Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Post#110 Mushroom Ragout Recipe from the Chef at Travian

I cut and pasted the following recipe from the forum at Australian Server 2. Travian caught my eye back in September when I saw that it was being widely advertised as the most popular browser-based strategy game. I've never had anyhting to do with this particular sort of Internet pastime so I decided to have a go. It's apparently played by people aged from seven to seventy and some people become quite addicted to it. If you have a couple of friends who can mind your account for you ("sitters" as they call it), you can play it fairly successfully without a lot of time being invested.

I saw this recipe posted on the forum by a player using the handle "Tylers". If you want to take him up on his invitation to respond you'll need to register to play on Australian Server 2 to access the forum.

"As most of you will know by now I am a Head Chef in a restaurant... and today I had to make the MOST amazing recipe I have ever tasted and I wanted to share it with you... it's cheap, quick and easy to make:

Mushroom Ragout (Serves 2)


-About 7-10 medium sized mushrooms (Any kind)
-Half a glass of white wine (Any kind)
-Thickening powder, if not then flour (Plain or corn)
-Some frying oil (Sunflower, rapeseed etc.)
-3 cloves of garlic
-300ml Fresh Double Cream
-Some rice or pasta etc. to accompany


1. Chop your onions and slice your mushrooms, put a saucepan of water on the boil for your rice/pasta.

2. Put about 3 tablespoons of oil into a frying pan and put your onions and mushrooms on until nice and golden brown.

3. Put your rice/pasta on the boil.

4. Put your fried up mushrooms and onions into a saucepan and add the cream (Stir regularly).

5. Add your garlic and as much of the wine as you like. If you like your food nice and rich, then add the whole half glass; if you only want a bit, just add a splash.

6. Leave it to simmer for 5-10 minutes whilst stirring it regularly.

7. Add some thikening powder/flour until the ragout sauce is the consitency of custard.

8. Plate up your rice and top it off with your ragout.

9. Grab a beer or a glass of wine and enjoy I really do emplore you to try this out... it is sooo nice!

Oh and by the way if you do make it then post your thoughts or possible additions or improvements to the recipe! - T"

Post#109 A kick in the Qaeda (How many words does the English language contain?)

Last night I heard a BBC programme relayed through ABC NewsRadio. The crew were discussing someone's computer-generated prediction that in 2009 the vocabulary count for English would reach one million. As the guy being interviewed pointed out, the question is: How do you define "word"? He gave the example "is, are, was". I think it's fairly easy to accept that the various parts of verbs and plurals of nouns can be excluded. There's only one instance of "case" left in English, as far as I know; that's the personal pronouns, as in I, me, us, we, etc. That can get tricky, with argument about whether they rate as unique words, whether the old forms "thou" and "ye" and so on can still be counted. Then there's the issue of whether words of the type "my" and "mine" are genitive cases of pronouns or "possessive adjectives". I support the former view. Same goes for who and whom and myself. Pronouns all. The grammar-meddlers who say otherwise can visit the taxidermist for a good stuffing. Anyway, there are so few words in this category that we can ignore them in this context.

What is harder is dealing with words like "table". Apart from the furniture it denotes a collection of figures or words organised in a rectangular array for comparative or computational purposes. Unlike with "bear" the beast and "bear" the deed, these aren't completely separable etymologies with an accidental coincidence in modern spelling. The figurative use of "table" to describe the written data derives from the use of table-tops for ciphering and writing. I.e. actually writing on wood with chalk or drawing in sand spread on the table. So, are these two separate words or two connotations of one word? (Discuss in a ten-thousand word dissertation and have it on my desk by three-thirty p.m. on Monday.)

On firmer footing is the issue of loan-words. I think I've found an original slant on this. I've heard a lot of argument over many years about when a word imported from a foreign language is truly an English word. I think the easiest way to settle this bugbear is to apply a benchmark usage test. I'd propose that if a word can be understood by most randomly-chosen English-speakers that you say it to then it has become an English word. A good example is the vocabulary we've acquired from the Western Asiatic disturbances of the past thirty years. This includes ayatollah, fatwa, fedayeen, imam, jihad, madrassa, muezzin, mullah and mujahideen. Shahid (martyr) is probably familiar to people who take a particular interest.

