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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Fall Soup Log #'s 2 & 3

A second installment of souply goodness was had last week as I made a corn chowder with my leftover cabbage, potatoes, fresh rosemary from Dingo's garden, organic corn niblets, fresh ginger, assorted spices and coconut milk for milkiness. This is the first time I've made a "cream of" type soup using coconut rather than dairy or soy milk. It was an astoundingly tasty substitution. Although it sacrifices protein and adds saturated fat, it's a nice solution to anyone looking to avoid dairy products.

Tonight I'm cooking up my third pot: a mess of earthy spices (sage, cumin, bay leaves, curry powders) with tons of fresh garlic and some lentils I've had in my closet for at least three years! So far it smells incredible. I think I'll add some carrots and pearl onions before I serve.

Stave It Off Competition Committee Member Clay Smith has proposed an Iron Chef style cook-off. I suppose I could do that, but I'd rather have an all-soup potluck party at someone's house and let everyone enjoy a variety of tasty creations. If some people feel the need to solicit compliments or compete against other chefs, that's fine too.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fall Soup Log #1

Autumnal soups are the highlight of my life. It's a time for root vegetables... For external sources of warmth... For the hearty and the easily digestible liquid comestible. I'm not looking nearly so forward to three months of football, television season premiers or beautiful foilage as I am to the culinary joy of soup-making.

Last night I kicked off Fall Soup Season with an easy one. I filled my soup pot with half a cabbage (cut into large chunks,) one cubed rutabega, an onion, half a brick of chunked up tofu, a handful of dried shitaki mushrooms, coriander seeds, curry powder, garlic salt and a few veggie buillon cubes. 16 hours later I had a wonderful steamy treat for lunch (though if I had it to do over again, I'd add some fresh ginger and subtract some of the curry powder.) I think I may run two cups through the blender and mix it back in for added thickness, but overall, a very satisfying start.

During yesterday's shopping run I also picked up several bags of dried beans and lentils, 3 different colorful squashes, ginger root, turnips and tons of bulk spices... All of which should soon end up in my stock pot.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Our Ugly Secrets

I confess to having a preoccupation with "intentional ugliness". And the question I've been asking myself this week is, "Why?" Why do artistic movements occasionally appear that hold at their center an ethic of deliberately emphasizing their warts? In order to hold my fascination, these movements can't just be ironic. They can't embrace ugliness due to a simple lack of talent. They have to honestly look to the unpleasant for leadership.

Maybe my thoughts were triggered by watching Shallow Hal today (a movie that actually makes some interesting points.)

I think part of my interest comes from looking at what is revealed as people encounter ugliness, or, more to the point, when people encounter truth and beauty wearing the clothing of ugliness. What is it that we deprive ourselves when we avoid the abrasive, when we cringe away from the sickening, when we fear the repulsive? And why do some artists deliberately alienate the audiences who are unwilling to look deeper? In what way does an artist manipulate us by slapping us in the face? Does beauty, by itself, consume our attentions? Is BummerMan just a negative creep? I'd like to know your thoughts.

Have you ever changed your mind about an artist or a movement that you once found revolting?
How do you react when someone else is disgusted by something you find wonderful?
Can you admit to ever liking something because someone else (like Mom or Dad) was horrified by it?
How does this play into your feelings about censorship?
Why is that darn Post Secret blog so incredibly fascinating? _Rants


Tuesday, September 13, 2005


After spending way too many years feeling vaguely guilty and inferior for not reading enough, I've finally come to a realization. The reason I never developed a great love for reading is that so many books are crap. Writing a book is a challenging task... So my guess is that most writers fall back on the same formulaic techniques that network television uses. And, in the same way that watching too much TV is a bad thing, reading all these books also turns your mind into mush. I'm not interested in programming my brain to believe that problems all have tidy solutions or that life is filled with a few three dimensional main characters and a lot of two dimensional background.

Of course, there are many great books out there... And some of the greatest things one can learn can only be found in literature, but let's be honest about what is it that we're actually reading? Were you more likely to have read Gravity's Rainbow or Harry Potter last week? And argue all you want, reading Harry Potter is no better than watching a marathon of Welcome Back Kotter! I will say that readers, by and large, spell better and understand punctuation and grammar better than us non-reader types. Lucky you.

