Saturday, November 04, 2006

College football quickie.

Florida gets by Vandy (I was cautionary about this), and wins SEC East with help from former victim LSU. My out-on-a-limb prediction is that if Arkansas wins the West, the Gators will fall to the Razorbacks in the championship game. If it turns out to be a rematch against Auburn, my crystal ball is clouded.

Seminoles, looking more like Roundheads, vent their spleen on Cavaliers.

USF beats Pitt. Been there, done that before. Can they beat Syracuse next week?

Rutgers has a bye before Louisville. Scarlet Knights' glory run likely to end Thursday night.

Nos. 1 and 2 both win narrowly against lightly-regarded opponents.

Joe Paterno literally, and Penn State figuratively, take a fall. Does this make Joe's retirement more or less likely to happen soon?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill retrospective.

Another Slate link well worth pursuing takes you to this slide show, compiled by Witold Rybczynski, which documents SOM's contributions to architecture over the past sixty years. The show also includes pictures of buildings (including a tear-inducing interior shot of the original Penn Station) by SOM's predecessor as America's pre-eminent architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The best cut is the cheapest.

Slate has a piece by Mark Schatzker on the searing question for us carnivores: what makes for a good steak?

There are several variables considered: breed of cattle, hormones or not, wet vs. dry aging of meat, and, perhaps most important, what the cattle are fed. Schatzker and others (he writes, "We sampled ...", and notes that, except for him, because "Someone had to keep track of things", the tasting was blind) tried five rib eye steaks from four producers (two were a wet and a dry aged cut from the same producer, who "finishes" cattle in a feedlot; these were rated fifth and fourth, respectively, in the taste test) and ranked them.

And the winner was ... grass-fed (i.e. "free range"), hormone-free, mixed-breed (mostly Red Angus), presumably (Schatzker doesn't say) dry-aged beef from the Alderspring Ranch in Idaho. Surprisingly, this was the least expensive of the five, at $21.50 per pound. By contrast, the feedlot finished dry aged beef that placed fourth costs $35 per pound.

Placing second is the second least expensive beef, at $26.70 per pound: "humanely" feedlot finished by Niman Ranch. Unlike "industrial" feedlots, Niman's are less crowded and have shade and showers. The cattle are fed a mixture of grains, instead of the pure corn (maize for readers who use the Queen's English) diet that prevails in the big lots. Moreover, the cattle are given an extra year to enjoy their comfy surroundings, as Bill Niman thinks more aging on the hoof improves the meat.

My surmise is that the relative cheapness of the grass-fed and humane feedlot beef is a temporary anomaly, reflecting consumer ignorance and reliance on USDA grades, which are based solely on the fat content, or "marbling", of the meat. The grass-fed steaks rated highest in Schlatzky's test had the least marbling. The Niman steaks rated second had the most, but Bill Niman won't put a USDA grade on his beef because he "doesn't believe in the direct correlation between marbling and eating quality." (The outcome of Schlatzky's test supports this hypothesis.)

In the long run, however, if consumers discover the superiority of grass-fed beef, its price will go up. This will be not only because of increased demand, but also because of the resulting pressure on the supply of pasture land. This will also affect the price of beef finished on larger, more humane feedlots. Perhaps the best hope for us carnivores who worry about such things is the prospect of meat grown in vitro. I suspect it will be many a year before this can approach the quality of beef raised on the hoof.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Merchant Marine Memorial.

This memorial, by the sculptor Marisol, is positioned just off the northern end of the pedestrian promenade that extends around the seaward side of Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. It depicts three members of the crew of an American merchant vessel that has fallen victim to a German U-Boat, aboard what appears to be a partly sunken lifeboat, with one of them extending a hand to a shipmate who has fallen into the water.

Some 9,300 U.S. merchant mariners are believed to have died in action in World War Two, a higher per capita death rate than for any of the uniformed services.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A good day to fly a kite.

The heavy winds that have been battering the Northeast abated some today, but there was still enough of a stout breeze this morning to keep this kite aloft in Battery Park City.

Urban daytime astronomy.

Sounds impossible? Look at today's astronomy picture for a daylight shot of a crescent moon about to eclipse a crescent Venus, taken in Budapest.