Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Eats Sheet: A Dallas Doubleheader

Long overdue, the Eats Sheet catches up to my several-weeks-in-the-past trip to Dallas, where I visited my aging grandmother. Today we look at two Dallas eateries: Calle Doce, and the Churrascaria chain, Fogo de Chao.

Calle Doce looked promising. This close to the border I suspected that we would be more likely to get some real comida Mexicana auténtica. What appeared to be an all Mexican wait staff and a menu filled with such favorites as siete mares and tacos al carbón reinforced my suspicions. A wandering guitar minstrel ambled around the tables taking requests. He even did a nice bachata rendition of Stairway to Heaven. Before we had time to peruse the menu and make our selections I ordered us a round of tostadas de ceviche. The tostadas did not disappoint even my high expectations. Instead of the usual tiny cubes of cod or whitefish, these were a nice red ahi tuna cut in thick three-quarter inch cubes, marinated in lime, dusted with spice, piled on a tostada and loaded with diced tomatoes and onions and sliced avocados. With a final squirt of tapatío and lime, they were perfect.

The rest of lunch, however, took a different turn. I had the fish tacos, and I may have been asking for alchemy to expect good seafood in the middle of the desert. On the other hand, the ceviche was fresh, so perhaps my hope for good fish was not so unfounded. At any rate, my hopes, founded or not, were dashed on the jagged shards of a hard and dried-out piece of mahi-mahi. The rest of the contents of the tacos were fine, but the foundation was wanting. To make matters worse, the rice, cooked with corn kernels, was greasy—not buttery, greasy; and was a sickly looking grey hue. The refried beans either came from a can or were made by a chef who for some unfathomable reason has mastered the technique of re-creating metallic savorlessness.

Maybe it was just a bad day, but the non-ceviche food at Calle Doce was not worth the $10-$15 per plate. With the porch-dining and the guitarrista, I give it high points for style, and for ceviche, but low for food. I still recommend Calle Doce, for the ceviche, but don’t bother on the rest.

Fogo de Chao just opened a Minneapolis Restaurant a month ago, and the place has been rockingly busy (which is appropriate, I guess, since they’re near neighbors with Hard Rock Café). Lines out the door at almost any time of day make it clear that Minneapolitans have quite a taste for carnivorous debauchery. I could declare in self-righteousness that I look with disapprobation at such wanton flesh-consumption, but it would be a thin mask for the fact that I simply can’t afford the $44.50 ($29.50 if you go for lunch) to eat at Fogo.

In Dallas, however, things were different. My Dad agreed to take us all out to Fogo. I have eaten at three other Churrascarias (Tucanos, Rodizio Grill, and a high-class NYC Churrascaria that I can’t remember), and against this background, Fogo, despite some high points, is middling.

Appropriately for an eatery of its manner, Fogo’s strongest point is its meat. Here I did not just get quantity (though that was abundant), I got quality cuts of meat. The filet mignon was especially good. If anything, a few pieces were a bit too rare. At one point I looked across the table to see my grandma working on a piece of cow-flesh so red I wasn’t sure it was dead. But too rare is better than too burnt.

The rest of Fogo, while good, did not live up to the meat. The fried polenta sticks were buried in cheap salty parmasean crumbs (as opposed to dusted with buttery shredded parmasean), and the fried bananas sat in a mushy pool of canola oil. I should add that neither of these facts stopped me from eating plenty of both. They were still good, despite a few drawbacks. The salad bar was surprisingly slim. Rice and beans were conspicuously absent. Maybe they were just trying to live up to the “everything’s bigger in Texas” mantra that’s chanted mindlessly by a thousand would-be cowboys, but I was shocked to see asparagus the diameter of glue sticks and palm hearts that wouldn’t fit inside a toilet paper tube. Both were decidedly un-tender and fibrously stringy—it was reminiscent of eating the wrong part of an artichoke.

Now, if you are going to a Churrascaria, it is true that you aren’t going to eat plate after plate of asparagus and fried polenta. The meat is the res and the rest is the rest. But even so, good meat should be in good company. Fogo’s meat is too good for the company it keeps, especially at the price. I recommend it with hesitation.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Interview with Elders Nelson and Wickman

The Pew Forum recently interviewed Elder Russel M. Nelson (of the Quorum of the 12) and Elder Lance B Wickman (Church Legal Counsel). They discussed the church's public relations, specifically, how they are affected or not affected by all the recent and upcoming media attention to the church (Romney, PBS documentary, MMM movie, etc.).

I think Elder Wickman's response to the question about Americans being generally reluctant to vote for a Mormon did not do a very good job of reinforcing the church's political neutrality stance. However, I only found one doctrinal error in the article:

"The church considers the quorum second in ecclesiastical authority to the church's First Presidency..."

