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23 April 2017
Afternoon Sedition

Mermaid Parade
Catch of the Day

Some fisherman take mermaids home to make into sushi. Or maybe bouillabaisse. I think I read somewhere that mermaids are the chicken of the sea. Or was that sea turtle...

Fishmonger with Mermaid - From Back

Fishmonger with Mermaid - From Side

It’s Still an Open Container

Grolsch Blikbeugel

Grolsch Blikbeugel

I've only been in love with a beer bottle and a mirror.

— Sid Vicious

Grolsch has announced its Blikbeugel in time for koninginnedag. (As a man who doesn't drink beer, I seem to be posting a lot in the zymurgy category.) For those of us who don't speak Dutch, this means they've come out with a gizmo that snaps onto a can turning it into a bottle. Here's the translation, such as it is, of their announcement, courtesy of Babelfish:

Grolsch Blikbeugel

Grolsch introduce the Grolsch Blikbeugel in the week for koninginnedag. With this innovative gadget you make a clamp of your can with one click!

The Grolsch Blikbeugel have been developed from the idea that blikje are indeed more compact and you it more easily take along, but drinks less nicely than a flask. With the Grolsch Blikbeugel you and there become the drinkgenot of a bottle preserve the ease of use of the blikje to added. The set-up piece clicks you on the blikje and the blikje drink now as a clamp bottle. The can clamp can be hung for the ring, as a result of which you rather have yourself hands for other activities. The can clamp can be used several times.

In the week for koninginnedag (as from Monday 25 April) the Grolsch Blikbeugel available in hypermarket and slijterij are. The can clamp is provided in an action packing from 11 blikjes Grolsch?3 cl existing for 8.49 euro (recommended retail price). The Grolsch Blikbeugel are an one-off action and in a restricted oplage are brought out.

Babelfish Translation of Golsch Press Release
Golsch Press Release (Dutch)

Bottle It

Bottle It Spout for Canned Beverages

This isn't an original idea, however:

Why Didn't I think of that?

Bottle It™ Turns Any Beverage Can into a Longneck Bottle

AUSTIN, Texas (BUSINESS WIRE) - ImageMark, Inc., a Texas-based marketing company, recently launched its newest product, Bottle It™, a plastic "bottleneck" that snaps onto any beverage can, immediately converting it to a longneck bottle.

The product is currently being distributed to retailers and sports facilities.

Bottle It™ was designed and patented in the early nineties. The idea for the plastic longneck was born when the inventor experienced a run-in with the law while drinking from a glass bottle on the beach. Since glass is prohibited on beaches, the police confiscated his entire ice chest full of glass-bottle longnecks. Because he found aluminum cans distasteful, the inventor set about designing a way to turn an ordinary beverage can into a longneck and, of course, one that could be used on the beach.

The Bottle It™ unit is reusable, leak proof, easy to use, and completely eliminates the aluminum can taste. It comes in eight different colors and fits 12 ounce and 16 ounce cans. Retailers have reported that it has already had tremendous appeal among sports enthusiasts, beach-goers, golfers and boaters. It has also been successful with corporations and university organizations since it can be imprinted with company logos, fraternity/sorority letters, etc."

INVENTUS - September 1999 Newsletter

Montage of Bottle It Spouts

Montage of Bottle It Spouts

Bottle It was created by Imagemark, a design house specializing in branded products.

As our tagline clearly states, "We don't BRAND your merchandise. We Merchandise your BRAND." Imagemark's main object with this solution is to leave our client's mark, or brand on their customers mind...

"Solutions" by Imagemark

Assuming you didn't get one from a company promoting its brand, you can order one from Promo Place or Add Your Imprint.

If you get one of these, especially from Grolsch, be sure to avoid the open-container laws:

New York City Administrative Code, Section 10-125, Consumption of Alcohol in Public
b. No person shall drink or consume an alcoholic beverage, or possess, with intent to drink or consume, an open container containing an alcoholic beverage in any public place except at a block party, feast or similar function for which a permit has been obtained.
c. Possession of an open container containing an alcoholic beverage by any person shall create a rebuttable presumption that such person did intend to consume the contents thereof in violation of this section.

New York City Administrative Code, Section 10-125, Consumption of Alcohol in Public

The Ombibulous Soviet Union

Russian Tax Stamp 1890

Russian Alcohol Tax Stamps 1890

My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.

— Winston Churchill, on dining with the abstinent King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia

The The Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters has a number of posters from the Soviet Union created to stem the rising tide of alcoholism. While the Website doesn't make it clear, I believe these posters date to the 1986-1988 period when the newly-appointed Mikhail Gorbachev launched his reform campaign. In addition to his extensive efforts in glasnost (openness in public life) and perestroika (political and economic restructuring), Gorbachev wanted people to be healthier:

In early 1985, Gorbachev succeeded Chernenko, who is believed to have died from cirrhosis. The campaign, although identified by many commentators with Mikhail Gorbachev, is now thought to have owed rather more to others. His wife, Raisa, who had direct experience of the effects of alcoholism in her family, may have played a major part, but the prime movers are now known to have been two members of the Politburo, Yegor Ligachev and Michael Solomentsev (White, 1996; Service, 1997). They were able to gain acceptance of the policy despite opposition from many other senior politicians. Gorbachev has also suggested that his daughter, Irina Mikhailovna Virginskaya who is a medical doctor, played an important role in convincing him (Gorbachev, 1996).

Gorbachev launched the anti-alcohol campaign in May 1985 (Ivanets and Lukomskaya, 1990; Tarchys, 1993; White, 1996). All organs of the state were exhorted to develop strategies to reduce alcohol consumption. One of the most visible manifestations of this, to foreigners, was that alcohol was banned at official functions, but also party officials and managers who drank heavily were to be dismissed, outlets were to be reduced radically, and many other actions were to be taken by, for example, trade unions and the media. In particular, an attempt to mobilize society in the campaign for temperance led to the creation of the All-Union Voluntary Society for the Struggle for Sobriety in September 1985. This society claimed 12 million members after 1 year.

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Several points about the campaign should be noted. The May launch was an advance announcement of future action. The first rules restricting access to alcohol came into effect on 1 June 1985. These were important, as they included a series of actions that could be enforced at once and where the impact of enforcement was highly visible, such as banning drinking of alcohol at all workplaces, including formerly legal bars, such as those in higher education establishments; banning sales before 2 p.m.; restricting alcohol sales to off-licences; and banning sales on trains (including dining-cars) and similar establishments.

In August 1985 prices increased by 25%, with another increase in August 1986. Subsequently there was a series of further measures to restrict access, with cuts in production leading to massive shortages.

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Alcohol — Enemy of Mind

Alcohol — Enemy of Mind

The irony is that the campaign actually worked. Why was this a problem? {In Russian voice} Well, comrade, in Soviet Union people own means of production. So when people not buy alcohol state not make money. {Back to American voice.} Coupled with a decline in oil exports, the state ended up seriously short of money. Yeah, Russians drank a lot in those days. While I'm certain this is no surprise to you, the amounts they drank may be:

A key contributing factor in the major causes of death, particularly among the male population, was the high level of alcoholism--a long-standing problem, especially among the Slavic peoples (Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian). Alcoholism was often referred to as the "third disease," after cardiovascular illness and cancer. Soviet health organizations and police records put the total number of alcoholics at over 4.5 million, but Western experts contended that this number applied only to those at the most advanced stage of alcoholism and that in 1987 the real number of alcoholics was at least 20 million.

Soon after coming to power, Gorbachev launched the most massive antialcohol campaign in Soviet history and voiced his concern not only about the health problems stemming from alcohol abuse but also about the losses in labor productivity (up to 15 percent) and the increased divorce rate. The drive appeared to have an almost immediate effect on the incidence of diseases directly related to alcohol: for example, cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol poisoning decreased from 47.3 per 1,000 in 1984 to 23.3 per 1,000 in 1986. The biggest declines were in the Russian and Ukrainian republics, where the problem was the most widespread. Some attributed the modest rise in male life expectancy between 1985 and 1986 to success in the battle against the "green snake," a popular Russian term for vodka. But to counter the major cut in government production of alcohol, people distilled their own alcoholic beverages at home. One-third of illicit alcohol reportedly was produced using government agricultural facilities.

