Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Europeans are coming

The 80th Oscars for acting were all picked up by Europeans.

While unusual lately, this has been the case for all sorts of performance art. Readers might not know who this is, back from 1968:
This is Dusty Springfield, a British singer whose "white soul" album Dusty in Memphis is one of the all-time greats. Boston Brahmin recently rediscovered her song "Son of a Preacher Man" from this album, which is reproduced on the soundtrack of the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction.

Written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins, "Son of a Preacher Man" is sung by a woman remembering her first love, a preacher's son. Dusty Springfield's husky voice gives the recording an unforgettable, haunting ambience. It's hard to believe that her voice was dubbed. Rolling Stone magazine says:
Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler brought her way down South, to Memphis, to make this album. She was so intimidated by the idea of recording with session guys from her favorite Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding hits that she never sang a note there. Her vocals were overdubbed in New York. But the result was blazing soul and sexual honesty [...] that transcended both race and geography.
(See review in Rolling Stone magazine).

Amen. These qualities come through in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack CD. That Quentin Tarantino sure knows his songs.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What the election results mean

Journalist Ahmed Rashid analyzes the results of the elections in Pakistan and the subsequent jockeying between parties to form a government. The new alliances at the provincial level between the PPP and various regional players are worth noting, especially the one with the ANP in the NWFP:
In the North Western Frontier Province that has been torn apart by civil war, the majority of seats have been won by a PPP ally, the Awami National Party (ANP).

The ANP has perhaps some of the most seasoned and battle-hardened politicians in the country - a pedigree that goes back to the 1930s.

It has tried, despite blockages put up by Mr Musharraf, to foster a more modern and moderate image of Pashtun nationalism than the one put up by the Pakistani Taleban and al-Qaeda. Now it will have every chance of success.
See full article on BBC site.
This secular ANP is the same as the old NAP of Bacha Khan (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the "Frontier Gandhi"). They have won this election in NWFP on the promise of better governance than the religious coalition MMA.
While the U.S. punditocracy is focused monomaniacally on whether the new Pakistan government will be less willing than Musharraf to continue the war on terror (a ridiculous proposition -- the specter of Jihadi terrorism threatens everyone in Pakistan), we seem less interested in what it is that these people actually want. It seems the answer is: the same that we want: clean water and electricity.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How to open a coconut

At the Maine Caucus, Chelsea Clinton gave an example of how Hillary is a problem solver. The Clintons had bought a coconut and were trying to break it open:
Chelsea allowed as how her father and she had gone outside, and thrown the coconut again and again onto the hard asphalt of the governor’s mansion’s driveway, hoping to make a dent. But the coconut, alas, refused to yield.

Finally, Hillary came outside with a hammer.
(see NYT op-ed by Jenny Finney Boylan).

What this reminded Boston Brahmin of was: few people really seem to know how to open a coconut. It should open in two neat halves, and it should not make your kitchen look like the site of a bomb blast. It's time for a lesson.

So, let's assume you have in your hand a coconut with the husk removed, which is what the Clintons seem to have had. It looks like a hard, bristly nut, bigger than a baseball. (If the husk is still on it, the coconut will look like a light football; you'll have to rip open the husk with a strong screwdriver and make the coconut bald first).

Step 1: One end is pointed; look for the three dark penny-size spots on the other end. These are the "eyes". Probe them with a pointed tool, like a small screwdriver or a corkscrew. One of the three will be soft. Punch a hole in it, making it as big as you can.

Step 2: Pour out the coconut water into a glass through the hole. The water should be delicious, otherwise the coconut may be old or spoiled.

Step 3: Wet the "equator" of the coconut (if the pointed end is a pole) with water. I just open a very narrow stream of water from the kitchen tap and slowly turn the coconut under it to wet the entire equator. Rub the equator with your finger to help the water to soften the shell. (This step is optional, but Boston Brahmin has always found that it helps.)

Step 4: Hold the coconut firmly in your palm. On a hard and strong surface, repeatedly strike the coconut along the equator, turning it slightly each time. I usually squat on my concrete porch; a driveway also works. Be firm, but you don't have to swing it like a baseball bat: keep rotating the coconut and striking it. The best spot to start with is the place where the natural "meridian" seam meets the equator. After a few cracks, it usually starts to split roughly along the equator. Then start to be more gentle. You don't want to pinch your skin into the opening cracks.

The above method produces two neat halves. As to how to scrape out the pulp, the best thing is the scraper traditionally used in South India, or the "gkra-dtai" used in Thailand. (See samples of tools at GourmetSleuth). But if you don't have that, you'll have to use a knife.

Now, there are web sites where people try to explain this, e.g., this one, but they try to punch out all three eyes, which is not worth the trouble. The soft eye is very easy to pierce, but the other two are much harder. And they make the same mistake that Hillary made, which is to try to smash it with a hammer. It produces messy smithereens. Very unprofessional.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

We have tortured, and we would do it again

CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the Administration has used waterboarding on three detainees.
"We used it [waterboarding] against these three detainees because of the circumstances at the time," Hayden said. "There was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable. And we had limited knowledge about Al Qaeda and its workings. Those two realities have changed."
(See full story in Chicago Tribune.)

This is an admission of a crime. Waterboarding is already torture according to the Geneva Conventions, which apply to all detainees in the custody of the U.S. government.

Senator Richard Durbin (D - Illinois) wrote a letter yesterday to Attorney General Mukasey asking him to investigate possible crimes by the administration.

In his letter to Attorney General Mukasey, Durbin wrote, “In light of your testimony that, ‘There are circumstances where waterboarding is clearly unlawful,’ the Justice Department should investigate the instances in which the Administration has used waterboarding to determine whether any laws were violated.”

In the beginning, there was Deadwood

Boston Brahmin loves his local library (yeah, New England!). In addition to books, they have an extensive DVD collection. Since BB doesn't subscribe to cable television, he had never seen the HBO series "Deadwood" until he saw the first season on DVD.

"Deadwood" is historical fiction, set in 1876 in a small mining town ("camp") in Dakota Territory. Gold had been found in these hills, but they had not yet been incorporated into the United States, so it was still the crucible in which the country was still being cooked.

"Deadwood" is far more realistic than the insipid Westerns that we are used to seeing. The best thing about it is the language: old, yet very rough and full of profanity, just like the primeval mining towns must have been in the olden days, before there were any laws.

The British actor Ian McShane (extreme left in the picture above) plays the remarkable warlord-like Al Swearengen, owner of the Gem Saloon, where all manner of vices abound. Also appearing are a host of historical characters including Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and others.

Do you like "The Sopranos"? "Deadwood" makes that look like kindergarten: it explores not just crime but also law, politics, architecture, capitalism, and power. Caution: this series is not for the squeamish, nor for children. (See Nancy Franklin's review of the first season in The New Yorker from June 2006).

Run, don't walk, to get the DVD version of Deadwood. The DVD mastering is very high quality, and I believe all three seasons are available. The writer/creator David Milch (who created police dramas like "NYPD Blue") has created a masterpiece.