Monthly Archives: February 2008

Friday Random Recipe: Moroccan Spiced Roast Duck

This recipe is based on a recipe for Moroccan spiced duck breasts, from
The Soul of a New Cuisine,
Marcus Samuelsson’s new African cookbook. Chef Samuelsson is the guy who’s
responsible for getting me to eat beef after not touching the stuff for
nearly two years. He’s a very interesting guy – born in Ethiopia, but
adopted as a baby and raised in Sweden. He’s famous in NYC for being the
chef at a Swedish restaurant, called Aquavit, where he was the youngest chef
ever to get 3 stars in a New York Times restaurant review.

A few years ago, he became interested in African cuisine, and
spent a lot of time travelling around Africa, studying the cuisine. He’s
written a fantastic cookbook based on the experience. Roughly two weeks ago, he opened a new African restaurant in NYC called Mercato 55. My wife and I had dinner there last saturday, and it was fantastic.

Anyway, as I said, his book has a recipe for Moroccan spiced duck breast. It’s a bit of a fusion dish – french style seared rare duck breast, cooked with moroccan spice blends and a Moroccan orange sauce. Duck breast is too expensive for my kids, so I made his dish for me and my wife, and worked out this variation for my kids. I actually think I like the variation a bit more – the flavor of the spices penetrates the duck much more nicely in a well-done roast duck. I’ve also simplified the recipe a bit.


  • Two ducks
  • 4 cups orange juice
  • 2 cinammon sticks
  • Several large onions
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2-3 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chilled butter


  1. Put all of the dry spices together into a hot pan, and stir around until they become fragrant. Then move them to a blender or food processor, and grind them to a coarse powder.
  2. Mince the garlic and one half of the onion.
  3. Put the orange juice into a pot with the garlic, onion, and spices, and
    heat to a simmer. Let it simmer about ten minutes, and then cool to room temperature.
  4. Take 2 ducks, cut out the back, and press flat. Cut a light crosshatch pattern
    over the skin of the breasts, and trim off excess fat. Sprinkle with kosher salt, and then lay them out in a large roasting pan.
  5. Put the orange-juice mixture through a fine sieve, and then pour it over
    the ducks. Let it sit for at least two hours.
  6. Remove 3/4ths of the marinade from the roasting pan, leaving the remainder in the pan. Keep the marinade – we’re going to cook it into a sauce later.
  7. Cut several 1-inch thick slices of onion, and set them up as stands in the roasting pan. Set the ducks on top of the onions.
  8. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Put the ducks in, and cook for 2 to 3 hours. (It’s important to let it cook for a long time. Duck is terrific rare, and it’s terrific when it’s been cooked for a very long time; it’s tough as leather in between. We’re going for the meltingly tender well-roasted duck here.) Every half hour, baste the duck with the marinade in the pan. If the pan starts to get dry, and a cup of water.
  9. When the duck is done, finely mince half an onion, a clove of garlic, and a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley. Put the onion and garlic into a saucepot with the reserved marinade. Heat to a simmer, and let it cook at a low simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Then add the parsley, and salt to taste.
  10. Right before serving, turn the heat off on the sauce, and add two tablespoons of cold butter, whipping it in with a whisk. This should turn the sauce a little bit thicker, and give it a nice glossy appearance.

Bad Statistical Reasoning about Weather and Climate

Yet another reader sent me a link to a really annoying article at a site called “Daily Tech”. The article has been more than adequately debunked by Darksyde at Daily Kos, but it’s a very typical example of a general kind of argument made both for and against global warming, which I find extremely annoying.

The basic argument takes one of two forms:

  1. Wow, look how hot it is today! How can anyone possible deny global
  2. Wow, look how cold it is today! How can those idiots believe in global

These are both examples of confusing weather with climate. That confusion is a typical example of a common statistical error:
using aggregate data to draw conclusions about specific individuals, or using a single individual to draw conclusions about an aggregate. Individual data points and aggregates are very different things, and you can’t just arbitrarily go from one to another.

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Full Circle: the Categorical Monoid

By now, we’ve seen the simple algebraic monoid, which is essentially an
abstract construction of a category. We’ve also seen the more complicated, but interesting monoidal category – which is, sort of, a meta-category – a category built using categories. The monoidal category is a fairly complicated object – but it’s useful.

