Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Tripe and Elder Gods

My brother, moved by my post on brains, insists on telling me in comments about the Tripe Marketing Board.

I'm a little suspicious as to whether the Tripe Marketing Board is what it says on the tin, but as a tripe eater, I have to say the website is persuasive.

The site includes the following testimonials to the enduring beauty of tripe.

"Growing up near Bradford, we used to get it served cold with lots of malt vinegar and salt and pepper, usually on a Friday for some reason. We had white tripe and brown tripe (called elder) served together. The horror of it still lingers." 

"It's absolutely disgusting. I'll eat pretty much anything else from an animal but not tripe."
"The texture, the ghastly alien patterning of the dead flesh with its smooth slimy reverse side, is profoundly repulsive." 

"Though vegetarian now (for reasons of principle rather than taste), I was a meat-eater and far from fussy as a child, and cheerfully ate and enjoyed black pudding, liver, kidneys, tongue, haggis and even stuffed and roasted ox hearts. But I ate tripe on only one occasion, when given it by an uncle who regarded it as a delicacy, and of whom I was completely terrified - so much so that I couldn't do otherwise than finish every mouthful. I can't remember exactly what it tasted like, only that it was the foulest thing I have ever eaten. I have absolutely no intention of repeating the experience."
My mother (who is also Bruv's mother, that's the way it goes) bought tripe from the marketplace every couple of months. The honeycomb tripe (served with vinegar) was so clearly NOT FOOD that I had no trouble refusing it under any circumstances but there was a brown tripe called elder that was soft and tasted like a fatty meat. That I was able to swallow. As far as anyone knows, elder appears to be cow's udder. Somebody has to eat it, I suppose.

 When I had my first ever job - which was at Fox's Biscuits in Batley - at break time, the firm's cafeteria served bread and dripping. I feel like such a Real Yorkshireman even though I've lived away from there for most of my life. One serving of elder and one serving of bread and dripping is enough to make anyone a 'onarrery Yorkshireman and I had that in spades

Friday, November 22, 2013


Boing boing has a piece on the softness and fragility of the brain, which we'd already know if we'd grown up in Yorkshire, like I did, where various odd organs were sold on butcher's stalls in the market.

I grew up somewhere where offal was always on the menu, so I remember seeing a pile of sheeps' heads in the back of the butcher's station wagon on numerous occasions. I've always loved liver, and kidneys (preferably lambs' liver and lambs' kidneys) and my mother was big on tripe and elder (I believe elder is cows' udder, but I've never met anyone who could corroborate that).

However, the brain was always right out. Ditto heart and tongue.

Yorkshire joke:
Lancashire man, walking in to a Yorkshire butcher's: "I'd like a sheap's 'ead."
Butcher (to boy in back): "Ian! Ian! Bring us a sheap's 'ead."
Lancashire man: "Mek shooer it's a Lancashire sheap!"
Butcher (to boy in back): "Ian! Ian! Tek t'brains owt!"

To be fair, that was first told to me by a Lancashire man, with the counties reversed.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Roy Harper - in the dock - Same Old Rock

You know, if I were whoever is webmaster at jimmypage.com, I would be kicking myself for having programmed the front page picture for November 16th to be this one:

(It says, "On this day, 16th November 1984, I appeared with Roy Harper on the Old Grey Whistle Test.")


Because this was the major music headline for November 15th:

Veteran Folk Singer Charged With Child Sex Offences - The Telegraph, 15th November.

Roy Harper, of County Cork, Ireland, is due to appear at Hereford Magistrates' Court on Monday accused of nine sexual offences charges in total, West Mercia Police said.
A spokesman for the force said: "The summons relates to two counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13, three counts of indecent assault on a girl under 14 and four counts of gross indecency with a girl under 14. 
"The charges are in connection with offences alleged to have taken place in Herefordshire between 1975 and 1977 and relate to one victim."
I can't argue that the track's a cracker - I've written about the recording of it, and the legends about it, before, here, but blimey, Roy, 12 is a bit young, isn't it?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Interplanetary, interstellar, intergalactic

The Financial Times proves that familiarity with the upper classes and a dedication to enabling companies to make giant piles of cash is not synonymous with literacy.

