Tuesday, October 30, 2012

So This Is the Aftermath

Hurricane (except not-so-much) Sandy hit land last night and, other than a few anxious flights of fancy, we were absolutely fine.  So, really, the overwhelming feeling is relief.  Bits of the neighbourhood were hit hard - trees ripping out the pavement, smashed into a house; four-by-fours with smashed windscreens under a large trunk - but, fortunately, we are on high ground and power remains.  But friends remain without electricity or water; one friend's colleague is bereaved, with his nephew's house hit by a tree while the family slept.  I can't imagine how dreadfully unlucky that is, how painful.  Another friend of mine lost her brother - not through a storm-induced injury, but I imagine arranging the funeral and other details must be a nightmare in the post-Sandy city.  So, really, relief seems appropriate.  Hunkering down to spend time with family at this point is really not in any way a hardship.

Monday, October 29, 2012


A few weeks ago, a colleague and I navigated to the live stream that the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, broadcasts each day that it has oral argument. The argument in question was certainly one that appealed to our prurient interests.  The question presented to the court:  Whether private lap dances in a strip club are artistic performances, such that they are exempt from sales tax.

It was genuinely a fascinating debate.  Seriously, more so than just for the giggling at hearing the Justices debate the finer points of whether or not lap dances are art, or choreographed, or whatever. I do think it ties into an interesting deeper question about what you think the women who work there do. It is easy to be dismissive of this work, and the performances, but it does take skill, training, and flair.

Last week the Court of Appeals handed down its decision.  The court was split 4-3, but the majority found that the private dances were not exempt from the sales tax. That is, they were not artistic performances, with choreographic elements. 

A few points of interest:
  1. I have to say, from a lawyering point of view, the evidence presented seemed to open the door for the Court of Appeals to find against the night club.  They had an expert's report that went into detail regarding the choreographed, expert moves of the women in the nightclub.  But that report made no mention of what happened in the private rooms, and the Court latched onto that. Although I don't think the outcome would have been different, I think the majority would have found itself in a much harder position to hold against the strip club if it had presented evidence of the dance and performances that took place in the private rooms. As it was, the Court was given a slowish ball straight up the middle, and took advantage of that (baseball metaphor for you all). 
  2. The dissent has a piece of reasoning toward the end that I find persuasive; basically, that it was distaste for the appeal of the performances, rather than the skill and its content, that led to the club having to pay tax.  I think this section is particularly nicely written (albeit I don't buy the disapproval, necessarily):
    Like the majority and the Tribunal, I find this particular form of dance unedifying -- indeed, I am stuffy enough to find it distasteful. Perhaps for similar reasons, I do not read Hustler magazine; I would rather read the New Yorker. I would be appalled, however, if the State were to exact from Hustler a tax that the New Yorker did not have to pay, on the ground that what appears in Hustler is insufficiently "cultural and artistic." That sort of discrimination on the basis of
    content would surely be unconstitutional. It is not clear to me why the discrimination that the majority approves in this case stands on any firmer constitutional footing.
  3. Whether or not you agree with the outcome, one thing that I found genuinely distasteful about this whole shebang was that the male attorneys and those male justices on the court repeatedly referred to the women who work in the club as "girls."  Occasionally, if one were lucky, one would hear "dancer."  But, otherwise, it was "girls." I might even have taken a "lady" reference, but did not have to make that decision.  Just girls. 

Making It Real

This weekend we wandered (and by wandered, I mean took a long old drive) down to Pennsylvania.  We were hoping to catch the leaves changing, but knew that there was a chance that even heading south, we might miss them.  So we thought that to keep the folks and us entertained, we would go somewhere with alternatives, namely Amish country, and Gettysburg.  And those alternatives really were something else. 

I'm not going to go into it at length, yet - still processing - but Gettysburg was amazing.  We watched the Ken Burns Civil War documentary, but a lot of it jumbled together.  Nonetheless, Gettysburg stood out, and seeing the fields - with the seemingly haphazard memorials in fact accurately placed for each platoon, for a Confederate General's fall, for the line that the Army of Northern Virginia pierced but did not fully breach - brought home the scale and reality of it in a way that I had not previously been able to process. 

