Tuesday, February 28, 2012

For Jeremy Lin, no miracles necessary

A really nice read from my friend Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times, on why Jeremy Lin is such a big deal, anyway:

The verbal backhand came from on high, a swipe by basketball royalty at someone he’d deemed a peon. Jeremy Lin’s reputation was bruised, but he didn’t notice until he was en route to Madison Square Garden to face the Lakers on Feb 10.

It was then that the New York Knicks guard caught wind of Kobe Bryant’s remarks. The Lakers star said the night before that he had “no idea” of Lin’s meteoric rise. When asked if he’d guard Lin, Bryant laughed.

For the 23-year-old Lin, an undrafted player cut twice by NBA teams, Bryant’s slight was like a struck match. “And that’s all I needed,” Lin later told his trainer, E.J. Costello.

Holmes is also Tumbling over at Write by Me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Caging of America: Why Do We Lock Up So Many People?

From Adam Gopnick of the New Yorker:

The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,” Dylan sings, and while it isn’t strictly true—just ask the prisoners—it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Heart of Dark Chocolate

Beer is the Dom Perignon of the Amazon. The surest way to get everyone’s attention is to show up with an obscene amount. We had everyone’s attention.”

From Rowan Jacobsen of Outside:

They called it Cru Sauvage. The impeccable Swiss packaging alluded to its aboriginal provenance, and inside were two bars wrapped in golden foil, 68 percent cacao. I’d paid $13 (plus shipping!) for these skinny little planks of chocolate, just 100 grams’ worth of “Wild Vintage.” That’s $60 a pound. After savaging its wrapper, I placed a square of the dusky stuff on my tongue and closed my eyes.

 Chocolate is the one of the most complex foods we know. It contains more than 600 flavor compounds. (Red wine has only 200.) Chocolate can be bitter, sweet, fruity, nutty, and savory all at once. It takes the vast library of taste and blends it into one revelatory package. The tropical cacao tree has secret things to tell us about flavor and desire, and for more than a decade I’ve made a hobby of tracking down those secrets.

This incredibly rare and expensive chocolate was produced by the venerable firm of Felchlin, which claimed that it was unique in the world, made from an ancient strain of cacao native to the Bolivian Amazon—i.e., wild cacao, au naturel, unmolested by millennia of botanical tinkering. It hit me with an intense nuttiness, but without the slightest hint of bitterness, a combination I’d never experienced. Aromatics burst in my sinuses. Citrus and vanilla. The flavor dove into a deep, rich place, and then, just as I thought I had a handle on it, the bottom fell out and it dove some more. That might sound ridiculous, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time “researching” the best chocolate in the world, geeking out on it like the most obnoxious sommelier, and this was something entirely new.

When the feeling finally began to subside, I opened my eyes and started looking for the man responsible.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Neverending Nightmare of Amanda Knox

I’m glued to this Amanda Knox story. Here’s a fascinating look at the case from Nathaniel Rich, in the June 2011 issue of Rolling Stone:

When an attractive young woman from a privileged British family is murdered in Italy, you’ve got a popular crime story. When the person suspected of killing her is an attractive young woman from a privileged American family, you have tabloid gold. When the prosecutor hypothesizes that the victim was slaughtered during a satanic ritual orgy, you’ve got the crime story of a decade. When a sitting U.S. senator declares that the case “raises serious questions about the Italian justice system” and asks if “anti-Americanism” is to blame, and when 11 Italian lawmakers in Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition request a probe of the prosecutor’s office — well, at that point, you have an international crisis.

One might expect that the lead role in this blockbuster would be assigned to the victim, a placid, pretty girl from London named Meredith Kercher. The daughter of a tabloid writer and his Indian-born wife, Kercher was a serious student who didn’t take herself too seriously; she had been drawn to the Italian city of Perugia, in part, for its reputation as the City of Chocolate. She quickly made a group of British girlfriends, joining them for dinner parties, movie nights and dancing at the local discos. Kercher was beautiful, bubbly, devoted to her family, a model daughter.

And yet, less than a day after her murder, Meredith Kercher was all but forgotten. The show was stolen by an accidental ingénue named Amanda Knox, who, until she was convicted of murder and sentenced to spend the next 26 years in prison, was unaware of a number of significant facts about herself. Knox did not understand, for instance, that she was beautiful. It was new to her, her beauty — as a high school student at Seattle Prep she was heavier, had acne and was more devoted to rock climbing and backpacking than to dating. She didn’t have her first boyfriend until she was 19. “She’s a little dork who doesn’t wear matched socks,” says her best friend, Madison Paxton. “I’d never use ‘sexy’ to describe her.” Her beauty is no longer a mystery to her, however, now that she’s received hundreds of letters from male admirers all over the world.

Knox also didn’t realize that she would be judged by her behavior, her looks and her nationality. Nor did she suspect that her faith in human nature was a dangerous fantasy. She would learn other terrible lessons along the way too — the kinds of things most of us don’t like to think about. In July, while she waits for her appeal case to be settled, Knox will turn 24. It will be her fourth consecutive birthday in jail. She’s learned her lessons. Now she just wants to go home.

The Very Pink, Very Perfect Life of Taylor Swift

Vanessa Grigoriadis in Rolling Stone, January 2009:

Swift seems to have three gears — giggly and dorky; worrying about boys and pouring that emotion into song; and insanely driven, hyper self-controlled perfectionism — and, as she embarks on a wholesome afternoon activity, the third aspect of her personality comes into play. In Hill and McGraw’s white-marble kitchen, she attacks the task of baking mocha chocolate-chip cookies with a single-mindedness rarely seen outside a graduate-level chemistry class, measuring and sifting and whipping with sharp, expert movements, while her father keeps up a patter about her career.

It takes superhuman strength for a teenager to listen to her father talk at length about her personal life, and even Swift—the goodiest goody-goody in the nation—struggles to remain polite. She’s constantly worried about saying something that could be construed as offensive to her fans, and even swats away a question about her political preferences before conceding that she supports the president: “I’ve never seen this country so happy about a political decision in my entire time of being alive,” she says. “I’m so glad this was my first election.” Her eyes dart around like a cornered rat as her dad runs on about the tour bus on which she travels with her mom: “We call it the ‘Estrogen Express,’” he says. “That’s not what we call it,” counters Swift. Then her dad talks about the treadmill he got for her, because she didn’t want to deal with signing autographs at the gym. “That’s not why!” yelps Swift. “I just don’t want to look nasty and sweaty when people are taking pictures of me.”

But these are momentary distractions in an otherwise pleasant afternoon. Within 45 minutes, Swift produces two dozen perfect, chewy cookies, which she offers around with a glass bottle of milk. Suddenly, she squints at the jar, and shrieks a little: eggnog. She scours the fridge but comes up empty-handed, irritated by the foolishness of her mother, whom she surmises was shopping absent-mindedly. This cannot be. Snack time is ruined. Then she blinks rapidly and composes herself.

“I didn’t do that,” she says, shaking her head firmly. “Mom did that.”

You are what you read, right? Adding everything Vanessa Grigoriadis has written to my reading list.