Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Independent via corante:
Bayer Cropscience has given up attempts to grow commercial GM maize in Britain.

The decision, blamed by the company on government restrictions, means no GM crop will be grown commercially in the UK in 2005 and raises questions about the future of GM in this country.

The German biotechnology company will announce today that its maize variety Chardon LL, which was to be developed as cattle feed, had been left 'economically non-viable' because of conditions set by the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett when she gave limited approval to the growing of the crop this month.

return to food

NY: The history of kosher food in America; NZ Lamb; Hot dogs and passover food in the Chron. In LA: more passover; Russ Parsons on the California Asparagus crisis, and how to cook them; Charles Perry remembers Alan Davidson.

Speaking of whom, I recently came across a truly stupid review of the Oxford Companion, written by the chowhound guy. In general, if you understand his prejudices and limitations, you can glean some rewarding information from his writing, and I guess this review is a good introduction to them. Apparently unfamiliar with the term "companion" (as opposed to dictionary), he gets lathered up about its lack of "definitiveness" -- by which he means principles of selection that differ from his own. Then he gets bent out of shape about the "britishness" of the writing, simplistically and, yes, stupidly, equated with both snobbishness and bad food. yawn. Here's a tip, Jim: the appeal to anti-intellectualism is not the best strategy for reviewing a reference book. The predictable point of the review is: I would like this book if I had written it. But the really tiresome thing is his pride in "debunking" allegedly recieved wisdom (an attitude that pervades chowhound): "perhaps the first-ever negative review of the much-touted OCF". How perspicacious of you to see through all the pretentious hype.

Rant over, I will say that the latest vacation disclosed some excellent Spanish food at Meson Asturias, a chowhound favorite in Jackson Heights; that "authenticity," however, does not necessarily equal quality, as we ate considerably better at a Batali property in Manhattan (an unfair comparison except in chowhound's parallel universe); that the best combination of the two was found at D.O.C., a sardinian enoteca in Williamsburg; and if I lived in NY, I would eat lunch at Peter Luger at least once a week. Also, Wylie Dufresne does not look particularly cool.

In other news, Bruce Cole has written a pretty good excuse to spend 15$/lb. on coffee. To his list of roasters, add: George Howell's terroir (Boston); Peaberry's (Oakland); Batdorf & Bronson (Olympia [it's the water]); update: duh, I forgot Colombe Torrefaction (Philly). And the California Rice Commission approved Ventria's application to grow GE rice that produces human proteins.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


This constant vacationing is so tiring. Every time I finally become euthanized to the tedium of daily life, I have to fly somewhere exciting. I'm a man, dammit, not a machine. Anyway, you will have to amuse yourself elsewhere for the next week. Why not enjoy the many fine links immediately to your right?

I leave you with my deservedly popular weekly round up of our nation's (readable) food sections:

Artichokes are in season, which explains why both Janet Fletcher [SF] and Russ Parsons [LA] -- who appears to think he invented the literally prehistoric technique of cooking à la greque -- devote an article to them today. Also in the LA Times, David Shaw goes on interminably about wineglasses that you can't afford (he does reveal the interesting fact that Riedel and Speigelau are owned by the same company); and Emily Green writes rather prosaically about the glories of the egg.

NY: Amanda Hesser reviews, really rather pathetically, Spice Market -- meatpacking district! so primitive; which occasions this perhaps not entirely fair ripping of a new one by eurotrash. Rather, I direct your, and the Times's editorial staff's attention to Kay Rentchler's article on [the excellent] Anson Mills, which is datelined Columbia, S.C., but "interviews" [i.e., procures one quote from] chefs in DC, Chicago and Cambridge. And, furthermore, so obvs.: "'Food is central to the culture of the South,' he said." See, because they had plantations or something, and you didn't. So your food sucks.

Sauté Wed. has yet to be updated, but you know it will. Finally, keep an eye on the cheese diaries for exciting developments in raw milk époisses.

Frankly, Edwards is the least of their problems.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Bushmeat &c.

Hunting and butchering of bushmeat is infecting people in Central Africa with a new virus, scientists say.

U.S. authorities have widened an investigation into whether Monsanto Co. engaged in improper business dealings in Indonesia, the company said on Monday.

The new issue is whether a former outside consultant to Monsanto made an improper $50,000 payment in early 2002 to an Indonesian government official at the direction of a former Monsanto employee, the company said.

Japanese consumer groups have warned that they will stop buying wheat from Canada if the country approves Monsanto's genetically modified wheat.

Friday, March 19, 2004


According to, the USDA is about to approve voluntary 100% BSE testing by individual packers. This will presumably raise some questions about why Japanes consumers get guaranteed BSE-free American beef, but Americans don't. Also, they've approved a new rapid test.