This article, entitled, We Should Not Be Too Excited About Intergalactic Neighbours, is by Anjana Ahuja, who is a science commentator.  She's writing about a planet that's 12 light years away from Earth.

It's quite probable that the headline was written by a sub-editor, not the science commentator, but even so, believing that twelve light years away is "intergalactic" means the person is either dull and uninterested in things or is in such a hurry that it was impossible to look it up. Neither of those possibilities makes me inclined to trust the Pink 'Un. Except on stocks.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Thor: Chinese cinema accidentally uses fan-designed slash poster

Best movie poster ever.

That is all.

"Chinese movie theater uses "Thor" fan poster by accident".

I'm always a fan of the villains, so seeing Loki swooning in the arms of the mighty Thor is quite acceptable. I believe that more cinemas should "accidentally" use this eminently superior poster over the official one where Thor holds Natalie Portman, the skinny person. Loki is obvs his one true love.

Dying of exposure - why writers and musicians should be paid

Who fills up the intertubes? 

It turns out that a lot of "content providers" are unpaid writers - for example at Huffington Post, where they can pump out articles on how the meanie Atlantic doesn't pay writers. Often, the editors or owners of these sites use a line - "What a new writer needs most is exposure. We can offer you thousands of eyeballs."

Blue Dog, New Orleans ca. 1992. Art in its natural environment: being sold

Recently Dangerous Minds ran a piece from another kind of creator - a musician. A TV company asked Whitey, also known as NJ White, to allow the use of his music in a program, for free.  He not only said no, but hell no. Whitey mentioned on his Facebook page that he wanted to spread the word, so here it is.

I am sick to death of your hollow schtick, of the inevitable line “unfortunately there’s no budget for music”, as if some fixed Law Of The Universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music. Your company set out the budget. so you have chosen to allocate no money for music. I get begging letters like this every week - from a booming, affluent global media industry. 
Why is this? Let’s look at who we both are. 
I am a professional musician, who lives form his music. It me half a lifetime to learn the skills, years to claw my way up the structure, to the point where a stranger like you will write to me. This music is my hard earned property. I've licenced music to some of the biggest shows, brands, games and TV production companies on Earth; form Breaking Bad to the Sopranos, from Coca Cola to Visa, HBO to Rockstar Games. 
Ask yourself - would you approach a Creative or a Director with a resume like that - and in one flippant sentence ask them to work for nothing? Of course not. Because your industry has a precedent of paying these people, of valuing their work. 
Or would you walk into someone’s home, eat from their bowl, and walk out smiling, saying “So sorry, I’ve no budget for food”? Of course you would not. Because, culturally, we classify that as theft. 
Yet the culturally ingrained disdain for the musician that riddles your profession, leads you to fleece the music angle whenever possible. You will without question pay everyone connected to a shoot - from the caterer to the grip to the extra- even the cleaner who mopped your set and scrubbed the toilets after the shoot will get paid. The musician? Give him nothing. 
Now lets look at you. A quick glance at your website reveals a variety of well known, internationally syndicated reality programmes. You are a successful, financially solvent and globally recognised company with a string of hit shows. Working on multiple series in close co-operation with Channel 4, from a West London office, with a string of awards under your belt. You have real money, to pretend otherwise is an insult. 
Yet you send me this shabby request - give me your property for free… Just give us what you own, we want it. 
The answer is a resounding, and permanent NO. 
I will now post this on my sites, forward this to several key online music sources and blogs, encourage people to re-blog this. I want to see a public discussion begin about this kind of industry abuse of musicians… this was one email too far for me. Enough. I’m sick of you.
Hooray for Whitey.

I recently wrote something for free. I was approached by someone at work and asked if I wanted to contribute a chapter to the big technical manual that covers our profession. It would be "good publicity for the company." (They couldn't use the line about "exposure" for me as I was not making my living as an author.) My name in lights! Oooh, yes, obvs!