"Allahu akbar" is a phrase which everybody on Earth has heard and which, if accepted as intelligible to most English-speakers, can now reasonably be called part of the English language. It's an example of a phrase which denotes a cultural context or can be used in a narrative. For example, if you're telling a story about a political rally or other event involving Muslims and you say or write, "The crowd were chanting 'Allahu akbar' ", you don't really need to explain its meaning. Having said that, I'll now dispute its meaning...

Although a phrase such as "Allahu akbar" can be understood in essence when translated into other words more familiar to English language speakers, there is a tendency to try to exoticise foreign-origin phrases or even to try to make them sound simplistic or awkward. This is, I suspect, to emphasise the weirdness of the foreign language or of the foreigners themselves. This is where translation occurs at a literal level without conveying a correct semantic impression. The usual translation given for "Allahu akbar" is "God is great" or "God is the greatest". This sounds to an English speaker like a rather crude choice of words; as though "God" was the name of a brand of cola drink. A more reverential tone would be struck by translating it as "The Lord is Supreme". A similar case is "Al Qaeda". This is usually translated as "the base". It may well be the word used in Arabic for "base" as in "base of operations" or "military base". However, to give a more significant and accurate translation to English, I feel that "foundation" is the right word, (even though there is another Arabic word meaning "foundation" as in a developmental institution). Thus, "Al Qaeda" would be "The Foundation".

To finish; an interesting example on these lines is the German word panzerkampfwagen. This is usually rendered as "tank" in English. The complete word can be comfortably translated as "armoured fighting vehicle." Someone wanting to make German look dopey could literally translate this as "panoplied struggle wagon". (That phrase reminds me of the embellished panel vans that Australian teenagers used during the 1970's and 80's for extra-domestic inter-gender relationship development. That's another story...)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Post#108 Christmas comes - just in time to beat Easter! (Commercialism and holidays)

I can't be sure when it started, but I think it's been in the past decade that the retailers began jumping on the holiday bandwagons much earlier than most people think reasonable. I first spotted Christmas decorations and seasonal foods on sale this year at Woolworths in Centro Dianella in the early days of October. Other retailers soon followed.

The remnants of the left-over Easter eggs had barely been sold off at gross discounts before their place was taken by the Christmas goods. Those Easter chocolates now include a great range of chocolate rabbits and the battling Easter bilby. (Click that, scroll down and you'll see a cute furry animal and two humans nearly throttling it. And here for a better view of the furry beast). These left-overs are often partially crushed/melted and are the wounded debris of the last days of pre-public-holiday shopping. Their metallic paper wrappers are usually dented like a depressed-fracture of the skull and they are about the most pitiful-looking stuff to ever hit the remainder shelves. Only a few years ago they were disposed of more discreetly, now they're shamelessly flogged.

(Alston, the cartoonist for The West Australian, has done a couple of good cartoons on this in recent years. In the first he shows the Easter Bunny riding with Santa Claus in his sleigh and saying "Thanks for the lift, mate. Joining forces is a good idea in the current economic climate." In the next year's the Bunny was being unpleasant, abusing a tardy Santa in a store: "Come on, you lazy old bastard, get a move on! It's my turn!")

Woolworths has a nauseating jingle they keep playing over their speaker system that contains the phrase "We're Woolworths the fresh food people". This is sung as, "Ther freshh fooood pee-pullll" in an unctuous and conceited tone by the sorts of voices you hear in jingles. All so loving and sweet. I loathe the blasted thing. A few weeks back I was in their Dianella store with a female friend and I busted out singing my own take on it: "We're Woolworths the greeeedy baaastaards and we're ripping you off! we're ripping you off!! we're ripping you off todaaay!!!" She joined in and a couple of other people chimed in as well in the aisle we were in. Other people in other aisles could be heard laughing. Then security was called for over the speakers and a couple of people prowled the aisles looking for the "offenders". They didn't have a clue who'd done it so I approached one of these twits and told her that it was a couple of bikies who'd just gone out the exit lane. They lost interest at that point. I couldn't believe it at the time, but in retrospect it was only to be expected. They're allowed to sing irritating songs to you. You can't reciprocate.

