Stick to baseball, 4/15/17.

I updated my ranking of the top 50 prospects in the minors this week; there’s minimal reranking in there, just status notes on players, with guys moving up to replace those already in the majors. (Jesse Winker was promoted after the piece ran.) I wrote a long draft blog post on Hunter Greene, Brian McKay, and other draft prospects I’ve seen so far. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

  • The one great longread I saw this week was from Backchannel on what’s happened to Google Books, the tech giant’s stated effort to scan every book, ever, to make them all searchable. I’ve used this feature quite a few times, including during the research for Smart Baseball, where I could search for certain terms or keywords in books I couldn’t get my hands on.
  • California passed a tougher law on childhood vaccinations, and, lo and behold, inoculation rates went up about 3 percentage points.
  • The handful of loonies who opposed the law largely claimed “parental choice” as a reason why they should be allowed to deny their children a safe, effective treatment that can prevent debilitating and sometimes fatal diseases. It’s a terrible argument, because those “choices” affect everyone, not just your children. (Also, that choice isn’t for you – it’s for your child, who can’t choose for him/herself, and depends on you to take care of his/her medical needs.)
  • If you’ve seen a vaccine denier point to measles outbreaks in China as evidence the MMR vaccine doesn’t work, well, the outbreaks occurred among unvaccinated groups. Facts may not carry the day with deniers, but it is on the rational among us to make sure the truth is still out there for people who might be on the fence.
  • A Utah judge praised a convicted sexual abuser during sentencing, with at least one of the victims present. This kind of behavior will only discourage victims from coming forward in the future. Utah judges may be removed from the bench via a judicial conduct commission censure or a 2/3 vote of the legislature, so if you live in that state, get on the phone.
  • I think my new least favorite food buzzword is “clean.” Panera, which is a decent chain choice if you want something vegetarian while traveling, claims its food is 100% “clean,” which means absolutely nothing unless previously they were rolling their bread dough out on the floor. It’s also a buzzword for people who eat weird, ultra-restricted diets that probably don’t provide enough nutrition because so-called “clean eaters” often skip dairy or wheat, foods that are often demonized without scientific basis. I’ll keep eatin’ dirty, thanks.
  • Dr. David Dao, the passenger beaten and dragged off a United flight last week, has filed court papers in preparation for a lawsuit and compared his treatment to what he experienced while fighting in the Vietnam War. Tim Wu of the New Yorker wrote about why he stopped flying United after it merged with Continental. Deadspin’s Albert Burneko discussed the absurdity of backing the corporation in such cases.
  • An American doctor has been charged with mutilating the genitalia of two girls under the age of 10, a barbaric practice common in eastern African countries and in Indonesia known as female genital mutilation.
  • New Mexico has banned “lunch shaming,” the cruel practice of embarrassing children whose parents have unpaid school meal debts.
  • I listened to the entire seven episodes of the podcast S-Town, and I’m not sure if I think the time was well spent. Did I really get anything out of it? Was John B. McLemore, who was most likely a manic depressive on top of the later medical issues revealed in the final episode, someone worthy of a seven-hour biography? The Atlantic also asks about the ethics of revealing so much of his life after his death, and the details of other characters in the play. The Guardian went to Woodstock, Alabama, to interview the locals about their sudden bit of fame, and most didn’t seem to mind the portrayals.
  • I was apparently behind the times, as I was unfamiliar with the Twitter replies-to-retweets ratio until this past week.
  • Paul Krugman wrote that publicity stunts aren’t policy and then Trump ordered (or simply handwaved along) the dropping of the ‘mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan. It’s working, though: Compare media coverage of the Russian connection, or of GOP rollbacks of Obama policies, to coverage of the Syria and Afghanistan bombings and now our taunting of North Korea. (For what it’s worth, the North Korean government has always been the one that worried me, because it’s essentially sociopathy in government form, and they’re well-funded enough to do mass damage to someone, South Korea or Japan or us. But I would prefer to see a long-term policy solution to the issue, not threatening to Pyongyang to wag the dog.)
  • There can be no beatings and imprisoning of gays in Chechnya because there are no gays in Chechnya, say Chechnyan authorities. This Guardian report says otherwise.
  • I enjoyed this interview with Dana Cree, pastry chef for Chicago’s Publican restaurant group and author of the new cookbook Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop. Within the Q&A she discusses which ingredients serve as stabilizers to minimize the size of ice crystals in ice cream, providing a smoother texture. I personally do not like the eggless ice cream known as Philadelphia-style, which is just dairy, sugar, and flavors, for that very reason. I prefer frozen custard, sometimes called New York ice cream, which includes egg yolks – often a lot – and less butterfat, because the yolks contain lecithin, which emulsifies the fat and the water in the base and thus prevents large crystals from forming. Lecithin can break down at subzero temperatures, however, so vegetable gums may be better if you’re going super-cold, if you can’t eat eggs, or if you don’t want that slight eggnog note in a delicate flavor like vanilla bean.
  • The first part of this NPR Fresh Air interview with author David Owen, about the Colorado River, is interesting and particularly relevant to me, because one of the main reasons I did not want to remain a long-term resident of Arizona was that the state has no strategy for dealing with the coming water crisis in the region. The Colorado River is overtaxed, badly, and Arizona’s idea of coping is storing a few years of water in underground reserves. He has a new book out on the topic, Where the Water Goes, and discusses some of it in the Q&A. Then he talks about golfing with Donald Trump and I moved on with my life.

