Sunday, October 26, 2014

Time for smut

This morning I woke up to discover that during the night the clocks had been set back an hour back to standard time. This gave me an extra hour. Why not share my latest adventures in cuisine? I bought some huitlcoche yesterday. At 20 peso an ear it's not cheap and its nickname is Mexican truffles. More properly it's called corn smut. It's a kind of fungus that infests corn. I'd read of huitlacoche but I don't believe I'd seen it in the market place and certainly never eaten it. Here it is:

I fried the huitlacoche into a hastily improvised salsa and enjoyed with tortilla chips. Unfortunately, neither my wife nor my dogs were willing to do much more than sniff at the results.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Libertarianism, Children and Smoking

I follow, with increasingly less interest, a libertarian website called Libertarians believe that people should be free to do as they choose as long as they don't hurt anyone. A laudable principle, I think.

So Brendan O'Neill, a libertarian writer who posts at, posts this article recently about the Totalitarian Crusade Against Second Hand Smoke. It's all about the attempts to ban smoking in cars where children are present. Brendan argues these attempts "show what shockingly low esteem the ideal of autonomy is held in these days, so that anyone who stands up and says "I think adults should be free to choose what vices to indulge in and pleasures to pursue" is either laughed at for being naive or branded a wicked stooge for Big Tobacco."

Brendan also derides the 'Nanny State' and questions the sincerity of anyone who would speak on behalf of the children. Those commenting on the article take up this line of, let's be generous, argument and we find those disagreeing with Brendan mocked with  cries of "IT'S FOW DA CHILLDRUUUUNZ!"

What I found noteworthy in this exchange is how it squares with Libertarian ethics. Libertarians base their ethics on the sanctity of people to do as they choose, and the honouring of contracts freely entered into by parties who enjoy equal standing before the law. On the surface, it's fairly compelling, but for the fact that children are overwhelming the largest class of society that is systematically, legally prohibited from entering into contracts and fully taking part in society. IT'S FOW DA CHILLDRUUUUNZ only makes sense when one accepts the second class nature of children's participation in society.

Not only do most self-styled libertarians seem to accept this state of affairs, they revel in it. Why are children and the causes that benefit children treated with such contempt? To me, this illustrates the underside of Libertarianism. On the surface, it's all about reason and freedom. Only on the underside does it show its ugly nature: bullying, smugness, cheap-jack cynicism and spite. Children are society's weakest members, legally only a few steps away from a woman's or a slave's position a couple hundred years back. Rather than try to draw children into the circle of freely choosing people that constitutes a Libertarian society, libertarians seem content to kick a man (even better a child) while he's down.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Visit to Potaltik

Last Sunday, we enjoyed a visit to Potaltik, a large garden/nature reserve on the outskirts of Comitan, Chiapas, not far from the border with Guatemala. It was not the best season for viewing flowers as the garden was in a quiet period, but I look forward to another visit in a few months when the plants are blossoming. The owners of the garden, Ceci and Jorge, are especially interested in orchids and bromeliads, and they are dedicated to preserving and promoting these plants more than anything else.

Jorge is proud of his garden, gave us a tour and told us about the orchids. I'd come across the orchid/wasp mimickry in A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari. They use this example of the orchid relying on the wasp, (or with other varieties, other insects and spiders etc) to illustrate their key notions of rhizome and territorialization. (Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal) An interesting read but apparently these authors don't nearly do justice to the bizarre complexity of orchid sexuality. I learned from Jorge that orchids can't reproduce without the presence of a certain fungus, and wikipedia backs him up. The orchid's parasitism on the fungi is critical to germination.

It's important to note, that unlike the honey bee, the wasp doesn't feed off the orchid. His attraction is purely sexual, and it is often the case that the visiting wasp will actually ejaculate into the orchid. He'll be fooled again by another orchid and spread pollen in the attempt to find a true female wasp. Another parasitic relationship.

Despite all the fuss and bother, human sexuality is a surprisingly simple affair. Typically, a male and female of the same species get together and they produce offspring.

Orchid sexuality is anything but simple. Life on earth is divided into kingdoms. For those of us without microscopes, there are three kingdoms: plants, animals and fungi. What's significant to me about the orchid's sexuality is that it involves a collaboration spread across three taxonomic kingdoms. I wonder if there is any other living thing, so beautiful and close to us, that enjoys a sexuality so heterogeneous, wide-ranging and dispersed.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Malcolm, Maya and Me

Just a few loosely connected items I want to bring up in this post, the first being the recent biography of Malcolm X by Manning Marable. I'd bought the original autobiography years ago but never got around to reading it. My knowledge of Malcolm came from watching videos of his speeches and the Spike Lee film. What surprised me about his life is the role of his family. His father was a dedicated political activist for Marcus Garvey, a conservative black separatist. Malcolm's conversion to Islam came about from the suggestion of another family member, one of his brothers, who told Malcolm that if he stopped smoking and eating pork, he would get out of prison. Not sure why his family playing such an important role in shaping his career should surprise me; perhaps its due to the heroic myth making that surrounds him.

Maya is the name of the 13th Mint Linux release. Number one was given a name starting with 'a', two 'b' etc. But before I go further, I have to bring up a problem I had with Windows.  Anyone not interested in a slightly technical discussion, or those who have not monkeyed around with the factory installed partitions on a Toshiba laptop may wish to skip the following paragraph.

I have a dual boot system, and my Windows partition was functioning extremely slowly. Even installation was painfully slow, and installing the automatic updates on shutdown took hours. At first I thought it was malware that I'd picked up along the way, but this couldn't have been the case. Then I discovered in the Linux disk utility programme that my Windows partition was misaligned. Never heard of that problem so I checked the forums, and indeed this is an issue that Toshiba hard disks are prone to, as well as a few others.  The terminal command "sudo fdisk -lu" will show if there is any problem with a misaligned partition. The forums didn't really give me any solutions, so I came up with my own. Very easy and quick once data is backed up. Using Gparted, delete the partition, and create it again, only this time, in the tab at the bottom of the page where the choice of align to CYLINDER, MB, or NONE is given, choose NONE, not the default option it should be noted. Run fdisk again to check the partition is properly aligned once Gparted has done its thing. If everything looks good, install Windows again. I did and the installation and all other read/write operations are some three or four times the previous speed.

Maya comes in to this because in the course of all this bother, I needed to reinstall the Linux. I'd lost the original Olivia 15 files in the shuffle, and decided to try the latest: Mint Linux Petra 16 KDE. (I was also keen to create a third partition, for data, accessible to both Windows and Linux.)  I found Petra a very unsatisfactory choice, and I decided a 'downgrade' was needed. It's not possible to downgrade a Linux version to a previous version. A clean start is necessary. The forums pointed to Maya, number 13, the most recent Long Term Release, where support will be continued for some years into the future. Not partition alignment, but some cosmic alignment issues also seemed to point in that direction, what with me living in the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization, as well as coinciding with my reading of Malcolm X's biography. 'mx' has long been my user name when dealing with Linux. Originally it had been simply 'm' but somewhere along the way, I ran into a release that insisted on my using at least two characters. I've been mx ever since. Malcolm X played no part in the choice, but it is noteworthy that he was shot and killed on my birthday and he was born on my sister's birthday. I hope these alignments make my choice an auspicious one. So far I am pleased.