I have studied copyright law just a little -- enough to know that I am extremely unlikely ever to thoroughly understand it. That does not, however, stop me from having an opinion. With the Supreme Court hearing the MGM v. Grokster case, any number of people in the great somewhere out there have said this better than I ever could. So in case you care:
The best thing I've read so far on the case: Matthew Yglesias
The best bon mot on copyright in general I've seen in a while:
It can’t be said often enough. Copyright isn’t a “right” in the sense of the “rights of Man.” Copyright is a bargain. The object is to foster a society in which innovation is encouraged and rewarded. It isn’t to create a source of perpetual rents for an owner class. -- Patrick Nielsen Hayden
As the keeper of the Dregs guessed it would be, my first recipe post is about that childhood favorite, macaroni and cheese. I have always loved cheese, and macaroni and cheese has been one of my favorite foods since I was a child. Unfortunately, it's frequently very bad -- which combined with its relative unhealthfulness means that it's often not worth eating when it's on offer.
Still, I had occasionally had very good homemade macaroni and cheese, and knew that the recipe I wanted had to be out there somewhere. I began without a recipe, just an understanding of what the components should be: noodles, bechamel (turned into mornay with the addition of cheese), and a nice breadcrumb topping. I tried guessing at the correct proportions of noodles and sauce, but always wound up with not enough sauce for the noodles. So I consulted a couple of recipe books, and found that the proportions I'd been using were not wildly off. Unfortunately, these recipes also resulted in mac and cheese that was too dry and tasteless. And the cheeses in the recipes (usually a combination of cheddar and monterey jack) also seemed to result in a rather bland dish. The basics seemed right, but something was missing.
Then I tried Alton Brown's baked macaroni and cheese recipe, and finally experienced mac and cheese nirvana. The key difference between this recipe and others I've attempted: much less pasta per unit of sauce. This recipe calls for 8 oz. of noodles for a sauce made with 3 cups of milk and 12 oz. of cheese, while most of the other recipes I've tried call for a full pound of noodles for a sauce made with 4-5 cups of milk and 16 oz. of cheese. So this mac and cheese turns out much more creamy, flavorful, and delicious than any of the others I've tried. I've made this dish four or five times now, and have fine-tuned it a little for my own tastes:
This clearly isn't health food, but I think I've finally hit on a macaroni and cheese that tastes good enough to be worth its fat and calories. Enjoy.
And as long as I'm considering the almighty Dan:
That's much more fun than it should be.
In the coming-as-a-shock-to-no-one category: a new study finds that college faculties are overwhelmingly populated by self-described liberals. Even engineering and business departments, generally regarded as more conservative than other disciplines, were found to have many more faculty describing themselves as liberal than as conservative. The study was done by respected academics, but funded by the right-wing Randolph Foundation.
Conservative commentators have already begun indignantly presuming that this imbalance exists because liberal senior faculty and administrators discriminate in hiring against those who hold different political views. While I would never assert that this doesn't happen (and I have heard tales of this kind of bias going the other direction), I have a hard time believing that that could really be the primary cause of the imbalance between liberals and conservatives in academia.
What I suspect is that academia is rife with liberals for similar reasons that the fields of K-12 teaching and librarianship are: people who choose those fields are frequently willing to sacrifice earning power and worldly prestige in exchange for working in a field that seems (at least initially) not to require a total values compromise. Not that academics who really make it don't earn well and have a decent amount of social capital: they do, but compared to what's possible in the private sector, the possibilities in academia are relatively limited. The typical liberal dedication to education, tolerance, and free speech means that liberals feel right at home in college and university environments, where, at the very least, a whole lot of lip service is paid to such values and their exercise.
It's still a chicken-and-egg problem in a way, though. Would more conservatives choose academic careers if the environment was friendlier to their beliefs? Or does (over)education really turn people into liberals? I don't know the answer, but the accusation of discrimination is simplistic, weak, and fails to consider a huge number of more likely explanations.
Dr. Dregs and I came to the unpleasant realization a couple of months ago that we were spending far, far too much money eating out -- and what's worse, we weren't even eating particularly well. We had all of the usual excuses: we were too tired to cook after working all day; we didn't have time; we couldn't agree on what to eat. We knew we needed to change our ways, but once you're out of the habit of cooking for yourself, it's hard to re-establish it. We thought about what we could do to make eating at home more appealing. A little thought brought us to the conclusion that we didn't eat at home because we didn't want to eat at home. Why didn't we want to eat at home? We were in a major "food rut" as far as our usual home dining choices were concerned. The solution (we hoped): branch out and try some new recipes.
