Unplug the Jukebox

Adam Ant is back.

No, it’s not too surprising if your response is, “Who?” He was more of a sensation everywhere but the U.S. and was popular mostly among the alternative (before it was called any such thing) crowd here. Also, it was a long, long time ago in music terms. But if you’re listening to post-punk music now, Adam Ant is one of the people you’ve got to thank for shaping your music.

And now he’s back, talking about the bipolar disorder that took him out of the scene and making more music.

Between 1999 and 2001, he was suffering terrible mood swings – ­symptoms of his undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

He was planning to tour again until, in 2002, he ended up in court after smashing a pub window in a fit of “hypomania”.

He was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment and for the next 10 years fought to understand and control his condition, writing movingly about it in his 2006 autobiography Stand and Deliver.

He says: “You either discuss it or you don’t. It’s been very therapeutic to talk about it.

“I learn more all the time – especially from Stephen Fry who also has it and is extremely knowledgeable.

“The main thing is not to feel ashamed. It will pass. You can manage it.

“I’m bringing out my first album in 17 years and I hope, as I produce more work and get known for that again, people won’t just define me by my mental illness.”

It’s good to see him making mental health problems less taboo. The stories in 2002 were ugly. Celebrity gossip treatment meant that his bipolar disorder was leapt upon as a sort of character weakness, something that explained how “weird” he’d always been (because highly dramatic musical presentations always require an explanation beyond being entertaining).

The new music? No less dramatic, but decidedly another flavor.

Child Sexual Abuse: What “Yucky” Means

Richard Dawkins is at it again, talking about things he doesn’t seem to know much about.

Tonight,Dawkins argued that teaching a child about hell is worse than a child being sexually abused,which he said 'she might feel was yucky'
@MFrancoisCerrah
M Francois-Cerrah
About 1/3rd of the audience agreed w/Dawkins that teaching a child about hell is worse than he/she being sexually abused #oxfordunion
@MFrancoisCerrah
M Francois-Cerrah

There was a little clarification on “yucky” in a subsequent tweet:

@ I pretty much expressed that sentiment-esp when he spoke of 'mild' touching which 'she might find yucky' #arghhh
@MFrancoisCerrah
M Francois-Cerrah

There are a few people on Twitter asking whether this is something Dawkins actually said. This isn’t anything he hasn’t said before. He made the comparison at length in The God Delusion. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: Household Management

The first thing I knew about Ellen Klages was that she made the auction at WisCon to raise money for the Tiptree Award one of the most entertaining events at the con. The second thing I knew about her was that she took odd, vaguely unsettling pictures of vintage toys that made them look like they were about to come alive. The third things I knew about her was that she wrote. She hadn’t been doing it long at that point, but I remember the poem that made a room full of people who were prepared to laugh cry instead. It’s no surprise at all that she went quite directly from starting to write to winning awards.

In September, the autumnal gales beset London with exceptional violence. For a week, the wind has screamed and the rain has beaten against the windows like beasts in a cage.

In weather such as this, few people come calling. The streets are deserted, not just in Marylebone but throughout the city. Although an inconvenience for many, it is a respite for those like myself, a woman of a certain age whose pleasure it is to sit by the hearth with a cup of tea and a good book, safe and secure from the elements raging outside.

For others, however, it is an unbearable confinement. Such is the case with my upstairs lodger. For two days I have heard him pacing incessantly across his rooms, back and forth, up and down, muttering and cursing. He has lived in my house for a score of years, and I can tell from the dull sound of his tread that his usually keen spirit is chafing against the involuntary inaction occasioned by the storm.

After I took up his breakfast this morning, I was granted a brief reprieve, but within the hour his pacing ceased and he began to play his violin. Not a melody, merely the sound of a bow being swept across loosely tuned strings. The noise is dreadful. I try to ignore it and go about my chores, dusting the shelves and airing the linens, but the infernal, funereal wailing and screeching is worse than the howling of the wind.

He is, perhaps, the worst tenant in all of London. His malodorous chemical experiments have left stains on each rug in his rooms, he is prone to insomnia, and the drapes on every window reek of his strong tobacco. Although, to his credit, his payments are princely, his rents promptly paid, and in his dealings with me he has always been unfailingly polite.

In return I provide him lodging, prepare his meals, accept packages, relay messages, greet visitors, and manage all the domestic details of his life. It is an arrangement that ordinarily suits us both.