(Emphasis Added.) Not according to the Doctrine and Covenants we don't.

Guess who's back

Greetings. A full week and two days without a new post on WMBW. The reason for my sudden unexplained lack of wackiness (at least wackiness available for web viewing) is a little thing the Law Review calls "petitioning" and that I call "hell."

Basically, what happens is this: the Law Review editors give you 300 pages of stuff. The stuff includes one "main case" and a bunch of related cases, articles, book excerpts, blog posts, etc. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read it all closely and come up with 10 pages of intelligent prose accompanied by 10-15 pages of intelligent footnotes. This is what is known as a case comment. To make matters worse, you have to do it in no more than a fortnight, and you have to use a referencing style that you have never been taught because those goons over at the Harvard L. Rev. have everyone convinced that their way is the only way to do footnotes.

In my case, it was even worse because my fortnight was cut down to about a week. All last weekend I was in Dallas, Texas visiting family, and starting on Tuesday, I'll be in Fargo, North Dakota getting trained. So why am I posting now if I have such short time to finish? I am what you call "burnt out." I discovered that doing this 14 hours a day eventually has that effect. A non-law related activity for 15 minutes is what I need.

After the petition thing is over, I can comment on the case. Right now, I'm required to not discuss it, at least not with any other U of M 1Ls. I don't know if any of them read this blog, so I better be safe.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Book Revue: Rough Stone Rolling

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (Knopf, 2005) has been long awaited. Years ago, I read Bushman’s Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (1984, U of Ill. Press). It was fantastic. More thoroughly researched and more objectively and insightfully analyzed than most Joseph Smith bios, it was a great read.

So when RSR came out, I was excited to read it. School and finances delayed me a bit, but several months ago I received RSR as a gift and read it as quickly as 1st year law courses would allow.

Overall, it is great. As well researched as JSBM was, RSR begins with a biographical survey of Joseph Smith’s maternal and paternal ancestors and the cultural climate of New England at that time. It then moves through Joseph’s early life and continues with the founding of the church. The rest is, of course, history.

The overall theme of RSR is progressive development, or in very Mormon terms, line upon line. Sometimes we Mormons tend to think of the church and the priesthood as having sprung, Minvera-like, fully formed from Joseph’s revelatory head. In reality, Joseph himself learned the organization of the church and the priesthood one step at a time. Bushman looks at the different versions of the first vision as an expression of Joseph’s growing understanding of that experience and his growing confidence in his calling leading him to reveal more and more of what had happened to him. He also examines the ways in which the Book of Mormon itself contributed to Joseph’s view of himself as a prophet called of God rather than just another visionary preacher.

The challenge in writing about Joseph Smith is that he is such a divisive figure. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has an axe to grind, an agenda, or at least a bias. Bushman readily acknowledges that he views Joseph as an inspired prophet and regards the church and priesthood as authentic. But this does not prevent him from taking a close, critical look at the stories that have surrounded Joseph and using an astute historian’s eye to separate undocumented folklore from documented fact. For example, Bushman makes no effort to de-emphasize the fact that most of the Book of Mormon was likely translated not looking directly at the plates with the Urim and Thummim, but using a seerstone in a hat with the plates out of sight. This model can be challenging to those who have grown up with the seminary video version with the sheet hung between Joseph and Oliver, but it does emphasize that the translation was a revelatory experience. In addition, the seerstone version is actually more consistent with the Book of Mormon itself. (See Alma 37:23).

is heavy on analysis and a bit lighter on facts. It is still well-sourced, and it won’t be incomprehensible to a novice, but it will be better if you already have some foundational knowledge of Joseph’s life. For a less analytic, more factual bio, Donna Hill’s Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (1977, Signature) is a great choice. Bushman puts emphasis on the cultural context of the events in Joseph’s life, but also seems to want to explore the aspects of Joseph’s character that transcend 19rh century America. The book would be incomplete without looking at these transcendental strands, but Bushman waxes philosophical, almost rhapsodical at times. It is a different, though no less valuable approach than Hill’s very journalistic style. I recommend it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Eats Sheet: The Monte Carlo, Mpls

Not to be confused with any place in Vegas, the Monte Carlo is probably the oldest eating establishment in the Minneapolis warehouse district still going. A century and a year old, the menu sports a solid American selection with an emphasis on traditional meat-based dishes. Steak and Salmon abound. Big, gravy-smothered open faced sandwiches are also a strength. When I get off the bus, especially during the winter, I am always tempted by the scents wafting out from the Monte Carlo's grill.

