Friday, April 29, 2011

Slate Corrections scorecard

Week 17 of 2011

In the April 28 "War Stories," Fred Kaplan wrote that Gen. David Petraeus would soon resign from the military. Petraeus will soon retire from the military.
Doofometer score: 3/10 He's leaving, and that's what's important.

In an April 27 "Politics," David Weigel referred to big Republican wins "in 2011." The party's gains were in the 2010 election.
Doofometer score: 4/10 Weigel's a political commentator, so he knows when elections take place. But the effect of those elections was in 2011, and I don't see much harm.

In the April 26 "Green Room," Matthew Fuhrmann mistakenly stated that an accident at India's Rajasthan Atomic Power Station released radioactive helium. The helium was not radioactive, though the accident did release heavy water.
Doofometer score: 9/10 Radioactive isotopes of helium decay instantly. There is no connection between heavy water and radioactive helium. Lame, wrong, and kind of pertinent.

In the April 26 "Project Syndicate," Simon Johnson misspelled the last name of former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill.
Doofometer score: 2/10 Weil, Wyle, Weill...

In an April 26 "Slatest" item, Josh Voorhees stated that Tim Pawlenty is the former governor of Pennsylvania. He is the former governor of Minnesota.
Doofometer score: 6/10 Kind of basic info.

In the April 25 "Politics," David Weigel misstated the university that hosts the Scripps Survey Research Center. It is Ohio University, not Ohio State.
Doofometer score: 4/10 Significant, but Ohio shares the blame: normal states (like their neighbor to the north) have University of X and X State University.

In the April 20 "Technology," Steven I. Weiss incorrectly stated that David Hobby's cross-country tour was sold out. It was nearly sold out.
Doofometer score: 1/10 Not important, and not a big mistake.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Advice Illustrated: Can't see the common thread

Letter 1 is from a woman with a medical condition that makes her look like a child. When she travels with her husband, they often have to deal with the police and others who think he is a pedophile, in part because of their different ethnicities. Her husband no longer wishes to travel. Prudie says to travel, to be prepared with the proper documentation, and to remain calm.
I say: Yeah.

Video letter is from a woman who read her BF's diary, where she found an old entry about his dissatisfaction with his life and his attraction for his boss. Prudie agrees that the open diary in their shared office was too tempting to resist. Tell the BF and ask if they need to talk.
I say: This is why we have repression. Repress!

Letter 2 is from a woman who donated bone marrow for a transplant. Her donee keeps contacting her to thank her. She's getting tired of it. Prudie says to tell him to lay off.
I say: I thought these donations were anonymous?

Letter 3 is from a guy who dates a lot and is getting tired of picking up the tab. How can he suggest splitting the bill without looking like a creep? Prudie says that if he's asking out and choosing the restaurant, he should pay for the first date, and that it's a good investment. By the third date, if she's not offering to split the bill, he should say: "Shall we split the bill?". (Was that so hard?) Prudie can't resist making him sound like a creep because he goes out with women he's not serious about, which she interprets as him just wanting to bonk them.
I say: Prudie, get your dirty mind out of the gutter. A gentleman can enjoy the company of a lady without being obsessed with getting laid. There is a middle ground between sex addict and husband, and we would do well to give space to it! Prudence is caught in a narrow world between prudish monogamy and bestial sexuality. Grow!

Letter 4 is about a wedding, so I'm tempted to ignore it. But the woman is soooo crazy... Anyhow, LW was a bridesmaid 5 years ago. Last year she had her own, smaller wedding, and invited her friend, but without asking her to be her bridesmaid. Non-BM claimed illness to not attend wedding, and cut off all contact. LW has now learned from her that non-BM was horribly, horribly hurt by not being asked to be BM. Prudie says to drop the crazy lady.
I say: So do I. Is there such as thing as a non-bridesmadzilla?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Advice Illustrated: Make hay while the fat lady sings

Letter 1 is from a guy who met a great woman online. When they met, he saw she was overweight, which is not attractive to him. Prudence says to talk about it, and gives some gambits, and to give it a chance. I say, yeah. If it was really a deal breaker, you would have already broken the deal.

Video letter is from a woman who's moved to suburbia, where a neighbor mows unmown "tree lawns" (new term for me) in the neighborhood. This takes place a lot for LW, cuz she and BF work "very demanding jobs". Neighbor is now hinting that she wants to be paid for this service. Prudie compares the lady to a squeegee guy, and tells LW to mow her own damn lawn.
I say yeah. And your punishment for the "very demanding jobs" BS is to mow your lawn with a pair of cuticle scissors. Living in suburbs = mowing lawns. New excuse: "I didn't know these American mores because I did very demanding studies and never watched TV or went to the movies."