Soviety Union: Declining Health Care in the 1970s and 1980s

There is now compelling evidence that alcohol has been a major factor in recent widespread changes in mortality in Russia and in other countries of the former Soviet Union. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev, the newly appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, instituted a large-scale anti-alcohol campaign. Within a few years, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, the campaign faltered and eventually gave way to a rapid rise in consumption, fuelled by widespread illicit production, on a massive scale. These changes were accompanied by large fluctuations in mortality. Between 1985 and 1986, male life expectancy at birth increased by 2 years and between 1992 and 1993 it fell by 3 years. The change in life expectancy was due, almost entirely, to differences in mortality among the young and middle aged (Leon et al., 1997). Changes on this scale are unprecedented anywhere in the world in peacetime (Ryan, 1995).

We have previously shown that these changes were real rather than due to data artefact, and that alcohol has played a major role, with the largest relative fluctuations from alcohol-related deaths, injuries and cardiovascular diseases, while mortality from cancers remained stable (Leon et al., 1997).

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Rich Inner Substance

Rich Inner Substance

The history of alcohol consumption in the USSR shows an absolutely prodigious consumption: not only did alcohol cosume 15-20% of household income but it accounted for 15% of all retail sales:

Widespread and excessive alcohol consumption was tolerated, or even encouraged, because of its scope for raising revenue. From the 1540s, Ivan IV began to establish kabaks (where spirits were produced and sold) in all major towns, with revenues going directly to the royal treasury. These gained monopoly status in 1649 and continued, through periods in which they were effectively franchised to local merchants, until the revolution. By the early twentieth century, income from alcohol constituted at least a third of all government revenue. It has also been argued, especially by Marxist historians, that heavy consumption of alcohol was also used as a means of reducing political dissent (White, 1996).

The first Bolshevik government reduced alcohol production (Sheregi, 1986) but by about 1921 consumption had returned to very high levels, in particular spirits distilled illicitly. By 1925, all the restrictions imposed after the revolution were rescinded, after which alcohol-related deaths exceeded their pre-war level, in some cities, such as Moscow, by as much as 15-fold. This decision, together with that to re-establish a state monopoly, was taken, quite explicitly, by Stalin, to raise money and thus avoid the necessity of seeking foreign investment capital. By the 1970s, receipts from alcohol were again constituting a third of government revenues.

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Potentially more reliable figures have been generated outside the USSR by, for example, surveys of emigrants, especially to Israel, although these are problematic as there is evidence that Soviet Jews drank rather less than their Slavic neighbours. Nonetheless, one of the most rigorous studies, although again likely to be an underestimate because it did not include that large volume of alcohol now known to be stolen each year, suggests that consumption more than doubled between 1955 and 1979 to 15.2 litres per person (Treml, 1975). This figure is higher than that recorded for any OECD country (France was highest at 12.7 litres in 1990, although most other countries were in the range 5–9 litres), where data are largely derived from validated surveys of consumption (World Drink Trends, 1992). Of course, this figure relates to the entire USSR and, for religious and other reasons, there are marked regional variations so levels in the Russian heartland are likely to have been much higher. Other studies of emigré families suggested that alcohol consumption accounted for 15–20% of disposable household incomes. Studies by dissidents and others supported the impression that alcohol consumption was increasing at alarming levels, suggesting, for example, that alcohol accounted for 15% of total retail trade (Krasikov, 1981).

"Alcohol in Russia", by Martin McKee, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, No. 6, 1999

Have Mercy on Your Future Child

Have Mercy on Your Future Child

The title is from a comment by H.L. Mencken about his drinking:

I'm ombibulous. I drink every known alcoholic drink and enjoy them all.

— H.L. Mencken

You Won’t Scream For This Ice Cream

Street View of Cones (Ice Cream Artisans)

Street View of Cones (Ice Cream Artisans)

Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.

— Don Kardong, 1976 United States Olympic Marathoner

A few weeks ago I found myself in the West Village with some time to kill while my takeout was being made. Since life is always uncertain, I decided to eat dessert first. Across the street was Cones, a purported purveyor of delicacy ice cream and sorbet. (Yeah, you know where this review is going.)

The shop was opened in 1988 by two Argentinean brothers who apparently wanted to create delicious sorbet and ice cream. Or so said the reviews hanging in the window. Consider, for example, this glowing review from the Village Voice:

The current best ice in the city is found at Cones (272 Bleecker Street, 414-1795), that elite purveyor of the city's most expensive frozen treats. The sparkling and alarmingly acidic grapefruit is the only one that's worth the whopping $9 per pint, and I blush to admit my pint-a-week habit.

"Summer in the City Food & Drinks" by Robert Sietsema, Village Voice, 25 May 2002

I walked in and discovered that the floors had just been mopped, with a deliciously strong odor of porn-shop disinfectant. I was lost in reverie for a moment, thinking of my fond memories of the deuce before Adolf Screwliani disneyfied it. Anyway, the glowing reviews overcame the stench, which, it turns out, was a mistake.

Now, I said earlier that Cones "apparently wanted to create" a quality product because that's what the reviews in the window proclaimed; my experience say they were trying to create something not as good as Hagen Daaz at a whoppingly huge premium the better to sucker people in the West Village with more money than taste. But, back to the sorbet. I chose raspberry and lemon. The raspberry was not particularly flavorful and was loaded with seeds. Seeds! The lemon wasn't flavorful and had no lemon zest. Yeah, it was better than the cheap artifical crap you'll get from most restaurants, but only marginally so. Service was perfunctory. I wasn't impressed overall, and it cost me around five bucks for two small scoops. (Ahhh, the sacrifices and depredations I endure so that you, the loyal reader, can get accurate reviews.)

Business Card for Cones

Name: Cones
Location: 272 Bleecker Street
between Morton and Jones Street)
Manhattan
Phone: 212.414.1795
Taste: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Decor: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Service: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Value: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

If you want quality sorbet from a store, you gotta go to NYC ICY in the East Village; over twice the quality at about half the price. (I'll write them up presently. The only advantage Cones has is they'll do flavor mixing, which is a strict no-no at NYC ICY.) But for real quality you have to get yourself an ice cream maker and brew up your own. I've done this, and let me tell you, it's truly awesome. I made raspberry sorbet using a pack of frozen berries and sugar, and it was intensely flavorful and, overall, simply amazing. But, suppose, for the sake of argument, you don't want to walk to the East Village and you don't have the time or motivation to prepare you own. Then I suggest you go to your local supermarket and buy a premium brand commercial sorbet. You'll get a whole pint for the price of two small scoops and you'll enjoy it a whole lot more.

Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridated water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, ice cream? Ice cream, Mandrake. Children's ice cream?

— General Jack D. Ripper, Dr. Strangelove

Drunker than Cooter Brown

Cooter or Turtle

Cooter (Not Drunk)

People who grew up in the south often use a variety of expressions to describe intoxication or drug-induced befuddlement. One of them is "Drunk(High) as Cooter Brown" or "Drunk(High) as Cooty Brown":

Drunk as Cooter Brown; drunker than Cooter Brown -- Very drunk indeed. Who the proverbial Cooter Brown is no one seems to know, but this may have originally been a black expression from the Carolinas. 'In Texas we'd call him drunker than Cooter Brown.'

Whistlin' Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions by Robert Hendrickson

DRUNK AS COOTER BROWN - adj. phrase. Also "drunk as Cooter, ~ Cooty Brown. Chiefly South. Very intoxicated. "This is a Black expression very familiar to the informant, who is from New Jersey. She says it is current and, so far as she knows, it 'came up with the Blacks from the Carolinas.' She thinks it probably derives from some proverbial drunkard."

Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume 1 by Frederic G. Cassidy

A peculiar expression, indeed. Wherever could it have originated? One confabulated explanation has it that during the Civil War, a man named Cooter Brown had family on both sides. Not wanted to fight for either North or South he stayed drunk for the entire war. This is, of course, ludicrous as he would have been drafted by the first side to find him and thrown in the brig for a few days to sober up.