"Peer review itself does not make a scientific finding either true or false." Terje Traavik responds to criticism. [background]


Bruce Cole returns with an ode to offal, in preparation for the US release of Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail.
6 REM What is sadder?
7 REM a. finding this
8 REM b. writing it
[via MeFi]

Thursday, March 18, 2004

class war

Wee Hear in Formed that you got Shear in mee sheens [i.e., Shearing Machines] and if you Dont Pull them Down in a Forght Nights Time Wee will pull them Down for you Wee will you Damd infernold Dog. And Bee four Almighty God we will pull down all the Mills that heave Heany Shearing me Shens in We will cut out all your Damd Hearts as Do Keep them and We will meock the rest Heat them or else We will Searve them the Seam.
1802 letter to a Gloucestershire clothier, quoted in Thomson, Making of the English Working Class [1966 ed.])

Max Sawicky has been writing rather brilliantly about Ned Ludd & co.:

You can see the pattern. Inspired by Ned Ludd, workers smashed machines and were said to be anti-technology. People complain about outsourcing and they are "isolationist" and want to shut down all trade. You point out the extent of unemployment related to structural change in the economy, and you are an antediluvian opponent of structural change.

The bottom line: criticism of unregulated capitalism is not an obstacle to Progress. It is progress.

I dug out my Thompson, if you'll pardon the phrase:
[T]he conventional picture of the Luddism of these years as a blind opposition to machinery as such becomes less and less tenable. What was at issue was the "freedom" of the capitalist to destroy the customs of the trade, whether by new machinery, by the factory-system, or by unrestricted competition, beating-down wages, undercutting his rivals, and undermining the standards of craftsmanship. We are so accustomed to the idea that it was both inevitable and "progressive" that trade should have been freed in the early 19th century from "restrictive practices," that it requires an effort of imagination to understand that the "free" factory-owner or large hosier or cotton manufacturer, who built his fortune by these means, was regarded not only with jealousy but as a man engaging in immoral and illegal practices.... They saw laissez-faire not as freedom, but as "foul Imposition." They could see no "natural law" by which one man, or a few men, could engage in practices which brought manifest injury to their fellows....

[D]espite all the homilies addressed to the Luddites (then and subsequently) as to the beneficial consequences of new machinery or of "free" enterprise, -- arguments which, in any case, the Luddites were intelligent enough to to weigh in their minds for themselves -- the machine-breakers, and not the tract writers, made the most realistic assessment of the short-term effects....

Even if we make allowances for the cheapening of the product, it is impossible to designate as "progressive," in any meaningful sense, processes which brought about the degradation, for twenty or thirty years ahead, of the workers employed in the industry.

What Thompson makes clear -- aside from the impeccable logic of the Luddites, which should be obvious anyway -- is the particular confluence of circumstance that generated the movement. It is not only the industrial logic but also the systematic dismantling of any form of political redress that necessitated the resort to violence. War, persistant famine, spiritual and revolutionary ["jacobinist"] movements all swirled together too, but the striking thing is the degree to which the workers attempted reform within the political system, and the harshness with which they were rebuffed.

Interesting idea in light of the current alliance -- identity, even -- of government and capital.

meat news

In this order:

1. Allen Johnson, the top U.S. agriculture trade negotiator, said he doesn't rule out possible World Trade Organization action against Japan if it shows no flexibility in working toward a resolution on the country's import ban on U.S. beef.

2. A senior Japanese government official said his country would likely revise its blanket ban on U.S. beef imports, telling those at a Tokyo news conference Thursday that Japan would likely accept meat from individual U.S. companies that test all their cattle for BSE.

This is the first time a senior Japanese official has said publicly the government would mull a partial-lifting of its beef ban.

Also in today's

  • The top veterinary officer of the U.S. Agriculture Department told an industry audience here Wednesday that the agency was "close to making an announcement" on licensing of rapid testing technology for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to support USDA's ramped-up surveillance program unveiled March 15....

    He also deflected criticism that plant personnel would be used in some cases to select animals for BSE testing, repeating earlier statements that because the newly expanded testing program includes "some healthy animals," it would not affect the validity of the data if certain animals were identified by the private sector....

    "Nobody should be shocked if we find a few more positive cases," he said. "We're certainly confident that the level of infectivity in our feed supply is low. But even if [another BSE case] does occur, it is not necessarily a problem, because we've already taken the steps to protect the food supply by removing the risk materials from older cattle.

    "We may need to tighten up our feed ban a bit, depending on the data we get from these heightened levels of testing," DeHaven said, "but that's why it's important to obtain this snapshot. If we find additional infectivity, then we'll advance more safeguards.

  • A full-blown ban on antibiotic use in poultry moved a step closer to reality Tuesday, as an administrative law judge upheld the Food and Drug Administration's conclusion that Baytril's use in chicken can help spur drug-resistant bacteria that could infect humans.

