Category Archives: Chatter

Excuse the brief interruption…

Just a brief note, to let you all know why there’s a lack of new posts.

Once again, I managed to kill my laptop. The machine died suddenly, with no warning. I’m currently waiting for a replacement, and once I get it, I’ll need some time to set everything up to my liking. I also had three posts in progress on the machine; I’m not sure whether they were backed up or not, and won’t be able to find out until I get a new machine.

Things will be back to normal as soon as possible, but don’t expect much for the next couple of days.

Antisemitic Assholes, and Jewish vs. Israeli

I’m working on more substantive, mathy posts, but in the meantime, I’m pissed,
so I’m making a quick off-topic post.

With the horrible things that are going on in Gaza right now, I’ve gotten a raft of antisemitic spam. Most of it has been through private mail, but some has been in comments on
the blog.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times on this blog that I’m Jewish. Not Israeli. Jewish.

I’m not a member of the Israeli military. I am not a citizen of Israel. I don’t get to vote in Israeli elections. I have no say in anything that the state of Israel does.

If you’re the type of good-for-nothing coward who thinks that the correct way to
handle a political conflict is to fling insults around at some random powerless blogger,
you should at least bother to check that you’re not shooting yourself in the foot with what you’re saying.

I’m not an antisemite, you fucking jew dog. I can’t be an antisemite – I’m an arab, which means I’m a semite. I don’t hate myself. And I don’t hate jews, I hate zionists who
oppress my people.

You start off with “You fucking Jew”, but don’t worry, I believe you. You don’t really hate Jews, it’s just those zionists. Of course, you don’t know whether or not I’m a zionist. You just assume that I am because I’m a Jew. And you hate me enough to spam me with insults about being a “fucking jew dog”. But you’re don’t hate Jews, no.

And you’re not an anti-semite because you’re “arab”. Well, see, in your typical
pig-ignorance, you don’t know that “anti-semite” is a rather deceptive word. It was
created to give an intellectual gloss to jew-hatred. See, Jew-hatred just sounds
so ugly. Back in the late 19th century, a group of German intellectuals was trying
to make Jew-hatred fashionable, and they chose the word “antisemiten” in German to provide a
pseudo-intellectual term that fit with the in-vogue racial theories of the time. That’s where it comes from. It doesn’t matter that looked at in terms of etymology, it doesn’t appear to be a term related specifically to jews. It’s got a clear pedigree dating back well over a century. Antisemitism is Jew-hatred, plain and simple. That’s what the word was created to mean, and that’s what everyone, you included, mean by it.

Even if that weren’t true, it wouldn’t help you. Even if “antisemitic” really
did mean “hating people of semitic origin”, an Arab could be as antisemitic as anyone else. Being a member of a group doesn’t exist stop you from hating that group. Hell, there’s no reason that a Jew can’t be anti-semitic (in the true, Jew-hating meaning of the word): there’s no shortage of people who are Jews by family history who have a deep and intense hatred of Judaism.

People have a hard time separating Jews and Israelis. Not just people like the
assholes who triggered this post. As a child, I lived in a small town in Ohio for four long, miserable years, and constantly heard from people – including my schoolteachers – who couldn’t figure out how I could possible be a Jew and an American at the same
time – because Jews were Israelis.

It’s really not a hard thing.

Judaism is a religion; being Jewish is a matter of belief, custom, and ritual.

Israel is a country. Being Israeli is a matter of politics and citizenship in
that country.

You don’t have to be Israeli to be Jewish, and you don’t have to be Jewish to be Israeli.

Like most countries, Israel has laws describing how you can become a naturalized citizen
if you aren’t born there. It happens that under that law, it’s extremely easy for
many Jews to become naturalized Israeli citizens. That doesn’t mean that all Jews
are Israeli citizens. It means that if you’re part of the group recognized as Jews
by the Israeli government, it would be easy for you to become a naturalized Israeli
citizen if you ever moved there.