Letter 2 is from a frail fragile wisp of a woman whose Amazon SILs mock her when she doesn't haul enough hay on the two weekends a year she's expected to work on her husband's family farm. She's already run out on the other physically demanding family traditions, like running marathons, and would like to find a way to dump the hauling. Prudie says she's a grown up and can do as she pleases. It would be nice for her to do what she feels up to, but she is free to bail and head to the porch swing to sip some homemade lemonade.
I say: does she benefit financially from this farm? If so she should do something. If it's not hay hauling, let her find something else. Her husband knew he didn't marry a jock, so he should support her on this.

Letter 3 is so revolting I don't want to talk about it. My take: This is not a friend. You are stupid.

Letter 4 is tenant drama. LW's BF sat in an old chair owned by the landlord, and broke it. Several months later, the landlord is asking for the chair, purchased used for USD 30, to be replaced at a price of USD 300. She's offered to reimburse him for the original price. Is LW a jerk? Prudie says, no, and she owes him nothing. I say, you are not a jerk, but you are a fool. If you do have a lease and security deposit, prepare to fight to get it back. My suggestion is for your BF to finally go to the doctor to see about that debilitating backpain he's been having ever since he sat on the defective chair provided by your landlord.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Top Chef: The Shock of the Champions

A bit of a surprise, a week after the live finale of French Top Chef, M6 proposed a second live event, a face-off between Romain, the winner of season 1, and Stephanie, the winner of season 2. It took place over more than three hours at the Cabaret Sauvage at La Villette, a circus-type venue. In the center ring, each of the cheftestants had a kitchen. Opposite, a jury that would do a blind tasting of the two dishes made in each round. The judges changed for each round, but in each, the three judges were one cheftestant from each season, along with one of the four chef judges.

Round one in 25 minutes: make a dessert using bell peppers. But of course, there's a "twist'. A viewer calls in and gives one of the chefs a handicap of 5 minutes off the alloted time. For some reason, the first caller gives Romain the handicap, claiming it's because Romain hasn't been in a cooking contest since one year ago, which puzzles everyone, since this is already a factor in his disadvantage. The main reason for this is that it generates cash for M6 via text message fees. But if Romain wins despite the handicap, he gets two points, whereas i Stephanie wins, she gets only one point.

The dishes are presented to the judges for the round, who have been sitting back to the cheftestants, with headphones on. They each taste the dishes, but don't discuss them, then vote electronically for their preference (A or B).

Romain's dish is crap: strawberries on a bell pepper coulis, with a crispy thing on top. Stephanie's seems better: she too did a coulis, but more substantial in volume, with a roast pineapple and whipper cream on top.Stephanie wins all three votes.

I would have preferred Richard Blais doing a nitro bell pepper ice cream.

Round two is to make a 3D carpaccio in 20 minutes. Again, a view gives Romain a 5-minute handicap. Romain makes a maki of veal carpaccio, while Stephanie makes a disgusting-looking ballotin of Oriental vegetables in a beef carpaccio, with the ball placed on a base of mango slices and fried noodles. It looks like a giant turd on something dead. And yet, she winswith three votes from the new series of judges, including the lovely one-armed Gregory.

Round three is to make a savoury fondant in 20 minutes. At last, the viewer gives the 5-minute handicap to Stéphanie. This seems hard. Usually a fondant or moelleux is made with chocolate. How can you have a cake-like exterior and a soft, flowing interior? My choice would have been to use a foie gras cream or something. Chef judge Piège shows his attempt: he made some crushed herb potatoes, filled with a frozen cube of a scampi cream. He then just reheated the ring enough to melt the cream inside, and topped it with caviar. I'm calling shenanigans, since they don't have the time to freeze anything, which would seem to be the only way to have a firm outside and a liquid inside.

In any case, the cheftestants produce some unsatisfying dishes for this impossible challenge. Romain's is a crab tartare with a crab mayonnaise center. The director doesn't really show the center flowing, despite the MC claiming they have. It's not very appealing. Stéphanie's looks like vomit. Really. It has no firmsness at all, and when she removes the ring, it just oozes all over the plate. The MC says; "Stéphanie, you look distraught". And she does. It's gross. I'm not even sure what it's made of. Romain wins all three votes. The score is now two points for Romain, one for Stéphanie.

A great taped sequence shows the chef judges' tricks of the trade, a series of cooking hints that made me say, that's clever! that's cool!

