Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First look

First attempt at the new recipes from the Cook's Illustrated Holiday Cookie Guide: Texas Grapefruit Bars.

These are essentially the same thing as lemon bars, but with red grapefruit substituted for the lemon. I love, love the taste and smell of grapefruit, especially red grapefruit.

This is either a red grapefruit or the last thing Boba Fett saw.

The light in my kitchen is very orange, so unfortunately it's hard to see the beautiful coral color of the grapefruit curd

Much better color in this picture. It's like an edible Florida sunset. I don't have a sieve, hence the kind of clumpy powdered sugar. These are really good, much sweeter than lemon bars (next time I'll add more lime or lemon juice to make them more tart; the red grapefruit were very sweet). The recipe calls for cardamom in the crust; as I didn't have any I used a pinch of ginger instead. The only drawback to these cookies is that the curd will not set up as hard as a lemon bar; it's more like a sturdy pudding, so you have to keep them chilled and would make taking them someone kind of difficult. Still, these would make a great layer for something like a citrus Napoleon.

In other news, I'm compiling my Best of 2010 list to post in December. If anyone has any nominations, leave them in the comments (and it can be as random as you want).

Monday, November 29, 2010

First cut.

Ruth Reichl is the former New York Times food critic and editor. She left the Times to edit the now-defunct (but missed) Gourmet magazine that met its demise in the Great Magazine Die-off of the past two years. Reichl has also edited some great cookbooks.

Tender at the Bone is Reichl's first memoir. Her second, Comfort Me With Apples came out about 10 years ago, and another book, Not Becoming My Mother was published just last year.

Reichl is an undeniably gifted cook. But what I've always liked about her is how entwined her life and cooking are. Food is one of those things that comes with so much psychological baggage that it's kind of refreshing to see a food writer go, hey, the hell with it, I fully admit I eat my feelings.

Reichl learned to cook from a succession of maids, the most memorable being her Great-Aunt's maid Alice of the apple dumplings and the indomitable Mrs. Peavey, who taught the young Ruth how to pound a paper-thin schnitzel. Reichl's mother, the creative, self-centered, and manic-depressive Miriam had the habit of feeing guests spoiled food, so Reichl began to cook out of self-preservation.

I can sympathize; I come from three generations of women who can't cook. Now, you say, what about all those pictures of cupcakes?! Bake, not cook, which I think are two pretty different things. Baking has a lot less room for creativity than cooking, which for someone like me is a good thing (I didn't do too well with "unstructured play time" as a toddler either). With baking, as long as you have a dependable recipe, you're golden.

My mom's cooking is characterized by a charming naivete and childlike sense of experimentation, which has led to things like a bleeding meatloaf and some ill-advised potato puff things that not even the dogs would eat. My grandmother prefers to carbonize things and serve them burnt-side-down. Like Miriam, my mom also has a creative approach to sell-by dates, which has filled me with a lifelong trepidation about unfamiliar milk cartons.

Tender is, like most of Reichl's writing, funny. She approaches things with tongue firmly in cheek and a hefty dose of self-deprecation, but underneath the humor, Tender is also very sad. Living with such an irrational and unstable parent clearly took a toll on Reichl, and although she was able to turn her love into her life's work, she still writes of experiencing panic attacks and those middle-of-the-night doubts.

Tender ends after Reichl's first marriage (I'm looking foward to reading Comfort) and includes recipes from her childhood and young adulthood, including her first souffle and that famous schnitzel recipe. Tender is a nice change from the unsufferably pompous food writing or sustainability polemics that have come to dominate the industry in the decade since its publication - although, for every Alice Waters demanding I know where my sprouts come from, there's a Skinnygirl telling me to coat stuff in crushed Funyuns.

And in further food news: November is my favorite month for food magazines, because Cook's Illustrated releases both it's Holiday Baking Guide and Holiday Cookie Guide between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, the Cookie Guide looks amazing - color photos (a rarity for Cook's) and over thirty recipes that are probably made of win, dunked in awesome, and wrapped in Chris Kimball's bowtie of love. The Baking Guide was kind of a bust though - I have most of the recipes already (my one gripe with Cook's is that I think they recycle their recipes more than they should across their different collections) and if you have their Baking Bible (and if you don't, what are you waiting for?!) than you really don't need the Baking Guide.

The Cookie Guide is definitely worth the eight bucks though, and I will be posting cookies from it soon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


This is the torte I made for Thanksgiving. It's a chocolate raspberry torte - two thin, almost brownie-like layers of "flourless" chocolate cake (it does have a small amount of flour) sandwiched around mashed raspberries and raspberry jam. The batter is basically butter, chocolate, and eggs, held together with a little bit of ground almonds and flour. There's no leaven, the cake barely rises, and gets what little volume it has from the beaten eggs. I did the top with almonds and raspberries to make it look sort of like a wreath. One thing I have not mastered is doing that perfectly smooth ganache covering - mine still has spatula marks.

