Saturday, April 17, 2004

ciao bitches

It's probably good that I'm going on vacation again, considering how irritable I've become recently. I'm sure you can entertain yourselves for a couple weeks, but don't forget to come back in May.

I leave you with a Barbie doll making reservations at Alain Ducasse; a design site that I (and you) may or may not have already seen; a summary of soil organic carbon loss in Science, with bonus no-till farming info from Ohio State; the eerie but otherwise pedestrian Fox and Peterson, "Risks and implications of bovine spongiform encephalopathy for the United States: insights from other countries," Food Policy 29 (February 2004), 45-60, which begins "BSE has not been found in the US but current detection efforts provide little assurance that it does not exist at a low level."

A final thought on biofarming inspired by the delay in approving Ventria's diarrhea rice in California. After the purely reflexive "no GMOs whatsoever" response, it is not hard to envision a position that admits the utility of cheaply producing useful drugs with plants. The problem, of course, is that all these companies are using crop plants, and they want to grow them in the same place the crops are widely planted for food (obviously, because they do well there). Some "reasonable" people have suggested that if they just switched to non-food/feed crops, everyone would be happy. But that's not going to happen, because the biopharm people need crop plants. They need the benefit of millennia of careful selection to produce yields big enough to pad their profit margin. And no matter what anyone says about the miracle of science, and its "precision", they can't do that themselvs, not from scratch, and not even, probably, with a long-domesticated non-crop plant like tobacco. Because if they could, they would. They would love to fly under the radar. But they don't have the skills. So instead they are going to battle it out in the court of public opinion and anemic regulation, and they will win eventually. And then we're in trouble.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

the march of progress

Look I don't really give a shit about religion, but the fucking cross-burners are starting to piss me off. When you can't tell the difference between the Times and these people, well, you wonder how far we've come from 1928.

The irony is that the Times really was a liberal paper back then. At least we know where Rove learned his skills:

There is a tremendous body of citizens of this State [Alabama] who apparently have not absorbed any new political thought since the days of Wyclif. They believe implicitly everything they are told by their clergy. All the old lies, and some remarkably new ones, about the iniquities of the Catholics are glibly uttered and readily believed.... Quite the most remarkable charge hurled at Smith yet is that he blocked a law to prevent the "unspeakable crime" in New York City. This phrase means but one thing to the ignorant Southerner, and that is the rape of a white woman by a negro.
Such pre-Santorum innocence!

Source: Letter to the Times by Birmingham resident Richard Gilliam, Jr., 8/30/28.

BSE

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture may be heading for a split with the Agriculture Department at a meeting in Chicago next month, where the association is scheduled to discuss formulation and approval of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy testing policy quite different than the expanded surveillance program announced March 15 by USDA.
meatingplace.com] cf. this Sac Bee editorial
It's too bad the ranchers of Kansas - or California, for that matter - are under a regulator that would rather guard against the phantom danger of too much testing than help producers supply foreign and emerging domestic markets.
In related news, why is meat so cheap?
Representatives of the poultry and meat processing industries and the nation's manufacturers have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm that employees do not need to be paid for time spent walking to their work stations.
Paul Gepts, "Who Owns Biodiversity, and How Should the Owners Be Compensated?" Plant Physiology 134 (April 2004) 1295-1307 fails to answer its own question, but provides an excellent state of the question.
A highly unfortunate side effect of the commoditization of biodiversity is that it has led to the active pursuit of IP protection in developed country of specific crop germ plasm originating in developing countries without appropriate authorization or compensation (called by some 'biopiracy'). Controversial awards of patents involving foreign genetic resources, whether or not these patents have since been rescinded, include yellow and popping beans (P. vulgaris), the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) oil, maca (Lepidium meyenii), and basmati rice (O. sativa).