So I wrote it. I don't feel particularly put-upon by that incident as I was earning a salary at the time. But if that's how books get written these days - and webpages filled, and recorded music leased to TV companies, and art browsed and borrowed off Deviant Art - then no one is going to get paid. So, now, I know to say no.

 Tim Kreider in the New York Times recently wrote:

Slaves of the internet unite! 
NOT long ago, I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money. As with stinkbugs, it’s not any one instance of this request but their sheer number and relentlessness that make them so tiresome. It also makes composing a polite response a heroic exercise in restraint. People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing.
 He goes on to say:
This is partly a side effect of our information economy, in which “paying for things” is a quaint, discredited old 20th-century custom, like calling people after having sex with them. The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads. 

And there's the rub, I think. It's fine for a website owner, like Ariana Huffington, or the guy who started IMDB, or Twitter, or a book publisher, or a TV producer, to make money on their output - but the content is expected to be free. Aggregating, or collating, or building, is rewarded these days, but the building material is drawn from some sort of commons - just out there for taking whenever Mr. Capitalist gets an idea on how to fit them together.

Curation is a creative activity in itself, and has always been a paid function. It's new that it's the only paid function. Particularly now, where bandwidth is cheap and the curation itself is done by the "eyeballs" themselves, or at least their owners' fingers, pressing "like" buttons until bad content is invisible and the good content automatically floats to the top. In the old days you had to build the rep of Max's Kansas City or The Marquee and find the hip bands yourself, or read through a five-foot slush pile to find the few gems that would actually sell your book. (And even then, you mostly paid your musicians/writers.)

As several articles have pointed out to me, "exposure" isn't something that will pay the rent. On the contrary, it's something you die from.

 Work Made for Hire, a blog for creatives has a piece on how to say no, politely, and get the word out that creatives need to be paid:
So let the client know how many hours of work are involved in what they’ve requested from you — the research, preparation and execution. Explain why all of those steps are important to produce a good quality piece of work. An easy way of doing this can be to explain a bad experience you’ve had where one of the steps wasn’t done or was rushed through and how it hurt the project in the end.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Healthcare in the US - twice the price

I often hear people saying, "Healthcare is too expensive!" Sometimes they mean it costs a lot, and sometimes they mean it is dragging the US down.  Both of those are correct. What they usually propose to do about it is ration it, largely by not allowing poor people to have any health care. This is not correct.

The US spends twice as much per capita on healthcare as countries like Canada, The UK and Australia. The US government spends as much per capita as the UK government spends on socialized medicine. And then private payers spend about as much again.

Life expectancy is no better in the US that in similar countries.

So, 50% of healthcare costs are for no reason - just structural inefficiencies. Build a proper healthcare delivery system and half of the costs vanish. It doesn't seem hard, and yet it brings out the crazies en masse. My opinion is that this is because in the US it's more important to punish the poor for being, y'know, useless than it is to build a society that can take care of its own. Mostly I think because "society" is obviously socialism. It's practically the same word!

I recently had a boss who had run big hospital groups and health systems and he predicted that when US healthcare hits 20% of GDP (i.e. one in every five dollars is spent on healthcare) the country would collapse. It's currently around 17% of GDP. The rise is slowing a bit, but not it's not going in the right direction.

(Cropped, originally from Top Foreign Stocks.)

Cost rising out of control in the US, not so much elsewhere. (From Daily Kos.)

 One healthcare outcome - life expectancy. (From UC Atlas)

Or maybe it's the fat people they want to blame. Whatever, it has to be someone's actual fault, not a structural weakness in the system, hasn't it? (This is sarcasm.)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

An even more modest healthcare proposal

Whilst writing my rant on healthcare this afternoon, with its special attention to the Libertarian "don't tread on me" line that goes "Why should I pay for healthcare? I don't need any healthcare so all my money will be spent on you," I vaguely remembered an old science fiction story.

I contacted James Nicoll, of the rather wonderful science fiction LiveJournal blog More Words Deeper Hole with three half-remembered concepts from it, and literally four minutes later he wrote back to let me know it was Michael G Coney's The True Worth of Ruth Villiers, from New Writings in SF in 1970. (It was a relatively obscure British magazine.)

