Two men have been infected with a virus newly discovered in dairy cattle, scientists say. The disease causes blisters on the hands and arms, and other symptoms similar to those caused by smallpox.
This post is a bit of a mash-up in which I’m pulling together a couple of different topics I’ve been meaning to get to, and it just happens to be convenient to knock them all out at once.
First, a few months ago, the New York Times reported on Johnson & Johnson’s release of newly formulated personal care products – including baby shampoo – that no longer used the preservative quaternium-15, which releases minute amounts of formaldehyde as it breaks down. J&J’s decision was directly the result of a disingenuous, fear-mongering campaign by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to get the “toxic” and “cancer-causing” formaldehyde out of baby shampoo. (As we know, the best way to scare folks is to make it about the kids.)
It’s the dose that makes the poison, and there simply is not enough formaldehyde in vaccines to cause any problems for humans.
This whole thing annoyed me because I was well aware that the tiny amounts of formaldehyde released by the preservative in baby shampoo were hardly “toxic” if you consider that it would take 15 bottles of shampoo to expose a person to as much formaldehyde as exists in a single apple. The dose makes the poison, not the chemical itself (more on that in a bit). The hullabaloo surrounding formaldehyde in baby shampoo is just another example of “chemophobia,” or an irrational fear of “CHEMICALZ!” in our society (more on that shortly too).
So I wrote a lengthy piece at Slate about the irrational fear surrounding formaldehyde, given that it naturally occurs in our environment, our food and our bodies. It was a fear I was familiar with since I had created the now famous “pear meme” showing how little formaldehyde residue is in vaccines compared to what’s in a pear. I hope you’ll take the time to read that piece if you haven’t because I did an immense amount of research for it. In fact, I did so much research that the final article was about half as long as my first draft. And as I expected, I regretted what I had to cut out.
The section I most regretted cutting was the one in which I discussed EWG’s secondary reason for demanding that J&J remove the preservative from their products – the fact that formaldehyde can be an allergen. Indeed, studies have shown that formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in personal care products can cause skin irritation, as EWG’s senior scientist and toxicologist Johanna Congleton pointed out during our phone interview. Of course, *anything* – even water – can be an allergen, and it would therefore be impossible to create products with no potential to induce allergic reactions. However, allergic skin irritation in J&J products is a valid concern, especially if the 8-9% figure in that study is accurate for the US population. So why did I cut it?
I cut it because it detracted from the focus of the article, which really wasn’t about J&J and quaternium-15 at its heart. Rather, the article was really about blowing fears about chemicals out of proportion to the extent that we think they will kill us. EWG did not mount a massive campaign against J&J to remove an allergen. It would be intellectually dishonest to say so. Though formaldehyde as an allergen is mentioned in their materials, their scary headlines and bumper sticker calls-to-action all focused on formaldehyde as a toxic carcinogen. So that’s what I focused on.
What else was cut from my article? Nuance. So it often is with journalism written for a general audience. However, I received some valid criticism on Twitter from an environmental scientist and engineer who pointed out that I oversimplified, and potentially even misrepresented, what being a carcinogen means. It was a great Twitter discussion, and although I stand by my story, and although she and I both agree that the formaldehyde in J&J products poses no cancer threat to consumers, she wrote an excellent blog post discussing the nuance I couldn’t have addressed in my piece. I recommend you check it out. (She also points out the allergen concern which, as I told her on Twitter, I regretted having to cut.)
The overarching point of my piece, however, was that we humans often develop a visceral fear of something because we overestimate the risk it poses. I dip into the possible psychological mechanisms behind that fear in my piece, but I wanted to point out again, here, just how ubiquitous it is with chemicals. We saw it with Food Babe’s ridiculous campaign against the “yoga mat chemical” in Subway bread, and good ol’ Ms. Babe is at it again now, raising fears about “the anti-freeze ingredient.”
The thing is, just because we can’t pronounce something or it’s man-made doesn’t make it unsafe, and just because it’s “natural” sure as hell doesn’t make it safe. If you ever have any doubts about the myriad ways Mother Nature can kill you, take a vacation to Australia and sleep in the bush (or swim in the ocean). Above all, it’s impossible to avoid “chemicals.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen someone claim they don’t use chemicals in their home, or that they want “chemical-free food” or “chemical-free products.” I’ve even seen products advertised as “chemical-free.”
Newsflash: our world is made of chemicals. WE are made of chemicals. Oxygen is a chemical. Water is a chemical. (And by the way, both can be toxic if you get too much of them, but I’m getting ahead of myself.) The only way you’re going to get free of chemicals is to find a way to get out into the vacuum of space – and even then YOU are a floating bag of chemicals, contaminating space with all the chemicals sloughing off your body. Until we cease to exist, we’re stuck with chemicals. (I’m unaware of any evidence regarding the soul’s chemical composition.) So it’s time to stop being terrified of them.
It’s hard not to be terrified, though, because we have organizations like EWG telling us all the things we should be terrified of, which is a frustrating shame. Once upon a time, EWG offered a wonderful public service. As a nonprofit organization, they served as a watchdog looking for unsafe levels of chemicals in our food and environment. They still claim to do this, but their words are nearly meaningless now. Somewhere along the line – not long after they created the infamous (and not-so-dirty) Dirty Dozen – they became too popular for their own good – at least that’s my guess – and realized the power of big, scary, sensationalistic headlines. Scary articles, especially in list form, grab attention.
But EWG has now become the equivalent of Chicken Little. When they make it sound as though baby shampoo that’s been used for more than five decades is going to cause cancer (despite their own Skin Deep database entry for the preservative listing it as not
harmful carcinogenic), it’s hard to take them seriously. They even jumped on FoodBabe’s yoga mat bandwagon with the whopping 500 foods that contain the offending chemical. (At least NPR had a more nuanced take.)
[Edit: I deleted a paragraph here in which I stated that the Skin Deep database entry on quaternium-15 had changed from when I last viewed it (listing the preservative as harmful now but not harmful previously) because I could not find an image in the Wayback Machine to confirm it had changed, and I did not want to rely only on my memory.]
But their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database brings me to my final and most important point. When it comes to determining whether something is toxic, the absolute, hands-down, above-all MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER is this: The dose makes the poison. If I could get the world to chant it with me, I would: the dose makes the poison the dose makes the poison the dose makes the poison. And by the way, the dose makes the poison. EWG’s Skin Deep database is next to useless because it does not take dosages into account. It ranks formaldehyde as a 10, its most harmful rating, despite the fact that our bodies and our foods contain formaldehyde. Now, formaldehyde most certainly can be harmful. It can cause cancer, and it can kill you – but only at a high enough dosage. Similarly, a single molecule of cyanide or arsenic is not going to kill a 200-lb man. But, if that 200-lb man drinks gallons and gallons water at one time, it can kill him. Oxygen can kill too, as any scuba diver will tell you.
