Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Smart is as Smart Does

I was going to post a picture of the gaggle of goons starring in the recent Republican proto-candidates "debate," with the caption "Satan's Little Helpers" but it's just too sad.

They're all smart enough to get to enjoy travel, luxury accomodations and generally living large without actually working or even being coherent. Except for the coherency part, exactly like a criminal kingpin does. Someone in a blog comment made the distinction that despite being proven wrong in every single one of her claims and statements, Michele Bachmann is not stupid, like her drooling twin Sarah Palin. She seems to have that type of amoral sociopathic intelligence that has propelled so many like Lucky Luciano, Dubya Bush, Stalin and many religious cult leaders to heights of unrestrained power.

So, America, turn your burning eyes away from such awful spectacle to a very small high school in Odessa, Washington State, where young Kira Powell, 16, is one of four students in an advanced chemistry class. She recently won prizes at a science competition and a symposium for her independent project. Kira wondered about the properties of that powder (sodium polyacrylate, a polymer) inside disposable diapers that absorbs liquid and holds it so well. Since it is nontoxic, she used it on test patches of dry farmland (plentiful around Odessa), and the results were impressive: 22% - 27% more wheat was produced with its use. In either normal or abnormal dry conditions, these crystals in the soil which retain 800x their weight in water would almost be worth that weight in gold (pre-2008, of course). I have no idea what the cost/benefit ratio actually is, but Kira, you give us some hope.

And, she won a state golf championship!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spirits in the Night

Last night Zach invited us to the restaurant to investigate the new theme and menu. The name changed from Elephant and Castle (a franchise within a small chain) to The Copper Cup, the result of calling in a restaurant consultant and designer.

I really liked the existing English pub decor and feel, so I'm glad the new name fits with it and won't require a complete makeover. The name has a meaning, though: the Moscow Mule is the featured drink, and it comes in a lovely copper cup. Actually, any number of Mules, because there seem to be many variations. I had a Prague Mule (ginger vodka, ginger beer and lime juice) and it was most refreshing on a very hot evening; the longer it sits (and that wasn't very long) the colder it gets, with the cup covered with glistening condensation. Zach says the Garden Mule is even better, with julienned strips of pear in it. Since I love to do research, I must pursue this.
The menu had not been changed in years, but most evenings Zach has come up with specials to keep things interesting. The new one is lively; I tried the Mediterranean Chicken and Nancy had to have Zach's famous crabcakes, which are spicier now and have no bread crumbs at all. A lot of crustaceans gave their all to make these, but it was surely worth their sacrifice.
We have recently become adventurous in the world of adult beverages, at an age when most people have long settled on what they like and wouldn't think of changing. We now keep the wine rack filled, while in previous years we would only purchase a bottle for birthdays or holidays. We still stick with wine in the winter and beer in the summer, but we've added Mike's Hard Lemonade, limoncello and martinis to the hot-weather antidotes. My parents always drank gin martinis and I could not, and still cannot, figure out how anyone can stand them. With vodka, you can do many things while still calling it a martini, but without vermouth, they really aren't. But who's quibbling. Nancy discovered the Lemon Drop Martini at a Cheesecake Factory in the King of Prussia Mall, and we're now shaking our own with fresh-squeezed lemon juice in some rather oversized glasses. Two of those, and you aren't going to be getting anything productive done for the rest of the evening.
Back when water was polluted and would likely kill you, people of all ages considered alcoholic beverages healthy, consuming them in a wide variety of styles daily. The old English tradition of making "perry" from pears was replicated in New England, and the ancient honey-based mead was made in Vermont. Hard cider was and still is preferred to beer and ale, believe it or not, in rural parts of the United Kingdom; it was of course widely produced in colonial America once the non-native apple took hold, where it was known as applejack. Peaches being more common in the South, peach brandy was made there. Ben Franklin made spruce beer and George Washington, America's largest maker of rye whiskey in his time, also produced a molasses-based beer. The pilgrims of the early 1600s made beer like what we call porter or stout today, and some Indian corn based brew.
During the filming of The African Queen, Huston, Bogart and crew drank incessantly and that seemingly killed all the internal bacteria and parasites that the wretched humid jungle location swarmed with; Katherine Hepburn did not and was sick most of the time. An extreme solution to an extreme situation; back in civilization and especially in traffic, that behavior would mean disaster rather than preservation.
People will go too far with anything, though, especially those personality types drawn to risk-taking, thrills and sensation. What evolutionary advantage lies in humanity's capacity for addiction, I don't know. A compulsion like hoarding or overeating can't compare with the long, sad trail of destruction caused by alcoholism or bingeing. American alcohol consumption peaked in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, some say at 7.1 gallons per capita annually, leading to an inevitable backlash and the first prohibition statute, in Maine in 1851. It has held steady at around 2.1 - 2.3 gallons per capita since then.
In an ideal world, the temperature would always be between 50 and 80 degrees, there would be long days and short nights, people would eschew irrational and hateful beliefs, overpopulation would somehow naturally not happen, advertising would be minimal, and we would know how to enjoy the gifts of life with good sense rather than stupid abuse.
Until then, we know that it's all too short to drink bad beer.