Drinking Whiskey In The Spirit Of George Washington

Allison Aubrey at NPR:

ScreenHunter_08 Oct. 23 12.18Virginians have always enjoyed their liquor, and for much of the 18th century, their preferred drink was rum. But when war and tariffs made imported rum hard to come by, George Washington saw an opportunity. Why not make liquor out of grains he was growing on his farms?

“He was a businessman and he was a very, very successful one,” says Dennis Pogue, the director of preservation programs at Mount Vernon.

By 1799, Washington's distillery was the single most profitable part of his plantation. He couldn't make enough whiskey to meet demand, Pogue says. Now the distillery has been restored, and I got a chance to see what Washington's rye whiskey probably tasted like…

But there is some uncomfortable history here. In Washington's day, the hard work of making whiskey fell to six slaves.

It's a fact of history that Pogue says he would never paper over. Washington was a man of his time, and the whiskey we're drinking is made to his exact recipe.

More here.

Pakistan, a “negotiated state”

Shehryar Fazli in The India Site:

Lieven-PakistanEarly in Pakistan: A Hard Country, Lieven intriguingly describes Pakistan as a “negotiated state”, where the law only goes so far and, in practice, people choose between official, customary and Islamic systems of justice according to their needs. A deep sense of tradition, and strong social bonds safeguarded by kinship and patronage, ensure that the country won’t sink or surrender to modern Islamist revolt. But while it may be a negotiated state, there is no healthier dialectic to produce fresh arguments and movements. Even the many migrants to the cities, for example, retain their rural links and habits, and therefore don’t induce the changes typically associated with urbanization. The old and eternal persist here, too.

Lieven’s book is an ambitious attempt to explain what makes Pakistan tick and what the limitations and prospects of its leadership – civilian and military – are. It has been widely praised as an almost indispensable account of how the country works, and indeed it has its share of insights and debunks a good many myths. His depiction for example of the moderate, syncretic strands of Islam prevalent in the Pakistani heartland, and the centrality of the shrines of saints to a vast majority of the faithful, but hated by religious radicals, is welcome. So, too, is the related discussion discrediting accounts that the military, which recruits from this heartland, is dangerously full of Islamists. The case that Pakistan is not the failed state that many outside observers believe is well argued. Lieven has clearly traveled widely and talked to a great many stakeholders across class, religions, sects, political parties and state institutions – even if it gets tiresome to see passages regularly punctuated by a line like, “And never was this brought home to me more than when I visited” such and such a place.

As an analysis of politics and governance, however, much of the project is undermined by the author’s political sympathies.

More here.

How plants sense touch, gravity and other physical forces

From Physorg.com:

ScreenHunter_06 Oct. 23 11.50At the bottom of plants' ability to sense touch, gravity or a nearby trellis are mechanosensitive channels, pores through the cells' plasma membrane that are opened and closed by the deformation of the membrane. Elisabeth Haswell, Ph.D., a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, is studying the roles these channels play in Arabdopsis plants by growing mutant plants that lack one or more of the 10 possible channel proteins in this species.

“Picture yourself hiking through the woods or walking across a lawn,” says Elizabeth Haswell, PhD, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “Now ask yourself: Do the bushes know that someone is brushing past them? Does the grass know that it is being crushed underfoot? Of course, plants don't think thoughts, but they do respond to being touched in a number of ways.”

“It's clear,” Haswell says, “that plants can respond to physical stimuli, such as or touch. Roots grow down, a 'sensitive plant' folds its leaves, and a vine twines around a trellis. But we're just beginning to find out how they do it,” she says.

More here.

53% & Life is Not Fair

Jpg-300x293Mike LaBossiere over at Talking Philosophy:

Erick Erickson recently started a movement in response to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The occupiers have as a slogan that they are the 99%. To counter this, Erickson hit on the idea of the 53%. This is the percentage of Americans who pay the federal income tax. His message is that complaints should cease, people should not blaming Wall Street, and people should pay their taxes.

During an interview on CNN Erickson responded to the criticisms of the Occupiers by asserting that life is not fair. He also made this point in his post:

Well, these people apparently forgot that life is not fair and are demanding the government intervene to legislate that life suddenly become fair. They are claiming to be the “99%” against the evil 1% of rich people who work on Wall Street. They are posting pictures to a website holding up their sob stories. Some are terribly tragic, but most? Boo-freakin’-hoo. Life is not, never has been, and never will be fair.