So whenever you talk about chemicals or substances being toxic, you absolutely MUST consider the dose. Without discussing dosage, the whole conversation is pointless. Is mercury toxic? Well, how much are we talking about? Low enough amounts in fish are fine. Is aluminum toxic? Well, how much are we talking about? After all, there’s aluminum in breastmilk and baby formula.
We all know “the dose makes the poison” rationally – any cook is cautious with the salt – but taking it to heart can be another matter. So we have to police ourselves a little bit before we get carried away. When discussions about ingredients or chemicals or pharmaceuticals or supplements or the like comes up, before jumping to any conclusions, stop for a moment and think: what are we talking about? How much are we talking about? And what do we know about that amount of that stuff? Because after all, whether it’s formaldehyde in baby shampoo or oxygen in your scuba tank, it’s the dose that makes the poison.
Address: Indian Rock Nature Preserve, 501 Wolcott Rd. (Rte. 69), Bristol, CT 06010.
Early May is an excellent time of year to see a variety of birds. Migratory songbirds are passing through on their way to their final breeding grounds after spending the winter. Birds that will use our forests to raise their young will be scoping out their territories and our year-round residents will be visible. Join us as we search for a wide diversity of birds.
Comic URL: http://www.lefthandedtoons.com/1644/
From May 1 to November 30, visitors to the iconic Philip Johnson Glass House in Connecticut will be in for a treat: the house will be wrapped in a shroud of dense fog as a part of Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya's installation Veil. This installation, which coincides with the 65th anniversary of the Glass House's construction, is the first site-specific project to engage with the renowned architectural structure.
For 10 to 15 minutes every hour, 600 nozzles will pump out fresh water to produce a thick veil of mist that will envelop the transparent house completely, creating a dramatic environment in which the structure appears to vanish, only to slowly reappear when the fog dissipates. Inside the house, the sense of being outdoors will be temporarily suspended as mist creeps over the glass walls, obscuring the surrounding land from view. The result is a magnificent sight that evokes a sense of mystery and wonder.
Veil engages in an intriguing dialogue with the Glass House. According to Nakaya, a renowned fog artist, "Fog responds constantly to its own surroundings, revealing and concealing the features of the environment. Fog makes visible things become invisible and invisible things—like wind—become visible.” Along a similar vein, the Glass House is fundamentally "[a] dream of transparency, an architecture that vanishes" and reappears with the rise and fall of the fog.
Photos by Richard Barnes / Courtesy of the Glass House
The Glass House website
Yesterday, America's first cat café opened in New York City. Cat lovers, you now have only three more day to sip coffee and eat pastries alongside adorable cats! Purina One teamed up with the North Shore Animal League, the country's largest no-kill shelter, to create this pop-up café that's the temporary home to rescue cats. While the concept of a cat café has been around for a while, with Asia and Europe leading the way, this is the first time one has opened in the United States. Two permanent cat cafés are scheduled to open in San Francisco this year.
The concept is simple. Visitors pay an hourly fee or cover charge to sit and lounge with cats. This one, on 168 Bowery, is free. Sixteen cats roam the premises and you're welcome to pick one up and snuggle with it. If you fall in love with a particular one, you can even adopt it! (Read about each individual cat, here. Looks like "Sushi" is featured in the photo, above.) To get your feline fix, stop by the store from 10a to 7p each day till April 27. If you'd like to learn a little something, you can listen to different cat experts talk about cat health and behavior. The store's capacity is limited to just 65 people, so you may have to wait in line.
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions in email, twitter, and tumblr like this one:
“I can’t help but feel that as I white girl that it’s hard for me to write from the POV of a person of color. I realize that’s probably completely and utterly ridiculous, but I was wondering what you thought? Is it insincere for white YA authors to write from the POV of a person of color?”
Probably because I’m co-founder of Diversity in YA and I’m not white, I seem to be some sort of authority on this, but the truth is: There is no one right answer to this question. Everyone has a personal stake in this issue, whether they realize it or not.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
I have a very low tolerance for cross-cultural errors in works of fiction that are based in Chinese culture. The reason I have such a low tolerance for these cross-cultural errors is because (1) I am Chinese American, and (2) I did my B.A. in Chinese Studies at Wellesley and my M.A. in East Asian Studies (focusing on China) at Harvard. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about China and Chinese culture, and I have a deeply personal stake in these narratives.
That personal stake is because of my personal background. I was born in China but immigrated to the United States with my family when I was three and a half years old. When I was born (in China), my parents gave me a Chinese name. This is not unexpected. When we moved to the US, I still had that Chinese name, and that’s how I was introduced to people. However, non-Chinese-speakers could not pronounce my name correctly. They totally messed it up. Other kids made fun of my name. This happened when I was very little, from four to six years old, and I still remember it today.
Because of most Americans’ inability to pronounce my Chinese name, when I was six years old and about to start first grade, I chose an English name to use: Malinda. And yes, I personally chose the name Malinda. I’m pretty fortunate I didn’t choose something horrible!
When I became a naturalized American citizen, my full name became Malinda [Chinese Name] Lo. To this day, when non-Chinese people ask me what my Chinese name is, I might not tell them. Sometimes I say, “I’ll only tell you if you promise to not try to pronounce it.” Sometimes I say, “Sorry, I’m not going to tell you.” Without fail, every time I do tell an American what my Chinese name is, they think it’s hilarious and they try to pronounce it — even though I’ve told them I don’t want them to.
I can’t help it: This offends me. Why? Because it underscores my difference, my foreignness. It turns me into an exotic exhibit for them to gawk at.
Also, it contrasts significantly with how Chinese people react when I tell them my Chinese name. They either simply proceed to pronounce my name correctly, or they tell me that my name is beautiful, which is a compliment to my parents. Here’s my Chinese name: 駱曼琴.
I posted it there in Chinese characters to illustrate the fact that my Chinese name exists on a totally different cultural plane than my English name. If you can’t read Chinese, the name will mean nothing to you. Even if you hear it spoken aloud, you won’t hear the poetry that some Chinese speakers hear. Instead, it will sound strange and probably ugly to English speakers.
Maybe you think I’m making too much of this. Maybe you think I should get over it and realize that curious non-Chinese Americans just want to learn about Chinese culture, that their interest is innocent and I shouldn’t be offended. Well, I admit I have a chip on my shoulder about this specific situation. I don’t know if I will ever not be offended when an American wants me to perform my Chinese name for them. It’s personal.
That’s the way I feel about white people writing books based on China. I have a personal stake in it, and it’s difficult for me to overcome that. Beyond my personal background, I did spend all those years studying China, and I know how much there is to know and how much I don’t know. I’ve done a lot of research on China. I know enough to spot cross-cultural errors, and when I spot them, I’m always thrown out of the story.
