One of the worst feelings in the world

Walking down the street, absorbed in thought. Like I usually do.

While my brain is consumed thinking about something, my eyes wander. My eyes dart from person to person as I walk past them.

I notice that my eyes have been trying to figure out why a woman’s hand is not visible to me. Is she wearing a glove? Is it in her pocket? I realize that she doesn’t have a hand. Completely mortified, my eyes widen when I realize that I’ve been staring at her wrist for far too long.

A split-second later, I realize that my look of embarrassment at myself for looking at her too long might be construed as horror at her not having a hand.

That it’s impossible to explain these things in the second they happen leaves a terrible feeling in my stomach, especially knowing that it’s probably happened to her 100 times that day alone.


Croissants [Daring Bakers]

This month’s challenge was time-consuming, but oh-so-worth-it. Croissants! Like baklava from a few months ago, a good croissant has lots of layers. In the case of croissants, you create those layers by interleaving dough and butter over and over again. It works beautifully and yields a pastry that is crisp and flaky on the outside, and steamy and soft on the inside. This was worth the many hours necessary to make these things (although, in all fairness, it is not difficult to make them, just time-consuming).

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Since the technique involved so many steps, and a friend wanted me to share it and the recipe I used, I created a how-to recipe for croissants with pictures. I did not find the process particularly frustrating – there’s not a lot that go wrong – but this is not the sort of thing you can bang out in an hour if you have friends coming over for brunch. You have to plan.

Three pictures of my resulting croissants after the jump. They were delectable!


Szymborska’s “The Starvation Camp at Jaslo” (Oboz Glodowy pod Jaslem)

Napisz to. Napisz. Zwyklym atramentem na zwyklym papierze: nie dano im jesc, wszyscy pomarli z glodu. Wszyscy. Ilu?

Write this down. Write it. With regular ink on regular paper: they were given nothing to eat, everyone died of hunger. Everyone. How many?

To duza laka. Ile trawy przypadlo na jednego? Napisz: nie wiem. Historia zaokragla szkielety do zera.Tysiac i jeden to wciaz jeszcze tysiac. Ten jeden, jakby go wcale nie bylo: plod urojony, kolyska prozna, elementarz otwarty dla nikogo, powietrze, ktore smieje sie, krzyczy i rosnie, schody dla pustki zbiegajacej do ogrodu, miejsce niczyje w szeregu.

That’s a large meadow. How much grass was for each? Write: I don’t know. History rounded the number of skeletons. 1,001 is still 1,000. That one is as if he completely never existed: an imaginary seed, an empty cradle, a primer opened for nobody, air which laughs, screams and grows, stairs for the void running to the garden, no particular place in line.

Jestesmy na tej lace, gdzie stalo sie cialem. A ona milczy jak kupiony swiadek. W sloncu. Zielona.

We’re in that meadow, where it became a body, which is as silent as a bought witness. In the sun. Green.

Tam opodal las do zucia drewna, do picia spod kory – porcja widoku calodzienna, poki sie nie oslepnie.

Over there, there’s a forest with wood for the chewing, and under the bark stuff to drink. A portion of a view for the whole day until you go blind.

W gorze ptak, ktory po ustach przesuwal sie cieniem pozywnych skrzydel. Otwieraly sie szczeki, uderzal zab o zab.

Up above, a bird, whose nourishing wings cast a shadow across their lips. Their jaws opened, tooth gnashed tooth.

Noca na niebie blyskal sierp i zal na snione chleby. Nadlatywaly rece z poczernialych ikon, z pustymi kielichami w palcach.

At night in the sky, the crescent moon shone and reaped the dreamt-of breads. Arms approached from blackened icons, with empty cups in their hands.

Na roznie kolczastego drutu chwial sie czlowiek. Spiewano z ziemia w ustach. Sliczna piesn o tym, ze wojna trafia prosto w serce.

On a spit made of barbed wire, a man spins. They sang with dirt in their mouths. A pretty song about how war strikes right at the heart.

Napisz, jaka tu cisza.

Write how quiet it is.
Just like that. 

