Dumpling Soup

Last night I had a dream that I was making a dumpling soup.

So today I made one.

Until very recently I’ve never used anything more than a few tablespoons out of a bag of flower for a roux or a thickener. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of very flower-centered work in the kitchen, despite not having had a working stove for the entire six years that I’ve lived here (see “Tyler Durden’s House,” 15 April 2007). But tonight was the first time I’ve ever made anything that required me to knead and allow rest.

My first product requiring kneading, 28 July 2009

I could almost hear Alton Brown’s voice explaining the formation of the gluten structures and the importance of the right balance of kneading and rest to texture.

Anyway, cut off spoon-sized pieces, ball them up, drop them in the boiling pot and violà:

Boiling dumplings in soup, 28 July 2009

Dumpling soup.

Sweltering Rain

A hot, wet night in Washington, D.C., 23-24 July 2009

It alternated scorching heat and opaque, battering summer storms all day today. The monumental buildings may mislead that this is the seven hills of Rome — the Potomac is our Tiber, or perhaps given it’s inaccessibility, our Chao Phraya — but after you’ve lived here for a while there’s no mistaking it: the heat, the damp, the vegetation, the smells of decaying plant gonads, the short primitive trees, the cicadas: Washington, D.C. is a swamp.

Space Rendezvous

Okay, so my posts on Apollo 11 have been a little Stanley Kubrick-esque. In the film 2001 (Wikipedia | IMDB), the proto-human throws a bone into the air where it is suddenly replaced by ship engaged in an elaborate docking maneuver with a rotating space station, set to Strauss’s waltz, Blue Danube. It is one of my favorite scenes in all of cinematography because of its purely aural-visual implication of the technological continuum from the first tool through the most unrecognizably advanced, and then, in the dance of space ships, the humaneness of otherwise inhuman machines .

On space maneuvers being like dance, here’s the official NASA Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary from the radio broadcast of the mission explaining what’s going to happen during the docking maneuvers of Command Module Columbia and Lunar Module Eagle (APOLLO 11 MISSION COMMENTARY, NASA, Manned Spaceflight Center, Houston, TX, 7/21/69 CDT 13:40, GET 125:08, 413/1, p. 466):

In all of these maneuvers Mike Collins aboard Columbia is spring loaded to do what is called a mirror image maneuver approximately a minute after the Eagle is scheduled to make its maneuver, and if for some reason Eagle can not make the maneuver, Collins would do the exact same maneuver only in reverse so that Columbia would in effect begin a CSM active rendezvous with Eagle.

The dance analogy seems apt here because, like Ginger Rogers with Fred Astaire, Michael Collins had to do everything that Buzz Aldrin did, only backwards and in a command module.

Apollo 11

At 20:18 UTC / 4:18 PM Eastern time, Lunar Moduel Eagle landed on the surface of the moon. Six hours of checking over instrumentation, preparations and suiting up ensued. At 02:56 UTC / 10:56 PM Eastern time, forty years ago, Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder of the Lunar Module and became the first human to walk on the surface of a planet other than the one on which he originated.

The clichéd original “Yes we can” refrain aside, I often reflect on the fact that humans have been to the Moon and find that I can hardly believe it. And we did it forty years ago. It’s a feat I would be hard pressed to imagine we could do today, and yet we did it forty years ago!

This is a picture of a human walking on another planet:

20 July 1969, Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon

This is a man in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Three and a half million years earlier, humans looked more like this:

Australopithecus afarensis depicted in the Laetoli footprints diorama at the Natural History Museum, New York

This, a hairless ape, set out to explore the universe forty years ago.

This is a picture of a lander vehicle and an interplanetary vehicle conducting docking maneuvers in orbit around another planet (the Earth can be seen 384,403 km away in the distance):

21 July 1969, Lunar Module Eagle as seen from Command Module Columbia

We have actually constructed vehicles for the purpose of flying to other planets, and other vehicles for landing, and those vehicles have done so, and conducted maneuvers in orbit around another planet. There are people among us who know how to do this: engineers who can design and construct the vehicles, physics who can plot the course and lay out a mission plan, people capable of piloting the ships. It’s hard to believe.

That it has been forty years since we have done such a thing seems like a bit of a fall. What must it be like to be one of these people, a relic of the future?

Frenetic Fojol Cusping on Celebrity

It’s been a big couple of days for the Fojol Brothers. Thursday was their weekday lunch debut and they were back again on Friday (I parenthetically hedged, though they said right there in their tweet that it was their first weekday daytime appearance).

