January 31, 2005

The Improbably Named Doll

My daughter has a doll. Well, she has more than one, but there is just one my wife dislikes and my wife hides this doll in the deepest recesses of my daughter's closet whenever she gets the chance. This doll bears an improbable name, dating from the time the Girl Child learned that people have more than one name and she decided her doll needed more than one name, too.

The Girl Child had an aunt visiting this weekend and the exchange when something like this:

Aunt: What's your doll's name?

GC: Mikado Philadelphia Booger.

Aunt: *Coughing fit* How did you come up with that name?

GC: We liked it. We thought it was a pretty name. So we that's what we named her.

No word on who the "we" was in the explanation. Frankly, I was a little bit afraid to ask.

I wonder, though, if any of her pretend friends had any input into the name.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:59 AM | Comments (2)

Ghosts were all around me

I went, on Sunday, to attend an open house in the town next over from mine. The kids were napping, my wife was installed with the Sunday crossword, and I took myself off. It looked promising on paper: 6 bedrooms, .6 acres, walk to the train, all in a very nice town with a great school system. The advert didn't warn me to be prepared to be sad, which is too bad, because I was.

The house, you see, was an estate sale. It was being sold by the children of the previous inhabitants. The "children", the broker told me, were now all in their 50's and the previous inhabitants had lived there for many, many years and raised their family there. And then they died. But they didn't vacate the house.

They were there all around me, the ghosts. The clothes left hanging in some closets. The well worn books in certain book shelves. The family photos left on tables and hung on walls, many of them of such an obvious age that they must have depicted people long dead themselves. The papers left out on the desk in the home office. Their traces were everywhere, if you looked carefully.

The ghosts were there in the sadness of the house, in the way that the house had just been left there, and not all shined up for sale. The way the wall paper was peeling in certain rooms and the way the plaster walls in the master bedroom had been left cracked and stained from a roof leak. No way the previous inhabitants would have wanted their house to be shown like that. No way.

I felt more creeped out the longer I was in the house and I did not linger after I finished my tour.

What is it about an empty house, a dead house, that you can feel even before you go in? I suspected it was an estate sale just from the way the walk was poorly shoveled.

I felt like I was walking with ghosts the whole time I was there. I don't think I could own such a house.

Besides, it needed, easy $250,000 worth of work and was on a busy street which is a no-no with small children.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:58 AM | Comments (3)


Also posted over at Muniviana:

I read this weekend in the NY Times that Qatar may put up for sale its wholly owned television news network, Al-Jazeera. For sale. The whole network which is internationally known for anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.

Who's up for pitching in with me, forming an investment syndicate, and buying the whole thing? Can't you just see it: Al-Munuvia. Forget Google news, we'd be our own news channel. I bet we could get some kind of government loan, too.

How cool would that be? Who's in?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:35 AM | Comments (4)

January 30, 2005

What's wrong with just, plain American?

I read a speech an an alumni magazine this weekend given by the president of the university in which he reflected on the civil rights struggle in the South and spoke about how "African-Americans" and "Anglo-Saxon Americans" joined hands and fought the good fight. Well, it was a good fight, no question about that. But what sent me over the edge was this pathetic example of academic, racial group think/categorization, speech. The good president meant, White. If he meant Anglo-Saxon American, he left out all of those of Italian, German, French, Polish, Russian, etc. heritage who did their part in the civil rights struggle. Besides, do we really need to point out that the Angles and the Saxons have not really been around much since, oh, the Roman occupation of Britain?

What's wrong with just plain American? It was good enough for my ancestors when they became American. They did not insist on some prefix to "honor their heritage". Besides, I think I've said this before, but claiming kinship with the entire African continent is just stupid. How many different languages are spoken in Africa? A lot. Too many for someone to claim a connection, credibly, to the entire continent.

Why aren't we happier about just being American? It is good enough for me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:50 PM | Comments (9)

January 28, 2005

Today's outrage

Today, I am shaking my head over the decision in Rhode Island to cancel the spelling bee because it would violate the spirit, I gather, of the No Child Left Behind Act. What, are they kidding me? They actually said:

"No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards," [Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda] Newman said. "It’s our responsibility to find as many ways as possible to accomplish this."

The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesn’t meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards -- because there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind.

"It’s about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind. That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind," Newman said.

A spelling bee, she continued, is about "some kids being winners, some kids being losers."

As a result, the spelling bee "sends a message that this isn’t an all-kids movement," Newman said.

Furthermore, professional organizations now frown on competition at the elementary school level and are urging participation in activities that avoid winners, Newman said. That’s why there are no sports teams at the elementary level, she said as an example.

The emphasis today, she said, is on building self-esteem in all students.

"You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they’re all winners," she said. "You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go."

A spelling bee only benefits a few, not all, students, the elementary principals and Newman agreed, so it was canceled.

What a big, steaming pile of horse shit. Self esteem is built by accomplishment, by failure and success, by trying and winning, not by only being told you should have it. "Sends a message". I hate that phrase. The only thing missing here is that Ms. Newman doesn't claim to be "speaking truth to power" by her actions.

Do we need to say, by the way, that she's flat out wrong? NCLB addresses schools, not events like this. Don't cancel the event, make your damn school better.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:52 AM | Comments (10)

An interesting assignment with the Girl Child

Last night, I sat with the Girl Child and worked on an assignment from Nursery School. At school, they are doing a lesson that involves, broadly, learning how to not judge a book by its cover or a person by their appearance. I had to talk to her about what people would not be able to tell about her just based on her appearance (which is pretty darn cute, if I do say so myself).

Her answers were:

*Polite and playful
*Norsk (that's Norwegian, in Norwegian)
*"Sharebul" (her invention meaning sharing and friendly, she explained)
*loves to cuddle with her brother
*likes to run around the dining room table
*loves to dance ("make sure you write that one down, Pappa, ok?")
*loves all her friends in her class
*loves to swim and play in the pool and go underwater
*loves to eat ice cream cake
*thirsty all the time (I don't think this one is true, really, but whatever)
*loves to read and play with her doctor kit
*likes to play on the piano and loves music

It got me thinking, after she went to sleep. I wonder what kind of image I project by my appearance. I know someone once asked me, as I was on the subway going down to court, if I was a lawyer so maybe I project that vibe. I know that you will make certain assumptions automatically about a person based on certain socio-economic status clues that the subject gives off, but that won't tell you about the important things like ice cream cake.

So what is it about me that you can't tell when you see me all dressed up in my lawyer suit:

*I love the Autumn
*I enjoy the smell of a fire in the fire place
*I like the tactile sensations of different fabrics
*I love to read
*I like to talk to strangers
*I am not patient, not at all
*I am a patriot, I think, with a great love of my country
*Fatty foods over sweets
*I tell a damn good joke
*I love to get into a cold bed and feel it warm up from my body heat
*I loathe cucumbers to the point where, if you ask, I'll just claim that I'm allergic
*I wish I had a little convertible to zip around in, I miss the one my grandfather used to have
*I am very bad about following the dictates of my religion, pretty much any of them
*Spring training games bore me
*I am trustworthy and people tend to repose trust and confidence in me
*I am a nostalgia hound
*I welcome and embrace change, so long as it doesn't interfere with any of my little routines
*I can self indulge with the best of them

That's a good start, I guess.

How about you? What would people not know about you just by looking at you?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:40 AM | Comments (7)

January 27, 2005

Today in History: Interesting Birthdays

I could not believe how many talented people were born today:

*1756 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Need we say more?

*1832 Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, author of Alice in Wonderland as Lewis Carroll

*1834 Dmitri Mendeleev chemist who discovered the periodic table of the elements

*1872 The Hon. Learned Hand, Albany NY, Chief Judge (US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit)

*1885 Jerome Kern, composer of Showboat, among other productions

*1900 Admiral Hyman G Rickover, USN, considered the father of the modern nuclear navy

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:06 PM | Comments (2)

My Mother and the Girl Child

My mother takes the grand children out for lunch once a week. Sometimes the lunch is held at my mother's house, sometimes she comes over to our house, and sometimes they all go out. Yesterday, they went out. I am informed that the following conversation took place between Nana and the GC:

Nana: I hear that you're doing a lot of painting these days.

