Saturday, January 31, 2004

Movie Language

We rented Sweet Sixteen last night. The previews had me expecting something a bit less ... dark, but it was a fantastic movie. It did get a bit stressful to watch at times, but I enjoyed it. Much was made when the movie came out about the accents of the actors and whether or not the movie would be released with subtitles. We did use the subtitles, but the accent wasn't too hard to grasp after the ear tuned in to it. Given all the press about the accents, I was expecting the movie to be in Scots, not English, Glaswegian dialect or not. Wir An Leid, on its Glaswegian page, suggests that the urban dialect "suffers from a loss of much particularly Scots vocabulary," which would explain the close correlation with English.

Movie City News (MCN) had an interview with director Ken Loach (KL) where they discuss the accents:
MCN: Were the actors in Sweet Sixteen using their own accents, or did you ask them to affect a working-class attitude?

KL: That was them, really. I wouldn't have wanted them to play it up or down, because it wouldn't be real.

MCN: Did you plan to add subtitles or was that someone else's idea?

KL: I wasn't surprised by the decision. Even in England, that dialect is difficult to grasp. It's quite tough. It was important to use it, though, because the dialect was so much a part of the characters. The humor, the energy of the language also is so much a part of the place.
The other interesting thing is that the movie was rated R in the States and 18 in England and Wales mostly because of language. (In Scotland, it was rated 15.) The movie definitely has "adult themes" and drug trafficking (although no actual on-screen use), but there's no nudity and the violence is very understated. All things considered, I'd probably say it earned a PG-13 in the States, and a 15 under the British Board of Film Classification system.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Week for Dead Whales

I don't have some morbid fascination with dead cetaceans or anything, but it just seems like there has been a (short) string of stories about dead whales this week.

First there was the whale that exploded [ text only | with photo ] in Taiwan earlier in the week.

Then a rare Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) washes up in the Outer Hebrides.

And then there is the fossilized remains of a Miocene epoch whale that just went on display at the Calvert Marine Museum in Southern Maryland. NPR had a segment about the new display, too.

I am a bit excited about the Miocene epoch whale fossil, as it isn't too far away from us, so I'm sure we'll take a trip down there to see the museum and maybe hunt our own fossils at Calvert Cliffs. (I've never had any luck poking around there before, but it's always worth trying, innit?)

The exploding whale story is a bit disturbing, too. The sperm whale had washed up and was being collected for research purposes. But as it was being transferred to the Shi-Tsao Natural Preserve for dissection/examination, it literally exploded due to a build up of gasses within the body caused by decomposition. Oddly enough, I can't find a single reference (in English at least) about it in Taiwanese newspapers or on the 中華鯨豚協會 (Taiwan Cetecean Society) website.

Warchalking, Hobos, and Hashing

Warchaking is a bit old to be worth blogging now, but I just ran across a mention of it in a story I was editing and, as is often the case, got sidetracked by the etymology.

For those who don't know, warchalking is the practice of using simple signs, usually chalked onto a sidewalk or building wall, alerting people to an open WiFi connection. Anyone with a wireless connection could use the open connection to connect to the Internet. Some of these connections are purposely open, such as when Starbucks or other coffee shops offer wireless Internet access, others are open because a user did not bother to configure their home network properly to block unauthorized usage.

A Zone-H article from 2002 goes into the history of the word:
The "war" part of the term goes back to the 1983 US movie War Games, in which a teenager accidentally taps his home computer into the Pentagon. Before warchalking there was "wardialling", when hackers would ring phone numbers at random to see which ones answered with a data, rather than a dial, tone, and "wardriving", travelling around in a car until the laptop picks up a network.

The idea of the chalk marks comes from "hobo signs", an old tradition among travellers and the homeless in America. They would scrawl a mark on a wall to show other hobos where they might find food or shelter. The circles, semi-circles and letters used in warchalking give computer-users the information they need to tweak their wireless network setting to access other people's connections.
Except for getting the details about WarGames wrong -- the computer David hacks into, "Joshua," is located at NORAD, not the Pentagon -- that seems to sum up the origin of the word. It also answers the question about whether it should be warchalking (one word) or war chalking (two words).

There are a couple of pages that give examples of hobo signs [ Signs I | Signs II | Signs III ], some of which are pretty ambiguous, others are easier to read. Digging around some more, I also find a sport, hashing, that also uses cryptic symbols as part of a complicated game of chase. According to the Charlotte Hash House Harriers (CH3):
"Hashing is a mixture of athleticism, sociability, hedonism and hard work; most of all its a refreshing break from the grind and a chance to drink beer with great friends. A Hash Trail is an exhilaratingly fun combination of running, orienteering, and partying, where bands of "Harriers" and "Hairiettes" chase hares or follow marks of flour on 5-to-10 kilometer (3-6 miles) long trails through town, the woods, sewers, even the airport, all in search of exercise, camaraderie, and the ever elusive "Beer Stop."
The "Hash Primer" on Half-Mind describes it as "the running club with a drinking problem" ... hurm, maybe that would make me enjoy running?

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Breakfast for Dinner

Finally, we have an answer: 3/4 of a cup of milk. The question was how much milk did it take to make the dry ingredients in the oatmeal pancake recipe look like "thick cream" (I've edited the earlier entry to make the recipe complete). They were tasty, not 100% like those from the Flying Biscuit Café, but good enough that I will want to make them again. We ate them with Lyle's Golden Syrup, but I can see how they'd be very good with a nice jam or honey. The recipe made four good-sized, thick pancakes, but a lighter hand with the batter pouring could probably have yielded more.

It was also good to finally open the Lyle's. Evelin and I picked up two cans while in Scotland in October 2002 because they cost 60-something pence or so each and in the States it would cost between $4.00 and $5.00 for the same sized tin. We don't use golden syrup that often, but we couldn't pass up the price.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Build a Better [Carnivore] Trap

Science News Online has an interesting article this week about the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. The pits are famous for the large number of well preserved Ice Age fossils, especially of large mammals, including saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, and mammoths.

However, as Science News points out, the reason so many large mammals have been found in the pits is that fossil hunters in the early 1900s were focused on getting big, complete bones out of the tar with no regard for context or the many smaller bones and other fossils. In 1969, when more careful excavations were begun in Pit 91, a lot more began to be understood about predation at the tar pits. Of the 40,000 specimens unearthed from the site between 1969 and 1980, 18,498 are individual bones from mammals weighing more than 5 kilograms.
More than 95 percent of the mammal bones that the researchers studied came from just seven species. Three were herbivores -- the western horse [Equus occidentalis], the ancient bison [Bison antiquus], and the 2-meter-tall Harlan's ground sloth [Paramylodon harlani] -- and four were predators -- the dire wolf [Canis dirus], the saber-toothed cat [Smilodon fatalis], the North American lion [Panthera atrox], and the coyote [Canis latrans]. Except for the coyote, all these herbivores and predators are now extinct.
The article went on to note that "the bones of predators were almost seven times as common in Pit 91 as were those of prey."
Overall, an estimated 80 percent of the mammals were carnivores, and 60 percent of the birds were birds of prey. That's a surprise, says [John] Harris [curator of the tar pits' George C. Page Museum], since the number of herbivores in a stable ecosystem always outnumbers the predators by a wide margin. The disparity arises because the tar pits acted as predator traps, says [Blaire] Van Valkenburgh [of the University of California, Los Angeles]. After an herbivore stumbled into sticky asphalt, which may have been masked by shallow water or leaves, its struggles attracted meat eaters. Each herbivore entrapment probably triggered a feeding frenzy that resulted in up to a dozen predators being trapped as well, says Van Valkenburgh.
The article goes on to talk about the different predation rates suffered by herbivores versus different carnivores, for example, saber-toothed cat carcasses were more likely to be scavenged than those of dire wolves. Using carbon-isotope ratio analyses, they also determined that dire wolves foraged as far away as the Pacific coast for seals and other marine mammals. The wolves exhibited elevated isotopes that were similar to isotopes in the remains of pit-trapped eagles that had eaten ocean fish.

One final factoid from the article: " scientists have identified remnants from every mammal species that lives in the Los Angeles Basin today -- with the curious exception of opossums."

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Early on One Frosty Morn'

I probably blogged too early about Ezra Pound's "Ancient Music." If any morning deserves that poem's refrain it's one like today -- freezing drizzle and freezing rain followed by sleet that changes over to snow ... and all of this expected before the afternoon rush hour. Actually, yesterday wasn't as bad as the TV news alarmists were making it sound like it would be, and today will probably be ugly, but not insurmountable.