Both of us have always liked to cook, and I had devoted quite a bit of time and effort to becoming a competent baker. But baked goods alone obviously weren't going to be the answer. We weren't unwilling to cook, and I was very interested in becoming a better cook, but what we needed was some inspiration.
We turned to cookbooks, of course -- relying primarily on a few old standbys: The Joy of Cooking (from whence I learned many of my baking skills, as well as basics like how to roast a chicken), Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking(which once upon a time made me brave enough to attempt making pasta by hand), and Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book (a great primer on many basic techniques despite its limitations). But we needed more than collections of recipes to really inspire us.
So (I am almost ashamed to admit) we turned to TV. Having long been fans of Iron Chef, we had seen bits and pieces of other shows on Food Network, but had rejected them as boring, annoying, and/or useless. Then we discovered Good Eats. For those of you living under the same culinary rock as we used to, "Good Eats" is an eminently practical cooking show that also manages to be entertaining. The host, Alton Brown, is a major geek (not just when it comes to food), and sometimes the dork factor of the show is almost unbearably high. But most of the time, the show provides clear demonstrations of useful techniques, presents good recipes, and explains the science behind cooking in an entertaining way. We also started watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS. This show is even dorkier than "Good Eats," but similarly presents excellent, tasty (and exhaustively tested) recipes along with the necessary techniques to make them. With TiVo season passes for both shows, we were in business, and finally inspired enough to start cooking more for ourselves.
So that's my lengthy introduction to what I intend to turn into an ongoing series of posts about food. Basically, these will be reviews of specific recipes we've tried, along with ways we have improved (or intend to try improving) them. When the recipes are available online, I will link to them. Bon appetit.
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.
The greatest threats to the security of Battledale are the House Jaelre drow (see Cormanthor, below), who see an opportunity to overthrow a weak dale while they gather their strength to deal with better defended or better organized dales. Skirmishes against the drow concern the Battledarrans greatly because of the quadrennial Shieldmeet festival to be held outside Aencar's manor at Midsummer. The Lord of Essembra seeks loyal and competent adventurers to help him secure Battledale's borders before the festival begins.-- Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting
Eep. I'm really not as geeky as all that. Well, maybe I am -- besides D&D books, other nearby books tend heavily toward library-geekdom. This was fun in spite of my embarassing results, however...
(Thanks to Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast)
I eat more than my share of fast food, but I never eat Wendy's chili. Apparently, this has been a good choice on my part: a Wendy's customer in San Jose, California found a human finger in his cup of chili yesterday.
I tend not to be too grossed out at the occasional reports of insects and random animal parts turning up in food. Yes, it's disgusting when this happens, but I figure I consume various unsanitary and queasy-making things all the time without knowing it. And usually, when these things are publicized, the presence of an offensive bit of detritus can be explained by negligence in processing, or something. What gets me about this particular story is that I can't come up with a logical explanation for how a human finger could have ended up in that batch of chili -- and apparently, neither can Wendy's or the local authorities. Ewww.
Every once in a while, an event of import from my former life in musicology merits mention. This time, I direct you to the New York Times obituary of Stanley Sadie, the British musicologist whose major life work was editing the bedrock essential reference work The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, a tool which English-speaking musicians, scholars of music, and librarians alike rely on constantly. Sadie saw the original Grove's Dictionary expand from nine volumes to twenty, a revamping and expansion so thorough that the encyclopedia was renamed the "New Grove" when it was first published in 1980. The second edition, published in 2000, saw even further expansion, and the simultaneous publication of Grove Online, cementing The New Grove's place as the indispensable music reference work in English.
It seems appropriate to suggest not a moment of silence in Sadie's honor, but rather a moment of Mozart (on whom Sadie was an expert): I think I'll listen to the fluid and meltingly beautiful Adagio from the Gran Partita.
Presumably students have been complaining about the high cost of textbooks as long as they've been required to buy them. But there is mounting evidence that textbook prices really are higher now than they've ever been, as publishers put out new editions with minor changes and useless bundled content (such as CD-ROMs) just so they can raise the price. To help students learn about alternatives to buying brand new textbooks at list price, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries have prepared this pamphlet, describing ways that students can get their textbooks cheaper (or even possibly avoid buying them altogether).
It's good to see the library of a major public university acknowledging this crisis for students so openly and providing information and choices. It's not that I think textbook publishers and authors shouldn't profit from their efforts. But I think there are some troubling ethical issues in maximizing profits at the expense of students, who are already having enough trouble paying for their educations. It should be possible to balance the need of publishers to make a profit with the need of students to afford higher education.