GC: Yes.

Nana: Will you paint me some new pictures I can put on my fridge?

GC: What's wrong with the old ones? You don't like them?

Damn. I just wish I had been there to see my mother's face. It would have been priceless.


Posted by Random Penseur at 03:51 PM | Comments (6)

Well, crime may not pay, but you should still keep your receipts

The Dutch kind of crack me up. My dad sent me this article about a bank robber in Holland who was permitted by the Court, with the encouragement of the prosecution, to deduct from the amount of restitution he had to pay to the vicitm of his crime, the cost of the handgun used in the commission of that crime because it was a "legitimate business expense". Ok, sit back down now. Really, its true.

And the prosecution had this to say:

"You can compare criminal acts to normal business activities, where you must invest to make profits, and thus you have costs," explained Leendert de Lange, a spokesman for the national prosecutor's office.

De Lange went further to state that drug dealers could also deduct the cost of vehicles used to make deliveries of illicit substances — within reason.

Asked whether a very successful drug kingpin could cite the cost of a Ferrari, de Lange replied: "No, he would have to prove that he needed the car to transport the drugs around, and I hardly think he would transport them in a Ferrari."

No word on the logical question of whether the gun was deducted at full cost or whether the bank robber had to eat the depreciation. Also, how did he treat it on his tax return?

Seriously, can you believe this?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:41 PM | Comments (6)

January 26, 2005

R.I.P. Philip Johnson


Philip Johnson, age 93, has died today.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

You know your desk is a disaster area when, . . .

Seriously. You know that you should consider applying for federal emergency disaster relief for your desk when the only way you can find your cell phone is to engage in autotelephonation and then it still takes you what feels like 5 minutes to find it buried in the mounds of paper on your desk.

Actually, I think I just saw the Governor go by in a helicopter as he came to inspect the disaster that is my desk.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:53 AM | Comments (4)

Time Suck of the Day: Whatever Happened to. . . ?

Today's Time Suck of the Day is the site that answers the question, inter alia, of whatever happened to Pam Dawber? Or Jessica Hahn? Or Eddie the Eagle (where you learn that there was a song "featuring him apparently charting in Finland in the late 80's") You can see why, just from that small sample, this site gets the Time Suck of the Day nod.

Tell me, looking at that picture, don't you think Jessica had some breast work done? I mean, really.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:38 AM | Comments (1)

Why you should be nice to your neighbors

Why? You ask. Because, sometimes, just sometimes, when you leave the house in the middle of a snow storm (small one, but still a storm), one neighbor will call your name and, when you turn around, will tell you that there are train wires down at the station, or so his wife has just heard on the radio, and there are no trains in or out of our station. So, as you stand there in the middle of the street thinking, "SHIT!!!", you then hear your kind neighbor say, "my wife is driving me to the next station up the line where I think that there are trains, wnat a lift?" And just like that, your day goes from disaster to SAVED, Hallelujah!

Thank you kind neighbor/benefactor!

We make it to the station where we then sprint over to the other platform on the New Haven bound side where the New York bound train is just pulling in. It is so crowded that I check every door for room, from the first door to the last door before finding just enough room to squeeze in and stand for the remainder of the journey. At least the guy next to me as reading something interesting, which I could read over his shoulder. Although he did read too slowly so I kept having to wait for him to catch up and turn the page.

Still, finally made it. I have no doubt that if I was not normally nice to my neighbors, I'd still be standing at my local train station waiting for the next train.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

Buy an Aussie a Beer Day!

Today is Australia Day. Go wish Simon a happy Australia Day and buy an Aussie a beer!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:39 AM | Comments (1)

January 25, 2005

Turkish Restaurants

Ok, as promised, the report. We had a great time. As per my suspicion, the service you get when the guest of a native speaker of the native langauge of the wait staff is better. Putting to one side the issue of whether the majority of the kitchen staff at the Turkish Kitchen is actually Turkish or, more likely, some very smart guys from Mexico and Guatemala, we ate very well.

We sat down and immidiately had some raki. As described below, raki, when you get the good stuff and not the stuff somebody just brewed up in their garage, is fantastic. It helps if you like the taste of licorice, though, which I do. After the raki was poured, and after a thoughtful consultation between our hosts and the waitress, the food started coming. And coming. And coming. I don't know that I can remember it all, but it included: Shepard's Salad (which I don't eat as I loathe cucumbers); stuffed grape leaves; fried phylo dough stuffed with some kind of yummy cheese; octupus salad; a feta-like cheese; smoked and pureed eggplant; ezme (tomatoes and onion and other things, whirred together); lamb sausages; pita bread; and, mucver (yummy fried zuccini pancakes). I seriously think I may have left something off the list but I cannot remember what it is. All of this was great with the raki.

With the meze out of the way, we got down to some more serious eating.

I think that our hosts were surprised by our knowledge of Turkish food in general and thought that we chose our main courses well. My wife and I and one of our hosts, had grilled lamb sliced thinly from an upright spit and served over smoked eggplant puree. I think that the eggplant is called hunkar and here is a good looking recipe for it. The other person in our party had manti, those lovely little dumplings in a yogurt sauce. We drank a bottle of Turkish wine which was quite good, but a little thin, maybe, unlike any of us after we rolled out of the restaurant.

Dessert was actually attempted by the women in the group, thus proving that woman are the stronger sex. Or more prone to eating disorders. Whichever. They had stuffed apricots and some honey, walnut pastry, the name of which escapes me. The restaurant also brought us a plate of beautifully cut fruit. Our friends tell us that this is standard practice on Turkey but we had never experienced this before. It was, I thought, a reflection on the amount of money our hosts may have spent, but that just may be a typical NY cynisism coming to the fore.

Either way, it was a lovely meal with great company. Time flew by and before we knew it, two and half hours had elapsed.

I love Turkish food and my experiences in Turkish restaurants has always been good. There was one around the corner from our apartment when we lived on the Upper East Side and only had one child. We used to go there regularly and when we did, we would go early with the baby. We would sit down and not really see the baby much until we were ready to leave because there was always one or two young women working as waitresses who would grab the baby to play with as soon as we sat down. It was just so friendly. I sure do miss that place.

PS: WordPerfect must be broken. It has not identified one single spelling error in the above post. That is not possible.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:11 AM | Comments (2)

January 24, 2005

Ok, since you asked. . .

Friday night was a lot of fun. I will deliver a full report later. I got to work late today due to a physical and am struggling to catch up. The news from the doctor, while still awaiting the results of the blood tests, was good. My blood pressure is now 120/78, which she thought was very good. Beats me. I'm happy if she's happy, you know?

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:04 PM | Comments (2)

January 21, 2005

I know, already, that its gonna be one of those nights

We are dining tonight with some friends in the City, NYC, that is. The friends are Turkish and we are being taken to a Turkish restaurant. I happen to love Turkish food so I'm kind of looking forward to it.

I also happen to like going to ethnic restaurants with representatives of that ethnicity. You eat differently, I believe. You see that in Chinese or other Asian restaurants. Some things are just not meant to be eaten by the Gringo, or so the waiter or manager believes. And the tables around you get things brought to them that you cannot identify but which smell good and look, well, somewhere between yummy and interesting. You can try to remonstrate with the waiter and even try to break out a little phrase book to help communicate that you must, under doctor's order, have a portion of the scallop udder that the table next to you is having, and you want it steamed with chili sauce and then fried, just like them, but they never believe you. Sometimes, they may be doing you a favor but you resent the inherent paternalism just the same.

But, back to the Turkish place. I suspect we will eat things I've never seen before and I know that we will get better service than we usually do. The restaurant is reputed to be the finest Turkish restaurant in the City and our friends are probably regulars.

I am excited.

I am also aprehensive. Do you know why? Have you ever heard of Raki? No? I have. *Exagerated, but not without good reason, shudder* Raki is distilled.