A more likely derivation is from "cooter," the slang term for a turtle. Another spelling is "coota." The derivation seems to be the West African words "kuta," "nkuda," or "kuts," all meaning a turtle. (I wrote up a similar influence of West African language on southern slang in my entry on the origins of the phrase shotgun shack.)

Now, what does it mean to be as drunk as a turtle? Slow, lumbering, unable to perform any complicated task. It may not make a lot of sense, but it's the best explanation I've seen.

"A gang of villains profoundly skilled
in Pneumatic Chemistry."

Sign for "Air Loom Tomato"

I shot this last summer at the Union Square Greenmarket. (You Say Tomato, I say Tomahto... but Dan Quayle Says "Air Loom Tomato." Or, more accurately, "Air Loom Tomatoe.")

Bedlam means "mad confusion." Dating to 1667, the word is eponymous, being the vernacular's corruption of "Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem", a lunatic asylum in London. (St. Mary's is one of the oldest, having been founded in 1247 as a priory, used to a hospital circa 1330, and then converted into a lunatic asylum — the original British term — in 1402. The state assumed control over it in 1547. The original, and archaic, bastardization was "Bedlem", which later morphed into "Bedlam".) This wasn't a nice place to be sent to, especially if you were being victimized by the Air Loom Gang:

His patient's name was James Tilly Matthews, and his view of the world had by this point become one of the strangest ever recorded in the annals of psychiatry. Haslam's account is still acknowledged as the first example in history of the now-familiar notion of mind control by an 'influencing machine'. For everyone who has since had messages beamed at them through fillings, mysterious implants or TV sets, or via hi-tech surveillance, MI5, Masonic lodges or UFOs, James Tilly Matthews is Patient Zero.

Matthews was convinced that outside the grounds of Bedlam, in a basement cellar by London Wall, a gang of villains were controlling and tormenting his mind with diabolical rays. They were using a machine called an 'Air Loom', of which Matthews was able to draw immaculate technical diagrams, and which combined recent developments in gas chemistry with the strange force of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. It incorporated keys, levers, barrels, batteries, sails, brass retorts and magnetic fluid, and worked by directing and modulating magnetically charged air currents, rather as the stops of an organ modulate its tones. It ran on a mixture of foul substances, including 'spermatic-animal-seminal rays', 'effluvia of dogs' and 'putrid human breath', and its discharges of magnetic fluid were focused to deliver thoughts, feelings and sensations directly into Matthews' brain. There were many of these mind-control settings, all classified by vivid names: 'fluid locking', 'stone making', 'thigh talking', 'lobster-cracking', 'bomb-bursting', and the dreaded 'brain-saying', whereby thoughts were forced into his brain against his will. To facilitate this process, the gang had implanted a magnet into his head. As a result of the Air Loom, Matthews was tormented constantly by delusions, physical agonies, fits of laughter and being forced to parrot whatever nonsense they chose to feed into his head. No wonder some people thought he was mad.

"The Air Loom Gang: James Tilly Matthews and his Visionary Madness" by Mike Jay, Strangeness, 3 July 2003

And in the plus ca change category:

On the basis of this testimony [that he was not mad, that his symptoms were those of a man wrongfully confined, and that he posed no threat to others], Matthews' family brought a writ of Habeas Corpus against Bedlam, forcing the governors to state their precise legal reasons for holding him. They produced a stack of affidavits from other doctors contradicting Clutterbuck and Birkbeck's testimony, but the case eventually turned on a letter from Lord Liverpool, who insisted that Matthews was a dangerous lunatic who should be confined in perpetuity. So the writ failed, but on grounds which suggested that Matthews' alleged lunacy was irrelevant: he was effectively, though apparently unconstitutionally, being confined as a state prisoner.

"The Air Loom Gang: James Tilly Matthews and his Visionary Madness" by Mike Jay, Strangeness, 3 July 2003
TitleThe Air Loom Gang: The Strange and True Story of James Tilly Matthews and His Visionary Madness
AuthorMike Jay
ISBN1568582978
PublisherFour Walls Eight Windows

Cover for "Air Loom Gang"

In some apartment near London Wall, there is a gang of villains profoundly skilled in Pneumatic Chemistry.

— John Haslam, Illustrations of Madness, 1810, Page 1

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "The Air Loom Gang" talk by Mike Jay, Isle of Wight Fortean Society, 29 July 2004
  2. "The Air Loom Gang" Mike Jay, Four Walls Eight Windows (publisher)
  3. "Genius Of Bedlam" by Paul Collins, review in Village Voice, 5 April 2004

Yo Momma Cooks Like a Whore

"Puttanesca" by Jared Gutekunst

"Puttanesca" by Jared Gutekunst, 2003, Oil on Canvas, 24"x36"

Cookery simulates the disguise of medicine, and pretends to know what food is the best for the body; and if the physician and the cook had to enter into a competition in which children were the judges, or men who had no more sense than children, as to which of them best understands the goodness or badness of food, the physician would be starved to death. A flattery I deem this to be and of an ignoble sort...

— Socrates, "Gorgias" by Plato

Pasta puttananesca is a staple of Italian cooking. It is one of those dishes that is so hard to screw up that even a mediocre restaurant can do a passable job. The name "puttananesca" is is derived from the Italian "puttana", literally "whore". (I suspect it is a dish the more prudish eschew entirely or order only by pointing, lest their lips be sullied with the word.) The dish is simple: tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, capers, basil, oregano, and a little olive oil. Some like black olives, cut in half, but I'm not normally a fan of vegetables so indebile they must be first soaked in lye. Others add pignolis — pine nuts — which I find to be a distraction, although I do adore them in spicy Chinese cuisine. But this has nothing to do with the name.

Various stories purport to relate how the dish was named, and each has varying degrees of credibility. One has it that the dish could be quickly prepared by sex workers in between clients. Another is that it's spicy nature inflamed the passions like a lady of sin. Yet another is that the wafting ordor was used to lure in clients, as an appetizer to what was to come. The last one, of a more practical nature, is that the working girls in the state-owned brothels could only do their shopping once a week — to avoid offending the "respectable" women in the marketplace — and needed ingredients that would keep. So which should we believe? Maybe none of them.

Personally, I don't hold with the feeding clients beforehand. As every woman knows, after eating a huge plate of carbs, men fall asleep. Some even snore. But even without the nap and the snoring, there certainly ain't gonna be no carnal activities until that blood sugar spike wears off. (The argument that nobody wants a lover with garlic breath doesn't hold water, because if both parties eat it nobody can smell the wonderous perfume of the allium.) As far as shopping once a week, it makes no sense as one cannot live on sauce and carbs, and Italians always eat a great deal of fresh vegetables. But why ruin a good explanation, especially when it can be delivered with so much poetry:

Legend has it Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, or whore-ish pasta originated from the state run brothels in 1950’s Italy. Unlike most respectable Italian ladies who went out everyday for fresh groceries, these women went out once a week to do their errands. Consequently their larders were stocked with basic ingredients that kept well. Like braids of garlic, cans of salty anchovies olives, boxes of pasta and long-lasting parsley.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is a full-on encounter with some willful ingredients. Garlic, capers, black olives, anchovies and parsley make a brash sauce that works by intensity but doesn’t know when to quit. Its scent sashays around well after the meal is over and the dishes are put away. It doesn’t catch on to the polite clues that dinner is over and the day is done. Turn off the kitchen lights and you’ll smell capers, close the curtains - there’s parsley in the folds. Open the closet door and anchovies in olive oil spill out.

Puttanesca loiters. It’s the morning breath of stale garlic and oily olives. It’s last night’s mini dress in high heels greeting you while you’re still in your pajamas having a cuppa-joe. Fresh newsprint, toast and eggs don’t stand a chance. It needs a swift kick in the ass but the only thing you can do to escape and clear out is open the windows and rinse with Listerine. It’ll eventually go. And when it’s gone - you’ll want it back. It’s that good. Regardless of its virtue or vice - Puttanesca is quick and dirty, unforgettable and persistent.