While Erickson does not actually present a developed argument, he seems to be contending that the Occupiers are in error regarding their protest and their desire to change the economic and political system. They are in error, as he seems to see it, because they supposedly want to make things fair and this will never occur. I am not sure if he means that unfairness is a matter of necessity in the sense that fairness is a logical or practical impossibility. However, it seems to suffice to take his claim at face value, namely that life will never be fair.

The Gourmet Guerilla: Adventures in Stealth Dining

Article_ng_01_imgTiffany Ng in Pluck Magazine:

What is it?

Half the time, my guests think I run ‘gorilla dining’ events and laugh at the ludicrousness of such a thought. Most times, I don’t have the heart to correct them more than once, lest the struggle to grasp this concept deter them from attending future events or, worse, from spreading the word. It did not make it easier that I decided upon introducing guerilla dining to Copenhagen and conjuring up a market out of thin air. Looking back on it, how naïve I was. Let’s just chalk that up to ingenuity, for now. Thanks to this leap of faith, I’ve had a stubborn, “I think I can, I think I can” choo-choo train approach this past year that’s led to countless adventures.

The concept of guerilla dining is without an official definition. Each orchestrator has his or her own understanding of what constitutes a true event. Many do not even use the term guerilla dining, opting rather for pop-up restaurant or supper club. In my view, the aim of each project is the same: we are looking to provide our guests with a completely different dining experience – one that will imprint itself permanently into your memory. How it is executed and what elements are brought into it to create the experience is what sets each apart. In this range are supper clubs consisting of only a few people and the host in a private home serving homemade food as well as professional exhibitions reaching upwards of fifty guests with hired chefs, musicians, and mobile kitchens. I like to think of mine as art installations that revolve around the central theme of food. Some have been intimate gatherings of fifteen guests, and others well over a hundred.

So how did I – a native San Franciscan transplanted in Copenhagen of all places — get involved in this sub-culture, you ask?

Jonathan Lethem Interviews Geoff Dyer

Geoff_Dyer_bodyIn Bomb Magazine:

J[onathan ]L[ethem] In the matter of coming up with a form or structure, I’m eager to talk with you about your new book on Tarkovsky’s Stalker. I’m actually reading it in tandem with revisiting the film—the first time I’ve seen it in 20 years. I’m halfway through both book and film as I write this. The short book that covers another artifact—a book, a film, an album—in scrupulous close description (with plenty of digressions, of course)—is something I’m trying myself. Last year with a film, John Carpenter’s They Live, and right at the moment I’m writing a short book on a Talking Heads album, Fear of Music. (I flatter myself I’m in “Dyerian Mode” when I do this.) If a novel is a mirror walking along a road (somebody said this; in a spirit of Dyerian laziness I’m refusing to Google it), a book like this is a mirror walking hand-in-hand with somebody else’s mirror. I’ll admit I also became fascinated by a weird concurrence in our film-subjects: both Stalker and They Live are films that switch between color and black-and-white (and therefore both get compared to The Wizard of Oz), and both turn on a transformation of the everyday world at roughly the half-hour mark, where the ordinary is revealed as extraordinary. Of course, your film quite respectably avoids wrestlers and ghouls.

G[eoff ]D[yer] Here is an important difference between us. You could do these books as sidelines or diversion, almost, I imagine, writing fiction in the morning and then doing the film or Talking Heads stuff in the afternoon. I operate at a far lower level of energy and inspiration, but a higher pitch of desperation! Generally, I like the idea of short books on one particular cultural artifact as long as they don’t conform to some kind of series idea or editorial template. The madder the better, in my view. I like the idea of an absurdly long book on one small thing. I think we’d agree that the choice of artifact is sort of irrelevant in terms of its cultural standing: all that matters is what it means to you, the author. I had so much fun doing the Stalker book I am tempted to do another, this time on Where Eagles Dare. In fact, I find myself thinking/whining, Why shouldn’t I do that? Plenty of other writers keep banging out versions of the same thing, book after book, why should I always have to be doing something completely new each time?