Anita of And Baby Makes Seven blogs this morning about the effects of the same weather system on Charlotte, NC, and noted that her husband spent much of the past few days driving around nurses and other healthcare workers who were not comfortable driving in ice and snow. "I think that has to be a southern thing," she wrote, but it's not.

When I lived in Northampton, MA, there were frequent wintertime calls for people with four-wheel-drive vehicles to help get healthcare workers and patients to/from hospitals. In her comments, I noted "Probably more people need the help down South than up North, but the call to action exists on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line."

Now here is a sign of how my mind works. Immediately after writing that, I started to wonder whether or not the use of the term "Dixie" to refer to the South had anything to do with the Mason-Dixon Line. I know both Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were English, and their work was completed long before the song "Dixie Land" was written, but the Dixon/Dixie similarity caused me to wonder.

Checking the Shorter OED, I found "origin: unknown." The American Heritage definition is even less helpful: in Dixie2, which describes the song "Dixie Land," the etymology is given as "after Dixie1," but Dixie1 is without an etymology.

Digging around online, there seem to be three competing etymologies for Dixie, all of which are at best questionable.
  1. after $10 banknotes issued by Citizens' Bank of Louisiana in New Orleans (the bills, printed in French and English, had dix (French for ten) written on the reverse),

  2. after Jeremiah Dixon, and

  3. after a Mr. Dixy (or Dixie), a New York slaveholder.
The dix etymology has the widest currency (no pun intended), but the dix-Dixie connection seems to have been promoted long after Daniel Decatur Emmett wrote the song "Dixie Land." (The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Monetary Museum has pictures of the dix note on its website.)

The AFU & Urban Legends Archive cites the earliest references for Dixie, according to Webster's New World Dictionary of American English, as the song "Dixie Land" (1859) and the name of a character in an unnamed 1850 minstrel play.

On the H-South discussion list, historian Cheryl Thurber wrote that Dixie came from the idea of a mythic place, perhaps connected to a Mr. Dixy to provide a grounding in reality.
... Emmett himself said when asked: that there was a kindly master who freed/sold his slaves and they longed to go back to Dixie's Land. This was the most widely used interpretation in the mid-to-late 19th century, although sometimes with a specific place as "historic" accuracy. This is in fact the correct origin, but it is a fairly complex story. ... The word was used prior to the song as a minstrel show male name, there are indications of "real" (as opposed to coaled) Black men having been named Dixie, and African-American use of the term. The idea of a mythic place has had long lasting impact in how the term continued to be applied. The word was attached to the South after the song, and it spread quite rapidly so that by very early in the War the South was known as Dixie much to the alarm of the Southern elite.
Volkslieder aus allen Ländern (Folksongs of the World) has lyrics and a little history for "Dixie Land" in its collection.

NPR's "Present at the Creation" series included a segment on Dixie in which Thurber notes that "the lyrics of 'Dixie' embody a 'slave idea of paradise.' 'This was an imaginary paradise,' Thurber says, perhaps associated with a community of runaway slaves. 'Certainly the concept is one that Emmett did adopt from African-American slaves.'" In the same segment, Judith and Howard Sacks advance the theory that Emmett learned of this idea of Dixie from a pair of black musicians, Ben and Lew Snowden.

Steve Levin, a writer with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has a decent article putting the song into context, the problems associated with performing it nowadays, and also going a bit into its history and the etymology of the word "Dixie," basically surmising that the origin is unclear, but the minstral tradition is its most likely source.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Good Birds Get Crack

This is neither here nor there, but one of my coworkers has an African grey parrot who is notorious for not quite finishing phrases. She had the parrot trained to repeat her phone number in case he ever flew off, but he would usually stop the recitation after about five digits. The parrot knows the full string and/or phrase, but he is either too lazy or chooses not to say the entire thing. Apparently he's also been taught to say "Good birds get crackers" ... but he usually stops at "Good birds get crack."

Here's a link to The Alex Foundation, which focuses on Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her work with Alex, an African grey who's been the focus of much of Pepperberg's work into cognition and (human) language use/acquisition by parrots.

Houses, Elephant and Other

We didn't end up tying the pancakes yesterday morning, in large part because we were still stuffed from the night before's meal (however, they are on the menu for dinner one night this week). Evelin makes a fantastic blueberry pie and the rest of the food was tasty, too, although I was once again reminded that I don't work well with filo dough ...

We did have one big problem crop up on Saturday afternoon (this is the "House, Other" alluded to in the entry title): The upstairs bathroom has a clog or something, probably in the drain branch pipe. Basically, the tub is draining really slowly, and if the water in the sink runs for too long, water starts to bubble up through the tub's drain. I tried snaking both drains, but there are too many twists/turns to get the snake deep enough into the wall. The same problem occurred with a water-jet type snake. There is a small concern that the problem could be related to all the cold weather (the pipes run down through an exterior wall), that that is unlikely. I am hesitant however to try a baking soda and vinegar solution because I may end up wanting/having to use something like Drano or Liquid Plumber, but I don't want to use one of the chemical solutions because I'd prefer to use something that is less likely to damage the old pipes in the house. (Total Catch 22.) Today, I have to be in the office, but maybe tomorrow I can stay home and try to figure something out. In the mean time, all the other drains (including the downstairs bathroom) seem fine, so it's more of an inconvenience than anything else.

Yesterday, I had a shift watching the pandas. The bears themselves were pretty sedate (Mei spent almost the entire two-hour watch asleep), but since I was early, I took a pass through the elephant house, which was quite active. Kandula was banging a log against the enclosure's bars making quite a racket, and Randall, the new Rothschild's giraffe, is out of quarantine, but he seems to be keeping to himself a bit. The reticulated giraffe, Malaika, doesn't seem to be cottoning to the idea of sharing the enclosure and since Randall is "new guy," she is really keeping him in line.

The other fun bit was the capybaras, who were being quite active. They are still young and only about three-quarters of their adult size. The capybaras in their hay when I first walked in, but one by one they slipped in the water and started swimming around and play fighting. It was surprisingly cute considering that they are giant rodents.

This morning's snowfall wasn't too bad. For some reason, all the streets near the federal buildings (Louisiana Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Constitution Avenue, etc.) were terrible. Maybe the Department of Homeland Security is barring plows from running too close to the monuments, Congress, etc., or something, but it was really frustrating to be back on four inches of snow/slush after enjoying well-plowed driving on North Capitol Street and in Brookland.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

All About the Oats

So when we were in Atlanta last week, we went to brunch at the Flying Biscuit Café, and I had these fantastic oatmeal pancakes. It turns out the café has a cookbook available, but I didn't find that out until we returned to D.C., so I had to dig around online to see if I could find a recipe that looks good.

On the cuisine forum, I found one thread that looks promising.

Converting things to U.S. standard measurements:
  • 1 scant cup plain flour

  • 1 cup oatmeal

  • 1/4 scant cup sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon OR ginger

  • pinch salt

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

  • 3/4 cup milk*
Mix all dry ingredients. Add beaten egg and mix well. Add milk and mix until "mixture looks like thick cream" (a little additional milk may be required to get the desireconsistencycy). Using a heavy-bottomed frying pan or griddle, place spoonfuls of mixture in pan/griddle, cook on both sides until golden brown. Makes four large pancakes.

*The original recipe didn't give a specific amount; 3/4 cup worked well, but I could see using a tablespoon more or less depending upon the amount of liquid in the egg and/or how thirsty the oats are. Also, in retrospect, I wonder if heating or scalding the milk would improve the batter.

In the thread, serving suggestions included maple syrup, Lyle's golden syrup, jam, and butter.

As part of the thread the discussion also came up about what type of oatmeal to use. Babz, the recipe originator, said she used "medium oatmeal," but that was of little help to me (or one poster from the U.S. who asked what kinds of oats were used and the reply came: "It is not oats that I use, it is oatmeal"). Elsewhere in the thread, options seemed to be either the "medium oatmeal" or "pin oats."

Digging around a bit more, Celtic Traders has a good breakdown of different types of oats/oatmeal. It looks like Babz was using rolled oats (the "regular" stuff from Quaker, or maybe quick oats); the pin oats are steel-cut oats (like McCann's Irish oatmeal).

Tonight, we're having friends over. Evelin's making a blueberry-lemon pie, and I'm making some french vanilla ice cream to go with it. For the main meal: spinach-avocado-grapefruit salad and a Levantine pilaf from Najmieh Batmanglij's Silk Road Cooking. Thinking of that recipe, here's an interesting article about rice dishes and food presentation/design.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Blogistential Crisis

Last night, Evelin suggested to me that I might be wandering around a bit too much among different blogging subjects for some people.

When I started blogging back in June 2003, it was in large part an outlet for working through some of my thoughts/feelings/etc. about the whole infertility thing. And, as we've gone through upswings and downswings in that journey, I've had greater/fewer entries about the whole baby quest.