My first visit to the Monte Carlo, I had the Salmon Caesar Salad. Salad might be a bit misleading. In reality, it was more like a full grilled Salmon steak served on a bed of romaine with some dressing. Very simple, unadorned just a well-blended mix of a few flavors. The next time I had the cajun pork chops: three thin chops dusted with parika, pepper and rosemary served with fries. The spice was great, the meat was juicy (not always easy with pork). It lacked a veggie, though. It was good, but seemed a bit incomplete.

The restaurant itself is a bit like a midwest version of Monks cafe, but bigger. Waitresses were in classic black and white cafe uniform dresses. The main room opens up onto a huge copper-topped bar while booths extend toward the back. The ceiling is tin, and the lighting is low. You can almost picture a turn of the century lumber executive sitting in a cloud of cigar smoke in one of the back booths. But if you're eating during the day, it's a little too dim. Feels kind of unnatural. Outdoor dining is also available. Service is good, but not overly quick.

Overall, the Monte Carlo is a good place to eat, but at the price, it isn't a place where you'd want to go every night. Meals $10-$20.

Who's the one?

Look at this picture. I can't get the image, so you'll just have to click the link.

I'm not really sure what this is supposed to mean, but here are a few possibilities:
1. Mitt Romney is creating a clone army of himself, resistance is useless.
2. Some kind of weird Romney triumvirate is running for president.
3. The three identical Romneys juxtaposed with the phrase "he's the one" (emphasis added) is a kind of subliminal reference to the trinity, to make evangelicals feel better about voting for a Mormon.

But whatever it means, Romney is most definitely not "the one." As we all know, Nixon's the one.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ranking the Batmen

Who is the best Batman? Who is the worst? Here's my take:

1. Christian Bale
2. Michael Keaton
3. Adam West
4. Val Kilmer
5. George Clooney

One of the keys of nailing Batman is the ability to play both the dark knight and the billionaire playboy. The great thing about Bale is that he plays both Batman and Bruce Wayne well. Most previous Batmen could only do one well. Keaton was a good Batman, but a pretty mediocre Bruce Wayne. Kilmer was okay at both, but just okay. Clooney was a decent Bruce Wayne but a terrible Batman. Plus, in that version, Joel Schumacher put nipples on the batsuit. That's just wrong.

Monday, May 7, 2007

A good reminder

The SLTrib's Bergera gives us all a reminder of a few things that will probably be ignored over the coming year.

Provo: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The other night, on the way to Ben & Jerry's for some quality overpriced ice cream, I found myself missing some of my favorite Provo haunts. One of the greatest things about Provo is that eating out is cheap. That memory inspired these lists:

Things I miss about Provo:
1. Diego's.
2. Smart Cookie.
3. Smokehouse.
4. Climbing Timp, Provo Peak, and Cascade.
5. Sitting on a couch on a porch with three Italians eating quesadillas.
6. The corporal.
7. The temple. (No, really, I actually do like it.)
8. Steve Robinson's rants.
9. Jeff Ringer not reading my papers and giving me A's.
10. Friends who sound like Jimmy Stewart and have a teacher named George Bailey.
11. The HBLL.
12. The Provo library.

Things I do not miss about Provo:
1. Ward prayer.
2. Stadium of Fire.
3. Poli Sci majors that think they know everything.
4. The great cinder block caper of aught-five.
5. A grill-stealing landlord.
6. Artificial price supports imposed on the housing market by the BYU approved housing regime.
7. One-party rule.
8. Ghettoization of student housing.

Things from Provo on which I am ambivalent or indifferent:

1. The Homecoming Spectacular (more accurately known as the Homecoming OK).
2. Red Robin.
3. Darrell.
4. Beto's.
5. Walking around with the Shark on a hot day waiting for his car stereo to be installed.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Is the new Mitt Romney more conservative than his own church?

That's what this Boston Globe article from December argues. The church links to the article on its own "newsroom" website. While that does not mean endorsement, it probably does mean that the church considers the article to be credible. Bennet, the author of the piece, makes the point among other things that both the current ardent pro-life Romney and the 1994 pro-choice Romney have a welcome place within the church, and that on the issue of stem-cell research, Romney's vehement opposition has placed him outside the mainstream of church members. The article actually does a very decent job of explaining the church's political neutrality and the church policies and doctrines that inform Mormon political opinions. It's worth a read.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

That Krazy Kucinich

This is not a surprise. Dennis Kucinich, that diminutive Ohioan with a penchant for polka has filed articles of impeachment against the Vice President. As previous posts have probably made clear, I'm no fan of Cheney, but impeachment is a bit over the top. I will say this, however, Kucinich, or rather the interns in his office, lay out a pretty persuasive case, not persuasive that Cheney ought to be impeached, but persuasive that he's been dishonest and has not served our country well. Click here to read the articles of impeachment.

