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August 2010

I Didn't Have Lemons

As I was getting my stuff out of the trunk I didn't have the grasp on my Publix grocery bag that I thought I did and it dropped to the driveway.  A pretty impressive "Crunch".  The eggs had been carefully packed at the bottom.  I'd been so pleased with the way the young woman at checkout had done that.

Sure enough.  Only one of the twelve was still whole.

No matter.  I hadn't decided what to have for lunch anyway.  I managed to get most of the remaining eleven eggs into a mixing bowl, with a minimum of bits of shell.  Lynn beat them lightly and took out the equivalent of two or three for her baking needs later this afternoon.  I went to my study to have a bloody mary and read the paper while the eggs came up to room temperature.

I suppose I ended up with the equivalent of six or seven eggs.  I fried three pieces of bacon, crisp.  There were three scallions in the bottom vegetable drawer, so I peeled off the decaying leaves and chopped the rest.  I'd picked up a basket of mixed hot peppers at the farmer's market, so I selected a long, pretty, thin red one and halved it lengthwise, scooped out about half the seeds and sliced it thin.

When the bacon was done, I put the slices on a paper towel and put the scallion & pepper into the bacon fat to cook for about a minute and a half -- just long enough for their scents to fill the kitchen and to hear them sizzle.  At least half the pleasure of cooking is the scents & sounds.

I poured a bit of milk into the eggs and then grated in maybe a quarter to a half cup of parmigiano-reggiano and beat that fairly well.  A bit of salt & pepper.  Then stirred in the crumbled bacon and the scallion/pepper mix.  I added a tablespoon or two of butter to the fat remaining in the skillet and put it on medium heat, and then poured the egg mixture in.  While it started to cook, I took one of the small tomatoes from the farmer's market and sliced that thin.  When the frittata was about half set, I placed the rounds of tomato on the top, pushing them in slightly so that the tops of the tomato slices were even with the top of the egg stuff.  A slight grate of pepper on top of each tomato slice and then one more light dusting of grated cheese.

(Should I mention at this point that I'm making it all up as I go along?  It's jazz.  You get the feel and you just kinda know what ought to work next.  Usually, it does).

Kept that cooking until there was just a little pool of uncooked eggs in the center (you test it by jiggling the pan every now and then and seeing what the egg does).  In the meantime, I had the oven broiler going.  I moved the pan into the oven, under the broiler, checking it every fifteen seconds or so until it was beautifully browned.  It just takes a minute or two.  Took it out and slid it onto one of those fine little platters that Lynn made forty years ago, that we still use regularly.

"Fresh herbs?" says Lynn. 

"Yeah, I was thinking about that, but if we're gonna do it, we need 'em quick." 

She went flying out the door, came back with a stalk of basil and a bunch of oregano.  "You do the basil, I'll chop the oregano."  We scattered the herbs half on half and let them sit for a minute or two so the heat from the frittata would wilt them, ever so slightly.

Yes, it was fabulous.  Yes, I know that the thing to do would've been to take a picture and post it here.  That's what people do nowadays, don't they?  I'm just not that into the picture taking thing.

Trust me.  It was gorgeous.


Andy & Marcel

By the time I met Andy Warhol the person had been so overshadowed by the persona that it was tough to remember what a shatteringly great artist he actually was.  This was 1984, and the Brillo Boxes, the Campbell's soup cans, the silk screened Jackie O's had long since become part of the backdrop of popular culture.  He was a cultural figure, but did anybody really think of him as an artist still capable of great work?  It seemed impossible to disentangle his influence from his celebrity.  (It occurs to me that this was also the time when Bob Dylan was considered a washed up hasbeen, respected for having done a few great albums twenty years earlier, but no longer capable of doing anything significant.)

The Warhol museum is a great corrective to this benighted view.  My visit there ten years ago was one of those world shifting art experiences that I've never quite gotten over (like the Whistler Retrospective at NGA in the mid-eighties, or seeing Ellis & Branford Marsalis together at Blues Alley in '96).   Going again was the one thing I was determined not to miss on last week's trip to Pittsburgh.

The current exhibit, "Twisted Pair", twines Warhol's work with that of Marcel Duchamp.  An inspired coupling, and the curators clearly had a lot of fun putting it together.  From the faces of some of the folks in the museum, they've clearly not lost their capacity to shock.  But mostly what's revealed from seeing so much of their work together -- some of it very familiar to me and some of it very new -- is how they shared a deep sense of joy in the world, wonder and respect for its mystery.  Neither would flinch from the harsh uglinesses of life, but they combat the darkness with a wicked, tender sense of humor. 

It appears that they may have met twice -- Duchamp, no longer active as an artist (practically no one knew that he was still working on the astonishing Etant donnes), but some sort of godlike figure to the younger generations; Andy coming into his own as the enfant terrible of pop art, but very much a fanboy when it came to the Frenchman.  Duchamp's few recorded remarks on Warhol's work are glowing and generous. 

Fittingly, the exhibition "catalog" is a tabloid newspaper.  They would have loved being in this show together.

On the way to the museum, I walked along the river, after crossing the Fort Duquesne bridge, then curved around PNC park, where people were just starting to get to the ticket windows for the Pirates' game that night against Houston (they lost that one, but won the next two).  City workers were starting to unload the barricades to block off sections of the street, and the beer trucks were unloading at Firewater's and Mullen's Bar & Grill where the faithful would be gathering after the game.  I walked another block past Finnigan's Wake, and one more to The Warhol.   I don't know the story of how the museum came to be in that location, but I'm sure Andy would've approved.


MLA/AAHSL & America COMPETES

MLA & AAHSL have issued a joint letter expressing some concerns about the Section 123 language in the House version of the America COMPETES reauthorization.  Personally, I don't think they need to worry.