What does a algebraic monoid look like in category theory? The categorical monoid is a complex object – a monoid built from monoids. If we render the algebraic monoid in terms of a basic category, what do we get? A monoid is, basically, a category with one object. That’s it: every algebraic monoid is a single object category.

But we can do something more interesting than that. We know what a monoidal category looks like. What if we take a monoidal category, and express the fundamental concept of a monoid in it?

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Responding to Granville Sewell about his Fraudulent Experiments

Granville Sewell, over at UD, has decided to pretend that he just discovered my earlier critique of his “though experiment” where he claims to simulate the universe. The reason that I say “pretend” is that Sewell originally edited the article that I was mocking in response to my post; now, months later, he’s pretending that he just found it. Uh, yeah, sure, Gran, whatever you say.

(In keeping with my practice, I no longer link to anything at UncommonlyDense; since they feel free to lie, alter posts, and remove posts, there’s no way of knowing what my link will point to tomorrow. Similarly, I’m responding here rather than in a comment there, because UD feels free to censor, edit, or delete comments for any or no reason at all, without notice.)

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Friday Random 10

  1. Boiled in Lead, “Blackened Page”: An interestingly mysterious song, written by one of my favorite fiction writers, the brilliant Steven Brust.
  2. J.S. Bach, “Cantata #77”: Bach’s Cantata’s are some of the finest pieces of music ever written. Amazing.
  3. Mandelbrot Set, “And the Rockets Red Glare”: very good post-rock.
  4. Yes, “Going for the One”: One of my all-time favorite Yes songs. Great stuff.
  5. Pink Floyd, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”: a live recording of some brilliant Syd Barrett material from Pink Floyd’s psychedelic era.
  6. The Flower Kings, “Black and White”: As I’ve said in past FRTs, the Flower Kings are pretty much the best of the neo-progressive bands. This is a relatively short track for the King, being only about 8 minutes long. Typical FK gold.
  7. Elegant Simplicity, “Illuminated Heartbeat”: Incredibly dull, repetitive, awful instrumental track. Elegant Simplicity did an amazing
    album called “Architect of Light”, which I loved. So I rushed out to get more of their stuff – and met with profound disappointment. This is an awful album – track after track of totally dull repetitive dreck.
  8. Solstice Coil, “Brilliance”: another small independent neo-progressive band that I found through Bitmunk. I’ve had this album for less than 24 hours, so I haven’t formed a firm opinion about it yet. It’s interesting stuff, with some moments of brilliance.
  9. King Crimson, “Starless”: old King Crimson, from the “Red” album. This is amazing music.
  10. Sigur Rós, “Hafsól”: A track off the latest album by the Icelandic post-rock ensemble. Pretty typical of Sigur Rós sound; perhaps a bit on the harker side than average, but very distinctively their sound. A great track from a great album.
  11. </o

Two For One: Crackpot Physics and Crackpot Set Theory

I was asked by a reader to take a look at yet another crackpot theory of everything. This time, it’s the Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe. This one is as cranky as any, but it’s actually got some interestingly silly math to it.

Stripped down to its basics, the CTMU is just yet another postmodern
“perception defines the universe” idea. Nothing unusual about it on that
level. What makes it interesting is that it tries to take a set-theoretic
approach to doing it.

The real universe has always been theoretically treated as an object, and specifically as the composite type of object known as a set. But an object or set exists in space and time, and reality does not. Because the real universe by definition contains all that is real, there is no “external reality” (or space, or time) in which it can exist or have been “created”. We can talk about lesser regions of the real universe in such a light, but not about the real universe as a whole. Nor, for identical reasons, can we think of the universe as the sum of its parts, for these parts exist solely within a spacetime manifold identified with the whole and cannot explain the manifold itself. This rules out pluralistic explanations of reality, forcing us to seek an explanation at once monic (because nonpluralistic) and holistic (because the basic conditions for existence are embodied in the manifold, which equals the whole). Obviously, the first step towards such an explanation is to bring monism and holism into coincidence.

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Ethics Questions, dealing with senior researchers

Over at Adventures in Ethics and Science, Janet
Stemwedel, our resident ethicist, has been writing about academic
dishonesty and how professional researchers should respond to it.

I’ve been on the receiving end of dishonesty on three occasions –
ranging from a trivial case (arguably not dishonest at all) to the profound.
I’ll describe my three experiences, along with how I did respond to them, and how I could have responded to them. Unfortunately, my experience isn’t very
encouraging, and most of my advice comes down to: always, always keep a paper trail: it can’t hurt, but don’t count on it being useful.