Raki was first produced from the residue of grapes left over from wine making. When a shortage of residue started, spirits from abroad were imported and processed with aniseed. This went on till the First World War when, for want of raw materials raisins were used in the production of raki and sometimes even dried figs and mulberries. For good quality raki, seedless raisins and aniseed in Cesme (Izmir) were preferred. As the raki industry developed, aniseed agriculture grew and developed with it. When alcoholic beverages were prohibited at one time, underhand producers lost no time in taking steps. The administrative authorities, especially in small towns, turned a blind eye to the illegal production of raki so long as it was made in accordance with the technical rules. In many houses meat grinders were used for mincing the raisin, large basins formerly used for daily washing were now used for fermenting the grapes and oil cans were converted into distilling apparatus. The raki which was usually without aniseed and which often contained materials harmful to health were distributed to by children, in the evenings, when the streets were no longer crowded.

Today in Istanbul, drinking raki has its own traditional rituals. Most important is what it is to be partaken with. White cheese is the main and unchangeable "meze" of raki. Raki is usually drunk with cold dishes like tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce and seafood. Fish is also a favorite, especially mullet and mackerel. Due to the aniseed it contains, raki changes color and becomes a milky white when water is added and a glass of pure water to go with it gives a distinct pleasant taste.


Distinct pleasant taste until it knocks you on your ass and makes you its bitch. That's what it should have said there.

Raki is an important part of Turkish dining. I suspect that it will play a role in tonight's dinner. This is why I booked a car service to drive us home and why I am front loading on the water, now.

It is going to be a long night, filled with food I may not be able to recognize, drink which has already declared me a hostile combatant, and sub-arctic temperatures outside.

I can't wait! Have a great weekend, y'all!

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:32 PM | Comments (6)

January 20, 2005

The Inauguration

I have been too busy today to pay any attention to the swearing in down in D.C. Fortunately, Mark, over at Irish Elk, has put together a great re-cap with a look back at some memorable and some not-so-memorable Presidential speeches. Go check out the Mencken quote. Hilarious.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:29 PM | Comments (1)

Random, disconnected thoughts/observations

I have a bunch, well, a small bunch of things I have been thinking about, none of which rise to the level of a full post and I've decided to simply let them all out here, for better or worse:

* Who would have thought that sometimes a broom is better for getting snow off of your sidewalk than a shovel? Came as a pleasant surprise to me. Much less effort and a much cleaner sidewalk. It snowed last night and I was out there at 5:45 this morning getting it all clean for the day.

* How come, when it gets really cold and you're waiting for the train, the cold starts licking at your feet with the big toes first?

* Running committees for non-profits is like herding cats. I am now heading up three different, major, committees for three different non-profits and I am astounded, sometimes, that I have any time for my paying job.

* The State of NY is perilously close to overtaking the Great State of Louisiana in my mind for Most Dysfunctional State Government. I am seriously contemplating fleeing to Connecticut where, at least, taxes are so much lower and, Greenwich aside, I can get a lot more house/land for the money. Something to think about.

* The Girl Child goes today for her annual tune up and oil change -- the birthday check up. That reminds me, time to get a physical for myself.

* Ok, physical now scheduled for next Monday. Why is it, that whenever I make an appointment for a physical, I immediately want to start watching what I'm eating? Like its going to make a difference now.

* Attending nursery school "pyjama party" for a picnic and sing-along is a divine way to spend the evening. Is there any better smell in the whole world than an almost two year old boy's hair which still smells from last night's Johnson's Baby Shampoo as the little one sits on your lap during the songs and you bury your nose in his hair? Anything better? Not really.

* Sitting cross legged on the floor for a half an hour reminds me that I ain't as young as I used to be. Ridiculous, isn't it? On so many levels.

* I really need to do something about the damn banner, or lack thereof, on this site.

* I am quietly pining for Summer, for the beach, for the wind on the bare chest on the beach, for chasing kids in the sand, for cocktails next to the water, for sand in the car and not under the car on the roads, and for just a longer day between sunrise and sunset. This surprises me since I've always loved Winter. I have no guesses as to why this is.

* The February social commitments list is getting longer and longer and I'm feeling like I'm falling farther and farther behind. What else is new?

* Does anyone really think that because they send me an email with an attachment and the re line reading either, "Your Bill", "Your Document", or your "Account Statement", I'm just going to open it? Please.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:01 PM | Comments (5)

January 19, 2005

Calls you don't want to get at 8:30 a.m.

Here's the call you hate getting from a client at any time of the day, really, but particularly first thing in the morning:

Guess what? I've just been made the subject of a Federal indictment. What are we gonna do?

One of my colleagues just got that call, now.

Oh, joy.

[cynicism]You really hate it when that happens to a client who has been sooo good about paying his or her bills.[/cynicism]

In all seriousness, I'm truly bummed. I like this guy a lot, actually.


Actually, the call came from the client's wife to say that her husband had just been taken away, in handcuffs, by six Federal agents.

No word on whether the agents were singing: "Bad boy, bad boy, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you. . ." Seemed tacky to ask her, really.

Federal indictments suck.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:42 AM | Comments (8)

Bad jury pool, bad!

I'm way jealous that Jan at Secular Blasphemy got to this story first.

The group of prospective jurors was summoned to listen to a case of Tennessee trailer park violence.

Right after jury selection began last week, one man got up and left, announcing, "I'm on morphine and I'm higher than a kite."

When the prosecutor asked if anyone had been convicted of a crime, a prospective juror said that he had been arrested and taken to a mental hospital after he almost shot his nephew. He said he was provoked because his nephew just would not come out from under the bed.

Another would-be juror said he had had alcohol problems and was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover officer. "I should have known something was up," he said. "She had all her teeth."

Another prospect volunteered he probably should not be on the jury: "In my neighborhood, everyone knows that if you get Mr. Ballin (as your lawyer), you're probably guilty." He was not chosen.

The case involved a woman accused of hitting her brother's girlfriend in the face with a brick. Ballin's client was found not guilty.

"[H]ad all her teeth". *Snicker* I'd also be concerned if I was Mr. Ballin who has the reputation in the community for the counsel of choice for those who are guilty. I thought it was a nice touch for the article to note that Ballin got this guy off.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:32 AM | Comments (3)

January 18, 2005

Some recent Girl Child conversations

I've had some very funny exchanges with the Girl Child (now 4!) over the last several days and wanted to get them down before I forget them.

Saturday evening, while watching the football game, GC proves that she can get into the mind of the advertising agency who created the Coors Light, "Cold Tasting" campaign. I could not understand what cold tasting was meant to signify, so I wisely asked a better mind, the GC, what she thought "cold tasting" meant. She replied:

Cold tasting? Frosted. Fresh. And yummy.

I suppose she has a future in either beer or advertising. Either way, she's already smarter than I am.

Last night, she became indignant when my wife would not let her do something and this was the interchange:

GC: Pappa, you have to tell Mamma what to do. You're bigger than her and she's smaller than you and she has to listen to you.

Me: Really? Is that how it works?

GC: Yes!

Me: Ok. I'll give it a try. Mamma, come here and give me a hug, please. [Hug given] Mamma, now give me a kiss, please. [Kiss given]. You're right, GC, it works!

GC: NO, PAPPA! Tell her to do something FOR REAL! [tone: indignant anger]

Me: Well, GC, it really doesn't work that way. The only reason she did what I asked was because I said please.

GC: [Stunned silence as world order collapses]

Finally, I was putting the finishing touches on some soup last night when the GC told me she had to go. We had the following conversation:

GC: Ok, Pappa, I have to go now. I'm teaching high school inside.

Me: What are you teaching?

GC: Cow.

Me: Cow?

GC: Yes, cow. How to milk a cow, how to get milk into the pitcher and then how to pour the milk from the pitcher without spilling it.

Me: This is a good thing to teach at high school?

GC: Yes. It's very important.