This is my favorite experimental recipe from this year - candy cane cupcakes. I love the combination of chocolate and mint, and after eating a candy cane Joe Joe (Trader Joe's version of Oreos, except dunked in awesome and wrapped in delicious) I wanted to recreate the chocolate + sinus clearing mint sensation in a cupcake. I can't post the original recipe, because it's from Cook's Illustrated and is copyright protected and my name in not Judith Griggs, worst editor in the world, BUT I can tell you how to take a basic chocolate cupcake recipe and turn it into mint. All you have to do is swap out about 2/3 of the chocolate for Andes mints. Just unwrap them and melt them like you would the bittersweet chocolate. Leave out any vanilla called for in the recipe and swap it for the same amount of mint extract. You could, if you wanted to go crazy, also stuff these with ganache made from Andes mints and cream prior to baking.

The icing is simply vanilla buttercream (butter, confectioner's sugar, and a bit of milk or cream) but I bought mint topping sprinkles - they're essentially smashed mints, and I don't know if it's a seasonal thing or not, but they've been in the cake topping section of every big grocery store I've gone to lately, and they are amazing - and threw them into the icing until it was crunchy and then added mint extract. I wanted the icing to mimic the crunchy filling of the candy cane Joe Joes, like you're crunching up a candy cane, instead of being smooth. And these are pretty damn awesome.
Raspberry almond cupcakes. Another favorite flavor combination of mine. I wanted to take The Washington Posts great raspberry frangipane cake recipe from a few months ago and make a cupcake version of it.

I took a vanilla cupcake base, added a few tablespoons of sweetened ground almond filling (the kind you get in a can for stuffing almond croissants) and then added a blob of jam in the center. I think the texture of these was off, the almonds made the cupcakes very moist and dense, like a muffin, which would be fine for a muffin (and I may make these again without the icing) but I prefer cupcakes to be cakey, not muffiny. That's the hard part with cupcakes that use fruit. Next time, I'll try swapping out the flour for some almond flour and use the lighter, dryer, and crumblier almond paste.

The icing is raspberry flavored, and since it's hard to make raspberry flavored things without them coming out with a metallic aftertaste, I was surprised at how bright and fruity these tasted. I took the raspberry juice from a frozen bag of raspberries (this is infinitely easier than food processoring/straining raspberries, although I don't think it's feasible to sacrifice a bag of frozen raspberries just to make the icing, so I'll have to work on this) and boiled it with a little sugar, than added a little bit of raspberry extract. The icing gets its beautiful pink color from the raspberry juice. Originally I was going to boil the frozen raspberries with some sugar and use them like blueberries in a blueberry muffin for the cupcakes, but raspberries are so much seedier than blueberries that I gave up and used raspberry jam instead. Next time I may try incorporating raspberry jam in the icing too instead of raspberry juice.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dark Future

So, I was going to post these awesome pictures of some cupcakes that I made on Sunday, but my camera decided not to save any of the pictures I took. So, sadly, this will be a cupcakeless post. But! Do not despair, because I have a book review for you.

Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora is a bizarre, great little anthology. As the cover suggests, the anthology contains a lot of science fiction, even though some of the works were certainly not considered science fiction when they were written. The book is a little uneven, but overall a really excellently put together anthology, with work from well-known authors W.E. Du Bois and Octavia Butler, along with several more obscure writers.

"Sister Lilith," from Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, reimagines the creation of Adam and his first wife, Lilith (she of Hebrew lore and comic book fame) from Lilith's point of view. What could be hokey is deftly handled by Jeffers' snappy, ironic, and profane dialog.

Du Bois' "The Comet," written in 1920, gives an African American man a brief moment of equality after Halley's comet sends noxious fumes sweeping over New York City, killing nearly everyone.

"The Evening, the Morning, and the Night," by Octavia Butler, my favorite piece in the anthology, examines a new disease and the disturbing sociological ramifications of those infected.

Steven Barnes' "The Woman in the Wall" is another standout, a terrifying story about a refugee/prisoner camp that will make your flesh crawl.

Wisely, Dark Matter includes a section of essays about science fiction and African American writers, including another piece by Octavia Butler and contributions from Samuel Delany and Charles Saunders, which has some interesting speculation about African American contribution to the genre.

Despite a few clunkers, Dark Matter is a wonderful book, and really a must-read for anyone analyzing science fiction.

Or, you know, the future could also be like this:

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Internet does some good.

So, a few days ago I posted about Judy Grigg's and the magazine she edits, Cook's Source, thieving an article from another writer and sending her a nasty e-mail in response to her request for payment.

According to Consumerist and Boston.com, Cook's Source is shutting down, which may be partly because many of their advertisers are pulling their ads after being contacted by readers, and party because Griggs ripped off recipes from publishers that have much deeper pockets and more avaricious lawyers than one freelance writer.