"Spaghetti alla Puttanesca", by Ali Berlow, A Cook's Notebook, WCAI broadcast, 5 March 5 2003

It's an easy dish to make. (Yes, you could just buy pre-made puttanesca in a jar, but it is so easy to make, and so much tastier when made so that the capers and basil haven't been cooked into oblivion, that there's no reason not to make it yourself.) Now I suppose should regale you with tales of cooking down whole tomatoes from those huge tins of the imported Italian whole variety, slaving over a hot stove like some widowed Italian grandmother in black, but I won't. I'm a busy lad so I don't cook my sauce from scratch. Shocking, yes, but true. Instead, I start with a good marinara base — usually either Rao's or Patsy's — and add anchovies, capers, fresh basil and fresh oregano. (What, you don't have basil and oregano plants on your windowsill? And you didn't have the forsight during the summer to wash, dry, and wrap individual portions of basil and oregano in plastic wrap so you could pop them into your freezer until needed? That's sooooo sad! What kind of chef are you?) Some add sun-dried tomatoes — chopped fine so they disperse evenly, giving an extra tomatoey burst of flavor — or fire-roasted pappers.

Cook the anchovies in, so that they disintegrate completely, then, when you're close to being done, add the basil and oregano, and add the capers a few minutes before you serve the dish, so that they get cooked but don't get mushy or lose their flavor. Smaller capers are tastier, but cost a little more. (Takes more of them to make a pound. Don't save your pennies here, though. The cost differential is a dollar or so per bottle, and you'll get a few meals from each jar.) If you have fresh basil leaves, garnish each plate with a few of those. Put it over a pasta with lots of nooks and crannies to hold the sauce, like rotelli or fusilli. But you can also use tortellini, ravioli, or just about any other pasta. (Even the lowly linguini.)

Mmmmm. Now I've gone and made myself hungry. Except I don't eat pasta much anymore. (Pastry, pie, and muffins are a much tastier way to get one's carbs.) But the sauce is also excellent over fish.

Pasta Puttanesca

Regardless of its virtue or vice - Puttanesca is quick and dirty, unforgettable and persistent.

"Spaghetti alla Puttanesca", by Ali Berlow, A Cook's Notebook, WCAI broadcast, 5 March 2003

Haggis, Tatties & Neeps (Oh My!)

Wallace Sword - Full Length

Och, laddies and lassies, ya dinna ken tha Tartan Day celebration is a happenin' in New York? Whot kind a Scotsman, are ye? (I actually think it's a lot like St. Patrick's day when everyone gets to be honorary Irish, at least for the corned beef sandwiches and pub crawl part.) As part of the Tartan Week celebration, which culminated in a rained-out parade on Saturday, William Wallace's sword was at the Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central for the celebrations. (2nd to the 10th, 11am until 8pm.) This is the first time the sword has left Scotland in more than 700 years — ever since the British murdered Wallace. (No Geneva convention back then. Oh, wait. No Geneva convention now! Bush repealed it. Forgot!)

I had been looking forward to the parade filled with bagpipes and hearing claidheamhmor pronounced with that delightful burr. (I picked up a taste for bagpipes in highschool since we had a Scottish marching band. Nothing like the sound of a cat being squeezed in ways it doesn't like.)

Anyway, the torrential rains dissuaded me from going to the parade since it seemed that not much was going to happen. I did go to Grand Central see the Wallace sword — I'm not going to Scotland anytime soon — where I met several Scotsman — in kilts with delightful burrs! — who told me there was a tiny parade segment during a lull in the rain followed by celebrations with single malts at pubs. (You can see some of the pictures of participants in whatever the Scots call ponchos over at Campbell's NYC. Frame site, so I can't link directly. Just pick "Photos->Tartan Day 2005->Tartan Day Parade.) They told me that the parade is always short, so if you plan to attend next year don't believe the Website that says it runs from 2-4 pm; the true time is more like 2-2:30 pm. When I commented that they'd come a long way for such bad weather they said, "Oh, we live here. In Queens." (Who knew?)

Wallace Sword - Pommel

The sword wasn't worth a trip from anywhere, unless you're a military buff or someone who really hates the English. Or maybe if you are a huge fan of Braveheart. (Isn't everyone off Gibson films ever since The Passion?) I'm none of these, but odd bits of history interest me. One of the docents told me that the leather handle is an Englishman's face killed by Wallace in battle. I spent a bit of time with your friend and mine Google, but I couldn't verify this. Closest I came was that Wallace reportedly had an opponent's skin tanned and made into a belt. But who knows how true any 700 year old story really is, anyway.

The blade is very thin and weighs around five pounds. Swords had to be easy to wield, lest their owner be killed by a more agile adversary. Hard to believe that wars hinged upon, and so many men died, at the hands of such wispy, insubstantial blades nearly as big as their owners. (Remember, people were short because of poor nutrition.) The blades are frightfully sharp, though.

Wallace Sword - Guard

I've read that the cleighdemornach is not a weapon requiring much finesse. One landed blow would amputate limbs or cause such blood loss that death was guaranteed. It's also sharp enough to chop down a spear, which was the only weapon other than a sword posing a threat in hand-to-hand.

I'm a little bummed that it poured and I didn't get to hear bagpipes, but not at all bummed that I didn't eat any haggis. (Tastes offal!) Or tatties or neeps.

For those of you unfamiliar with the delights of Scottish "cooking" — I think there's a reason Scots were so eager to paint themselves blue and run buck naked into battle; they were fleeing dinner — Haggis is meat scraps, offal (lungs, heart, and liver), and ground oatmeal cooked in a sheep's stomach; Neeps are boiled, mashed, buttered and sugared turnips; and Tatties, well, those are mashed potatoes with milk (sometimes with nutmeg); and, finally, Orkney Clapshot which is Neeps, Tatties, and cheese, together in perfect disharmony. Yum! (Sometimes nutmeg is added to the potatoes and allspice to the turnips, and sometimes both are browned on the stove like hash; I have no idea if any of this tinkering could possibly be considered an improvement, but, after all, how could it make it worse?)

Oh, and for all of you vegetarians? There is a vegan haggis. (I mean, ok, but why would you want to make something that tasted like the original?)

So, for your Robbie Burns Day celebration, you might have a hard time finding a haggis here in the States (it's difficult to get them imported too; I understand that the USDA has declared them "unfit for human consumption" ...). Now you can make haggis yourself!

Our Beloved Haggis! The National Dish of Scotland

Unfit for human consumption? I think that's an understatement.

Fugu! Oh yeah? Fugu, you too, ya zombie!

DVD Coverfor Night of the Living Dead

Dennis Allen: What do you want?
Dargent Peytraud: I want to hear you scream, Doctor Allen.

The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1988

We talk about zombies all the time. For example, today I was saying that if one connects a machine to the Internet without a firewall, either hardware or software, it takes about 2.5 minutes before the machine is colonized and turned into a zombie to perform such tasks as deliver spam or initiate denial-of-service attacks. We also talk about how the Democrats have been turned into zombies that do the Republican's bidding. But, mommy, where do zombies come from? Well, that's an interesting question.

The word itself comes from the Bantu language Kimbundu, in northern Angola, and means ghost of the dead. (Various interpretations say it is an evil ghost or an ancestral ghost; my poor fluency in Kimbundu makes it difficult for me to know for sure.) As for the flesh-eating zombies, well, Virginia, these horrible creatures come from the red states and they suck up blue-state blood, I mean, money. An alternative explanation has them coming from Haiti where they are "manufactured" by witch doctors. (But we in the blue states know the truth!) And what is a zombie like? Well, it aint' pretty, folks. In 1927, William Seabrook, a journalist, wrote about Haitian zombies:

They were plodding like brutes. The eyes were the worst. It was not my imagination. They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind, but staring, unfocused, unseeing. The whole face, for that matter, was bad enough. It was vacant, as if there was nothing behind it. . . . For the flash of a second I had a sickening, almost panicky lapse in which I thought, or rather felt, "Great God, maybe this stuff is really true.". . . Then suddenly I remembered-and my mind seized the memory as a man sinking in water clutches a solid plank- the face of a dog I had once seen in the histological laboratory at Columbia. Its entire front brain had been removed in an experimental operation weeks before..."

William B. Seabrook, 1927, quoted in "Voodoo Research Topic Study Guide" (warning: you have to pay to read more than this)

There are a few hypotheses regarding the origins, but I'll start with the most famous one.