But this noise is intolerable. With a sigh, I stopper my ears with cotton wool and go into the kitchen to do the washing up. The running water helps to cover the sound. When the last of the plates is dry, I pour a cup of Earl Grey and venture back into the parlor. Quiet? I remove the cotton wool. The screeching—oh bliss—has stopped. I settle into my favorite chair by the fire with one of Mrs. Southworth’s novels and —

Bang!

I nearly jump out of my skin. On the mantle one of my little Staffordshire dogs teeters and threatens to tumble.

From above I hear faint ticks as bits of plaster—my plaster—fall from his sitting room wall to the floor. He is a man of keen intelligence, and when he is working on a case, when he has a focus, his considerable energies are channeled. But when he is idle, when he has naught to engage his nimble mind save foolery, bravado, and cocaine, he endeavors to relieve the tedium in any way he can. His weapon of choice, I know from past experience, is a revolver.

Bang! Bang!

I close my book, mutter a mild oath of my own, and go to the kitchen to prepare his luncheon tray.

Keep reading.

Belated Thanks

Yesterday didn’t go quite as planned. Circumstances conspired to push Thanksgiving prep later and into a smaller amount of time this year. That meant I spent this week pretty much constantly on the go, usually multitasking. The end result was a delicious meal that everyone insists we repeat next year, but getting there was touch and go.

I can do that if I have to, but I pay for it. Yesterday was the day to pay. Joints that merely tolerate me in the best of times went out of their way to make sure I will never, ever, ever do that again. Imagine shifting constantly because every position that takes the strain off of most joints causes one set of them to pretend it’s on fire, and pain killers don’t make a difference. I spent my time rotating through painful positions.

So that was yesterday. Needless to say, my intent to give some thanks took a back seat. But today is a new day with somewhat less pain, so I thought I’d come back to that. After all, while mostly a harvest festival, that is what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about.

Being an atheist and all, this isn’t going to be a post about the vague circumstances of my life for which I’m grateful to no one in particular. It won’t be about gratitude for things that may not have a causal agent. Instead, I’d like to thank a bunch of atheists who have kept me proud to be one of them through a year that many people have found discouraging. [Read more…]

Atheists Talk: Ivan Schwab on “Evolution’s Witness”

Eyes are a marvel of evolution that first appeared in trilobites during the Cambrian explosion approximately 543 million years ago. There’s no doubt that eyes are complex; they have many parts that work together to give us the visual experience we humans and many of our animal cousins share today.

Because of its complexity, many creationists see the eye as a weak point in evolutionary theory. They make an argument of irreducible complexity: that if any single part of the eye was missing it wouldn’t function. Therefore, eyes must have been created in their current form – by a creator!

But as Dr. Ivan R. Schwab explains in his new book Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved, this argument doesn’t hold vitreous fluid. Much simpler eye designs not only existed in our evolutionary past, but in some animals alive today! We know how eyes evolved, and (spoilers!) no creator is needed. From the Amazon description of Evolution’s Witness:

From initial photoreception 3.75 billion years ago to early spatial recognition in the first cupped eyespot in Euglena to fully formed camera style eyes the size of beach balls in ichthyosaurs, animals have processed light to compete and survive in their respective niches. It is evolution’s greatest gift and its greatest triumph.

Tune in to Atheists Talk this Sunday November 25th for our interview with ophthalmologist Ivan R. Schwab as he shares with us the story of the evolution of the eye.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Tonight on Dogma Debate

At Skepticon, I met David Smalley of Dogma Debate, which is both live internet radio and a podcast. We had a good time talking in the bar and decided to continue the conversation on the air. That will be happening in three hours, at 7 p.m. CST.

I don’t know what we’ll be talking about yet. David says he likes to ask tough questions. I certainly deserve some, since I suggested he ask Todd Stiefel on last week’s show, “Do you feel that you have an unfair amount of influence in the secular movement because of your money?” I haven’t listened to the show yet, but David said he’d ask that one. He’ll probably ask yours if you submit one.

Here’s what you do:

Dogma Debate with David Smalley – 7p-9p central.
Episode #45 – w/ Guest: Stephanie Zvan & an Apologist becomes Atheist

You can listen live at www.dogmadebate.com and we’ll take callers at 214-377-1166.