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

wed. food

NY: Hesser channels Tina Brown:
...cherries impaled on a stick, and the cocktail itself, sweet and oaky and stiffened with a dash of bitters, eased across my palate. We were in capable hands, and if the size of the drink was any indication...
Johnny Apple takes it easy on the expense account in chicago; Neil MacFarquhar practices creative translation in a story on the "dessert truffle":
"Half of Syria came with them!" Ms. al-Radi said. "They look lovely and brown, and you think you have the real McCoy...
The Chron is a wash this week, but you may want to add the Woodside HS cheese club to your repertoire of California jokes.

The LA Times is preoccupied with the glories of Santa Barbara this week, including Russ Parsons on uni (Patience Gray cameo!) and Corie Brown on the local garagistes (an excellent reminder not to waste your money on California wine). Finally, David Shaw has some words of wisdom for you (also inspired by Tina Brown?):

Life is too short to spend it fretting over everything we put in our mouths.

Creekstone lays the smackdown on USDA

This letter is also giving notice to the USDA that our loss in revenue is a minimum of $200,000 per day. We will continue to track this loss on a daily basis to determine damages.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

no good deed goes unpunished

A couple years ago, my sister and I started giving my dad shit about his reading material. Although he was still doing pretty good by volume, he had sunk into an intellectual torpor by buying books almost exclusively at gas stations. It actually went downhill from Tom Clancy. To our amazement, the harassment worked, and he began to read more interesting books.

The unanticipated corollary of this was that he started send us books -- a lot of books. And the selection was, shall we say, spotty: the wrong Billy Bean[e] book, the execrable Da Vinci Code. It was, I hasten to add, a "nice thought," and of course I appreciated the attention, but it was based on the flawed premises that I somehow didn't have enough to read, and that my spacious apartment had room for more bookcases. But I bore my new affliction with good grace, accepting it as a suitable punishment for forcing my father to think about something besides the NCAA tournament.

Last week, perhaps inspired by Christ's suffering, he sent me Jardine and Stewart's 600-odd page biography of Francis Bacon; bizarrely, it turns out to be fascinating. I'm no fan of the genre (it is possible that the only biographies I've read have been Robert Moses and Saint Augustine), nor for that matter the period/country; but Elizabethan prose is the most marvelously impenetrable language I've ever come across. The latin passages are easier to dechipher than the english (and believe me, my latin is not impressive). It is clear, at least, that Bacon did not write Shakespeare's plays. Anyway, those of you with an interest in the period or the language should steel yourself to wade through it.

Also, in the unlikely event that you're interested in the history of baseball, I second the Post critic's recommendation of Jim Brosnan's 1960 The Long Season. It is more boring, and therefore more interesting than Ball Four. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you probably aren't interested in baseball anyway.

And as long as I'm droning on about books, prompted by Maud, and in honor of my dad, who first made me read it, I present my favorite first sentence ever:

When he stepped off the straight and narrow path of his peculiar honesty, it was with an inward assertion of unflinching resolve to fall back again into the monotonous but safe stride of virtue as soon as his little excursion into the wayside quagmires had produced the desired effect. It was going to be a short episode -- a sentence in brackets, so to speak -- in the flowing tale of his life: a thing of no moment, to be done unwillingly, yet neatly, and to be quickly forgotten.
OK, that's 2 sentences, but you see why I can't stop. The rest of the paragraph:
He imagined that he could go on afterwards looking at the sunshine, enjoying the shade, breathing in the perfume of flowers in the small garden before his house. He fancied that nothing would be changed, that he would be able as heretofore to tyrannize good-humouredly over his half-caste wife, to notice with tender contempt his pale yellow child, to patronize loftily his dark-skinned brother-in-law, who loved pink neckties and wore patent-leather boots on his little feet, and was so humble before the white husband of the lucky sister. Those were the delights of his life, and he was unable to conceive that the moral significance of any act of his could interfere with the very nature of things, could dim the light of the sun, could destroy the perfume of the flowers, the submission of his wife, the smile of his child, the awe-struck respect of Leonard da Souza and of all the Da Souza family. That family's admiration was the great luxury of his life. It rounded and completed his existence in a perpetual assurance of unquestionable superiority. He loved to breathe the coarse incense they offered before the shrine of the successful white man; the man that had done them the honour to marry their daughter, sister, cousin; the rising man sure to climb very high; the confidential clerk of Hudig & Co. They were a numerous and an unclean crowd, living in ruined bamboo houses, surrounded by neglected compounds, on the outskirts of Macassar. He kept them at arm's length and even further off, perhaps, having no illusions as to their worth. They were a half-caste, lazy lot, and he saw them as they were -- ragged, lean, unwashed, undersized men of various ages, shuffling about aimlessly in slippers; motionless old women who looked like monstrous bags of pink calico stuffed with shapeless lumps of fat, and deposited askew upon decaying rattan chairs in shady corners of dusty verandahs; young women, slim and yellow, big-eyed, long-haired, moving languidly amongst the dirt and rubbish of their dwellings as if every step they took was going to be their very last. He heard their shrill quarrellings, the squalling of their children, the grunting of their pigs; he smelt the odours of the heaps of garbage in their courtyards: and he was greatly disgusted. But he fed and clothed that shabby multitude; those degenerate descendants of Portuguese conquerors; he was their providence; he kept them singing his praises in the midst of their laziness, of their dirt, of their immense and hopeless squalor: and he was greatly delighted. They wanted much, but he could give them all they wanted without ruining himself. In exchange he had their silent fear, their loquacious love, their noisy veneration. It is a fine thing to be a providence, and to be told so on every day of one's life. It gives one a feeling of enormously remote superiority, and Willems revelled in it. He did not analyze the state of his mind, but probably his greatest delight lay in the unexpressed but intimate conviction that, should he close his hand, all those admiring human beings would starve. His munificence had demoralized them. An easy task. Since he descended amongst them and married Joanna they had lost the little aptitude and strength for work they might have had to put forth under the stress of extreme necessity. They lived now by the grace of his will. This was power. Willems loved it.
Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands.

march of progress

Ventria GM rice application denied [USAT; background]; Egyptians produce Hep B vaccine from GM corn [scidev.net]; 20 years later, scientists finally ask themselves: what should agricultural biotechnology do? [NAS workshop]; interesting new USDA ERS report: "Organic Produce, Price Premiums, and Eco-Labeling in U.S. Farmers' Markets"; fair trade coffee goes mainstream [Christian Science Monitor].

Monday, April 12, 2004

If there is a worse idea than Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass, I'd like to hear it.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Since our friend skimble the inveterate enron chronicler is on vacation, I should bring your attention to this:
Skilling was at two bars in Manhattan -- American Trash and The Voodoo Lounge -- where he allegedly ran up to patrons and pulled open their clothes, the source said. "He was shouting at them 'You're an FBI agent and you're following me,"' the source said. Skilling allegedly did the same thing to people on the street, the source added. He was with his wife at the time.
American Trash indeed.

As long as we're on the topic, check out Daniel Gross in Slate on how hard Lea Fastow is about to get fucked. It's about time.

USDA denies Creekstone's attempt at 100% BSE testing; Creekstone contemplates legal action. [meatingplace.com]

round-up

Masters of Wine candidates will be amused to read Wendy V. Parr et al., "Exploring the nature of wine expertise: what underlies wine experts' olfactory recognition memory advantage?" Food Quality and Preference 15/5 (2004), 411-20
Results showed superior olfactory recognition by expert wine judges, despite their olfactory sensitivity, bias measures, and odour-identification ability being similar to those of novices. Contrary to a prediction that wine experts' recognition memory would not be influenced by type of odorant-encoding task, while novices' recognition memory would be inhibited by forced naming of odorants, both groups' olfactory recognition was facilitated by identifying odorants relative to judging odorants in terms of pleasantness. Ability to recognise odours and ability to name odours were not positively correlated, although novices' data showed a trend in this direction. The results imply that the source of superior odour recognition memory in wine experts was not due to enhanced semantic memory and linguistic capabilities for wine-relevant odours, but perceptual skill (e.g., olfactory imaging).
[Also see Jane Bradbury's "Taste Perception, Cracking the Code," in PLoS Bio]