Grigg's website, www.cookssource.com, has been taken down and the link will only take you to an Intuit advertising site, but Consumerist has posted some of a rambling and incoherent rant that Griggs left on the site before the plug was pulled.

"Its [sic] sad really. The problem is that I have been so overworked and stretched that when this woman... contacted me, I was on deadline and traveling at the rate of 200 mile [sic] a day for that week (over 900 in total for that week), which I actually told her, along with a few other "nice" things, which she hasnt written about.

I was stupid to even answer her that night, her email to me was antagonistic and just plain rude and I was exhausted. But I got suckered in and responded. She doesnt [sic] say that she was rude, she doesnt [sic] say that I agreed (and did) to pay her. It was my plan to contact her after deadline and have a good discussion about it....

The complicating issue was that one of the businesses we worked with had closed without notice, just a sign on the door -- leaving several people, including a chef who had relocated to this area from Florida -- out of work. I do not offer this as an excuse, but that, when she wanted money for Columbia University, it seemed ironic because there were all these people in this small town going into the holidays with no jobs, and no, well, nothing.

I should add that this email exchange took place the day before she wrote her article for the world. After she (likely) received my email, she called the home office phone at 10PM, I didnt [sic] answer that late, was in bed as I was traveling again the next day (left at 7AM the next morning) to Connecticut, and didnt [sic] get back to her. This is not an uncommon practice with anyone, to not respond to a phone call for a day or two, it happens to me from other businesses, all the time. I came home that day from being in Connecticut to find hundreds of phone messages and emails telling me I sucked and was a dirtbag... and much MUCH worse.

I really wish she had given me a chance to respond to her before blasting me. She really never gave me a chance...

If my apology to Monica seemed shallow it was because I was angry about the harm she has inflicted on others on behalf of her own agenda. "

Judy, Judy, Judy. JOOOODEEEE. I'm going to proofread this for you, send it back to you, and charge you for it. And unless you've been hitting the cooking sherry extra hard, there's no excuse for an 'editor' to write so poorly.

Ship of Fools

Article on Slate about Japanese artist Yoshimoto Nara. I like Nara. The photo essay on Slate lets you noodle through Nara's new exhibit. Author Ben Davis has issues with Nara though, but I think asking is modern art is meaningful is sort of...meaningless.

Oh, and, I saw The Deathly Hallows this weekend, and while I'm not going to review it, I will say, mad props for using Nick Cave's "O Children" from Abbatoir Blues. I get instantly teary when I hear that song.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Books that time forgot.

It's sometimes funny, which books become successful and which don't. A recent article on the More Intelligence Life blog, "We Need to Talk About Lionel", pointed out that arguably one of the best novelists of today, Lionel Shriver, hasn't really found much commercial success. That's not to say that one needs commercial success to be a good author (Twilight?), but it is rather odd how one can stumble across an author or a book and say, wow, this is really, really good, and yet it's out of print and I had to get it from a used bookseller online. How did so many people miss this?

Cecelia Holland's Floating Worlds is one such book. Written in 1975, Worlds is very reminiscient of other authors of science fiction with a decidedly feminist bent, such as Ursula Le Guin, but while Le Guin's work is still in print (and routinely assigned in colleges) I've never heard of Holland before, and after reading Floating Worlds, I really don't think you can talk about science fiction without mentioning this book.

Science fiction is a fascinating genre. Although I would not describe myself as liking science fiction specifically, many of my favorite books and/or authors are from that genre, from William Gibson to China Mieville. Part of that is the subset of feminist science fiction that really flowered in the 1970s. I don't know enough about the era to offer any definitive reason why such a specific genre emerged, but if I were to offer an opinion, I would say that it may have something to do with authors only being able to create an egalitarian universe in science fiction - that is, that the idea of an egalitarian world was so foreign, so alien to the 1970s that only by putting it in the future or in space did the idea of women's equality seem plausible.

Which is kind of sad, but fortunate for me, since I get to read Holland's excellent book.

Floating Worlds is set in some undetermined future. The Earth is ruled (or, assiduously not ruled) by anarchists, which actually works out fairly well for everyone. It's peaceful, it's quiet, it's rather uneventful, crime seems low, the only drawback seems to be rather high unemployment and a sort of shabby feel to everything, sort of like proto-socialist Europe.

Humans have settled on Mars, which has turned into a revamped apartheid South Africa, populated by whites living in a manufactured environment. The moon has become home to a conservative, paranoid, militaristic group ruled by a general who likes spouting Biblical injunctions, but the Earth, the moon, and Mars seem to coexistent pretty peacefully, since now everyone sort of has their own place to go be their own brand of crazy.

Enter the Styths - a race of mutants living in artificial environments on Uranus and Saturn. Originally used as slaves, the mutant Styths have formed their own formidable culture and are bent on expanding their Empire, particularly over Mars, whose inhabitants really, really hate them.