Just a note to say that I haven't dropped off the face of the planet. As you can surmise from my last post (lo these many weeks ago), I've been sick with a nasty virus, and I just haven't been up to blogging the last couple of weeks. I'm finally recovering and will be posting regularly again soon.
In the meantime, a question:
Do you like background music? Do you typically play music when you're engaged in other activities? Do you ever just sit down and listen to music without doing anything else?
More on this topic later...
Finally came down with the nasty cold Doc Dregs has had for the last couple of weeks. I hoped that I wouldn't get sick, and tried hard to get enough sleep, eat right, wash my hands frequently, and all of the other things we're supposed to do to keep our resistance up, but in the end I couldn't outlast this virus. Well, I'm not complaining. I've had a couple of mild colds this winter, and even though one did cause me to lose my voice for a couple of days at a most inconvenient time, I haven't been really down-and-out sick since last August.
So, like I said, I'm not complaining. Instead, I want to ruminate a little bit on the weirdness of sleep when I'm sick. Everyone seems to recognize that the experience of sleep changes when one is ill. Does how it changes depend on the individual? You tell me...
The typical cold virus makes me feel almost constantly exhausted, not to mention uncomfortable, and just generally out of sorts. So sleep is a welcome respite from the discomfort, and it often comes easily. The amount of time that the illness lingers seems to pass more quickly when I sleep a lot, and supposedly extra sleep helps the body fight the virus more efficiently.
But sometimes the sleep of sickness is almost more of a torment than a relief. Frequently, my sleep is both deep and shallow. It's deep in that I have vivid dreams, all my limbs feel too heavy to move, and upon awakening, I'm ridiculously groggy, unable to function normally for more than an hour after waking. But my sleep is often also shallow, in that I retain a distant awareness of my physical discomfort, some of which is only worsened by sleep (particularly a sore throat, which is aggravated by breathing). Also, I sleep hot when I'm sick (whether or not I'm actually feverish), and often have a vague sense of trying to kick the blankets off, even though I feel unable to move my limbs.
My dreams when I'm ill are almost frighteningly vivid, although I usually remember nothing of them beyond a few images and very strong emotions. They aren't necessarily nightmares, but they don't tend to be happy dreams either. Mostly, they seem strange, even stranger than "normal" dreams, if there is such a thing. The concept of "fever dreams" is a powerful cross-cultural trope that almost everyone seems to understand, but these are not exactly fever dreams, since I have them whether I'm feverish or not. Does illness -- even something as mild as a cold virus -- alter brain chemistry in a way that produces bizarre dreams?
Finally, there is the mystery of why sleep sometimes refuses to come. I've been through periods of terrible, draining insomnia in my life, though not recently -- a slight effort to get a bit more exercise seemed to cure that completely. But last night, I woke up at 4 AM. I felt relatively good, rested and alert. I felt none of the sleepiness or exhaustion that I usually feel at all times when I'm sick. But since it was four in the morning, and I'd only been asleep for about five hours, I tried to go back to sleep, knowing that if I were going to go into work today, I would need more rest. But it wouldn't happen. I couldn't get back to sleep. I took a warm bath, hoping it would relax me enough to ease me into slumber. No dice. So I picked up a book, thinking that I would nod off after a few pages. Still no luck. I kept reading, and finally, at some point after 6 AM, I started to feel the exhaustion creep back in, and went back to sleep. But needless to say, I was not prepared to rise at 7 and go to work. When I did wake again, I felt awful -- stuffy nose, sinus headache, raw throat -- and like I needed to sleep more. So I did.
Will I be able to sleep tonight? I hope so, since I really need to go to work tomorrow. After two days out, I don't want to contemplate how far behind I am. Even if I do sleep, I wonder if I will sleep comfortably or restlessly. There seems to be no way to predict, and no way to guarantee a good sleep. It's a mystery.
Inside Higher Ed has this piece on elite private colleges and universities that find themselves at, near, or just over the $40,000-a-year mark for tution and fees. Institutions in this, um, exclusive club include Brown, Swarthmore, Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Smith, Wesleyan, and many other top-tier private universities and liberal-arts colleges, including Oberlin, my alma mater, where total expenses for the current school year were a whopping $38,810.
Although I imagine that $40,000 is a frightening number for most people to contemplating paying for a year of higher education, it's still true that only students from the wealthiest families actually wind up footing the entire bill. Most receive financial aid, which in the case of students from low-income families usually covers the lion's share of college expenses. As a low-income Oberlin student in the early 90s (when total expenses were in the slightly less jaw-dropping neighborhood of 25 grand a year), I and my family never paid more than a small fraction of those expenses (not that it wasn't still a hardship).
