I've ever seen:

the severed head of victor ashe (2)

unless Victor Ashe had some sort of skin condition, or decapitation problem, or tragic skull crushing accident:

the severed head of victor ashe (1)

in which case I will apologize profusely.

As it is, though, I think that thing is creepy and weird and kind of unattractive.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cortland, NY, Spring 1997

A week or so ago a few of us were discussing the prom, on Facebook, and Justin wondered if any of us still had any photos from our prom. I knew that I did somewhere, so I went digging through the closet in my storage bedroom for photo albums, and managed to locate a number of prom pictures. While I was looking, I located a number of other interesting photographs, and was struck by this set of black and white pictures.

I don't really have any context for them, but their placement in the albums suggests that I took them during the spring of my senior year of college. I was taking a lot of solitary walks around town at that point, brooding and being depressed, and I took a lot of pictures. Every once in a while I would buy a roll of black and white film instead of color, and what struck me about this set is how much they look like the pictures I still take today. I guess my aesthetic hasn't really changed, even if the camera has.

Here's what I scanned in:

cortland county feed

I feel like this might have been on Otter Creek, but I'm not certain. I know it was on the back side of campus, near the Waterworks.

student housing

I have a vague idea that the darker colors of this house were green, and the lighter colors yellow. It was somewhere between campus and Main Street, I believe on the street where Spanky's (a bar that made delicious homemade lemonade spiked with vodka and served in mason jars) was.

main street, cortland

Main Street in Cortland was a one-way street at the time. You had to circle around on side streets to get to the right end.

dancing on the corner

I think this woman was dancing. I remember seeing her downtown a lot, dancing on the sidewalks. Now that I think about it, she may have been mentally ill, but at the time I just thought she was a typical weird townie.

clock tower

I ate pizza on the first floor of this building many, many times. The disco ball on top of my refrigerator is from a bar/club that was a few storefronts down from there, and I went there a lot as a student for a while. I read online that this building has since burned down, and I have no idea if it's been reconstructed.

randall and clark halls

This is taken from the sidewalk in front of Hayes Hall, where I was later a hall director. The building in the foreground is Randall Hall, where I was a resident assistant my senior year, and the taller building is Clark Hall, where I stayed for my freshman year orientation.

randall, clark, and alger halls

There's Randall and Clark again, and on the right is Alger Hall, where I lived as a freshman, stayed a couple of summers as an orientation assistant, and later was a hall director.

I might still scan in those prom pictures, at some point, but for now I think we've been down the memory hole enough for a little while.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spicy Cauliflower Soup

Back when I bought Countess LuAnn of New York's mildly hypocritical book of hilarious etiquette, I also picked up this soup cookbook for eight dollars. While I was flipping through it, I spotted at least four recipes that I wanted to try, and now that I've had time to page through it a few times it's full of bookmarks for things that I want to try out. Another plus is that many of the soups call for less than five ingredients, which implies that they are hard to screw up.

Case in point: Tonight I made Curried Cauliflower Soup, which only had three main ingredients but was kind of an adventure to me because I've never prepared a cauliflower.

Shut up.

Lots of people hate vegetables.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I was a very stubborn child, and my parents eventually gave up on trying to force new foods on me. I brought my lunch to school every day from kindergarten until graduation, and the sandwich was either peanut butter and grape jelly ("No strawberry! Only grape!") or American cheese ("Only the orange kind!") and mayo (on this point my brother was the problematic one; I will eat mayo, light mayo, Miracle Whip, Miracle Whip light, store brand, etc. but while living at home he would only eat Miracle Whip, and only the regular kind, not the diet kind). I did not eat pizza with sauce on it until I was in college, and did not eat a salad until I was in graduate school because I would not eat lettuce.

So, anyway, lots of things are still new experiences to me, and the attraction of trying cauliflower via this particular recipe was that the soup is pureed at the end. Like a baby, I respond better to new foods when they are pasted into mush. I've had cauliflower mixed in with another pureed soup, but this was the first time by itself.

According to the recipe, I needed:

1 large cauliflower
3 cups milk
1 tablespoon garam masala
salt and pepper to taste

Most of this was pretty easy to locate. I know where to find milk, and I already have salt and pepper. I've seen cauliflower in the produce department, so that wasn't really a challenge:


I wasn't sure how big a "large" cauliflower should be (or, for that matter, if you just call it a cauliflower; is it a head of cauliflower? a growth? a cluster?) so I took the biggest one in the case.