The other night I was watching a third season episode of The Good Wife, a show that I’ve only recently started to watch. In episode 3.6, “Affairs of State,” the case being investigated involves a character named Chen Jin-Pyn, who is supposed to be the son of a Taiwanese diplomat. The plot hinges on the fact that attorney Cary Agos realizes that the Taiwanese character would sign his name with his surname first, which means a receipt signed “Chen Jin-Pyn” indicates it was not signed by the Taiwanese character.
I’ve been enjoying The Good Wife, but this episode was just astonishingly factually incorrect. First, “Chen” is a surname, but everyone in this episode believes the character’s first name is “Chen” and his surname is “Jin-Pyn.” This is so wrong it’s ludicrous, not only because “Chen” is not a first name but also because what kind of name is “Jin-Pyn”? Honestly, to me it sounds like a Chinese name that a Westerner would invent. (And secondarily, when I looked up an episode recap to confirm my memory of the show, I saw that the name is spelled “Jin-Pyn.” The usage of the letter Y shows the screenwriter had no idea how to properly romanize Chinese characters.) Thirdly, what Chinese person signs their name in ENGLISH with their Chinese surname first? I don’t sign my name Lo Malinda. (Although sometimes I do get junk mail to Lomalinda.) In CHINESE, of course I would write the character for my surname first. But in English? That would be bizarre, because I know that English speakers already get confused enough by Chinese names. In English, I would sign my first name first.
The episode also refers to the fraught issue of political recognition of Taiwan versus the People’s Republic of China, but because of this simple name error — which could have been fixed by asking basically any Chinese or Chinese American person off the street — I stopped paying attention. I couldn’t believe that anybody who got that name so wrong would know anything about the complexities of the PRC and Taiwan.
So: Those are my personal stakes involved when I encounter a book based on China and Chinese culture. They are high for me. I am quick to put down a book that has cross-cultural errors in these areas, but it’s also important to remember that I am one person. My personal stakes are not the same as everyone else’s. Someone else might read a book based on China or Chinese culture and have absolutely no problem with it, even if it does actually contain those cross-cultural errors.
Anyone who wants to write outside of their culture has to remember this: Books are personal, and one person’s reaction does not mean that everybody is going to react the same way. In fact, it’s likely that every single reader will have a different reaction.
This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to blithely write whatever the hell you want about a culture that isn’t yours. Writers who are writing outside of their culture do have to work extra hard to research that culture, because they have much farther to go to get to the kind of instinctual knowledge of it that allows someone to hear my Chinese name and feel that it sounds poetic.
When white writers come to me and ask if it’s OK for them to write about people of color, it seems as if they’re asking for my blessing. I can’t give them my blessing because I don’t speak for other people of color. I only speak for myself, and I have personal stakes in specific kinds of narratives.
It also feels as if they’re asking for a simple answer, and frankly, there is no simple answer. Writing outside your culture is a complicated endeavor that requires extensive research, being aware of your own biases and limitations, and a commitment to delving deeply into the story. However, writing any fiction requires this. There are no shortcuts to writing fiction truthfully and well. There really aren’t. The writer must put in the time so that they become confident in their decisions, and there are a million and one decisions to make when writing a novel.
If you’re a white writer who wants to write about a culture not your own, go for it. There’s no reason you shouldn’t do it. Some people will prefer that you don’t, but those people don’t speak for everyone. On the other hand, if you’re terrified of writing outside your culture, you don’t have to. There’s not necessarily any reason for you to do something that makes you that uncomfortable. I believe that writing is a personal thing, and you should write what you personally want to write.
And yes, writing is hard. It isn’t physical labor and it’s not rocket science, but it sure is hard. It requires you to be honest with yourself. So if you’re thinking about writing outside your culture and you’re afraid to get it wrong, be honest with yourself. Ask yourself why you want to do it. That’s where you start. I can’t tell you where you’ll end up.
If you happen to be a vervet monkey in South Africa with a raging case of intestinal parasites, it’s probably because you live somewhere wet and warm. Not so much because of your sex, age, or how close you live to humans.
The truth is, naturally, a bit more nuanced than that, but this is the overall finding of one our recently published papers:
Gaetano TJ, Danzy J, Mtshali MS, Theron N, Schmitt CA, Grobler JP, Freimer NB, and Turner TR. 2014. Mapping correlates of parasitism in wild South African vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops). S Afr J Wildlife Res 44(1): 56-70.
I am very pleased to note that this paper is the product of much hard work and assiduous poop collecting by many folks, but most especially by someone familiar to you, dear reader of this blog… Someone who has witnessed and/or participated in a surprisingly large number of previous posts…
Yes, the first author is none other than My #2 Favorite Lesbian Field Assistant (#2 in chronology, not in awesomeness), aka Gaetano TJ aka my erstwhile co-star in It Gets Better-ing (that’s her at minute 5:39)!
Over the course of six glorious months together in South Africa we collected the precious and thankfully not-so-tiny fecal surprises left by vervet monkeys we’d trapped, or went straight to source and pulled some extra poop out of their pink little recta with our own little fingers. Now, before you freak out, you don’t have to worry: Tegan’s little fingers are the littlest of little fingers, and KY Jelly was involved because we’re nothing if not true gentlemen (and OF COURSE this was approved by both institutional animal care and use committees and our local veterinarian).
Overall, 78 of the monkeys we captured gave up a decent amount of poop to us, and we sent it off to our collaborator Sibusiso to find out how many and what parasites were in them. We found that about 55% of the vervets had parasites we were able to identify, including Trichuris (aka whipworm), helminths of the family Strongylidae (aka roundworm), and cysts belonging to a family of Protozoa called Coccidia:
With Sibusiso’s information on the parasites, Tegan then mapped the locations of the monkeys using GIS, and was able to see some trends in the occurrence, density, and richness of vervet parasite infections across South Africa:
EVEN MORE AWESOME is that she could then use datasets on the density of human habitation and rainfall and several other mappable variables available online to quantify geographical and environmental correlations with the occurrence, density, and richness of parasites:
Finally, she was able to test whether those mappable variables had a significant effect on the trends she noted:
As you can see in Table 3 there, it would appear that the most significant variables that controlled for incidence of infection were the amount of rainfall (higher rainfall led to higher proportion of monkeys with worms) and higher mean and maximum temperature (warmer temps led to a higher proportion of monkeys with worms). Also, the biome itself had a significant effect on the density of parasitic infection, implying that ecological factors controlled for how many parasites there were per gram of feces.
Now, as Tegan herself acknowledges on page 64:
It is important to note that results for parasite taxa may be influenced by small sample sizes, particularly for coccidia and Trichuris spp.
She suggests that this sample size issue is probably responsible for not finding statistical support for higher parasite loads in rural areas of human habitation, even though those areas qualitatively have the higest parasite loads. To get a much better idea of what’s going on, we’d have to probe many more vervet butts in many more locations and, as Tegan notes on page 65, with many more interesting methods:
Limitations in the ability of this study to identify parasites at the genus and species levels are a consequence of the use of faecal samples in the analysis. Biopsies and cultures of the colon and caecum would be necessary to detect the presence of other enteric organisms, such as amoebae.