IGA at Dianella also has a cold eye and a hard jaw. Once, in IGA, I saw a store employee clearing the bakery shelves and chucking the unsold bread, cakes, etc. into a trolley very roughly. I asked her, "Does this all go to the tip?" She replied that it did. Baker's Delight at Dianella gives their daily surplus to charity workers who collect it at the end of business. I mentioned this and asked why IGA didn't do the same. She said, with some disgust, "I know; we've suggested it to the management here, but they don't want to know." Yep, they're all great lovers of humanity and full of generous spirit.

These two festivals, Christmas and Easter, bookend important sales phases in the business calendar and Jesus is the last thing on their minds. I've often thought we should bring back the pagan gods for these sorts of events. They liked a good booze up and cutting a deal or two. No-one had to pretend they were in it for love and self-improvement. We don't really have to believe in them, they can just be useful commercial vehicles. And there are so many of them. They'd fill the calendar. Actually, maybe I could sell that idea for something...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Post#107 "Wow, Enceladus!" (A story Dugg from the blog "The Bad Astronomer")

The Bad Astronomer discusses new Cassini images of Enceladus, a tiny water-ice moon orbiting Saturn: "...water and organic materials, and a known mechanism (tidal heating) to keep the water liquid, and to help mix it. Provocative, isn’t it?" Check them out!

read more digg story

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Post#106 Patriotic Squandering (The Australian Government's Economic Stimulus Package for 2008)

I couldn't really take in what was happening until a few days ago. Then it got through to me that the Commonwealth Government was giving money away. Just giving it away. And the only squawk from their so-called Opposition was that some people would spend it on booze, gambling, drugs and whores and that others would just sit on it as savings. Apart from what I think of the idea in general, I think these are just the same sort of nit-picking nonsenses that Malcolm Turnbull is making into a standard practice. The money that is saved by being banked is ultimately providing capital for loans and the vice industries are just as real a part of the economy as a delicatessen or retailer of vacuum-cleaners.

My exasperation with it is because the government has found over a thousand million dollars to spend on a scattergun subsidy rather than thinking about investing in a long-term restructure. A good starting point would be the banking and housing sectors. That's where the current furore began and it would be a good place to begin with repairing the system.

The Road to Housing Hell

The perennial treadmill with these two sectors is the rent-trap into which prospective buyers are forced as they attempt to save to purchase a home. Those savings are eroded as the landlords attempt to extract maximum profit from the rental properties. At the same time, the prices of homes for sale also rise, as the vendors attempt to make the greatest possible return on their capital.

The rent-slaves don't like their servitude and respond by trying to increase their incomes. Those employed by others seek higher wages, those who own businesses raise the prices charged to their customers and/or try to cut their costs. One of the cost-cutting measures may be shedding staff; trying to do the same or more with less. Some of those shed will be those rent-trappped ones trying to get money together for a home purchase. So there's a stimulus right there to inflation and unemployment. What happens to the unemployed who can't find new employment quickly? The landlord still wants that rent and if they can't continue to meet it they're out, looking for cheaper accommodation.

These are complex issues, and complicated. I have heard people say that they prefer renting to owning their own home but those people seem likely to be in a very small minority, so these stresses will affect most people in the developed world.

Housing has become a focus for those who study the economic indicators. The figures for new construction commencements are scrutinised fiercely each quarter and the progress of prices is tracked breathlessly in the financial media. I see in this a main feature of the problem. The fundamental purpose of housing construction must provide housing. Not to provide incomes to constructors, realtors, conveyancers, landlords and speculators. Nor to housing industry analysts. This is the same malaise that afflicts money markets. When currency becomes primarily a speculative commodity the price of it ceases to have any relevance to the real-world value of what is being marketed. Money should be valued according to what can be bought with it, housing should be valued according to the quantity and quality of the work and materials applied to the construction and the utility of the site.