A. Spada et al., "Italian rice varieties: historical data, molecular markers and pedigrees to reveal their genetic relationships," Plant Breeding 123/2 (2004), 105 sorts out the genomic relationship of 96 italian rice varieties; further rice news in the same journal: G. H. Jiang et al., "Pyramiding of insect- and disease-resistance genes into an elite indica, cytoplasm male sterile restorer line of rice, 'Minghui 63'" [p. 114]

And don't miss Andy Griffin's article on Strawberries and Methyl Bromide [no mention of the short-handled hoe].

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Rome bureau chief Frank Bruni named Times restaurant critic. Gawker has the memo:
We know his writing will serve not just members of the food elite, but the reader looking for voyeuristic pleasure, and the out-of-towner for whom restaurants are a form of entertainment.
Oh snap.

plus parting shots from eurotrash, who is definitely not a member of the "food elite", although she does have a funny accent.

Breaking [4/9]: Hesser allegedly spotted eating at McDonalds [socialitelife.com via Page Six].

egullet speculates on Bruni and offers him (solicited -- by someone) advice.

already old

This is the east coast elite?
Having a waitress who pronounced "bruschetta" like "broo-sket-a," however, is somewhat sub-optimal.
Not only Mr. Yglesias, but his interlocutors, who charmingly seem to think "quixotic" is a spanish word, and that the french pronounce déjà vu "deja vyu" [hence, the joke above, which is even less funny now that I've explained it]. Along with the usual subject-verb agreement difficulties.

More constructively, this is the intelligent argument for mispronunciation, from Fowler:

To say a French word in the middle of an English sentence exactly as it would be said by a Frenchman in a French sentence is a feat demanding an acrobatic mouth; the muscles have to be suddenly adjusted to a performance of a different nature, and then as suddenly recalled to the normal state. It is a feat that should not be attempted. The greater its success as a tour de force, the greater its failure as a step in the conversational progress; for your collocutor, aware that he could not have done it himself, has his attention distracted whether he admires or is humiliated. All that is necessary is is a polite acknowledgement of indebtedness to the french language indicated by some approach in some part of the word to the foreign sound, and even this only when the difference between the foreign and the corresponding natural English sound is too marked to escape a dull ear.
But this does not apply to bruschetta: in italian, ch (followed by a vowel) is the k phoneme, which requires no unfamiliar exertions on the part of an english-speaker. So there is absolutely no reason to mispronounce the word except for ignorance.

Tune in tomorrow and I will expound on the niceties of ordering a single biscotto.

[This is all wonkette's fault.]

"Scientists in the United Kingdom said they have discovered a new type of scrapie... The disease initially appeared to share characteristics to experimental BSE in sheep, but a microscopic analysis of brain material showed that the case did not resemble BSE in sheep, the report said." [meatingplace.com, Guardian]

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

[More on Amandagate at the Observer; and Gawker claims they're about to name the new permanent critic; and the egullet thread was moved here].
More on California rice biopharming: Nature, USAT, SLO Tribune: San Luis Obispo County will ask the state Food and Agriculture secretary to delay a decision on whether genetically engineered rice can be grown here.

4/8 Chron;

"If the Japanese have the perception -- underline perception -- that our rice has (genetically modified organisms) in it, then we're done," said Carrancho, a past president of the Rice Producers of California. "You can put a bullet in our head."

highbrow

Without addressing the more complicated arguments of our betters, one pretty significant difference between Jeff Koons's and Lucian Freud's work is the experience of seeing it in person. I like one liners, and gigantic flower puppies, and sharks in tanks, but there is almost literally nothing to the personal experience of them [aside from the effects of scale, which can be profound but don't, I think, constitute art in themselves]. Freuds in person are transfixing, and not only in the painter's, um, transfixion of his object, "imposing scrotums" and all. To me the most astonishing thing about Freud's painting is the way it reveals the strangeness of representation within itself, even as it remains a representational tour de force, in a "nostalgic" way. It is like cubism, but without the bomb-throwing and pretentiousness [maybe Cezanne is a closer analogy, but I at least find it hard to really see Cezanne any more, as opposed to the posters and datebooks and coffee mugs of Cezanne]. This is not a mere technical trick; in fact, it is impeccably self-modern in the sense that the paintings are to a large extent about painting itself; thus seeing, and representing, and even, after John Berger, possessing.