This comic was created after performing a longitudinal study with a sample size of 2.
Daphne Nominee Spotlight: The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford
Lets take a quick look at a late but worthy addition to the Daphne nominees--The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitfords exposé of the funeral industry in America. At a time when the average yearly income was $5,600, the average funeral was likely to cost over a thousand dollars. Mitford lampooned the excessiveness of the price tag and many elements of the funeral itself, meant to capitalize on the grief of the bereaved. An updated revision, The American Way of Death Revisited, was released in 1998, a timely reminder of our funereal extravagances in the age of the space burial.
Read an excerpt from her book as it appeared in The Atlantic in 1963, under the title The Undertakers Racket.
For more on Jessica Mitford and The American Way of Death, here are a few pieces from around the web:
A muckraker had been born, one whose spirits would forever be as high as her dudgeon. Disguising her nervousnessshe sometimes preceded a difficult phone call with a stiff drinkshe learned to dig for the dirty secret and the suspicion-raising fact.
-- Thomas Mallon, Red Sheep: How Jessica Mitford found her voice | The New Yorker
Shortly after her collected letters were published, Thomas Mallon wrote this piece on the life of Jessica Mitford, the lone Communist red sheep of the otherwise fascist-leaning Mitford family.
It was Mitford who got ordinary people talking
Her take-charge, do-it-yourself message helped liberate Americans from the rigid rules and roles they were eager to cast off, as they were beginning to do in so many other areas of life.
-- Bess Lovejoy, Fond Farewells | Laphams Quarterly
Bess Lovejoy reconsiders Jessica Mitfords The American Way of Death in Lapham Quarterlys Death issue.
I always say, I just want the best. Six black horses with white plumes, and I certainly want to be embalmed, because the embalmers claim they can make you look 20 years younger.
-- Jessica Mitford, interviewed in 1996 in the SF Gate on The American Way of Death and her own burial plans.
The Tumblr blog TL;DR Wikipedia is a lighthearted website with the tagline "Wikipedia: Condensed for your Pleasure." The funny website (which stands for “too long, didn’t read") translates a wide range of lengthy, detailed descriptions from the internet into a few concise sentences that will certainly make you laugh.
Sometimes brutally honest, the site is there for anyone who needs information fast. It covers everything from basics like objects and movies to more complex concepts like religion and metaphors. When you don't have time to sit down and read page after page about the electoral college, or the function of the penny, or what role Amelia Earhart played in history, TL;DR provides you with one sentence that sums it all up in an entertaining fashion.
There's a good chance you've already seen this stunning image pop up on your newsfeed or dashboard at some point. With over 70,000 shares on Facebook and features on dozens of media outlets, Texas-based photographer Mike Mezeul II's shot of the recent blood moon lunar eclipse has officially gone viral. While many photographers went without sleep on April 15 in order to photograph the rare natural phenomenon, Mezeul's image is particularly unique. The foreground consists of a vibrant field of bluebonnets, contrasting beautifully with the night sky. Shining above the field are images of the phases of the lunar eclipse, showing the moon's path across the sky throughout the night.
Creating the final image took a lot of time, patience, and effort. Mezeul first photographed the field of bluebonnets before midnight, and then spent the next seven hours shooting the moon and its progression across the sky. After a long night of shooting, he post-processed the photos and masked different shots of the moon phases into the image of the field. The final result is a spectacular composite image that highlights the beauty of nature and the night sky.
Mike Mezeul II Website via [PetaPixel]
Image by Caravaggio, murdering fuckhead
We made a change to the Daphne shortlist. We removed David Irving's Destruction in Dresden in favor of Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death.
I have a... standard, let's call it. I believe that it's important to separate the art from the artist, but only when they are dead. When artists are raping or beating their wives and still up and around, I am of the opinion that you should not give them your money or support. Part of it is because of this here. Do I want that artist that I happen to like who murdered his wife and got away with it to have more money to do things with and enjoy his life? Do I want to express my value to him in the form of cash? No, not really. And it's not like someone like Woody Allen needs my money at this point, but it's the principle of the thing. My money is finite, I'll give it to someone who isn't an asshole.
Because of all that, letting Destruction in Dresden onto the shortlist, given that its author is a Holocaust denying fuckhead (alleged! He sues!) and is still alive, was a difficult decision to make. And I never quite felt okay with it, as much as I admire the book. After a couple conversations, and then bringing it to a vote with the nonfiction panelists, we decided to remove the book after all. And replace it with a Mitford, whose family knows all about being fuckheads, but okay. (That's a really nice top you've got on, Unity, where'd you get it? It's so cute, oh my god, really? Really, Unity Mitford?) Jessica was a tough babe, she'll be fine.
I still think there's an interesting conversation to be had around Destruction in Dresden, but maybe we'll do it without the book in play. Stan Carey, one of our panelists, recommended Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind, which also discusses how we turn other people into something less than human, and don't regret wiping them out.
As a result of all this, the Daphne Awards, which would have been announced May-ish, will probably have to be pushed back a little, we had a new book to order and distribute. (And read. And debate.) We'll keep you posted.
24-year-old photographer Asher Svidensky recently traveled to west Mongolia with the intention of documenting the lives of traditional Kazakh eagle hunters, people who tame eagles for the purpose of hunting smaller animals. As an artist, Svidensky wanted to preserve the tradition that is passed from generation to generation of men, but found that along his journey, there was much more to the series than he originally expected.
Upon arriving in Ulgii (or ölgii), the capital of the far west, Svidensky spent time with each eagle hunter family, documenting their ways of life and getting to know each member before heading out to photograph the eagle hunter, the father, of the family. However, throughout this journey, Svidensky discovered a desire to explore beyond the simple history of the trade—in addition to the past, he wanted to learn more about future generations. So, he began photographing the young 13-year-old boys as they trained with their fathers.
With the traditions laying in the hands of the boys and the men, the biggest surprise throughout the journey was Svidensky's discovery of a young eagle huntress, 13-year-old Ashol Pan, the daughter of an experienced eagle hunter. Svidensky said, "I was amazed by her comfort and ease as she began handling the grand eagle for the first time in her life. She was fearlessly carrying it on her hand and caressing it somewhat joyfully."
These stunning photographs symbolize the potential future of the eagle hunting tradition as it expands beyond a male-only practice. Pan's father, not opposed to his daughter's opportunity, says, "It’s been a while since I started thinking about training her instead of [her brother], but I wouldn't dare do it unless she asks me to do it, and if she will? Next year you will come to the eagle festival and see her riding with the eagle in my place.”
With band names like Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, and Cattle Decapitation, you don’t think of metal musicians as warm and fuzzy people. But beneath the darkness is a softer side, and Alexandra Crockett reveals it in her new book, Metal Cats. The endearing photographs capture the extreme personalities of hardcore metal music as they pose with their adorable feline friends.
