LPK Open for Business

There’s a joke among my friends, persistent but no longer very funny after fifteen years, that I’ll eat in only one New Orleans restaurant. It’s not true—I’ll eat anywhere, especially in New Orleans. But if you know The Pizza Kitchen, the one in the Quarter between the old federal mint and the French Market, you might believe it.

Is it the food? Yes and no. The food is good: wood-oven baked, thin crust gourmet pizzas; an award-winning Caesar salad; surprising pasta dishes; all with a generous dollop of local ingredients, like andouille sausage and crawfish (and even once, briefly, nutra-rat!) The menu is wide and diverse, and most entrees slide in under $11.00 in a town where it’s possible to pay any price for a plate of food.

But for all that, LPK is a local franchise. We have one here in Baton Rouge, and there are several in New Orleans. I’ve sampled a number of locations and found them consistently good. What makes the French Quarter location special is, well, the French Quarter.

Well-settled into it’s corner spot, this one always seems wide open and inviting. Tall, shuttered windows let light and air flow on pleasant afternoons (there are many, but none in summer), and from the short line that forms after 8PM, one can see past diners to the vendors of the French Market packing up their baubles.

Despite proximity to busy tourist paths, the clientele most nights is a local mix. Families with small children feel welcome as do drag queens, musicians, service industry employees and sometimes falconers. My friend Jenn kicks her husband’s shins whenever he comments on the local color, which he always does and always with deep appreciation. Another old joke between us: We are all about equally strange.

So what prompts this note? Reid spotted this story by LA Times staff writer Thomas S. Mulligan. I knew my favorite New Orleans eatery had reopened, but I was pleased to see someone else noticed. I hope this doesn’t mean I’ll have to wait now for a table!

Spiders and Cladistics

This New York Times science story on a spider taxonomist is of particular interest because it does a good job explaining the matter of cladistics. Hoew do we know who is related to whom?

“His logic is simple: find characteristics of spiders’ shapes that independently select the same exact group of organisms. “There are about 1.75 million species on this planet,” Dr. Platnick explained. “Select from these all the organisms with abdominal spinnerets to produce silk – about 38,000 species. Repeat this process and select all organisms with modified male pedipalps for copulation. You end up with the same 38,000.”

“This congruence of characteristics unites spiders uniquely from all others, he said. Apply the concept with higher degrees of specificity, and species’ characteristics emerge.

” “You start with the null hypothesis that they are all the same. It doesn’t take long to see that they are not,” he said. “Then you divide them into groups of specimens more closely related to each other.” “

It is now accepted that, unlike what was previously thought, cladistics can actually demonstrate both relationships and their degrees of closeness.

Doom and Gloom– 3?

Another in the continuing series.

“I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can’t be fixed, or won’t be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with “right track” and “wrong track” but missing the number of people who think the answer to “How are things going in America?” is “Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination…..

“It’s beyond, “The president is overwhelmed.” The presidency is overwhelmed. The whole government is. And people sense when an institution is overwhelmed. Citizens know. If we had a major terrorist event tomorrow half the country–more than half–would not trust the federal government to do what it has to do, would not trust it to tell the truth, would not trust it, period….

“Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they’re living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they’re going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley’s off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.”

Much more there. From WSJ.

Apples and Genetic Diversity

Ever since reading Michael Pollans’s wonderful The Botany of Desire I have been fascinated by Kazakhstan’s wild apple groves, the “Eden of Apples”. There might have been, at least until recently, more genetic diversity in a Kazakh grove than in all of North America.

Such groves are threatened by the suburban sprawl around Almaty. Following Pollan’s references at the request of a friend, I found an American source for Kazakh seed. The director, Phil Forsline, is quoted by Pollan as saying: “I’ll send seeds to anybody who asks, just so long as they promise to plant them, tend to the trees, and then report back someday”. Pollan adds: “The wild apples had found their Johnny Appleseed.”

You can also see a grove, and other good stuff here, at Virtual Almaty, though the (I think) ethnic Russian author thinks that Russians brought apples there. Not true! Though it was a Russian scientist named Nikolai Vavilov who discovered in 1929 that the Almaty area was “Apple Eden”. (He was later eliminated by Stalin for not following the Lysenkoist party line on genetics).

Genetic diversity and its potential loss is an important and interesting subject. I will have more…

Most Unlikely Career Path

Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, the brilliant guitarist who gave the pre-jazz version of Steely Dan (still in all incarnations my favorite Seventies band) its edge, is now a sought- after analyst on terrorism and defense. And he is self- taught!