I also wanted a means to force myself to write for myself more, although not necessarily about myself. This is what's led to lots of entries about things in the zeitgeist that caught my attention.

Looking through the Blog Glossary, I have difficulty trying to figure out what sort of blog "Lifechanges ... Delayed" is:

I am not a linguablog by any means, but I do like languages and blog about them a lot (plus I enjoy mixing scripts and seeing how the browser reacts). I'm not a blawger, but I do talk about law on occasion. I haven't considered blegging. ... usw. The fertility stuff is a journal blog or diary blog, but that's not the entirety of what I'm doing. And then there are the digressions about pandas, zoos, politics, travel, history, and other stray subjects.

I guess this entry is in part a bit of just not having much to write about today (I've been crazy busy at work and I just found out that files I need aren't going to be ready until Monday morning, so I'm thinking of cutting out early -- and this is after not getting in until noon because I had to visit an organization we're doing a contract publishing job for this morning, which meant an hour's drive into the wilds of Virginia.)

Anyway, I'm not stopping blogging by any means. I guess this is just a warning to anyone who blogrolls me that I do ramble on about a wide range of subjects. One day, I'm sure I'll find more focus -- hopefully talking about a baby or two's struggle to acquire language and to figure out what a panda bear is -- but until then, I hope I'm at least interesting and coherent.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thinking of East Asia ...

The Washington Post has an interesting look at a growing conflict between North and South Korea and the People's Republic of China, "Kicking Up the Dust of History." Basically, the Goguryeo/Koguryo (고구려) kingdom (Wikipedia article) spanned the area that now makes up the Chinese-Korean border and China is now asserting that Goguryeo was a Han kingdom. The speculation is that this could be a ploy to advance Chinese claims to parts of North Korea should P'yŏngyang ever collapse. Similar articles appeared in the World Press Review, Asia Times, and The Korea Times.

[ASIDE: Linguist List has a description of Koguryo/Goguryeo language, which may or may not be related to Korean.]

The Washington Post also looks at other regional conflicts the Koreas face, such as the dispute and how they're solving them. Most visible is the long-running push to have the Sea of Japan officially recognized as the East Sea.

Less visible is a move to have the English version of 한국 Hankuk be recognized as Corea, instead of Korea.
Scholars from North and South Korea also held a rare joint meeting in Pyongyang last year to launch a project to change the English-language spelling of Korea to Corea, arguing that the Japanese forced the demeaning "K" on the peninsula when it was occupied by the Imperial Army in the early 20th century. Both Koreas insist Japan wanted to come first in English alphabetical order.
I guess that would make the English version of the name more like the French (Corée), Spanish (Corea) and Italian (Corea) forms, but less like the German (Korea). This was the first I'd heard of such a push, but Brewmokey blogged it back in February of last year, and he found an article about the push in The Korea Times.
"From 1250s to late 1800s, the international community used Corea, regardless of language differences," the report [on 조선중앙방송, the state-run North Korean radio service] said. The Choson Dynasty (1392-1910), the last Korean kingdom, also used the spelling, it pointed out.

The change came with the 1910-1945 Japanese colonial rule, it pointed out, accusing Tokyo of enforcing the change on grounds that Japan should come before its colony in alphabetical order.

"Correcting the nation’s standard romanized spelling is about restoring our nation’s history and doing away with the remnants of the Japanese colonial past," it said, quoting North Korean scholars at the debate.
Brewmonkey also notes that the etymology of Korea probably is tied to Koryŏ, the second modern Korean dynasty (918-1392), which might argue against a C spelling, but who knows ... Actually, I wonder if a similar push is being made to change the German Korea to Corea.

ADDENDUM: Well, it gets even stickier. The 국립국어연구원 (National Academy of the Korean Language) has been pushing a new (at least newer than McCune-Reischauer) romanization scheme for South Korea since 2000, which means the spelling of some placenames changes: Koryŏ (고려) becomes Goryeo, Chosŏn (조선) becomes Joseon, and so forth.

Happy (Lunar) New Year!

新年好! xin1nian2 hao3! 恭喜發財! gung1 hei2 faat3 choi4!

In the D.C. area, the new moon appeared at 4:17 p.m. yesterday afternoon, marking the start of the Year of the Monkey, specifically the year of the male green wooden monkey.

It looks like this coming weekend is the day to mark the new year in D.C.'s Chinatown. I don't think we have any plans yet, so maybe I can talk Evelin into going to watch the lion dance.

The South China Morning Post's New Year special section outlining holiday events in Hong Kong, as well as providing a bit of perspective on what the traditions/customs for the celebrations are, and Myth*ingLinks has a pretty full run down of links to and information from various lunar new year sites from across Asia.

"Morning Edition" had an interesting segment by Michael Sullivan about Tết celebrations in Vietnam, including a lot about the importance of kumquat trees to the celebrations. For more coverage of Tết Giáp Thân celebrations, Đài Tiếng nói Việt Nam (Radio Voice of Vietman) has a special Tết section on its "Xã hội" page (and here's the link to the English-language version).

In Korea, the new year -- 설날 sŏl-nal -- is a time to head home to visit family, which (as does Thanksgiving in the U.S.) leads to massive traffic jams.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Window Update

A few weeks ago, one of the windows in my office blew in. Originally, the building owner was saying that a new window would be in place by the first week in January. I just heard from the HR officer that the building management company called her to say that the place that was making the new window burned down, so it'll be a bit longer before I'll be able to see the car lot next door again.

To tell the truth, the plywood keeps the glare off my computer screen, which is nice, but I'm sure I'll want to be able to open the window come spring time.

Речной Пиво (River Beer)

One of my coworkers alerted me to a story out of Russia that she saw on CNN International this morning:
Russian troops have retrieved 10 tons of beer trapped under Siberian ice, the ITAR-Tass [ИТАР-Тасс] news agency has reported. The truck carrying the beer sank when trying to cross the frozen Irtysh [Иртыш] river, near the Siberian city of Omsk [Омск], around 2,200 km (1,400 miles) from Moscow.
The beer, brewed by the Rosar (Росар) brewery [bottle caps | labels] and with a value in excess of 100,000 rubles (according to Just Drinks), will be sold at a discount; apparently, the cold water temperature (air temperatures were -28°C) should have kept the beer from being damaged by its week in the Irtysh. As of year-end 2002, Rosar was the sixth largest brewery in Russia in terms of production capacity, with an annual output of 30 million deciliters.

ИТАР-Тасс described the rescue [story | update] in detail:
Six divers of the Russian Ministry for Civil Defense and Emergencies and an armored repairs-and-evacuation vehicle made from a T-72 tank have done their best, deputy head of the Cherlak district administration Vasily Yatkovsky said. They pulled the truck to an ice hole.... The truck doors were opened, and the beer kegs and bottles were loaded onto another vehicle and taken away. They were also ready to retrieve the truck but the rope tore.
The Guardian's version of the story is interesting, in part because of how snarky it is in places:
It is fast becoming Russia's favourite drink, eclipsing the traditional Slavic fuel of vodka. So when 10 tons of beer became trapped beneath a sheet of Siberian ice for over a week authorities in the desolate industrial town of Omsk stopped at nothing to get it back, and sent in the army.

[...] Over the past week six divers, 10 labourers and a T-72 tank have failed to get it back. Rescuers used chainsaws and crowbars to carve a 100 metre long passage through the ice so the lorry could be dragged to dry land. But their hopes were dashed when the vehicle was swept away by a strong current and winds.

However, with a typical belief in the invincibility of the poorly funded Russian military, the authorities said they were confident the soldiers would retrieve it within a day. It is unclear whether they will be rewarded with part of the lorry's contents.
I couldn't find any reference to the story in Pravda or The Moscow Times, but The Moscow Times did have an interesting story about how brewers in Russia are continuing to up production, marketing, and variety. Apparently, in 2002 beer output surged by 10%, but output only grew between 4% and 6% in 2003.