    At issue [is] the class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, which include the popular drug Cipro. The FDA has concluded that that use of fluoroquinolones in chicken is a significant cause of antibiotic-resistant strains of campylobacter.

  • Japanese poultry and pork processors will begin maintaining and offering the same product traceability to their retail customers and consumers that they currently offer for beef....

    Starting next month, Nippon Meat Packers will enable customers via the Internet to pinpoint the farms where its chickens and hogs were raised and to find other information, such as feeds and vaccines used in raising the animals.

    Information will be available for the 45 million chickens that are raised each year at four farms in Japan. These birds account for about 70 percent of the domestically raised chicken for the Nippon Meat Packers group.


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

wed. food

"If there's anything better in the world than a warm doughnut, I don't know what it is."

Slow week, though NYT has a good review of cheap mandolines; and the LA Times has a nice piece on mole poblano. Which brings me to the Farmers Market Cookbook, by Neill and Fred Beck (Holt, 1951). It tells the story of Consuelo Castillo, of Santa Monica, foiled in her attempt to practice law because "strike one, she was a woman -- and strike two, she was a 'Mexican.'" The authors protest at the ridiculousness of this but are grateful to eat the fruits of Consuelo's fallback plan, The Spanish Kitchen restaurant in the Farmers Market. They give some more or less alarming recipes, a remarkably accurate discussion of how masa is made, and finally arrive at Consuelo's Mole de Guajolote. But they preface the recipe -- which, needless to say, is among the more alarming in their collection -- with this:

To make a turkey mole the way Connie does would be beyond the limits of patience and the capacities of most good cooks, but in its stead we offer a good, though simple version of this notable dish.
I will spare you the ugly details. But this reminds me it's time for more of my favorite things:


1. Mince six cloves of garlic
2. mash them to a paste with a half tsp. of salt in a mortar and pestle
3. pour in one cup of olive oil a drop at a time while you stir it with the pestle

You have to see it to believe it. The idea is to form an emulsion of nothing but oil and garlic. It should end up looking like a glossy and thick mayonnaise (to which sauce it is of course related). It seems impossible, and yet, as you add the oil ever so slowly, the emulsion forms before your very eyes. It probably helps to have a real Catalan ceramic/wood m&p. Most people nowadays make it with eggs and a food processor, which is fine, and will certainly hold longer, but it is really not that hard to do by hand. (The recipe is from my memory of the one In Colman Andrews's Catalan cookbook).

where the cows are

You're no doubt wondering why I haven't mentioned the USDA's new mad cow testing program. I already did, last Wed. It is actually a relatively responsible approach, and would have been an excellent policy in, say, 1997. Japan has already said that it is not sufficient, which should come as no surprise to anyone. It is just astonishing that the USDA is too inept to accomplish their simple mandate of helping agribusiness at everyoe else's expense. Anyway, here are the details on the non-downer cows they are going to test:
The target population of clinically normal adult cattle (bulls, dairy cows, and other cows) comprised 17.8 percent of cattle slaughtered under Federal inspection. This is equal to approximately 6.2 million adult cattle. Out of this population, a total of 20,000 samples will be obtained from aged animals.
[The downers are irrelevant, because they've already been banned from human consumption]. So the result of all this hoopla is:
1. downers banned;
2. 20,000 cows tested annually;
3. A criminal investigation;
4. loss of beef exports.

Not bad from the consumer's point of view, but not great either. And we'll see what happens when they find more, which they will once the new plan goes into effect. Any minute now. Oh wait, they're not starting until Jan. 2005.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

mastering the obvious

Appearances aside, I do believe that debate is a healthy contribution to civil discourse. It is only when an idea so monstruously stupid is adopted without any debate that I feel compelled to smash it into tiny little pieces. Today, it is the astonishingly dumb idea that the "terrorists won" the Spanish elections, which now seems to be conventional wisdom. I will explain this very slowly: the PP lost because they continued to cynically insist that ETA was responsible to the Spanish people, who were very well aware that the attack bore absolutely no resemblance to any of ETA's previous operations. Now, who knows whether the government really had legitimate reasons to suspect ETA, but it was obvious to the people of Spain that they did not. As it was equally obvious (rightly or not) that they were holding back evidence to try to save themselves in the elections. It is not complicated. For people who feel the need to draw a lesson from this, it is: don't lie transparently to your people three days before the election. Unless you are american. Then it probably doesn't matter. (Also, do you think we could give up on the poll numbers? Al Gore had a comparable margin in 2000, and look where that got us).

You need a subscription to read the Spanish papers, but the Times has at least one smoking gun:

Ms. Palacio [the foreign minister] sent directives to all Spanish embassies around the world urging her country's diplomats to stress the ETA connection, European officials said.