As I enter into a new phase of my life--a phase during which I have pledged not to read a single book--I can't help but look back on my life as a reader. The book I have the greatest respect for was The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment. Prolly cuz it sums everything up in like 65 pages. _Rants

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Monday's Musings Redux

Item 1 So today begins my week vacation. A week I took for odd reasons. I don't have any plans and I didn't coordinate the break with Carole or anyone else. I took it off because I'm expecting my employer to soon hire a new director for my program. When that happens, I don't want to be taking any vacation for a few months. Better to take it now than risk missing out on a week of the reformation process. I want to make sure I'm present and involved in any changes the program undergoes. So suddenly possessed with a free week, what do you think I ought to do with it? This is the audience participation part! The craziest idea: drive to New Orleans and see if there's any way I can help anyone. The feeblest idea: lock myself in my room and play videogames for an entire week. You got a middle ground to suggest?

Item 2 Stave It Off reader Seth "Saltshaker" Altshuler, now enrolled in MSW school down in Sacramento had this to say about WallMart (I paraphrased) :
Why hate WallMart? Cuz they pay their employees crap, and they don't give employees benefits until they've been working there for 9 months (compared to industry standard of 3 months). This creates lots of great jobs for Americans! Jobs that keep the employees below the poverty line AND uninsured. What does that create? Approximately $420,000 per year, per store (assuming 200 employees), of tax-subsidized social services (low income housing vouchers, public health options, hospital forbearance programs, etc.) Yet another wonderful example of how giant corporations are getting a massive handout from their pocket puppets in the white house.
God bless students and their uppity liberal idealism.

Item 3 September 11th came and went. Somehow I forgot to commemorate. I was too busy "bringing democracy to the middle east." Remember when killing Iraqis was supposed to be retaliation for something? Do we even realize how stupid and flimsy the reasons for this war really are? Man, we totally suck as a populace. Somewhere God is holding each American citizen accountable... just like he held all the Germans accountable for the crimes of the Nazis.

Item 4 I watched a documentary about Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire last night. In case that name is news to you, Nick Nolte's character (Col. Oliver) in Hotel Rwanda is modeled in part on Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commanding officer of the UN Peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. The amazing part was watching Dallaire's gradual breakdown due to post traumatic stress disorder. He relieved himself of command after he began suffering from mental lapses and angry outbursts. Living back in Canada after the genocide, at one point the highly decorated officer was found passed out drunk beneath a park bench. He has an intriguing legacy to live with. He was a voice of peace and reason amidst total chaos. He did advocate for a legal mandate to interfere on behalf of the Tutsi. But he has also been attacked for not disobeying his UN orders. Some have charged that he should have obeyed a higher moral ethic and used his power to prevent further bloodshed. The documentary shows him and his wife living back in Rwanda 10 years later trying to sort out his demons. Disturbing film. _Rants


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Grunge Revisited

It's been 15 years since the hype. Almost a generation has passed since I was a highschool lad and all I heard about was Blew and Big Dumb Sex and Touch Me, I'm Sick. Lately I've been asking myself, "So what was it all worth? What's the legacy of all that music, all that money, all those flannels?"

In order to reflect on that legacy, I first wanted to go listen to the source material. There wasn't too much grunge left in the old music collection. I think I sold more Subpop albums than I kept, but looking at what still lines my shelves all these years later was a good place to start. And I make full apologies, but I wasn't old enough or urban enough to know anything about Green River or Skin Yard. Grunge purists will be angry... grunge purists be damned.

