Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The lawyer will not see you now

Posted By on 11.29.06 at 12:43 PM

From Evan Schaeffer's Legal Underground, reason two (of five) why an anonymous plaintiffs' attorney will turn down your case:

"If you call with a potential case and then drone on for 20-plus minutes straight without seemingly taking a breath, or allowing me a moment to ask a question, then I will probably turn you down. First, however, about five minutes into the call I will put you on speaker so others in my office can hear your advanced stage of logorrhea. My timer on my phone will also let me know if you beat the record for straight talking by a potential client without stopping. It's 28 minutes."

Among the other disqualifiers: saying that God wants the lawyer to take the case. 

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Born to believe?

Posted By on 11.29.06 at 09:19 AM

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Writing at Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson refers to a study of beliefs held by twins raised apart, published in 2001 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study seems to show that:

"Your differing attitudes on abortion, birth control, immigrants, gender roles, and race are mostly due to your genes, while your attitudes toward education, capitalism and punishment are due to your life experiences."

Hanson's point is that you might want to rethink beliefs that you have, literally, inherited. My point is: WTF?

If you have a subscription or a library, get oriented with Frank Sulloway's review of Nancy Segal's Indivisible By Two:  Lives of Extraordinary Twins in the New York Review of Books.

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Everybody Kimchi Tonight

Posted By on 11.29.06 at 12:04 AM

I went to Nance Klehm's pickling workshop last Sunday and came home with a briny mason jar stuffed to the brim with kimchi. It burbled away in a cupboard, next to the coffee cups, for five days, and when it was done it was tart and tangy and very garlicky, just like I like it--though a little more ginger wouldn't  have hurt. Best of all, it was easy as pie. Easier than pie, actually. Here's how to make your own.

 

  • Roughly chop up a bunch of veggies, your choice. We used Napa cabbage, bok choy, daikon, carrots, green onions, whole garlic cloves, and a sprinkling of burdock and dandelion root (mmm, fiber).
  • Crush a bunch of dried red chiles; do the same to more garlic cloves--a handful, or as many as you think you can handle.
  • Peel and finely shred a knob of ginger.
  • Mix everything together in a bowl, adjusting the recipe to taste. If you don't like daikon, or dandelion, don't use it.
  • Pulverize a cup or so of sea salt with a mortar and pestle. Then dilute the salt in purified water until the water is saturated or, in Nance's words, "the salt falls out."
  • Stuff jars with veggies, leaving an inch or so at the top.
  • Pour brine over veg.

 

That's it. The important thing to remember is to make sure the vegetables are always submerged in the brine while they ferment. Otherwise, they'll get funky and mold. You can do this by just pushing the stuff down by hand every day, or by creating a "water bladder" out of a baggie and a rubber band. Fill the baggie with a bit of water (you'll have to eyeball it), tie it up into a balloon with the rubber band, and plop it in the top of the jar. Leave the concoction open to the air--don't put the lid on--for at least three days, then taste. If it's not done yet, give it a couple more days, then close it up and refrigerate. Voila--kimchi.

 

 

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Colin and the kids

Posted By on 11.28.06 at 07:05 PM

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I've never really liked the Decemberists, though for the longest time I didn't want to admit that I actually hate them. There was always something about Colin Meloy's earnest lit obsessions that made me picture him as the kind of 11-year-old who's as obsessed with The Iliad and The Odyssey as much as he is with The Uncanny X-Men—in other words, someone I could've been best friends with when I was the same age. But baseless fictional nostalgia isn't enough to build a real relationship on, and I finally have to admit that I can't stand the dude.

Maybe it was actually listening to the Decemberists that did it. Maybe it was seeing the smug, "Watch me say words—important words," look on his face during their segment on the Burn to Shine Vol. 3: Portland, OR DVD. Or maybe it was Chris Ott's essay on the Village Voice Web site, which crystallized my formless anti-Decemberists-ism—though more likely it was their fans' frantic, ignorant comments in response to the piece. It may even have been simply hearing too much about Colin Meloy's "tain" that did it. But now, yes, I hate them.

