Monday, December 16, 2013


I've been wondering why I don't write any more, and decided I can of course blame Republicans.  They're a terrible opposition party.  There's no back-and-forth to follow; only back.  I also need more stimulation than I get hanging out in my apartment.  (When I leave it's very cold out and I am likely to spend money.)

However, it appears that I may be moving to the Bay area very soon, and a new environment should be pretty stimulating.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Honesty and Decency are Superhuman

I wrote this post a long time ago, and I'm not sure why I never published it.  Luckily, Ta-Nehisi Coates' new piece about the capacity for evil in any run-of-the-mill person made me think of it.  I wonder how many things I do unconsciously that are as bad as complicity in Nazi Germany.  I have some ideas, but I am more interested in what it takes to be good in the world.  From where I sit, it takes a lot of courage and energy to be merely decent.

Amanda Marcotte pointed out how extremely cool it was that Charles Ramsey stepped up to make a difference in what seemed like a run-of-the-mill domestic violence incident.  It turned out that he stepped in at a time that allowed several kidnapped women to escape their decade-long ordeal, but there was no way he could have known that.  (Amusingly, he says in an interview that he knew something was really really wrong when a white lady ran into his black-man's arms.)

Amanda nicely takes this incident as a reminder that we need to pay attention to the world around us and intervene when we can.

She's right about that, but it bumps up against the progressive tradition of mocking "cookie-seeking."  If you don't know what that is, it's doing something normal and decent (like not raping people) and asking for praise.

Decency takes a significant amount of self-confidence and bravery.  It's hard.  We may as well be generous with our cookies.  There's a reason that people keep reading inspirational tales of heroism so they can internalize the ability to act.  

To be clear, I think that Ramsey did something that should be expected of all people, but I also think it was brave.  It's an action that deserves commendation, but shouldn't be exceptional.  If we were all half as good as we think we are, every day we'd do four or five things that would impress a stranger.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Donde el caucho se une con la carretera

I took two years of Spanish in high school, and felt like I learned a lot then, but it's been 13 years since I graduated and I've let that knowledge atrophy.  Enter Duolingo.  I've pretty much run through the stuff that I learned in high school and am learning new things now.  I was almost able to write the title of this post in Spanish without googling the translation!  (In English it means, "where the rubber meets the road".)  It's interesting how my interaction with the program has evolved over time.  There are a lot of steps where one has to listen to spoken Spanish and transcribe it, also in Spanish.  At first, I would have to listen to the recording over and over to get it right.

Now that I've been practicing a while, the recordings are starting to sound like words to me so I don't have to just memorize the syllables I heard and write them down.  I know I don't have the best working memory, so at first I just chalked it up to that.  It turns out that my problem was that I didn't (don't) know Spanish, not that I'm a special snowflake with an unusually bad memory.

The program also involves a fair amount of speaking into the microphone, and I'm extremely glad it does.  An English speaker doesn't roll her R's very often, and once I am out of practice, I sound absurd when I try to do it.  According to Duolingo, I am able to read about 50% of Spanish-language articles.  That seems a little too optimistic to me, but I'll see what I can do when I finish the program.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Food-blogging February: The Peanut Butter Cookie Trials

I haven't written much over the past few years - I figured I should get back to my roots and do some food blogging.  I intend to write something every day, so it is likely to stay pretty pedestrian and home-cooky.  I know it's not February yet, but I made some cookies today and wanted to be sure I get going on this project.

Peanut butter is a big part of my diet.  I love it, but have a hard time finding peanut butter cookies that aren't too sweet.  Maybe it's time I develop them.  I'm starting with this recipe, from Simply Recipes.  In the comments, someone says that they cut the white sugar down to 1/4 cup, and I followed that advice with a little twist inspired by overmeasuring - I just used 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar for the total sugar.  Another variation from the recipe is that I didn't get to baking the dough until it had rested for about 36 hours in my fridge.  From the taste of the dough, it may be a little too sweet, but I'll bake them and see how they come out.

Baked them 13 minutes at 350 degrees, they spread a little further than I expected, and they are somewhat overcooked, but the sweetness is about perfect.  The peanut flavor is not perfect - that will need a boost, maybe with some chopped peanuts.  Maybe the long resting time was too much for the baking powder, and they expanded horizontally instead of vertically.

The problems with the usual peanut butter cookie recipe that I'd like to solve are:

  • Long resting time
  • Lots of butter

I have a few modified recipes that I could try out next time.  Recipe A, to address the butter content, will be:
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup RT butter
1 egg
1.25 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Note that the volume of wet ingredients stays the same here.

I suspect that replacing some of the butter with peanut butter will result in a better PB flavor and less spreading.  It might also make for tougher cookies that don't rise as well, but I'll just have to bake them and find out.  As for the time variable, I'll try one batch after a half hour's rest, another after an hour's, and if neither is satisfying, I'll try two and three hours' rest batches.

I originally conceived of this as an experiment to work on in the near future, but I don't know that I want to eat that many cookies in a short time.  Once this batch gets eaten, I'll use my modified recipe and resting times.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

If the NRA took anything seriously

If the NRA were mildly serious about keeping guns out of the hands of the "bad guys," and the self-declared unserious and irresponsible, they would be very pleased to see James Yeager lose his right to carry guns.

I've been entertaining myself with some thought experiments about what would happen if the NRA weren't a bunch of machismo-poisoned culture warriors and industry shills.  If they hadn't relied so heavily for so long on the nonsense about needing to be personally armed against a tyrannical government, they could be telling us that we need a gun mandate, and everyone should be required to buy one and learn to use it as part of a well-regulated militia.  It would be good for their industry, and make sense regarding the common-sense interpretation of the second amendment.

Instead, we get self-reliant sharpshooting cowboy nonsense.