I don’t want to be too discouraging here. I don’t think that there
are many dishonest researchers out there. The overwhelming majority of professional
researchers are scrupulously honest people who give credit where it’s due, and who would never do anything to
take credit for anyone else’s work, who would never steal an idea, and who would
never do anything even remotely questionable when it comes to
intellectual honesty. The problem is, it doesn’t take much to poison
the well – one person out of a hundred is easily enough to create a
huge problem. And the nature of power and politics in research makes it
possible for that dishonest one to get themselves into a position where
people are scared to come forward about it.

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This is getting fun! On to Monoidal Categories.

In the last post on groups and related stuff, I talked about the algebraic construction of monoids. A monoid is, basically, the algebraic construction of a category – it’s based on the same ideas, and has the same properties; just the presentation of it is different.

But you can also see a monoid in categorical terms. It’s what we computer scientists would call a bootstrapped definition: we’re relying on the fact that we have all of the constructs of category theory, and then using category theory to rebuild its own basic concepts.

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Autism, Vaccines, and Ghouls

A bunch of us today are trying to point out some incredible
hypocrisy and downright despicable slime being spewed by the idiots
who want to blame autism on vaccines.

The blame-vaccines crowd likes to use publicity stunts to try to
build up their case. It’s the only tactic left to them, because study after study after study has shown that there is no correlation – not just no causal link, but no correlation at all – between vaccines and autism. There’s no science on their side; no evidence; nothing but anecdotes.

So they milk the anecdotes for everything they’re worth. Jenny McCarthy parades around on TV talking about how she knows that vaccines caused her son’s autism, and that she knows that the crackpot interventions that she used cured him. She doesn’t need any scientific evidence; she says that her son is her science.

Generation rescue runs ads full of stories about how autism is caused by vaccines; they push endless stories about parents desperate to find a cure for their childrens parents. They parade parents like
Jenny McCarthy around to gather every possible bit of publicity for their cause.

The end result of this is to create opposition to vaccination. And that is a horrible thing.

Most people my age have never seen a person with polio. It was wiped out long before we were born – by vaccines. No one in the US has seen anyone with smallpox in decades. There are so many diseases, which we have no experience with anymore – because they’ve been rendered almost entirely harmless by vaccines. When’s the last time you saw someone with the measles or the mumps? When’s the last time any of us saw someone suffering from complications of one of those formerly common childhood diseases?

But thanks to people like Generation Rescue, that’s changing.

Earlier this month, there was an outbreak of measles in San Diego – the first outbreak of measles in 17 years. None of the infected children were vaccinated. Why not?

There have been recent outbreaks of the mumps in Iowa – started by
people who weren’t vaccinated, and later transferred even to some who had been.

When we hear about one of these outbreaks, the most common response is: “Big deal? Measles is no biggie.” Not true at all. Measles can, in a significant number of cases, lead to blindness (via corneal scarring), encephalitis, and brain damage. Similarly for many of the other childhood diseases that have been nearly eliminated by
vaccines – these diseases aren’t trivial things. They’re potentially serious diseases. Vaccines have eliminated things that used to be major scourges, that crippled huge numbers of people. We’ve forgotten that, because the diseases have almost disappeared.

Until these autism frauds managed to get themselves in the news. Thousands of parents have refused vaccines for their children, in the name of protecting them from a phony risk of autism, and as a result, diseases that should be unheard of are making strong comebacks.

Naturally, the doctors who care for children are concerned about this. They’re seeing parents put their children at risk, and they’re seeing children come in with diseases and complications that should never happen anymore.

So they’ve decided to take action. Through the main professional organization for pediatricians, the AAP, they’re putting together their own publicity campaign – trying to remind people of the fact that vaccines save lives. They’re looking for people who didn’t vaccinate their children, and who as a result have suffered from preventable illnesses with serious consequences:

From: Susan Martin
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 2:29 PM
Subject: parent spokespersons


As part of our ongoing response to media stories regarding autism and vaccines, the AAP communications department is compiling a list of parents who support the AAP and are available for interviews. We are looking for two types of parents who could serve as spokespersons:

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders who support immunization and who do not believe there is any link between their child’s vaccines and his or her autism.

Parents of children who suffered a vaccine-preventable illness. This could be a parent who declined immunization, whose child became ill before a vaccine was available, or whose child was ineligible for immunization.