The book's main character, Paula Mendoza, is chosen by the Earth's Committee (a loosely ruling body who mainly engages in diplomatic negotiations between other entities) to try to broker a treaty between the Styths, the Earth, and Mars. Mendoza travels to Mars to meet the Styth Akellar (a leader in the Styth's sort-of parliamentary ruling body). Mendoza, whose negotiating tactics could be described as unorthodox, promptly gets pregnant with the Akellar's child and travels with him to his home planet.

What follows is a far-flung, intricate novel covering a multi-planet war of conquest. I think Worlds is unique among science fiction novels in that its focus is not on the technology but on the characters. Holland doesn't bother explaining how certain things work, it's enough that they do - she's not interested in the finer points of how exactly the Styths were mutated or what powers the starships. The specter of race and gender relations in the 1970s hang over the novel, from the white supremacist inhabitants of Mars to the Styths' misogynistic culture, in which women are veiled, kept in purdah, and slave-owning is accepted.

Mendoza's unique position allows her to move in and out of the different cultures as a participant but also an observer. The Akellar is not a particularly likeable character and is often downright nasty, which gives their relationship more believability. Aside from their shared child, they're more or less in a business relationship with their own individual agendas.

Aside from some holes in the science (and although Holland has written some twenty-plus books in a multiplicity of genres, this is her only science fiction work), Worlds is a very, very real novel in a way that many science fiction works aren't. It often seems like authors in this genre use gobs of scientific information to cloak their weaknesses as writers and ignore characterization in favor of lovingly explaining how some futuristic machine works. Holland is exactly the opposite. The science fiction trappings of Worlds are nearly incidental to the plot, which hinges on her excellently drawn characters. Worlds is imbued with many layers of meaning, and really an important part of the science fiction canon.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Random Photo Roundup

Some photos that have been hanging around on my camera:

Delicious hunk o' bacon

Someone stole my deck and replaced it with leaves!

They're so shy, like who? Us? Delicious?

Raspberry mousse pie makes me wish for summer

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The past is never dead...

...it isn't even past. How right you are, William Faulkner.

I read this yesterday in the New York Times. According to this article, a report recently released by the Justice Department, after concerted efforts to keep it secret, has revealed that intelligence officials, including members of the Central Intelligence Agency, aided former Nazis in entering the United States.

The report was assembled by the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigation, which was stood up in 1979 specifically to deal with finding and deporting Nazis who had slipped into the United States. As it turns out, many of those Nazis had help. Intelligence officials, citing the Nazis' worth as information sources, pressured immigration officials to issue a visa to one Nazi and downplayed the involvement of several others.

The report was begun in 1999 at the urging of Mark Richards, a Justice Department lawyer, but Richards died in 2009, after six years of trying to get the report released. The Justice Department finally released a heavily redacted version earlier this year after a FOIA suit, although the Times obtained a full report that shows how much material was redacted.

And speaking of the past not being past - last Monday I went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum for the opening of their Sudan at the Crossroads photo exhibit. The Museum has a department dedicated to bringing attention to potentially genocidal activity worldwide, and has been heavily involved in trying to focus global attention on Sudan.

Lucian Perkins, a Pulizer Prize-winning photographer, and Andrew Natsios, the State Department's former Special Envoy to Sudan, went on a fact-finding trip sponsored by the Museum. Perkins' video and photographs were projected onto the wall of the Museum.

The opening presentation also included talks from Simon Deng and Omar Ismail, two Sudanese activists. Deng was kidnapped after his village in the Shilluk Kingdom of southern Sudan was raided by northern Sudanese and given to a family in Khartoum as a gift. He spent three years in slavery before escaping. Deng's perspective on the continuing violence directed against the south from the north is very interesting, and one that you will not hear most other people say. Deng frames the violence as religiously motivated - southern Sudan is a majority African, Christian area, whereas northern Sudan is mostly Arab Muslim.

It's not often that one is able to predict when genocide is going to happen. It often seems like only after it's over that the world indulges in a collected forehead-slap and "never again!" group cry. There's also debate about the efficacy of genocide prevention - if you prevented it, and it didn't happen, can you prove that it would have happened unless you prevented it? No, unless you're Spock (and if you diagram that logically, it looks like this: happened --> prevented it.)

But in January, Sudan is supposed to hold a nationwide referedum, and it is predicted that 1) if it actually happens and 2) if it's a fair election, the south will vote to split from the north, which will cause some consternation, as Sudan's oil is inconveniently (if you're in the north) located underneath the south.

All of which means we have a bit of warning that something may happen, and that it won't be good - but what are we going to do about it?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not worth the trip.

There's a reason why I don't think I could actually do book reviewing for a living - if I start a book, and it sucks, I don't finish it. Why? Well, I have many other things to do with my valuable time (eat a whole bag of sour candy and make my tongue bleed, chew off all of my hangnails, lie in wait with a water pistol for the fat squirrel that lives in my back yard, etc.) and I don't particularly want to waste it reading something that's awful. Which, you could argue, isn't necessarily fair to the author, since I'm reviewing something I haven't read in its entirety, to which I respond, I only need to take one bite of moldy cheese, not finish the whole damn wedge, to tell you that it's bad.

