Bad science and xenophobia

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer: Photographed on Friday, July 8, 2011 for Eat & Run...No Chinese buffet would be complete with the standby, Vegetable Lo Mein, seen here at Asia Restaurant in South Portland.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer: Photographed on Friday, July 8, 2011 for Eat & Run…No Chinese buffet would be complete with the standby, Vegetable Lo Mein, seen here at Asia Restaurant in South Portland.

This morning over breakfast Larry told me he had been reading Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver’s blog, and that the whole “MSG is bad for you” story is a myth, based on flawed science.  Apparently, the negative effects only occurred when subjects were told they were eating MSG, and weren’t reproducible in blind tests.

Meanwhile, I was reading the latest issue of Poetry, a mostly depressing start to the morning, and picked up the pepper shaker absently, meaning to put some on my egg, but distracted.

“Are you planning to use that as a chess piece?” Larry asked.

Startled out of my reverie, I handed it to him.

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Larry Levis

levisI’d forgotten how much I like this poet of California’s Central Valley. He often writes of farming and of his father, a farmer of small means. I think he’d be better known, but he died at 49.

Winter Stars

My father once broke a man’s hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, and with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.

Sometimes I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
And persisting.

It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them,
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him. Continue reading

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The exemplary sentence

Sentence DiagramHere are a few excerpts from the best book I read this month, The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

“Massacre is obscene. Torture is obscene. Three million dead is obscene. Masturbation, even with an admittedly nonconsensual squid? Not so much. I for one, am a person who believes that the world would be a better place if the word “murder” made us mumble as much as the word “masturbation.”

sympathizer“…no one asks poor people if they want war. Nor had anyone asked these poor people if they wanted to die of thirst and exposure on the coastal sea, or if they wanted to be robbed and raped by their own soldiers. If those thousands still lived, they would not have believed how they had died, just as we could not believe that the Americans—our friends, our benefactors, our protectors—had spurned our request to send more money. And what would we have done with the money? Buy the ammunition, gas, and spare parts for the weapons, planes, and tanks the same Americans had bestowed on us for free. Having given us the needles, they now perversely no longer supplied the dope. (Nothing, the General muttered, is ever so expensive as what is offered for free.)”

“My vocabulary was broader, my grammar more precise than the average educated American. I could hit the high notes as well as the low, and thus had no difficulty in understanding Claude’s characterization of the ambassador as a “putz,” a “jerkoff,” with “his head up his ass” who was in denial about the city’s imminent fall.

“I was a card-carrying American with a driver’s license, Social Security card, and resident alien permit. Violet still considered me as foreign, and this misrecognition punctured the smooth skin of my self-confidence…The flawlessness of my English did not matter. Even if she could hear me, she still saw right though me, or perhaps saw someone else instead of me, her retinas burned with the images of all the castrati dreamed up by Hollywood to take the place of real Asian men.”

“I was in close quarters with some representative specimens of the most dangerous creature in the history of the world, the white man in a suit.”



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Holiday Break

This will be my last post until the New Year. It’s amazing to me how well the sonnet has held up as a form.  An example appropriate to the darkness of the season:

Noch Einmal, an Orpheus

When the Queen of Darkness heard his voice,
That mortal stranger, saw him lift the lyre
And watched the dull throng of the dead rejoice
To hear him tell of earth and earth’s desire,
Of pain, of longing, she was not amused.
She caught that veiled allusion to the shame
Of her own story and would have refused
Him then and there, had not the shades that came
In droves now clamored so for his request.
“Be rid of him,” she breathed to the immense
Stillness at her side, who thought it best
To play a cruel joke at the man’s expense,
Fated as he was to indecision,
To second thoughts, a lifetime of revision.

George Bradley


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frostI see I’ve only posted one poem by Robert Frost in the history of this blog. Today’s post makes this two. He’s such a master of rhyme–could anyone else rhyme honeysuckle and knuckle without it seeming contrived?

He lived so long, it’s surprising to remember he was born in 1874. We always see the white-haired Frost–the one who read at Kennedy’s inauguration. But he was a young, unknown, driven, and ambitious man for a long time before that.

To Earthward

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of–was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.

Robert Frost


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Cream Legbars

legbar2 eggsThis year I got my first Cream Legbar chickens. I have four. They are curious, friendly, and lay turquoise eggs. On top of that, they have adorable little feathery topknots. Definitely my favorite chickens of the moment.


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Airport poems

airportAs many of us will be on planes during this season, I thought I’d include two poems about airports, each named for the gate where it was inspired. Next time your flight is delayed, you can bring this up and pass a little time.

Gate C22

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped Continue reading

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Best Beans

2015. of a vision of sugarplums, how about a simple, inexpensive and wonderful meal that lasts for days. I set myself the challenge of making a pot of vegetarian beans that taste as good as ones cooked with a ham hock.

First I made a rich vegetable stock: two whole ears of corn (chopped), turnip, rutabaga, golden beet, red pepper, carrot, onion, celery, herbs, simmered about two hours and strained. I rinsed the beans (I used black beans), brought them to a boil, and drained them. (Someone told me this reduces their gas-producing quality.) Then I cooked the beans in the stock with chopped early girl tomatoes, shallots, onions, garlic, and a chipotle pepper for about 40 minutes in the pressure cooker. After they were soft, I added cumin, chiles, cilantro, lime, salt.

These may be the most flavorful beans I ever made. We ate them with rice and chile verde, with eggs, and by themselves.  Yum!


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Larry likes this better

casinoApparently, Larry hated yesterday’s poem. So I thought I’d post this little anecdote he told me to balance the scales. It’s about Steve Wynn, a big investor in casinos in the US, Macao and Hong Kong–a casino magnate in fact. He was asked in an interview how he got into the casino business. His answer was something like this:

“The first time I went to Las Vegas, I saw this gigantic room. At one end was a door. People came through that door with their money, and hours later they went back out without it. I thought, ‘What a wonderful business!’.”

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Sweetcakes, you are my kind of god

God Says Yes to Me

haughtI asked God if it was okay to be  xxxmelodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly Continue reading

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