Which is why I thought it was funny when their new single, "O Valencia," came on an alt-rock station during my stay in Portland and I liked it immediately. Then I realized why I like it, which made the whole thing even funnier: "O Valencia" is a straight-up emo pop song. Strip off the song's Neutral Milk Hotel-meets-the-La's arrangement, show the band how to use a distortion pedal, somehow add a bit of expressiveness to Meloy's nasal drone, and you've got yourself something that could work as the second single off a Plain White T's album. The structure, the melody, the whole foundation of the song is indistinguishable from almost any half-assed MySpace emo band. It makes me wonder just how many horn-rimmed pretention-dogs there are out there with big Taking Back Sunday-shaped holes in their lives. (PS: If you think you may be one of these people, please buy the new Brand New record. It might save you somehow.) 

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Classically lame

Posted By on 11.28.06 at 06:34 PM

Why is it that when any musician grows up learning how to read music—standard musical notation, that is, not guitar tablature—that person is called “classically trained”? Pitchfork uses this term on its homepage today in a refer to its Joanna Newsom live review. I know it looks like I’m shooting fish in a barrel by picking on Pitchfork again, but this tendency is hardly unique to Pitchfork—plenty of other bloggers and alt-music writers do it too. I mean, how many "pop-trained" harp players are out there? I suppose it’s entirely possible that someone could purchase a harp at a pawn shop, go home and learn to play “Louie, Louie” on it, but c’mon. Put it to rest, please.

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Malajube, the latest hype from Montreal

Posted By on 11.28.06 at 06:18 PM

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Malajube, a quartet from Montreal, seems poised to be the next breakout success from our neighbors to the north. How do I know this? Because the Fader is running a feature on them—as well as sponsoring their Chicago debut tomorrow night at Darkroom—and Pitchfork gave their debut album an 8.2, favorably comparing them to a handful of bands that the Web site likes to wax poetic over: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Broken Social Scene, and Wolf Parade. Yeah, those points of reference didn’t help me understand the band better either, but I'll admit that after a couple of listens I'm impressed with their recent debut album, Trompe-L’oeil (Dare to Care).

The band sets strong pop hooks that remind me of the top-40 songs I listened to growing up in the 70s to dense, intricate arrangements that bristle with energy and tension. The vocals are exclusively in French, though there are also plenty of nice wordless vocal harmonies—which, for a nice change, don't rip off the Beach Boys. The line between the chugging guitars and treated keyboards is blurred, as is any kind of precision in the arrangements; the band delivers thick walls of sound (but not noise). There are certainly lots of indie rock signposts in the music, like the Flaming Lips and Super Furry Animals—I even hear a touch of Sigur Ros in the soaring voices, even though Malajube’s aggressive instrumental attack couldn’t be further from that Icelandic band. I tend to get nervous when other indie rock bands are a group's obvious reference points, and anything that gets gushing kudos from Pitchfork always gives me pause, but it’s certainly an exciting debut. The band is playing one of those free showcases at the Darkroom tomorrow night. An e-mail I got about the gig said the deadline to reserve spots on the guest list was noon today—sorry, Charlie. You still might try contacting the club to see if there’s a way in.

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Discussing Friedman in his absence

Posted By on 11.28.06 at 11:48 AM

Judge Richard Posner is surprisingly skeptical about the late Milton Friedman's theories. He writes at the Becker-Posner Blog:

"I think his belief in the superior efficiency of free markets to government as a means of resource allocation, though fruitful and largely correct, was embraced by him as an article of faith and not merely as a hypothesis. I think he considered it almost a personal affront that the Scandinavian nations, particularly Sweden, could achieve and maintain very high levels of economic output despite very high rates of taxation, an enormous public sector, and extensive wealth redistribution resulting in much greater economic equality than in the United States. I don't think his analytic apparatus could explain such an anomaly.