Wade Davis, a graduate student in ethnobotany at Harvard, was sent to Haiti at the request of his advisor to investigate a zombie story:

Davis was still working toward his Ph.D. when, in 1982, commissioned by a group including the psychiatrist Nathan Kline (a pioneer in the use of drugs for treatment of mental disorders) and the theatrical producer David Merrick, he traveled to Haiti to investigate legends of a "zombi poison." The so-called poison was supposedly made from human bones and parts of lizards, poisonous toads, sea worms, puffer fish, and other items; it was said to lower the metabolism of anyone who swallowed it and paralyze his or her vital functions, leaving the individual in a condition that could easily be mistaken for death. Davis's supporters believed that the drug might have important applications for anesthesiology and artificial hibernation (the latter considered potentially useful for controlling neurological diseases). Voodoo priests were rumored to use the drug on individuals during certain rituals; after burying the people alive, they would later "magically" revive them. This process was called zombification. (Voodoo is commonly thought of as a kind of black magic or sorcery; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines it as a "religion that is derived from African polytheism and ancestor worship and is practiced chiefly in Haiti.") "I think [voodoo sorcerers] probably see this poison as a support for what is essentially a magical belief," Davis told Carla Hall. "[A Haitian] is not made a zombie by a poison. He's made a zombie by a [voodoo priest's] capturing his soul."

Wade Davis, Current Biography Monthly Magazine, January 2003

It makes sense that pharmaceutical companies — and politicians — would be interested in any drug that turns someone into a mindless slave. Ok, ok, and any drug that might be a good anaesthetic. Now, the big case in zombies, and the one that attracted the interest of Davis' patrons, is Clairvius Narcisse:

When Clairvius Narcisse entered the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, he appeared to be suffering from malnutrition, high fever, and aches throughout his body. His condition deteriorated rapidly as he developed respiratory problems, became unresponsive, and then slipped into a coma. Two days later, on May 2, 1962, he was declared dead by two attending physicians. His sister, Angelina, identified the body, and another sister, Marie Claire, authenticated the death certificate by placing her fingerprint on it. The next day Angelina, Marie Claire, and the rest of the family buried Clairvius in a small cemetery near their village of l’Estere. Here the saga of Clairvius Narcisse should have ended, but 18 years later, in 1980, a shuffling, vacant-eyed man approached Angelina in the village marketplace and identified himself as her brother, Clairvius. His family and many villagers recognized him immediately, and he told them a fantastic tale of being dug up from his grave, beaten to his senses, and led away to work as a slave on a remote sugar plantation. Though surprised, the villagers accepted his story because they believed that the power of voodoo magic made such things possible. It was clear to then that Clairvius Narcisse had been a member of the living dead—a zombie.

"The Zombie Poison" by Clair G. Wood ChemMatters, October 1987

The problem is that nobody has ever verified that the "returned" Narcisse was actually whom he claimed to be, and his poorly-investigated story is the only one that gets trotted out as "proof" of zombies. But, back to Davis:

Davis claims there is a poisoned powder which causes the target person to fall into a death-like trance. It was to seek this drug that originally got Davis the assignment to track down the zombie poison. His sponsors reasoned that such a drug must exist, and if they could find it might have valuable pharmacological possibilities as an alternative to currently popular but unsafe anesthetics.

The great controversy which Davis' book has caused is mainly connected to his claim that the chemical tetrodotoxin, gotten from the puffer fish, is the primary active ingredient in this "zombie powder."

However, what seems to be universally missed by Davis' critics, or simply ignored, is his claim that the powder alone cannot adequately account for nor make a zombie. Davis describes the "set and setting" which is required for the powder to work. "...set, in these terms, is the individual's expectation of what the drug will do to him or her; setting is the environment--both physical and, in this case, social--in which the drug is taken." (p. 181.)

Thus the poison in the powder, which is a psycho-active drug (one whose effect is related to specific personal psychological factors), will have different effects depending on who one is, what one's socialization and expectations are. In the case of Haitian members of the Bizango sect, they have been socialized to recognize the possibility and process of zombification and are psychologically attuned to the appropriate effects of the drug, i.e. zombification.

Davis' book presents a strong hypothesis concerning the why of zombification. In a country so drastically poor as Haiti, with labor costs for farm hands only being about $1.00 a day, one cannot account for zombification on the grounds of seeking cheap labor. One might imagine zombification as a way to get at enemies, but the violence of Haiti's history suggests much simpler ways of solving that problem. Davis' hypothesis is perhaps attractive simply because it is so grand! He tells the story of a long history of secret societies stretching back into the earliest days of slavery. Escaped slaves, the maroons, living deep in the mountains, created an alternative society, more African than Western. These societies brought with them the remembered lore of Africa, including knowledge of the use of local poisons. The poisons were used as tools of social control within the maroon communities. After independence and the radical split between the life in the rural areas and the cities, these maroon social organizations became the secret Bizango societies, and zombification is, effectively, their death sentence for serious violations of the code of conduct required in Bizango.

Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis

Fugu Sushi

Fugu (Pufferfish) Sushi Being Prepared

Now, the active ingredient here is tetrodotoxin, a toxin produced by puffer fish. (Heard of fugu? That's pufferfish sushi and it has enough of the toxin left to give diners a tingling sensation on their lips and tongue. Yeah, playing with neurotoxins is fun, fun, FUN!) Anyway, tetrodotoxin is bad stuff. Really, really, really bad stuff. (Fortunately, it isn't being used as a bioweapon yet. I'm glad Homeland Insecurity is keeping us safe from badly prepared sushi.)

"The first symptom of intoxication is a slight numbness of the lips and tongue, appearing between 20 minutes to three hours after eating poisonous pufferfish. The next symptom is increasing paraesthesia in the face and extremities, which may be followed by sensations of lightness or floating. Headache, epigastric pain, nausea, diarrhea, and/or vomiting may occur. Occasionally, some reeling or difficulty in walking may occur. The second stage of the intoxication is increasing paralysis. Many victims are unable to move; even sitting may be difficult. There is increasing respiratory distress. Speech is affected, and the victim usually exhibits dyspnea, cyanosis, and hypotension. Paralysis increases and convulsions, mental impairment, and cardiac arrhythmia may occur. The victim, although completely paralyzed, may be conscious and in some cases completely lucid until shortly before death. Death usually occurs within 4 to 6 hours, with a known range of about 20 minutes to 8 hours."

FDA/CFSAN Bad Bug Book Tetrodotoxin

Cover for the Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis

TitleThe Serpent and the Rainbow
AuthorWade Davis
ISBN0684839296
PublisherSimon & Schuster

Having discovered the "recipe", Davis returned to the US and wrote a book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, about his alleged experiences in Haiti allegedly learning about the alleged creation of alleged zombies. (I say "alleged" based on criticisms. More on that in a bit.) The book was made into a truly atrocious movie, which isn't worth the price of a rental, nor the hour and a half out of your life. Davis and others claim that his findings regarding tetrodotoxin have been confirmed:

A powder prepared by Haitian voodoo sorcerers for the making of zombis was extracted with acetic acid, the extract concentrated and applied to a small cation exchange column followed by elution with water and then acetic acid. The water and acetic acid eluents were analysed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The analyses indicated the presence of an alkaline degradation product of tetrodotoxin, namely 2-amino-6-hydroxymethyl-8-hydroxyquinazoline, after base treatment, and of tetrodotoxin and an isomer on direct thermospray mass spectral activity.

Evidence for the presence of tetrodotoxin in a powder used in Haiti for zombification. by C. Benedek, L. Rivier, Toxicon., 1989;27(4):473-80

But all of this may just be a combination of gullability, naivete, and confabulation, perhaps mixed with a healthy dollop of outright scientific fraud.

Davis tells of providing samples of zombie powder to pathologist Leon Roizin, who tested them on rats. Roizin told him the animals became completely immobilized and unresponsive, though heartbeat and brainwaves were still detectable. After 24 hours the rats recovered, apparently without lingering effects. Davis never actually saw the creation of a zombie and concedes there is much about Haitian society he doesn't understand. But one might conclude that tetrodotoxin was the drug used to create zombies.