When Kerouac Met Kesey

Sterling Lord in The American Scholar:

640px-Furthur_02-600x398If the 1950s and ’60s belonged to Jack Kerouac, then the ’60s and ’70s belonged to Ken Kesey. Both of them were my clients, and I liked and admired each of them. Although they differed in age, personality, and writing styles, they overlapped as writers of their times, and there was room for both. Each man was an iconoclastic thinker whose writing and philosophy inspired passionate devotion in his readers.

Before I ever met Kesey, Tom Guinzburg, president of Viking Press, called me one day in 1961 to ask whether Kerouac would write a blurb for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey’s first novel. Tom had bought the book, but Viking had not yet published it. Publishers are always looking for well-known writers to offer positive comments for the book jacket or a press release. A blurb can be particularly helpful if readers feel there is a creative relationship between the two writers. I had no idea whether Kerouac would help, because I couldn’t remember his having blurbed before, but I didn’t think he would be offended if I asked. I thought he might even be flattered. So I told Tom to send me the manuscript. I read it before passing it on to Jack, and I knew right then that I wanted to work with Kesey. His novel was a bold, creative story of what happens in a mental institution—a very daring subject for his time. In the end, Jack did not write a blurb; he felt uncomfortable doing it, perhaps not wanting to get into that arena and all that went with it, and I respected that.

I called Guinzburg to tell him I’d like to represent Kesey, who didn’t have an agent, and then got in touch with Ken. He was delighted, and we started working together.

More here.

One Decade In Brooklyn…

Lahiri-web1Jhumpa Lahiri in The Brooklyn Rail:

In 2005 we bought a house in Fort Greene. I let go of the studio and acquired, for the first time in my life, a room to call my own, with a door to shut, and serving no other purpose. A single window, the only window of the house that faces south, looks out at the clock tower of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank. I have to stand up to see it. But it is there, a symbol and centerpiece of the borough, marking the hours of work I will not recall.

Boston is the city where I became a writer, but in Brooklyn I took on a far more daunting challenge, and that is to be a writer and a parent at the same time. Literary biographies and memoirs tell us that until recently, people tended to be one thing, not both. That the conflicting demands of each enterprise—one a self-centered, solitary vocation, the other inherently giving, in which the priorities of the self recede—could not coexist. But here in Brooklyn the exception seems to be the rule, because I am surrounded by, inspired by writers of all stripes, men and women alike, who are equally dedicated, though the equation is never a perfect one, to both the writing of books and the raising of children. You will find them attending birthday parties more often than book parties. You will find them, after a day of writing, not mixing a martini but preparing macaroni and cheese. You will find them rushing home from teaching writing classes at Princeton or Hunter College, in time to read to their children before bed. You will find them attending a friend’s reading with a newborn in a sling, being supportive to the friend, stepping onto the sidewalk when the baby needs comforting.

Something about Brooklyn accommodates both these callings, both drives. There are days when the prospect feels impossible, days when a school holiday means no writing gets done, or days when we choose to sit at our desks instead of accompany a field trip with our child’s class. There are months, even years, when our creative work may be put on hold.

In Brooklyn, versions of these choices are always being made, because examples of such writers are everywhere.

The Art of Money

The Moneychanger and his Wife2In More Intelligent Life:

Renaissance-era Florence is remembered not for its bankers but for its beauty. Yet the city is now hosting a splendid exhibition that reaffirms the important link between the two. High finance not only funded high art, but its money and movement helped to fuel the humanist ideals that inspired the Renaissance. This show, curated by Tim Parks, a British writer based in Italy, and Ludovica Sebregondi, an Italian art historian, considers the influence of 15th-century financiers on Italian art and culture.

“Money and Beauty” is divided into two parts: how money was made, and how it was spent. The gold florin, first minted in 1252 (and equal to $150 today), made the Florentine republic the heart of a nascent banking system that stretched from London to Constantinople. The Medici bank was supreme for almost a century, till its collapse in 1494 when the family was ousted from political power. This show, on view in the Strozzi palace (built in 1489 by a rival banking family), also traces the humbler fortunes of Francesco di Marco Datini, the “merchant of Prato”, using the vast archive he left behind. To recreate the daily activities of these bankers as well as their world view, the exhibition includes paintings and mercantile paraphernalia, from weighty ledgers to nautical maps.