The best quote came from Natalya Zagvozdina, consumer goods analyst at Renaissance Capital, who noted that while the "average Russian drinks about 50 liters of beer per year, compared to 120 liters and 100 liters by his German and British counterparts, respectively. 'We can drink more than that,' she said."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Roadtrip: Atlanta

I guess it's one of the immutable laws of nature: If you leave your workstation for any length of time, many many problems will appear. There still are many things that need fixing at work at the moment, but I want to try and blog the past weekend before it gets stale in my mind.
(left to right: Anna, Carter, Lucy)
As the above picture shows, Evelin and I got to meet our twin nieces this weekend. In the photo, they were being a little fussy, but they were really great little babies, 95% of the time being either cute and happy or fast asleep. Murphy the big brother/Labrador retriever, on the other hand, was a bit attention-starved and really, really, really ready to play at the drop of a hat, sock, or any other object that could be used in a game of tug of war. So, things started off very early (around 3:00 a.m. on Friday) as we headed off on the drive South. The sun came up about the time we were crossing out of Virginia. Around 10:00 a.m., we stopped in Charlotte, NC, to have brunch with Evelin's uncle and aunt, who we hadn't seen in a while. They gave us the option of a local Southern cookin' place or IHOP. Usually, we'd opt for the local place over a chain, but Evelin had been craving IHOP for a few weeks. (apparently, there are behavior-modifying subliminal messages in the adverts for their "Never Ending Pancakes" promotion). After brunch, we headed downtown to take a quick spin through the Mint Museum of Craft + Design. Months ago, I ran across the website for "The Art of Tea" exhibition, and Evelin and I talked about visiting friends in Chicago or relatives in Charlotte as part of getting to see the exhibition. Of course, since I have to be in Charlotte for work in mid February, my mind got confused about the start date of the Charlotte mounting of the exhibition and we discovered that we were two weeks early for the show. We could get glimpses of a few pieces amidst the packing materials, but otherwise we were out of luck. That said, the Craft + Design museum was really neat with some beautiful pieces. While uptown, we also got stuck in the traffic jam caused by the pep rally for the Carolina Panthers ahead of the NFC championship game. The fans there deserve to be enthusiastic and I'm torn between supporting the Pats and the Cats in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Leaving Charlotte, a bit later than intended, we finally made it to Atlanta around 6:30 p.m. My mother had been in town to help out with the babies for the week, and she extended her stay until Saturday morning so that we could see her, which was really nice. When we got there, the girls were getting dinner and napping a little bit (I think Lucy was awake and eating and Anna had just gone down for a nap). But we got to see both of them for a while that evening. They really are adorable. Since they were about a month premature, the girls spent a week or two in hospital after being born, which mean the nurses set them on a pretty firm sleep/eat cycle, which my brother (A---) and his wife (N---) have been able to keep them on. I think this helped them deal with twins and also got the girls used to a routine, which has helped them sleep through the night. Saturday, Evelin, A---, and I went down to Zoo Atlanta to see their pandas and the rest of the place. It's a smaller zoo, but nice, naturalistic habitats/enclosures. The two panda yards really put the bears up close to the public, which is good for giving people a chance to see the bears, but I don't know if that also means the bears don't get the level of privacy that they want. (Or maybe Mei and Tian are just a bit spoiled.) The reptile house, although old, had a really wide range of beasties, including some cute turtles and tortoises from Madagascar, and the red panda enclosure was done really well. A boardwalk took visitors up to tree-level, which is where the arboreal animal spends much of its time. Saturday night, there was a full house. My mom had headed home, but friends from Louisiana were in town and everyone came over to A--- and N---'s. The friends were C---, her husband J---, her brother A--- (who is going to college in Atlanta), and her cousin L---, who lives in Atlanta now. My brother (a.k.a., Big A) and I used to baby-sit C--- and A--- (a.k.a., Lil' A), and it's been a few years since Evelin and I have seen either of them. Lil' A definitely inherited his father's "porch talkin'” gene -- he had all of us laughing with stories (all true, sadly enough) about misdeeds and mishaps during various hunting and fishing trips with friends. On Sunday, Evelin and I headed into the city to meet an online friend of hers that she met through the "Trying to Conceive After Multiple Miscarriage" (TTC AMM) board on We got to see the house they just bought and are in the process of fixing and then went out to The Flying Biscuit Café for brunch. Their organic oatmeal pancakes with warm peach compote were fantastic. We then got a driving tour of Atlanta, including the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and Ebenezer Baptist Church. M--- and B--- were really nice; there's always a bit of apprehension to meet F2F someone that you only know online, but we were glad to get to know them better. [ASIDE: A long, long, long time ago, before the Web was such a big part of the Internet, I was active on the alt.society.generation-x Usenet group. A number of use from the group decided to meet up for a beer in D.C. one evening and at least one person was surprised to find out that I wasn't a large, black, gay man. I'm not sure what I was typing to give that impression, but I guess it speaks truth to the oft-cited New Yorker cartoon about how, on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.] Monday was spent driving home. I tried to talk Evelin into stopping at NC Zoo in Asheboro, North Carolina, but she wasn't interested. We made it home around 4:30 p.m., and the only incident during the drive was a nice-sized rock that came off a flatbed trailer and dinged my windshield somewhere just north of Richmond.

Monday, January 19, 2004

And We're Back ...

Evelin and I took a quick trip down to Atlanta to meet our twin nieces. There were a few Raising Arizona thoughts, but Evelin and I figured we'd get caught. I'll blog the trip tonight/tomorrow for posting, but I just wanted to let folks know that the site hasn't been abandoned ...

Friday, January 16, 2004

Decoding Mayan

Looking through some back issues of Indian Country Today, I found an interesting two-part article [Part 1 | Part 2] by Philip Burnhan about the Maya Hieroglypic Database Project (MHDP). Much of the article focuses on Martha Macri, who is of Cherokee descent and who was taught Cherokee syllabics by an uncle. Macri founded the database project.
"My interest and prime motive for making the MHDP is to really study dialect differences and language differences that were present during the Classic period [300-900 AD]," said Macri, who teaches at the University of California/Davis. Though "language always changes over time," she cautioned, the era of the ancient Maya isn’t as long ago as we think.

"It is still possible to identify which currently spoken Mayan languages are closest to the languages of the script," Macri noted. Some scholars identify the Chortí [Ch'orti'] tongue of eastern Guatemala, given its conservative grammar, as the most similar. After working for years on a Tzeltal dictionary, Macri added, she is struck how often current speakers using a modern Maya tongue will clarify something written in the glyphs centuries ago.

The glyphs reflect the work of numerous Maya languages, of which as many as 30 exist today. To some people it would be an unruly Babel; to Macri, a linguistic anthropologist, it is a blessing. "It’s a miracle that we have these languages here with us to still study to help us understand what went before."

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Keeping with yesterday's Vikings-in-Scotland theme, I wanted to link to Orkneyjar, which has tons of information about the Orkney islands. When we went to Scotland in 2002, we didn't make it all the way up to the islands, but after browsing around the site a bit, I'm a little disappointed we didn't make it far enough north to see Skara Brae, the Ring o' Brodgar, and other Orkney Heritage sites.

The site also includes some information about Orcadian, Pictish, and Norn, including some folktales in Orcadian.

[ASIDE:The University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute has its mission statement and linguistic and cultural policy statement online in English, Scots, Gaelic, Orcadian and Shetland, providing a quick and easy way to compare the different languages.]

Digging around, I was surprised to learn that, because of its history and how Orkney and Shetland came to be part of Scotland, Orkney has a claim to be governed under udal law instead of common law. The Shetland & Orkney Udal Law Group (SOUL) has a lot of information about the old Norse law system and the history of law in Shetland and Orkney (in the context of restoring udal law).

I guess its a sign of one danger of devolution: just as Scotland is gaining more power from London, but now Orkney and Shetland are seeking a greater degree of separation from Edinburgh. The case SOUL outlines looks convincing, but how it would work practically and what it would mean (particularly in regards to fishing and mineral rights) is far from clear.

To round things out, Saltfishforty is a Orcadian duo with some too-short samples of quite fun music on its site.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Stone the Crows

This story, "Stone the crows ... dig uncovers a humble patio," in The Scotsman drew my attention for a couple of reasons.
ARCHAEOLOGISTS were left red-faced when an excavation site they believed was a Norse settlement of "national significance" was actually a sunken patio. Experts rushed to the site when amateur archaeologists unearthed a meshwork of massive stones while exploring the ground in their garden.

Officials from Fife Council suspected the slabs had been ferried from a nearby beach about 1000 years ago to the homes of Viking settlers. The archaeologists hoped the tiny back garden in Buckhaven would provide the first evidence of Viking homes built on mainland Scotland.
First off, it's just a funny story. As a kid, I was certain every odd-shaped rock was either an arrowhead or a fossil, so I can understand the excitement and interest.

According to Chief archaeologist Douglas Speirs: "We looked at the slabs and guessed they could’ve been part of a Viking settlement considering the area has strong links to Norse culture. ... It had all the hallmarks of ancient building techniques with the types of stones used and the layout.” The interesting thing would be to try to find the original landowners who installed the patio in the 1940s to see if the "Viking style" of the patio was deliberate or just a coincidence.