It is not hard to admire Freud for reactionary reasons, and perhaps Robert Hughes is guilty of that. But the fact is that Freud is not indulging in empty or nostalgic virtuosity. He has something complicated, interesting, and above all subtle to say, and you New Yorkers should go see what it is when the show comes to Acquavella (April 28-May 27). The rest of you will have to look at this jpeg instead.

food

Today's Times is schizophrenic, veering from saffron and vanilla to William Grimes in a Wal-Mart. This is why you stopped reviewing? Speaking of which, Amanda returns to reality, complete with a little snark -- "a salad... would improve if Ms. Sparks dropped the 1980's-style feta-stuffed phyllo bow ties" -- in a review of some place on the UWS. Also, Macao doesn't sound too bad. Bonus SF slant with Bittman on the Slanted Door and a cameo from the ubiquitous Melanie Wong in the master of wine article.

The Chron has so many articles about eggs that I would have to call it an eggstravanganza were I a weaker man. I'll save you the effort: they say all eggs taste the same, and you should poach them with a little vinegar and salt. I'm still trying to figure out the odd congruities between the Chron and the LA Times, which ran its own egg story two weeks ago.

The latter paper is a wash this week.

Check out the 2004 IACP nominees and Beard journalism awards, courtesy of Sauté Wednesday.

If that's not enough for you, check out the kinja food section. It's still a little buggy, but it's pretty cool.

Update
In honor of spring, I was going to regale you with another of my favorite things, but there is a passable recipe for vignole here (but for God's sake, use fresh artichokes), and really, the whole point of vignole is the deliciousness of the first tiny favas of the season, which you'd be better off eating straight out of the pod. But I didn't want "my favorite things" to consist only of the simple and obvious ingredients, like Colman Andrews's tomato with salt -- even though those are my favorite things, because you probably can't get fresh favas yet, and if you can they're not as good as mine, and I didn't want to rub it in; and besides, if those aren't already your favorite things than I can teach you nothing. But then I thought "fuck it," so: contemplate the Ojai Pixie.

Also, Bruce Cole turns to artisanal bread.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

In keeping with the tiresome state of affairs that requires me to restate the obvious:
Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe....
Among other things.
Is this what they mean by "snark"?

good.

organ meat

TELLY chef Jamie Oliver singed his chipolata while cooking a sexy meal for his wife in the NUDE. He stripped off to treat tasty Jools, 28, but wound up in agony when he got too close to the oven.
sorry. [Sun via t-muffle]
A short history of farming in Latin America:
Hard as it is to believe, most countries in the region are worse off in terms of food security than they were 40 years ago.
Note that "food security" appears to mean "food sovereignty" here, not necessarily "enough food for everyone." [See also their intereview with Hope Shand]

The origin of corn:

[Mary] Eubanks... has developed evidence that modern corn, scientific name Zea mays, did not evolve solely from a Central American grass known as teosinte -- traditionally the most widely held theory. Rather, her experiments clearly demonstrate that corn arose from a serendipitously viable cross between teosinte and gamagrass [Tripsacum].

Monday, April 05, 2004

start off your week with bad things

Federal officials say thousands of veal calves -- up to 90 percent of the food supply population -- are being illegally fed synthetic testosterone to make them grow faster....

Veal industry insiders said that calves have been fed growth hormones for decades. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration counter that the practice has never been legal and its safety has not been tested, USA Today reported.

The hormone in question is trenbolone acetate, used legally to increase growth in adult cattle but not approved for use in calves.