The Church deemed it sinful to charge interest on loans, viewing it as profit without labour. This gave rise to artful and elaborate ways to disguise such profit-making, including foreign currency deals and triangular trading. The divergence of moral and commercial values can be seen in some Flemish paintings included here, such as Marinus van Reyerswaele’s “The Money Changer and his Wife”, in which a couple fixates on their coins while their candle is snuffed out (pictured top).

Making the iBio for Apple’s Genius

Janet Maslin in The New York Times:

BOOK-popup-v2After Steve Jobs anointed Walter Isaacson as his authorized biographer in 2009, he took Mr. Isaacson to see the Mountain View, Calif., house in which he had lived as a boy. He pointed out its “clean design” and “awesome little features.” He praised the developer, Joseph Eichler, who built more than 11,000 homes in California subdivisions, for making an affordable product on a mass-market scale. And he showed Mr. Isaacson the stockade fence built 50 years earlier by his father, Paul Jobs. “He loved doing things right,” Mr. Jobs said. “He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see.”

Mr. Jobs, the brilliant and protean creator whose inventions so utterly transformed the allure of technology, turned those childhood lessons into an all-purpose theory of intelligent design. He gave Mr. Isaacson a chance to play by the same rules. His story calls for a book that is clear, elegant and concise enough to qualify as an iBio. Mr. Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” does its solid best to hit that target.

More here.

How the Potato Changed the World

From Smithsonian:

Potatoes-International-Potato-Center-Peru-631When potato plants bloom, they send up five-lobed flowers that spangle fields like fat purple stars. By some accounts, Marie Antoinette liked the blossoms so much that she put them in her hair. Her husband, Louis XVI, put one in his buttonhole, inspiring a brief vogue in which the French aristocracy swanned around with potato plants on their clothes. The flowers were part of an attempt to persuade French farmers to plant and French diners to eat this strange new species. Today the potato is the fifth most important crop worldwide, after wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane. But in the 18th century the tuber was a startling novelty, frightening to some, bewildering to others—part of a global ecological convulsion set off by Christopher Columbus.

About 250 million years ago, the world consisted of a single giant landmass now known as Pangaea. Geological forces broke Pangaea apart, creating the continents and hemispheres familiar today. Over the eons, the separate corners of the earth developed wildly different suites of plants and animals. Columbus’ voyages reknit the seams of Pangaea, to borrow a phrase from Alfred W. Crosby, the historian who first described this process. In what Crosby called the Columbian Exchange, the world’s long-separate ecosystems abruptly collided and mixed in a biological bedlam that underlies much of the history we learn in school. The potato flower in Louis XVI’s buttonhole, a species that had crossed the Atlantic from Peru, was both an emblem of the Columbian Exchange and one of its most important aspects.

More here.

Should Occupy Wall Street Go Rawlsian?

9780674880146Steven Maize argues the case in the NYT's Opinionator:

To their credit, protestors have recently begun debating which specific demands the movement should make, but their conversations appear to be unguided by any deeper wisdom. A perfect intellectual touchstone would be the work of John Rawls, the American political philosopher who was one of the 20th century’s most influential theorists of equality. Rawls named his theory “justice as fairness,” and emphasized in his later writings that its premises are rooted in the history and aspirations of American constitutionalism. So it’s a home-grown theory that is ripe for the picking.

Despite providing a remarkable venue for what Al Gore called a “primal scream of democracy,” Occupy Wall Street is leveraged too heavily on the rhetoric of rage rather than reciprocity. Rawls would argue that Occupy is fully justified in its criticism of the political and economic structures that propagate massive concentrations of wealth; he saw the “basic structure” of society as the “primary subject of justice.” But Rawls would lament the tendency of the “99 percent” to misdirect their energies into hatred of individuals in the 1 percent. He would have them save their hostility for the policies and institutions that have permitted only the wealthiest to enjoy significant gains from the past two decades of economic growth.

Rawls’s boldest claim — that inequality in society is only justified if its least well-off members fare better than they would under any other scheme — could provide a lodestar for the protests. Rawls was no Marxist: this “difference principle” acknowledges that a productive, free society will be home to at least some degree of inequality. But the principle insists that if the rich get richer while wages and social capital of the poor and middle class are stagnant or falling, there is something seriously wrong.