Round 4 takes place in 30 minutes, and is judged by the four chef judges. Romain has the handicap, and he lacks time to plate his dishes. They have to get their first course out in 20 minutes. It's not a blind tasting (which was criticized in the finale of season 2, where the less-nasty Stéphanie took the win over Fanny, possibly because she is less unpleasant a personality). The challenge is to make a first and main course using chocolate.

The first courses aren't really presented. Romain uses shrimp and calamare in a bouillon, with chocolate and foie gras in a bouillon. Stéphanie's is a mystery. Pan-fried foie gras and cacao powder.

.Romain's main course is a black-and-white cod, using dark chocolate and charred eggplant for the black, and the poached cod for the white. Stéphanie's dish is pan-fried cod dusted in cacao powder.

The scoring is like the Dating Game, where the last question counts as much as all the others combined, and I hate it. Stéphanie gets 4 points for her first course, and 4 points for her main course.

Basically they appreciate Romain's creativity and graphic design, but keep going back to the basics of Stéphanie's expert seasoning. And it's just unfair: the chef judges say they prefer Stéphanie's use of cacao powder as a condiment to Romain's use of real chocolate. Bullshit.

At least Romain got to promote his new book.


Tonight, the debut of French Kitchen Nightmares. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Advice Illustrated: Hairy tater tots on menu for Easter dinner cum graduation party for ungrateful DIL

Prudence resides on Slate.

Letter 1 is from a woman whose fiancé only eats kiddy food. She gives lots of reasons why this bothers her. He says it's a "problem" but refuses to do anything to change. Prudie says lots of stuff. I agree with this bit: is this a deal breaker? Yes or no.

BTW: "my husband is a picky eater" yields over 400,000 Google hits.

Video letter is from a person whose colleague wears low-cut tops showing off her hairy chest. LW hates the mocking and gossip this generates from her colleagues. How should she approach this problem? Prudie says to ignore the problem, or talk to HR ("in the name of office productivity"). I say the people to talk to are the gossiping and mocking coworkers.

Letter 2 is from a student graduating from medical school whose older brother won't come to the ceremony, and who has never visited LW in all the years spent in med school. It's not a money problem, since brother and SIL go on exotic vacations often. LW has visited brother several times on own dime. Prudie says to speak up on how hurt this makes LW, then say no more, and determine if LW wants to keep up the traveling in future.
I say we lack enough background, but yeah, what she said.

Letter 3 has been invited to Easter dinner along with a friend who proved not to be not much of a friend in a difficult moment. She doesn't want to spend the event with him. Prudie says to tell her hostess, but that she wants to make the best of it and give the guy a chance. Prudie says there are ways to understand his bad behavior, and she might just end up liking him again. I say, sure.

Letter 4 gets USD 80 from her FIL each year for her birthday, while her husband gets USD 100. It irks her. Should she ask him why? Prudie mockingly suggests a snarky attack on the FIL, showing the LW to be an ingrate and a dolt. I say, the LW is an ingrate and a dolt. Maybe when FIL dies, she and hubby can offer separate wreathes, and hers can be 20% smaller than his.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bureau des fantasmes urbains

Ornic’art - collectif de performers indisciplinaires issu des arts visuels, de la vidéo, du théâtre et de la danse sort de sa Friche la Belle de Mai (Marseille) et vient en résidence à l'usine de TRACES etinstalle son BUREAU DES FANTASMES URBAINS dans la boutik associative de la Maison de la Plage.

Voici le questionnaire qui peut vous aider à définir vos fantasmes urbains qui seront ensuite réalisés par Ornic'art du 2 au 7 mai 2011 dans le quartier Belleville.

Vous pouvez déjà répondre à ce questionnaire et l'envoyer à

1) Qu'est-ce qui vous paraît impossible dans une ville ?

2) Que faites-vous dans vos rêves que vous ne faites pas dans la réalité ?

3) Quel interdit aimeriez vous transgresser dans une ville ?

4) Que feriez-vous dans une ville si vous ne craigniez plus le regard des autres ?

5) Que faites-vous chez vous que vous aimeriez faire dans l’espace public ?

6) Si vous étiez une ville, qu'aurait-elle de particulier ?

7) Si vous pouviez ressusciter, comment aimeriez-vous vous suicider dans votre ville?

8) Si vous étiez une voiture, qu'aimeriez-vous - faire ? - qu'on vous fasse ?

9) Si un passage protégé ne servait pas à traverser, à quoi pourrait-il servir ?