Battlestar Galactica: philosophical, social, ethical and political themes

I was a big fan of the new “reimagining” of Battlestar Galactica, a sci-fi series that ended its four-year stint on television just a few years ago (but which, thankfully, continues to exist through DVD).

Although not a natural science fiction fanatic myself (I could never get into any of the Star Trek series, for example), I’ve enjoyed the complex, layered storytelling of the world of humans living under constant seige by their progeny, called Cylons, who have been able to create humanlike versions of themselves. The entire human population of about 50,000, spread across about 50 ships, continue to grapple with everyday human quandaries along with the constant pressure of evading Cylon attacks, buoyed by the hope of reaching the mythical planet of Earth, where the lost “thirteenth colony” of humanity is rumored to live.

How BSG’s humans cope with the existential threat posed by the Cylons, who seek to destroy them as inferior progenitors in the course of natural evolution, echoes in some ways the way the West does the same vis a vis the threat posed by fundamentalist Islam (although, naturally, the threat is not nearly as dire nor as foreign). The philosophical, social, political and ethical decisions that the humans’ struggles force them to make mirror those that have continued to shape our societies in the face of the forces that threaten to erode them.

Philosophical issues: The predominant philosophical theme that runs through the series is what constitutes a sentient being, and if Cylons qualify. What exactly makes us human? Is it our physical appearance and bodily makeup, our minds and our capacity to think, is it our feelings and capacity to love, or is it something less tangible, our values and character, or a soul or spirit? For the first two or three criteria, the humanoid Cylons clearly qualify (“Boomer” shows a capacity to love that often overrides her programmed directives), so is it that they wantonly kill people that created them and that are so similar? People have been warring and killing each other since the dawn of humanity, so disregard for fellow man is obviously not a disqualifier.

There are barely-detectable (without the aid of a laboratory) differences at the molecular level between humans and humanoid Cylons, but these might be meaningless if humans and Cylons were not locked into an existential struggle against each other. What compels Cylons to want to destroy humans? It’s not clear, but their different theology suggests they think wiping out the human race would complete an evolutionary step.

BSG also explores determinism vs free will (esp as it relates to those competing motives in Cylons like Boomer), and immortality (via commemoration, legacies and memories, most vividly struggled with by Starbuck).

Ethical issues: The series’s characters grapple with ethical dilemmas that constantly test their values and ideas of justice. Ethical concepts dealt with include:

  • Utilitarianism – Measuring and executing to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of humans present a neverending challenge, principally to the human leaders, President Laura Roslin, and Commander William Adama. Every decision, whether to rig votes for the vice presidency, or “jump” and leave raiders or ships behind, carries with it certain loss; the loss must be weighed against potential gain, or mitigation of an even greater potential loss.
  • Justice – Human treatment of Cylon and human prisoners, what rights are extended to them, whether they are entitled to due process, and how punishment is meted, create ongoing dilemmas to those forced to make these decisions.
  • Kantianism – The individual’s role in shaping his behavior vis a vis rational thought and experience is brilliantly explored through the conscious thoughts of Dr Gaius Baltar, who continually struggles to balance self-interest with moral accountability to his fellow humans.

Social issues: BSG offers a glimpse into Cylon social structures, largely collectivist, as a foil with which to contrast human society, which is a reflection of its “western”, individualist values. Appreciation for (and tolerance of) dissent, love and duty (“office romances”), nepotism and favoritism, and behavior incentivization are all explored throughout the series.

Political issues: The predominant political undercurrent is that between civilian and military government, embodied by Roslin and Adama in the series. Colonel Tigh declares martial law at one particularly chaotic point in the second season, and faces widespread noncompliance as civilians protest the dissolution of their elected government. The accommodation of a civilian government by a military engaged in constant warfare with an existential enemy is one that democratically-elected governments have had to repeatedly face in times of conflict.


With the series ending, we’ve lost yet another brilliant television show that made us think (while, sadly, so many others that don’t continue to live on). But, like at least one great “thinking person’s television” show, Six Feet Under, BSG ended when the majority of its viewers continued to cherish it.