I picked up William Mueller's Rome Revisited because it's set during the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as anyone who has read much of this blog knows, I read compulsively about German history.

As it turns out, and I did not know this, Mueller's book is set in Old Town. Now, if you are writing a book about, say, the Zambezi River or the Shengdong Province or Iowa, you can write whatever you want about it, and I'm really just going to have to give you the benefit of the doubt, having not been to any of those places. But, as I've worked in Old Town off and on for years and now live not very far away from it, if you screw up the details of a place I know pretty intimately, I'm going to notice.

So. Mueller can't show, because he's not a very good writer, so he has to tell, which leads us to some epically bad sentences, like such:

"The rich, bright street lamps reflected prosperity in the warm spring air and through the windows of shops gleamed artistry of varied hues and intent."

Then, Mueller takes us to Murphy's Irish Pub:

"When after ordering drinks and two fish-and-chip platters to be dipped in beer batter and lightly fried, the girls found their way back to us..."

I don't know if Mueller's ever been to Murphy's, but the only light in the cook's vocabulary is that which comes after Miller or Bud, and it certainly doesn't apply to the fish and chips, which is roughly the same density and texture as a slab of cement. Mueller continues in this bizarre vein, describing some weird mirror-world image of Old Town and Alexandria in general that sounds like it was written by someone getting paid to shill for tourists - which he kind of is, since he's on appointment with the Alexandria Commission for the Arts.

The writing is awful, the dialogue is painfully bad, the author's desperate attempt to inject realism into the details is sloppily done, and the plot (at least, such one as I could find, which seems to involve some random trading companies and the insufferable main character and his equally repulsive love interest) is simply...well, nonexistent, as far as I can tell. Ultimately unsurprising for a book from AuthorHouse, which is essentially a vanity publishing company.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Heartless minds.

The year is 1954. World War II has been over for a decade. The world has reeled from the footage and photographs taken from the concentration camps - the crematoria, the mass graves, the stacks of emaciated bodies, the horrific accounts from the camp survivors. The United Nations was formed nine years earlier, in response to the genocide of the Holocaust and to replace the League of Nations that had prevented another world war. The UN member states had already launched their rallying cry of "never again!"

And yet. And yet.

In 1945 Kenya was only a few years away from gaining independence from Britain. But in 1945, Britain's colonial administration was presiding over a vast network of detention camps and "reserves" that oversaw the systematic torture, brutalization, enslavement, and murder of an estimated three hundred thousand Kikuyu, using methods that will literally make you gag when you read about them.

In 1954. The British government engaged in a very successful and strategic cover-up, alternately stonewalling, dissembling, and outright lying to its constituency and members of its own House, and succeeding in its efforts to avoid holding anyone acountable.

Caroline Elkin's Imperial Reckoning starts with a brief recap of Britain's early history with Kenya. Like Belgium and Germany, Britain popped over to Kenya, swiped most of the arable land from the agrarian tribes there, mostly the Kikuyu, and cheerfully shoved the natives into 'reserves' that were neither large nor fertile enough to sustain them.

Fast forward to 1952 (Elkin's book covers a relatively short period of time), and the Kikuyu have formed an insurgent group, the Mau Mau, in the hopes of reclaiming their land. Facing a larger and better equipped force, the Mau Mau use insurgent tactics and begin attacking settlers before returning to the forest. Mau Mau insurgents also attacked loyalist Africans, including the assassination of Chief Waruhiu in 1952.

After a few highly publicized killings, complete with the printing of grisly photographs in the local papers, the British settlers demand a reaction and protection from the British colonial administration.

And react they did. Britain dispatched the military, together with the African loyalist Home Guard, and began descending on Kikuyu reserves to ferret out the Mau Mau. Britain's administration began building a vast network of camps, and using tactics borrowed from the conflict in Malaya, instituted a "hearts and minds" program aimed at dissuading Kikuyu from joining Mau Mau and wresting loyalty from those who had. British troops and Home Guards conducted sweeps throughout the cities and reserves, sending thousands of Kikuyu through a brutal "screening" process where British and African troops alike tortured suspects to get them to confess to having taken the Mau Mau oath. Based on the screenings, the detainees were classified based on their suspected level of loyalty to Mau Mau and sent to various prisons and detention camps.

The camps continued to proliferate, and camp guards invented new and more horrific forms of torture. Starvation, death from disease and mistreatment, and outright murder were common. Those released from the camps were incarcerated in "villages," surrounding by barbed wire and guarded by more troops. Inhabitants of these villages were forced to work and received no medical care or sanitation infrastructure, and were subject to brutalization by the village guards.