It is, amazingly, online.  Mr. Coney's utopia is a little more strict than my own modest proposal. In mine, if you have no money you are not treated to healthcare. In True Worth, if you have no money, you are not treated to health care or any other services, and it would be an unfair advantage to allow relatives or friends to give or lend you that money. Never fear though. In the story, the establishment recognizes you can incur some costs before you earn enough to pay, so it gives each individual a certain amount to be going on with - specifically a "Birthright" of 600 credits.

Here is an excerpt:
Suppose someone is in the hospital, awaiting an expensive operation. The obvious question poses itself: is the patient worth treating, bearing in mind his value to the community? So the hospital sends me a claim based on the estimated cost. 
Then I call the National Bank and find that the patient has accumulated savings totaling (say) Cr. 2,000 to date. 
And I consult my own punch-card index and find that he has a Social Value Cred Rating of (say) Cr. 1,500. 
That person, therefore, is worth Cr. 3,500 to the community. Nothing more; nothing less. 
So if the operation costs up to Cr. 3,500, the scalpels will flash and he will be healed, presumably. 
But if the operation (including pre- and post-operational care and treatment) is estimated at Cr. 3,501, his flesh will remain uncarved. He can, however, receive lesser treatment and drugs to the value of Cr. 3,500, at which point he will be discharged from the hospital. What he does then is up to him; but assuming he is able to start work again he must repay the loan of Cr. 1,500 on his Social Value Cred Rating before he can start to accumulate any personal savings again. In repaying this amount, he will be allowed the bare minimum of his wages for living expenses. In fact, he will probably be fed and lodged by his friends, provided they are not caught doing it.
The story gives an example of how well this works in practice. The eponymous Ruth is trapped after a mineshaft collapse. Her social worth is not enough to pay the rescuers to dig her out, though it does pay for an airshaft to be drilled. And yet, months later, Ruth is rescued, proving that the system works and wishy-washy liberal "compassion" and "social responsibility" is not needed.

How can this be? You can learn the answer here.

(It's a very quick read.)

Men and women paying the same premiums: but It's GUY-necology, not GAL-necology!

Under Obamacare, men and women will pay the same premiums. Fox News has decided that this is unfair on teh mens, as they don't have babies and therefore go to the doctor less.

Let's get over the libertarian hurdle first. There may be libertarians who believe that the babies are for the woman, rather than for society as a whole, and therefore the woman should pay. I would ask all three of you who believe this to consider an even more libertarian view, which is that the baby isn't a project for the individual woman, but for itself. Babies should pay for themselves. And since 51% of them are boys, that's a lot of OB-GYN costs per boy they need to make up when they start earning the dough.

Stephen Colbert supports Fox in this issue, of course. If women go to the doctor more, then they should pay more. He showcases some choice Fox talking points. I have had to remove the video from this blog as it autoruns in an annoying loud fashion, but you could check it out at his website http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/430200/november-04-2013/obamacare-s-gender-blind-premiums

Partial Transcript:
DR. DAVID SAMADI: That's not a really fair system.  She sees her doctor all the time.  When was the last time you went to see your doctor?
BRIAN KILMEADE: Two years ago.
DR. DAVID SAMADI: Exactly.  And you?  Last week.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: I've had Lyme disease for the last 10 days, so....
DR. DAVID SAMADI: That's what happens.  So you're basically paying for her.
Yeah, that's what happens.  Women get bitten by an insect, they get Lyme disease.  A man gets bitten by an insect, he becomes a superhero. [Shows picture of Spiderman.]
Jokes aside, I love the breathtaking insouciance with which the talking head dismisses Lyme Disease as a woman's issue. I don't know if he didn't hear her, or whether he just assumed that she would say "OB-GYN checkup" and marched on, or whether he just didn't care as long as he could talk over her to make his stupid point.

I also loved the earlier remark that free birth control only benefited women - it had no utility for young men. If this is true, young men have changed since I was a young woman.

