May 30th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs, and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town—
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week for half-a-crown
For twenty years,

And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women’s tears,

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad,
They’ve tasted Hell.

It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It’s not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sports and makes of cars
In various bogus Tudor bars
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

—John Betjeman

Nuke ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out

May 28th, 2003 § Comments off § permalink

Signs That the United States Government Has Gone Completely Batshit Crazy, Number 7,408,082: At the request of the White House and the Pentagon, Congress has made it easier for the military to develop new, smaller nuclear weapons.

Administration officials say that they have made no decision to produce the first new nuclear weapons since the 1980′s and that further Congressional debate and approval would be needed to do so. But they say an enormous nuclear capability to deter a rival superpower fortified with its own intercontinental missiles could be an outdated concept in the current world environment.

Instead, they say, a new generation of nuclear weapons may be needed to destroy facilities that could be constructed underground where biological and chemical weapons are being developed or stored.

“It is a return to looking at the defense of the nation in the face of a changing threat,” Fred S. Celec, deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear matters, said of the push for authority to pursue a new nuclear program. “How do you deter and dissuade potential enemies of the United States from doing us harm? I don’t know that we ought to eliminate any tools in our inventory.”

Mr. Celec and other officials said that existing, congressionally imposed restrictions on research were chilling potential progress in the field of nuclear weapons science.

I mentioned this proposal in February, back when it was still a glimmer in the eye of war planners.

The Bush administration has demonstrated its ability to make the unthinkable thinkable; witness the preemptive war with Iraq. Now it appears that it wants to do the same for the use of nuclear weapons.

This way lies madness. I don’t know what else to say. I am stunned.

Chez Panisse

May 25th, 2003 § Two comments § permalink

In honor of my brother’s graduation from UC Berkeley, my family ate at the Chez Panisse Café on Saturday night. Sweet merciful Jesus, what a marvelous restaurant. The food is fantastic, completely unpretentious, made with incredibly fresh seasonal and locally grown ingredients. And the Arts and Crafts furnishings are perfectly in keeping with the food–understated and beautifully made.

My brother let me sample his first course, a plate of baby squid baked in a wood oven with hot pepper sauce and rosemary. It may well have been the best squid I have ever tasted. For the entree, I ordered the duck leg with pork crépinette and fava bean toast; the earthiness of the fava beans went brilliantly with the duck. My dessert was three tiny scoops of an utterly revelatory Meyer lemon sherbet that I intend to make this summer as soon as possible (happily, the recipe appears in Chez Panisse Fruit).

Oh, and there were other starters and entrees, and a delightful Pinot Gris from Oregon, and these tiny olives the likes of which I had never seen before, and delicious artisanal breads, and possibly centaur musk.

Have I mentioned how happy I am to be moving to Berkeley?


May 21st, 2003 § Two comments § permalink

At long last, I’ve redesigned the site. The new design appears only on the home page right now; I’ll roll it out to the rest of the site soon. Let me know what you think. Thanks to squidfingers for the excellent background pattern in the header—retro is good, dammit.

Some other changes: The navigation bar now includes links to other sites that I visit frequently. When applicable, I’ve included a link to the RSS feed for each site. This is just on the home page for now.

Also, archived entries now use human-readable URLs. For example, the link to my banana nut muffin recipe used to be:

The new link is:

Unfortunately, this means all of the “permanent” links to my Web site are now broken; however, I should never need to break them again.

What every parent should know about “grass”

May 19th, 2003 § Eight comments § permalink

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times Magazine has an excellent article about Southern California’s love of lawns. (You can use “pinchydotorg” as the login and password.) The author profiles a couple that replaced their lawn with native plants, only to incur the wrath of their homeowners’ association. He also discusses the history of American lawns and considers whether California’s water shortage will lead to smaller lawns in the future.

Apparently there’s a special word for drought-tolerant landscaping—it’s called xeriscaping. I suppose I’ll have to start learning these things, since I’m going to be in the same department as a bunch of landscape architects.

Deputy assistant flâneur in training

May 15th, 2003 § One comment § permalink

I will be leaving Sunnyvale during its most beautiful season. Irises line the streets, bowing under the weight of their fussy petals; California poppies burst forth from the sidewalks in happy profusion. Fortunately, I’m told they also have flowers in Berkeley.

On my walk to the library this evening, I saw a cream-colored cat trotting down its owners’ driveway, head down, thinking important cat thoughts. When it noticed me, it made a bashful face, and its trot turned into a slink. “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t realize it was you.”

Am I capable of graduate-level thought or not

May 12th, 2003 § Four comments § permalink

One of my instructors at UC Santa Cruz had an unusual belief about universities: The more prestigious a university, he argued, the more attractive its average student. One of his daughters attended MIT, and when he visited her at school, he noticed that many of her classmates were exceptionally good-looking.

Well, apparently I’m not attractive enough to get into MIT, but I am sufficiently hot to attend UC Berkeley’s masters program in city planning. I start classes this fall. My career as a technical writer will be over 10 days from tomorrow.

So, uh, that’s that. I should have something more intelligent to say about this massive shift, but I don’t at the moment. Feel free to post comments taunting me for being so inarticulate. Also, apologies to the many people to whom I should have personally communicated this news, but who are instead reading it on my Web site; you are welcome to email me and complain.

The looting continues

May 7th, 2003 § One comment § permalink

Originally from the Chicago Tribune: US Allows Another Cultural Center To Be Looted.

In recent years, much of the [800-year-old Abbasid Palace] complex was taken over by the Beit al-Hikma–House of Wisdom–a kind of academy for Iraq’s most distinguished academics.

On Friday it was looted in broad daylight, apparently under the noses of U.S. troops. …

[M]embers of Beit al-Hikma said they met with several senior U.S. officials in Baghdad, including Jay Garner, the retired U.S. lieutenant general in charge of setting up an interim government.

“We told Gen. Garner and the others of the importance of this building. They promised to send security within 24 hours,” said [Amal] Shlash, a senior economist at Beit al-Hikma.

The security never came.

Three days later, the looters did. …

The looters finished their work quickly. They hauled out furniture, office equipment, carpets, plumbing fixtures and chandeliers. Anything they couldn’t carry they destroyed, including wall murals and three small presses.

Then they ransacked the library.

Where am I?

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