Some Things a Search for Reticulated* Foam Will Get You:

1. Pond supplies
2. Microwave absorption
3. Buffing pads
4. Puppet construction
5. Wound closure devices
6. Static dissipative swabs
7. Boat cushions
5. A fuel-cell powered mock hamster marketed for sexual intercourse

* "Resembling network; having the form or appearance of a net; netted; as, a reticulated structure." Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998


Crows: We Want To Be Your Only Bird.

"I think this slogan is worth repeating, because there's a lot behind it. Of course, the crows don't literally want (or expect) to be the only species of bird left on the planet. They admire and enjoy other kinds of birds and even hope that there will still be some remaining in limited numbers out of doors as well as in zoos and museums. But in terms of daily usage, the crows hope that you will think of them first when you're looking for those quality-of-life intangibles usually associated with birds."

Ian Frazier. "Tomorrow's Bird." Doubletake. No. 22 (Fall 2000)


Today I went to the mall.
There have been several developments since the last time I went to the mall. I'll try to list them here:

1. There's a rock-climbing wall with power winches to boost the efforts of the weaker kids.
2. There's a Thomas Kinkade store. (I'd never heard of him until Christmas and now I can't escape him)
3. More than half of the Mole Hole is given over to "Christmas Village" collectibles and accessories - some of which are not very Christmasy (Haunted Houses and Summer Camps and UFO's)
4. In general, teenagers come in groups of 3 girls per guy. I don't remember this being the case when I was a teenager.
5. There's a store where you can sort of construct your own teddy bear. This isn't so much a craft project as dividing the shopping experience into smaller units.
6. Mobile phones are apparently very high profit items because you can get them from kiosks, electronics stores, camera shops, music stores, and department stores.
7. Like automobile models, mall shops tend to move up the price and luxury scale over time. Banana Republic used to be sort of kitschy and now it's molto elegante. Other shops seem to be doing the same thing.
8. There's some sort of NASCAR theme park thing going on. I have not investigated.
9. The Hoover Police Department has joined the US Postal Service as government agencies with mall locations.
10. For some reason (personal security? employer's labor market?) teenagers now give away free samples in teams of two or more.


"This country and its institutions belong to the people that inhibit it."

- Billie (Judy Holliday) in "Born Yesterday"


"Initiative comes to thems that wait."

- Alex (Malcolm McDowell) in "A Clockwork Orange"
Red Velvet Cake

When my brother got engaged and our family invited his fiance's family over for dinner, my mom made red velvet cake - from a mix. I started idly wondering about what red velvet cake is supposed to be. I've done some research and have developed a theory. Any further evidence is always appreciated:

James Beard's book American Cookery describes three kinds of red velvet cake varying in the amounts of shortening and butter used. All of them use red dye for the color, but it is mentioned that the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to turn the cocoa a reddish brown color. Furthermore, this article states that before the availability of more alkaline "Dutch processed" cocoa, this reddish tint was more pronounced. It cites that tint as the source of the Americanism "Devil's Food" for cocoa-flavored cakes. Apparently "Red Velvet" was merely another term for Devil's Food. The site lists several variations: Demon Cake (Hershey) - 1934; Real Red Devils Food - 1945; Satan Cake - 1930’s; Mahogany Cake (no date); Red Velvet Cake (no date); and Oxblood Cake (no date).

The use of red dye to make "Red Velvet" cake was probably started after the introduction of the more alkaline cocoa in order to reproduce the earlier color. It is also notable that while foods were rationed during the second World War, some bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of cakes - and boiled grated beets or beet baby food is still found in some red velvet cake recipes. Red velvet cakes seemed to find a home in the south and reached peak popularity in the 1950's - just before it was determined that red food dye was a carcinogen. The resurgence of this cake might partly be attributed to the film "Steel Magnolias" in which the groom's cake (another southern tradition) is a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo.

The history of red velvet cakes is, perhaps mistakenly, attached to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. An early version of the infamous "Neiman Marcus cookie" legend has it that a woman asked for the recipe to the delicious red velvet cake she was served at the hotel restaurant, only to find that she had been billed $100 (or $250 or $250) for the recipe. Indignant, she spread it to all her friends as a chain letter. This genre of legend dates to at least the 1940's as a $25 Fudge Cake served to a passenger on a railroad during the days of elegant rail travel. The association with the Waldorf is doubtless merely a jab at a pretentious institution, much like Nieman Marcus (which never sold chocolate chip cookies until everybody started coming in to ask about them).

In a poorly researched article on the Beard Foundation website (without any reference to Beard's own reference book) a representative for the Waldorf says that they don't have anything in their archives indicating that they served any red velvet cake in the 40's or 50's, but that they gladly accept credit for inventing it. My theory is that it was never "invented," but only became distinguished from generic chocolate cake by ambitious bakers determined to preserve the red color of old-style "Devil's Food." Red velvet cakes are now culturally associated with southern food and with soul food. (A much-reproduced recipe from a cookbook published by the National Association for Negro Women is about as authoritative as one can find). Therefore I reject the Waldorf's claim to this cake and put credit back in the hands of our fore-mothers where it belongs.


Meet the Genuine Progress Indicator:
The GPI measures not just the actual amount of money changing hands within our borders, but tries to account for the effect of those transactions in securing the public welfare. After all, what good is a "healthy" economy if all the money is used to tear down trees, market cigarettes, pump toxins into the environment, and siphon cash from gambling addicts into organized crime?

"If our political leaders focus solely on trying to spark GDP growth they risk exacerbating the negative social and environmental costs that the GPI measures but the GDP ignores."

- Craig Cheslog of Redefining Progress, the orginators of the GPI

Here's the Press Release with a link to the .PDF version of the report.


Here's a petition asking George Lucas to give Episode III to Peter Jackson.
Nation's Chief Enforcer Puts Private Interests Above Rule of Law

"Any discretionary decision by your agency to disclose information protected under the FOIA should be made only after full and deliberate consideration of the institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests that could be implicated by disclosure of the information."

- Attorney General John Ashcroft in a Memorandum for Heads of all Federal Departments and Agencies issued 12 October, 2001


Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Inspiring architect, educator, MacArthur fellow, and good ol' boy Sambo Mockbee died of leukemia last Sunday. His was the second guest lecture I attended while a student at Tulane School of Architecture. The first one went over my head, but Mockbee hit me straight between the eyes. His architecture is humorous, direct, and soulful. His educational mission was passionate. He founded the Rural Studio at Auburn in 1993. He and his students have spent the years since then living among the people of Hale County, Alabama and doing architecture as a real and physical process. They experiment with cheap materials and create wonderful environments for living which are donated to the community. In Mason's Bend, an isolated little cluster of shacks and trailers, they have constructed three remarkable houses custom-tailored to their deeply impoverished owners' needs. Students in the Rural Studio gain a working understanding not only of building, but also of service and community.

From Sam Mockbee I began to appreciate that architecture is neither an art nor a science, nor something in between, but a service and a discipline inseparable from its cultural context and from the issue of public welfare.

For more background, check out the link above as well as this interview and these two articles.