Stick to baseball, 1/21/17.

My annual prospect ranking package started to appear on ESPN.com this week for Insiders, with the farm system rankings coming in three separate parts: teams ranked 1 to 10, teams ranked 11 to 20, and teams ranked (sad trombone) 21 to 30. I held a Klawchat here on Friday, after all three parts were posted.

The top 100 itself will roll out over five days this upcoming week, 100 to 81 on Monday and 20 to 1 on Friday. I will probably chat Friday afternoon again so that you have the whole list available to you before I take your questions.

Over at Paste I reviewed the really adorable boardgame Kodama: The Tree Spirits, a great family game with a new mechanic that almost feels a little artistic.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter, where, I kid you not, someone actually told me “you should stick to baseball” in response to the last edition, because apparently I can’t talk about whatever I want to talk about in my own fucking newsletter

Gah. The links:

Stick to baseball, 12/17/16.

My main piece for Insiders this week went up this morning, on the many lost opportunities in MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, discussing money and rights the union may have left on the table, and why the agreement seemed to come together so late. I also wrote about the Dodgers’ two re-signings earlier in the week, and I held a Klawchat here on Thursday.

At Paste this week I ranked the ten best boardgames I saw in 2016. A few folks have asked why the highly-rated Scythe isn’t on the list; I think that game is too long and overly complicated, with playing times that can top two hours (and a retail price of $90). All ten games I listed are clearly better, in my opinion.

In case you missed it, my list of my 100 favorite songs of 2016 went up here on Wednesday night.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 10/8/16.

I wrote short preview pieces for all four Division Series:
Red Sox/Cleveland
Blue Jays/Rangers
Dodgers/Nationals
Cubs/Giants

My predictions are all terrible. But I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the game Aquarium, which I found unbalanced and rather spiteful.

You can also preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 8/6/16.

Seems like it’s been a lot more than a week since my last links post, since I’ve traveled twice in the interim. Here are all of the Insider pieces I wrote in that span, all of which relate to the trade deadline:

How the Yankees’ rebuild gives them a top 3 farm system
The Liriano/Hutchison trade
The Matt Moore trade
The Jay Bruce trade
The Lucroy trade
The Will Smith and Zach Duke trades
The Carlos Beltran trade
The Reddick/Hill trade
The Andrew Miller trade
The Melancon trade

My review of Quadropolis, the fun new city-building game from Days of Wonder, is also up over at Paste. It’s a little more complex than Ticket to Ride (DoW’s biggest title), but my daughter, who’s now 10, loved it. There are many ways to score, so it’s a game of choosing two or three of those paths to focus on rather than trying to do a little of everything.

There was no chat this week due to travel, and I’ll be taking the beginning of this week off to work on my book, returning to ESPN duties on Thursday (and chatting as well).

And now, the links:

  • HTTPS is now now vulnerable to a new exploit. This is kind of a big deal because the “s” is supposed to mean that the connection is secure.
  • The Rio Olympics are probably going to be a disaster, and the IOC is a corrupt mess, but the inclusion of a separate team of athletes who are refugees was one of the IOC’s most noble decisions in ages. One of those ten athletes is a Syrian swimmer who swam for three hours to push her refugee boat to safety, saving the lives of 20 other refugees in the process.
  • This week, vaccines and the Presidential race collided in a big way, as delusional Green Party candidate Jill Stein continued to pander to the anti-vaxer movement with equivocations so broad the Porter in Macbeth thought she was overdoing it. She’s wrong, and so is snopes’ defense of her statements, according to the important pro-science (and anti-pseudoscience) blog Skeptical Raptor.
  • Stein’s moment of science denial means Hillary Clinton is the only one of the four candidates who hasn’t pandered to anti-vaxers. This is important, because if you think people who believe something so monumentally stupid as this anti-vaxer bullshit are a constituency you can and should capture, I’m not voting for you.
  • The Sacramento Bee, a paper in a state where I’d guess Stein has some support, also ran an op ed calling her view disingenuous.
  • On to the election … Meg Whitman, a politically active Republican who ran for governor of California on the GOP ticket, has chosen to support Hillary Clinton with her money and her time, because she views Trump as a dangerous demagogue, comparing him to Hitler and Mussolini and – the part I both liked and agree with – “warned that those who say that ‘it can’t happen here’ are being naïve. I connected the Sinclair Lewis book of that name to Trump back in March.
  • The former head of the CIA quit his job at CBS and endorsed Clinton, explaining why he believes she’s the right choice for our national security in this first-person op ed.
  • In the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian, columnist Nick Cohen writes that the cowardice of other Republicans has allowed Trump to get this far. This isn’t the GOP of Ronald Reagan, nor is it the GOP for whose candidates I have voted dozens of times in federal, state, and local elections since I first gained the vote in 1991.
  • I thought this was the best political-comedy tweet of the week:

  • Let’s move on to food, including this piece from 2015 on how resting the meat improves barbecue, even when the resting time is a few hours.
  • I missed this outstanding piece from the New York Times when it first ran in October, on genetics Ph.D. and wheat breeder Stephen Jones, called Bread is Broken, which explains how our wheat and thus our bread has become so much less nutritious over the last two centuries, and how we might fix it.
  • I’ve saved this recipe for watermelon rind preserves with ginger and lemon to make the next time we buy a whole melon.
  • The nation’s third-largest poultry producer is defying rising concerns and even a CDC warning about prophylactic use of antibiotics in our food chain, even running ads bragging that they still use these drugs. Antibiotic resistance is as real as evolution – the latter causes the former, inevitably – and this is flat-out irresponsible. But I’m glad they’re outing themselves so I can try to avoid their products.
  • Remember when I was horribly sick in January with a fever of 101+ for six straight days? The drug that finally defeated the infection was Levoquin, part of a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, but those drugs have some nasty side effects, including tendon damage. WHO considers these antibiotics an essential medicine, one of the most effective drugs against gram-negative bacteria, but more doctors need to reserve them, as my doctor did, until other safer antibiotics have failed.
  • Germany’s Condor Airlines has started a “book on board” program that grants travelers an extra kilogram of weight allowance if they show a sticker from their local bookseller.
  • Jess Luther has done great work on the systemic problem of coddling college athletes who rape women, especially the rampant corruption in Baylor’s football program. Her book on the topic is coming out this fall and here’s her first interview about it.
  • In a related story, the University of Florida appointed a booster of the football program to adjudicate a Title IX hearing on a rape case involving Gator football players.
  • Deadspin reports on the opening hostilies in the battle over the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark boondoggle. The City Council of Arlington approved the stadium proposal 7-0 despite no evidence whatsoever of economic benefit and some early signs of public dissent.
  • ISIS has become a hot-button term in our Presidential election, but that doesn’t change what they are, the evil the Daesh do in Syria and Lebanon, or their attempts to sow terror in Europe. This piece on how they’re kidnapping and training child soldiers will chill your soul.
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan is facing an opponent in the Republican primary for his seat. This wouldn’t be notable except that his opponent wondered aloud why we allow any Muslims to be in our country.

The Third Plate.

Chef Dan Barber first came to my attention with his 2010 TED talk “How I Fell in Love With a Fish,” where he describes his visits to the Spanish fish farm Veta la Palma in Spain, which defies almost everything we think we know about aquaculture. Veta la Palma is an open, integrated operation that connects its waterways to the Mediterranean and thrives because the fish – primarily bass but also grey mullet, which plays a large role in Barber’s new book – are part of the larger ecosystem of the farm, attracting fish from the outside environment with clean waters rich in food for each of those species. It’s a new paradigm in raising fish for human consumption, one that doesn’t keep the fish in unnatural conditions that would require dosing them with antibiotics or feeding them with artificial products that might keep yields high but are unsustainable (if not damaging) and don’t produce flavorful fish.

Barber’s 2014 book, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, expands on the concept he explored in that TED Talk, reconsidering how to feed the world in a way that’s environmentally sustainable, sufficiently nutritious, and – let’s not forget – produces tasty food. While some of what Barber prescribes, such as reducing the prominence of meat in the American diet, is obvious, much of it is not unless you’ve spent a lot of time on a working farm. (I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Barber himself.)

The basic premise of Barber’s book isn’t new – our food system is broken, disconnecting diner from food source – but his approach to the question is novel. He points out the role that chefs play in determining food trends and consumer awareness, and that merely going “farm to table” is a superficial and ultimately insufficient way to try to fix the broken chain between the grower and the diner. He rightly decries the monoculture approach of modern agriculture – grow a lot of one specific plant or strain over and over, using synthetic nitrogen sources, antibiotics, herbicides and fungicides, and so on to maximize yields and reduce costs. But he points out that simply going organic doesn’t always address the real problems with Big Ag, as organic farms can be monocultures too and may use organic chemicals that aren’t actually any safer or more sustainable than their synthetic analogues.

Indeed, if there’s one common thread through all of Barber’s anecdotes – and he meanders extensively, both on the map and within the book – it’s soil. Traditional agricultural practices centered on soil health: crop rotation, composting, cover crops, plowing under, encouraging anything, even “weeds,” that might benefit the soil. Modern practices, whether “conventional” or organic, ignore soil quality or health, instead using chemistry to provide an artificial supplement to soil that’s been depleted through malpractice. Healthy soil is teeming with microbes that make the soil more fertile and ultimately help produce healthier plants that contain more nutrients for us and can be more flavorful as well, but soil itself is part of a cycle that even what Barber calls “big organic” agriculture tries to circumvent. Whether your nitrogen source is synthetic or organic doesn’t really matter to soil health (although synthetic N is typically derived from petroleum and thus contributes to climate change and ocean acidification), because if you’re not feeding the soil, you’re just going to have to dump more N into it next year and every year after that.

Barber doesn’t limit himself to plants, although that’s understandably the main focus of the book. Barber talks extensively about the practices at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit research center that works with chefs and farmers to develop sustainable agricultural practices, including a working farm that supplies Barber’s Blue Hill restaurants, including one on site and one in New York City. Much of what he and his colleagues there discover around the world, such as the rare strain of ancient wheat they found in Aragon, Spain, or the long-forgotten eight-row corn strain that arrived at the farms one day, unsolicited, in a FedEx envelope, become experiments on the farm’s eight-plus acres. They’re raising some livestock now as well, using all parts of the animal on Blue Hill’s menus and using animal waste to supplement the biomass they till into the soil. Everything revolves around soil health and its connection to long-term sustainable agriculture. The farm isn’t just “organic,” because that’s as much a marketing term as anything else (and indeed isn’t clearly better for the environment than conventional ag); it’s searching for the best possible agricultural practices that will satisfy three goals simultaneously: feed the world now, feed it tomorrow, and make the food flavorful and nutritious too.