The other thing about the story that's interesting is the title phrase, "stone the crows." The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines it as an "expression of surprise or disgust." (I wonder which way Speirs and his colleagues would have been using it.) There's no indication of the origin of the phrase, however.

Kel Richards, on the "ABC Classic FM Breakfast," looked at the phrase as the "word of the day" back on 14 October 2003:
"Stone the crows" is an old fashioned Aussie bush exclamation of surprise (or possibly exasperation or even disgust). My memory of the old "Dad and Dave" radio serial is that Dad Rudd was forever saying, "Stone the crows, Dave ..." There are variations on this expression: sometimes it's "starve" or "stiffen" or "spare" to crows. And the earliest citation for the phrase is, in fact, in the form of one of these variations. In a 1918 book called Saints and Soldiers we read: '"Starve the crows, " howled Bluey in that agonised screech of his.' (It just had to be someone called "Bluey" who first used the expression in Aussie literature, didn't it?)

Given the date of its first appearance in print (1918), it may have become a popular expression as soldiers' slang during the First World War. However, I can't find it listed in W H Downing's Digger Dialects (the best book on World War I Aussie slang) so I'm not sure. Today, it's only ever used for comic effect, as a deliberate bit of OBV (Old Bush Vernacular).

As for the origin of the expression -- none of the experts can suggest anything. A journalist once suggested that given the difficulty of hitting a flying crow with a stone -- or even a crow sitting on a fence with a stone (they'd take flight before the stone hit) -- that successfully "stoning a crow" would be so surprising an act, that "stone the crows" was a suitable expression of surprise. And that will have to do until a better suggestion comes along.
Googling the phrase turns up Australian and British citations with no real indicator of where the phrase may have originated.

James Briggs cites a March 2003 Q&A column in the Times in which Stefan Buczacki offers:
For many centuries, young children (and others) were employed as bird scarers, especially of crows. They used whatever means were available to frighten away the birds, hence the expression "stone the crows".

The Norfolk Labour MP, Sir George Edwards, who founded the National Union of Land Workers, even called his autobiography, written in 1922, From Crow Scaring to Westminster, and there are many references in old country accounts to "crow scaring", "crow keeping", "crow stoning" and "rook starving". The rewards were modest -- at the age of six, Edwards was paid a shilling for a seven-day week in Norfolk. In Gloucestershire, things were more varied -- the going rate was from 6d a day, although if you were unfortunate enough to live in Winchcombe, all you received was 1d or 2d plus a swede.
The other thing that turns up when googling "Stone the Crows" is a progressive soul band of the 1970s from Scotland.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Update ... Unknown

Anita asked in the comments a few days ago what was up with the fertility tests I went for in late December. Last we heard, the yuletide holidays left things a bit backed up. The sperm aneuploidy test was supposed to be run last week and the sample being sent to South Dakota for sperm chromatin structure assay (SCSA) was going to be sent off at the same time. Apparently, they group samples and send them off as a batch. Originally, we were hoping to have results in about 18 days, but I don't know when the countdown for that starts (obviously, it didn't start from the time of sample provision).

Other than that, we're just laying low and waiting before we figure out what our next step will be -- adoption? IUI with donor sperm? IVF with donor eggs? surrogacy? ...?

Monday, January 12, 2004

Giraffe and Baby Panda Photos

Emese's photo blog has some great photos of a singing giraffe and of Mei Sheng, the baby panda born at the San Diego Zoo back in mid August. (Thanks to For Myself and Strangers for the link.)

The San Diego Zoo naming announcement reads:
Meaning "Born in the USA" and "Beautiful Life," Mei Sheng has become an instant favorite of panda lovers worldwide, as they have followed his progress from his first week via the Panda Cam. Though he and Hua Mei share the same mother, it was not immediately known who was his father, as mother Bai Yun had mated with male Gao Gao during her estrus period, and was also artificially inseminated with frozen sperm from Shi Shi, who is Hua Mei's sire and now lives in China.
As always, this dual translation of his name makes me wonder what characters are being used to write it. The Chengdu Research Base for Giant Pandas uses the characters 美生 for Mei Sheng's name, and 美 (Mei3) means beautiful and 生 (Sheng1) means life or existence, so the "Beautiful Life" translation of 美生 is easy to see.

Getting "Born in the USA" from it takes a little more thinking, although the two characters still work. According to the China Internet Information Center, early Chinese immigrants to the United States phonetically adapted America as 美国 (mei3guo2), which means "the beautiful country." So the 美 in 美生 comes from the same character in 美国. The 生 character comes from 出生 (chu1sheng1), which means "to be born."

[ASIDE: It looks like Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA is translated as 在美国出生 (zai4 mei3guo2 chu1sheng1).]

Odd Dream

Sunday morning, I woke up from an odd, slightly disjointed dream.

Evelin's brother had decided to ride his bicycle from the Mid-Atlantic to Key West, and for some reason we were going after him. As we approached Key West by sea (there was some jump here, and I'm not sure how/why we got where we were), the bike path ended up being in Scotland. The path was elevated and we could look down into a pub where a ceilidh was going on and we decided to stop in for a bite to eat. The publican was shutting down things for the night (despite the rollicking party going on), but he agreed to let us buy one of sandwiches he had left over: there were six ham sandwiches (thick slabs of meat on a nice looking crusty bread) and a "Japanese-Swiss-American sandwich.” We asked what was on the Japanese-Swiss-American sandwich, so he pulled it out for us to look at.

It was a big platter with an open-faced sandwich using two slices of the nice looking bread. On one slice was a pile of American cheese, on the other slice was a pile of Swiss cheese, and wedged in between was a Japanese waffle. It looked like a regular (not Belgian) round waffle, bigger than an Eggo, but the same shape, and the publican insisted it was a Japanese waffle. I went to pay but only had U.S. currency, which he wasn't interested in, so I tried the ATM, which let me withdraw £200, but instead of dispensing bills, it printed out an envelope that would be used to mail me the cash. About that time I woke up.

たいやき photo ©2002 Setsuko YoshizukaReflecting on things a bit, I have no idea what any of that means. Perhaps the "Japanese waffle" was wasabi-flavored.

Checking A Dictionary of Japanese Food Ingredients & Culture this morning, however, I find that there really is a Japanese waffle: たいやき taiyaki, a tai-shaped batter cake made in an iron mold. Tai (たい) is sea bream (a variety of fish mostly in family Sparidae); the dictionary doesn't give any ideas about what the batter is made from, but it does say that taiyaki are usually filled with an (ぁん), a "paste made from starchy pulses and sugar." [Photo courtesy and copyright Setsuko Yoshizuka, Japanese Cuisine]

Of course that still doesn't explain what the waffle was doing in the middle of a cheese sandwich in Scotland.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Cooking With Christmas Presents

Evelin and I are putting some Christmas presents to use this weekend. Last night, I made the autumn vegetable cobbler again and, for desert, we used the ice cream maker Evelin gave me to make a bit of vanilla ice cream with chunks of crystallized ginger and dark chocolate. We were able to watch a movie (I Capture the Castle) having to look away every 2 to 3 minutes for about a half hour to give the machine a crank or three and then it was done.

This morning, Evelin is making some pumpkin ravioli, using the pasta roller attachment my mother gave her for Christmas for her stand mixer. That thing makes it so much easier than the hand-cranked pasta roller to get the dough smooth and even. The ravioli filling is just a mix of two parts canned pumpkin, one part ricotta, and a little parmesan. The last time she used this filling, we both thought it was lacking ... something, but we weren't sure what, so we put a teaspoon or two of the filling into three prep cups and started experimenting.

At first I thought cumin, but after a little more thought, that didn't seem right. Picking through the spice drawer we tried ginger, coriander, and garam masala (Majhapal's tandoori garam masala from Whole Foods Market). The coriander added a bit of roundness to the flavors, the ginger a sharpness that was nice, and the garam masala was very pleasant. In the end, we did a mix of about two parts coriander, two parts garam masala and one part ginger, plus some fresh chopped parsley.

It'll be a while before we know the end results, I think. Evelin just said she's planning to freeze the ravioli and to save them for her book club.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Singing Priests at Samantha's

So last night we went out to dinner with K---, a friend we hadn't seen in a while. Evelin picked the place, Samantha's, which she's been to a few times during lunch with workmates, but neither K--- nor I had ever been there before. It was really good. It's a small Salvadoran place on the edge of Takoma Park, far from the food-oriented corners of the metro area. We ended up having to park a ways away (around the corner and down the hill at a park) because the tiny parking lot was quite full.