"I also think that Friedman, again more as a matter of faith than of science, exaggerated the correlation between economic and political freedom. A country can be highly productive though it has an authoritarian political system, as in China, or democratic and impoverished, as was true for the first half-century or so of India's democracy and remains true to a considerable extent, since India remains extremely poor though it has a large and thriving middle class." 

Read the whole thing, and the intelligent criticism in the comments. The idea that good things go together dies hard, and Posner's a good person to drive a stake through its heart.

Dean Baker has a slightly more barbed personal reminiscence:

"About a decade ago, I stumbled into the wrong session at the American Economics Association Convention. Milton Friedman was . . . pointing out that many measures of considerable economic importance often get little scrutiny. The particular example I remember him discussing was the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires businesses to make reasonable efforts to make their places of business accessible to employees and customers with disabilities. I stayed long enough to hear Mr. Friedman argue that this act imposed enormous costs on 'normal people.'"

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The labor that economists don't see

Posted By on 11.28.06 at 06:53 AM

"A majority of stay-home moms and dads are not only working as parents and housekeepers; they also serve as unpaid support and teaching staff for local public schools, unpaid case managers and caregivers for sick and elderly relatives, and unpaid volunteers/part-time help for a wide variety of social services and programs including libraries, hospitals, art, music, and sports programs, and political organizations," Bitch Ph.D. writes.

"In this regard we haven't, as a society, actually moved much *at all* in the last 50 years. The volunteer mom brigade *looks* a little less ladies-who-lunchy. . . . But cell phones and yoga pants aside, we're doing the same stuff. . . .

"It's not strictly a question of whether or not the 'working' parent should be 'paying' the at-home parent a wage for housekeeping and childrearing (through alimony, split incomes, separate IRAs, or what have you), or whether the government should be paying social security to stay-home moms (see here and here for more on that last one, and if you haven't read Crittenden's book yet, for god's sake do so). It's also that we still don't even fucking recognize the work being done as work; that we don't recognize that the women who do it are extremely vulnerable economically; that their cell phones and nice houses and koi ponds don't prevent them from being one divorce away from poverty, or well on the way to an indigent old age; and that, to be blunt, we owe them. We owe them respect, economic security, recognition, and status."

Don't miss the comments.

One of the few economists who takes this point seriously is Nancy Folbre in The Invisible Heart.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

When You Can't See What I Saw

Posted By on 11.27.06 at 07:00 PM

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Two contenders for my ten-best list this year are Pere Portabella’s Warsaw Bridge (1990), shown recently in the  Portabella (pdf, pp. 81-108) retrospective at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and Atom Egoyan’s Citadel, a very personal essay film that he recently showed at Doc Films. Neither film has (yet) any sort of distribution, and it’s not clear that this is going to change anytime soon. Both are entirely under the control of their makers, and they want to keep it that way, preferring not to turn these films over to distributors—for a variety of reasons in each case.

But here's a question: am I being rude and inconsiderate if I cite these films on my ten-best list knowing that most people can’t see them? How much should my position as a critic be ted by my function as a consumer guide? I’d like to imagine that we’re all sufficiently grown-up to realize that we can’t expect instant gratification in fulfilling all our wishes about what we see next, and that it’s even desirable to think and dream about films that we can’t yet see. But I’m not sure how many of my readers agree with this proposition.

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Drink Your Way Across Europe

Posted By on 11.27.06 at 06:33 PM

If you don't have any pressing responsibilities this week you might want to head to Quenchers, which is hosting its 26th annual European Beer Tour through Friday, December 1. Fork over $50 and you'll get a "passport" good for any 15 of about 50 strange brews, from an English Double Diamond to a Lithuanian Kalnapilis, plus complimentary cheese and sausages. There's also a seven-beer option available for $30. And in either case, no, you don't have to drink them all in one night.

Josh, the friendly bartender who answered the phone, says that while the many Belgians the bar stocks are perennial favorites, beer tourists tend to gravitate toward exotica like Botchkovoe, a Russian lager. At the end of it all you get to keep the passport, complete with beer stamps and your glassy-eyed photo, plus beer company T-shirts, glassware, and other swag.

 

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