'You should use any opportunity to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks, thus helping to dissipate any type of doubt that certain interested parties may want to promote,' her memo said, according to the daily El País.

[All of this, and more, was swirling around the whole country in a cell/SMS/internet e-shitstorm -- we even got a text on Sat., 6,000 miles away].

Update Thankfully, it looks like I overreacted: I am not the only person in the US to have figured this out. Although it doesn't change my point that there is nothing useful about having to debate the existance of the obvious instead of what it means). atrios got it, and he has links, including tmw's letter from Spain and some background from Salon, which you will probably need if you're an ignorant american. Not that you care. I don't want you to strain yourself, but you might also find this book helpful. Also, J. corrects me and notes that you can indeed read the rather conservative El Mundo on-line, as well as the Barcelonan (but written in Castilian) La Vanguardia, if you register NYT-style.

good question

The most amazing fact is that USDA has reported that the earnings for the entire year in 2004 for farm operator households from their farming activities are only $1,226, or about $100 per month.� My question is this: how much more efficient must farmers become before they can get paid a decent return for the fruits of their labor?
Meanwhile [St. L. B.J.]:
Monsanto Co., Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and Ceres Inc. will team up to share their corn genome sequence data through a database hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, the National Corn Growers Association said Monday.

The St. Louis-based association said with the sequencing data available, the corn genome could be completely sequenced by 2007.

Friday, March 12, 2004

in case you missed it

Scott Killman, WSJ p. A1, on Tues:
Susan Brownawell, a mother of three, wants to be able to have her family's beef screened for mad-cow disease. And Missouri rancher David Luker, who supplies much of the family's meat, is willing to do just that.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is all that stands in their way....

"This is ridiculous. If people want to have their beef tested, they should be able to," says Ms. Brownawell, a Web page designer in Fulton, Missouri. "Isn't this how the free market works?"....

The USDA's qualms about allowing private testing reflects the agency's sometimes conflicting missions to promote the $27 billion cattle industry at the same time it is supposed to protect consumers from bad meat. Indeed, the USDA is respecting the wishes of most big meatpackers, which want a tight lid on mad-cow testing. The USDA also has a vested interest in keeping testing out of the hands of private companies, since their work could challenge the Bush administration's position that mad cow isn't a problem in the U.S.

mexican corn

"Father of the Green Revolution" Norman Borlaug writes to AgBioView
The fear of 'pollution' of the local varieties by transgenics that Dr. Ignacio Chapela and his colleagues from the University of California have spread among small farmers in isolated areas of Mexico, is ill-founded. It will have no measurable reduction on yield, nutritive quality or disease or insect resistance. From the standpoint of fear of loss of genetic variability and resistance for future maize breeding programs, this is another fear that is ill-founded. CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), has a collection of all of the primitive-unimproved 'land races' (varieties) from all parts of Mexico and Central America that are stored under low temperature--low humidity conditions, whereby germinability can be maintained for decades. Small amounts of seed of these materials are made available upon written request to maize researchers from any countries of the world.
With all due respect, I think I'll base my decision on the NAFTA report [AP story for lazy people]. And as this article reminds us, pharmaceutical genes are a whole different ballgame. But Bt corn does have at least one potential benefit to consumers: W. P. Williams, et al., "Aflatoxin Accumulation In Conventional And Transgenic Corn Hybrids Infested With Southwestern Corn Borer (lepidoptera: Crambidae)," Journal of Agricultural and Urban Entomology 19/4 (2002), 227 - 236; abstract:
Aflatoxin is a potent carcinogen produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus. Aflatoxin contamination of corn greatly diminishes its value and is a major impediment to profitable corn production in the South. Aflatoxin contamination is frequently linked with drought, high temperatures, and insect damage. The effects of southwestern corn borer, Diatraea grandiosella Dyar, damage on aflatoxin contamination were investigated.

Aflatoxin contamination levels in conventional nonBt corn hybrids and transgenic Bt hybrids after inoculation with A. flavus and infestation with southwestern corn borer were compared. Aflatoxin contamination was highest when hybrids were inoculated with A. flavus using a technique that wounded the kernels.

Aflatoxin contamination was significantly greater in non-Bt than in Bt hybrids when ears were inoculated by spraying with an A. flavus conidial suspension and concurrently infesting with southwestern corn borer. Infesting conventional non-Bt hybrids with southwestern corn borer resulted in significant leaf feeding, stalk tunneling, stunting, yield loss, and aflatoxin contamination. Losses were significantly reduced in transgenic Bt hybrids.