Actually the entire restaurant was packed. I'd joked when Evelin and I walked back up past the parking lot that it would be empty because a party of 35 had just left ... it turned out the party of 35 was still there, strumming guitars and singing loudly. Eventually, "Happy Birthday" was sung, so we figured that was the occasion, and we think it was a group of seminarians because the entire party (25 to 30 or so) consisted of all young men, one older priest and a middle-aged woman, perhaps the mother of one of the young men or maybe a nun whose order didn't require her to wear a habit. They were singing a lot of songs, some of which were familiar, like "Bamboleo," and others that sounded familiar but I could only pick out a few words here and there.

K--- had a shrimp and scallops dish with vegetables and french fries, while Evelin had the trucha frita a la salvadoreña. Both liked the dishes a lot. I had spinach enchiladas, which were really fresh tasting and nice. (There are more vegetarian options here than a lot of Latin places, but the really interesting stuff all involved meat of one sort or another.)

K--- just switched careers to become an elementary school teacher in the District, and it was really interesting to hear about the challenges and rewards she's getting in the job. She started off teaching fourth grade, but now she's teaching first grade and is loving it. One of the cool stories she shared involved one student who finally "got" reading. The girl knew her letters, but every afternoon during DEAR (drop everything and read) time, she would say, "I don't know how to read." Well, K--- focused on one story and kept steering the girl to it, and it finally started to make sense to her. Evelin and I were surprised to hear that only four kids in the class can't read. Both of us remember learning to read in first grade, but now it's apparently taught in kindergarten.

"The Theme from The A-Team"

Have you ever noticed that a lot of things can be sung to the tune of "The Theme fromThe A-Team" [MP3s]? I was looking at the latest newsletter from Polar Bears International and I found myself singing "po-lar bears, po-o-lar bears" that tune, which made Evelin crack up.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Two Unrelated News Items

I haven't smoked since college, but if I hadn't quit before, I guess I would be forced to now: North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Il (김정일) is telling people it's time to stop smoking. From the BBC: "Reports in the South Korean media said Kim recently singled out smokers as one of the 'three main fools of the 21st century,' along with those who are ignorant about computers and music."

And for something completely different, The Bangkok Post had an article a few days ago about Morakot (มรกต), an 80-year-old toothless elephant cow at the Chang Phuan Kaeo elephant ground in Thailand, getting a set of dentures. They are believed to be the first set of dentures ever made for an elephant, although replacement tusks have been made before.
The U-shaped denture, 15 cm wide and 15 cm long, is made of stainless steel, silicone and plastic. Veterinarian Somsak Jitniyom said that without teeth Morakot could not chew her food. She was dependent on injected saline solution, vitamins and antibiotics.

The ailing elephant had collapsed four times and finally been fitted with a special support -- chains covered with soft hosepipe suspended from a tree. On Monday, Morakot was sedated and fitted with her new teeth, Mr Somsak said. Her dung would be watched to see if she was now able to actually chew her food.
Elephants have only six teeth in place at a time, the two tusks (which don't always develop in Asian elephants) and four molars. As the elephant ages, these molars wear away and a reserve set moves into place from behind the replaced set. They go through six sets of molars, the last of which is lost some time around age 65. After that, a seventh set of molars appears in about 10% of older aged elephants, but usually the loss of the last molars means the elephant will have trouble eating ... unless Somsak's dentures prove effective.

And then there are totally unrelated stories that turn up when you Google "elephant dentures," like Australian Antarctic Division (ANARE) medical officer Stefan Csordas improvising three replacement teeth for the station chef's dentures from elephant seal tusks. Like Morakot, the make-do solution allowed the chef to chew his food and he ended up using the elephant seal tusk teeth after returning from Antarctica.

"I am made happy and also afraid¡¡"

Starting back on Monday, Jim Meddick's comic strip "Monty" has been running a continuous gag based on the following premise:
Because of the high cost of domestic cartoonists in the new global economy MONTY COMICS has relocated its production facilities overseas to ensure affordable cartoon entertainment for you, the budget-minded consumer.
The drawings have been changed to something vaguely Mesopotamian in style, while the dialogue is made to sound "foreign." The grammar and word order, for the most part, are standard English, except for the use of irregular punctuation -- a reversed inverted question mark (¿, but flipped on its axis) and an inverted exclamation point (¡) -- and odd phrasings. For example, in the Wednesday strip

''We will dine upon meat and bread delicacies prepared by your unclean, imperialist corporation.''  ©2004 Jim Meddick Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Association Inc. (NEA), a division of United Media

Moondog's line "These too we will consume until we have become fattened like swine before a feast" is ridiculous, but it is still grammatically correct. I don't know why, but it still makes me laugh, especially the appearances by Rambo on Thursday and the fight between J.R. Ewing and Rambo on Friday.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Blood Donation

I donated blood yesterday. I should have gone back in October, but that bout of bronchitis had me on meds and feeling icky for a while and then holiday madness caught up with me. So finally, about four months since the last time I went in, I made it to Inova Blood Donor Services.

According to the commonly quoted statistics, less than 5% of the population donates blood regularly. And with concerns of West Nile and Mad Cow and other diseases that may or may not be able to be transmitted through blood donations, the percentage of people eligible to donate is going down, too. Right now, about 60% of the population is eligible.

I know some people have belonephobia (fear of needles), hemaphobia (fear of blood), Iatrophobia (fear of doctors), nephophobia (fear of disease), and other such phobias that keep them away from the blood bank. But the societal benefits of having a ready supply of available are so great and it's really easy to do. Plus, you get a quick blood pressure check, and there are indications (source: LifeSouth Community Blood Centers commentary [PDF]) that regularly donating blood can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other "cardiovascular events" for non-smoking men. Also: "Preliminary studies involving 6,500 men were conducted by Kansas University Medical Center and The University of Kuopio [Kuopion Yliopisto] in Finland. Researchers believe that by giving blood, men and post-menopausal women rid their bodies of excess iron, which is thought to contribute to heart disease."

Two reasons I try to donate regularly is that I am type O-, which makes my blood particularly helpful, and Evelin can't donate anymore because she spent too much time in England during and after college (mad cow concerns have led to deferrals for people who've spent a cumulative total of three months in the United Kingdom since 1980 or a total of six months in any European country or combination of countries since 1980).

It can be given to persons with any blood type and it is needed for emergency room patients where there may not be time to determine blood type. O- is also the preferred blood type for newborns if they need a transfusion.

The Blood Bank of Alaska has a chart of personality traits associated with different blood types.
Type O: You want to be a leader, and when you see something you want, you keep striving until you achieve your goal. You are a trendsetter, loyal, passionate, and self-confident. Your weaknesses include vanity and jealously and a tendency to be too competitive.
Like any horoscope or similar thing, there are bits that make me go "Of course that's me," but other bits just sound silly.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Not from the Zoo ...

After an e-mail exchange with the curator of the new Behring Family Hall of Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History, I'm happy to learn I was wrong in my suspicions about the origin of the two Masai giraffes in the exhibit.

A few weeks ago, Evelin and I went to The Mall to see the new hall, and I was surprised to see two Masai giraffes on exhibit in the hall knowing that the National Zoo had lost two Masai giraffes in recent years. Not that I thought there was anything untoward going on or anything; both the museum and the zoo are part of the Smithsonian and it would make sense that the museum might have access to the bodies of the zoo animals after their death.

In fact, some of the animals in the new hall did come from the zoo, according to press reports and a National Zoo zookeeper who had visited the hall, but both of the giraffes came from other sources.

The National Museum of Natural History has the largest mammal collection in the world with roughly 580,000 voucher specimens and 3,500 primary type specimens, according to the museum website. (The Natural History Museum, London is the only larger collection of primary type specimens.) The USNM mammal collection (the USNM acronym comes from the old name of the museum, "United States National Museum") was developed over centuries:
The oldest originated from the activities of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, dating from 1838-1842, and the personal collection of Spencer Fullerton Baird (the second Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution), also from the 1840s. While collection growth was modest in the early years, a number of mammals were collected by government expeditions conducting surveys in the western United States from the 1850s-1870s. A significant portion of the North American collection resulted from the Biological Survey program initiated by C. Hart Merriam and conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (later the Department of Interior) in the 1890s-1930s. Around the turn of the century William L. Abbott made large collections of mammals from central and southeast Asia. The Smithsonian African Expedition acquired many specimens from east Africa (1909-1911), some of which were collected by former President Theodore Roosevelt. Finally, during the 1960s, large field programs surveying mammals as disease vectors, such as the Smithsonian Venezuelan Project and the African Mammal Project, added more than 100,000 specimens to the USNM mammal collection.
The new hall drew upon existing animals from the Smithsonian's collection, but many are new to the collection, including 25 from the private collection of Kenneth E. Behring (the donor whose name is on the new hall). According to a Washington Post article about the hall, "Behring is an avid big-game hunter and has been criticized by animal welfare groups for hunting endangered animals. In 1999, the Smithsonian found itself in a huge flap when he offered four rare Asian sheep he had shot in Kazakhstan two years earlier -- an offer the institution ultimately declined." Among the Behring-donated animals in the new hall are a kudu, buffalo, wild boar, giraffe, leopard, lion, black-backed jackal and Chinese water deer.