Fojol Brothers, Lamont Park, Mount Pleasant, 19 July 2009

Today they were in my neighborhood on the corner of Lamont Park in Mount Pleasant. And it was quite a show. There are two new Fojol sisters, Mewshah and Bhujaja. The AcroFiends were there, just to eat though, Peter / Kipoto, girlfriend in tow, was there out of costume as it was supposed to be his day off from Fojol.

Kahn, Howie, "Keep On Food Truckin'," GQ, August 2009, p. 34

On Thursday they told me that they were getting profiled in GQ. On Friday Justin / Dingo had the issue with him and they got the introductory page to a whole piece on food carts in various cities.

Seattle's Maximus Minimus pig truck

As is often the case with such articles, it’s somewhat arbitrary in selection. For instance, I have no idea how GQ could have missed Seattle’s mind-bogglingly tricked out Maximus Minimus (website | twitter).

After wrapping up in Mount Pleasant today, the Fojol Brothers tweet that they will be at Eastern Market all day tomorrow.

Our Odyssey

Countdown to launch of Apollo 11, Firing Room 1, Kennedy Space Flight Center, 16 July 1969

NASA is currently streaming the complete mission recording of Apollo 11 in real time in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing.

It feels appropriate to listen to an Apollo 11 cycle, so to speak. This is a performance of an incredible history and a true adventure. This is our Odyssey. The Iliad and the Odyssey were typically performed over three nights. Apollo 11 was four days from launch to touchdown on the Moon (16-20 July 1969; splashdown back on Earth 24 July). John F. Kennedy, Wernher von Braun, Neil Armstrong are our Homer, Agamemnon, Akhilleus and Priam.

I have heard it explained that part of the reason that Joyce’s Ulysses is such a pastiche is that he was trying to cram all the language of Dublin into a single work. Similarly, this week I was talking with some people about the way that David Foster Wallace appropriated the languages of commercial communication, technical writing, bureaucratic memoranda or the casual writing of e-mail to the purpose of literature. The language of our Odyssey is not Dublin bar talk, lyrical poetry or bard’s tale, but bureaucratese, engineering-speak: gage readings, mission book codes, equipment test reports, pre-burn checklists. Instead of the lyre and drum, we have the harmonics of white noise — a combination of the cosmic background radiation and electromagnetic interference of the communication and recording gear itself — and the synthetic electronic beeps of computers.

Fojol Do Lunch

Fojol Brother Peter Korbel, weekday lunch in front of the IMF building, 16 July 2009

Fojol Brothers had their first (at least since I’ve been following them) weekday lunch. They parked at the corner of 19th and Pennsylvania Avenue, at Edward R. Murrow Park in front of the IMF building, necessitating a bit of a hike on my part, but always worth it.

While ordering, Peter (above) told me that a picture of me was included in their write-up in Brightest Young Things (Nicholson, Alex and Dakota Fine, “Hitting the Streets With: Fojol Brothers of Merlinida,”, 13 July 2009). This is not a surprise since they asked if I would pose for a food shot. I’m the guy in the bike helmet in the first large photo. Oddly enough this was my first time catching the Fojol Brothers. In the photograph accompanying my first post on the Fojol Brothers, I think that the guy in the foreground turning around to look back is Dakota Fine, the photographer for the Brightest Young Things piece.

I think that the Fojol Brothers have so far been limited to nights and weekends by their other commitments. I hope this is an indication that things are viable enough where they’re going to be doing it a lot more.

The Internet is Still Very, Very New

The Stranger “reviews” twitter and makes the obvious, though necessary point (Constant, Paul, “Paul Constant Reviews Twitter,” The Stranger, 30 June 2009):

So I’m going to say something that might strike you as weird and naive, but it’s true. Listen: The internet is still very, very new.

Most people haven’t even been on the internet for 10 years yet. Ten years! Every technology is lawless frontier after just 10 years.

Television was still radio with scenery 10 years after its inception. People pointed, awestruck, at planes 10 years after Kittyhawk.

We’re just learning what the internet can do, and we’ll learn a lot more once children born today grow up with today’s internet.

For the first three years of twitter, it was easy to lampoon the service as the ultimate medium for whining about first world problems. But then the Iranian election happened and overnight it became a tool for unleashing social transformation and the indispensable news medium. The Internet is still new. Many potential services lay as yet unimplemented. Many will at first seem trivial or demeaning of this or that high value (“Is Google making us stupid?”). They will seem so until the moment when they transform into something utterly other than their original intention, specification, design.