Also see CSPI's Gregory Jaffe, "Regulating Transgenic Crops: A Comparative Analysis of Different Regulatory Processes," Transgenic Research 13/1 (2004): 5-19. I'm sure he'll be assualted by the usual industry shills for these radical ideas:
The key components discussed include: (1) mandatory pre-market approval; (2) established safety standards; (3) transparency; (4) public participation; (5) use of outside scientists for expert scientific advice; (6) independent agency decisions; (7) post-approval activities; and (8) enforcement authority and resources

helter stupid omnimedia

I'm planning on taking advantage of Martha's incarceration to transition my popular "weblog" into a gigantic lifestyle conglomerate. Here's my first entertaining tip:

Invite friends over to instantly transform "problem drinking" into "social drinking".

Bonus tip: Gin and wine don't mix.

Also, you should listen to the Grey Album, but not over and over. update: Nor, apparently, backwards.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

belly of the beast

One thing I kept hearing from those defending Feith was that he was 'just brilliant.' It was curiously like the brainwashed refrain in 'The Manchurian Candidate' about the programmed sleeper agent Raymond Shaw, as the 'kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I've ever known.'
Salon's got the alleged "new Pentagon papers" from inside the Office of Special Plans.


LA: "Don't be afraid of using too many meats": Russ Parsons on glorious Choucroute (plus alsatian wine bonus). Davis Shaw reveals why LA sucks, in case you forgot:
"Another guy said he wanted a vegetarian menu and got upset because we didn't have the exact vegetables he wanted. 'You're in West Hollywood now,' he said. 'You have to have these vegetables.' "
NY: first person "BBQ" jingoism at Iron Chef; Hesser likes Marcus Samuelsson's new place; taking the artisan out of artisanal; cheap food in Tokyo?; Saint Alice from the magazine.

SF: Singapore street food; what to do with "jerusalem artichokes".

That wasn't so hard, was it?

The Agriculture Department is expected to announce before the month's end a significant ramp-up in it's already increased bovine spongiform encephalopathy testing program, and reportedly has established a target of between 200,000-to-300,000 BSE tests per-year, likely to be conducted in the agency's network of about 20 regional laboratories.
The obvious solution is to tests everything, but this really does represent a huge step towards the slimmest credibility for USDA. We'll see what beef importers think, and if they continue to threaten producers who want to test every cow with legal action. Also, there appear to be some shenanigans with the test chosen. Anyone who an explain the relative merits of ELIZA and Southern-blot, please get in touch with me. Of course,
In January, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the agency was increasing its BSE testing from about 20,000 to 40,000 animals per year. However, several USDA officials have privately told that the agency is woefully behind schedule to test anywhere near that number through the first 10 weeks of this year.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The party of the proletariat must support the movement of the peasantry

Doug Henwood & friends have written an excellent peice on the intellectual paralysis of the left (the real left, not "democrats")
Steve Duncombe, a NYC-DAN activist, author, and NYU professor, says his fellow activists "think very little about capitalism outside a moral discourse: big is bad, and nothing about the state except in a sort of right wing dismissal: state as authoritarian daddy."

Activistism is also intimately related to the decline of Marxism, which at its best thrived on debates about the relations between theory and practice, part and whole. Unfortunately, much of this tradition has devolved into the alternately dreary and hilarious rants in sectarian papers. Marxism's decline (but not death: the three of us would happily claim the name) has led to wooly ideas about a nicer capitalism, and an indifference to how the system works as a whole. This blinkering is especially virulent in the U.S. where a petit-bourgeois populism is the native radical strain, and anti-intellectualism is almost hard-wired into the culture. And because activistism emphasizes practicality, achievability, and implementation over all else, a theory dedicated to understanding deep structures with an eye towards changing them necessarily gets shunted aside.

Marxism's decline isn't just an intellectual concern - it too has practical effects. If you lack any serious understanding of how capitalism works, then it's easy to delude yourself into thinking that moral appeals to the consciences of CEOs and finance ministers will have some effect. You might think that central banks' habit of provoking recessions when the unemployment rate gets too low is a policy based on a mere misunderstanding. You might think that structural adjustment and imperial war are just bad lifestyle choices.

One might add that this is perhaps the most utopian of dreams, but it would be churlish to rain on this parade: the more thinking the better, if you ask me (particularly considering the continuing eagerness to write off any idea that might be associated wth marxism from nominally left commentators who do have a theory). And yet, Henwood et al. continue:
Unfortunately here at home, those with the confidence to discuss such questions are too often the ones with the silliest ideas: at the 'Another World Is Possible rally' during WEF weekend, speakers waxed hopefully of a world in which all produce will be locally grown. That's absurd, unless you're planning to abandon cities, give up on industrial civilization, and reduce the world's population by 95%.
This, I submit, is precisely the kind of cant that is in desperate need of analysis. Will civilization really end if we stop shipping flavorless Chilean strawberries to NYC in January? I am not even sure that the industrialized model of commodity crop production is essential to "our" way of life, and I have certainly never seen a thorough analysis of the question. Not, of course, that a global transition to sustainable agriculture would solve the problems that bother Hendwood and friends, but no one has ever figured out what it would do.