It ain't necessarily so. Davis's hypothesis has been bitterly disputed by other scientists. Two experts on tetrodotoxin, C.Y. Kao and Takeshi Yasumoto, tested two of his samples and found they contained only a minute amount of it, too little to have any pharmacological effect. They also condemned Davis for his involvement in grave robbing. According to an account of the controversy in the journal Science, Davis himself fed zombie powder to rats without result, a fact not cited in his books. Roizin never repeated his experiments, published his results, or determined what was in the samples he was given. In the Science article he was quoted as saying he was "embarrassed" by his involvement in the affair.

How do I go about creating a zombie?, Straight Dope, 21 May 1999

Cover for Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis

TitlePassage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie
AuthorWade Davis
ISBN0807842109
PublisherUniversity of North Caroline Press

Davis subsequently wrote a second book on Haiti and zombies, Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, which didn't clarify things at all. The basic problem here is not only may the voodoo powder be fictional, but so, Virginia, may be zombies themselves:

Belief in zombis is widespread in Haiti and in many communities there are individuals who are considered to be zombis not only by their neighbours but even their families. Indeed the phenomenon is taken so seriously the Haitian Penal Code considers making someone into a zombi as a form of murder.

But in a paper in this week's The Lancet, two researchers, professor Roland Littlewood of the department of anthropology and psychiatry at London's University College and Dr. Chavannes Douyon of the Polyclinique Medica in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, conclude many so-called zombies may in fact be individuals with psychiatric disorders or brain damage.

In their study, the researchers report on three individuals who were considered to be zombis by their families and neighbours. They found the first individual appeared to have a severe psychiatric condition called catatonic schizophrenia, which can make a person mute and immobile; the second to have brain damage and epilepsy, perhaps due to an episode of oxygen starvation of the brain; and the third individual, a severe learning disability, perhaps due to fetal-alcohol syndrome.

Zombis May Not Be What They're Reputed To Be

Haiti: Serpent and Rainbow and Passage and Ethnobiology of Haitian Zombie

"The most recent writing on zombies is a curious mixture of sensationalism and scholarship--and much of the scholarship is questionable. As a doctoral student in botany at Harvard University, Wade Davis investigated the ethnobotany of zombification in Haiti. Although he spent relatively little time there and spoke no Creole, Davis had the apparent good fortunate to come across some informants who give him information on the potions used by Voodoo sorcerers to poison people. Davis thought that he had discovered the active ingredient in the poison, tetrodotoxin, and wrote an academic article on his findings in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 1983, as well as a Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard University--with some of his conclusions written before the laboratory results were in.

Not everyone, however, accepted these conclusions. In fact, C. Y. Kao, a pharmacologist at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center and an authority on tetrodotoxin, is quoted on page 7 of the January 1989 issue of Discover characterizing Davis's research as "a carefully planned, premeditated case of scientific fraud." An article by Kao and his associate Takashi Yasumoto in a 1986 issue of the journal Toxicon pointed out that the amounts of tetrodotoxin in the zombie portions is insignificant.

As if his pharmacological conclusions were not controversial enough, Davis wrote a overheated and fictionalized book about his time in Haiti that reads like the first draft for a Hollywood movie with Davis himself as an Indiana-Jones-type hero. This book, titled The Serpent and the Rainbow, did, indeed, become the basis for the latest Hollywood insult to Haiti, a movie of the same title released to theaters on February 5, 1988, and appropriately made by the director of "A Nightmare on Elm Street.""

Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis

"In June, 1989 I attended a seminar in Port-au-Prince on zombification. During the discussion I raised the question to the 40 or so people in attendance, had any one of them every seen a zombie "bab pou bab," the Haitian equivalent of face to face. Everyone had. So I randomly questioned one person about her experience. It turned out it wasn't she herself who had seen the zombie, but her first cousin. The next person hadn't actually met a zombie, but his aunt had. Someone else's father, another's best friend and so on around the room. In the end not one single person was able to tell a tale of having actually, personally been face to face with a zombie.

Are there really zombies in Haiti? Wade Davis devotes two long sections to this question. He first looks at the popular views and then explores cases where there have been some attempts to carefully and more scientifically determine the status of suspected cases. His key candidate for zombiehood is Clairvius Narcisse. In spring, 1962 Narcisse "died" at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti. His death was verified by the hospital staff. 18 years later Narcisse turned up alive and well, and claimed to be an escaped zombie."

Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis

My personal take on all this is that Davis is either delusional or lying. Tetrodotoxin has been thoroughly studied, especially in cases of fugu poisoning, and it's effects do not vary according to one's "cultural background". Survival is also dependent on modern hospital technique, not leaving people comatose in a crushed-in coffin after being buried alive.

After reading all that, if you were still inclined to have some fugu here are some guidelines.

* Always call the restaurant in advance and make a reservation; a skilled itamae who knows how to prepare fugu is hard to find, and may come to the restaurant just to prepare the fugu for you.

* Beware of a restaurant that will prepare fugu for you without a reservation unless you're a regular patron.

...

* Can you feel your tongue? No? Stop eating immediately and call the ambulance.

...

* Tip the itamae generously. You will notice that he is much older (and presumably experienced) than other sushi chefs you might have run into. In fact, avoid eating fugu from a itamae who looks younger than forty. Experience is a friend of caution in this case.

Sushi-Eating HowTo by Eugene Ciurana

Think about that, boys and girls, the next time you feel you are being daring by ordering white-tuna sushi. Oh, and if you want to get fugu, there are places in the city offering it. (They don't advertise, though, and you may have to be Japanese to get in.) Be careful with the tetrodotoxin, though — it's a killer.

Lest you go away thinking that CitizenArcane has debunked all the mystery in the world, or is not educational, here's how you can make your very own zombie:

Ingredients

Creme de Almond: 0.5 oz.
Rum (Light): 1 oz.
Rum (Overproof/151 Proof): 0.5 oz.
Triple Sec: 0.5 oz.
Orange Juice: 1.5 oz.
Sour Mix: 1.5 oz.
Cherries/Maraschinos: 1 whole
Glass to Use: Collins glass

Mixing Instructions

Shake everything except the 151 rum in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a collins glass over ice and float the 151 on top. Garnish with a cherry.

Drink Nations' Guide to Making Zombies

Zombie Glass for Drinks

Oh, and you'll have to get your own skull mug if you want it to be authentic, though.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. Wade Davis, Current Biography Monthly Magazine, January 2003
  2. Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis
  3. Professor Robert Corbett's Review of Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis
  4. FDA/CFSAN Bad Bug Book Tetrodotoxin
  5. How do I go about creating a zombie?, Straight Dope, 21 May 1999
  6. Zombis May Not Be What They're Reputed To Be
  7. Evidence for the presence of tetrodotoxin in a powder used in Haiti for zombification. by C. Benedek, L. Rivier, Toxicon., 1989;27(4):473-80
  8. Sushi-Eating HowTo by Eugene Ciurana
  9. Drink Nations' Guide to Making Zombies

Malt Does More Than Milton Can…

Zymurgy Magazine

Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

— A.E. Houseman, "A Shropshire Lad"

My comment on Marmite being the first legitimate zymurgy posting resulted in a few queries about the zymurgy category and why I have one. (But none about why I have an "aardvark" category. Go figure.) Anyway, here's what the OED has to say:

zymurgy (noun) Chem Biochem the branch of applied chemistry dealing with the use of fermentation in brewing etc. Etymology: Greek zume leaven, on the pattern of metallurgy.

Oxford English Dictionary

And, no, in case you were wondering, I don't do homebrewing and never liked beer. (I just like showing off.) I've seen the Houseman quote butchered on t-shirts on St. Marks that say, "Beer does more than Milton can, To justify God's ways to man." You'll find them between the "Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck" and "Do I Look Like A Fucking People Person?" shirts.

Marmite, Vegemite & Promite (Oh My!)

Marmite Fan

Buying bread from a man in brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, do you speak-a my language?
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

"Down Under", Men At Work

Marmite is a disgusting, noxious blend of yeast residue left over after fermenation, salt, and vegetable flavors. (No, I am so not making this up.) It tastes, well, like salty chemical waste. As a skilled chef, I am absolutely befuddled that people will eat Marmite when they could eat actual food. Besides the British who created Marmite, nobody eats this stuff except for the Australians. They like it so much they created two homegrown alternatives: Promite and Vegemite. Comparisons may show the products have a slightly different taste, but I doubt this matters except to fans.