Good point aside, can we have no more articles about twitter written entirely of 140 character paragraphs. It was cute at first, but now it’s just very gimmicky. It was worth it once for the style of the thing, but now to do so only detracts from your larger point. The 140 character message has its place and it is not the short-form essay.

On the Whistle-Stop Tour the Action is at the Caboose

As I posted again and again and again on the bizarre and sublimated love affair of Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush, Jr., and in the interest of being fair and balanced, and because I’m a prurient ass hole, I have no choice but to post on this photo:

G8 Summit, President Obama and Brazilian Junior Delegate Mayora Taveres, 10 July 2009

Forget about all that stuff about how photos lie and what the video shows. Liberals need to offer a full-throated defense of the President in this situation. So, in the President’s defense, I offer that that is a hot piece of ass! And this is not just any piece of ass we are talking about here: this is Brazilian ass. I mean, a piece of Argentinean ass was enough to suck out the brain of Mark Sanford, leaving him a drooling, misty-eyed, blubbering microcephalic. So long as President Obama refrains from inflicting upon us tales of a fuchsia dress circa 2014, whatever (could “junior delegates” be the new interns?).

More impressive than President Obama is that dastardly, self-satisfied look on the face of President Nicolas Sarkozy, European Mephistopheles standing next to the virtuous, but naïve — especially in the mechanics of love — American, pleased with his handy bit of work in tempting the America naïf with the fruits of colonial adolescence. I don’t think President Sarkozy is so much admiring this Brazilian can, as looking at President Obama, enjoying a moment of male recognition, reveling in the fall of one of his fellows.

How do you pick a title for a post like this. I don’t know which political-strategic-cum-sexual pun to go with: interceptor missiles, emissions, some play on G8, what?

Knowledge is a Network

Bollen, Johan, et al., Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science, Public Library of Science One

Knowledge is a network phenomenon. Only primitive knowledge consists of non-systematized catalogues of facts. System is the highest state of knowledge. Right now the system of our knowledge might be said to be clumpy, with well developed disciplines, but tenuous connections between them. Knowledge is still subject to cluster analysis. The apogee of knowledge will be a system of complete propositional consistency.

I present here a selection of discussions of the network nature of knowledge:

Kevin Kelly (“The Fifth and Sixth Discontinuity,” The Technium, 15 June 2009):

We casually talk about the “discovery of America” in 1492, or the “discovery of gorillas” in 1856, or the “discovery of vaccines” in 1796. Yet vaccines, gorillas and America were not unknown before their “discovery.” Native peoples had been living in the Americas for 10,000 years before Columbus arrived and they had explored the continent far better than any European ever could. Certain West African tribes were intimately familiar the gorilla, and many more primate species yet to be “discovered.” Dairy farmers had long been aware of the protective power of vaccines that related diseases offered, although they did not have a name for it. The same argument can be made about whole libraries worth of knowledge — herbal wisdom, traditional practices, spiritual insights — that are “discovered” by the educated but only after having been long known by native and folk peoples. These supposed “discoveries” seems imperialistic and condescending, and often are.

Yet there is one legitimate way in which we can claim that Columbus discovered America, and the French-American explorer Paul du Chaillu discovered gorillas, and Edward Jenner discovered vaccines. They “discovered” previously locally known knowledge by adding it to the growing pool of structured global knowledge. Nowadays we would call that accumulating structured knowledge science. Until du Chaillu’s adventures in Gabon any knowledge about gorillas was extremely parochial; the local tribes’ vast natural knowledge about these primates was not integrated into all that science knew about all other animals. Information about “gorillas” remained outside of the structured known. In fact, until zoologists got their hands on Paul du Chaillu’s specimens, gorillas were scientifically considered to be a mythical creature similar to Big Foot, seen only by uneducated, gullible natives. Du Chaillu’s “discovery” was actually science’s discovery. The meager anatomical information contained in the killed animals was fitted into the vetted system of zoology. Once their existence was “known,” essential information about the gorilla’s behavior and natural history could be annexed. In the same way, local farmers’ knowledge about how cowpox could inoculate against small pox remained local knowledge and was not connected to the rest of what was known about medicine. The remedy therefore remained isolated. When Jenner “discovered” the effect, he took what was known locally, and linked its effect into to medical theory and all the little science knew of infection and germs. He did not so much “discover” vaccines as much as he “linked in” vaccines. Likewise America. Columbus’s encounter put America on the map of the globe, linking it to the rest of the known world, integrating its own inherent body of knowledge into the slowly accumulating, unified body of verified knowledge. Columbus joined two large continents of knowledge into a growing global consilience.