This series of images showcase musicians, promoters, and fans of the genre in their homes, places which can be as dark as their appearance. But, despite this persona, we see the guys cradling their cats like babies and demonstrate a loving relationship with their pet. It breaks the stereotypes of this dark subculture and reminds us that metalheads share the same type of bond that we do with our animals.
Metal Cats is a book with a cause. A portion of its proceeds will be donated to no-kill animal shelters in Seattle, Portland, Oakland, and Los Angeles. In addition, the musicians featured in the book are planning to perform a series of benefit concerts held along the West Coast of the United States. Money raised from these shows will go to shelters in each of the four cities visited.
Spring is finally here, bringing with it warmer temperatures, brighter skies, and fresh green buds. For people living in Japan, the arrival of spring signifies one more thing: the beginning of cherry blossom season. Cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese, are a cultural symbol of Japan, admired for their delicate pink beauty and short lifespans. Each spring, they bloom in waves across the islands of Japan, attracting thousands of tourists, photographers, and local residents.
Cherry blossom season is linked to the centuries-old custom of hanami, which are small parties and picnics held outdoors to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms. People gather beneath cherry blossom trees to eat, drink, play music, and have fun together, all the while gazing at mass of pale pink and white petals that flutter overhead in the branches.
Whether you are in the city or the countryside, alone or with a group of friends, during the day or at nighttime, the blossoming of sakura is truly a spectacular sight to behold. From Japan to Washington, D.C. to Taiwan, cherry blossom season is a wonderful time to celebrate springtime, nature, and fleeting beauty.
Above image credits: Masato Mukoyama
Haru Digital Photo
via [Spoon & Tamago, Bored Panda]
Remarks by the First Lady During a Roundtable with Business Leaders at the Private Equity Industry Veterans Initiative Summit
1:10 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Good afternoon. Thank you for rising, that was so kind. (Laughter.) I wish they did that at home. (Laughter.)
Well, it’s really a thrill for me to join you and the media to talk about all of the phenomenal work we’ve been doing together to get our veterans and military spouses hired. And, Steve, I am just incredibly grateful for your leadership. You have stepped up in a way that just leaves me awestruck. And you’re leading by example, bringing other leaders together, and really understanding that there’s a real business imperative that’s at stake to getting these men and women hired. They’re some of the best-trained folks we have in the country. And I think you’re witnessing that firsthand.
Q Well, all the firms here -- whether it’s TPG or Carlyle or KKR -- have all been doing things in this area. And you actually provided the organizing principle, and -- both you and Mrs. Biden.
So when -- you set the stage for this. And it’s very difficult not to respond in a positive way. Because when you were talking at the Business Roundtable, it was really -- for those who weren’t there, it was really a terrific, passionate speech. And the thing that got me at the end was when you were talking about how 22 military people a day take their lives. This was so stunning. You make it through Iraq, you make it through Afghanistan, you make it through other problems, and you have this huge personal tragedies because of a number of factors, but including the fact you can’t get a job. If you can’t get a job, it’s really hard to take care of a family. It just -- it changes everything.
And so we were, like -- I mean, I listened to this, I said, how can we not do something really significant. So we basically just set a goal of 50,000 people. You look at all of us around the table. We’re not that extraordinary; every firm does that. And you know, if you set a goal -- we have 600,000 people working for us, and each firm has hundreds of thousands of people.
So how can we not deliver, right, for the military? The only way you can’t deliver is not focusing. Because if we focus -- we’re used to being focused. Each of these four firms, they are focused people. (Laughter.) And we’re friendly, even though we compete from time to time.
And so you can make it happen. We can make a lot of stuff happen. It’s a question of just priorities. And I think each of the four firms wants things to go well for other people. It’s a nice, human sort of response.
And so we’re up to, like, 28,000 now, and I guess that was two years four months or something.
MRS. OBAMA: You’re ahead of schedule.
Q Yes, we’re ahead. (Laughter.) We’ll get to somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000, which is what we thought.
And what’s fascinating is that everybody at our firm is really proud of this. I mean, it was like I was responding to you, actually, and your leadership. But what we found -- and I’m sure it’s the same at the other firms -- is that when everybody found out what we were doing, they thought it was terrific. And then, in the individual companies that we own, they think it’s terrific.
So there’s a sense of pride that helps things become mutually reinforcing.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, and that’s something that Dr. Biden and I found -- that we have a receptive nation. Most people just don’t understand the dilemmas that our military, our veterans and their families are facing. But once you explain it and tell the story -- and that’s part of what Jill and I feel is our mission, is that we can be that big voice for all of these men and women who are so focused on their missions that they don’t have time to advocate for themselves.
And every time Jill and I have set a goal and reached out, we have been received with the same kind of pride and enthusiasm. Because this is a country that wants to support its men and women in uniform. And it is so gratifying to these veterans and servicemembers and their families to know that they live in a grateful nation.
So being able to -- they’re feeling this on the ground. So I can’t express to you how critical this is to morale, to that transition that sometimes is difficult from military to civilian life. It is critical. And these are some of our best-trained citizens that we have. We have invested millions in these men and women, and they have developed that character of service. They don’t want to leave service once they take off that uniform; they just want to find a new mission. And being able to find it within companies that are helping this country grow is the best thing we can do on so many different levels.
So I just want to make sure that we’re sharing with other companies this truth -- that these servicemembers, these veterans that are coming out are coming out with the kind of skills and character and abilities that any company would want. And I can say it, but you guys are living it.
Q To give you an idea, these four private equity firms represent a million and a half employees in this country. If we hired 2 percent of that a year, it would be 30,000. So I think it’s important to the vets coming back -- have an opportunity. Because it’s not enough to say, thank you for your service. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
And I think it also extends to their family. For example, about a month ago, just in the senior leadership at Carlyle, we raised $3 million in one week for the Marine Scholarship Fund. Because these young people that are coming into college now, their parents -- their father, their mother -- were serving in the early-2000 timeframe. They may have come back injured, they may not have come back at all, they may have come back healthy. But if you’re a Marine, that young man, that young women needs an education too.
So it extends into the family to ensure that they’re taken care of. And the Travis Manion Foundation is another one that’s important. Because, as Steve said, one of the things they do -- the Manion family lost their son and his roommate. In fact, President Obama -- as you may recall -- they were buried next to one another at Arlington. But one of the things they do is they focus on veterans coming back that have high risk for suicide. And they’re really engaged in trying to reduce that and getting help to these young men and women.
So it’s a comprehensive effort that I think we can go -- that we have to -- actually, I agree with Steve. You need a job. You need a job. But then there are either the collateral impacts of -- children are coming along where their parents may not be able to afford a college education, or need assistance just get past some of the difficulties they may have experienced in combat.
Q One thing I don’t think most people recognize is that this is really effective government, led by yourself and Jill Biden. You’ve mobilized the different parts of the government -- whether it’s DOD or Department of Labor, whatever. And there are all kinds of --
MRS. OBAMA: Coordination. (Laughter.)