Britain continued its effort to break Mau Mau for several years, building more than fifty-five camps and prisons and killing over three hundred thousand Kikuyu and displacing thousands more. Those who died as an indirect result of Britain's policy are unestimable, due in part to Britain's deliberate cover-up of the number of those killed. The methods used by the Home Guards and British troops rivaled those of Nazi concentration camps in terror and inhumanity, and letters written by inmates and smuggled out of the camps made direct comparisons between the actions of the British administration and the Nazis.

Meanwhile, what was the rest of the world doing? It was not until 1954-55 that any serious opposition to Britain's activities got underway, headed by members of the Labor Party, and even their inquiries and demands for an investigation were obstructed by British leadership in Kenya, with the full collaboration of the British government.

Elkin began her research in 1995, and her book was published ten years later. For a decade, she traveled around Kenya, interviewing survivors, former Home Guards, members of the British colonial administration, and pored over the sadly incomplete records left behind in Kenya and Britain. Some of those involved in the extermination of the Kikuyu expressed regret to Elkin, others seem untroubled by their involvement.

Elkin's books is scrupulously researched and broad enough to give even a reader with little knowledge of Britain's involvement in Kenya a good foundation. Because many of the decisions that affected thousands of human lives were made by one or two men, she devotes a considerable amount of time to dissecting the various personalities involved, and includes a tremendous amount of interview material from Kikuyu survivors, Home Guards, detainment camp guards (including some from the women-only detainment camps, a detail which is usually left out from historical research into this time period) and activists.

Elkin's book is simply extraordinary in its scope and detail. It's also horrifying and enraging, but its necessary for anyone wanting a more complete picture of the waste and terror of European colonialism in Africa, and a better understanding of Kenya's development since the 1950s.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Schizoid city/Lost and found

From this weekend:

"Cultural Transformations: Berlin in the 20th Century," lecture by Marion Deshmukh at the Goethe Institut. Deshmukh is the GMU Hawkes Professor of History, although I didn't have her as a German teacher when I was a student there. Deshmukh's lecture walked the audience through some of the changes in Berlin in the late 19th and early 20th century, with particular emphasis on topographical changes and rebuilding efforts after the end of World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin has always been a schizoid city - barracks backwater, provincial working town, hotbed of socialist activity, center of the Reich - culminating in the ultimate division when the Soviet slapped a wall down the center of the city. Conventional wisdom said the West boomed and the East stagnated, which is true to a large extent, but as the difficulty after reunification shows, the East simply didn't stream towards capitalism with open arms.

Deshmukh's lecture was very interesting, if not groundbreaking, but helpful to point out that the wrangling over what gets rebuilt (and who pays for it) goes on. For an excellent history of the city, the best book in English that I've found, read Faust's Metropolis.

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait.

Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, at the National Portrait Gallery.

I think the National Portrait Gallery is one of the best museums in DC. It's large, but not overwhelming, and has a large enough collection and several traveling exhibits to make it worth visiting every few months. And, since it's part of the Smithsonian museum collective, it's free.

The Hide/Seek website bills itself as the "first major museum exhibit to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American potraiture." The exhibit ranges from a staid portrait of Walt Whitman to Andy Warhol's snapshots taken while wearing a wig and makeup (the precursor to the Facebook in the bathroom mirror snap?). The Portrait Gallery has packed a lot into the space, and it's a great collective of portraiture, sexual difference or not. It's divided chronologically, from Before Difference (which I would argue with) to Modernism to AIDs and Beyond. Definitely worth the trip.

It also has one of my favorite sculptures, "Portrait of Ross in LA" by Felix Gonzalez Torres.

Did I take a piece of candy? Duh. What did it taste like? Vaguely grapey. Could I stand there and stare at the shiny, shiny wrappers for hours? Yes.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thievery corporation.

The Internet is a big place. People often seem to get confused about what the concept of free domain is, and whether something is yours to grab just because you found it on the Internet.

For example, I've posted pictures of food I've made using Cook's Illustrated recipes. Have I posted the recipes? No. Are they worth sharing? Yes. Why haven't I posted them? See, Cook's Illustrated charges for access to their recipes online. You have to buy a subscription or purchase their magazines to get their recipes. So, I won't repost a recipe of theirs, or any recipe, unless it's already available on the Web or not copyright protected. And simply giving someone credit with a byline isn't enough - if you gank something from someone and reprint it in a revenue-producing product, like a magazine that someone pays for, you have just committed theft.

You would think that if I, without a background in intellectul property law, could figure this out, than someone who actually has editorial experience would know this, wouldn't you?

Alas, that is not the case.

Take, for example, Judith Griggs. Judith is the editor of a magazine called Cook's Source. Have you heard of it? Neither have I. But Judith thought she could steal an article written by someone else - in this case, Monica Gaudio - and print it in her magazine, without permission or paying Gaudio for her work, charge others for buying it, and declare it okay because she credited Gaudio in the byline.

When Gaudio found out, she sent Judith an e-mail asking her what the deal was, and got this in response (from Gawker:

"Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things. But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me... ALWAYS for free!"