I want to go back to high school.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:50 AM | Comments (6)

January 17, 2005

White Truffle Oil

I posted, a couple of days ago, about white truffle oil and I received some interesting comments, many of which inquired generally about white truffle oil. So, I thought I'd post about it. First, the good stuff is high quality olive oil infused with white truffles so that the aroma will knock you over and the taste, when you add it to cooked food, for you don't really want to cook with it because the heat from the cooking will destroy the aroma and the taste, is divine.

These people say it best:

Truffles are one of the world's most complex and mysterious foods. Truly exceptional truffles (almost all of which from Italy) are costly, perishable and hard to find, but truffle oil captures the essence of Italy's best truffles without the expense. This truffle seasoning, made with extra virgin olive oil and a slice of real white truffle, is a flavorful enhancement for steak, pasta, fried eggs, mushroom dishes and cheese.

This olive oil is infused with the exotic flavor of white truffles sometimes know as the "fruit of the woods" and comes in small bottles because a little of its very strong truffle flavor goes a long way.

A few drops of the truffle olive oil will give the final touch of class to an unforgettable dish. Drizzled over a sliced loaf of warmed bread, it makes an unusual, deeply flavored variation of garlic bread. It is an excellent ingredient of the "primit piatti" or first course, particularly with risotto, pasta and fish dishes or just pour a few drops on a simple salad. Truffle oil is often poured at the table, so that the full aroma can escape and do its thing on your guest.

What is a truffle?
A truffle is a fungus that grows 3-12 inches below the ground at the base of certain trees and can only be located by pigs or dogs. Of the nearly 70 known varieties, the most desirable are black truffles (often from Umbria) and white truffles (from Piemonte). Fresh truffles are generally available from late fall to midwinter.

Bear in mind the truffles are horribly expensive. I got my oil at the spice sellers in the Grand Central Station marketplace where it was not ruinously priced, but not too cheap either.

I hope this answers some of your questions.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:10 PM | Comments (2)

An interesting book: Duveen

Every so often, I pick up a totally random book and read it. Not a hard thing to do, since I just read that 500 books a day are published in these United States. This time, I picked up a book when I was a little drunk. I was in the library of a private club, after dinner, and I borrowed a book. A book I had no recollection of borrowing the next day. Well, by which I mean, I remembered borrowing a book but had no recollection of the subject matter of the book. I'm glad I borrowed it, it was really a great read. It's called: Duveen. Duveen chronicles the story of Joseph Duveen, the most successful dealer in art and Old Masters to ever hit the field. Duveen sold to Frick, Morgan, Rockefeller, Huntington, Post, Dodge, etc. He sold some of the most celebrated paintings ever to grace our shores and he sold some of the most expensive fakes and dogs, too.

One episode in this book that stood out for me was the recounting of the sabotage and assassination attempts by Germany in WW I. Apparently, there was great anger over the US funding of British war efforts early in the war and there was a movement afoot in Germany to kill the bankers, like Morgan, who were coordinating the lending. The view was to kill the bankers would kill the credits and choke Britain off completely. In fact, over the Fourth of July weekend, 1915, a man who gave his name as "Frank Holt" broke into the Morgan residence and tried to kill Morgan, shooting him twice. Holt was also responsible for leaving a bomb in the US Senate, next to the office of the Vice President. The bomb went off and made quite a mess. Holt, however, was not really Holt. According to that link above:

He was German-born Erich Muenter, and he was wanted in Cambridge, Mass., for poisoning an earlier, pregnant wife with arsenic in 1906. An unidentified Chicago source told The Times that Muenter took his two children and his dead wife's body to Chicago, where he left the children with his mother- in-law and had the body cremated. He left town and hid out in Mexico, where he worked as an accountant. He later reappeared in Texas as Frank Holt, married again in 1910 and had three more children.

Holt/Muenter committed suicide in the Nassau County jail before trial.

The Germans also attempted to sabotage US shipping during this period, convinced that passenger boats were carrying munitions for England.

Holt/Muenter was apparently involved in this as well since he had sent a letter to his wife warning her about explosions which were going to take place on several boats. The book suggests that for Holt/Muenter to have managed all of this, he would have had to have had accomplices. None have been identified.

Among the goals of the German agents was to paralyze the US economy. To that end, Franz von Rintelen, a Berlin banker and sabotage expert, sent over $4.5 million dollars to finance the placing of bombs in 35 merchant ships and to foment a strike at the Remington Arms plant. Von Rintelen worked for Franz von Papen, then military attache to the German embassy. Von Papen would go on to be Chancellor of Germany, later. Eventually, these activities resulted in the sinking of the Lusitania, which may have contained a "cigar" full of TNT in the bowels of the boat. Either way, the sinking of that boat by a German U-boat helped bring the US into WW I.

The book also contains a terrific appendix of the paintings sold by Duveen, where they are now, and what attribution they now bear. I may buy a copy of the book if only for this appendix!

One other interesting thing I learned from the book as about the existence of the Huntington Museum, in California, which contains the great paintings bought by Huntington from Duveen. I'd really like to get out there to see it one day.

Anyway, a throughly enjoyable read and I recommend it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:42 PM | Comments (2)

January 14, 2005

Bliss is a relative term

I am convinced that your idea of bliss changes as you age. Before, I mean before I had kids and my views of the world narrowed, I suspect bliss was an ice cold Bombay Sapphire martini and a Cuban cigar. I've always loved that combination.

Now? Now, bliss is waking up before everyone else in the house, as I did this morning, slipping downstairs without waking anyone, and having the kitchen to myself. I brewed an enormous pot of coffee that was so strong, it practically lifted my big mug up when I poured it. I took out all of the vegetables I chopped up last night (while dancing to 8:00 80's on WPLJ) and started cooking up a vat of chili since I know I will have no time at all to cook this weekend. In case you're wondering, cooking commenced at 6:00 this morning. It was lovely to cook away all by myself this morning, just me and my coffee.

Then, while the chili bubbled away on the stove, I made myself a lonesome, solitary breakfast that was simply sublime. I scrambled two eggs with diced prosciuto, melted muenster cheese on top of it and added, while on my plate, a thin drizzle of white truffle oil. White truffle oil is simply the greatest way to turn blah into luxe, calme et volupté.

It was bliss. I cooked, ate lovely eggs perfumed with truffles, drank strong coffee and was all alone to curse out loud to my heart's contentment at the morning's NY Times. Having children has changed me. I'd like to think I'd have appreciated this time alone before kids, but now, it was just blissful.

By the way, the chili appears to have turned out to be nothing short of fabulous.

Best wishes for a great weekend, y'all!

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:48 PM | Comments (10)

January 13, 2005

The Birthday of the Girl Child was Good

First, thank you all for your very kind birthday wishes. We all had a very nice time, as I will report below.

My wife and I took the Girl Child to school, ran some errands, and then came back at 11 for her little party. It was too sweet. The Girl Child sat at the head of the table with a crown that she and her class made. One boy cried. He always cries, though, because he always wants it to be his birthday. In a way, I certainly identify with him. We brought miniature cup cakes and miniature black and white cookies to hand out to her class. The students all poured their own milk, which was a first for this week, we were told. The lights were dimmed, the candles were lit, and the songs were sung. I can't tell if the Girl Child enjoyed being the center of attention but I certainly enjoyed watching it. And it was all terribly wonderful to watch all of her little friends eat their cupcakes and try to pour their own milk without spilling. A whole variety of techniques for cupcake eating was on display from, one boy, eating only the icing, to another boy, starting at the top and eat down and disregard the paper, to the Girl Child, who took delicate little bites from the bottom until she was left with just the icing -- the best part. You can't teach that, you know.

Then we got to read to the class, both my wife and I. That was fun, too. A whole room of 3-4 year olds hanging on your every word. I enjoyed involving them in the story. There would be points in the story where one of the characters would be warned not to something and I'd pause and ask the class if they thought the character was going to listen and they all shouted, "No!" and asked me what was going to happen next. I'm telling you, a jury trial is nothing compared to trying to capture and engage the average 4 year old.

The Girl Child was then brought home, still wearing her crown, and deposited in front of a plate of her one of her favorite things: chilled shrimp. She inhaled a half a pound and I left to put in an appearance at the office.