First and foremost, there was a surprising amount of Nirvana: Bleach, Nevermind, Incesticide, Unplugged and In Utero all survived. As I plowed through it, there were a few validations and a few surprises. My thoughts: I should purge Unplugged, Bleach and Incesticide from the collection; In Utero is still (by far!) their best set of recordings and definitely one of The 5 Best Seattle Albums Of the Era; Unplugged really showcased their warts; Dave Grohl really wasn't a very good drummer; Kurt Cobain, however, was a standout of the genre... A true genius. Ben Shepherd, the second bassist for Soundgarden, told me after Cobain's suicide that every Soundgarden song ever recorded should be considered an homage to Kurt. A bunch of those songs were written before anyone had ever heard of Cobain, but he's right anyway. Without him grunge would never have truly separated from the school of hair-metal, and bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains would have gone down in history as brief heirs to the throne left by Guns and Roses. Kurt made it safe for rock to have a brain, to have vulnerability, and for its inheritors to hurl grapefruits at Axl Rose. Sadly, it's not surprising that Krist and Dave have sucked in their post-Nirvana endeavors. Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters project is offensively pathetic from a Grunge perspective (they did contribute some funny videos to MTV though.) Novoselic had a brief affair with politics, organizing JAMPAC, lobbying for underage music venues, and generally abusing his bully pulpit. He also attempted a solo musical career but found the public uninterested in any Novoselic product that didn't involve a certain blonde fallen angel of Seattle. Krist switched axes to an electric 12 string guitar, but his first solo project Sweet75 was a bust. His newest recording, Eyes Adrift, sees him reunited with Curt Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets (the guys that saved Nirvana's Unplugged album from total irrelevance,) and honestly, it isn't bad. It's something of a survivors therapy group (Kirkwood's brother Cris died after a long battle with drug addiction, and the band also features the drummer from Sublime,) but it sounds more like typical Meat Puppets psychodelic country than grunge. And as for post-Kurt faceplants, I'm not even going to talk about Courtney Love. Except to say that I still smile when I hear "Well I went to school... in Olympia-ah-ah-ah." Twas our unofficial Evergreen Geoduck fight song for a couple years there.

How important was this show? I dunno, but it did feature three major players in the bloated Seattle grunge scene. Soundgarden rode their glory, and leadman Chris Cornell's sex appeal, all the way into arena rock self-loathing. Sometime after releasing Down on the Upside, Soundgarden must have realized that they were becoming the new Led Zepplin. Naturally they broke up. In the aftermath, Ben did some side projects, playing with Mark Lanegan (more on him later) and fronting an oddball group called Hater. Matt (10 times the drummer Dave Grohl was) has found steady work pounding the skins for Pearl Jam (less on them later) and has guested with lots of groups including Queens of the Stone Age. Chris went on to replace Zach de la Rocha and turn the beloved, seminal Rage Against the Machine into the less beloved, less seminal Audioslave. I think Kim just hangs out with old friends and drinks beer now. Soundgarden's greatest moment (and the only CD I still own by them) was undoubtedly Badmotorfinger. The album crunches with massive stomping rhythms and makes angry stabs at the heart of its enemies. It made MTV's Headbangers Ball watchable and stands up today as one of The 5 Best Seattle Albums of the Era.

After enjoying a little success, the Screaming Trees also broke up, giving birth to the wonderful solo career of former front man Mark Lanegan. Freed from rock band trappings, his Whiskey for the Holy Ghost album isn't really grunge, but the sophomore solo set is also one of The 5 Best Seattle Albums of the Era. A lot of interesting cats have played behind Lanegan, but the melancholy acoustic guitar contributions of Mike Johnson were the most critical. Johnson, formerly of Dinasaur Jr., also released a series of intermittently brilliant solo albums on local labels. And while his whiskey & cigarette baritone rivals Lanegan's, his song writing doesn't.

Tad Doyle, the Loser King, the fattest rock star ever (far fatter than Meatloaf even!) completely kicked ass. Tad's 8-Way Santa and Inhaler albums were big fat masterpieces. They helped define the abrasive metal side of grunge. Inhaler has been one of the joyful surprises of this research project. I've been listening to it as I write this post and finding it more listenable today than ever.

All I'm going to say about Pearl Jam is that they aren't grunge. They were never grunge. I'm guessing that I would like some of their later stuff, but their first two hit-laden albums are abhorrent to me. Eddie Vedder's vocal style and phony emotional gravity flouted every ethic that grunge stood for. I'm also not willing to discuss hair-metal refugees Alice in Chains (despite their heroin fueled cry for credibility) or Nirvana industry clone Bush.