[meatingplace.com]
Nanotechnology is among the hottest fields in science. But controversy is on the rise as critics are calling for bans on research until nanomaterials can be shown to be safe. A study reported here 28 March at the American Chemical Society meeting is likely to fan those flames. Toxicologists reported that buckyballs, a spherical form of carbon, can cause brain damage in fish--the first indication that nanomaterials could pose a threat to aquatic life.
[scienceNOW]

Just in case the quagmire isn't depressing enough.

On the other hand, it is opening day, usually excuse enough for a good mood. If you too are having trouble this year, go gawk at TBogg who has the legitimate excuse of having had to watch the Padres for years. I just hope that's not his daughter in the Yankees uniform.

Friday, April 02, 2004

indiscriminate

Still more Amandagate: I have heard theories ranging from intentional give-her-enough-rope sabotage by Sam Sifton (both in letting the review go to press in the first place and in the "correction"?), because of fear that she is going to take over the section, to "she did it on purpose to attract attention." The latter seems unfeasibly uncharitable, but then again, how does one explain Mr. Latte? My own feeling is that the "correction" was a panicky/impotent reaction to the disastrous, and possibly insane, review, but that doesn't explain how the review got printed in the first place.

Let me reiterate that much of the opprobrium she is subjected to is unfair, brought on by jealousy or visceral anti-intellectual hatred of "foodie" preciousness. (Also, I have to admit, some bad prose, like the infamous "olfactory amuse-bouche"). I bring this up because I have to say something unkind, which is that the star-fucker quality of her writing about JGV is not dissimilar from Mr. Latte's own loathesome writing about different famous people.

Moving right along, the aforementioned indiscriminate collection of links: The italians too are not interested in GM wheat; Charles Benbrook explains why the US food supply is not the safest in the world:

[T]he U.S. food supply would probably be at the top, in terms of safety, in pesticide residues, natural toxins, mycotoxins and mercury and other environmental toxicants. "But in four other areas, the U.S. food supply would not rank in the top 10 percent of countries, and maybe not even in the top one-third," he said: ... foodborne pathogens of animal origin, animal drug and hormone residues, antibiotic resistant bacteria and transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Benbrook said he is not sure how the ranking would be for the ninth category -- microbiological contamination -- because it is complex and dynamic. Several countries would score much higher than the U.S. in terms of food safety, including Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Japan, he said.
[article by Keesia Wirt, quoted in ABE #335]; the FAO is alarmed by the state of domestic animal biodiversity [plus, pdf review of recent literature]; flying pigs; Concorde auction; Rob Morse writes about TX oysters as only he can: brilliantly, irritatingly [via eGullet]

Ninagate: Friday science fun

I know everyone's still atwitter over Amandagate (ok, like 5 of you), but this is actually important:

Dehua Chen, et al., "Effect after introducing Bacillus thuringiensis gene on nitrogen metabolism in cotton," Field Crops Research 87, 2-3 (May 2004), 235-244 [abstract]:

However, changed vegetative and reproductive growth characteristics, which affected the expression of lint cotton yield potential, fiber quality and application of cultural practice, were reported frequently between different regions. Increased plant height, higher relative growth rate and biomass in vegetative organ, smaller bolls, reduced fiber microaire and lint percentage were observed in the Bt transgenic cotton, the changed causes are still unclear.
The point of the article is to figure out why these changes occur, but the important thing, casually summarized here in the intro, is that they do occur. Important because it demolishes one of the usual tiresome arguments that there is nothing new about genetic engineering:
And it is indeed a puzzle that people blithely accept churning up genomes with radiation, mutagenic chemicals, and a variety of other techniques, including intergeneric crosses, while looking askance at the newer, very much less disruptive molecular methods. But maybe they don't know what traditional breeders do.
This sentence was written by Nina Fedoroff, who was responsible, you will recall, for last November's headlines about "ancient genetic engineering." Science finally got around to publishing two letters explaining why this was stupid:
It is not a question of whether genetic engineering is good, bad, or irrelevant, but clarity of understanding requires that a distinction be recognized....