Q Right. It’s like the way it’s supposed to work in life but doesn’t always work that way. But it is interesting, just as a private sector person, to watch how effective things are and how the system -- the governmental system is changing so that we can get to people who are going to leave the service early. You can train them, you can introduce them to things, you can give them mentors -- all kinds of coordination that take the effectiveness of good intention and make it happen.
So you own that one. It’s a good thing. And most people who -- on the outside don’t see that.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, to the credit of our military leadership, they’re understanding these transition needs. They know that we’re going to see hundreds of thousands more men and women transitioning. So now, they’re thinking very differently about what service means, even during basic training.
They’re starting from the very beginning to get these young men and women to think about what their life is going to be after service in a way that they start coming in and they start thinking about the training they’re going to have, and how that’s going to translate. They’re bringing employers onto bases sooner. They’re working with companies like yours to help translate that military experience into the civilian workforce. Because many of your human relations folks who are doing the hiring -- that’s one of the challenges. How do you take a military resumé if you’re not familiar with it and figure out, well, where does that fit into my company?
And the VA, DOD, along with our military leadership in conjunction with all of you have started to help make those translations to make that connection. We wouldn’t be here without business, though. And that’s -- as effective as this initiative has been from a government perspective, what it recognizes is that we have to have corporate cooperation.
We wouldn’t be here with these numbers with the government trying to do this alone. The government doesn’t produce enough jobs, but our American companies do. So as well as this initiative has worked on the inside, it would be nothing without willing partners like all of you.
So one of the reasons why I’m here is to continue to express my gratitude on behalf of our men and women for what you have been willing to do to make sure they get the benefits and support that they have earned. So I’m grateful. Grateful and quite impressed.
Q But it’s a win-win game.
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely.
Q It’s not charity. The people are excellent.
MRS. OBAMA: That’s the point, yes.
Q And if you match the capabilities of the people with the job opportunities, everybody’s a winner. And those are the best things to do. Because it’s not a stretch.
MRS. OBAMA: I went to a company -- Tina, you’ll help me -- they manufacture the chips in computers.
MS. TCHEN: Chips, right. In Northern Virginia.
MRS. OBAMA: And the individual who runs their cleanroom was a veteran. And just in talking to him, he described how -- this is really -- it’s a high-stakes job. It’s a 24-hour thing. If something goes wrong, you’ve got to be able to react on a dime. It’s very stressful. And one false move, you could ruin a whole batch of product.
And I said, well, how is this compared to your military service? He’s like, this is nothing. (Laughter.) It’s like, I did this in my sleep. And that’s what we have to realize. I mean, these folks have been trained to walk on a tightrope in the air with folks shooting at them, and high stress levels. So you think about bringing somebody like that into your company and being able to operate at high levels, that’s what makes it a win-win.
And that’s what we want to make sure people understand. The vast majority -- the overwhelming majority of men and women who leave the service are not dealing with mental health issues. They are trained, highly skilled, highly functioning individuals. And their spouses are the same. Because these individuals are managing households, keeping their families together when they have to move every two or three years and start all over again, and maintain a job. You imagine -- you talk about multitasking. You want a military spouse running your stuff. (Laughter.)
But that’s what we really need to -- that’s the branding we need to put on our men and women who serve this country.
Q And that’s the best thing about this, from my perspective. Because not only is it the right thing to do, but it is actually good business. And what we have found time and again is the training, the skillset, the leadership capabilities, the ability to live in situations like you’re talking about means that veterans tend to be better employees, and have longer potential, or greater potential than others.
And so that is I think - there is that cobranding that’s really important; that people understand how powerful that is and how this group of veterans is such a great potential talent pool for us.
I do also, just to emphasize the one other thing you said -- because I think we’ve done and will continue to do, I hope, a good job on hiring more and more veterans. But what I think we’re all now trying to do is go to stage two, which is how do we work with our portfolio companies to make these veterans successful? How do we figure out how to make them have long-term careers as opposed to just jobs?
And so I know that we’re working with a number of our HR departments and senior leadership at some of our portfolio companies -- I know that our peers are as well -- to start to think about training, mentorship, other types of guidance that I think will even further benefits the veterans and our companies.
Q A good example would be -- I returned to Carlyle from General Motors. The average time to train an electrician, the Navy spends one year, 52 weeks. Because when you’re at sea and a ship loses its power, as the one recently did in the Caribbean, you’re not -- you’re in a very perilous situation. So you have to have that power plant running all the time. Well, you’ve got to have electricians that are distributing that power.
And I can’t think of -- I had cousins that served in the Navy as well as myself. And they came back and they were master electricians in two years. On the assembly line, we loved getting veterans on there, because the skilled tradesmen that we had on the assembly line took six, seven years to train through the civilian process. They’d come in right out of the service.
And I think because it’s a volunteer force now, too many senior and midlevel managers do not understand or appreciate the amount of training that the military does provide, as you suggested. I mean, these are very highly trained, talented young men and women.
Q Mrs. Obama, one of the other real advantages that we’ve seen through the Joining Forces initiative is in addition to the employment priority, the balanced support for education and wellness is something that has helped motivate our companies become involved in supporting and partnering with veterans’ service organization in their communities. And that’s just spotting a whole lot of other very -- activity across the country.
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely. We have some strong resources out there. And it’s also important to talk about those resources, because there are veterans out there who don’t even know those resources exist.
So Nicole, we all have worked to make sure that veterans out there understand that there are these strong vet centers, and a number of veterans’ services organizations that can connect them into the pipeline of these opportunities. So I have to acknowledge the great work of those service organizations, because they’re part of that partnership too. It’s not just the government, it’s not just the private sector, but it’s these veteran nonprofit organizations too who have been working tirelessly on these issues.
And now we make it easier, because we organize ourselves on this end so that they’re not trying to figure out these systems of employment and training. So you’re absolutely correct.
And the question, as you point out, is how do we continue to not just hire and train, but retain and promote? That’s the next level. And many of you are already doing that. And we continue to reach out to new industries as well. Nicole, you may want to talk about sort of our next set of industry hopefuls while we have the attention of folks so that they know we’re coming for them. (Laughter.)
COLONEL MALACHOWSKI: Yes, ma’am. We will continue to have employment, obviously, with our three pillars. Employment is going to be continue to be important for Joining Forces over these next 14 months.
And one of the sectors that we are looking at and that we would like to I guess put the challenge out to now is the tech sector. And so I anticipate my team going out and looking at the tech sector and knocking on doors, and looking to see if we can get similar employment commitments, high-level, large commitments to hire our military veterans, as well as military spouses.
And a lot of people have said, oh, the tech sector, you mean coders and software developers? Yes, our military does in fact create some coders and software developers. But it’s the tech sector’s HR departments, their logistics and supply chains, their event planners -- you name it. There’s more to the tech sector than just the coders and the software developers.