Then I tried to find garam masala. I looked online before going to the store, and discovered that garam masala is a blend of spices, so I went to look in the spice aisle, with no luck. Then I went to look in the International aisle, because my friend Liz said that it's often used in Indian cooking, but had no luck there, either. Eventually, I asked a Kroger employee, but the look they gave me suggested that I might as well have asked for a platter of unicorn steaks marinated in fairy dust.

"Garam... masala?"

"It's a spice. I looked online. McCormick makes it."

"Did you check... at... McCormick's?"

"McCormick is a company, not a store. They make spices."

"You should check the spice aisle."

I should also refrain from beating you with my tumor of cauliflower, since you're sort of trying to help.

Fortunately, I was right in suspecting that they might have it at Earthfare. Even more fortunately, I ran into my friend Jennifer, who is a trained chef, there and she knew exactly where it was. In case I wanted other Indian spices, she also pointed me toward what she's pretty sure is the only Indian market in town. I'm pretty sure she's right, since I've never noticed one anywhere else.

Armed with my spices, I went home, and got to work. First, the recipe advised me to cut the cauliflower into florets. I know what a broccoli floret looks like, so this seemed easy enough:


Then I put all the ingredients in a pot and waited for the milk to come to a boil. Right before it did, I decided that the florets were too big:

mixed soup ingredients

so I cut them into smaller pieces while they were still in the pot and the milk was starting to boil. This is probably about as smart as ironing your shirt while wearing it, but I managed not to scald myself. After the milk boiled, I lowered the heat, covered the pot, and left it to simmer for 18 to 20 minutes:

cooked down

and then dumped the whole thing into the blender:


and pureed it into delicious, if colorless, soup:

spicy cauliflower soup

The garam masala gives it a really nice smell, but that's also mostly all I tasted, so I guess cauliflower is kind of bland? Maybe subtly flavored and easily overwhelmed? Either way, I really liked the soup, and it was so easy that even I couldn't screw it up.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where Dinosaurs Came From

A friend and I got into a minor squabble today about evolution, because we were talking about the recent passage of House Bill 368 here in Tennessee. It hasn't passed the senate or been signed by the governor, so it's not a law yet, but if it becomes one then the general interpretation of it is that teachers can feel free to teach intelligent design as a facet of the "scientific controversy" over evolution. My friend and I disagree over whether there is any controversy, since I believe in science, and evolution is science. My friend believes in intelligent design, and claims that it is also science.

I disagree.

To me, intelligent design is just creationism in a pseudoscientific package. Once you start trying to define the "intelligence" behind intelligent design, it starts sounding an awful lot like God, and God and science don't exactly go hand in hand. My friend disagrees, and then went on to say that, "Evolution is just a theory, anyway. Why not teach more than one theory?"

Rather than argue that my friend validates the theory of evolution every year by insisting on a new flu shot, I've decided instead that they're right: why not teach more than one theory? My friend Justin, who is pretty smart (I used to be smart, but I spent my twenties drowning my intellect in fried cheese and fruity drinks in gigantic glasses; now I'm sometimes confused by mirrors and often think that prime numbers have something to do with cuts of beef), explained this once by pointing out that in the same way that you should not bake muffins in gym class you should not discuss religion in science class because they have nothing to do with each other. I tend to agree, but where's the fun in that?

Instead, I want Tennessee to fully embrace this law by teaching multiple theories of evolution and the origin of life. I want the Darwinian model, of course, but would also like for them to cover intelligent design, spontaneous generation, Prometheus fashioning men from clay, twin brother hero-gods crafting the first men from maize and chili peppers, the Flying Spaghetti Monster touching Earth with his Noodly Appendage, the Great Egg splitting open and spilling forth All That Is Known, Earth-Woman falling from the sky to land on the back of a giant turtle, and Adventure Comics #333:

The Civil War of the Legion

Our story opens with Superboy visiting his friends, the Legion of Superheroes, in their native time period of 30th Century Earth. There aren't any Sun Eaters or sentient buildings that need attention, so the Legion is working on an archeology project when they make a shocking discovery:

Phantom Girl's discovery

A strange metal tablet, you say? Let's check it out, with some science!

radio-carbon testing

Radio carbon dating is real, adding further validity to this story. Anyway, the team decides to use their time bubbles to investigate this mysterious war between Krypton and Earth, so half of them go to ancient Krypton while the other half goes to ancient Earth.