Listeners can live tweet the host during the show @davidcsmalleyThe show will podcast to iTunes immediately after the live broadcast.

Go ahead. Make me sweat.*

*Seriously, answering tough questions is far easier than any “Tell me about you” stuff. I’m no good at that. Saaaaave meeeee.

Ben’s Perfect Pie Crust

There was a request in the comments of my pumpkin cheesecake pie recipe for one of my husband’s pie crusts. We don’t ship them, sorry, but Ben was nice enough to write up the instructions to share.

Makes 1 9″ crust.

This is a hybrid of the Flaky Pastry Dough recipe from The All New All Purpose Joy Of Cooking and at least two of Alton Brown’s pie crust recipes from I’m Just Here for More Food and from Good Eats plus a recommendation from Shirley Corriher’s Cook Wise. Also just a touch of je ne sais quoi from me.

You will need:
6 1/2 oz all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled in the freezer for 10 minutes

1 oz ice cold water
1 oz nocino or other alcohol*

a rolling pin
a food processor -or- a couple butter knives or a pastry knife

  1. If using a food processor:
    Toss the flour, sugar, and salt into the hopper of your favorite food processor and pulse 5-10 times to sift. Cut 2 oz of the butter into 1/2-Tbsp slices, add them to the food processor, and pulse until gone, about 5-10 more times. Cut the other 2 oz of butter into 1-Tbsp chunks. Add them to the food processor and pulse about 5 times, leaving the mixture very chunky. Add 1 oz of ice water and pulse about another 5 times. Wait 30 seconds for the water to be absorbed by the flour. Add the 1 oz of alcohol, then pulse until the mixture clumps together and starts falling off the sides of the hopper, about another 5 times.

    Old skool:
    Mix flour, sugar, and salt together and sift into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into 1-tsp slices and add to the bowl, then use two butter knives, crossing over like in a cutting motion, or a pastry knife to cut the butter into a pea-sized texture. (A great way to get an extra flaky dough is to wait on the bowl until the next step, make a pile of flour and butter on your board and roll it with a rolling pin and scoop it back into a pile a few times to make the butter into gigantic flakes, then put in the bowl.) Add 1 oz ice water and mix with a butter knife until well combined. Wait 30 seconds for the water to be absorbed by the flour. Add 1 oz alcohol and mix with the knife (not a pastry knife) until well combined.

  2. Put the still-chunky-looking pie dough into a ziplock bag, baggie, or the middle of a large piece of cling film and wrap it up. Form the dough into a 4-5″ circle and put in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. An hour would be better, a day is okay…a week is probably fine.
  3. After the dough has chilled, sprinkle some flour on a large counter surface or a cutting board. You’re going to need about 20″ of space to work in, but more is always better. Cut open the bag or unfold the cling film and place the dough on the flour with the plastic bag or film on top. Roll out the crust by rolling the pin away from you, then toward you, then rotating the dough 1/8 turn and repeating. Be patient and be gentle; this is where your dough can start to look more like a map of the United Kingdom than a round pie crust. If the dough has been chilled for more than an hour, be more patient as it is very firm and will take some time to soften up a bit.
  4. As you’re rolling the dough out, you may need to pull the plastic off and lay it down again to keep the edges from curling up off the board like a lens. If at any point the crust starts to stick to anything, add a bit more flour. Keep going until you’ve rolled the dough into a 12″ circle-like thing. If you used the Old Skool method above, skip to the next step. If you used a food processor, fold the dough in thirds, and then in thirds again, the long way, so that you have a square of dough. (“But wait”, you say, “I’ve already made the perfect crust!” “Okay then”, I say, “go ahead and put it in the tin and roll with it, but it won’t be as flaky as it could be.”)

    You can probably get away with tossing out the plastic and sprinkling a bit more flour on the dough and rolling pin now. Repeat the rolling and turning as above until you have rolled out a circle big enough to fit your pan with a bit hanging over the edges. If this is a top crust, you’ll want to roll it out closer to the 9-10″ mark, if it’s a bottom crust, you’ll want to aim for something more like 13-14″ depending on the depth of your pie pan.