According to The Smithsonian magazine The white rhino on display was shot by Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. That rhino, along with the tiger, hippo, and South American tapir came from the old mammal displays. "The rest of the specimens—including the orangutan, which came from the National Zoo—are more recently departed residents of zoos, game preserves and research facilities. The hall's 202-pound female gorilla spent six years at the Buffalo Zoo in Buffalo, New York, before being euthanized in July 1999 because of stomach cancer."

According to The Holland Sentinel, "To round up other rare specimens, the curators sent word to animal parks, game preserves, zoos, research facilities and private collectors, as well as the National Zoo and the Conservation and Research Center at Front Royal, Va. The okapi came from the Brookville Zoo in Chicago. Intense negotiations preceded the acquisitions of the platypus and koalas from Australia."

The reason the question of using zoo animals came up owes a lot to a flap in 1999 over plans to stuff and mount Hsing-Hsing*, one of the two Giant Pandas presented to the United States by the People's Republic of China in the 1970s. Originally, the museum planned to put Hsing-Hsing on display in the Rotunda, which is the current home of an African elephant, but public outcry changed plans: "... officials decided to exhibit the animal in a mock-up of its native bamboo-forest environment. That will be more educational, [museum spokesman Randall Kremer] said, but also will take more time." Ultimately, the decision was made not to exhibit Hsing-Hsing "because many people did not think it was an appropriate fate for such a beloved animal." The panda that is on display in the new mammal hall "came from China decades ago."

*In the interest of again examining a panda name, I'll note that Hsing-Hsing is the Wade-Giles version of 星星. If Hsing-Hsing were to come to the National Zoo today, he would have been known to visitors as Xing1 Xing1, using the pinyin transliteration. The name, no matter the transliteration, means "bright star" or "shining star." By itself 星 (Xing1) means "star."

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Because It's Carnival Time

Today is Epiphany, Twelfth Night, the kick off of Carnival. Although the Mardi Gras doesn't really get going until much closer to Fat Tuesday (24 February, this year), but between now and then a lot of balls are held and an increasing number of parades.

For some reason, around this time of year, some Kindergeist memory crawls out of my mind and starts whistling "Jockomo." "... My spy boy met your spy boy sitting by the bayou / My spy boy told your spy boy, 'I'm gonna set yo flag on fi-o ...'" The song, with its cryptic refrain "iko iko, iko iko ahn dey / jockomo fee lo ahn nan dey / jockomo fee nah nay," just sticks in the brain, along with other music from Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers, Bo Dollis & the Wild Magnolias, and other Mardi Gras artists/songs that filled the airwaves of my youth. (Of course, try as I might, "Grandma Got Run Over by a King Float" works its way into my mind too.)

The version of "Jockomo" (frequently entitled "Iko Iko" or "Aiko Aiko") I like best is the raw R&B-tinged James "Sugar Boy" Crawford version, although the Dixie Cups' version is probably heard more frequently. Crawford's just strikes me as more true to the Mardi Gras Indians chants and patois from which the song was drawn.

The phrase jockomo fee nah nay ['ga:-ke-məu fi: 'nã: '] has been parsed (not to mention transcribed/pronounced) several different ways. I first learned its meaning as something along the lines of "kiss my ass" (I don't remember the source, but it probably was an interview with or stage comment from one of the Neville Brothers), and this Houston Institute of Culture transcript backs up that understanding:
While the exact meaning of the words is not known, the rhythms of the Mardi Gras Indians come from Africa and the Caribbean. Slaves performed the elaborate African rhythms at weekly gatherings, a tradition that continued into the Twentieth Century at New Orleans' famous Congo Square. The origins of the chanted phrases, however, are not known. Phrases like "Jockomo-Fee-Nah-Ney" may have been defiant secret dialogue used to tell slave masters or chain gang bosses to "Go to Hell."
Searching around online, several pages claim jockomo means "jester." There're no references, but according to a stray post on a discussion board:
Some folklorists believe "Iko" translates roughly as "I Go". "An-dan-day" might represent "On that day" or "on one day" (i.e., Mardi Gras). "Jockamo" probably means jester (French root, I believe); "Jockamo Fee-No an-dan-day," according to some versions, implies "Jester won't 'clown' [in the vernacular sense of cause trouble or fight] on that day" -- a veiled challenge meaning, basically: "I'm not here to cause trouble, as long as you're not."
I guess it's possible jockomo could be a cousin to jongleur -- which comes into English via French from the Old French jogleor, from the Latin ioculātor (jester) -- but it seems more likely to derive from (or at least be influanced by) an African language, maybe a word or phrase related to something like the Akan/Twi verb gye kyim (to argue). (I am not a professional linguist by any means, so I can speculate with abandon.)

In any case, I have a stack of Neville Brothers and other New Orleans CDs with me today in honor of the start of Carnival and to help dredge up memories of the parades of youth -- like the time a group of neighborhood kids got our bikes and a go-kart together with a bunch of leftover throws and had our own parade, which mostly consisted of us throwing beads into the ditches that lined the subdivision.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Dáwkanaʔ ah Hasínay!

According to the Intertribal Wordpath Society, only about 25 people are native speakers of Caddo, the language I used in the headline to this entry. Dáwkanaʔ ah Hasínay! means "Speak Caddo!" which is something not too many people are doing these days.

Elizabeth Seay's new book, Searching for Lost City (or ᎦᏋᎯᏒᏣᏂᎥᏂᏳ ᎸᏅᏒ ᏝᎾᎦᎿ ᏟᏐᎱᎩ, to replicate the cover's mimicking of Cherokee syllabary) , dives into the efforts of the Intertribal Wordpath and other groups looking to preserve/promote/revive Native American languages. A journalist by trade, Seay's book is in the same vein as Helena Drysdale's Mother Tongues: Travels Through Tribal Europe and Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages -- a writer interested in lesser-used languages, but not a linguist. Some may find fault with the weaving of travelogue and language information, but as a genre, I really like it.

Of course, being interested in a language and actually using it and contributing to its revival are very different things, as Seay notes. She does spend some time learning Cherokee, but the real problem isn't interesting her or me but in interesting children who have the chance to regain communities that use the language in everyday life. At one point, Seay encounters a pair of Mississippi Choctaw teens who speak the language at a Culture Shock Camp performance, but their status as Choctaw-speakers seemed to be something that excluded them from the broader community:
"It's really cool that you have your own language you can use to each other," I [Seay] said. They shrugged miserably. I was torturing them. ... Still, I went on: "Do other kids think it's cool?" They didn't even shrug this time. The fact they were standing by the refreshment table was probably a bad sign.
Actually, chapter about Culture Shock Camp is one of the more interesting ones. Instead of language classes (which can be effective in teaching people a language), they are weaving bits of Oklahoma Seminole into hip-hop, which can give the language a certain cachet among fans that could spread further into the youth culture creating a demand for learning the language. A similar thing is being done by Massilia Sound System to promote Occitan.

Of course, this is not to dis the efforts of the Kiwat Hasinay Foundation and other organizations that seek to preserve/promote/revive lesser-used languages -- the formal efforts to document and transmit the language are needed alongside the pop culture efforts to make the language more relevant to the everyday life of the people who could be using it are both necessary.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

D.C.: City of Spies

We went downtown yesterday to see the International Spy Museum, which opened last year. Unlike many of the museums in D.C., this one is a commercial venture with a $13 admission fee and lots of flash and glitz. It also is pretty crowded.

We got to the museum box office around 10:15 a.m. and secured tickets for 1:00 p.m. admittance. To kill time, we walked up through Chinatown to the City Museum of Washington, which also opened last year.

The City Museum is excellent. It gives a great overview of the development of Washington D.C. from its founding to the present day. It also includes a heavy dose of information for out-of-towners and locals alike about the lack of voting rights in the District. Despite being full citizens of the United States with all the inherent obligations, those who live within the confines of D.C. have no vote in Congress. They also are denied full local governmental autonomy; Congress has the power to approve/disapprove items in the city's budget and it can implement things like school voucher systems over the objections of local officials.

Part of how the museum discusses this issue is through a neat multimedia show that starts off with a kindly tour guide focusing on the monumental core of the city only to face regular interruptions from portraits of various historical figures who tell the history of the entire city, not just its federal role. Some bits of it are bit Monty Pythonish, but it was really well done and informative.

