Sunday, March 29, 2009

Health risks, public and private

Today's front page at USA Today carries a story about the elevated risk of dying of a heart problem during a triathlon vs. a marathon (but not, oddly enough, in comparison to walking on city streets).

A study found the casualty rate is about 15 per 1 million participants, way higher than marathons (4 to 8 per million). The raw numbers are similar to the rate - 13 dead swimmers out of 922,810 (and one dead biker!) over a roughly 2.5-year period.

The story goes into detail, which is cool, and offers some sound advice for people thinking about doing a triathlon (get the OK from the doctor, do some open water swims, wear a wetsuit if the water's too cold and make sure race staff are prepared for emergencies).

But although it acknowledges the rising popularity of triathlons, the story is silent on the health benefits enjoyed by the 921,996 people who weren't killed in competition. And it says nothing about the 4,749 pedestrians killed in 2003 alone, a number the federal government provided me within about 30 seconds of my doing a Google search. If that number held up, you'd be looking at, what? Ten thousand dead pedestrians in the same period as 14 dead triathletes?

Granted, the study is new, so its news. But still.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Good cover!

I think I might have mentioned I fancy good covers. Here's one:

Lasagna shells

So you want a lasagna, the really yummy, homemade kind, but you're a little low on time/patience. Try lasagna shells. You're going to have to forgive me the oddball instructions. I cook this one without a recipe, pretty much, and vary its size on which casseroles are clean and unspoken for.

I'll try to give a 9x13 recipe, but it may be a couple of 6x9s.

Four strips bacon, chopped
An onion, diced
Six cloves of garlic, minced
Two medium carrots, chopped
A big stalk of celery, chopped
A pound of ground (but hot Italian sausage is better!)
A cup of dry white wine
1 big can (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes in puree
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
As much basil as you've got, within reason, chopped or pureed.

Cook bacon on low heat in a big sauce pan or high-walled skillet (it needs to hold all this stuff). Raise the heat to medium.
When the bacon's pretty much cooked and the fat's rendered out, dump in the onion and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes, then dump in carrots and celery. Cook another five minutes, then dump in sausage. Brown the sausage, pour off fat if you're crazy or on a diet, then add the wine. Cook off alcohol for a few minutes, then add tomato products. At this point, you have about 15 minutes of simmering to go. The tomato paste is the key to that. If you don't add tomato paste, you cheap short-cutter, you're in for a 45-minute simmer to achieve the same effect.
When you're on short final, add the basil. I preserve basil by pureeing it with olive oil and a little garlic, then freezing it. For this sauce, I use maybe a third of a cup of frozen puree and just drop the frozen chunk in when there's 15 minutes to go.

As soon as you hit this point, you can cook the shells, but only to the what the box says is al dente. Don't go farther or they'll become fragile and wussy.

Also at this point, mix a 1-pound tub cottage cheese (yeah, yeah. Ricotta. OK, buddy, what do you think "ricotta" means?), a quarter-cup or more freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano and a few sprigs freshly chopped parsley. If you're big on cheese, slice up some fresh mozzarella, too, small enough to fit in a shell.

Now it's hammer time. Strain the noodles and rinse with cold water to arrest cooking. Spread some sauce in the bottom of your casserole(s).

Fill the noodles with a portion of the cottage cheese mixture and top, if you have mozz., slap a slice on each shell as you put it into the casserole(s).

When all the noodles are in the dish, cover with as much of the sauce that's left as you like (I always have leftovers, which I always freeze). Unless you're out of Parm, grate some more on top, and...

Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly, then wait a while and eat!

Wish I'd been at these "shows"

Lisa Hannigan gets a big fat gold star from me for hiding out in broom closets and back rooms to perform. Wish I'd been there!

here, too.

and here, too!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Man, don't we all wish

If this was really the End of Shite, wouldn't we all be better off?

A thought on the DJIA

My coworkers are understandably unsettled these days: We work at a newspaper, and if you've read a newspaper lately, you know we're... let's see, I'm trying to come up with a nice way of saying this that won't raise the eyebrows of my non-swearing readers... nope, no way around it, right now, our industry is fucked.

The optimists think that when the "economy" turns around, so will the picture for our industry, not to mention the current employer, which is still in the black, but not without some painful moves to stay that way.

So, how will we know when the economy, whatever that is supposed to mean, is OK again? When our revenue shoots through the roof and I get a fat raise? That would be a good measure, except I think it is maybe a little foolish to assume those two go hand in hand.

I'm told that a good indicator of the health of our economy is the Dow Jones Industrial Average. I've yet to hear a convincing argument to back up that proposition, however. Why should I think the best barometer for the vitality of the U.S. is the "behavior" of a market run by the people who got us into this mess?

Seriously. Stocks rise and fall based on expectations of earnings and growth, usually measured by the quarter. So if you aren't seen as likely to make a certain amount of dough in the next three months, your paper value goes in the tank. Is that really a sustainable way to run a country, quarter-to-quarter?

I mean, even the fundamentals of this supposed system are obviously flawed from a logical standpoint, let alone, you know, the empirical reality. Permanent sustained growth? How's that supposed to work?

I know there's a dissertation in here. But I also know the situation is hopeless in the absence of a mathematically capable populace (oh, and business writers. Another problem, eh?)

So in place of a solution, I'd just like to go a week without having to hear about the god damn stock market. *That* would be news worth sharing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday tunes

I'm not sure if this is my favorite Springsteen song, but it is near the top of the list. At least in the top 10!

