news clippings

Is quinoa kosher?

The Times reports. You decide:

Tasty, gluten-free, protein-rich—and, by many accounts, kosher for Seders lacking in carbohydrate variety—[quinoa] has become a staple of Passover cookbooks. Gourmet magazine hailed it in 2008 as the new “belle of the Passover ball.”

If only life were so simple.

As with most matters under the purview of Jewish law—from how to turn on the lights during the Sabbath, to what kind of cough syrup is certified kosher—a debate has emerged among rabbinical experts about quinoa’s bona fides as a kosher alternative to leavened-grain products like bread. And this has led to confusion and concern in many Passover kitchens around the country on the eve of the holiday, which begins on Monday evening.

“I went to hear two rabbis discussing the quinoa situation at my synagogue last week,” said Arlene J. Mathes-Scharf, a food scientist in Sharon, Mass… “They had basically the same information, but they came to opposite conclusions,” Ms. Mathes-Scharf said. “Typical…”

There are two camps on quinoa: rabbis who say it is fine, and those who regard it as suspect. But both agree that its suitability for Passover depends on how the crop is harvested and shipped.

A definitive answer is not likely to be reached until a rabbi can be dispatched to a remote mountain region of Bolivia to inspect certain quinoa operations…

Is quinoa kosher? Read More »

There goes the neighborhood

From The North County Times, via Megan McArdle:

Authorities have begun to put into place the measures they say will protect the public when they torch a house in northern Escondido that is said to be riddled with explosive materials.

On Thursday, workers began building a 16-foot-tall protective wall that will be wrapped in fire-resistant dry wall and sprayed with gel.

Also Thursday, federal prosecutors filed an eight-count indictment against George Djura Jakubec, 54, the former resident of the house, for allegations related to making and possessing bombs, as well as for three bank robberies and a failed attempt to rob a fourth bank.

As for the wall construction, officials say it will shield a neighboring house from the heat and possible debris of the burn, which is being billed as the only way to safely dispose of the chemicals and devices stored inside 1954 Via Scott, which has been described as a “bomb factory.”

There goes the neighborhood Read More »

Tariq Aziz sentenced to death

[Via Research Maven] The Guardian has the story.

Talk about your weird synchronicity—just yesterday I was rereading a scene in The Mirage where my fictional version of Aziz narrowly avoids getting killed. I knew the real Aziz was still alive, still in custody, and not looking particularly healthy, but hadn’t heard he was on trial again. I wonder how the Vatican appeal for clemency will go.

Tariq Aziz sentenced to death Read More »

Your camera may be telling the world where you are

An article in today’s Times points out a surprising (to me) security vulnerability in smartphone and other GPS-equipped cameras: They mark images with invisible but easily readable* “geotags” pinpointing where (and when) the photo was taken. Take a picture with an iPhone or a Droid inside your house, post it on the Web, and you’ve just shared your home address with the Internet. Combine that picture with a blog post about your vacation plans, and, well… you didn’t really need that TV or stereo, did you?

Although this tagging feature can be turned off, the default for most devices is to have it turned on—and not make an effort to notify you that it even exists.

* * * * *

*The Times article includes links to download plug-ins for Firefox and Internet Explorer that let you scan online photos for tagged info. If you want to check photos you’ve already uploaded for geotags, this is an easy way to do it.

Your camera may be telling the world where you are Read More »

My kind of science fiction

Last Sunday’s New York Times magazine offers a portrait of a modern odd couple. Peggy is a hospice worker whose job is to help people die with dignity. Her husband Robin is an economics professor who plans to have his brain frozen in hopes of living forever. They have issues, and apparently their situation is not uncommon within the cryogenics movement:

Peggy’s reaction might be referred to as an instance of the “hostile-wife phenomenon,” as discussed in a 2008 paper by Aschwin de Wolf, Chana de Wolf and Mike Federowicz.“From its inception in 1964,” they write, “cryonics has been known to frequently produce intense hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists…”

Cryonet, a mailing list on “cryonics-related issues,” takes as one of its issues the opposition of wives. (The ratio of men to women among living cyronicists is roughly three to one.) “She thinks the whole idea is sick, twisted and generally spooky,” wrote one man newly acquainted with the hostile-wife phenomenon. “She is more intelligent than me, insatiably curious and lovingly devoted to me and our 2-year-old daughter. So why is this happening?”

The air of hurt confusion stems, in part, from the intuition among believers that cryonics is a harmless attempt at preserving data, little different from stowing a box of photos. Of the nonreligious white males who predominate in the ranks of cryonicists, many are software engineers, a calling that puts great faith in the primacy of information. “If you have a hard drive on a computer with a lot of information that is important to you, you save it,” says J.S., a 39-year-old cryonicist and software engineer who lives in Oregon and who will not allow his full name to be used out of fear that his wife would divorce him. “You wouldn’t just throw it into a fire. It’s clear to me that memories are stored as molecular arrangements. I’m just trying to preserve the memories.”

A small amount of time spent trying to avoid certain death would seem to be well within the capacity of a healthy marriage to absorb. The checkered marital history of cryonics suggests instead that a violation beyond nonconformity is at stake, that something intrinsic to the loner’s quest for a second life agitates against harmony in the first.

Robin, the husband, offers his own theory:

“Cryonics…has the problem of looking like you’re buying a one-way ticket to a foreign land.” To spend a family fortune in the quest to defeat cancer is not taken, in the American context, to be an act of selfishness. But to plan to be rocketed into the future — a future your family either has no interest in seeing, or believes we’ll never see anyway — is to begin to plot a life in which your current relationships have little meaning. Those who seek immortality are plotting an act of leaving, an act, as Robin puts it, “of betrayal and abandonment.”

This could indeed be part of the problem. But I suspect there’s also the more general issue of one spouse valuing any obsession—could be cryonics, could be model trains—over the health of the marriage.

Interesting fodder for a story, though.

My kind of science fiction Read More »

Also, it’s the devil’s game

Dungeons & Dragons Prison Ban Upheld:

In an opinion issued on Monday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected the claims in a lawsuit challenging a ban on the game Dungeons & Dragons by the Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin.

The suit was brought by a prisoner, Kevin T. Singer, who argued that his First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights were violated by the prison’s decision to ban the game and confiscate his books and other materials, including a 96-page handwritten manuscript he had created for the game.

Mr. Singer, “a D&D enthusiast since childhood,” according to the court’s opinion, was sentenced to life in prison in 2002 for bludgeoning and stabbing his sister’s boyfriend to death.

Prison officials said they had banned the game at the recommendation of the prison’s specialist on gangs, who said it could lead to gang behavior and fantasies about escape.

Also, it’s the devil’s game Read More »