The Third Plate is a book of anecdotes, not one of research. Barber travels the world – he’s in Spain a lot in this book, poor guy – in search of these best practices. He goes to Veta la Palma, eats fish served with a phytoplankton sauce, visits the site of the annual almadraba bluefin catch, and hangs out in a Spanish dehesa that produces the world’s best cured ham, jamón iberico, as well as a form of natural foie gras that requires no force-feeding. He visits the Bread Lab at Washington State and plays around with cross-breeding wheat strains. He goes to the Carolinas to the farms that supply Anson Mills, the country’s main purveyor of artisanal strains of corn, rice, and other grains, including the story of how its founder managed to obtain some of his seeds from a family of moonshiners on the South Carolina coast. He talks at length about the grain farmers in upstate New York who supply much of the flour used at Blue Hill. But there isn’t a lot of data here. It’s easy to follow Barber’s logic and understand why these practices might be better for the soil, and thus for the planet and the future of our food supply, but the research isn’t cited here, and what I’ve found over the years, while tilted in favor of these practices, is scattershot. Soil health matters, but if there’s a comprehensive study that proves this, or even provides substantial evidence for it, it’s not here and I haven’t found it either.

However, The Third Plate is a compelling enough argument on its own that it should simultaneously change the way we eat and the policies we support. Going to a farmers’ market is great, but far from enough. Chefs who cook “farm to table” menus are helping, but it’s not enough. We need to think about eating the whole animal and, as Barber puts it, the whole farm too, emphasizing less-consumed cuts of meat, less-common fish in the food chain, less-common plants that might be part of a successful crop rotation scheme. Our diet has become highly specific, and only a fraction of what farmers might grow ends up food for people. Barber says that is going to have to change, something he lays out in an epilogue with a potential menu of the future. But it might be a change we embrace if it means we recapture lost strains of foods we consider ordinary now: a variety of wheat that carries notes of chocolate, a carrot with twice the sweetness of even good local carrots, a pork shank from an heirloom pig grilled over carbonized pig bones. Barber manages to make an environmental alarm reminiscent of Silent Spring that promises a food future that’s still appealing to our palates.

Next up: I’m about 2/3 of the way through Richard Price’s 1992 novel Clockers.

Stick to baseball, 7/2/16.

For Insiders, I wrote a preview of today’s July 2nd international free agent class with help from Chris Crawford. I also wrote some thoughts on the Futures Game rosters, although of course they’re already getting tweaked for player injuries. I wrote a free piece on Monday, expressing my disappointment in the Mets’ decision to sign Jose Reyes.

Klawchat resumed yesterday after a week off around my Omaha trip, and my latest new music playlist is up too.

Sign up for my newsletter!