We are asking for your help identifying parents who would be good spokespersons. They do not need to be expert public speakers. They just need to be open with their story and interested in speaking out on the issue. We will contact candidates in advance to conduct pre-interviews, to offer guidance on talking to reporters and to obtain a signed waiver giving us permission to release their name.

If a parent were placed on our list, we would offer their name and contact information to select media. We hope to build a list of parents from a wide range of geographical areas.

As the Jenny McCarthy and “Eli Stone” stories illustrate, this issue is likely to recur in the national and local media. The AAP is committed to doing all we can to counter such erroneous reports with factual information supported by scientific evidence and AAP recommendations.

The anti-vaccine groups often have emotional family stories on their side. The ability to offer a reporter an interview with a similarly compelling parent who is sympathetic to the AAP’s goals is a powerful tool for our media relations program.

Please contact me if you have any questions or to suggest a parent to interview.

Thank you,

Susan Stevens Martin
Director, Division of Media Relations
American Academy of Pediatrics

The autism frauds are reacting with faux outrage. How dare the AAP do anything so horrible as to put together
a publicity campaign? How dare they remind people of the consequences of not vaccinating?

When the autism frauds want to publicize their belief that autism is caused by vaccines, that’s absolutely OK. No moral issue, no problem at all. It’s just simple the right thing to do.

When people start to get sick with diseases that should be
unheard of, because they’re entirely preventable by safe vaccines,
that’s nothing to be concerned about. It’s got nothing to do with
the autism frauds and their wretched attempts to scare people.

And when doctors, upset at seeing the resurgence of diseases that
should be completely eliminated in 21st century America, do their best to remind people that these diseases are serious, and that they can protect their children from the risks of catching them – then the doctors are being horrible, unethical, disgraceful, despicable ghouls.

The ghouls are people like JB Handley – who are deliberately
playing games, moving goalposts, and propagating lies. They’re frauds whose actions are putting lives at risk. And based on the way that they’ve been changing their stories as evidence accumulates, they know that they’re frauds.

Deliberately, knowingly encouraging people to put their childrens life at risk from preventable illnesses? Now that is evil.

Why does currency value change?

After yesterday’s article about conversion between the value of
british pounds in the ’70s versus british pounds today, someone sent me a link to
an article at the National Review Online, which just about had me rolling on the floor laughing. The problem is, it’s dead serious.

It’s written by an “engineer” named Louis Woodhill, who argues from what he calls
an “engineering viewpoint” that the whole idea of fluctuating currency value is total nonsense, and we’d all be better off if we just assigned a fixed value to our currency, and never allowed it to change.

The U.S. dollar is in a scary slide. Gold and oil are hitting record highs,
while the dollar is hitting record lows. To get how strange this all seems to an engineer
like me, imagine the following headline: “Foot Falls against Meter for Fifth Straight Day.”

The accompanying article would breathlessly report that after the U.S. abandoned its “antiquated” fixed-exchange-rate system (one foot equals 0.3048 meters), our beloved foot began plunging in length. A “length trader” would predict that if the foot fell below the “psychologically important 0.2800 meter support level,” it could fall as low as 0.2500 meters. But an economist would say that as long as the foot didn’t fall more than 10 percent, everything would be okay.

The story would then describe the plight of a homeowner whose garage was no longer within
his lot lines. Then another economist would argue that the falling length of the foot was
actually a good thing, because it caused people to be taller, which reduced their “body mass
indexes,” thus fighting obesity. The head of the U.S. Bureau of Standards would be quoted as
saying the bureau is committed to “a strong foot,” although, “given that imports are longer
than exports, there is only so much we can do.” The story would conclude with Paul Krugman
blaming the falling foot on “Bush’s tax cuts for the rich.”

What is going on with the dollar right now is every bit as ridiculous as the fictional story above. Here’s how an engineer would explain the problem.

Economic transactions involve the exchange of “something” for “money.” The “something” is specified in terms of number (1, 2, 3, etc.); length/area/volume (“the foot”); weight (“the pound”); and/or time (“the second”). “Money” is specified in terms of “the dollar.”

The problem with this scheme is that the magnitude of our fundamental unit of market value, “the dollar,” is not defined. Being undefined, the value of the dollar can change. This fact gives rise to huge economic costs and risks for which there are no offsetting benefits.

Sorry, Mr. Woodhill, but that’s not how an engineer would explain the problem. It’s how a pig-ignorant idiot would explain the problem. The explanation of why is beneath the fold.

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