One major problem is, of course, that it isn't "health insurance". Insurance is like earthquake insurance. 10,000 people buy it for $100 each, a quake happens and two houses fall down. The insurance company gives them $250,000 each and pockets the rest.  Healthcare doesn't work like that - it isn't, and can't ever be, a Free Market, as you can't vow to just do without it, unlike a Lamborghini or a second home in the Catskills. You also can't shop for best prices, particularly in the back of an ambulance after a car goes straight through a crossing and breaks your legs without deigning to stop. Healthcare costs will eventually eat all the money going into it, which is why a single-payer system works best.  Somebody is going to pay, and it's better to endow that body with sufficient clout to negotiate for standard prices and monitor for better outcomes - like a government.  Calling it "insurance" and forcing everyone to buy it on their own behalf is a silly, mixed system.

But it's oh-so-much better than the previous system where some people got "insured" and some people didn't. And the ones who didn't quite often ended up bankrupt - and their remaining bills were paid by us, in the guise of increased premiums. This is quite literally the worst of all worlds.  Untreated sick people, bankrupt people AND other people have to pay for it. The mind boggles as to how this ever came about. Obamacare is such a win compared with the baseline.

Some people are going to say, "Of course you think that way - you're old, and you want me to pay for you. I don't need insurance." Well, first, Mr. Chivalry, thanks for the assessment. Second, I would be happy for my "insurance" to coexist with your literal pay-as-you-go service - which I believe the US had a hundred years ago. I have a modest proposal. If you go to the doctor, you pay him or her. If you don't go, you don't pay. But to avoid the I-don't-need-no-insurance brigade from becoming scroungers dependent on my money, this system would have to include hospitals. If you turn up at the emergency room either because you didn't take preventive care, or because you developed an acute condition, or because of an accident, the hospital should first x-ray your pockets. If you have either an insurance card or a credit card, they admit you. If you don't they push your gurney into the parking lot and phone your next of kin. Next of kin arrives with a bag of cash, and you're admitted, assuming you're still alive. Treatment continues until bags of cash/and or credit card runs out and then you're discharged - into the parking lot, sans gurney.

I think after a few evening news items featuring dead telegenic young mothers, handsome young motorcyclists with soon-to-be-fatal brain bleeds and little children with skunk bites banging on the hospital doors to no avail, and a single payer system will be well on its way.

Edit: For a description of an even better way to ensure no-one has to pay for other people's healthcare, here's an update.

Traditional English Christmas Cake recipe

For Christmas 2012, I baked a traditional English Christmas cake using a recipe from my Bruv's cookbook "The Cookes' Cookbook".  It was delicious, so here's the recipe for all.

Note: Americans hate fruitcakes. I always wondered why, but after reading some recipes I decided it's because American fruitcake recipes include pineapple. Why in hell anyone would want pineapple in a cake is beyond me, and the proof is, as it were, in the pudding. Your pineapple containing cake, Americans cook them, and then give them away and laugh at the person left holding the hot potato, or cake. The recipient has to find a way to pass it on quickly. And so forth.

Now, if you bake a proper cake, and ice it properly, it's a thing of beauty.

The Cookes' cookbook
2x7", 2x3 1/2 lbs. or 1 X 10"

All tins must be lined with greaseproof paper or greased foil, preferably double. Cover top of cake with piece of foil during the last few hours of cooking to prevent burning.
Oven 150C for 1-1 /
2 hrs, reduce to 130C for 3 - 3 1/2 hrs. Bake in centre of oven.
12 oz S.R. flour
tsp salt
l dsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 lb ground almonds
1 lb currants
1 lb raisins
1 lb sultanas
1/2 lb glace cherries
1/2 lb mixed peel
1 large lemon
12 oz unsalted butter
10 oz soft dark brown sugar
9 large eggs
8 tbsp. brandy (extra to add after cooking/before Xmas)

Sift all dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Mix in all the finely chopped fruits. Blend thoroughly.
Cream together, in a separate bowl, the sugar, butter and grated lemon rind until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir into the flour and fruit mixture, followed by the lemon juice and 6 tablespoons of brandy. The mixture should be soft and moist.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins, level the top and bake. The cake is done when it begins to shrink away from the sides of the tin.  