Team Krypton runs into a little trouble, in that Krypton is a primitive planet with no scientists around, which makes it a little difficult to commit interstellar war. Saturn Girl may have a solution, though:

thinking of nuclear power

Superboy, by the way, is a total dick here.

"That's impossible, but even though you're probably wrong we'll go ahead and check out your lead, anyway."

At least he doesn't add that they're just humoring her because she's a girl. It wouldn't be at all surprising, given how rough women had it in Silver Age comics, but instead Superboy's reasons for being a dick in this particular case go unspoken. So does his apology for doubting her when they actually do run into a scientist:

krypton hates scientists

It turns out that Krypton hates scientists because they accidentally obliterated a city through a nuclear accident, so the government banned all science in response, adhering to their campaign slogan of "Babies Shouldn't Be In Bathwater, Anyway!" The scientists are slowly constructing a space ark, so that they can go colonize prehistoric Earth, so the Legion decides to help:

kryptonian space ark

Wait, did he just say they were bringing giant lizards?

kryptonian lizards = dinosaurs

Yeah, he did.

Meanwhile, back on prehistoric Earth, Brainiac 5's team makes a shocking discovery:

mysterious city

They found Atlantis:


They also found Leta Lal, complaining about the air quality.

Now, for those who don't know Silver Age comics, this girl might as well have a sign over her head that says "love interest", because you just know Superboy is going to fall for her. Superboy, and later Superman, continuously and consistently falls for the LL combo: Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Lori Lemaris, Luma Lynai, Lyla Lerrol, Lola-La, Lex Luthor... wait, that last one only happened in my imagination while I was watching "Smallville". Anyway, sure enough, the minute they set eyes on each other, sparks fly:


Unfortunately, Saturn Girl and Brainiac 5 immediately start bickering:


Two important things about that panel:

1) Superboy looks so irritated. "Guys, I'm trying to, you know, hit on this prehistoric alien chick over here. Could you keep it down?" Given that this is a Silver Age comic, they're lucky he didn't turn them into hags or force them both to marry Jimmy Olson just to teach them a lesson.

2) The Legion just started the war that they came back in time to investigate. By the end of the story, one of them will probably end up being their own grandfather.

There are several pages of fighting as the Kryptonian scientists battle the Vruunian colonists, aided by the Legionnaire instigators who, instead of being heroic, instead allow the hostilities to escalate to the point that the Kryptonians, who have been shunned on their own world for unleashing nuclear armageddon, decide that the best course of action is to unleash nuclear armageddon:

kryptonian missle

Saturn Girl, recognizing that the Kryptonian missle launch behind her is more important than the Kryptonian missle that Superboy's trying to launch over in Atlantis with Leta Lal, heads off disaster, and then Brainiac 5 makes a shocking discovery:

xenon poisoning

and suggests an even more shocking solution:

artifical evolution

choking thoughts

So, to sum things up, the Legion brings dinosaurs to Earth, starts a war, helps a bunch of people kill each other, stops the war that wouldn't have happened in the first place, and then invents Atlantis. As for those Kryptonian scientists, well:

the lost colony of krypton

It turns out that they got Jurassic Park-ed by their allegedly tame helper lizards.

So, what's the moral of the story?

Who cares? Morality has no place in high school Biology, where I'm going to lobby my local school board to be sure that "Adventure Comics" #333 is taught.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Policy Debate

I don't have anything against Senator Campfield, the current state senator and former state representative for my district. I don't agree with his positions or his ideas on LGBT issues, though, which is why I felt the need to email him recently about SB49, the "Don't Say Gay" bill that comes up for a vote on May 5. Senator Campfield tried to pass this bill a number of times as a representative, and now that he's a senator he's trying to pass it again. As a constituent who disagrees with the idea behind the bill, I decided to express my thoughts.

Our email exchange is below. I haven't added or removed anything.