I don’t like what’s going on in Gaza right now, but I don’t pretend that the situation is
simple or clear. One one side, I don’t think that any country can afford to let someone shoot
missiles at their people on a daily basis, and not do anything about it. On the other side, I
don’t think it’s remotely acceptable to kill hundreds (or more) of innocent people in the
hopes of stopping a small group of murderous bastards. The Israeli response is complete out of proportion, and the people who are the real victims, who are paying the real price for the most part, aren’t the guilty ones.

But none of that is my choice. Because I’m Jewish, not Israeli. There’s a huge difference
there. (I know that many Israeli’s oppose this conflict; but just like I believe that I share
in the responsibility for the horrors my country has inflicted on the Iraqi people, I think
that Israelis – even the ones who oppose this conflict, share in the responsibility for what
their country has done. And the people in the Palestinian territories who voted for Hamas
share in the responsibility for what Hamas has done in their name. When you’re a citizen of o country, you become a part of it, and you own a share in both the good and the bad of what it does.)

Tips for NYC Tourists

As a daily commuter into NYC via Metro-North to Grand Central Terminal, followed by two subways to my office, I go through one of the busiest transit hubs anywhere twice a day. Since it’s tourist season, I also get to see lots of silly things tourists do. And since I live here and love the city, I’ve got a few suggestions, both of things to not do, and things that you shouldn’t miss. So, based on my observations, here are a few tips for NYC tourists this season.

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In case anyone’s interested, I’m currently fooling around with Twitter. If you’re interested, I’m user-id MarkCC. Feel free to ping me if you’ve got an interesting twitter feed that you think would interest me; I’m still building up my list. Eventually, if I find it useful, I’ll put a Twitter sidebar here on GM/BM.

Reviewing the TMobile G1 – aka the Google Android Phone

Once again, please don’t forget about our DonorsChoose drive! Please click in the panel to you left, and go make a donation to help schools get the supplies they need to be able to teach math!


Most people must have heard by now that about a week ago, T-mobile
released the first Android based phone, with software by Google. I’ve been using an Android as a tester for about 6 weeks, and I’m now allowed to talk about it, so I thought I’d post a review from the viewpoint of an extreme geek. Please excuse the low quality of the images; I took the pictures using my iPhone.

Obviously, there’s a bit of a conflict of interest here. Google is very proud of the Android software, and I’m very happy and proud to be a software engineer at Google. I think that my review of the phone is fair
and unbiased, but take that with a grain of salt, given my connections.

So, as I said, I’ve had the phone for about six weeks now. For a little over a year before I got my Android, I was using one of the original iPhones (not the 3g). So in a lot of things, I’m
going to compare my experiences with the Android to my experiences with the iPhone.

Overall, I love the Android. It’s not without its flaws, and some of them are fairly significant. I’ll go into details below, but the short summary of my opinion is that the software is excellent, the hardware less so.

To be honest, I think the software is really late-beta quality. It’s lacking polish, and there are a few awkward points. But overall, it’s
extremely well done. Details below the fold.

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The Food Experience Meme

I found a fun meme via Rev. BigDumbChimp, involving food. I’m a sucker for anything involving eating.