And now, the links…

  • Making a Killing: The New Yorker examines the gun business in the wake of the Orlando massacre. Hint: Like any industry, gun manufacturers profit off fear and misinformation.
  • Brian Hooker, one of the biggest proponents of the absolute bullshit idea that vaccines cause autism, lost his 14-year case before the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Hooker’s story is featured in the fakeumentary Vaxxed, and you can bet he’ll keep claiming vaccines caused his son’s autism, not, you know, his own genes and bad luck.
  • A 63-year-old CEO decided to bully and harass a woman on LinkedIn because she posted a Dilbert cartoon he didn’t like. Really.
  • Two good food stories from NPR’s The Salt blog. First, on Purdue improving the quality of life for its chickens, right up to the way in which they’re killed.
  • Second, on the rising popularity of ancient strains of wheat like einkorn, emmer, and spelt.
  • Ah, Mississippi, where a state rep – I’ll let you guess which party – told a mom who can’t afford her daughter’s diabetes meds to just buy them with the money she earns. What an awful person. He eventually met with the mom to try to save face.
  • Former residents of the Chagos Islands, forcibly removed nearly a half-century so the U.S. could build an Air Force base on Diego Garcia, lost their legal challenge for the right to return to their home island. When you read about forced resettlement of Native Americans in the 1800s and think that could never happen today, well…
  • This was a big week for abortion rights, and while the biggest focus was on the trashing of Texas’s HB2, SCOTUS also declined to hear a case where religious pharmacists sued for the right to decline to sell Plan B, the so-called “morning after pill.” This is another win for science as well as women’s rights; the plaintiffs claimed this pill was equivalent to an abortifacient, when in fact the hormone in Plan B, levonorgestrel, prevents fertilization, and is not considered effective after a fertilized egg has implanted on the wall of the uterus.
  • You’ve probably seen Jesse Williams’ speech at the BET Awards, where he accepted the show’s humanitarian award for 2016, but if not, read the transcript and, if you can, watch the video. We may disagree on the content – this was a speech of emotion as much as of reason – but I was most impressed by how well he delivered it. It was a complex speech filled with lines that were clearly intended to serve as quotes or epigrams, and thus filled with landmines for even an accomplished speaker like Williams. It was too clever by half at times (“gentrifying our genius?”) but his delivery was hypnotizing. I could train for years and never do what he did.
  • 107 Nobel Laureates have called out Greenpeace for its anti-science position against genetically modified crops. This rift is only going to grow: Where environmental groups have, historically, been the pro-science advocates, they’re increasingly at odds with the scientific community on genetic modification.
  • Audio link from the BBC World Service’s Witness program on the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, part of a broader story of urban decline and rebirth in Cleveland.
  • The Rio Olympics are headed for all-time disaster levels, with the Zika epidemic, raw sewage in the waters, unpaid first responders, and, now, soup kitchens closing for lack of funds because the money is going to prop up this shitshow.
  • This 1999 op ed, bylined by Donald Trump, blasts Pat Buchanan as a dangerous proto-fascist who needs to be stopped.
  • Stanton Healthcare is an anti-abortion company that wants to take down Planned Parenthood with a chain of “women’s health” clinics that offers no reproductive health services, not even birth control. Her views are rife with anti-science nonsense, like referring to contraceptives as abortifacients (you keep using that word…) and fearmongering about synthetic hormones.
  • Vaccine deniers like to point to the cases of Hannah Poling and Brian Krakow’s son, but the evidence in both cases turns out to be lacking, especially in the Krakow case, as the boy showed clear signs of autism prior to vaccination. These loons will make anything up to support their anti-science beliefs.
  • Clarence Thomas doesn’t like the idea of restricting domestic abusers’ access to guns. Now, there’s some internal logic in his position: He’s arguing against any gun ownership or access restrictions at all, ultimately, and while I don’t read the Second Amendment that way or believe that was at all the authors’ intent, it’s one possible reading. But given the relatively high rates of homicide committed by convicted domestic abusers, isn’t this a gun control measure that we can all agree would work to keep victims safe without infringing on the law-abiding public’s right to bear arms, to say nothing of that well-ordered militia bit?
  • Quebec City spent nearly $350 million to build a hockey arena that still has no tenant. Cities doing this merely play into the leagues’ hands for extorting better deals out of other cities, sometimes in cities that already have adequate facilities. Meanwhile, I’m going to predict the NHL team in Las Vegas proves a big flop; the city has poor demographics for pro sports anyway, and, of course, no history whatsoever of hockey fandom.
  • An investigative journalist who worked as an English teacher to the sons of North Korea’s elite found herself receiving a torrent of vile criticism for doing undercover work. It’s bizarre and I wonder if a male writer would have received the same treatment.
  • The Koch brothers have gotten a bill through the House that would prevent the IRS from collecting the names of donors to tax-exempt groups, because we definitely want less transparency in campaign financing, not more.
  • The Canadian “naturopath” (read: child-neglecting Dunning-Krugerrands) parents who let their son die of meningitis rather than getting him medical attention were convicted of failing to provide for his well-being, with the father, also an anti-vaccine dipshit, getting four months in prison. I’m stunned they haven’t lost permanent custody of their other children, who are clearly at risk here; if the parents came into court and said aliens from Enceladus were protecting their children, we’d call the parents mentally ill and rescue the kids, but their vaccine-denial views are every bit as bogus.
  • Amy Schumer’s “too dark to air” sketch on gun control wasn’t too dark to release online, and I’m sure the faux-censorship angle gained it more viral traction. It’s quite good, of course, and not least because it features Coach McGuirk.
  • Buzzfeed steals content. It’s not plagiarism, which would be actionable; instead, they’re lifting ideas, outlines, and recipes, things that can’t be legally protected by copyright. It’s legal, but wholly unethical, and made worse by the clownish defenses some of its editors are offering. Apologize, tighten your standards, fire offenders, move on.
  • This New York profile of adult film actress Stoya, including her decision to go public with rape accusations against co-star and ex-boyfriend James Deen – spurring a torrent of similar accusations, none of which has kept him from working in their industry – is quite well done for such a difficult subject. Text NSFW, of course.
  • I enjoyed the Atlantic‘s profile of Black Flag’s legacy but really wanted more.
  • I’ll end on a slightly sappy note – the story of a millionaire, a homeless woman, and the dog that led him to help save her life.

Stick to baseball, 6/25/16.

I wrote two pieces for Insider this week, one on prospects who could be recalled by contenders this summer and one placing thirteen top draft picks (#1-12, plus #16 for obvious reason) within their new organizations’ prospect rankings. I was not able to chat this week due to a lengthy flight delay on Thursday and the chance to hang with a longtime reader and now friend of mine who lives here in Omaha.

Also, with travel and some other stuff, I’m behind on dish blogging, but I finished Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child and it was wonderful.

