In re: All American: Cinco de Mayo

You can’t get much more American than the Fifth of May, better known as Cinco de Mayo.  Cinco de Mayo’s origins are not surprisingly Mexican and come from the State of Puebla, where they celebrate on May 5: El Día de la Batalla de Puebla, commemorating the Mexican army’s victory over the French in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla.  As many of you know by now, Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s independence day, let alone  national holiday – yet here in America it has grown into a holiday not just for Mexicans in quite an American way.  The origins of the American celebration go back to the year after the battle, with Mexicans and Latinos living in California being the first to celebrate in the US.  What has followed is what happens to most things that get tossed into the cultural blender that is the United States – mutations and mixing ensue and what emerges is wholly American.  So instead of some tame holiday remembering a battle, what we now have is a day for Mexican restaurants to make out like Irish bars (and every other bar) on St. Patricks day.  Cafeterias get to serve tacos, bars stock up on tequila and in general a lot of people get to have a good time.

This isn’t that different that what has happened with what we think of as Mexican food has gone through.  This past week the NY Times had an article (How the Taco Gained in Translation) discussing a new book Taco USA by Gustavo Arellano about how Mexican food became part of the mainstream American cuisine.  I haven’t read the book yet, some of the authors ideas I think I am going to disagree with (he has a problem with Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless –  without having read all of what he says about it yet I think I am going to disagree there – as I think educating Americans on non-fusion, regional Mexican cooking is a good thing).  The book still does sound interesting for its accounts of how Americans (primarily white Americans) have been able to take Mexican ideas and turn them into successful American staples (fritos, tortilla chips, salsa and of course Taco Bell).

As we continue to fuse more and more cultures and cuisines into our repertoire (think Korean tacos, Califonia rolls and all our sushi with cream cheese, Chinese American food and heck spaghetti and meatballs) and continue the melding of older ones.  The new Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos – which despite what I may thought about the thing based on their advertising- is apparently doing amazingly well and may be a bit more complicated in its origins than I would have guessed.  Soft tacos from Mexico turned into crispy fried tacos and tortilla chips here in America, where years later down in Tijuana street food vendors turned Tostitos corn chips into a dish called Tostilocos: a base of Tostitos chips covered with things like jicama, pickled pig skins, tamarind candies, peanuts, cucumbers, fruit, chilies or anything else one could think of  (See Tostilocos, Tijuana Street Food, Hits the Mainstream – NY Times).  That kind of miss mash then turns around and comes back to us as Locos Tacos as Taco Bell.

So this brings me back to Cinco de Mayo and what made me think of all this in the first place – the following ad I saw from Donatos.  What could be more American?

Donatos Cinco De Mayo


In re: Flip Flop Fly Ball

Recently recieved as an early birthday present (very early indeed) a fantastic book Flip Flop Fly Ball by Craig Robinson.  I had seen a few shots from the book and knew instantly when I saw it that I would love it.  (I love graphical representations of information and have the amazing Charles Joseph Minard depiction of Napoelon’s march on Russia hanging in my office — order here)  What I didn’t realize and if you don’t want the amazing opening lines of the book ruined stop reading now — the author is not American, didn’t grow up watching baseball, got interested in it less than 8 years ago and lived in Germany at the time he got into baseball.  What you say!  I was surprised to say the least, but he has a great story of how he got into baseball, watched on the internet and eventually created all kinds of amazing infographics depicting all kinds of cool stats like the altitudes of each ball park and a venn diagram taxonomy of team names.  So for any baseball fans who have a soft spot for good visual design and some nifty infographics I highly recommend Flip Flop Fly Ball.

see his blog Flip Flop Fly Ball and also see a review on Slate of the book Flip Flop Fly Ball: Four infographics from Craig Robinsons baseball graphics tour de force. 1 – By Craig Robinson – Slate Magazine.

In re: Coffee consumption up north

“We know from lots of other situations that the Scandinavian nations lead the world when it comes to such important things like environmental matters, gender equity, income equality. But amazingly, its not just Finland where they need a lot of coffee amidst all the darkness to make it through the day. But its Norway, Sweden and Denmark — all of those four countries take the top four stops globally in the world for coffee consumption.”

via Which country drinks the most coffee? | Marketplace From American Public Media.