The Melvins may be the surprise hit of this retrospective. Totally over the top and unapologetic, I have never been able to stop liking Stag and the even more fantastic Stoner Witch, which today merits the rank of one of The 5 Greatest Albums of the Era. The Melvins, perhaps more than anyone, defined the "intentionally unlikeable" side of grunge. I never saw Buzzo or the gang in action, but all the reports say these guys were as iconoclastic as they were prolific (Amazon lists 32 separate recordings, most full length albums.) They also earn special mention for their cartoon-loving album art. I especially treasured a 7" of theirs depicting Warlock's grisly reanimation of Cypher from Marvel's New Mutants. Too bad the Melvins never teamed up with Mudhoney to beat the crap out of Pearl Jam. Speaking of Mark Arm and crew, I like everything Mudhoney stands for, I just never want to hear another of their songs again. I'm afraid they'll never make my top 5 rankings.

Here's another surprise band that creeps in and nabs the final entry to the best album club. NoMeansNo's Wrong is scathingly smart, brilliantly spare and manically twisted. It's also one of The 5 Greatest Albums of the Era. NoMeansNo still representz in the music collection. Counting their collaboration with intellectual punkster Jello Biafra, I still own three of their cds.

So Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mark Lanegan, the Melvins and NoMeansNo are the artists responsible for the albums on my top 5 list, and I think they stand up as a worthy pantheon. The grunge movement may have been a ridiculous hype fest, and I probably wound up wasting a lot of time listening to a lot of crap, but that would put me in good company with the fans of any other music movement, be it Manchester or NYC. It was the music of my youth, and it was nice to have local bands fuel my requisite adolescent angst. As for legacies, grunge bands were either visionaries or just hard rock placeholders for bands like Limp Bizkit and Tool. Either way they got rock stars out of spandex and helped force Metallica to shave their damn heads and that's good enough for me. _Music


Monday, September 05, 2005

Twin Killing

Diane and I hit up the Harvard Exit for a double feature last Sunday. We found that while it's inconvenient to waltz from one theater to the other, there didn't seem to be any security, so it actually proved little challenge. Helping us was the fact that they've moved the cafe into the main lobby, so we were able to slip from the upstairs theater into the waiting room/cafe without looking too inconspicuous. We took in two excellent films: 2046 and Broken Flowers. BummerMan was nowhere to be found. Both these films rated a solid 4 stars out of 5.

2046 is an unsettling and dreamy jaunt around the smoky backwaters of human relationships. More art film contrivance than true science fiction, the film's use of androids and time-traveling bullet trains only appear to serve the filmmaker's purpose of exploring desire, love and the heart's ultimate inaccessibility. It's a lonely story of sexual indulgence, a romantic tale of platonic friendship and a heart-melting vision of solitude. The film is wry, poignant and even sweet but bitterly pessimistic. The hardest part of the film to digest is the main character's unflappable commitment to emotional solitude; his true satisfaction appears to come only from his emotional attachment to his cigarette.
That said, there is much to love about this film and it's characters. It does not insult its viewer with a predictable ending or an implausible redemption of its central figures. And while unredeemed, the characters are human, lovable and filled with kindness. The film, which often depicts tears of frustration and loss (but sometimes with too little context to make sense,) is never about anger or cruelty. I think the genius of the film lies in it's quietness. It invites the attentive viewer to project their own failings, their own fears, onto the characters. In doing so, we're given a lush, haunting, gorgeous canvass to help us dissect our own lives.

Broken Flowers was the respite we needed after 2046. Though a reluctant hero, Murray eventually embraces his connection to the world. In his recently trademarked less-is-more approach, he teams up with the equally charming Jeffery Wright to explore his past, revisit old flames and seek out his unmet son. Thanks to Lost in Translation, no one will be surprised by this side of Murray, and no one will clamour this time for him to win the Oscar. But the humility, humor and humanity that pervade this film make it totally enjoyable. And it is Murray that brings this home. His interactions with Wright, Sharon Stone and Tilda Swenson are particularly compelling.
Lastly, while not nearly as slick as 2046, the soundtrack (as always with Jarmusch films) deserves special mention. I immediately went home and listened to samples of Mulatu Astatke's brilliant Ethiopiques. _Cinema