And so we’re looking to see if we can engage the tech sector in all of those areas. And we’ll be knocking on your doors and making phone calls very soon. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: And we’re going to be looking for this kind of leadership commitment too. Because the reason why this works is that all of you set goals, business, focused goals. As you both have said, you had targets, you had clear guidelines, you had training within. And you all will be the model for those other industries.
And the fact that you all are competitors doing it within your own industry is a wonderful model. Because that’s what we want all these industries to do, is to share those lessons learned, and to make room for bringing our best talent into our companies.
So we’re excited about all that you all have done and will continue to do. And my commitment is that this is something -- and I know this is true for Jill as well -- this is something we’re going to do for the rest of our lives, no matter where we are. Because once you meet these men and women -- and this is something I always say -- I wish every American had the opportunity to spend some time on a base, or to spend some time with a military family. Because that’s what moved me to be in this position.
I don’t come from a military family. Jill does; they’re a Blue Star family, as you all know. But to spend time with these men and women, their children; to see the grace and the courage that they exhibit every single day; to sort of understand the true nature of their sacrifice, and how they do this without complaint -- it moves you to want to be better for them, to use whatever platform we all have to shine that light on these men and women so that they return and they live out the healthy lives and continue to contribute in ways that we know that -- we can’t afford to waste that talent.
So I’ll be knocking at your doors for quite a long time. (Laughter.) I’ll be around. And hopefully, we’ll have more reason to celebrate these milestones that we reach.
So I’m just grateful to you all, and look forward to more.
Q One comment I would make, as you’re going out and knocking on the door of the people in the tech sector -- there’s two things that you bring to them that I think sometimes you may undersell a little bit. And one of them, which I think we’re all beginning to understand, is that only 25 percent of Americans are qualified to be in the military. And then you invest a minimum of $100,000 into training of -- a minimum. It could be up to a million. So now that resource has -- as you were saying, shows up. And the time to effectiveness, and even the time to promotion, is -- it’s much smaller. So the business case for hiring these people is overwhelming.
And the second thing is the point that Steve was making, is you’re bringing an effective supply-side partner, meaning you. Because the coordination that has come from the Joining Forces team in terms of bringing Labor and Veterans Affairs and DOD -- the whole supply side of -- we have the need, we have the demand, but you have the supply. You’ve coordinated that and gotten it to us in a way that it makes the hiring happen faster.
Because things are happening fast in our businesses. And we say to our people all the time, if it’s hard, it’ll be slow. If it’s slow, we’re going to hire less. If it’s easy, it’ll be fast. And if it’s fast, we’ll hire more. And in fact, you’ve helped us to make it fast.
And this point about effective government -- from time to time, we have people from different aspects of the government that come through Blackstone, and they’ll go into a vitriolic kind of thing about the government this, and the government that, and I say, hey, hold on a second, let me give you an example of what it’s like when it works, when it really works. And this really works.
Q One thing, First Lady, you said that I think, from a military point of view -- when I got out in ’75, right after Vietnam, I went to a senior management meeting of the company I worked for. It was a Fortune 25. The CEO asked the veterans to stand up -- 70 percent of the crowd stood up.
And so going to the point you made that the HR people today in most companies don’t understand what the military does -- if you could somehow bridge the gap and try to draw a correlation between a military MOS or a Navy specialty, that how it applies to a civilian HR organization would facilitate to hire -- it’s a detail that -- if you’re talking to people or you’re speaking Greek and they’re speaking Italian, it’s not going to work.
So I think somehow the military could do some homework to help educate the civilian HR organizations to understand and appreciate the amount of training that goes in. For example, most of our nuclear power plants in this country -- I went to the Nuclear Power School out of the Naval Academy -- they’re run by people that served in the Navy. I would say having the guy sitting in front of a nuclear control panel -- were on submarines or on an aircraft carrier at some point in their career. I mean, the nuclear industry has benefitted from the Navy’s investment, I would say, at least a half a million dollars in training an officer (inaudible). So that’s a detail that I think sometimes we overlook.
COLONEL MALACHOWSKI: It’s an interesting point, this idea of skills translation and us being more proactive in educating your HR managers. And I think events like this are exactly what we're doing. This is a great first start of that outreach.
And I do know our partners in the federal government continue to put effort into that very point. And looking at it from a different point, you started us off by saying, I asked the veterans to stand -- I think if more companies did that with their veterans affinity groups, or asked them to self-identify, you actually have that resource too. Your HR shop could then utilize them to better help the resumé-screening process, or to better help the job description process.
And so there’s several different ways to come at that. But it’s a very wonderful observation. Thank you.
Q And I do think, as Sandy said earlier, this is not that hard of a sell. And Sandy said he called 15 CEOs of portfolio companies and they all said, I’m in. We have the same story. I’m sure Carlyle and TPG have the same story. You've got probably a hundred CEOs between the four firms -- some of which are technology businesses, by the way, or quasi-technology businesses.
MRS. OBAMA: Great. (Laughter.) All right, sign them up.
Q You got to start at that top. Because what we found -- you look at a company like First Data -- that was a CEO saying this is a priority. Put someone in charge. We're going to measure it. And lo and behold, they’ve hired two times the number of veterans that they’ve hired in the last three years, aggregated this year.
And I just think it won’t be that hard to sell. You’ve got to do what we're saying on the HR. But I think you get a few technology CEOs, you go to a few venture capital firms, do the same thing that you're doing here, I think you’ll have a real impact.
Q Yes, Mrs. Obama, and, Colonel, I was going to add the same point -- that you can actually look within the private equity sector for technology companies. First Data, which is the largest credit card processing company in the world. It’s a huge technology company. They have, certainly within the KKR portfolio, probably one of the leading veterans’ effort, both around hiring but then around development, retention. They’ve created a military affinity group. And they're also now realizing that a lot of veterans leave the service and want to be entrepreneurs and small business people. First Data is marketing to them and providing discounted credit card processing and opportunities, support for veterans to grow their businesses.
And then GoDaddy, which is another company we all know, right? GoDaddy was founded by a Vietnam vet, Bob Parsons. GoDaddy is also another technology company that has a very active military hiring program.
Q I’d just like to say that before we wrap up -- I’ve been involved in veterans affairs since I got out of the Marine Corps in 1968. I’m not going to try to pull rank, but I will pull age. (Laughter.)
I was frankly a little skeptical about this summit because I thought I knew a lot about what was going and what we were doing within TPG and the TPG portfolio. And I think this has been an astounding two days in terms of what I’ve learned, in terms of the sort of the cross-fertilization and cross-company and cross-portfolio company sharing. I really had no idea, Nicole, what the military was doing on this; what the -- Soldier Forever, what those programs were, how our companies could relate to those. I think that may have been the single-most valuable -- at least for me personally -- part of this entire two days. I think it’s really been terrific.
