Thursday, March 27, 2008

Now all I need are the butcher and the candlestick maker

Because moon-grrl asked so nicely, here's an update on my foray into the world of baking with Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day:


It really is every bit as easy as the book suggests. It's a matter of 10-15 minutes to mix the ingredients and you're touching the dough to shape it for 5 minutes, max. I'll photoblog better next time I do this and believe me, there will be a next time.

This whole thing started from a The Splendid Table podcast episode. You can listen to that episode here.

(Weird fact. When you do a Technorati search for "Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day," one of the blogs that pops up on the first page of searches is "My Penile Enlargement Reviews." Seriously.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How much incompetence is enough?

The "liberal" media is largely ignoring this recent story about McCain saying Iran is training Al Qaeda terrorists. He's wrong, of course, since Iran is largely Shia and Al Qaeda is basically a Sunni movement.

The McCain campaign is trying to pass this off as a "slip of the tongue" sort of thing. Saying "Shia" when you mean "Shiite" now and then is understandable, I suppose. This clearly wasn't just a simple mistake. McCain has said this exact same thing on at least four different occasions. His campaign has even been using this point in its literature.

I just want to point out how, not wrong, but stunningly wrong he is here. Even I knew the moment I heard that, that something wasn't right. That's sort of analogous to getting the Chinese and the Japanese mixed up during WWII, or maybe the Germans and the Russians.

OK, I get that the difference between "Sunni" and "Shiite" is confusing, but the guy is running to be head of the military during a war! It you cant tell Pakistan from the Taliban, it seems to me you lack one of the basic qualifications for the job.

The so-called liberal media is all but ignoring this. There was a smattering of coverage, then the spin began. It seems the party line is that he "misspoke." This wasn't a slip of the tongue. This wasn't him just meaning one word and saying another. As Glenn Greenwald points out, McCain has been making this same error, consistently, for days. The only reasonable explanations to me are that he genuinely doesn't understand that the Iraqi insurgents are not mainly Al Qaeda, or that he is attempting to perpetuate the myth that the Iraq war has something to do with 9/11 by conflating Al Qaeda with native-Iraq hostiles.

Whether it is honest incompetence or genuine malfeasance, it does not bode well for a McCain presidency.

(Update to get my own Shia/Sunni labels correct. Good thing I'm not running for President.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Behold, for it is risen!

... well, rising, anway.

When I was driving down to visit family over Christmas, I took a few podcasts of The Splendid Table with me to listen to in the car. One of the episodes features a new book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which is all about a new technique for making bread at home. In short, you mix up a lot of a very high-moisture dough and let it sit in the fridge, using it as you need it. That's really the whole of the idea. The book has been getting quite a bit of press, so I thought I'd give it a try. I got the book from the library and mixed up a batch of dough this afternoon. I didn't get a chance to actually cook any up today, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity for this post title on Easter. I'll let you know how it turns out.

And wouldn't you know it, you can see the technique for yourself here, posted on YouTube by one of the authors of the book:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Information Age has its down side too

There's an interesting post over at Balkinization. Eliot Spitzer's pecadillos were discovered when his bank reported suspicious transactions to the government, as they are required by law to do.

These events offer a window into a much larger phenomenon, the National Surveillance State, in which the state increasingly identifies and solves problems of governance through the collection, collation and analysis of information. Governments have always used information, but today's techniques are made more powerful and more prevalent by lower costs of computing and data storage.

If computing power increases enough, there is no reason why governments might not lower the threshold for reporting of suspicious transactions, or, indeed, require that every transaction over 100 dollars be reported. All this information could later be sifted through by data mining programs, in order to spot patterns of suspicious activity. The only limit is the technology and the manpower that law enforcement is willing to devote to analysis of financial transactions...

On the other hand, these developments carry all of the potential risks of a powerful National Surveillance State: Governments can make mistakes in assessing levels of criminality and dangerousness; and their data mining models may characterize innocent activity as suspicious. Without sufficient oversight and checking functions, government actors may misuse the additional knowledge they gain, for example, by instigating abusive prosecutions, or creating discriminatory systems for access to public and private services (like banks, airports, government entitlements and so on). And the more powerful government becomes in knowing what its citizens are doing, the easier it becomes for government to control people's behavior.