Doug's new site also has a transcript of his excellent interview with Slavoj Zizek, and info on his new book, which you should buy.

not that complicated

Monbiot after UK approves GM corn:
Indeed, it is hard to see what on earth the production of crops for local people in poor nations has to do with consumer preferences in Britain. Like the scientists who wrote to the prime minister, the emotional blackmailers want to have it both ways: these crops are being grown to feed starving people, but the starving people won't be able to eat them unless er ... they can export this food to Britain.

And here we encounter the perpetually neglected truth about GM crops. The great majority are not being grown to feed local people. In fact, they are not being grown to feed people at all, but to feed livestock, whose meat, milk and eggs are then sold to the world's richer consumers. The GM maize the government is expected to approve today is no exception. If in the next 30 years there is a global food crisis, it will be because the arable land that should be producing food for humans is instead producing feed for animals.

Monday, March 08, 2004


A lot of ink has been spilled on the Mel Gibson movie, and I haven't wanted to bother commenting about it (after having shown that very idea of making such a movie is so inherently self-contradictory that Gibson is even stupider than you imagined). Notwithstanding the fact that Gibson is an anti-Catholic "catholic" and, of course, an anti-historical moron, most reactions that I've seen have been to explain why the movie is theologically and/or historically wrong. Noble, and true, but dignifying this trash with such explanations ends up lending it legitimacy -- as if it constituted a coherent poisition that was defensible on some ground and therefore had to be rebutted.

That, of course, is not the case except to the extent that people are so credulous and ignorant of actual NT history that you have to explain it to them very slowly. So in the interest of dispelling whatever lingering confusion there may be, here is Elaine Pagels explaining very slowly to David Remnick exactly why the "interpretation" of this movie is wrong, even though it is in no way a legitimate text that deserves to be considered an interpretation. Should you wish to read the contemporary historical texts: Josephus, Ant. 18.55-89 (18, chapter 3 here); Philo, Leg. 299-306 (here, scroll down). Bonus: Pliny and Trajan discuss the proper way to handle Christians. (Answer: execute them. duh.)

You may also wish to consult the gospels, although they have about as much eyewitness credibility as I would writing about Sacco and Vanzetti.

also, the choicest irony of this situtation may well be the oft-maligned repressiveness of the ancient Catholic church to which Gibson claims to belong, which was specifically intended to prevent the very situation we have here, of illiterate ranters claiming the authority to interpret sacred texts. These ranters had various goals, but it is worth noting that a popular one was the incitement of anti-semitic mobs, and that the medieval Church itself was the greatest, and sometimes only, protector of European Jews against them (not always for the most altruistic reasons). I'm no apologist for the medieval papacy, but after this debacle you have to concede that they had a point (i.e.: keep stupid people from reading the bible). A further irony is the rather more nuanced theology, and historical accuracy, of those poor benighted medieval peasants, or rather their confessors, as revealed in these real passion plays.

update: Slavoj Zizek has a characteristically brilliant take [In These Times via lbo-talk], which nevertheless evades the movie's historical and religious double-banckruptcy:

The structure of the �chocolate laxative,� of a product containing the agent of its own containment, can be discerned throughout today�s ideological landscape. Consider how we relate to capitalist profiteering: It is fine IF it is counteracted with charitable activities�first you amass billions, then you return (part of) them to the needy. The same goes for war, for the emerging logic of humanitarian militarism: War is OK insofar as it brings about peace and democracy, or creates the conditions to distribute humanitarian aid. And does the same not hold true for democracy and human rights? It is OK to �rethink� human rights to include torture and a permanent emergency state, if democracy is cleansed of its populist �excesses.�

Friday, March 05, 2004


M. Mahbubur Rahman, et al., "Induction and transmission of Bacillus thuringiensis tolerance in the flour moth Ephestia kuehniella," PNAS 101, no. 9 (March 2, 2004), 2696-2699. abstract:
The use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) endotoxins to control insect vectors of human diseases and agricultural pests is threatened by the possible evolution of resistance in major pest species. In addition to high levels of resistance produced by receptor insensitivity, several cases of tolerance to low to medium levels of toxin have been reported in laboratory colonies of lepidopteran species. Because the molecular basis of some of these cases of tolerance to the toxin are not known, we explored alternative mechanisms. Here, we present evidence that tolerance to a Bt formulation in a laboratory colony of the flour moth Ephestia kuehniella can be induced by preexposure to a low concentration of the Bt formulation and that the tolerance correlates with an elevated immune response. The data also indicate that both immune induction and Bt tolerance can be transmitted to offspring by a maternal effect and that their magnitudes are determined by more than one gene.
Rainer Fischer, et al., "Plant-based production of biopharmaceuticals," Current Opinion in Plant Biology 7, Issue 2 , April 2004, 152-158. abstract:
Plants are now gaining widespread acceptance as a general platform for the large-scale production of recombinant proteins. The first plant-derived recombinant pharmaceutical proteins are reaching the final stages of clinical evaluation, and many more are in the development pipeline. Over the past two years, there have been some notable technological advances in this flourishing area of applied biotechnology, as shown by the continuing commercial development of novel plant-based expression platforms. There has also been significant success in tackling some of the limitations of plant bioreactors, such as low yields and inconsistent product quality, that have limited the approval of plant-derived pharmaceuticals.