Had this passed on to me because as you may remember I noted all the caffeine in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Well,  apparently Stieg Larsson the author the Millennium Trilogy (Girl w/ the Dragon Tattoo is the first book) was just being accurate when he put a pot, thermos,cup or some other form of coffee in every scene in the book, including 3 am when someone is going to bed.

On a side note I finished all three of the books (on a borrowed Kindle DX) and aside from wishing as many have that Mr. Larsson was still alive to work on the fourth book (selfish I know) it did lead to me ordering up the new wifi only Kindle.

In re: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Just read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson the first of his three part millennium trilogy published after he passed away. I enjoyed the book a lot, figured no need for a review here as it’s an epic bestseller and it seems like everyone else has already read it. So I’ll only mention one thing – it’s insane how much coffee they drink in this book (maybe all Swedes do?) either way it doesn’t matter what time of day they are drinking coffee in that book – I was impressed.

Oh one other thing to note is that the first book I ever read on a Kindle (borrowed) and was impressed. Haven’t tried reading a book on an iPad (no one lent me one yet?) to compare to but one thing that was nice about the kindle aside from the ability to read outside in bright sun and not strain the eyes is actually the lack of other stuff to do (technically it has some kind of web browser and an mp3 player, but trust me you aren’t going to be using these)  so instead of popping over to see your email or check your twitter feed you  stick to your book which has some advantages. I don’t know. Still figure I’d choose an iPad but who knows if amazon got the kindle below $100.

In re: Kindle’s audio – blessing for the blind or copyright violation?

Users with disabilities are fighting back against a recent attempt by the Authors Guild to shut down the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature.

About 300 people drawn from the National Federation of the Blind and partner organizations protested outside the offices of the Authors Guild in New York Wednesday in hopes of reversing the Guild’s stance. The Guild claims that the text-to-speech feature of Amazon’s new e-book reader violates authors’ copyrights.

via Amazon’s Kindle 2 Pits Authors Versus the Blind | Gadget Lab |

Version 2.0 of Amazon’s Kindle added a controversial feature that turns text into speech.  Supposedly it doesn’t sound too artificial and is tolerable for a time for most users, but more then tolerable for those with diminished vision who consider it a huge advancement in getting content to them in a usable format (text to speech isn’t new, the article above notes some of the issues surrounding the current systems, but part of Kindle’s appeal is the library of titles you can load up in seconds and listen to – makes you think there is a market for Kindles without screens.)  As with all developments in technology we are getting confronted with new issues (Google Book Settlement and DVD Ripping issues are just two other ones among the many).  The question remains, when I buy your bestseller what bundle of rights am I getting and is one of them the ability to have a synthesized voice convert the words to audio?  Somehow I feel there is a losing battle for the Authors Guild on this one, but they shouldn’t fret in my opinion as I don’t think this will ever replace the mainstream audiobook market where authors, actors and professional voices read the books.

In re: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

200903011136.jpgIf you’ve been fortunate enough to catch me getting into a rant recently on the subject you already know that I just finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, a Berkley journalism prof and NY Times magazine contributor. The book, which I had been meaning to read for a long time, hit upon exactly a subject I am extremely interested in and believe is skipped over by a lot of us in our  society that strives only for quantity and low cost  (but is starting to change) and that is understanding all the dynamics of the food we eat, the impact of our choices that are much greater than most of us understand. Okay before I start getting too lofty, let’s get back to the basics, for those who don’t know this book, it attempts to chronicle several meals, one based upon what is now the norm, the monoculture (corn & soy  among others) and fast food / industrialized food based upon these. Another meal is based upon a very different type of agriculture, on a small farm where food is local, animals are grazed on grass and all the profound changes that occur from this type of diversified farming. The last meal he goes through is a hunter/gather meal for the most part (his gathered sea salt doesn’t turn out too good from the San Francisco bay, but the rest works out pretty good — wild pig, mushrooms, wild yeast, etc.).