(c) My brother

Reminder: You'll also need, closer to the holiday, 24 ounces of marzipan, more than a pound of confectioners' powdered sugar, an egg white, either some glycerin or some lemon juice, and a jar of apricot preserves.

This does indeed take 3 1/2 hours to bake and the paper lining on the bottom is essential because burning on the bottom is a distinct possibility.  I used a 10" springform pan because I couldn't find a non-springform one, and it worked quite well (though I was worried the batter would drip out of the bottom). The way to line the tin is to first make two circles of greasepoof paper the same size as the tin and place one in the pan. Estimate the circumference and cut a piece of paper four times the height of the tin and one times the length of the circumference. Triple fold the paper and then (this is the important bit) make lots of half inch cuts from the bottom of the paper towards the top. Grease the lower circle and grease the tin, then line the sides by pushing the long piece down onto the circle at the same time it's being pushed on to the greasy sides. Use the pastry/grease brush to push the paper down into place. The little slits will allow thin fingers of paper to 'fan' towards the center of the circle, and the whole deal will be much more stable than if you just placed upright paper around the edges. Grease the inside of the circumferential piece of paper, then drop the other circle on the bottom. The little fingers will sandwich between the two circles and anchor everything.

Grease this new circle and mix the cake batter. (I used an ordinary Cuisinart onion-chopping-whirly-bladey thing to cream the butter and sugar and mix in the eggs - I don't have a cake mixer and it works, so why not.)

Pour the batter into a tin. Use a spatula to ensure the middle of the batter is lower than the edges, or you will get a domed cake. Bake it.
Once it's cooled, take it out of the tin and punch five or six holes in the top and pour in a couple of table spoons of brandy. Don't remove the paper! Cover it (e.g. in a tin, or in foil) and keep it for four to six weeks to become soft and moist.  You can uncover the top, add extra brandy every week and re-cover it - this always helps.

A week before the holiday, buy sufficient marzipan to cover the cake. (This one used 25 ounces.) Soften the marzipan in your (clean) hands and use a rolling pin to make the cover pieces as though they were dough.  Make a circle for the top, and a long piece to cover the sides. You can use confectioners' powdered sugar to keep the marzipan from sticking to the work surface. Take the papers off the cake. Heat sufficient apricot preserves, and brush the goo across the cake surface to make it sticky and remove crumbs. Encase the cake in the marzipan sheets and press them on to the sticky apricot. Pinch the edges together (the idea is to seal the cake). Put it aside for a couple of days.

Two days later, make Royal Icing and ice the whole deal. (The Cuisinart makes icing just fine - no need to have a cake mixer or use elbow grease if you don't want to.) If you want hard icing, use the recommended amount of lemon juice. If you want it a little softer, use a little glycerin instead.

If you watch YouTube videos on the subject, you'll see that some people use a ruler to scrape the icing dead smooth. This must be some sort of Photoshop deal. It's not actually possible in real life. The best normal people can do is use the icing spatula to make irregular "snowy peaks" and then claim you did it that way to be all Xmassy.  You can sprinkle little silver balls on it, or if you're my mum, you'll have a collection of small plastic snowmen on sleighs and Santas you can stick into the icing. Icing takes two to three days to go rock hard (the preferred way of eating icing).  (Fondant icing, while edible, is definitely not Xmassy.)

This is not a cheap cake. I reckon I spent close to $70 on ingredients, although not all of them ended up in the cake. (But what are you going to do with the four ounces of currants, four ounces of candied peel etc. left over?) Also, the pan wasn't cheap and neither was the giant plastic "work pot luck style" cake carrier I ended up buying to keep it in, since I didn't have any large enough old popcorn tins lying around.

However, it was worth it to see the smiles on the faces of my British cow-orkers as I brought them traditional Chrissy cake. (I didn't even suggest it to my American cow-orkers. They ate "hard tack" and "salt water taffy" and other enticingly-named treats of their own design.)


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