not so fresh feeling

For me, caused by sleep deprivation and a little excess tempranillo; for drug companies, an ethical dilemma:
As companies increasingly test new drugs in other countries, they are struggling to decide what, if anything, they owe the patients who served as test subjects. Some companies have chosen not to sell their drugs in the countries where they were tested; others have marketed their drugs there, but few patients in those countries can afford them....

"It's not that we are lacking compassion, but the economics are tough," said Carl B. Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

so tough.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

a day without meat is a day without sunshine

Relentless optimism is sickening, and I'm exhausted by yesterday's attempt to write in complete sentences, so even though the sun is still shining, I return to cryptic proclamations of bad things:

Fall guy time:

The government has begun a criminal investigation into whether documents were falsified in the lone case of mad cow disease found in the United States, the Agriculture Department's inspector general said yesterday.
[NYT | meatingplace] Totally unrelated to the email Dave Louthan sent out on Monday:
[AMI CEO] Patrick demands Ann Veneman declare Canada a low risk country even though they have had a couple of mad cows already. She will do that. All those cows will start coming down here in droves.

J. Patrick will demand the U.S. Gov't start punishing all the countries that refuse our meat with trade embargoes, high tariffs and with holding of foreign aid. Mexico and some of the smaller countries will cave in to pressure. Japan and South Korea will not.

There will be a huge surplus of fat cattle waiting to be slaughtered. Prices will continue to plummet. All the smaller feedlots will go under right away. They will demand subsidies. The American taxpayer, you, will pick that up. The Gov't is already broke. George W. spent all the money beating up Saddam. Higher taxes will be necessary.

And in GM food news, UCS released another report demonstrating the fait accompli of GM material in supposedly non-modified foods [cf. the Ecological Society of America's position paper]. They are hammering it from the biopharming angle, which is smart, because there has never been any evidence that the crop trait genes currently in use have any affect on human health. Of course, there is some question about what happens in the long term, a freshly revivified source of anxiety thanks to this crazy research -- which recieved absolutely no press coverage, as far as I can tell. And then there is some serious shit going down in the Phillipines right now:
For the first time there are indications that the pollen from the bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize sown here last year may have contributed to human illness.

Terje Traavik, the scientific director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, who was asked last October to analyse blood samples from 39 of the 100 people who fell ill, has said that a link might exist between GM crops and human health.

"My interpretation is there is a coincidence in time between two different phenomena," he said. However, he stressed that more tests were needed before a definite conclusion could be drawn.

Traavik is understated for good reason -- it is almost literally unbelievable that we could plant 12.2 million hectares of Bt crops and not notice a problem until now. [However, given the incredible complexities of all the potential environmental interactions that we don't understand, it is entirely plausible that this is a novel event]. Naturally, the usual suspects are attacking him for making such a modest announcement before publishing a peer-reviewed article. These people are rabid.

And some NAFTA thing is releasing their report on Mexican corn 3/11, which will apparently determine what the government does. I'm not holding my breath:

"We are not convinced about the information in this report," said Miguel Ramirez Dominguez, head of the village of Capulalpan, where Olga Maldonado lives. The villages have banded together to form their own lab, which has thus far tested 90 corn varieties from around Mexico. So far, 25 percent have come back positive for altered genes.

"We want answers," he said.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


The LA Times got into the mall of NY before the Per Se fire; David Shaw talks to Christian Etienne, suitably impressed by the Santa Monica farmer's market; Russ Parsons reviews fungi-porn.

Sometimes, you just have to hate Johnny Apple and his limitless expense account:

For some reason I had never ordered eel (locally known as bisato) on any of my 15 or 20 visits to Venice, even though it is a local favorite, eaten by tradition on Christmas Eve.
Particularly when he gets confused:
We started with baccalà mantecato, a rich, milky, whipped fish pur�e made not with salt cod, as elsewhere in Italy, but with the dried cod preferred by Venetians.
[In fact made with both salt cod (baccalà) and dried cod (stoccafisso) throughout northern Italy]

But whether it's because the sun's still out or because Sauté Wednesday implanted Coltrane in my brain, I'm still in a fine mood, and the double-headed endive/chicory action (NYT/Chron) reminds me of one of my favorite things:

frisée lardons
(a/k/a salade lyonnais, or bacon and egg salad)

shred and wash a large head of frisée*
cut four slices of bacon into 1/2" squares and fry slowly until very crisp**
make a vinaigrette however you like it, but replace half your olive oil with warm bacon fat***
while you toss the frisée in the warm vinaigrette, poach two eggs
serve with eggs and your bacon bits (lardons) on top; croutons if you want them.