While I think just understanding the food chains we live in is a useful exercise, the book does a good job showing how far we have strayed from our origins (and arguably what we have evolved to eat) with our creation of the massive corn fields and cheap subsidized corn, that create corn syrup and any other number of other derivative substance as well as creating the cheap feed that encourages the toxic feed lots that fatten cattle with a food they aren’t designed to eat (thus requiring lots of drugs). While there may be other things that are harming the American diet, the thing I most took away from the book is that all the problems of this type of food society are inherently taken care of using more traditional methods of raising livestock on grass and careful rotation.

The last part of the book where he goes hunting also goes a long way to dealing with our complete separation from where our food comes from, the lives of the animals that feed us and that we are doing so intentionally – putting meat further and further into sanitized forms, moving butchering into factories, keeping primal cuts out of view.

“There’s a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals today in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us ever pause to consider the life of the pig-an animal easily as intelligent as a dog–that becomes the Christmas ham. We tolerate this schizophrenia because the life of the pig has moved out of view; when’s the last time you saw a pig in person? Meat comes from the grocery store, where it is cut and packaged to look as little like parts of animals as possible.” (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, page 306)

One last thing I’ll mention in the section on the ethics of eating animals is his discussion of the ethics of vegetarianism. One thing I hadn’t really thought about is that many of todays animals are domesticated, and would not continue to exist without humans (corn as well) and essentially if we all stopped eating meat certain species would be wiped out (something to think about). Additionally there is the conundrum of vegetables that are being grown using petrochemical based fertilizers versus animal protein raised off of grass, when you compare those two which is better? (“The world is full of places where the best, if not the only, way to obtain food from the land is by grazing (and hunting) animals on it–especially ruminants, which alone can transform grass into protein. To give up eating animals is to give up on these places as human habitats, unless of course we are willing to make complete dependence on a highly industrialized national food chain.” page 327)  Also veggies should take note that lots of animals are killed unintentionally by modern farm equipment, that crushes moles and other animals during planting and harvesting.

Lots of interesting stuff in this book, if you do get into and find you agree with some of the ideas, I think the thing to take away is to attempt and support local farming, local grass raised meats that raise animals in a lifestyle you aren’t ashamed to go and see. Even the organic national brands are factory farms, which while better than the rest are still probably not what you picture when you pick up the product in Whole Foods, which is a whole other subject he gets into.

In re: Coldplay caught stealing notes? Arena district a boom? Bookclubs…

Headed out west for a couple days tomorrow and figured I mention a few interesting things I saw recently, so just a hodgepodge post:

  • Coldplay is being sued for copyright infringement for their song Viva la Vida by guitarist Joe Satriani, (see a YouTube video comparison)  check out his much lesser known song in comparison – to me it seems like he has a pretty good claim.  (“[I]t is well settled that copying may be inferred where a plaintiff establishes that the defendant had access to the copyrighted work and that the two works are substantially similar.” Warner Brothers v. American Broadcasting Companies, 654 F.2d 204, 207)  It seems like Joe mike end up with a chunk of change from this, but only time will tell.  For more on this see discussion on The Volokh Conspiracy or article in Guardian (“On the one hand, you have Satriani’s six-and-a-half-minute instrumental from 2004, with cheese-ball guitar wailing, moments of shredding, and long bouts of soloing. On the other hand, you have Viva La Vida: Eno-produced, Grammy-nominated, full of strings, church bells, drum rolls, chorales. And a sort of harpsichord solo. Certainly Viva La Vida is cheese-ball as well – but it feels more cheddar than Dairylea.”
  • The other day there was an article in the NY Times on the Arena District in Columbus and the success that Nationwide Realty has had in turning what was a dilapidated area of town into one of the highest rent office districts in the city as well as creating viable ground floor commercial space due in large part to Nationwide Arena (and soon Huntington Park).  See the article here.  “A decade ago, a 75-acre area along the Scioto River less than a mile west of this capital city’s downtown was an industrial no man’s land, consisting of barren railyards, old warehouses and a shuttered 19th-century penitentiary. But that was before Nationwide Realty Investors, an affiliate of Nationwide Mutual Insurance, turned the area into the Arena District.”
  • Being in a somewhat functional (though rarely meeting book club) I found an article “Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?” in the NY Times Sunday magazine kind of amusing as it recounted failed book clubs who couldn’t agree if they wanted to read high end literature or Dan Brown thrillers.  See article here