I returned, however, bearing heart shaped cakes: 2 pink and 2 chocolate iced and all was forgiven. In fact, the Girl Child ran to get her mother and announced to my wife:

Time to go eat some suuuuugar!!!

My wife was very amused. After cake, and washing the spectacular amount of chocolate off the Boy Child’s face, it was time to open the gifts.

The Girl Child received, among other things, a pair of much exclaimed over animal feet slippers from her brother (they went on immediately and did not come off, maybe, until this morning) and, as her big gift from us, an electronic drum set.

Yes, drum set. Did I mention that the nanny gave notice right there and then? Kidding. At least I hope she was kidding. The drums were a big hit, so to speak. The Girl Child took one drum stick and the Boy Child the other and they merrily banged away at them. It was nice to just watch. Happily, since the drum set is electronic, there is a certain amount of volume control built into the toy, so it may not be the end of peace and harmony forever and ever as we know it.

As for the slippers and my cryptic reference about when they came off her feet? When my wife and I put her to bed, she insisted on wearing her new slippers in bed. When asked why, she said:

Here’s the thing. When you put me into bed, at first, my feet are cold, so I want to sleep with these on. [And then did her best impersonation of an old man from Brooklyn with the shoulders shrugged and both hands held out, palms up, in the physical manifestation of a “what are you gonna do” question]

Last night was also the first official night of sleeping without a diaper. She kept telling us that she was going to wait until she turned four before she gave them up and we could not shake her. So, we all waited. I am proud to report that the night passed without incident. I waited around this morning to catch a later train so I could congratulate her and tell her how proud I am of her for getting through the whole night without a diaper, but she gave no sign of waking so I eventually had to leave. I called her during her breakfast and told her. She seemed pleased.

I was kind of excited that she was out of diapers but my wife thought it poignant and, upon reflection, she’s right (as usual). It is poignant. We have crossed a line here. Some lines, as you go through life, are not so visible, but are very meaningful and some are visible and not to meaningful. I don’t really know where this one falls, perhaps somewhere in between. There is no question it is visible, but is it meaningful? Perhaps it is just poignant because it is visible. Either way, I cast my mind back to when she moved from newborn size diapers to size one and I remember how sad I was that she was growing up so fast. I have never been able to shake that feeling and I try, the best I can, to live as much as I can in the moment with my children, so as to hold on to their childhood as long as I can and to appreciate it without mourning its passing. But then you run into this visible line that you cross and you get jerked back, like a dog at the end of his leash.

Anyway, enough maudlin reflection. There will be plenty of time for that later on Saturday when we have her birthday party with 2,586 screaming children. Then, I will deserve to wallow in maudlin. And Scotch. A lot of Scotch, cause that’s good for headaches, you know?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:13 PM | Comments (7)

January 12, 2005

The Girl Child Turns Four!

January 12, 2001, my wife and I were at NY Hospital, 65th and the River, and at precisely 10:00 that morning, my wife gave birth to our first child, the Girl Child. Shortly after giving birth, my wife basically passed out and remained passed out for about an hour and a half. That meant that when they finished weighing the little thing, they brought her to me. Now, she was crying her little heart out, not at all happy to be taken from her mother's womb and pushed out into a cold, January morning. But, happily for the Girl Child, I listened to an old nurse some months back at the hospital who counseled us to speak to the baby while in the womb. She said it would be helpful at the time of delivery. So, every night, I used to read to my wife's belly and otherwise just chat to it for awhile. The result was that when the nurse handed me my little wrapped up bundle of shrieking baby, and I cuddled her to my neck and spoke soothingly to her, she stopped crying, let out a little sigh, and snuggled into my neck, totally at peace. It was altogether magical and I sat there with her, talking quietly to her, until the nurses made me give her back to be taken to the nursery.

That was four years ago, today.

Happy birthday, my daughter, and many, many more!

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:17 AM | Comments (12)

January 11, 2005

Behind the Curtain: Claudius Smith, "the Cowboy of the Ramapos"

I was thumbing through a local guide book this weekend, waiting for inspiration to strike and help me pick a fun activity to do with the family, when I came across a reference to the "infamous outlaw, Claudius Smith" in Orange County, NY. Infamous? Really? I'd never heard of him and I'd never seen a reference to him before in any of the many books on local history I have the misfortune to own. Sounds like maybe someone history has forgotten about and I resolved to make him the next, Behind the Curtain profile. Turns out, he was the pretty fierce leader of a band of robbers during the Revolutionary War and a pretty interesting sounding guy, although I'm glad I never met him on a dark road in Orange County. Click Extended Entry below for the rest of it.

First, by way of background, Orange County today is best known as the home of: the United States Military Academy at West Point, Storm King Mountain Art Center (a fabulous destination to view outdoor modern sculpture), and Woodbury Common Outlet Mall, all worth a visit, although for different reasons. Orange County is part of the Hudson River Highlands and is blessed with terrific natural beauty. It is a very peaceful place to visit, replete with lovely vistas, mountains, woods, and water. Indeed, even Henry Hudson reportedly liked the place since he anchored his ship, the Half Moon in Cornwall Bay and became, I suppose, the first European tourist in 1609. But as you look at the various sites related to Orange County tourism, there isn't really a mention of Mr. Smith. Even when you go to the site for Harriman State Park (go look at the pictures, they are beautiful), you see no mention of the fact that the Park contains the Smith gang's hideout or that you can hike in to see it still today. No, for information about Smith and his gang, we have to do some excavating.

Back in 1776, Orange County was not so peaceful. Orange County straddled important trade routes and the main line of land communication between Canada and New York. The Hudson Valley generally was the scene of a lot of revolutionary activity:

As the center of the colonies at the time of the American Revolution, the Hudson River Valley provided a nexus for the conflict and hosted many key figures, battles, and political events throughout the eight years of war. The Sons of Liberty, as active in New York as they were in Massachusetts, printed broadsides, encouraged boycotts, rallied, rioted, and dumped British tea into the New York Harbor even as Patriots’ housewives throughout the Valley threw their own "tea parties" at the expense of merchants and Loyalist neighbors.

The New York Provincial Congress established itself at the White Plains Courthouse in July 1776, creating the State of New York with its acceptance of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776. New York adopted its Constitution in Kingston on April 20, 1777. Battles raged from Manhattan through the Mid-Hudson, including White Plains (1776), Forts Clinton and Montgomery (1777), Kingston (1777), and Stony Point (1779). In October 1777 Patriots watched helplessly as the British burned sites as far north as Clermont before turning back toward New York City. General Horatio Gates would right some of the wrongs when he accepted the surrender of General John Burgoyne’s British army at Saratoga on October 17, 1777, marking the turning point in the war. Starting in January 1778 the Americans would follow up on this victory by turning their attention to building Fortress West Point with its famous chain across the Hudson.

In addition to the prominent roles played by the likes of New York’s first Governor, George Clinton, unsung heroes of the Hudson Valley did their duty as well. Sybil Ludington, New York’s own sixteen-year-old female Paul Revere, rode out of Carmel to raise the militia in defense of the burning Danbury, Connecticut. Chief Daniel Nimham of the Wappingers, a Native American member of the Sons of Liberty and a captain in the American militia lost his life in battle for the cause of liberty.

The American Revolution played out along the Hudson’s banks –from the first riots protesting the British Quartering Act on Golden Hill in Lower Manhattan, to the chaining of the Hudson and Benedict Arnold’s attempted betrayal of West Point in the Highlands, to the Battle of Saratoga along its northern shores where Arnold played the role not of traitor, but of hero. The Hudson River Valley and this site contain the essential aspects to the study of birth of our Nation.