  1. Venison: Nope.
  2. Nettle tea: yes. Didn’t like it.
  3. Huevos rancheros: Yes, yummy.
  4. Steak tartare: nope.
  5. Crocodile: Yup. Mediocre. Not a bad flavor, but it had a nasty texture.
  6. Black pudding: Gads, no.
  7. Cheese fondue: Yup.
  8. Carp: Yup.
  9. Borscht: I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, of course I’ve had borscht. Out of a jar, it’s absolutely, mind-bogglingly horrible. Cooked fresh, it’s at best mediocre.
  10. Baba ghanoush: Yum!
  11. Calamari: Tried it once. Turned out that I’m violently allergic
    to it. Not one of my more pleasant food experiences.
  12. Pho: Nope, but I’ve had the chinese version (Nu Rou Mien).
  13. PB&J sandwich: of course.
  14. Aloo gobi: Yup; in fact, I make it myself. Great stuff – one of the
    very best things you can do with a cauliflower.
  15. Hot dog from a street cart: of course. I’m a NYer.
  16. Epoisses: One of my favorite cheeses! Nothing compares
    to Epoisses washed in Sauvingon blanc. Yum.
  17. Black truffle: yup. Overrated. They’re very good, but
    considering what they cost, they need to be *better* than just very good.
  18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes: I’ve had hungarian
    brandies made from peaches, but that’s not wine. I’ve had something
    that’s called blackberry wine, but it’s really blackberry juice mixed
    with neutral brandy and sugar, so I assume that doesn’t count. So I guess
    that’s a no.
  19. Steamed pork buns: Nope. I don’t like pork.
  20. Pistachio ice cream: yes.
  21. Heirloom tomatoes: Oh, yes. Really good, fresh, vine-grown
    tomatoes – not the commercially bred shippable kind, but the kind
    that you get from the farmer, and have to carry carefully because
    they’ll bruise – are one of the greatest culinary treasures of the
    world. The things you buy in the store simply are not
  22. Fresh wild berries: Yup. As a kid, I lived in a house on a wooded lot,
    and there were wild raspberries. The wild ones really do taste better.
  23. Foie gras: Yes. Another favorite. Yeah, it’s not particularly nice for
    the duck. I don’t care; it’s too damned good. Not something I’d
    eat every day, but it’s a treat when I can get it.
  24. Rice and beans: Yes.
  25. Brawn, or head cheese: No. And I hopefully never will!
  26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper: Yes, accidentally. My grad-school roommate
    bought some, not knowing what they were. And then he made me taste one.
    The heat was mind-boggling, and my eyes starting burning, so I rubbed
    them. Wound up spending the next half-hour or so in the the bathroom soaking my eye in cold water.
  27. Dulce de leche: Yes.
  28. Oysters: Yes. I love oysters.
  29. Baklava: Yes.
  30. Bagna cauda: Yes, I’ve made it.
  31. Wasabi peas: Yes. Eh.
  32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl: a favorite of mine.
  33. Salted lassi: nope.
  34. Sauerkraut: NY Jew – of course!
  35. Root beer float: yup.
  36. Cognac with a fat cigar: I don’t do the smoking thing. Cognac, yes;
    but it’s not my favorite. I prefer the subtler Armagnac in the french
    grape brandies, or Calvados if I can get away from the grapes.
  37. Clotted cream tea: Yes.
  38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O: No.
  39. Gumbo: Yes.
  40. Oxtail: No.
  41. Curried goat: Yes. I worked for a computer store owned by an
    Indian family during college. They had a party that they invited
    all of the employees too. The only thing that wasn’t too hot for us
    to eat was goat. Not thrilling, but not bad.
  42. Whole insects: Nope.
  43. Phaal: looked it up to see what it was. I’m honestly not sure.
    See my story two up – I tried nibbles of a few things there, which were
    considerably spicier than goat vindaloo. So maybe. But since I don’t
    know, I’ll count this as a “no”.
  44. Goat’s milk: Nope. Lots of goat’s milk cheeses, but not the milk itself.
  45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$130 or more: Once. Didn’t
    much like it.
  46. Fugu: Nope.
  47. Chicken tikka masala: Who hasn’t had this?
  48. Eel: One of the most wonderful tasting fish in the world. I adore
  49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut: Yes. Not impressed.
  50. Sea urchin: No.
  51. Prickly pear: Yes. Eh.
  52. Umeboshi: Yes. Eh.
  53. Abalone: Yes. Eh.
  54. Paneer: Yes. Eh.
  55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal: Yes. Ick.
  56. Spaetzle: I’ve never had German spaetzle; I have had the hungarian
    galushka, which are supposedly pretty much the same. It’s wonderful.
    I’ve also had Da Sha Mien, which is sort of the chinese equivalent, also