And now, the links…

  • I’ve been a fan of and advocate for CHVRCHES since well before their first album came out, but this appears to be the year they cross fully into the mainstream of pop music. Nerdist interviewed the trio at Firefly, including observations on their pop leanings despite their indie status. Personally, I have never disdained pop music for being pop, but disdain some pop music for being vapid. Anyway, if you haven’t heard the new version of “Bury It” featuring Hayley Williams along with Lauren Mayberry, it’s one of the best singles of the year:

  • The U.S. patent system has been a disaster for about twenty years now, with no sign of it abating. Popular Mechanics followed one lawsuit by an inventor against a big company that presents a balanced look at how the system just doesn’t work.
  • Why is Estonia, the tiny former Soviet state on the Baltic sea where the people speak a language that isn’t even Indo-European, one of the most tech-friendly nations on the planet?
  • A burger made entirely from plant materials that looks, tastes, and even smells like beef? I’d try it. I’m no vegetarian, not by a long shot, but my diet is increasingly plant-based these days.
  • This was good if horrifying: Buzzfeed Canada editor Scaachi Koul wrote about two times she was roofied by men, and how would-be rapists identify potential victims.
  • Deadspin goes deep on the ugly, crooked business of gambling touts, focusing in particular on RJ Bell and Pregame.com. It’s an outstanding piece of longform investigative journalism.
  • The Atlantic interviewed the author of a new book, The Poverty Industry, about how private companies are looting government funds intended for foster children and the elderly poor.
  • I work for a Disney subsidiary, and thus am a Disney cast member, and have some indirect stake in the future of the company – especially as my direct employer’s revenues may be affected by declining cable subscriptions. This interview with Disney CEO Robert Iger was more candid than I expected and had some welcome news about our intentions in the digital, non-cabled space.
  • Why would a strawberry grown locally cost more than one grown in California? Well, it comes down to economies of scale, cheap transport costs, and, most fundamentally, a question of what we’re paying for when we pay for produce.
  • The story of the Trump campaign giving $35,000 to a phantom firm called Draper Sterling is more comical than controversial, but still an entertaining read.
  • A fascinating video on the mapping of Laniakea, the supercluster of galaxies that contains the Milky Way.
  • A mother whose baby nearly died of pertussis has some things to say to vaccine-denying parents.
  • Dr. Alice Callahan, a science researcher and instructor at Lane Community College in Oregon, penned a great, unemotional op ed against the vaccine-denier film Vaxxed. If you have (idiot) friends who saw the film, or want you to see it, well, I doubt anything will change their minds but you should send them this anyway.
  • Could the Orlando shooting lead to meaningful gun control legislation? I doubt it, but this Washington Post op ed argues it might because this time, the NRA’s opponent, the LGBT community, knows how to change the culture.
  • The nasal-spray flu vaccine was just not that effective in the last several seasons, and the CDC has recommended discontinuing its use in favor of traditional, injected vaccines.
  • One little-reported effect of the “Brexit:” Spain now wants shared sovereignty in Gibraltar, as the British enclave (which Spain has claimed for 300 years) voted 95% to remain in the EU.
  • I love this New Yorker cover about as much as I hate the UK leaving the European Union:

Stick to baseball, 11/28/15.

Eric Longenhagen and I posted a too-early ranking of the top 2016 MLB draft prospects, one that highlights the lack of a clear #1 overall prospect.

I reviewed two boardgames for Paste recently, the tile-laying game Cacao and the the family adventure game Mission: Red Planet.

Around these parts, I posted my annual list of recommended cookbooks and a short post listing boardgame app sales for this weekend.

And now, the links…

  • Glenn Greenwald destroyed CNN for suspending reporter Elise Labott for two weeks for a rather innocuous (my opinion) tweet on the Syrian refugee topic. Greenwald even went on CNN to rip them apart for their fearmongering and mishandling of Labott, as covered here by Erik Wemple, whose initial complaint of Labott’s “bias” in her tweet seems to have sparked the suspension. (Wemple has said he opposes such suspensions, but I don’t see why he singled out Labott, a relatively unknown female reporter, among the various more serious breaches of ethics Greenwald listed.)
  • Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks says Syrian refugees are just looking for a “paid vacation.”
  • Is the west’s reaction to the Paris terror attacks the war that ISIS wants?
  • The young Iraqis who are presumably risking their lives promoted evolutionary theory and rational thinking.
  • A great longread on so-called “inauthentic” ethnic cuisine as practiced by Asian-American chefs like Danny Bowien, Dale Talde, and David Chang. Authenticity is great, but isn’t de facto superior to inauthentic food made well.
  • The Guardian weighs in on fad diets that are often light on science, asking what constitutes “healthy eating?”
  • Aziz Ansari appeared on NPR’s The Hidden Brain podcast to discuss findings from his book on love and dating, co-authored with a sociologist, called Modern Romance.
  • Via a reader, a story from June in Slate that describes aquafaba, the possible vegan replacement for egg whites. It’s actually just the brining liquid found in canned chickpeas, and for reasons not yet understood, its protein structure can create a stable foam just like the albumin from chicken eggs.
  • Remember that hedge fund douchebag who bought the rights to a decades-old drug and raised the price fifty-fold, then reversed that decision under public pressure? Yeah, well, they reversed that reversal. It’s a clear situation where the free market – of which I’m a rather ardent supporter – fails, because the market for the drug is so small (the NY Times says that there were only 8821 prescriptions for it in 2014) that it likely wouldn’t support the creation of a competitor due to the high regulatory costs. The only solution I see would be for the FDA to “fast track” a generic alternative, assuming a manufacturer could be found – or, unfortunately, for the federal government to mandate a price cap.

Cookbook recommendations, 2015.