N. V. Fedoroff's Perspective "Prehistoric GM corn" seems calculated to obscure important issues in the debate over the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

[The letters, by Paul Grun and Tim Ramsay, respectively, can be found through this SciDev.net page, along with Fedoroff's response].

Now it is revealed that there is not as much precision to the process as Fedoroff and friends would have you believe: the intuitively obvious idea that sticking a new gene into a foreign genome might have more than one simple and predictable effect is, in fact, correct. Furthermore, this apparently has been documented repeatedly since at least 1995. So again, Nina, the question is not whether the process is good or bad, the question is why you feel compelled to dissemble about it. [I should also note parenthetically the strange disingenuousness of the (common) argument that if the masses knew of the (allegedly irrationally frightening) mutagenic techniques used in postwar plant breeding, then their allegedly irrational fear of molecular technology would vanish].

Now, add to this the recent revelations that DNA from GM plants can be transferred to human intestinal bacteria, and the hypothesis* that Bt corn pollen may be allergenic -- both things long claimed to be impossible -- and you have a situation that suddenly looks a lot more complicated than it used to. And so what? Christ, all anyone's saying is exactly that it's complicated, and we don't know exactly what we've wrought yet, but these people act as if you're speculating about the prophet's personal life by making such outrageous suggestions. My advice is to distrust any scientist who wants to tell you how simple nature is.

Further advice would be to regulate these really pretty cavernous unknowns a little more consciensciously, and it can be found in the new Pew report on the regulation of GE crops and animals. Cf. Justin Gillis's Post article, revealing the role of politicized Bush FDA appointees in blocking a scientific approach to the problem (surprise!); and Greg Jaffe's paper in Transgenic Research last month].

* I stress the hypothetical nature of this, um, hypothesis because it has not yet, God forbid, been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Yawn. A lot of good that did for Quist and Chapela....

Thursday, April 01, 2004

the nemesis

Amanda Hesser has been raked over the coals for last week's blow job review of Spice Market. Eurotrash has been particularly vicious, as is her wont, but more serious criticism has not been lacking [blog-based defenses here and here]. Gawker, Page Six [no link, because it won't work] and (more substantively) the Daily News all got in on the action:
We hear that someone at the top table wasn't pleased that [Gray] Kunz has been so prominently featured in the restaurant's strongly positive reviews. Calls were put out to remind the media that the restaurant is Vongerichten's show.
(This apparently before Hesser's review.) Then, of course, yesterday's "correction" [link now gone]. The best summary of the fracas, though, was provided by Steven Shaw in the eGullet thread:
And really, what was the New York Times thinking when it appointed Amanda Hesser to the interim reviewing position in the first place? Every editor involved in that decision surely knew that she had been reporting on the dining scene for years and has relationship upon relationship with most major chefs and restaurateurs. Were they expecting her to bog down every review with a disclosure statement?

And talk about failure to see the forest for the trees. The three stars and the failure to mention Kunz are what's wrong with this review. Not the failure to disclose some stupid book-jacket blurb....

By focusing on an ethical non-issue the Times has managed to humiliate and discipline Hesser for something she didn't do while ignoring the underlying deficiencies that are rapidly eroding what's left of our confidence in the Times reviewing system.

Now I don't expect the average reader to share our alarm at the erosion of the Times's reviewing system, and of course the eds. have more serious things to worry about (this and # 31 for starters.) But it is important to realize that this is an editorial fuck-up, without excusing the embarassing review itself.

A lot of people hate Hesser for irrational reasons (jealousy) and more rational ones (Mr. Latte). I think the personal vitriol she attracts is shameful, but let's face it -- that review sucked. Proof that she is interesting and intelligent -- and maybe a little bit annoying: interview, Q & A, interview.

For a final twist of irony, check out this thread, which Tony Bourdain started to criticize Marian Burros's interim review of Casa Mono. After the frenzy subsides, Bourdain suggests that the best replacement for Grimes is... Amanda Hesser.

©2002-2005 by the author