Wow. Housitonic Home? Connecticut Woman Magazine? How is it I have not read these fine publications?!

Judy, Judy Judy. JUDY. First of all, printing an article that you don't have the rights to isn't a "my bad." It's illegal. And secondly, saying that everything on the Internet is public domain is like saying that because you read it on the Internet, it must be true. So, not only did you steal Gaudio's work, you responded to her request (which, I think, was reasonable) for compensation or a donation to Columbia School of Journalism by telling her her article sucked, but not badly enough for you not to steal it - and then demanding that SHE pay YOU for the time it took to rewrite her article? That takes cojones.

As it turns out, Cook's Source has stolen a lot of other stuff - from Martha Stewart, NPR, and Weight Watchers, among other sources.

Click here to read NPR's article, with a link to the Gawker post. Then, if you're bored, send an e-mail to info@cookssource.com and tell Judy what you think of her interpretation of copyright laws.

Hard knock life.

I just finished Tana French's latest novel, Faithful Place, and thought I would review it along with her first two novels, In The Woods and The Likeness. Tana French writes fairly straightforward detective novels, but she's a solid if not inventive writer, and the novel's settings are exotic enough (Ireland) to be interesting but not confusing to American readers - sort of like the crop of Swedish noir and the Millennium trilogy that have become so popular. French's first two novels landed on the New York Times bestseller list.

In The Woods, French's first novel, was published in 2007. Irish policeman Adam Ryan and his fellow detective, the slight, feisty Cassie Maddox, take on a case of a murdered girl found at an archeological site in the woods near Ryan's hometown. As a child, Ryan's two best friends vanished in the same woods, and although he was with them, he has no memory of what happened and has carried survivor's guilt with him the rest of his life. His hope of finding out is dashed when the case reveals that the murder isn't related to their disappearance, but returning to his hometown forces Ryan to rip the scab off some ugly memories.

At the same time, his personal life starts spiraling out of control, culminating in one very stupid decision that leaves him friendless and regretful. The novel ends with the crime resolved, although Ryan's life remains upended.

The Likeness picks up where In The Woods left off, but French shifts focus to Cassie Maddox, leaving Ryan at the periphery of the novel. It's an interesting idea and keeps the novel from devolving into standard-formula-detective-series-mush, and Maddox makes a more interesting and complex character than Ryan. Maddox is small, young-looking, and a good liar, which makes her a natural for undercover work. As the novel opens, Maddox has been posing as a university student, but is pulled off of the job after being stabbed by the dealer the squad is trying to nail. Her stabbing gives the squad a convenient way to claim that "Alexandra Madison," Maddox's alias, is dead...except another dead girl with an ID card with the same name who looks exactly like Cassie turns up in an abandoned shed.

The dead Lexie lived in a large, rambling manor house called Whitethorn with four other students. At the university, the five have an odd reputation - they keep to themselves and have only superficial interaction with anyone outside their invented family. Frank Mackey, the detective in charge of the case, persuades Maddox to assume Lexie's identity again, and tells the students that Lexie survived the attack, albeit without any memory of who tried to kill her. Maddox, now Lexie, goes to Whitethorn wearing a wire in the hopes of figuring out who killed Lexie, and who the girl who stole her made-up identity really is.

Once Maddox/Lexie is installed in Whitethorn, the novel slows down while French picks apart the eccentricities of the inhabitants, who have constructed an anachronistic, insular little world. Maddox finds herself forming real bonds with the other students, until her masquerade becomes harder and harder to maintain.

The Likeness is a tricky little thriller and French does an excellent job rendering the inhabitants of Whitethorn. Maddox is a refreshing change from the usual protagonists of modern detective novels, where women are usually relegated to being bitchy ex-wives, battered prostitutes, or oddities on the force. Maddox takes a little flak for being a woman, but her coworkers consider her youth and appearance an asset, and the emphasis in Woods is on psychological maneouvering, not busting down doors with a gun.

Still, I had a hard time swallowing the basic premise of the book - there are doppelgangers out there (I routinely have people confuse me with our building's librarian), but it's hard to believe that four people would believe the Maddox/Lexie switch. Even identical twins have something that sets them apart - a way of walking, a gesture - and Maddox has never even met the girl claiming to be Alexandra Madison. Still, if you can accept that such a switch is feasible, the rest of the book is a suspenseful and complicated read.

In Faithful Place, French again switches narrators, this time picking up with Frank Mackey, the detective from the first two novels. Mackey is older, more bitter, and probably closer to the snarky-detective cliche than Ryan and Maddox, but although he comes loaded with standard-issue baggage (angry ex-wife, abusive childhood, inferiority complex) he's still a believable character.