Marmite Jar (front)

People simply binned the by-products of brewing before they knew any better.

History of Marmite, Marmite.com

Uh, no, they binned it because they knew it wasn't food. Even Marmite's manufacturer admits not everyone likes this glop:

Ever taken a good look at engine grease? Like a real up-close look? Ever compared the two? A pot of Marmite and a thick scraping of burnt oil? Exactly.

Birth of Marmite, Marmite.com

Marmite Jar (back)

But that's not the best part. It seems that Marmite is running television ads — what better way to attract people to eat axle grease that tastes like it's made from ebola cadavers — that cause children to need therapy:

LONDON (Reuters) - A Marmite advert that parodied 1950's science fiction film "The Blob" has been banned from all childrens' programmes in Britain after leaving kids too scared to watch television, the advertising watchdog has said.

Two Marmite adverts featured a giant brown blob rolling along a crowded street, terrifying some people who tried to flee while others ran towards it with delight.

The advert ended with Marmite's slogan: "You either love it or hate it".

"Marmite blob ad 'terrified' children", Reuters, 16 March 2005

Oh, and this posting is a historic occasion; it is the first legitimate posting in the zymurgy category. (What a truly frabjous day this is!) I'll leave it as an exercise to debate whether or not that was why I posted it. Ok, I won't leave it as an exercise. It wasn't. I just noticed it when I was checking off categories, that's all. (And, technically, it isn't the first legitimate one. The Starck beer package was really the first, but it was borderline.)

Sushi or Maki, But No Sashimi

Salmon Roll Pillow

Salmon Roll Pillow

There's nothing like a huge plate of sushi to make you sleepy. (Must be all the carbs.) Now, there's the perfect pillow to use for your after-sushi nap.

Salmon Roll Pillow

California Roll Pillow

"A Slow Moving, Bipedal Source of Protein"
(Miaow! Crunch! Slurp! Purrrr…)

Field Museum diorama with Tsavo man-eating lions

Tsavo man-eating lions in diorama at The Field Museum

People remain fascinated with man-eating cats, likely because the closest we come is when a furry monster chews on our ears to wake us up for food. Ok, ok. It's because there are few creatures able to prey on man and, as the top of the food chain, we naturally have a primal fascination with them. The famous case of the man-eating Tsavo lions — reputed to have eaten over a hundred railway workers — was traditionally explained by the belief that "injured" lions attack humans because of an inability to hunt other prey. That view turns out to be wrong; they hunt us because humans are tasty:

First, the Tsavo lions were not 'aberrant'. Lions and other big cats have repeatedly turned to man-eating in the face of certain conditions, many of which are manmade. Furthermore, man-eating by lions continues today.

"For most of their history, extinct and living humans, have represented little more than a vulnerable, slow moving, bipedal source of protein for big cats," says Julian Kerbis Peterhans, associate professor of Natural Science at Roosevelt University, Field Museum adjunct curator and co-author of a study on man-eating by lions recently published in the Journal of East African Natural History

Legend has it that in 1898, two Tsavo lions killed at least 135 workers constructing a bridge in Kenya, temporarily stopping the construction of a railroad linking Lake Victoria with the port of Mombasa. Lt. Col. John Patterson eventually killed the lions, which are now on exhibit at The Field Museum, Chicago.

...

In a few well-documented, localized incidents, man-eating appears to be a learned behavior. Once lions establish a pattern and begin to prey regularly on humans, they can pass it on to their offspring, along with sophisticated strategies and techniques, such as never returning to the same place two days in a row.

"Lions are a social species, capable of transmitting a behavioural tradition from one generation to the next," Kerbis says. "The fact that they can be born and raised to hunt and eat humans means that an outbreak of man-eating usually does not stop until all the responsible lions and their offspring are eliminated."

Further supporting this view is the fact that man-eating incidents in Tsavo did not begin with the arrival of railway crews, nor did they end with the destruction of the notorious lion coalition. The authors document killings by lions in Tsavo for several years prior to the arrival of Col. Patterson. Killings continued regularly through WWI when soldiers were picked off on patrol. All of this points to a man-eating culture among Tsavo lions, a phenomenon rarely documented.

Field Museum uncovers evidence behind man-eating; revises legend of its infamous man-eating lions

But back to 1898. The problem of midnight snacking on the railway workers because so severe that a big-game hunter was called in to take care of the situation. The real issue wasn't dead workers, but the delay in the schedule, or shed-ule as the British pronounce it. (The outsourced Indian workers were highly affordable, and there was a large supply of new ones to replace those designated as appetizers by lions.) Colonel Patterson was the man selected for the job; he later wrote a book about his experience:

UNFORTUNATELY this happy state of affairs did not continue for long, and our work was soon interrupted in a rude and startling manner. Two most voracious and insatiable man-eating lions appeared upon the scene, and for over nine months waged an intermittent warfare against the railway and all those connected with it in the vicinity of Tsavo. This culminated in a perfect reign of terror in December, 1898, when they actually succeeded in bringing the railway works to a complete standstill for about three weeks. At first they were not always successful in their efforts to carry off a victim, but as time went on they stopped at nothing and indeed braved any danger in order to obtain their favourite food. Their methods then became so uncanny, and their man-stalking so well-timed and so certain of success, that the workmen firmly believed that they were not real animals at all, but devils in lions' shape. Many a time the coolies solemnly assured me that it was absolutely useless to attempt to shoot them. They were quite convinced that the angry spirits of two departed native chiefs had taken this form in order to protest against a railway being made through their country, and by stopping its progress to avenge the insult thus shown to them.

...

I had only been a few days at Tsavo when I first heard that these brutes had been seen in the neighbourhood. Shortly afterwards one or two coolies mysteriously disappeared, and I was told that they had been carried off by night from their tents and devoured by lions. At the time I did not credit this story, and was more inclined to believe that the unfortunate men had been the victims of foul play at the hands of some of their comrades. They were, as it happened, very good workmen, and had each saved a fair number of rupees, so I thought it quite likely that some scoundrels from the gangs had murdered them for the sake of their money. This suspicion, however, was very soon dispelled. About three weeks after my arrival, I was roused one morning about daybreak and told that one of my jemadars, a fine powerful Sikh named Ungan Singh, had been seized in his tent during the night, and dragged off and eaten.

Naturally I lost no time in making an examination of the place, and was soon convinced that the man had indeed been carried off by a lion, as its "pug" marks were plainly visible in the sand, while the furrows made by the heels of the victim showed the direction in which he had been dragged away. Moreover, the jemadar shared his tent with half a dozen other workmen, and one of his bedfellows had actually witnessed the occurrence. He graphically described how, at about midnight, the lion suddenly put its head in at the open tent door and seized Ungan Singh -- who happened to be nearest the opening -- by the throat. The unfortunate fellow cried out "Choro" ("Let go"), and threw his arms up round the lion's neck. The next moment he was gone, and his panic-stricken companions lay helpless, forced to listen to the terrible struggle which took place outside. Poor Ungan Singh must have died hard; but what chance had he? As a coolie gravely remarked, "Was he not fighting with a lion?"

The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures by Lieut.-Col. J. H. Patterson, D.S.O., Chapter 2 Without Images
With Images

Colonel Patterson with dead lion

Lt. Col. John Patterson with dead lion

As expected, the lion proved no match for a high-powered rifle in the hands of an expert marksman. The story was filled with such drama — cowed dark-skinned natives, fearless white hunter, vicious lions — that Hollywood couldn't resist. The result was the first 3D movie — Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack.

Movie poster for Bwana Devil

Movie Poster for Bwana Devil

The movie was, well, not very good. It certainly has not stood the test of time. Here's one of the kinder comments about it:

Bwana Devil is reputedly the first major studio, full length feature filmed entirely in the 3D process. Supposedly producer Oboler went to Africa to shoot a different movie, but after hearing the tale of two man-eating lions, terrorizing railway builders, decided on this one. It's a good story too, almost Hemmingway-like; fear, redemption, the great white hunter and all. It's the telling of the story that seems to drag, almost as though filming in the new process was too weighty for the crew. The action scenes are stiff, almost too staged. But these technical problems appear small in light of the film's dramatic conclusion.

Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) is a remake of Bwana Devil starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer as lion hunters. I've seen both movies and I think the 1996 remake is the better movie, even if it isn't strictly true to the story.

The lions ended up at The Field Museum where there is an online exhibit. Notice how the lions lack manes but Hollywood added them.

Sources and Further Reading

  1. The Tsavo Man-Eaters
  2. Tsavo Maneater Resources or The Ghost and the Darkness, the true story!
  3. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
  4. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
  5. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by Russell Smith
  6. The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Design That’s Stark. Errr, Starck.

Philippe Starck's package design for Kronenbourg Beer

Philippe Starck's Package Design for Kronenbourg Beer

The designer Philippe Starck has created a very clever beer bottle for Kronenbourg:

For his new collaboration with Kronenbourg, Philippe Starck has designed this new bottle of french premium beer. His goal was to put elegance in drinking to the bottle. For this, he choosed the champain glass shape. The transparency of the glass was to show the beer, good and healthy product with nothing to hide. The other new idea was to add a cork to the bottle the way to keep it, if needed. This bottle is only available in a selection of hype bars, restaurants and hotels.

OBJECTS by, the online store of Philippe Starck

Philippe Starck's bottle for Kronenbourg Beer

Philippe Starck's bottle for Kronenbourg Beer

The package features a special ink, since image and presentation are more important, of course, than the underlying quality of the beer:

The can is decorated with a new ink developed by Crown specifically for the project. The silver ink creates a 'pearl-like' quality when rotated under light. The resulting effect adds a luxury appeal to the already successful brand. "We adopted a promotional can with a crisp, modern look to reflect the high-quality of beer inside the package. The elegant visual appeal of our new can effectively reinforces the premium brand image of Kronenbourg 1664," explained the marketing manager at Brasseries Kronenbourg.

"Promo Lager Can's Pearl-Like Ink" in Packtalk

While Starck created a simple, clean package, he may have been picked for reasons other than pure design skills:

I venture that plenty of people are likely to buy his products purely for the Starck brand - itself a useful marketing tool.

"What can I do?" he protests. "I am concerned. But I hope that my tribe is a smart tribe. I want to be the last barometer of the product. If people buy just because of my name, I regret it."

Starck adds that he works for both extremes of the monetary spectrum, and that his work for "wealthy clients" allows him greater freedom to design for the masses.

But this formula hasn't always proved successful. Starck's affordable collection for US discount retailer Target was discontinued after a season.Target has been vague about its demise. Starck claims that design was "not in their DNA".

Nonetheless,the Starck brand is growing at a phenomenal pace. The designer claims that studies have shown that when the word `Starck' is slapped on a product, its sales rise by 45 per cent.

Interview with Philippe Starck

But if you want one for your collection, best act fast:

The promotional cans will be available in supermarkets throughout France until the end of the year. The group has not announced any plans to use the new can beyond that time.

Beverage Daily

Worth a Dime, Costs a Nickle

Pepsi-Cola sign saying "Worth a Dime, Costs a Nickle"

Trying to wrap one's head around the buying power of a dollar in different time periods is never easy:

Determining the relative value of an amount of money in one year compared to another is more complicated than it seems at first. There is no single "correct" measure, and economic historians use one or more different series depending on the context of the question.

Most indices are measured as the price of a "bundle" of goods and services that a representative group buys or earns. Over time the bundle changes; for example, carriages are replaced with automobiles, and new goods and services are created such as cellular phones and heart transplants.

These considerations do not stop the fascination with these comparisons or even the necessity for them. For example, such comparisons may be critical to determine appropriate levels of compensation in a legal case that has been deferred. The context of the question, however, may lead to a preferable measure and that measure may not be the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used far too often without thought to its consequences.

The example below of what Babe Ruth's salary was "worth" can demonstrate this point. His earnings had a "purchasing power" in today's price of a million dollars, but he could not purchase any effective cure for cancer. However, if the question was how to compare his salary with that of a current super star such as Tiger Woods or Barry Bonds, using Ruth's wage compared to an unskilled worker, the average income or the percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) he earned gives comparable numbers.

"What is its Relative Value in U.S. Dollars" from the Economic History Services

So let's put it in context by considering one of the most famous ad jingles (listen) of all time. That would be the 1939 ad from Pepsi-Cola touting the benefits of their "superior" formulation of sugar water:

At about the same time Pepsi-Cola launched what was to become one of the most famous jingles ever written. "Nickle, Nickle" (later known as "Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot") was written by Alan Bradley Kent and Austen Herbert Croom-Johnson.

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot
Twelve full ounces, that's a lot
Twice as much for a nickle, too
Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.

This little jingle would go on to be recorded in 55 different languages, over 1 million records containing this jingle were produced, and it was the first jingle ever played from coast to coast on network radio. It is hard to convey just how big this jingle was, but it was very popular for nearly a decade and was even described as "immortal." How many people decided to give Pepsi a try because of this jingle can not be over estimated. The jingle was first written as a standard commercial with the jingle at the end but Mack insisted that only the jingle be aired. It was played so often that 50 years later there are still people who remember the words.

The History of Pepsi-Cola, Soda Museum

Now, let's consider what the "Twice as much for a nickle, too" means in today's dollars: (BTW: the "twice as much" referred to Pepsi-Cola's twelve ounces versus Coca Cola's six.)

In 2003, $0.05 from 1940 is worth:

$0.65 using the Consumer Price Index
$0.54 using the GDP deflator
$1.39 using the unskilled wage
$2.46 using the GDP per capita
$5.42 using the relative share of GDP

5 cents scaled from 1940 dollars to 2003 dollars

And $0.65 is just about what it would cost you to buy a soda today at a supermarket. (Not quantity one in a bodega, of course.) Notice how the CPI is spot on. Yet not everthing scales so nicely. Consider today's value for a home purchased for $50,000 in 1970:

In 2003, $50,000.00 from 1970 is worth:

$237,137.93 using the Consumer Price Index
$191,863.42 using the GDP deflator
$248,964.68 using the unskilled wage
$373,282.77 using the GDP per capita
$528,834.86 using the relative share of GDP

$50,000 scaled from 1970 dollars to 2003 dollars

Inflation in real estate better tracks the change in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita than it does changes in the CPI or wages. That's why a home that was affordable in 1970 requires three salaries to pay for in 2005. That's likely because commodities benefit from improvements in supply and manufacturing not to forget competition, which keep the price down. Real commodities, however, tend to be priced according to the owner's share in the American Dream, aka GDP. What? Your share of GDP hasn't kept pace? Well, that's all the fault of the tax-and-spend Democrats; all the "fiscally-conservative" Republicans got their share of GDP, now didn't they.

Buy land, 'cause they ain't makin' it no more.

— Will Rogers

Sources and Further Reading

  1. "What is its Relative Value in U.S. Dollars" from the Economic History Services
  2. "How Much is That" from the Economic History Services

No Cocktails, Please – We’re Prudish

Microphotograph of crystalized 'Sex on the Beach' Cocktail

Microphotograph of Crystalized "Sex on the Beach" Cocktail

While I don't approve of marketing drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes to children, I'm amazed that a drink that can be ordered by name with impunity in a bar is subject to severe regulation in the commercial sphere because it is "objectionable". The Carrie Nation mindset clearly is alive and well, even in Britain.

Lord Condon, who chairs the independent panel that assesses complaints about the marketing of alcoholic drinks, said the "sexualisation" of prepackaged drinks such as Quickie cocktails and Stiffy's Shots had been "the theme of the year" in 2004.

...

Shotz (Spencers Drinks Ltd) "The panel ... concluded that the flavour names Blow Job, Foreplay, Orgasm and Sex on the Beach contained either a direct or indirect association with sexual success."

Love Potion (Marks & Spencer)

"The panel considered that the heart-shaped bottle together with its pink contents strongly resembled a perfume bottle and was likely to cause confusion ... [and that] the product was clearly associated with romantic love."

Guardian

The full set of complaints makes for interesting reading. Oh, and in case you were wondering, here are some recipes for the cited drinks: Blow Job, Foreplay, Orgasm, and Sex on the Beach.

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