Remember, computing power isn't just increasing, it's increasing exponentially. Yet the government still manages to put our own Senators on terrorist watch lists.

Ryan is a high-class escort

Via Ryan, I find another of those Cosmo Internet quiz things:

bedroom toys Powered By Pleasure Store

I guess that just makes me a cheap slut.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Because everyone else is doing it

Via David, Matt, and Ryan. There's this quiz.

Like everyone else, I have no idea who this is. I believe that makes me old.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A food question

I had some cheese in the fridge that had been there a bit too long. The other day, I took it out and found it had become a bit moldy. But it was blue cheese. So does the mold make it better or worse?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

More anti-science from the News-Gazette

Every once in a while, I poke my head in to the News-Gazette blogs. I'm not sure why; they're usually just about sports and weather and are only intermittently updated. (These people aren't actually paid to blog, are they?) One of the more disappointing ones is Rhonda Robinson's. Her history of promoting creationism, anti-vaccination, anti-contraception, and oh-my-god-the-Muslims-are-coming paranoia never fails to make me shake my head and fear for the future of the children she homeschools.

A couple of weeks ago, she came out with a blog entry about how recent school shootings are caused by the use of antidepressants. She has no actual information, but supports her conclusion through innuendo, insinuation, conspiracy-theories, and an appeal to alternative (i.e. ineffective) medicine.

Here is the sum total of her argument:

No doubt there will be calls for more gun control, tighter security, but what I want to know most is will they look in [NIU shooter Steven Kazmierczak's] medicine cabinet.

The overwhelming majority of adolescent and young adult shooters have all been on, or withdrawing from psychotropic medications.

That's the totality of her argument. These shooters were taking psychiatric medications, therefore the medications are at fault for the shootings. The fact that these men were taking antidepressants for a reason doesn't seem to register with her. The fact that they were actually mentally ill is, apparently, irrelevant.

Her appeal to authority is rich, too. She cites Julian Whitaker when he says:

...guns and movies don't cause these tragically frequent episodes of inexplicable violence. The real reason is written out on a prescription pad by psychiatrists and doctors all over the country-these monstrous acts were done not by criminals, but ordinary people high on prescription drugs.

What she doesn't mention is that Whitaker is an alternative medicine quack, who treats people by means of diet and exercise changes, nutritional supplements, and chelation therapies. He actually believes there is a conspiracy among drug companies to over-proscribe psychiatric medications to children.

I'm not suggesting that psychiatric medications can't have serious side effects, or that they're not over-proscribed. I'm just saying that jumping to the conclusion that these shootings were caused by these medications based on no other evidence that the shooters were taking these medications, and ignoring the fact that they had underlying mental illnesses, is an example of poor critical thinking. Using that kind of logic to propose these medications be outlawed, as Whitaker does, is reckless and irresponsible.

Robinson doesn't mention that the two deadliest mass shootings in US history, the 1966 University of Texas Clock Tower shooting and the 1968 California State, Fullerton massacre, were both perpetrated by men who were seriously mentally ill, before the age of antidepressants. One was committed by a man who was depressed and had a brain tumor, the other committed by a paranoid schizophrenic. Undoubtedly, if their cases were discovered today they, too, would be on antidepressants. But that doesn't mean you can blame the violence on Prozac.

UPDATE: Just reacting to some of the stuff that's come up in the comments. I just want to say that we know that starting antidepressants can lead to an increased rate of suicidal behavior, especially in young people. So it's not entirely unreasonable to think that there might be a possibility that we might see an increase in violent behavior as well. Also, I don't think it's unreasonable to hypothesize that abruptly stopping antidepressants could lead to strange changes in behavior. As terrible as mass shootings are, they are fairly rare, so trying to establish a cause is difficult, at best.

My main complaint in this blog post was just to point out that Robinson sees a mentally ill person on antidepressants commit an act of violence and jumps to the conclusion that the antidepressants were to blame. Furthermore, she does so without evidence. She then goes on to quote a alternative medicine quack that thinks these rare events necessitate a complete ban on these drugs in spite of the fact that they have improved the quality of life for millions of people.