The reason science absorbs local knowledge and not the other way around is because science is a machine we have invented to connect information. It is built to integrate new knowledge with the web of the old. If a new insight is presented with too many “facts” that don’t fit into what is already known, then the new knowledge is rejected until those facts can be explained. A new theory does not need to have every unexpected detail explained (and rarely does) but it must be woven to some satisfaction into the established order. Every strand of conjecture, assumption, observation is subject to scrutiny, testing, skepticism and verification. Piece by piece consilience is built.

Pierre Bayard (How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read [New York: Bloomsbury, 2007]):

As cultivated people know (and, to their misfortune, uncultivated people do not), culture is above all a matter of orientation. Being cultivated is a matter not of having read any book in particular, but of being able to find your bearings within books as a system, which requires you to know that they form a system and to be able to locate each element in relation to the others. …

Most statements about a book are not about the book itself, despite appearances, but about the larger set of books on which our culture depends at that moment. It is that set, which I shall henceforth refer to as the collective library, that truly matters, since it is our mastery of this collective library that is at stake in all discussions about books. But this mastery is a command of relations, not of any book in isolation …

The idea of overall perspective has implications for more than just situating a book within the collective library; it is equally relevant to the task of situating each passage within a book. (pgs. 10-11, 12, 14)

And I might add that it is not only passages within a book, but passages between books. Books, passages, paragraphs, et cetera are all stand-ins for or not-quite-there-yet stabs at the notion of memes. It is the relation of memes that is critical and books or passages therefrom are proxies or meme carriers. A book is a bundle of memes. And those memes bear a certain set of relations to all the other memes bundled in all the other books (or magazines, memos, blog posts, radio broadcasts, conversations, thoughts, or any of the other carriers of memes).

This brings us to the ur-theory of them all, W.V.O. Quine’s thumb-nail sketch epistemology from “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” (The Philosophical Review vol. 60, 1951, pp. 20-43; Reprinted in From a Logical Point of View [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953; second, revised, edition 1961]):

The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Reevaluation of some statements entails re-evaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections — the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field. Having reevaluated one statement we must reevaluate some others, whether they be statements logically connected with the first or whether they be the statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so undetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to reevaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.

If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement — especially if it be a statement at all remote from the experiential periphery of the field. Furthermore it becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements which hold come what may. Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics; and what difference is there in principle between such a shift and the shift whereby Kepler superseded Ptolemy, or Einstein Newton, or Darwin Aristotle?

For vividness I have been speaking in terms of varying distances from a sensory periphery. Let me try now to clarify this notion without metaphor. Certain statements, though about physical objects and not sense experience, seem peculiarly germane to sense experience — and in a selective way: some statements to some experiences, others to others. Such statements, especially germane to particular experiences, I picture as near the periphery. But in this relation of “germaneness” I envisage nothing more than a loose association reflecting the relative likelihood, in practice, of our choosing one statement rather than another for revision in the event of recalcitrant experience. For example, we can imagine recalcitrant experiences to which we would surely be inclined to accommodate our system by reevaluating just the statement that there are brick houses on Elm Street, together with related statements on the same topic. We can imagine other recalcitrant experiences to which we would be inclined to accommodate our system by reevaluating just the statement that there are no centaurs, along with kindred statements. A recalcitrant experience can, I have already urged, be accommodated by any of various alternative reevaluations in various alternative quarters of the total system; but, in the cases which we are now imagining, our natural tendency to disturb the total system as little as possible would lead us to focus our revisions upon these specific statements concerning brick houses or centaurs. These statements are felt, therefore, to have a sharper empirical reference than highly theoretical statements of physics or logic or ontology. The latter statements may be thought of as relatively centrally located within the total network, meaning merely that little preferential connection with any particular sense data obtrudes itself.

As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries — not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.

Image from Bollen, Johan, Herbert Van de Sompel, Aric Hagberg, Luis Bettencourt, Ryan Chute, et al., “Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science,” Public Library of Science One, vol. 4, no. 3, March 2009, e4803, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004803. See article for a larger version.