Senator Campfield,

Given that you are sponsoring this bill, I can already guess at how you intend to vote on it, but as a constituent living in your district I did want to say that I disagree.

You've offered no solid, documented examples of homosexuality being taught at any time in any school, anywhere in the state. Additionally, no school district has stated that they intend to add that content to their elementary and middle school lesson plans, so there seems to be no need for this bill.

The (hopefully) unintended consequences of it, on the other hand, could prove very damaging. Children of same gender parents would be unable to discuss their families in school, sending a message to them that their family is somehow shameful. In a time when LGBT teen suicides are receiving national attention, with some of the victims as young as 11 years old (Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover in April 2009), your bill would prevent students struggling with those issues from seeking counseling or resources at school. If they are also not receiving support at home, where are they supposed to turn?

When you were running for your current office, I received a large volume of campaign mail which described you as a fan of small government and a person who would focus on job creation. This bill doesn't seem to have anything to do with either of those concepts.

Please take the time to consider the damage that you are about to inflict on children who are already struggling with their identities and self worth, and withdraw your sponsorship from this bill.

While I appreciate your passion, I still feel it is a parents responsibility to decide when a child is ready to grasp such a complex issue as sexuality and what they want to tell the child about that complex subject.

All children develop mentally at different rates. I do not feel a teacher with an agenda (Be it pro or con) is the appropriate person to decide "Now is the time" for an entire class just because they may think one way or another on an issue and want to espouse it. I doubt you would want a teacher who said "Homosexuality is evil, dirty and wrong" just because they felt it was appropriate and that is what they thought the children needed and were ready to hear.

We are falling behind the rest of the world in math, science, and English amongst other things. This will be just one less issue teachers have to worry about teaching as part of their curricula.

Yours in service, Sen. Stacey Campfield

Senator Campfield,

I appreciate your taking the time to respond, but your response still leaves me with questions.

If the responsibility of helping children to grasp issues of sexuality lies with the parents, then why doesn't your bill prevent the teaching of any kind of sexuality? Shouldn't any mention of heterosexuality also be restricted in the classroom, then?

And if you're worried about the math, science, and English curricula, (which, based on national testing statistics, I agree that Tennessee should be worried about), then why doesn't your bill focus on better techniques and strategies for teaching math, science, and English? It's not as if any school district anywhere in the state is neglecting to teach those in favor of a curriculum about homosexuality instead. By putting the focus on homosexuality, you're actually clouding the issue, and giving people the idea that it's your main concern, rather than math, science, and English. Why not put the focus where it should be?

While there is a scientific need to mention the basics of heterosexuality when teaching the basics of reproduction (XY chromosomes, etc.) there is no scientific need to mention homosexuality as homosexuals do not naturally reproduce.

Neither do infertile heterosexual couples, but you don't currently sponsor any bills banning the teaching of subject matter dealing with adoption or in-vitro fertilization. Besides, if you're making scientific evidence the basis of what is and is not included in the science curriculum, then you're asking schools to overlook the fact that homosexual behavior has been documented in over 500 species. How is the science curriculum improved by censoring scientific evidence?

It is not clear as to its scientific significance.

That's true, but isn't part of the purpose of schooling to teach students critical thinking skills that will enable them to help determine whether it's scientifically significant? By curtailing discussion, your bill prevents them from reaching a conclusion. Is that the way we should treat all unknowns in science? If so, you'll need to write several dozen more bills.

Regardless, you still haven't addressed my original point about unintended consequences of your bill. Will it prevent students from seeking counseling and teachers from making referrals to appropriate resources dealing with LGBT topics? And if so, do you intend to add any amendments before the bill comes up for a vote to insure that the ability of teachers and guidance counselors to help students struggling with LGBT issues is not impeded?

I sent that last one a few hours ago, and so far he hasn't written back. Given that he spent the entirety of the exchange ignoring most of my points, I don't really expect him to, but if he does I'll update this. For now I'm going to get moving on the rest of my day, and hope that people in the rest of the state are contacting senators for their districts, who might actually listen.

Edited to add: Senator Campfield replied to my last message today.

After minds are developed enough for it yes.

I don't even know how to respond to that. I asked four questions in my last email to him, and got only that one sentence in response. I'm not even sure which question that answers.