    wonderful. There’s nothing quite like the texture of a fresh dough
  57. Dirty gin martini: Nope. I’m not a huge martini fan, and a martini
    with the olive juice mixed in just sounds awful.
  58. Beer above 8% ABV: Oh, yes. In my opinion, most of the beers worth drinking are up there. I tend to like Belgian bottle-fermented ales,
    and they can get up to 12-14% ABV. I also once had a fantastic
    barley wine, which is basically a strongly hopped beer coming in at 18% ABV!
  59. Poutine: Yum! My wife is Canadian, and she introduced me to it. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s french fries with fresh cheese curds
    and brown gravy. It’s really, really fantastic stuff. We mail order
    cheese curds from Wisconsin so that we can make it at home!
  60. Carob chips: Yes. It’s no substitute for chocolate.
  61. S’mores: of course.
  62. Sweetbreads: Nope. Very few organ meats appeal to me.
  63. Kaolin: Not sure what this is… A quick search suggests one of the
    ingredients of kaopectate – a horrific substance with which I have
    had entirely too much experience. (I’ve got some really awful stomach
  64. Currywurst: Like I said, I’m not a fan of pork. If you could make this with some other meat, it sounds yummy.
  65. Durian: Nope. I’d love to try it. Another grad school roommate of mine
    was from Bangladesh, and raved about how good it was despite the smell.
    Since when it comes to cheese, the stinkier it is, the more I like it,
    I suspect that I’d really enjoy it.
  66. Frogs’ legs: Yes. Greasy, bland. Not thrilling.
  67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake: all of the above.
  68. Haggis: What am I, crazy? Hell no!
  69. Fried plantain: Yes. Ech.
  70. Chitterlings, or andouillette: Nope.
  71. Gazpacho: Yes! Love it when it’s a bit chunky and nice and spicy!
  72. Caviar and blini: Yes. Overrated.
  73. Louche absinthe: Nope. Definitely want to.
  74. Gjetost, or brunost: Yes. Some friends are big fans of it, and they’ve
    gotten me to try it. It’s very peculiar.
  75. Roadkill: No.
  76. Baijiu: I think so. When I went to Taiwan to meet my in-laws, we went out to dinner with some of their friends, and we had some kind of very
    strong, warm stuff. I think it was Baijiu, but I’m not sure. I definitely
    did not like whatever it was.
  77. Hostess Fruit Pie: Yes.
  78. Snail: Yum!
  79. Lapsang souchong: never tasted it. Smelled it, because of another
    guy I knew who drank the stuff constantly, but every time he brewed
    a cup, the entire room would stink like stale cigar smoke. Ech.
  80. Bellini: Yup, at one of Mario Batalli’s restaurants. My wife ordered
    it, and I had a taste. Very nice, refreshing.
  81. Tom yum: Oh, yes. One of my favorite soups!
  82. Eggs Benedict: Yes. As I keep saying, I’m not a big pork fan, so
    I prefer many of the numerous variants better than the traditional.
    Benedict with fresh cold-smoked pacific salmon is my favorite.
  83. Pocky: Yes. Eh.
  84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant: Nope. Until
    very recently, I was a non-meat-eater, and I still can’t stand most
    Pork or most organ meats. So there’s not much point in the great
    French restaurants. I have done chefs tasting menu at Nobu, which
    deserves to be a three-star.
  85. Kobe beef: Nope.
  86. Hare: Nope.
  87. Goulash: Yes! I really like Hungarian food. Goulash, paprikash,
    roast goose with red cabbage, etc. Hungarian food isn’t fancy, but
    it’s really wonderful.
  88. Flowers: Yes, in many forms. I’ve had candied flowers, flowers in
    salads, flowers in cookies, stuffed zucchini flowers, etc.
  89. Horse: Nope.
  90. Criollo chocolate: I’m not sure. I’ve had a lot of very fine chocolates,
    but I’m not sure if any of it was Criollo. Probably not – the makers
    generally flaunt it if they use it, so I’d probably know.
  91. Spam: Nope.
  92. Soft shell crab: One of my favorite foods in the entire world. There is
    absolutely nothing as wonderful as a Maryland Blue softshell.
  93. Rose harissa: no. I’ve had harissa, but never rose. It sounds wonderful!
  94. Catfish: Yes. I love farmed catfish; wild is a bit overwhelming.
  95. Mole poblano: Yes, yummy.
  96. Bagel and lox: New York Jew. Of course!
  97. Lobster Thermidor: no. I’m not a huge lobster fan. It’s good, but
    not my favorite thing. Every time I’ve had a chance to order it,
    there’s been something I’d rather have.
  98. Polenta: Yes. Ick. I hate polenta.
  99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee: Yes. Overrated. I think that many
    of the really top-quality Indonesian coffees are better.
  100. Snake: Nope.