The quandary for colleges and universities at this level has to do with the psychological significance of the $40K figure. Many (most?) students and parents, lacking a real understanding of how financial aid works at these institutions, could be discouraged from even applying, thinking they could never afford them. On the other hand, as one administrator puts it, "more and more people associate high costs with quality." So elite privates almost need to keep their costs at comparable levels to avoid the perception that their tuition is lower because their offerings are not as strong.
The real winners in all of this could be top-tier public colleges and research universities, many of which offer comparable educational quality (if a little less prestige) without the shockingly large price tag. Of course, the way things have been going with public higher ed funding over the past ten years or so, it may only be a matter of time before all higher ed in the U.S. is essentially a private endeavor.
When is a town too small to support a library? Apparently, never--at least when the town is Monowi, Nebraska, population 1 (yes, 1).
The one remaining resident of Monowi, Elsie Eiler, 71, runs the tavern, the only business left in town. But when her husband, a voracious reader, died, he requested that his personal library become the town's public library. Elsie and her children fulfilled this request. The library building has floor-to-ceiling shelves, a plywood floor, and no heat -- but it also has a collection of 5,000 books. There is no catalog, no system for shelving the books, no way to find the book you want to read other than assiduous browsing and serendipity. Circulation happens on the honor system. But the essential spirit of the public library is present in spades: the books are there for the use, pleasure, and education of all of the area's residents.
It's nice to be reminded in this age of everything digital that the basics still matter. Even without spending many thousands or millions of dollars on whizbang digital tools and online content, a collection of books, shared freely, is still a benefit to the community. This is something I hope we never lose sight of as we continue to pursue the bleeding edge of technology. The heart of what really matters -- and the reason that libraries matter -- is the dedication to access for all, intellectual freedom, and self-education.
Let's take a moment to celebrate the happy marriage of two of my favorite things: libraries and iPods. Wired has the story of a Long Island public library which now owns ten iPod Shuffles. What does it do with them? It circulates audiobooks on them. Library patrons can check out an iPod Shuffle loaded with a complete audiobook title. Eleven titles are currently offered.
The library expects to save money in the long run by using iPod Shuffles, since downloaded audiobooks are often a fraction of the price of audiobooks on CD. This is a pretty nifty idea -- one that I suspect will meet with more success than the circulating e-book readers in which many libraries have invested. iPods and libraries: it's a beautiful thing.
Some small Great Plains towns are offering free land and other perks to anyone who will move there. Watching their populations dwindle as more and more of their residents move to urban areas, towns like Crosby, ND are using creative means (well, okay -- good old-fashioned bribery) to attract new citizens.
What I don't understand about this approach is how the newcomers are expected to support themselves. I assume that a major reason -- probably the primary reason -- why people don't stay in small, rural towns is that jobs are scarce, especially good jobs that pay a reasonable salary and hold a little bit of interest. It's all well and good to try to lure people in with free land, cheap houses, and other incentives, but unless they're independently wealthy, they will need gainful employment -- as as far as I know, opportunities for such are sorely lacking in most small towns.
Even my hometown of Rapid City, SD -- a relatively prosperous small city with a population of over 60,000 -- offers precious few employment possibilities for an educated person. Service jobs are plentiful, since Rapid City is a regional retail hub, and I hear it's an excellent place to set up a medical practice (taxes are low, low, low). But otherwise, opportunities are minimal. I personally don't wish to live in Rapid City (despite its proximity to the Black Hills and its gorgeous climate), but I know other ex-Rapid Citians who might like to return, but who simply can't find decent jobs.
If jobs are a problem in a small city that serves its entire region, what must the situation be like in a truly small town? I sympathize with the plight of these towns, but I wonder if there's a place for them in the 21st century economy. I also wonder how our culture will be poorer if they don't survive.
Wasted three hours last night unable to tear myself away from VH1 Classic, a channel squarely targeted at those of us who unwisely spent significant portions of our formative years in front of MTV in the 80s. The Tuesday night gimmick is that they play two videos from each artist, which makes it really easy to wallow in both their cheesy, vapid lousiness and their flashes of unwitting greatness. A few observations:
So there you have it. My day-after reaction to the massive overdose of music and video that is (mostly) better forgotten is rather like my reaction to having drunk too much the night before: the shame of having done it (along with the hangover -- I did have a splitting headache all day today) means that I probably won't do that again for a while. But as the shame fades, the memory of the fun I had will remain...and one day, I'll be sucked in as I idly flip through the channels. Just call it a guilty pleasure. At least this one is calorie-free.