Nonetheless, the whole time, I had a nagging feeling in the back of my head that wanted to know what one of my favourite writers had said about Gettysburg.  I was sure he had visited; now I needed to know how he had processed it, his reactions.  And I think, as per usual, what he had to say is more interesting and useful, in many ways, than my own jumbled thoughts right now.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

How I Learned to Eat Fruit

Or:  Pour Sugar All over That Stuff.

I am not a big fruit eater.  Well, correction: When I am in a country where I can get certain fruits freshly grown and plucked, I will eat papaya, mango, pineapple, guava, figs, guanabana, 'til my every pore oozes with the scent of those fragrant, warm climes fruits.  I adore them.  But here on the Eastern Seaboard, the lack of freshness makes those fruits taste dull, metallic.  Not that I won't eat them at all, but they're usually slightly disappointing, unless you get extremely lucky.

And, other than watermelon during the ripe season,* I'm not a big fruit eater.  Blackberries just remind me of our bramble bushes in my back garden at home, where somehow my mother has the knack of growing pounds of the buggers each year.  Rambling through the thorns, picking up oozing, giant brambles and stuffing our faces with them, covering ourselves and our clothes in them - that's how blackberries should be eaten, not slightly cold and sour.  Raspberries I love, but somehow rarely pick up in the shops.

I'm trying to eat more and, to try something different, a while back I made a strawberry and rhubarb compote, based on an internet recipe I found, to have with waffles for breakfast.  (Can't imagine what put me in the mood).  I did; and it was great.  So I've been experimenting a little with my methods, and have come up with what I think is a pretty lovely way to eat breakfast.

Strawberry & Ginger & [AN Other Fruit] Breakfast Compote

First, I chop up one of the big boxes of strawberries you get here in the US.  I think they're about 1lb.  Cut off the stalks, chop up the fruit, and put into a frying pan/skillet over a low-medium heat.  If I have other fruit I want to throw in, I do those then, too.  Recently I've been using a couple of peaches.  Skins on (fibre!), but chopped up.  Then I add a bit of icing sugar.  In British terms, it's about 3.5oz, or around 100g.  In U.S. terms, it's not icing but confectioner's (or powdered) sugar, and it's about 3/4 cup.  Then I grate in a small knob of raw ginger - about 1 inch, cubed.  Then I bring it to the boil, which sounds weird, but the juices all bubble up.  You let it boil for a little while - maybe one-two minutes - stirring all the while, and then you reduce the heat so it's simmering.  That's the point at which I add balsamic vinegar.  Yes, it seems a bit restauranty, but the acid cuts through the sugariness of the strawberries, while the vinegar provides an unusual sweetness.  I also add black pepper, too, so that there is some heat with the pepper and the ginger.  Then some fresh mint from our back garden.  I shred in about 6 small leaves.  Then I just let it simmer down for about 30-45 minutes.  Weirdly, if you simmer it too low, you don't get as many of the juices; I think it's because the temperature isn't high enough to fully break down the fruit.  You have to be careful for the fruit sugars burning, but I like the mixture a little sticky and caramelized.

Then I whack on top of low-fat/whole grain waffles, and serve with either greek yogurt or sour cream; maybe with some chopped almonds or pumpkin seeds on top.  Either way: bonza.

* Admittedly, most of which I consume in the form of Murricanes.  

Friday, October 05, 2012

Unexplained Pause: The Sequel

After the first pause came the second.  It's hard to explain why this has happened.  It might be to do with my change in schedule with the new job, but it's not clear to me.  I've certainly worked more hours and yet blogged more in the past.

The new semester has started apace, with many projects going ahead and a flurry of activity and new people and names to learn.  Of course, the biggest change thus far is that TOH is actually living in the same state - it's bliss.  Of course, we can't make it that easy - he is working in another state, and like a demon right now, with so many things on.  So it's a transition period, in some ways, but it's still rather special to go to bed and wake up together. It's also nice to do domestic things - rearranging furniture and the garden; cook a lot... but we've probably not managed as much of the goals as we'd wanted.  We've certainly made little progress with Friday Night Lights (I know, I know, but, based on practice, we must revel in being so far behind with tv shows), and our aim to explore a new local place a week has not worked so well thus far.  We'll manage it, I'm sure.  The three-day weekend should help us have some time to do something local. I hope.