Claudius Smith was right smack dab in the middle of all of this tumult. But he was not a Son of Liberty, he was a Tory, a loyal supporter of the King. Or, perhaps, an opportunist who saw his chance to loot homes, steal horses, and rob others in exchange for payment from the British troops. This is how Elizabeth Oakes Smith saw him, in the 1800's:

New Jersey has often been called the Flanders of America, and it certainly earned the name by the number of battles fought upon its soil, and by the expenditure of life and money in the great war of the Revolution. Ramapo Valley suffered more than any other locality. Three years the American army encamped therein, and its fastnesses were often in the hands of the enemy, or usurped by marauders, who killed and pillaged either army without principle and without mercy.

This historic and most picturesque region was at that time placed upon a bad eminence, as being the arena of the terrible exploits and cruel devastations of a class of men popularly known as the "Cowboys." These marauders belonged to neither of the parties which divided the country—they were neither patriots nor loyalists, but preyed alike upon either, as it best served their interest or malignity. The leader had been, for a long period, one Claudius Smith, a bold, handsome man, around whom secretly clustered all those unprincipled and daring men, to be found in all communities when its peace is disturbed by the presence of conflicting armies.

Smith was from a good family, which had a right to expect better things of him; but this only goes to verify the old proverb, that every flock has one black sheep. He had a mixture of generosity, craft, cruelty, and unflinching courage in his composition, which made him a hero in the eyes of that class which discards all moral questions of right and truth from the scale of judgment.

At length he was taken prisoner and hanged for his crimes; but he left a son, Richard, a cruel, fiery youth, who swore to be revenged upon the patriots for the death of his father; and for a long time he was the terror of the whole region; and from his well-known characteristics, had earned for himself the familiar name of Black Dick.

Smith and his gang were known to swoop down out of the hills and steal horses for sale to the British troops, who protected Smith from sometimes hot pursuit. Eventually, they became such a scourge that the Governor of New York put a price on his head:



Claudius Smith

COWBOY OF THE RAMAPOS - TORY LOYALIST TO THE CROWN, a fierce looking man nearly 7 ft. tall, wearing a suit of rich broadcloth adorned with silver buttons Notorious leader of a lawless band of men who've been terrorizing the good citizens of Orange County.
$1,200 REWARD by proclamation of: Govenor Clinton, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.


money, pewter & silver plate, saddles, guns, oxen, cattle & horses from the American colonists and turning them over to the British in New York City.
John McLean, messenger to General Washington at Newburgh from Montgomery, stealing his dispatch, beating and tying him to a tree by the side of the road. McLean reported that it was very cold that night and feared he might freeze. but did not. The following morning he was found by a passerby and released.
Oct. 6, 1778 of Major Nathaniel Strong who was found "Lying Dead" with two projectiles in his neck and head. According to his wife and the testimony of 13 Orange County citizens, a band of men led by Claudius Smith broke into Major Strong's home late that night & while burglarizing the contents shot and killed the Major.
from Colonel Jesse Woodhull, a beautiful mare in broad daylight. Smith entered the house while the family was upstairs having afternoon tea and from a cellar stall saddled the horse & rode away laughing. Later that same day another horse belonging to Luther Conklin was stolen by Smith from a meadow near his home.
the homes of Captain Woodhull at Oxford. William Bell of Goshen and Ebenezer Woodhull of Blooming Grove.


TRAVELLERS BEWARE: The Wild, "Tory Infested Clove", The Ramapo Valley, a 16 mile stretch of main road along which pass all communications between Canada & N.Y.C. has placed the Smith Hideout somewhere in the mountains east of Tuxedo along this route. Consistent reports of travellers being detained at pistol point & looted of all valuable by these hoodlums is common throughout this region.

ESCAPED FROM JAIL: Smith and a certain Mr. Brown had been arrested for stealing oxen from the Colonial Army and were jailed in Goshen on July 18, 1777 by Orange County Sheriff Dumont. An unknown number of Smith's followers converged on Goshen seizing the Sheriff and threatening his life if he did not release Smith and his accomplice immediately. Smith and his Gang road our of Goshen in triumph. Hence:
$600.00 REWARD for the capture of Claudius Smith's 2 sons, James & Richard,gangmembers


This text was copied from a facsimile printed at the Monroe Museum Village in Monroe, N.Y. The errors in punctuation and spelling were left as they exist. Claudius Smith terrorized both northern New Jersey and southern New York state. The Ramapo Valley referred to above is the area of the present-day intersection of Routes 17, 287, and the Thruway. It has always been a natural pass and in Revolutionary War times it was one of two possible routes from New York City to the north (the other was the Hudson River itself). His cave is nearby in Harriman State Park.


I think that wanted poster gives a better summary of his activities than I could hope to do.

I did find this small book on the web devoted to his exploits and I recommend it for further viewing as it tells the story of his capture and eventual execution.

Smith's mother, reportedly, told her son that he would die with his boots on, meaning that he would come to a bad end. At his execution, again reportedly, Smith removed his boots so as to make a liar out of his mother and he died barefoot, hung from a rope by the neck.

Interesting, no? I enjoyed researching this and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:40 AM | Comments (5)

Book Review: "Nelson: Love and Fame"

Over the holidays, I entertained myself with a biography of Lord Nelson, one of the most famous in a long line of justly celebrated English Admirals. Nelson was the most successful and winningest Admiral the English had during the Napoleonic wars, winning a great victory at the Battle of the Nile and dying at his greatest victory off of Cape Trafalgar, in Spain. This biography of him looked just the thing to take away with me to Guatemala. I must say that despite the books faults, and some were major, I enjoyed it just the same.

First, too much on his "Love". I think that the book went into too great detail about Nelson's various affairs of the heart. I remain skeptical that it was necessary to dissect all of them, again and again. It would have been enough to give us a flavor of them, I think.

Second, too many sentences that suggest that the biographer was making a guess. I would have liked a little less speculation and a bit more certainty. That said, it is impossible to really achieve certainty and I realize that. I just would have liked fewer guesses. I can't give any examples.

Third, Vincent, the author, takes the time to fight all of Nelson's personal battles for him here, even going so far as to attempt to discredit any Nelson contemporary critic who dared raise objections to Nelson's conduct. This grew tiresome after awhile and tarnished Vincent's reputation for impartiality. It can't really be true that every one of Nelson's critics was always wrong. That is the impression Vincent leaves.

Finally, and this is my biggest disappointment with the book, there really should have been a chapter about the operation of the Royal Navy and the life of the sailor and the officer. This would have provided invaluable context. Something about the role of naval tactics prior to Nelson would have been very helpful, too. I have some background here because I have read a bit in the area, but even I would have benefitted from such discussions.

So, on balance, go ahead and read it. It was not bad, had good maps of the battles, and gave a good flavor of Nelson's life, a life worth knowing something about.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:11 AM | Comments (2)

January 10, 2005

The Girl Child - Saturday

Friday night, my wife and I went out to dinner. We dined at a private club. One of the very good things about dining at a private club is also one of the very bad things about dining at a private club: the cocktails are poured with a generous hand. I ordered a Maker's Mark and soda. Out came a glass filled about 85% to the top with bourbon and a small bottle of soda on the side. I drank it, more fool, I. I ended up with that over served feeling and somehow, somewhere in my house that night, contrived to mislay my cell phone.

Saturday evening comes, and I am still looking for it. The Girl Child comes in and asks me what I'm doing. I tell her that I'm looking for my cell phone and this is what she says:

Perhaps I can help?

Me: [Completely taken aback by having the not yet four year old girl child use the word "perhaps" in a sentence] That would be great.

GC: [Steps into the middle of my bedroom, peers around for about five seconds and calls out in a loud and determined voice] Ok! Where the HECK is that phone!?!

I did eventually find it. Just in case you were wondering.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:43 AM | Comments (5)

January 07, 2005

Antigua Guatemala -- More Architectural Fragments

As you may recall from the previous post, Antigua Guatemala was a very wealthy city which was destroyed, in large part, by a combination of eathquake, flood, and volcanic eruption. The catastrophe devestated the buildings and the city in general. Some of the churches still remain unrestored. Here are some pictures I took of the volcanos, as seen from the city, and a couple of ruins and the beautiful, detailed, architectural elements. Can you imagine the wealth required to support the teaching and work for these craftsmen? I think that there is something very haunting and poignant about a ruin.