The Rev also added a few extras.

  1. Elk: No.
  2. Ostrich: Yes. Several times. I really don’t like it. I keep trying it
    cooked different ways, because people who’s taste I trust keep
    telling me that it’s something I should really love. But every time
    I’ve tried it, I’ve been disappointed.
  3. Moose: No.
  4. Whole hog BBQ. I’ve been to BBQs where they did it, but since I don’t
    like pork, I didn’t have any. (Just the smell of it cooking was
    unpleasant to me; there’s just something about pork that I can’t stand.
    It’s not a kosher thing, because there’s plenty of non-kosher stuff that
    I eat all the time.)
  5. Wine @ >$400/bottle.: Nope. I’d like to, but I can’t afford it.
  6. Home made bacon/sausage: again, no pork.
  7. Chocolate and chilis: an amazing combination. I found a south american chocolate bar with chilis in it. Strange from an american perspective – they didn’t do the kind of very smooth chocolate that we tend to like. This was brittle, with hard crystals of sugar in it, and visible flecks of chili pepper. It was fantastic.
  8. Chittlins: Nope.
  9. Moonshine: Nope.
  10. Quail eggs: Yup.

And I’ll add a few of my own that I’ve tried:

  1. Monkfish liver: nice, but not exceptional.
  2. Live scallop: amazing!
  3. Fried chicken giblets.
  4. Duck cracklings. Yummy! This is what you get when you take duck skin,
    and render it for duck fat. You cook it very slowly to get out the fat
    without getting any burned skin flavor in it. When you’re done, you’ve got
    these crispy little bits of duck skin fried in duck fat. A sprinkle of
    salt, and you’ve got something amazing.
  5. Grappa: amazingly wonderful.

Sizzle: A Review of the latest from Randy Olsen

Back in May, we here at ScienceBlogs got an offer to get an advance screener copy of Randy Olson’s new movie, “Sizzle”, if we promised to review it. I hadn’t seen any of Olson’s movies before, but I’ve been involved in a few discussions with him as part of the Great Framing Wars, and while I frequently disagree with him, he seemed to be a bright and interesting guy, so I was interesting in seeing what he’s been working on. So I signed up for the review, telling the people from the production company that I’d review it from the viewpoint of a mathy guy – expecting that it was really a science
movie, and knowing how badly a lot of popular science stuff really screws up the math. Little did I know what I was getting into….

After signing up for the review, his production company mailed me a DVD at the beginning of the month. The packaging makes it clear that what I saw is not the final version of the movie. The soundtrack, color balance, and editing are all likely to change before the real final cut of the movie, so what I saw is definitely a preliminary version.

Finally, last weekend, I sat down to watch it. I don’t think Randy is going to be terribly happy with this review, because I really didn’t like it.

From the title, you might think that it’s a movie about global warming. It’s definitely not that. At times, it wants to be a movie about the debate over global warming. But it doesn’t succeed at that. And at times, it wants to be a straightforward comedy. But it doesn’t even succeed at that. It does a dreadful job of balancing those different goals. It comes off as a mean-spirited, glib, pointless mess of a movie.