(More to follow...)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Post#105 Murder Two - And Some Rapes (Fatal Choices by Female Crime Victims.)

It is a truism familiar to law officers and connoiseurs of crime that most crimes against women are committed in their own homes by men who are closely asociated with the victim. When any woman turns up dead or suspectly missing, the police searchlight swings around seeking the (usually estranged) husband, boyfriend, father, brother, son, etc. That is, unless there is a self-evident circumstance that indicates a different class of offender.

In any interview with a "dial-a-quote" type on the topic of women and crime there's now a mandatory phase in which the expert informs the audience that women are in most danger from their own "friends" and family. It's become a commonplace datum which most people are aware of due to dint of repetition. The usual focus of the argument is that fictional accounts of crime are weighted in favour of depicting "stranger danger" because it provides better material for creating dramatic tension.

I don't contest any of that, but it still leaves a large body of crime that is committed against women by strangers. I've observed a pattern in these events that is an ironic and tragic counterpoint to the threat from one's familiars. Again and again I read accounts of women raped and /or killed in a repeating scenario which I call Fatal Error Number One or "The Angry Girl Storms Out".

An example which is close to hand is the case of the 1963 murder of Rosemary Anderson in Perth, W.A. The prelude to her death was a horribly trivial tiff over a piece of fried fish. While visiting her boyfriend she tried to pilfer a piece of battered fish from his plate. He, seeing a hand sneaking into view, mistook it for the hand of his younger brother and snarled, "Get your own!" in a very savage tone of voice. Rosemary was appalled by the cruel response to this bit of mischief and gathered her gear and left the house in a distressed state. According to John Button, her boyfriend who was later wrongfully convicted in the matter, Rosemary had done this before when affronted and was impervious to reason when angered. She set out to walk home and was the victim of vehicular homicide by Eric Cooke. John had followed her in his car hoping that she would cool off and allow him to drive her home. It was during an interlude when she was out of his sight that Cooke ran her down with a stolen car. This case is definitively covered in Estelle Blackburn's books Broken Lives and The End of Innocence and John Button's work Why Me, O Lord!

Another famous case in W.A. is the rape and murder of Anne Zappelli in 1969. She was at a drive-in theatre in Geraldton when she became bored or irritated and decided to leave her friends in their car and...walk home. A man later made a death-bed confession; there's a link to an ABC story about it here.

An episode that caught my attention was a brutal rape that occurred in Perth in the early hours of New Year's Day in 1993. A young woman took a taxi home from celebrating the New Year and asked the driver to let her disembark at a corner a short distance from her home. According to the taxi-driver, a man walked by as she left the car and she called out "Happy New Year!" to this passerby. He didn't respond. She was later found unconscious in an alley; severely beaten, raped, her clothes torn to bits and her shoes missing. When she was able to speak, she alleged that the passerby she'd greeted was the offender. I never heard further on this case after the initial report. I have no idea whether he was caught but I do know this to be an example of Fatal Error Number Two or "The Girl Snatches Peril From The Jaws Of Safety". In this scenario simple impatience or penny-pinching or not wanting to impose or some other such exasperatingly trivial impulse leads to horrible consequences. A short-cut through a car-park, a playing field, a poorly-lit laneway. Saving a bus or taxi fare. Not waiting for that friend to provide a ride home. Not wanting to take someone a kilometre out of their way.

Again and again the stories appear. Women fleeing the safety of their friends' company and delivering themselves into the hands of monsters. Women unwittingly taking grave risks for petty reasons. "Reclaim the night!" Sure. Call me when it happens. Until then, I wish I could scream in the ears of all those who may make these errors: "Don't! Don't! For Christ's sake, DON'T!!" As a less histrionic aid I'd advise any young woman to find a copy of Gavin de Becker's book The Gift of Fear and recommend that they read it twice and be prepared to answer questions. The answers could save their lives.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Post#104 Murder One: Lesbian Vampire Killers and Their Unjust Deserts (Western Australian Murders and Penalties)