I rewrote this post from scratch last year, but since this year I only have a few titles to add, I’m retaining most of last year’s text underneath a top section outlining a few new books I like (and one I’m going to recommend sight-unseen because of who wrote it). So as with last year, I’ve grouped them into categories: The essentials, which any home cook regardless of experience level should own; the advanced books for expert home cooks; a few cookbooks from Top Chef-affiliated folks that I recommend; and bread-baking books, all by one author because I’ve never needed any others.

New for 2015

I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of Hugh Acheson’s second cookbook, The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits, this spring, and it’s become a staple in my kitchen – one of the books I go to first when I am looking for a new idea for a vegetable dish, or when I bought something at the local farmstand despite lacking an actual plan for it. Acheson conceived the book in response to a neighbor’s question about what the hell to do with the kohlrabi he got in a CSA box, and the whole book works like that: You have acquired some Vegetable and need to know where to start. Organized by season and then by plant, with plenty of fruits and a few nuts mixed in for good measure, the book gives you recipes and ideas by showing off each subject in various preparations – raw, in salads, in soups, roasted, grilled, pureed, whatever. There are main course ideas in here as well, some with meat or fish, others vegetarian or vegan, and many of the multi-part dishes are easy to deconstruct, like the charred-onion vinaigrette in the cantaloupe/prosciutto recipe that made a fantastic steak sauce. Most of us need to eat more plants anyway; Acheson’s book helps make that a tastier goal.

The book I recommend but haven’t bought yet – I think Santa will be bringing me this one – is J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s mammoth The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, named for Kenji’s acclaimed and indispensable column over at Serious Eats. (Speaking of which, I’ll be spatchcocking my turkey this year, per Kenji’s column, with a salt rub the night before.) He’s shared a bunch of the recipes and essays from the book on various sites already and did a great too-short interview with the Sporkful’s podcast as well. His science-based thinking is kind of like a Mythbusters approach to cooking: People say you should do X, but does X actually work? And what’s the science behind it? Alton Brown has always argued that cooking is the science of applying heat to food; Kenji takes that to a new extreme in his writing, and assuming I can lift the 960-page tome (there’s a Kindle edition too) I expect I’ll use it heavily.

Also new to my shelves this year: Top Chef contestant Korean-American chef Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles, which offers his fusion of Asian (mostly Korean but occasionally other cuisines like Filipino) flavors with classic Southern dishes, like his fried chicken, which he partially poaches first in a Filipino adobo vinegar mixture, or his seasonal kimchi recipes to replace the boring cole slaw on your table … Kevin Gillespie, the runner-up to the Bros Voltaggio on Top Chef’s epic season 6, put out a new book this spring called Pure Pork Awesomeness, which a reader was kind enough to send along; it’s all about the pig, with a lot of big, heavy dishes that are probably best suited to feeding a crowd … April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig has the duck fat-fried potato recipe that got my daughter hooked on the dish, as well as a good selection of staple sauces, dressings, and starches to go along with the numerous meat dishes, including some offal recipes, one of which (made from minced pig’s heart and liver, with bacon, onion, and breadcrumbs) can’t be named here.

Essentials

There are now two cookbooks that I insist any home cook have. One is the venerable Joy of Cooking, revised and altered through many editions (I own the 1997, now out of print), but still the go-to book for almost any common dish you’re likely to want to make. The recipes take a very easy-to-follow format, and the book assumes little to no experience or advanced technique. I still use it all the time, including their basic bread stuffing (dressing) recipe every Thanksgiving, altered just with the addition of a diced red bell pepper.

The other indisputable must-have cookbook is, of course, Ruhlman’s Twenty, by the best food writer going today, Michael Ruhlman. The book comprises twenty chapters, each on a technique or core ingredient, with a hundred recipes, lots of essays to explain key concepts or methods, and photographs to help you understand what you’re cooking. It’s my most-used cookbook, the first cookbook gift I give to anyone looking to start a collection, and an absolute pleasure to read and re-read. Favorite recipes include the seared pork tenderloin with butter and more butter; the cured salmon; the homemade mayonnaise (forget the stuff in the jar, it’s a pale imitation); the pulled pork; all three duck recipes; the scrambled eggs with goat cheese (using a modified double-boiler method, so you get something more like custard than rubber); and the homemade bacon. I’m trying his weekday coq au vin recipe tonight, too. Many of these recipes appear again in his more recent book, Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient, along with more egg basics and a lot of great dessert recipes; and Twenty itself builds on Ruhlman’s Ratio, which shows you master formulas for things like doughs and sauces so you can understand the fundamentals of each recipe and extend as you see fit.

I’ve long recommended Baking Illustrated as the perfect one-book kitchen reference for all things baked – cookies, cakes, pies, breads, and more. It’s full of standards, tested to ensure that they will work the first time. You’ll need a scale to get maximum use from the book. I use their pie crust recipe, their peach pie recipe, their snickerdoodles recipe (kids love it, but moms seem to love it even more…), and I really want to try their sticky toffee pudding recipe. The prose can be a little cloying, but I skip most of that and go right to the recipes because I know they’ll succeed the first time. That link will get you the original book from the secondary market; it has been rewritten from scratch and titled The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, but I can’t vouch for it as I haven’t seen the new text.