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The PZ Cracker Mess

So my fellow SBer PZ is in all sorts of hot water with Catholics over a blog post. I didn’t really want to poke my nose into this, but there’s been so much noise about it, that it’s really unavoidable. But I think I’ve got a rather different opinion on this than most bloggers I’ve seen so far. And I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be making any friends by posting this. But people keep asking, so I’m going to open my big mouth, and tell you what I think.

You see, I think that both sides are assholes. Obviously, the people making threats take the prize as the biggest assholes, but a huge margin. But this isn’t a situation where a bunch of wackos went on an unprovoked rampage against a blogger; PZ deliberately provoked this mess.

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Suited Assholes on the Subway

Pardon me, while I go off on a rant.

Since I came to work for Google, I have a pretty long commute. Most of the time, I don’t really mind it. It’s all by train – first commuter rail from home into the city, and then subway from the terminal to my office. Commuting by train is not bad at all – you get some quiet time before and after work, to sit and read, or just relax.

But in a year of doing this, I’ve learned a couple of things. And today’s commute gave me a perfect example of one of them. People who wear suits to work in Manhattan are the biggest god-damned dicks you’ll find anywhere.

I see just about every kind of people you can imagine on the subway on my commute: black, white, and every shade of brown that there is. I hear
just about every language you can think of: today, I’m sure that I heard
english, spanish, hindi, cantonese, and japanese being spoken by different people. But the only group of people that I’ve had any unpleasant experiences with are white guys in suits.

I cringe when one gets onto the train behind me. Because they’re invariably the people who feel like they’ve got a right to more personal space than anyone else, and will freely use their elbows to enforce that. They’re the people who’ll park their ass right in front of the subway door, and refuse to step aside to let people off of the train. They’re the rudest, most obnoxious, entitled, shits you’ll ever have the misfortune to meet.

And they’re also the ones who complain more bitterly about everyone else on the train. The asshole who won’t get out of the doorway of the train
is always the guy who opens up about how rude black men are after one of then pushes his way through to get off the train at his stop. They’re the ones who, after elbowing other people aside, bitch about the dominican guy who they had to shove. They’re the ones who can’t talk to each other without shouting – and then shout about how annoying it is to them to have to listen to people on the train speaking spanish.

The stereotypes of New York City invariably portray New Yorkers as rude, obnoxious people. But usually, the ones that they’re portraying as rude aren’t the guys in suits; it’s always the minorities or the working class. But in a year of this commute, I’ve never seen one of those stereotypical New Yorkers being the least bit rude. In fact, in general, I think New Yorkers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. (The best description I’ve ever heard of New Yorkers was “If you’re walking out of the subway with a stack of papers, and drop them, New Yorkers are the people who’ll help you catch all of your papers, and then tell you what an idiot you are for dropping them.” That’s NY; we’re very direct, but for the most part, we’re good people.)

The assholes are always the rich guys in suits on their way to work, who feel like they’re entitled to more than anyone else.

What brought this little rant on is that I got stuck on the subway this morning. Four guys in pinstripe suits got on behind me; spend the ride sneering like a bunch of overprivileged frat-boys about every non-white person on the train, and then as a group, blocked the doors at my stop, so that no one could get off. They weren’t trying to block the doors; they just happened to be standing there, and the idea of taking a step to one side to let anyone off the train – well, they weren’t about to move for
a bunch of lower-class slime. It wasn’t their stop. Of course, if anyone got in their way when they wanted to get off, they would have gone off into a giant flaming rant about how awful it was that the Insert Ethnic Group of Perpetrator got in their way, and weren’t all Members Of Said Ethnic Group a bunch of jerks.

It’s pretty much exactly the Bill O’Reilly syndrome. I’m sure everyone
remembers how he was shocked that at a black restaurant in Harlem, no one was
shouting out “Hey motherfucker, more ice tea over here” – because he really
deep down believes that minorities are a bunch of crude, stupid, obnoxious
assholes. But his regular daily behavior is even worse than his stereotypes
of his hated minorities.