Here are the volcanos:



And here is the facade of the ruined cathedral in the main square (there is really nothing behind this facade, by the way):


Here is another church:


Here are two pictures of the rich detail I had talked about above on yet a third and different church:




Posted by Random Penseur at 09:40 AM | Comments (7)

January 06, 2005

Today in History

Been a long time since I did a today in history post and there seemed to be lots of juicy things to write about today. I am particularly struck by the number of composers who were both born and died on this day and, without annotating them, I include them nonetheless in a separate section. By the way, this is totally raw without my usual links because I am soooo pressed for time at work today. There are some really interesting people and events below, so:

Births on January 6:
1367 Richard II Bordeaux, France, king of England (1377-99)
1412 Joan of Arc
1585 Claude Favre baron de Perouges seigneur de Vaugelas French grammarian
1587 Gaspar de Guzmán Count of Olivares, Premier of Spain (1621-43)
1602 Karl Rabenhaupt German/Dutch baron of Sucha/army leader
1745 Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier Annonay France, aeronaut (1st pioneer balloonist/brother of Joseph-Michel/co-inventor of calorimeter, hydraulic ram, and process for producing vellum)
1807 Joseph Holt Brevet Major General (Union Army), died in 1894
1811 Charles Sumner leading Reconstruction senator, died in 1874
1822 Heinrich Schliemann German polyglot/archeologist (Troje)
1827 John Calvin Brown Major General (Confederate Army), died in 1889
1827 John Wesley Frazer Brigadier General (Confederate Army), die in 1906
1854 Sherlock Holmes Mycroft, fictional detective (via Arthur Conan Doyle)
1864 Ban Johnson Norwalk CT, baseball founder (American League)
1878 Carl Sandburg US, poet/biographer of Lincoln (The People, Yes)
1880 Tom Mix Mix Run PA, silent screen cowboy actor (Dick Turpin)
1882 Samuel Rayburn Tennessee, (Representative-D-TX), speaker of the House (1940-57)
1883 Khalil Gibran Lebanon, mystic poet (The Prophet, Broken Wings)
1925 John Z DeLorean former automaker (DeLorean)
1931 E[dgar] L[aurence] Doctorow New York City NY, novelist (World's Fair)
1935 Nino Tempo Niagara Falls NY, rock vocalist (Deep Purple)
1937 Doris Troy [Payne], US soul singer/songwriter (Just One Kiss)
1944 Van McCoy US soul singer/songwriter (Hey Mr DJ, Hustle)
1945 Pepe Le Pew cartoon skunk (Au Dorable Kitty)
1946 Roger Keith (Syd) Barrett Cambridge England, lead guitarist (Pink Floyd-The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)
1951 Kim Wilson rocker (Fabulous Thunderbirds)
1952 Armelia McQueen North Carolina (Brooklyn Conservatory), actress
1953 Malcolm Young Glasgow Scotland, guitarist (AC/DC-Highway to Hell)
1955 Rowan Atkinson Newcastle-upon-Tyne England, comedian/actor (Mr Bean, Blackadder, Never Say Never Again)
1959 Kathy Sledge Philadelphia PA, vocalist (Sister Sledge-We are Family)
1964 Mark O'Toole bassist/drummer (Frankie Goes to Hollywood-Relax)
1976 Agnieszka Zielinska Miss Poland-Universe (1997)

Deaths which occurred on January 06:
1088 Berengarius of Tours French theologist, dies
1448 Christopher III king of Denmark/Norway/Sweden, dies
1536 Baldassare Peruzzi Italian architect/painter, dies
1541 Bernard van Orley Flemish royal painter of Hungary, dies at about 52
1646 Elias Hill German architect of Augsburg, dies at 72
1693 Mehmed IV sultan (Turkey), dies at 51
1785 Haym Salomon dies in Philadelphia PA at 44, helped finance the revolution
1884 Gregor Mendel Augustine monk/heredity pioneer, dies at 61
1884 Paul Taglioni "the Great", Italian/Austrian choreographer, dies at 75
1885 Peter C Asbjørnsen Norwegian fairy tale writer, dies at 72
1919 Theodore Roosevelt 26th President (1901-09), dies at his home in Oyster Bay NY at 60
1993 Rudolph Nureyev Russian ballet dancer (Kirov), dies of AIDS at 54
1994 Tip O'Neill speaker of the house, dies of cancer

On this day in:
1066 King Harald of England crowned
1494 The first mass in America was celebrated in the Roman Catholic church on Isabella Island in Haiti. This was the first church established in the New World, founded by Christopher Columbus.
1496 Moorish fortress Alhambra, near Grenada, surrenders to the Christi
1497 Jews are expelled from Graz (Styria)* (Corrected thanks to the eagle eyes of John Bruce!)
1535 City of Lima Peru founded by Francisco Pizarro
1540 King Henry VIII of England married his 4th wife, Anne of Cleves
1663 Great earthquake in New England
1681 1st recorded boxing match (Duke of Albemarle's butler vs his butcher)
1745 Bonnie Prince Charlies army draws to Glasgow
1759 George Washington marries Martha Dandridge Curtis
1773 Massachusetts slaves petition legislature for freedom
1838 Samuel Morse made 1st public demonstration of telegraph
1967 "Milton Berle Show" last airs on ABC-TV
1969 WLIW TV channel 21 in Garden City NY (PBS) begins broadcasting
1973 "Schoolhouse Rock" premieres on ABC-TV with Multiplication Rock
1994 Ice skater Nancy Kerrigan is attacked by Tonya Harding's bodyguard

Composers born this day:
1486 Martin Agricola [M Sore], German composer/cantor
1683 François de La Croix composer
1692 Rynoldus Popma van Oevering composer
1695 Giuseppe Sammartini composer
1702 Jose Melchior de Nebra Blascu composer
1728 Charles-Joseph-Balthazar Sohier composer
1791 Jose Melchor Gomiz y Colomer composer
1794 Kaspar Masek composer
1798 Ferdinand Simon Gassner composer
1803 Henri Herz composer
1807 Ludwig Erk composer
1838 Max Bruch Köln (Cologne), Germany, composer
1850 Franz Xaver Scharwenka German pianist/composer (Mataswintha)
1856 Giuseppe Martucci composer
1861 Heinrich Gottlieb Noren composer
1867 Georges Martin Witkowski composer
1868 Vittorio Monti composer
1872 Alexander N Scriabin Moscow, hallucinogenic composer (Prometheus)
1873 Karl Straube German organist/conductor
1880 Yuliya Lazarevna Veysberg composer
1900 Pierre-Octave Ferroud French composer (Sarabande, Jeunesse)
1902 Mark Brunswick composer
1902 Sofie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatte composer
1903 Boris Blacher Newchwang China, German composer (Orchester-Ornament)
1903 Maurice Abravanel Saloniki Greece, conductor/composer
1908 Menahem Avidom composer
1911 Yannis Andreou Papaioannou composer
1916 Philip Bezanson composer
1920 Earl Kim composer
1922 Finn Einar Mortensen composer
1949 Richard Horowitz composer

Composers who died this day:

1685 Malachias Siebenhaar composer, dies at 68
1697 Carlo Mannelli composer, dies at 56
1738 Franz Xaver Murschhauser composer, dies at 74
1742 Johann Georg Reinhardt composer, dies
1790 Johann Trier composer, dies at 73
1800 William Jones composer, dies at 73
1831 Rodolphe Kreutzer French composer/violinist (Kreutzersonate), dies at 64
1959 Jose Enrique Pedreira composer, dies at 54
1976 Oscar Esplá Spanish philosopher/composer (Sonata del Sur), dies at 89

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:16 PM | Comments (5)

January 05, 2005

Doorways of Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala was the administrative capital of Spanish colonial Central America. It was a city of stunning wealth, dazzling architecture and art, and great sophistication. Guatemala was an important post for Spain and ranked just below Mexico in terms of desirability for fortune seeking sons of the Spanish nobility and other scoundrels. It was pretty much destroyed in an earthquake and flood in 1773 and the Spanish ordered it pulled down as they moved the capital to what is now Guatemala City. The people of Antigua, known as Panzas Verdes, or Green Bellies because of all the avocados they eat, refused to pull it down. And they attempted to rebuild. Today, Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an exceptionally charming and beautiful place. I've been there now about 4 or 5 times and I love it.