This is particularly good for dinner if you eat a half-dozen oysters while you're making it.

*you can use other greens, but this is really built for frisée
**adjust the amount of bacon by how thick it is, how much frisée you have and how hungry and/or fat you are. Normal french lardons are smaller than this. Also the French normally use unsmoked pork belly but wouldn't you rather have bacon?
***the traditional procedure would be to drain about half the fat (and your lardons) from the pan, throw in some minced shallots for a minute, then deglaze quickly with red wine vinegar.

Props to Jane, for making this for me many years ago.

Also, Measure H passed.

spreading democracy

Meanwhile, in Venezuala....


Jesse Helms always did think Aristide was another Fidel, not being able to distinguish between a Catholic and a communist.
While it is unlikely that Mr Aristide was led to the airport in handcuffs, it is equally disingenuous to suggest that his departure was in any way voluntary. In either case it is significant that he resigned to the US rather than to the chief supreme court justice, his constitutional successor.
cf. Whiskey Bar & ff.; Miami Herald; best explanation, from a MaxSpeak comment:
Perhaps Otto Reich, Bacardi and the old Contra crew are nervous about Bush's re-election chances and see this as their last chance to get Castro, so they're going on a rampage.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Haiti doesn't even have oil

Probably just a coincidence:
On April 12, 2002, Chavez resigned his presidency. It said so, right there in the paper � every major newspaper in the USA, every single one. Apparently, to quote the New York Times, Chavez recognized that he was unpopular, his time was up: "With yesterday's resignation of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator."

Problem was, the "resignation" story was a fabulous fib, a phantasmagoric fabrication. In fact, the President of Venezuela had been kidnapped at gunpoint and bundled off by helicopter from the presidential palace. He had not resigned; he never resigned; and one of his captors (who secretly supported Chavez) gave him a cell-phone from which he called and confirmed to friends and family that he remained alive � and still president.

In unrelated news:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called United States President George W. Bush an 'asshole' yesterday for meddling, and vowed never to quit office like his Haitian counterpart as troops battled with opposition protesters demanding a recall referendum against him.
I'm sure that is unrelated to this. [all via this mefi thread; cf. atrios & maxspeak]

California Love

Super Tuesday, people, time to go approve generations of debt servitude for your descendants. But neither that fact nor the local drivers have dimmed my astonishingly good mood today, caused by the revelation that the sun continues to exist. Yes, s.a.d. but true, my normal inchoate rage is really just caused by the weather. [Thus, California. Q.E.D.]

Also today, people in a foggier part of the state have a chance to ban GM crops [Press-Democrat, Merc-News, NYT]. Those of you still living in quake-free locales where all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray, should settle in with a nice bottle of Navarro gewürtz and toast our friends in Mendocino:

Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west 
A state that's untouchable like Elliot Ness
The track hits ya eardrum like a slug to ya chest 
Pack a vest for your Jimmy in the city of sex
We in that sunshine state with a bomb ass hemp beat 
the state where ya never find a dance floor empty
And pimps be on a mission for them greens 
lean mean money-makin-machines servin fiends
I been in the game for ten years makin rap tunes 
ever since honeys was wearin sassoon
Now it's '95 and they clock me and watch me 
Diamonds shinin lookin like I robbed Liberace
It's all good, from Diego to tha Bay 
Your city is tha bomb if your city makin pay
Throw up a finger if ya feel the same way 
Dre puttin it down for 

Monday, March 01, 2004

wine and tomatoes

Californian wine geeks will want to save the date for this year's Hospice du Rhône (May 20-22, Paso Robles), even if actual Rhône winemakers are overwhelmed by their local imitators; and the golden glass (3/18, S.F.), which, thankfully, has nothing to do with urine, but will allow you taste all 250 of this year's Tre Bicchieri winners [last year's], for the first time ever on the west coast, as far as I can tell.

On a more, um, sober note, now that SoCal workers have sold out their offspring to Wal-Mart, you might want to take a trip down to beautiful Irvine, home of Taco Bell, to complain about the enslavement of their tomato pickers.

Or, if you're feeling more of a stay at home kind of rage this week, help Equality Now! do something about the officially-sanctioned ethiopian courtship tactics of abduction and rape.

©2002-2005 by the author