…and the Bad

They have some for- real heavy duty capital- F Fascists. The Moscow Times (link may have expired or need registration) reports on one:

“Last week the ultra-nationalist newspaper Zavtra ran an interview with Vladimir Kvachkov, who has been charged in the attempted murder of Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatoly Chubais. In the interview Kvachkov, a retired special forces colonel, basically made the case for the necessity of a military coup in Russia. While Kvachkov didn’t come out and admit his guilt, he asserted that the attempt on Chubais’ life was “the first case of armed action in a war of national liberation” which every officer and soldier was duty bound to fight. Kvachkov seriously believes — or at least pretends to believe — that traitors and hirelings of the West have established a “regime of occupation” in Russia to please the “world Judaic conspiracy.” He deploys a worn-out cliche as if it were an adequate description of reality. This enables the colonel to call the military to arms in a war of “national liberation” — in other words, a coup d’etat — and to present himself not as an accused criminal but as a valiant officer captured by the enemy.”


“… these people have believed all their lives that foreign enemies are lying in wait. They therefore view the indifference of top officials as evidence of a plan to destroy the armed forces. Their sterile view of the world makes them susceptible to extremist political programs. If we assume that quite a few officers share Kvachkov’s views, and that they are probably officers with perfect service records who enjoy authority in the ranks, this situation is flat-out dangerous. The rejection of military reform in the face of the country’s relative prosperity has left the officer corps feeling alienated from the regime and has allowed extremists to exert ever-greater influence on the army. Kvachkov’s interview should serve as a wake-up call.”

The Good In Russia

We forget sometimes that Russia, though not “like us” is not the Russia of the cold war. In The Corner (you’ll have to go into the archives for the whole post but I’ll put most of it here) Iain Murray writes:

“My friend Paul Robinson attended the reburial ceremony for White Russian heroes Ivan Alexandrovich Il’in and Anton Denikin recently and writes about it in the new Spectator. In the new Russia this represents, apparently the Russian press, Putin and all, compares favorably to, say, the New York Times:

” “My journalist friend laughs at the suggestion that Putin has suppressed all independent political thought. He should know; he has twice been sacked from newspapers for writing pro-Putin articles. The problem, he tells me, is that Westerners listen too much to the likes of the former oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Incidentally, he adds, Berezovsky still owns a newspaper in Russia — so much for there being no anti-Putin voices. In fact, my friend suggests, there may even be more freedom of expression in Russia than in the West, because there are fewer social and legal constraints on ‘politically incorrect’ and extremist points of view. If you want to be racist, sexist or anything else-ist, you’ll find it easier to get a publisher in Moscow than in London or New York”.

The Chumash, Swordfish, and Rock Art

The swordfish (Xiphias gladius) occupied a prominent role in the religion of the prehistoric Chumash, a coastal and island people of Southern California. I have posted about the Chumash before here a few times. Living near the Pacific as they did, the Chumash believed that the ocean and the land were complementary worlds and that each had corresponding equivalent plants and animals. For example, they believed that sardines were the “lizards” of the ocean, and that lobsters were the “jerusalem crickets” of the ocean. Swordfish were given the ultimate accolade of being the “humans” of the ocean. This didn’t keep the Chumash from fishing for them, but they were seen as possessing great power.

Historic and ethnographic accounts tell us that a swordfish dancer played a prominent role in a number of Chumash ceremonies. The swordfish head-dress pictured above, was found by archaeologist David Banks Rogers in 1926 in a site at Winchester Canyon, about three miles west of where I sit writing this. This was found in a burial: a male buried in fetal position lying on his left side was wearing this on his head. The swordfish eye was rendered as was a cape with iridescent Haliotis (abalone) shell plaques. This was obviously the sort of head-dress worn by those dancers.

One of the powers of the swordfish, and one of the reasons that the Chumash venerated them was that they were believed to drive whales ashore. The beached whales provided the Chumash with lots of food. Whales (and beached whales!) are fairly common here as both gray and humpback whales migrate through the area near shore.

Swordfish also appear in Chumash rock art. The example below comes from Swordfish Cave, a rock shelter at Vandenberg Air Force Base, that Connie and I visited last May.

This pictograph is hard for some people to pick out in a photograph. It is a black fish on a red background – the tail is to the right and the fish’s bill is to the left. On the same rock face, about four feet below the painting of the swordfish, appropriately enough is this pictograph of a whale. I will leave you with question that many have asked and that no one quite knows how to answer. Look closely at the pictograph of the swordfish. The dorsal fin is at the bottom of the image. Why is the swordfish upside down?