Section 123 establishes an interagency public access committee that would be charged with "the responsibility to coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, supported wholly, or in part, by funding from the Federal science agencies."

The specific language that raised an eyebrow for the folks at MLA & AAHSL is the call for "uniform standards" for research data, etc., in order to insure interoperability, and to "maximize uniformity" with respect to the benefit and impact of such policies.  The letter writers are concerned that this would "almost undoubtedly have an effect on the implementation of the NIH Public Access Policy and may result in the need to rework existing standards..."

Well, I guess that you could read it that way.

Section 123 follows closely from the recommendations that we made in the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable report.   Although the Roundtable is not referenced in the legislation, it is referred to in the House Committee report, which says, "Due to the complexity and importance of this issue, the Committee urges the Public Access working group required under this section to give careful consideration to the Roundtable's report and to develop a balanced process for seeking advice from and collaborating with all parts of the non-Federal stakeholder community as it carries out its responsibilities..."

I certainly don't speak for the other members of the Roundtable (an independent minded group of individuals, to be sure), nor for whoever drafted the Section 123 language, but in our discussions we returned again and again to the issue of interoperability.  While we felt strongly that, on the one hand, agencies needed some flexibility in developing and adapting their policies to meet the specific needs of the disciplines that they support, we were also alarmed at the notion of completely independent and uncoordinated efforts and the prospect of multiple repositories that couldn't interact with each other in any effective way.  Hence the calls for standards and "maximum uniformity".

We refer to the NIH Public Access Policy and to PMC in several places, taking those as given.  Implicit in the report is the notion that the PMC standards must be one of the basic building blocks of establishing standards that can be applied across any and all repositories.  Any move that would reduce the effectiveness of what has already been established in PMC would be a significant step backwards.  So I was surprised at the concern expressed in the MLA/AAHSL letter.  We just never looked at it that way.

Still, given what has been involved in the development of PMC, both before and after the implementation of the NIH Public Access Policy, I can see where there might be some nervousness.  The MLA/AAHSL letter recommends some language that could be added to Section 123 that would mitigate that nervousness, and something like that would certainly still be in keeping with the spirit of the report.

One of the flaws of FRPAA in its current incarnation is that it lacks any call for coordination among the agencies.  Because it is so narrowly focused on the public access issue, it lacks assurances for the kinds of interoperability that is absolutely essential if we are going to reap all of the potential benefits from applying large scale computing (text and data mining) across multidisciplinary repositories. 

Important as public access is, it musn't be viewed in a vacuum, or as the supreme social good.  At this critical moment in history, we need to be sure that we are paying as much attention to preservation & archiving, interoperability, and stewardship of the Version of Record (VoR) as we are to maximum availability.  As we found in our Roundtable discussions, this does make the development of policy more complex, but it is worth taking the time and making the effort. 


The Klosterman Question

Great.  Just what I need.  Another indispensable writer.

I've been vaguely aware of Chuck Klosterman for some time -- have read, I suppose, the occasional essay or article.  A couple of weeks ago I read a review of Eating the Dinosaur -- it's just come out in paperback.  I was intrigued, but I'm trying to avoid buying new books until the stack next to my chair is whittled down to something slightly shorter than JoBug.

But I underestimated what I needed to bring to read for the flight to Pittsburgh.    By the time I got to Atlanta I was almost through the David Sedaris book that was supposed to last me the entire flight.  So I ducked into a Buckhead Books and scanned the new arrivals rack and there was Eating the Dinosaur.  I guess it was meant to be.

He's funny, but he's not a humorist.  He just has a funny way of looking at the world.  But he looks very deeply and uses his writing to try to figure out what he's seeing.  Why do interviews work?  Why does the notion of time travel make him feel so uncomfortable?   What does the Kurt Cobain's response to his rock stardom tell us about rock stardom in general?  What does Cobain's sanity, or lack thereof, tell us about our own?

In the essay about time travel he says,

Here's a question I like to ask people when I'm 5/8 drunk:  Let's say you had the ability to make a very brief phone call into your own past.  You are (somehow) given the opportunity to phone yourself as a teenager; in short, you will be able to communicate with the fifteen year old version of you.  However, you will only get to talk to your former self for fifteen seconds.

Coincidentally, I've been thinking a lot about my mid-teen years lately. 

Implicit in the question is the notion that you'd use those 15 seconds to somehow correct something based on the knowledge you now have.  Klosterman says the results tend to split between gender lines -- women "advise themselves not to do something they now regret..., while men almost always instruct themselves to do something they failed to attempt..."

I can't think of a thing.

It's certainly not that I don't have regrets.  The piles grow daily, I'm afraid.  There's the big ones -- I deeply regret the pain that I caused my first wife when I decided to leave that marriage.  Despite knowing that it was the right thing to do, I'll never get over it.  

And there are thousands of little regrets.  In Toronto a couple of years ago, I ended up at The Rex one afternoon.  It was a benefit show for an Asperger's foundation, and a young man with Asperger's spoke briefly about how important the organization was to him.   He spoke movingly and as he walked past me I placed my hand on his shoulder in what I intended to be a gesture of support.  He didn't flinch, but it was an incredibly dumb thing of me to do and my face gets warm whenever that memory floats by -- which it does uncomfortably often.

And why didn't I help those two young women struggling to pull their cart full of office supplies up the curb as I was headed out to lunch this afternoon?

But what could I tell that fifteen year old self that would, ultimately, have improved my life or enabled me to cause less pain to those around me?  I can't think of a thing.

Klosterman pushes you like that.  And I know he's going to talk me into buying more records.