The main exhibit hall is built around a huge satellite map of the original 10 -mile square that made up Alexandria, Washington City, Georgetown, Washington County, and Arlington County. (One interesting factoid: It wasn't until 1871 that Georgetown, Washington City and Washington County were unified into Washington, D.C.) Evelin and I found ourselves crouched down trying to pick out various streets, houses, and exhibits in the National Zoo. On each side of the map are walls with display cases and montages covering different points in the city's history; drawers pull out of the wall, allowing even more items to be viewed. In each wall is a door that takes you inside another bit of history from that period. Upstairs were collections of images of the city over time, including lots of maps, and a look at sports and the city, covering professional, college, and youth sports.

The City Museum is housed in the old Carnegie Library, which was the first public library in the city that was not segregated. It's a gorgeous building, inside and out.

After a quick bite to eat at Ella's Wood Fired Pizza, we headed back to the Spy Museum to take our place in line. Entrance to the museum begins with an elevator ride up to a waiting area where you are supposed to pick a cover identity from those listed on the walls around you. You then move into a briefing room where you're asked to think about what it means to be a spy. They then let you loose into the museum, which is packed with people.

The big problem is that there is lots to see, plus a handful of interactive stations where you try to identify things that look suspicious of where border guards question you in an attempt to break your cover story. It's neat, but when there are that many people trying to go through all the questions on one of two monitors, things clog up. Working your way through the crowd, however, yields the chance to see some neat pieces of kit, including spy cameras, concealed weapons, lockpicks, covert ops vehicles, etc. Most of the subsections are accompanied by videos that mix cinematic spycraft with testimonials from former intelligence officers and old training films. There's even a bit of ductwork that you can crawl through and a listening station to eavesdrop on other museum visitors.

Past all the tools and gadgets, the museum looks at the history of espionage from Biblical days up to the 20th Century. Among the exhibits is a sideroom looking at aerial observation from balloons to pigeons equipped with cameras. The exhibits then move into the evolution of the KGB and various Axis and Allied intelligence agencies and their role during World War II up to the point when the Soviet Union acquired atomic weapons.

From there, you move down a floor to the Cold War, with a heavy focus on a divided Berlin. There's a bit on pop culture spies and a room about Francis Gary Powers and other Cold War high-altitude observation techniques. The last exhibit focused on double agents.

All in all, it was a fun museum, but all the videos and interaction stations and twists and turns among the exhibits made it difficult to get around, especially with how many people were packed in there. If we go back, I think I'd rather go on a weekday in February when it hopefully will be less crowded.

There were some omission that struck me as a bit galling: In the panel about Navajo codetalkers, there was no mention of the other Native Americans who also played a role in that conflict. I went on a small rant about the omission of Native Americans using their language skills to relay messages that the Germans could not decode (albeit not in a formal program) during World War I until Evelin pointed out the small portrait of Choctaw WWI soldiers. Other omissions that bothered me: In the bit on literary spies, there was no mention of Chaucer, and in the bit on ballooning there was no mention of Napoléon's use of balloon-based observers.

While these are the sorts of things that set me off, Evelin was a bit ticked at the City Museum for its use of the word interactive to describe the multimedia show. The museum website describes the show thusly: “The multi-media show presented in the City Museum's 150-seat theater will use sound and light, disappearing sets and all manner of devices to present a program incorporating different perspectives on the city's history and filled with surprises.” But the staff at the ticket desk kept using the word "interactive,” which raised concerns from Evelin that she would have to interact in some manner with the program.

From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition:
in·ter·ac·tive ĭn'tər-ăk'tĭv 1. Acting or capable of acting on each other. 2. Computer Science Of or relating to a program that responds to user activity. 3. Of, relating to, or being a form of television entertainment in which the signal activates electronic apparatus in the viewer's home or the viewer uses the apparatus to affect events on the screen, or both.
The Spy Museum was definitely interactive. There were things to pick up, computers that quizzed you and gave you missions to fulfill, etc. The City Museum show was entertaining and I interacted by learning and laughing (including one good snort-laugh), but it wasn't dictionary-definition "interactive." It did have a faux interaction going on between a never-seen projectionist and characters on the stage, but that was the limit of things ... much to Evelin's relief.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Vegetarians Like Burritos

An interesting article in The Washington Post this morning looks at the growing sway of fast-casual Mexican-style restaurants -- Wielding the Bang Of a Big Burrito. The thing that wasn't overtly mentioned in the article, but that caught my eye, was the appeal of such places for vegetarians.

In talking about how these fast-casual places took market share away from old sit-down Mexican-style chain restaurants, the article notes that the new places are "emphasizing fresh ingredients, speed and lower prices in a lively atmosphere."
Chipotle, known for its overstuffed burritos, prides itself on gourmet touches: cilantro-lime rice, vegetarian-diet Bell & Evans chicken, Niman Ranch's free-range pork, and lots of spice. Baja Fresh has its signature self-serve salsa bar and advertises beans simmered without lard.
Both places, as well as Burrito Brothers, the D.C. area chain that's loads better than Chipotle or Baja Fresh, are very vegetarian friendly and make a point of noting that on their menu boards. I'm not saying that vegetarians are totally responsible for the boom in fast-casual Mexican food ... but it helps.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Hoppin' John

The James Beard Foundation's "Eat These Words" column a few years ago had this to say about hoppin' john:
Perhaps more interesting than the dish itself -- a classic Southern combination of black-eyed peas, salt pork, and rice -- are the many (outlandish) stories about the derivation of its name. Was it named after a lively waiter named John? For a cripple who pedaled beans on the streets of Charleston? For a custom in which children hopped around the dinner table on New Year’s before they were allowed to dig in? Hoppin’ John is traditionally eaten -- with collard greens and chitterlings -- on New Year’s Day for luck. Is it a corruption of the Caribbean dish pois à pigeon? Or was it a way that guests were invited to partake, as in "Hop in, John"? The origins of the dish itself are equally mysterious. Some cookbooks attribute it to Spain, others to Africa, still others to the Caribbean. One thing we know for a fact—it tastes good.
The first citation for the name, according to Food Timeline History Notes is in 1830.

The traditional wisdom is that the black-eyed peas (also called cowpeas) are for luck and/or health while the collard greens (usually served on the side, but my recipe cooks them together) are for wealth. But that can vary from tradition to tradition, as Eden Foods notes in this article about New Year's food traditions.

Growing up, I don't remember us ever really having hoppin' john as a child, at least not by that name. Instead, we would have black-eyed peas and cabbage. I don't know if it was because of my and my brother's food preferences or because of what my mother wanted to cook, but the cabbage was usually in the form of coleslaw, while the black-eyed peas were served stewed over rice.

Over the years, I've tried a lot of variations on New Year's black-eyed pea recipes, ranging from a doctored up jambalaya au congri that used white, brown, and wild rice (it also made a huge quantity) to different black-eyed pea stews to multiple hoppin' john recipes. Last Christmas, my parents gave Evelin and me a copy of Quick from Scratch Vegetable Main Dishes (part of the Food & Wine Books series), which includes a simple hoppin' john recipe that Evelin and I both like a lot after a few modifications/personalizations:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 4 scallions, chopped, green tops reserved

  • 1 toe garlic, minced

  • 1/2 pound collard greens, destemed, cleaned, and shredded

  • 1.75 teaspoons salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, fresh ground

  • a few dashes Tabasco

  • 4 Boca Bratwursts, defrosted, sliced in half and then cut into 1-inch slices*

  • an 11-ounce package of fresh black-eyed peas

  • 1 cup long-grain rice

  • 3 cups vegetable stock (I used Knorr Vegetarian Vegetable Bouillon cubes)
In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium flame. Add the onions, garlic, and whites of scallions and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the greens, salt, pepper, and Tabasco, and cook, stirring, until the greens wilt (a minute or three).

Increase the heat to moderately high and add the sausage, peas, and rice and stir together well. Pour in the broth and stir some more. Bring to a simmer, and then cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 20 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed. I tend to give it a few stirs during the first 10 minutes or so to make sure the rice isn't sticking to the bottom. Remove from heat, stir in the reserved greens of the scallions and serve with cornbread.

*The original recipe calls for a half pound of "kiełbasa or other smoked sausage." Since I'm vegetarian and I like the Boca Bratwursts, that's what I use; I could have picked up Boca Smoked instead. Boca's vegetarian sausages are really quite good and they work well as a substitute for meat sausages in recipes so long as the dish isn't counting on fat from the sausage to create drippings or anything. What would really be cool, however, is if Boca would make a vegetarian andouille.