It is also a good excuse to post some architectural element photographs and innaugurate a new category of the same name. This category will include pictures of pieces of buildings, architectural sculpture or ornament or just something on a building that catches my eye. It happens to me all the time and I've decided to start bringing my camera along with me more often.

I hope you enjoy the following shots of doorways and door knockers (with one excellent wall mounted wrought iron light to kick things off and light the way)!










Posted by Random Penseur at 04:02 PM | Comments (7)

Pondering the words of the Girl Child

I have been pondering, off and on for the past week, something the Girl Child said over Christmas vacation. I suspect that there is something very profound in it because my mind keeps coming back to it to kick it over again. By way of background, I think she was talking about my parents' dog who died last Autumn. I wrote about it before and I know it had an impact on the GC.

Anyway, her words:

Here's the thing: Once, there was a dog who loved me.

And then she walked away. That was it. One simple sentence (actually from a child not yet four, maybe not so simple). But I can't get it out of my head. Once there was a dog who loved me. No matter what I do, I still think its profound without understanding it or her point. Either way, I want to go out and get a dog now.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:56 AM | Comments (7)

Some days. . . (warning: sad post)

Some days are just sadder than others, aren't they? Some days just turn your armor, that tough, calcified layer that keeps you from getting too bruised by bad news into a gossamer thin micro coating of tissue paper. Maybe its the result of having too good an imagination, something I think all good readers are blessed, sometimes cursed, with. Sometimes you can guard against those days. You take precautions. You deliberately don't read about the horrific tsunami and the death and destruction because those numbers are so great that they are statistics and you don't want to know the individual stories because it would be too much. And so you turn that page in the newspaper and you move on to the Sports Section, where life has rules and you can understand it and it won't haunt you, no matter how many times the replay shows that the kick went wide right.

Sometimes, though, your precautions fail. Sometimes, like today, you read a story and you wish you hadn't. What made me so sad today? The story of the death of a nine year old boy in a laundry chute in an assisted care facility in Harlem. The boy, his name was Frashawn, was born prematurely at six months and was seriously disabled with Down syndrome. His death is a mystery since this little boy, who only "could walk for short periods with crutches", managed to get past two nurses, through a closed door, and open a difficult to manipulate laundry chute, where he then died, wedged in the bottom. Frashawn did not have a whole lot going on his life. He had been living in this facility since he was 2 months old. His whole life, really.

Frashawn was about three and a half feet tall and weighed 100 pounds, said his mother, who visited him once a week. He attended Public School 138 and liked watching cartoons and playing his toy drum, she said, adding that he could not talk but could make loud noises.

Those who knew Frashawn said he liked to wake up early, was curious, and was among the more active patients in the 50-bed ward. In fact, many of the patients are so ill that they cannot get up from their beds, much less walk.

But Frashawn almost never missed his early-morning exploration, officials said. It was an unstructured stroll, meant to help make confinement feel a bit less confining.

At this point, I knew that even that little bit of tissue paper was gone. Why? Because I began to imagine what his death must have been like. This is what I mean about being cursed with an imagination. I imagined that this little boy, who lived a very structured life, died alone, maybe not so quickly, in a place and circumstance that he may not have been able to understand. I worry that he was scared, you see, and it positively lacerates my heart to think about that. He couldn't even talk. Its too much. I stop here.

Maybe it is self indulgent, or something else not very good, to let myself feel this for Frashawn when so many children are dead or dying all over the world. But you see, I don't know them and this article made me feel like I knew Frashawn, at least a little.

Frashawn's brother, Shamar Jones, 23, said that the family had more questions than answers. "If the Lord wanted him to go," Mr. Jones said, "he would have taken him at 6 months."

I agree, Mr. Jones. And I'm sorry for your loss.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:08 AM | Comments (4)

January 04, 2005

A Difference in Emphasis

I was perusing the obits again today in the Daily Telegraph, reading about the life of Professor Martin Robertson, a noted classicist and expert on Greek art. Sounded like a very interesting person. Professor at Oxford, wrote a lot of great looking books, and was heir to a long tradition of classical scholarship in his family. Only at the last line of the obit does the curious reader discover that the Professor's son is Thomas Dolby of the "She Blinded Me With Science" fame and that the Professor appeared on roller skates in, I presume, that very music video. Cool, no?

Now we get to the difference in emphasis. If this man's death was reported in the American press, I have no hesitation in assuming that it would have been reported under the headline: "Father of Thomas Dolby Dies". Can anyone really doubt that? No. The good Professor's life would have been swallowed up in the son's musical career. But the Telegraph does not turn this man's life on its head in that way. The Telegraph waits until the last line of the obit, thus not allowing the accomplishments of the son to overshadow the very justly celebrated accomplishments of the father. That is how it ought to be. Only the reader who perseveres to the very end will discover that the son is, or was, famous, too. I think it is a difference of emphasis and I rather like it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:01 PM | Comments (2)

The Flowers of Guatemala

Guatemala is called the land of the eternal Spring. I think these pictures of the flowers of Guatemala, taken by yours truly, help illustrate that name. I hope you enjoy them.








I hope you enjoyed them!

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:56 AM | Comments (7)

January 03, 2005

I have returned

Back from Guatemala, safe and sound, with a tan and no worse for the wear. The in laws were well behaved, I was well behaved, even the children were well behaved.

Actually, before I continue, a quick Girl Child interchange from our last day there. I was reading when the GC came running over to bother me about something. She plopped down on the chair next to me and looked at me expectantly. We had the following conversation:

Me: What are you doing here? Why aren't you in the pool?

GC: They won't let me swim.

Me: Why not?

GC: I don't know.

Me: Well, go forth and gather some information and I'll see if I can't solve your problem, ok?

GC: Ok! [runs off and then returns]. They say I can't swim because I keep splashing people.

Me: Fine. Tell them you won't splash anymore and then they ought to let you swim. [she runs off again]

GC: They still won't let me swim! I THOUGHT you were going to SOLVE my problem!

Doomed, I am. Simply doomed.

In any event, New Year's Eve was fun. We arrived home from Guatemala on the 31st at around 1:00 a.m. I slept for a couple of hours and went into the office for a little bit. Then picked up some supplies and headed home because we were expecting some friends for dinner and a sleep over. Good thing they slept over, by the way. Four adults consumed, over the course of the evening, several tequillas, 5 bottles of wine, and some aged rum. A fun time was had by all.

We spent Sunday at the Bronx Zoo with the children and it was lovely to watch them run around and get excited by all the animals. The monkey house was, as always, a big hit and the Boy Child was practically beside himself..

Today is the big day my wife goes in to resign her current position. She received a job offer while we were gone in Guatemala for a job she thinks will be cool, for a company poised for growth, and which will offer good visibility since it reports directly to the Chief Financial Officer. In case you can't tell, this is good news.

She has decided to accept this job because we are not moving to Miami. The position was offered to someone else. No, I don't know why but I plan on speaking to them to find out. I was, on balance, a bit disappointed. Not the end of the world, but a bit disappointed just the same. See, here's the thing. I like corporate litigation. I like the issues and I really like doing fraud cases. I would have very much wanted to do this work where I had the power to put some people in jail. Now, I am just a cost of doing business. But with the power of the federal government behind me, I am a threat. So, life goes on. In fact, it goes on in a really busy way. This will be, I am told, a very high pressure first quarter of the year at the office and won't be any easier at home with the wife taking a new job. Something has to give somewhere, so I've decided to put the children up for adoption. Just kidding. Actually, adoption will be the subject of my next post so this makes a nice lead in.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Thank you all for the comments you left while I was gone. I enjoyed reading them. When I get a little time, I will post some pictures I took in Guatemala.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:04 AM | Comments (8)