If I know someone already has Ruhlman’s Twenty, my next gift choice for them is Nigel Slater’s Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, a book about vegetables but not strictly vegetarian. (There’s a lot of bacon here.) Each vegetable gets its own section, with explanations on how to grow it, how to choose it at the market, a half-dozen or more basic ways to cook it, and then a bunch of specific recipes, some of which are just a paragraph and some of which are a full page with glorious pictures accompanying them. The stuffed peppers with ground pork is a near-weekly occurrence in this house, and the warm pumpkin scone is the only good reason to buy and cook an actual pumpkin. I own but have barely cooked from his sequel on fruit, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard.

You know, a lot of people will tell you go get Julia Child’s classic books on French cuisine, but I find the one I have (Mastering the Art) to be dated and maddeningly unspecific. Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom is a slimmer, much more useful book that focuses on the basics – her explanation of vinaigrettes is still the gold standard, and her gift for distilling recipes and techniques into simple little explanations shines here without the fuss of three-day recipes for coq au vin. Oh, that’s in here too, but she does it in two and a half hours.

Experts

The The Flavor Bible isn’t actually a cookbook, but a giant cross-referencing guide where each ingredient comes with a list of complementary ingredients or flavors, as selected by a wide range of chefs the authors interviewed to assemble the book. It’s the book you want to pull out when your neighbor gives you a few handfuls of kale or your local grocery store puts zucchini on sale and you don’t know what to do with them. Or maybe you’re just tired of making salmon the same way and need some fresh ideas. The book doesn’t tell you how to cook anything, just what else to put on the plate. Spoiler: Bacon and butter go with just about everything.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is an outstanding vegetable-focused cookbook that uses no meat ingredients (but does use dairy and eggs), although Ottolenghi’s restaurant uses meats and he offers a few suggestions on pairing his recipes with meat dishes. The recipes here are longer and require a higher skill level than those in Tender, but they’re restaurant-quality in flavor and presentation, including a mushroom ragout that I love as a main course over pappardelle with a poached egg (or two) on top and my favorite recipe for preparing Belgian endives (a pinch of sugar goes a long way). As of this writing, the kindle edition is only $7.28, over 60% off the hardcover price.

Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery is is easily the best baking book I’ve ever seen, but unlike Baking Illustrated, the recipes are written for people who are more skilled and incredibly serious about baking. Ingredients are measured to the gram, and the recipes assume a full range of techniques. It has the best macaron recipe I’ve ever found – close second is I Love Macarons, suggested to me by Richard Blais’ pastry chef at the Spence, Andrea Litvin – and the Bouchon book also the homemade Oreo recipe I made for Halloween (but you need black cocoa and real white chocolate to do it right).

Bobby Flay has an absurd number of cookbooks out there, but the one I like is from his flagship restaurant Mesa Grill, which includes the signature items (including the blue and yellow cornbread) and a broad cross-section of dishes. There’s no instruction here at all, however, just a lot of recipes, many of which have an absurdly long list of ingredients.

For the really hardcore, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is an essential kitchen reference, full of explanations of the chemistry of cooking that will make you a smarter cook and help you troubleshoot many problems at the stove. I haven’t read it straight through – it’s 700-plus pages – but I’ll go to the index and pull out some wisdom as needed. It also explains why some people (coughmecough) never acquired the taste for strongly-flavored cheeses.

Top Chef Division

Richard Blais’ Try This at Home has become a staple in my kitchen both for about a half-dozen specific recipes in here that we love (his sweet potato gnocchi are now a Thanksgiving tradition for us; the lemon curd chicken is at least a twice-a-month dish around here and perfect for guests) and for the creativity it inspires. Blais has lots of asides on techniques and ingredients, and if you actually read the text instead of just blindly following the recipes, you’ll get a sense of the extensibility of the basic formulas within the book, even though he isn’t as explicit about it as Ruhlman is.

Hugh Acheson’s first book, A New Turn in the South, and Top Chef season one winner Harold Dieterle’s Harold Dieterle’s Kitchen Notebook have both recently entered my cookbook rotation as well. Acheson’s book reads the way he speaks – there’s a lightly sardonic aspect to much of his writing so that it comes off more like you’re hanging out with the guy, talking food, rather than taking instruction. His bacon-wrapped whole fish recipe is unbelievable, more for the powerful aromatics (winner, best use of fennel) than for the bacon itself. Dieterle’s book requires a lot of harder-to-find ingredients, but his side essays on specific ingredients run from the mundane to the esoteric and drop a ton of knowledge on how to choose and how to use. My particular struggle with both books is that they use a lot of seafood, with Dieterle’s including a ton of shellfish; my wife is allergic to shellfish, so I don’t even bring that into the house any more, which requires some substitutions and means there are some recipes I just have to set aside.

Bread

I’ve owned and given away or sold a lot of bread-baking books, because nothing has been able to beat the two masterworks by baker/instructor Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and Whole Grain Breads. Reinhart’s books teach you how to make artisan or old-world breads using various starters, from overnight bigas to wild-yeast starters you can grow and culture on your countertop. If that seems like a little much, his Artisan Breads Every Day takes it down a notch for the novice baker, with a lot of the same recipes presented in a simpler manner, without so much emphasis on baker’s formulas.

And finally, while it’s not a cookbook, Anthony Bourdain’s first book, Kitchen Confidential, is just $3.99 right now for Kindle, and it’s a riot regardless of whether you like to cook.