And I really just want thank you, Steve, and Blackstone for sort of leading the effort on this, because I think it has really been terrific and productive. And certainly, Mrs. Obama, thank you for your leadership on this. Really been terrific.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Well, just to leave on a quick story that moved me this year. Jill and I visited a veterans’ services center. And we met several vets who were in different stages. There was on gentleman, older gentleman who was a Vietnam vet. And Jill and I were like wondering whether the efforts that we were doing on high with Joining Forces were tricking down at all -- because that's ultimately what we want to know. It’s not just words. And are these efforts really being felt on the ground.
And this gentleman said that when he first came back from Vietnam, for many years after that, he never wanted to identify as a veteran. He said he was just so terrified of the reaction he would get that he wouldn’t wear a pin or a hat. He said in the last few years, he said he won’t leave his house without something that indicates that he’s a veteran, because nowadays everyone stops him and says, thank you for your service. We're so proud of you. He says, everywhere he goes.
So he said he makes it a point every day before he leaves the house, he’s going to find his pin, his --
Q I always wear my Marine Corps pin my lapel. And when somebody says to me, thank you for your service. You know what I say? I say, hire a veteran.
MRS. OBAMA: There you go. (Laughter.)
1:40 P.M. EDT
This past Tuesday, Google announced its newest endeavor that will change the way we interact with technology. The company launched Android Wear, a user interface that’s designed for a wrist watch. Although these types of devices are nothing new, none of them significantly alter the way we communicate, and as of now are just smaller phones strapped around our wrists.
Android Wear’s platform is a game changer because it reacts to your surroundings, and uses its knowledge about you to anticipate what you’ll need. Theoretically, if you’re standing in front of a coffee shop, you won’t have to find a Yelp a review of it on the one-inch screen. The watch will sense where you are and have the review waiting for you.
This passive interface is the key to Android Wear’s innovation, but isn’t a new development for the company. Last year, Google launched Google Now on its phones, which uses “cards” to predict and dispense useful information. Things like travel delays, entertainment you searched for, and the current weather are all at the tip of your fingers without having to ask for it.
Cooking live lobster at home is not a task for the faint of heart. But here’s one thing seafood eaters don’t have to worry about.
“Lobsters don’t have vocal cords, alright? They do not exist in a lobster. They don’t scream,” said Susan Povich, who owns Red Hook Lobster Pound with her husband Ralph Gorham. “What you’re hearing is steam escaping from the carapace — from the hard shell of the body — if you hear anything. You might be hearing your child scream when you put the lobster in the water.”
If you’re feeling up for the task, lobster is in season year round. During the winter months, lobster have hard shells and a fuller, more briny, flavor, Povich explained. That’s because adult lobsters generally molt once or twice a year, and molting usually occurs in conjunction with the spring or fall change in water temperatures.
“After the lobster molts and the shells form up, I believe, is when you get that sort of sweet, summery, Maine lobster taste that everyone associates with lobster,” she added. So expect that to be in about a month, after the weather starts warming up.
At the Red Hook Lobster Pound, she serves two versions of lobster rolls: one with mayonnaise and another with butter. Povich, whose family hails from Bar Harbor, Maine, said that mayonnaise is how it’s traditionally served (with the exception of the famous Red’s Eats in Wiscasett, Maine). She coined the term “Connecticut lobster roll” to describe the butter version after reading about a salesman who requested the variation at a Connecticut restaurant.
When choosing a lobster to cook at home, Povich advised looking for one that’s lively. That means it should curve its tail and arch its torso like Superman when picked up.
(Photo: Susan Povich/Courtesy of Red Hook Lobster Pound)
For those feeling squeamish about cooking the lobster live but determined to press forward, Povich offered this tip. “If you want to kind of put the lobsters to sleep, you can put the lobsters in the freezer in a bag for 20 minutes before you put them in the water,” she said. “They do tend to go a bit dormant.”
At home, Povich combines boiling and steaming methods. She starts with a few inches of water in the bottom of the pot — about four fingers of water for four lobsters. She adds a varying combination of fennel, onion, carrots, bay leaf, beer, and peppercorns.
“I bring that to a … rolling boil,” Povich said. “I let those ingredients... season the water a little bit and then I put my lobsters in head first and put the lid on.” She said that method is faster than just steaming the lobsters, and recommends leaving hard-shell lobsters in for 15 to 20 minutes after the water returns to a rolling boil. A soft-shell lobster is done in about 12 minutes.
Here recipe for that method of cooking lobster is below.
4 lobsters (1.5 lbs each)
1 cup white wine or beer
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 stalks celery — cut in thirds
¼ cup sea salt
4 bay leaves
fennel tops (if you have some)
1 Tbs. Old Bay seasoning (optional)
Place all ingredients (except lobsters) in a tall pot. Fill with water so that water is 4 fingers tall (around 2.5 inches). Cover tightly and bring to a rolling boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes. Place each lobster, head down, tail curled under, in the pot. Cover, and bring back to a rolling boil. After 5 minutes, uncover and rotate lobsters (bottom to top, top to bottom). Cover again, raise heat to high and steam/boil an additional 3-4 minutes for soft-shell lobsters or 6-7 minutes for hard-shell lobsters. Remove and let lobsters sit and drain for 5 minutes. (Add 2 minutes additional cooking time per additional lobster, though we don’t recommend cooking more than 4 at a time).
Address: Indian Rock Nature Preserve, 501 Wolcott Rd. (Rte. 69) , Bristol, CT 06010.
Renaissance farm guest speaker Linda Graham discusses there's nothing like fresh vegetables "right off the vine," so why not create a container vegetable garden? Registration is recommended.
Research involving more than 1,500 patients suggests people with Crohn's may have too many of the types of gut bacteria that tend to rile the immune system and too few that reduce inflammation.
The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center recently posted a spectacular set of images on Flickr entitled 'Gravity' in reference to the award-winning, blockbuster film Gravity known for its beautiful cinematography and imagery of space. NASA Goddard's images, however, are even more extraordinary because of the fact that they are most definitely real images of the International Space Station, Space Shuttle, NASA astronauts, and various shots of the Earth captured from space.
The breathtaking images are literally out of this world, inspiring awe at the sheer scale and beautiful mystery of outer space. It's extraordinarily humbling to look at images of our planet rotating far below the International Space Station, and to think of the fact that all life as we know it is just a tiny part of this small blue globe floating in the vast cosmos. One can't help but admire the courage of the astronauts, and hope that they continue to blaze forward in their exploration of the universe around us.
Be sure to check out more amazing images from the self-described "science storytellers" at NASA by following their Flickr photostream.
We’ve all seen that iconic image of a straw sticking out of a picture-perfect orange. Turns out, making mass marketed orange juice is not nearly so simple or even natural.
If you’ve ever flipped over packaged food and checked for high fructose corn syrup in the ingredient list, there’s something you should know: “Experts… say that when it comes to calories and nutrition, sugar is sugar is sugar,” says Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. “And it even gets worse, because they’ll throw in fruit juice, as well."