Whitney's "The Mormons": Reactions

After watching Parts 1 and 2 of Helen Whitney's documentary last night and the night before, I have a few observations. Overall, I thought it was well done and fair. I found myself frustrated at times that she wasn't telling the whole story. For example, the section on Polygamy presented the manifesto as something that was universally excepted by the whole church at that moment and ended polygamy in an instant. In reality, Mormon polygamy died a slow death. Even two Apostles, John W. Taylor, and Matthias F. Cowley were eventually excommunicated because of their refusal to abandon "the Principle." Greg Smith's FAIR article on post-manifesto polygamy gives a thorough and well-informed treatment. Though I'm not so sure about his conclusions, he tells the story well.

Giving the simplistic view, I think, cheapens the experience of Mormon polygamy and the inspiration of the manifesto. It is important to understand how much the pioneer saints had given and sacrificed for polygamy, and how long their leaders had preached it, to understand how hard it was to give up. Against this cultural background the courage and vision of the manifesto becomes clear. The simple view makes it seem like Wilford Woodruff was left with no choice and pressured into renouncing polygamy. In reality, the pioneer saints had "endured many things and hope[d] to be able to endure all things" to preserve what they believed was right. They would have gladly submitted to exile. It is too simple to say that the church dropped polygamy to get statehood. Polygamy was several orders of magnitude more important to men like John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff than was statehood.

Instead, a more holistic view takes the manifesto against that background as a visionary and progressive document. To essentially put aside 5 decades of church practice that had been tempered in the fires of Missouri and hardened through the plains and the deserts had to be more than mere capitulation to the federal government. Recognizing this, I think, recognizes the majesty and vision of the revelation behind the manifesto.

On the other hand, to tell the whole story would have been impossible in Whitney's medium. Polygamy would take the entire 4 hours. Her treatment was probably appropriate given the constraints.

Another criticism is that on a macro level, there was too much emphasis on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and on the September Six. These stories are important, but Whitney's states purpose was to give an outsider an insider's look at the Mormon experience. Many if not most Mormons know very little about the MMM and are not plagued by it. Whitney's devoting an entire 1/6 of Part 1 to the MMM made it seem like Mormons still have a guilt complex about it. I appreciated that Will Bagley's view was countered by Glen Leonard, but it would have been helpful to know that Bagley is on the fringe of the scholarly consensus on the MMM.

One last criticism: too much screen time given to Margaret Toscano and Tal Bachman. I've read most of Toscano's work. But her excommunication was not for her work and opinions as much as it was for her refusal to recognize that her own thoughts were not revelations to the entire church. She told the horror story of her church court but there was insufficient presentation of the other side. Part of that is the practical reality that disciplinary councils are confidential and the church does not publish those proceedings, so there really is only one side of the story out there. Whitney did acknowledge this, but it was brief. You could have easily missed it if you weren't paying attention. Bachman's remark that as a missionary he would have been willing to be a suicide bomber was inflammatory and totally unnecessary. It would have been helpful to counter that with a sane returned missionary. I was also annoyed by Bachman's insistence that he daily risked his life as a missionary. Sounds like a martyr complex to me.

Overall, though, I thought it was well done. The ending was great. I recommend it, but with the caveat that it is only a superficial treatment, a survey of sorts, and that only further reading will give you a more complete view. If "The Mormons" is the basis for all your knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, your understanding will be superficial and lacking. But if you use "The Mormons" as a starting place for further reading, you will find it a great appetizer for a meatier meal.

What did you think?

Other resources:

Dave over at DMI has a nice list of the people interviewed with some info on each.

"The Mormons" website on pbs.org is a great resource with full transcripts of the interviews and more information.

The NYT gave it a positive review.

On Washingtonpost.com, Filmmaker Helen Whitney took part in a conversation with readers about the film. Her comments are worth reading.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Life imitates life

An old post over at Cabeza's talked about a co-worker who looked like the Lorax. Similarly, a woman at the university here bears an uncanny resemblance to Elton John.

As Cabeza obsoives, the obvious question hanging in front of everyone's mind is whether the people who look like things, or people, or fantastical creatures actually know what or who they look like. It seems that it would be obvious, or at least reasonably clear that Mr. Lorax or Elton Jane would be aware of their resemblance. But if so, that only raises a more perplexing question: why don't they do something to change their appearance?

In criminal law, each crime requires not only the criminal act itself, but criminal intent as well. Intent can be established not just if the defendant actually intended the act, but also if the defendant had knowledge that his actions would lead to that result, or if he knew that there was a risk that his actions would lead to the criminal result and proceeded reckless to that risk. So my question is this: if the resemblers know what they resemble, does that mean that they in some way intend to resemble? Can we infer intent from the fact that they act recklessly toward the risk that they might resemble singers and mythical forest protectors?