  5. Throw the bottom crust into your tin. If you like, brush it with an egg wash (1 egg + 1/4 cup water, whisked together (if you’re making a vegan pie crust, then you’re already fucked because you used butter (you could go with vegetable shortening, but it’s just not the same (some people like it more though; they say it’s more tender, but I don’t care; butter is yummy)))) to help keep it from getting gooey when you add the filling. Then add the filling. Then add the top crust, if you’re going to use one. If there will be a delay between rolling out and using any of the crusts, make sure to cover the crust and put it back in the ‘fridge until you need it again. Use your favorite method of sealing and crimping the crust(s) around the edges (brushing water on the bottom crust can help) and cut off the bits that hang over the sides. Decorate the top as you like with a knife for venting. I’m fond of cutting a nice π into it.
  6. Ahh…the bits. Sprinkle these with cinnamon sugar, slide them onto a baking sheet, and toss them in the oven for the first 10 minutes or so of baking. The time will depend on the cooking temperature for your pie. When they’re golden brown, they’re delicious.

* A note about alcohol: Using alcohol in a pie crust serves multiple purposes. From a chemistry standpoint, it will make the dough easier to work when you’re rolling it out, but it won’t help the flour create gluten. It also adds flavor you wouldn’t get from adding water. I like to use something that will harmonize well with the pie filling. You could use vodka, but I’d encourage you to think about whether you’re cooking for chemistry purposes or for eating. Whatever you use, you should adjust the sugar accordingly. Nocino is fairly bitter, so I’ve doubled the sugar to make up for it. If you’re using Grand Marnier or Cointreau or (OMG) Midori (for some reason) you’ll want to at least halve the sugar in this recipe. For something more neutral like rum or bourbon, you’ll want to exactly halve the sugar.

More Fun Than Tea Leaves

If you follow our old colleague John Loftus, you’ll see that he’s still keeping an eye on his old home. Most recently, he did a post on the state of our traffic over time and how he thinks that correlates with various events.

He no longer has access to our private statistics, of course, it being almost a year since he left. In their place, he’s using Alexa. Because FtB is one of the web’s highly trafficked sites, Alexa displays our traffic information over time. You can see it for yourself here

For some reason, Loftus chose to look at how our traffic rank relative to other sites has fluctuated. This, of course, is sensitive to changes in other sites’ traffic, as is Alexa’s percent of pageviews measure. We can look like we’re doing worse when another group of sites is doing better or vice versa. For example, when a bunch of political sites are talking something like the Republican primary debates, we can have a spike of traffic the way Jason did in January and not see our rank change very much. Additionally, this is graphed logarithmically, which isn’t great for intuitive understanding of what you’re seeing.

I tend to look at the Reach % figures, which tell us what a tiny, tiny percentage of the world’s internet users visit us on a given day. In normal WordPress stats, this would be most analogous to unique visits. This produces a flatter graph than the one Loftus uses, though many of the points at which trends change are the same.

The events Loftus thought explained the important fluctuations in FtB traffic, however, are what amused me. What does he think explains our traffic patterns?
[Read more…]

Grandma’s Cranberry Relish

Or, how to make all the kids eat their cranberries while still entertaining adult palates. Seriously. Also, if you have a food grinder, this is far easier than watching over cranberries as they cook into sauce.

3 12-oz. bags fresh cranberries
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large can crushed pineapple
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 lb. mini-marshmallows

Wash and drain the cranberries. Grind using a medium die.

Mix in sugar and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Drain the crushed pineapple thoroughly. Mix the juice with some rum. This is for you, not the kids.

Whip the cream to very stiff peaks, just shy of butter.

In a bigger bowl than you think you’ll need, mix the pineapple and marshmallows into the cranberries. Fold in the whipped cream just until you have no large red streaks.

The end result is fluffy, unthreateningly pink and has distinct sweet and tart elements. Serves dozens and freezes remarkably well.

The Point of Parental Notification

Yesterday, I responded to Adam Lee’s post answering questions about abortion with some answers of my own. Adam then responded in the comments:

Just polling the crowd here. There was only one question on this list that I thought posed a difficult dilemma, which was whether there should be parental notification for a teenager seeking an abortion.

Unlike most of the questions, this is one case where I think there are genuine interests that collide. I think that parents should have a role in medical decisions for their minor children, but I also think that if a teenage girl needs an abortion but doesn’t want to tell her parents, there’s probably a good reason for that. What does everyone else think about this?

I hadn’t considered this a particularly difficult question myself. I don’t see a compelling need to uniformly notify parents about abortions, but it took some thinking to work out why. [Read more…]