I guess the rest of the list is:
Ghost of Tom Joad
My Hometown
Atlantic City
Highway Patrolman
My City of Ruins
Radio Nowhere
I'm on Fire
American Skin
That's not in order, because the order changes by the day. And it is probably incomplete. Damn lists.

Friday, March 13, 2009

When the walls start crumblin' down

I get questions now and again about what my plans are for when newspapers - and mine in particular - shit the bed.

It's a good question, but it is tied up in an expectation that I, the supposed curer of cancer who chose the wrong career path, will somehow also have an answer, the answer, that will save the profession. That's pretty ridiculous: Those test scores don't give me any better idea than the next newsie of how to "monetize" online news.

I like the question sans expectations, partly because it is a chance to talk about what I like about the business I'm in.

The best part is simple: You get to help people. It's kind of like being on the A-Team. When some unlucky soul has tried everyone else and has nowhere else to turn, they call us. I get UFO calls, psychological emergencies, cooking advice queries (How many melons do I need for my party? Seriously), drunks and druggies, you name it.

I relish the customer service part of my job. If a reader is mad as hell, I want them calling me.

Now, I can count a few times a caller has been an unacceptable asshole: The criminal mastermind whose scumbag daughters showed up on the blotter, the Freedom Forum dickhead who called me "one of the Nazis" and the guy who called an opinion piece I wrote "one of the most one-sided, biased stories I've ever read." No shit, Sherlock.

On the flip side, I can't count the times I've picked up the phone to someone who had driven past their wit's end and been able to get them back on the road to somewhere. That's tied for the most rewarding part of the job, really.

It beats the awards, though they reap the praise from above. It beats the substandard pay, although that comes in more handy for paying bills. It doesn't beat sticking it to the man, however. Nothing can come close to holding someone in power accountable when he's (or she's) screwed the least among us.

But let's get back to that question: What are you going to do when the bell tolls? I've got backup plans, of course. Who doesn't? But it isn't that easy to find something that has the same day-to-day make-a-difference aspect. Except for one option, which a perceptive reader might intuit from reading this blog, or at least checking out the frequency of my tags.

Monday, March 09, 2009

To the gallows

A probable/possible/who knows? execution this Friday of the killer Cal Coburn Brown reminded me to take a listen to Ellis Unit One. I thought I'd listen to Dead Man Walking, too, but found this one on the way to the Boss's song:

Here's a good rendition of Ellis Unit One, too.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Bird of Fighter

I caught this guy surreptitiously (he's texting, not sleeping, as far as I could tell) on the train from Nagano to the Jigokudani Onsen area.

His hat reads "The Bird of Fighter," and although you can't tell, he's wearing, like, five gold rings. I think the three pairs of sunglasses makes the outfit, though. That and the leather shirt.

I know he'd stick out here, but trust me, he's way weirder of a sight in Japan.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Influential albums - a list

Carlos tagged me on this challenge - Fifteen albums that changed your life. I'm not sure how to qualify some of these: I'm sure several albums helped form my world view. I mean, I'd say Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Cisco Houston and those kinds of people, but they're where I started. I guess that rules out Springsteen, who's in that set.

In a lot of ways, my musical experience has been one of blundering from my sheltered past into unknown universes. Cool, but also a little embarrassing when I arrive somewhere everybody's already been.

I'll shoot for albums that changed my outlook. These are pretty much in chronological order. I put in some samples, too.
  1. Bad Religion - Suffer. I grew up listening to classical music, Dust Bowl folk and country & western. I rarely listened to rock 'n' roll until high school. I mean, I knew about Ratt, Styx, Foreigner, all that in middle school, but that wasn't what I usually listened to. When I heard this (with my best friend, Chris, over at Jay Dunlap's house), it blew me away.
  2. Jimi Hendrix - Some compilation or another. I was unaware of the existence of classic rock that was other than what you might hear in Back to the Future.
  3. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers - My introduction to reggae. Chris bought that one.
  4. Pink Floyd - The Wall. Weird-ass movie but a ton of great music.
  5. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton. My exposure to rap was pretty limited until college (first roomie was an Army brat, a black guy from Oceanside, not a jazz guy). "Fuck the Police" was a revelation.
  6. The Geto Boys - The Geto Boys. Pretty much the most outrageous and funny gangsta rap ever made.

  7. Richard Thompson - Rumor and Sigh. Opened my eyes to the folk scene of the early 1990s.
  8. Tori Amos - Crucify. My favorite from the angry woman movement. Alerted me to the existence of a completely unexpected scene.
  9. The Butterfly Lady - Her musical taste is similar to mine, but she searches for new music in completely different circles, so I get a lot of exposure to music I probably wouldn't find on my own, like Ali Farka Toure, Outlandish, Mister Gang...

    that one is aka:

  10. The White Stripes - The White Stripes. Opened my eyes to garage rock. I think I listened to this album about 50 times in a row.
  11. Townes Van Zandt - Live at the Old Quarter. I obviously had heard his songs before, but not performed by him. This is a fantastic album. Minimal production is a big plus. This album got me to check out a lot of folk/country from the 1970s.

  12. Joe Purdy - Julie Blue. Uh, yeah, there's a pattern here. I didn't know there was an L.A. folk scene until I blundered into Joe Purdy, who incidentally kicks ass live. Here is a song from his supposedly upcoming album, Last Clock on the Wall:

  13. Mitch Hedberg - Mitch Altogether. Not music, right? Yeah, but he changed how I tell jokes and how I look at run-of-the-mill stuff, which was his bread and butter.
  14. 9 Songs. OK, that's a movie. But it tuned my in to music of the hipster scene. What they were listening to in that five minutes, anyway.