Mackey is from a public housing development called Faithful Place, home to Guinness lineworkers and families on the dole. His family is the lowest of the low on his street, with an alcoholic, violent father, a tough-as-nails mother, and a slew of siblings. Mackey falls in love with the neighbor's daughter, the beautiful Rosie Daly. The Dalys and the Mackeys hate each other, and Rosie's father forbids her from seeing Mackey, so they plan to leave for England together. But on the night Rosie is supposed to meet Frank, she doesn't show up, and Frank assumes that she's ditched him and headed for England on her own. Frank makes it out, becomes a detective, and cuts off his family, except for his favorite sister.

Twenty-two years later, Rosie's suitcase is found behind the fireplace of the abandoned house that served as the teenage hangout of Faithful Place, and Frank is forced to return home to the family he's barely had contact with in over two decades. A grisly discovery in the basement of Number Sixteen forces him to accept that Rosie didn't abandon him, and that something is very, very rotten in Faithful Place.

French's depiction of Faithful Place and those who didn't quite make it out is very well done, although this novel lacks the ratcheting tension of her first two. It's apparent rather quickly who the killer is, and the confrontation doesn't feel very cataclysmic. Faithful Place feels more like a meditation on the deadliness of family ties rather than a thriller, but it's written with French's crisp style and skillful dialogue and still a good read.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One Hundred Years

In 1987, Roger Smith used the term "a century of genocide" in his article, "Human Destructiveness and Politics: The 20th Century as an Age of Genocide." A year later, Israel Charny used the same term in his contribution to The Study of Genocide.

And it's understandable why Smith and Charny would label the twentieth century the century of genocide: the twentieth century saw the Holocaust, the Ukrainian Holodomor, and the Armenian genocide shortly after the turn of the century. But they were also prescient - Charny and Smith published their articles well before the genocide of the Hutu in Burundi, the oft-overlooked genocide that preceeded the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, and the genocides in Darfur, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo.

But now we're in the twenty-first century. Is the century of genocide over, or are we beginning a second one? I have little to base this prediction on but the same information about world events that anyone reading this also has access to, but I believe that we are headed for another hundred years of the same, and unless our international bodies are willing to put teeth, time, and money into their conventions and treaties, they are unlikely to be prevented. As Century of Genocide's editors point out, the same arguments over definitions and obligation that began after World War II continue today.

Century collects scholarly research about selected genocides and presents them, along with historical context, causes, and eyewitness testimony (some written, some collected through interviews). What is most valuable about this book is its inclusion of those genocides that have not received worldwide attention or as much scholarly analysis as others. Century does include a chapter on the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and the genocide in Rwanda, but it also includes a chapter on the holocaust of the Gypsies in Germany and Germany's T-4 program, which mobilized hospitals, doctors, and nurses to exterminate handicapped, disabled, or otherwise "undesirable" patients.

This topic often gets short shrift in other works about the Holocaust, and the research included here shows why - Germany is still invested in hiding it. Compared to the relatively meticulous records the Nazis kept about the number of people who died in concentration camps and extermination campaigns in Germany and eastern Europe, the number of those killed under the T-4 campaign is still inexact. Estimates, based on records not found until the early 90s, range from 70,000 to 120,000, although more recent evidence, including work performed by Dr. Leo Alexander, a member of the Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes at Nuremberg, puts the number at 275,000 (consider the comparison of the number of mental patients - which could range from someone with schizophrenia to someone with a lisp - in Germany before and after WWII - 300,000 versus 40,000).

Why such a broad range, and so little information? Unlike the effort to exterminate the Jews, the majority of those killed under the T-4 program were Germans, and the German government had a vested interest in keeping the numbers hidden. Furthermore, the definition of 'disabled' was stretched to include even those with minor disabilities, such as children with speech defects. Although the architect of the T-4 program, Dr. Karl Brandt, was hanged at Nuremberg, many of the physicians involved in euthanizing patients under his program continued to practice after the war, and the German medical community, unlike other groups in Germany involved in the Holocaust, did not, has not, and as far as I can predict, never will offer an apology, admission of guilt, or statement of responsibility for the death of those in the care of the medical community before, during, and after World War II. In fact, as recently as the mid-80s, German doctors researching T-4 were shut out of the medical community and effectively preventing from continuing their career in Germany.

Another 'forgotten' genocide that Century covers is the genocide of the Hereros, a South African tribe, by Britain in the 1940s. As Britain fought one genocidal power in Europe, it carried out its own genocide in South Africa, with a deliberate campaign of extermination, both physical and cultural, of the Herero. Britain's army reduced a tribe of 80,000 to roughly 20,000, built a network of 'detention' camps (concentration camps by another name) and used a campaign of torture, imprisonment, and murder, largely without any notice by the international community.

Century also includes a chapter on the genocide in East Timor, the genocide in Bangladesh by Pakistan in the 1970s, and the Burundi genocide, which are subjects that are often overlooked in genocide studies. The book does show its age (it was published in 1997) with an afterword titled "Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina?," a question which has since been settled (yes, it was.). But this is helpful, in that it raises some of the questions that surrounded the Darfurian genocide - is it? If it is, what do we do? And how can we continue to debate it until it's safely over and we don't have to do anything?