10) Quel élément du mobilier urbain vous paraît érotique ?

11) Si je pose une échelle au milieu d'une rue, où pourrait-elle me conduire ?

12) Si vous disposiez d'une bombe, qu'en feriez-vous ?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Advice Illustrated: Where are the problems?

Prudence resides HERE.

Searching for images, I found this website.

Letter 1 is from a woman whose boyfriend hacked her email, and now uses info about her pre-relationship sexual history to treat her as a promiscuous slut. How can they get beyond this. Prudie says she has learned a Very Important Lesson about this guy. She says to DTMFA. I say I refuse to talk to you, you stupid, stupid, foolish, foolish slut. Indeed, I can only assume that your sluttish ways have given you syphilis, and that it has affected your mind if you need to write the internet lady for advice on this.
The problem is: The LW is a dolt.

The video letter is from a guy whose younger sister and husband have a new baby but who keep up with their hard-drinking lifestyle. Should he speak up? Prudie says regular alchohol abuse is bad, bad, bad. I say if it's abuse (not sure that regular partying is abuse) then intervene, but that has little to do with the new baby. My concern would be their transportation solutions. Unless the LW wants to become the foster parent to an orphan, an intervention may be needed.
The problem is: Not the LW's business.

Letter 2 is from a woman who commutes via public transport and can't stand the smells (BO, fragance) of her fellow commuters. Can she tell them to move to a farther seat if she was seated first? Prudie says there's no way to do this with a stranger and if she wants more distance, she needs to move herself. I say: duh. But people: please wash, and please use fragrance sparingly, if at all (excessive perfume and cologne is one of the downsides of living in France).
The problem is: The LW needs to get over herself and change seats.

Letter 3 is from a tutor of a disabled student who has told her that she cheated on a test (and cheated well: she got her first A!). Should she tattle? Prudie says to tell the parents, and if the parents don't follow through, to stop working for this amoral family. She's handicapped but maintains a B- average in an AP class? Huh? I wouldn't want to make a pronouncement on this without knowing more details, but something seems off. As for the cheating, it depends on her understanding of the gravity of what she did. If she understood it, then sock it to her. If she didn't, then make her understand, but don't put her future at risk for a one-off.
The problem is: Ethics sucks.

Letter 4 is from a student whose divorced parents just don't get along, but who want to throw a joint graduation party. She's said no based on their history of loud bickering and lawsuits. Prudie says have a planning dinner as a test run of their ability to get along. I say: they have always had separate events and now want to try a joint one? Give them a chance. It's a moist run for your wedding.
The problem is: Barely existant.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On French Top Chef

The French showed great resistance to cooking reality TV. Cooking was far too noble to be made into a game! Past efforts were a flop, notably Ready, Steady, Cook, a lively and fun BBC show made so sober and serious it was soon cancelled. Since then, M6 has had great success with Un dîner presque parfait (Come Dine With Me), encouraging them to try Top Chef (TC). Rival network TF1 had success with Masterchef, despite those who poopooed the idea that amateurs could do real cuisine.

(Teaser for TC 2011)

The first season of TC was disturbing: the format was significantly different from US TC. But once I got used to it, I liked it well enough. This season is much better, although perhaps even farther from the US TC.

A first difference is the length of each episode. French TV does not use 30- or 60-minute time slots. There is usually an early prime-time program and a late prime-time program. For many years, most programming on TV was just films, and most production of fiction retains the made-for-TV movie format, even when it uses a recurring character. When a US series is programmed, which is very common now on the private networks like TF1 or M6, they will broadcast three hour-long episodes back to back to make up the evening's program.

And thus, French TC is a program that lasts nearly three hours, including commercial breaks. That's about 2.5 hours of showtime, on a weekly basis! Clearly, the 45-minute run time of US TC won't work. So how do they get so much show for each episode? One way they don't do it is with out-of-kitchen scenes. Unlike US TC, we don't see the "private" life of the cheftestants, we don't know where they live during the show, we don't see them interact "off duty". This is not because French TV doesn't like this kind of stuff: they adore it, and are as trashy as anything you'll see. But I'm guessing they don't want to sully the notion of cuisine with sex or other unseemly aspects of life (you will not be seeing a Tiffani rubbing her bra on anybody's head on French TC). In the first season, they did imply that there was a romance going on between two cheftestants, but this year, nothing of the sort.

Instead, they take their time with each challenge, and have added new segments to the show. They begin with the Quickfire (last season called l'épreuve sur le gril, this year l'épreuve coup de feu), which takes about 30 minutes. There are no big cash prizes on French TC, largely because there is no product placement allowed at all in France. As in US TC, winners of the Quickfire get immunity, and may get another prize, such as an appearnce on the network, a recipe in a magazine, etc. There are usually no guest judges for the Quickfire.