The notorious case of Jessica Stasinowsky and Valerie Parashumti has notched up another milestone. The inevitable appeals alleging harshness of sentence are now appearing in the court lists. The lovely Valerie Parashumti has stuck first with an application for reduction of sentence. Her barrister has argued to the Appeal division of the Supreme Court of Western Australian that the sentences imposed earlier this year were excessive. This is a standard part of the cycle of such cases and usually makes the average person wonder what kind of maggot-nest a criminal defence lawyer must have for a brain. However, although it's a familiar routine and I've become used to it, a note was struck in the report of the plea on Parashumti's behalf that staggered me. The defence advocate has contended that the offence in this matter was not in the worst category.

This genius of the forensic arts proposed that the most serious categories of murder are those involving assassinations of public officials such as judges or police officers. So, a bullet in the back of the head to one of these, is worth a more serious sentence than the deeds of the two offenders in this matter. This really is a provocation.

The problem we have in these islands is that we've seen the removal of the death penalty as a standard penalty for wilful homicide. This was done at the discretion of politicians with no plebiscite and without the matter being contested in the context of an election campaign. It was slipped in under the radar by MP's who believed that they knew better than the bloodthirsty canaille. Now judges are obliged to try to grade murders and reserve the longest sentences for the worst. The trap in this is that there is never going to be a "worst" murder. There's no bottom with these offences; whatever one may imagine, there will always be a worse. Under the old system, a life deliberately taken was worth a life. It still is. The law simply doesn't recognise the fact.

The other significant issue in this case is the familiarity which the gruesome subject matter is acquiring. We had another murder in this State shortly before this one which was of a similar style; two teenage girls murdered another girl in a shared house in the town of Collie. These were the sorts of killings which would have been beyond imagining in WA thirty years ago. Now they're forming a pattern.

Whenever the accused and their friends appear at the courthouse the casual observer could mistake the gathering for a convention of fans of the vampire movie genre. I may be overestimating it, but there seem to be a lot more of these vampire lesbians around these days. The curmudgeons who keep railing against the decadent influence of the entertainment industry used to attract barrages of derision from the "progressives" who kept insisting that fantasy and reality had no causal connection and that someone could immerse themselves in as much horror and violence as they pleased with no ill-effects. The evidence for the righteousness of the curmudgeons appears to be accumulating.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Post#103 Fomalhaut Planet

A while back I saw a news item about the discovery of a visible planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut. Television news showed a brief video clip simulating the planet's orbit. It seems to be following an eccentric orbit around the star and approaching quite close to the star. It's not a plausible candidate for supporting life of any kind but it should finally settle the hash of any remotely sane skeptic on the topic of the existence of planets outside our solar system. That is, if all the gravity-distortion data hasn't convinced them already.

It was only a few years ago that there were astronomers seriously proposing that our solar system may be the only one in the universe with planets or that ever has or will have them. How anyone could be that far into solipsism beats me from here to Brisbane. Was it ever remotely likely that in all of space and time our star system was so defiantly unique? As a hypothesis it really should have been relegated to the category of the infinitesimally probable during the nineteenth century.

I don't put much stock in the prospect of aliens pestering us in the recent past or future but I think it would be ill-advised on the same scale as the "no other planets" hypothesis to hold to an absolute denial of their existence. Of course, most other life in the universe will be of the sort which existed hundreds of millions of years ago on this planet. Other types may have progressed in a more benevolent star's orbit, where the extinction events which have disrupted the history of our planet may not have occurred. This could put them ahead of us intellectually and technologically. Of course, Nature being capricious, a planet which has been subjected to great plagues of extinction events may be harbouring a supremely adaptive and relentless species which is just about to take over the Universe. (In which case, let me be the first to welcome our new overlords.)

I was reflecting today on the indifference of these facts of Universal life to our opinions and perceptions. These alien planets have been there through all of recorded history and well before it. If they are trees in the Galactic forest, no human observer has been required to permit their growth or fall to occur. And there are probably wonders and mysteries out there which we may come and go without ever knowing or even imagining the existence of.