The main section of the show are the "épreuves des chefs". The result of the "chefs' challenges" is to designate the losers who will go on to the final épreuve de la dernière chance, or "last chance challenge", not to directly eliminate anyone. Until the final episodes, there were two chefs' challenges in each episode. These were usually team challenges, and the chefs (the producers, in fact), chose which cheftestants would do which challenge, who would be assigned which ingredient, and usually which cheftestants would be in each team within a challenge (while knives are drawn in French TC, they are not used to make up teams or to provide any random element: there is little random choice in French TC).

Typically, one group's challenge will take place in the TC kitchen, while the other group will be "in the field" (sometimes literally, as when a challenge involved cooking pasta for a rugby team, on the rugby field). Most of the time the challenges are similar to those found in US TC (a new take on a traditional dish, etc.). Unlike US TC, most of the time the raw ingredients are those of the TC pantry, with no supermarket visits (because no product placement to justify it). We watch first one challenge, then the second challenge. The losers from each challenge go to the last chance challenge. Losers are designated by a dual vote: the chef judges and the diners. The conceit is that two chef judges judge each challenge, which was devised by one of them (in fact, of course, by the producers). The diners for the rugby challenge would of course be the members of the rugby team.

In order to avoid the last chance challenge, a chef (or team, usually) needs to have had success with both the chef judges and the diners. They pull knives from the block: if the knife is clean, they have succeeded with that jury. If the blade is orange (the TC color, or perhaps because red would be too gross), they have failed. So if either of the two knives (judges and diners) is orange, the team has failed. This can mean that everyone fails, and it's happened that after the two chefs' challenges, which take up the bulk of the show, almost everyone winds up in the last chance challenge.

The last chance challenge always takes place in the kitchen, and is usually something quite simple (make a cold first course, cook fish, make an egg dish). The dishes are tasted blind by the chef judges, who comment on them, and may then ask the cheftestants for additional information. The judges deliberate, and the cheftestants appear at judges' table where the eliminee is announced.

About the judges: There are five of them. One, Cyril Lignac is a young chef, made famous by his many appearances on M6. He has the sneer and sniff role, although he is more hands on and helpful than Tom C. He usually judges as well, but with the diners, where he has the deciding vote in case of ties. The "real" judges are four top chefs, always the same throughout the show. They are real top chefs, and they are treated with great deference by the cheftestants. The conceit is that they are the ones devising the challenges. In the chefs' challenges, they pair up, with two judges working on each challenge. They will provide much more hands on help and advice to the cheftestants. The tone is more that these are young chefs proving themselves, and learning, in a kitchen of a great chef. At the beginning of each challenge, we see a taped segment where the chef giving the challenge shows the dish he made himself.

There are two rather bland hosts, who have nothing to do with the judging.

There were 12 cheftestants in the first season, and 14 this year. This year, three cheftestants were eliminated in the first episode, and one in each of the following episodes until the finale. The last two episodes before the finale did not work by elimination, but on the basis of a qualification, with a series of challenges, the winner of which was qualified for the next week's competition.

The finale was semi-live, with challenges beginning off camera during the day, and the final meal prepared and eaten by over 100 diners (viewers who had won a drawing to participate) at a 5-star hotel in Versailles. In a first challenge, one cheftestant was eliminated, leaving the final decision between two cheftestants. There were three juries for the final meal: the 100 diners, the 12 eliminated cheftestants, and the chef judges. While cheftestant Fanny won the vote of the chef judges, her rival Stephanie won the vote of the other two juries, making her this year's Top Chef.

About the cheftestants: this season seems to have drawn a higher caliber of cheftestant. As in US TC, the producers like to have a mix of different kinds of cheftestants with different types and levels of experience. Last year was really absurd, with one of cheftestants being a mere commis and another an apprentice (both were obviously elimination fodder, and packed up their knives in the first episode). There was no such nonsense this year, and even the younger less-experienced chefs were quite good (Alexis, Tiffany...). There were many more talented women, with the finalists being two women (who received a great deal of abuse on internet... they were tough women, assertive and kind of bitchy, which is what it takes to win the show, and to succeed in the business). There were some attractive male cheftestants, including pretty-pretty Alexis (he doesn't photograph well, alas) and the studly but pouty Ronan.

Season 1 cheftestants HERE
Seaon 2 cheftestants HERE