I don't remember just how I stumbled upon this essay on lutefisk, but I can tell you it's a real hoot. Lutefisk is a regrettable Norwegian dish of which the Norwegians are, apparently, very proud. It involves codfish to which dreadful things have been done. This is one Clay Shirky's survivor's account of his encounter with the repellent substance, and it's funnier than a good many Dave Barry columns. One is forced to the conclusion that there's something rotten in the state of Norway.
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The breakfast of champions
Another somewhat questionable food of nationalistic significance is haggis, surrounding which there is a weird and surreal lore to which many Scots are peculiarly devoted. These people will tell you that a haggis is a species of small animal. (It is not. It is a dish involving the combination of various animal parts that are normally thrown away.) They will hold haggis ceremonies, at which men in kilts tote the haggis, which is decorated with the antlers of some hapless ex-deer, in a formal processional into the banquet hall. Once there, they proceed to read it some poetry by Robert Burns about how real men eat haggis. All this is, obviously, insane, but it's vital to pretend to go along with it. When I was eighteen I attended a haggis ceremony in Edinburgh at which a friend felt ill and asked the nearby bartender for a cup of tea halfway through, and he took her request as some sort of pro-England, anti-Scotland snub, and hit her. Strewth. The stuff's not bad eating, though, believe it or not -- if anything, it's a bit boring, resembling a shepherd's pie of dubious provenance. It's traditionally served with turnips, a vegetable I don't think I've ever encountered in any other context outside the play "Waiting for Godot." Click here for an excellent haggis recipe site, including various Americanized and toned-down renditions.
TRENDING: Is this what you voted for, America?
From Russia with love
It must be Grotesque Foodstuffs Week, because no sooner did I finish writing the lutefisk paragraph, above, but I must needs come upon a nauseating phenomenon like this : A new line of yoghurt due to be launched in Russia this autumn contains bacteria with an illustrious pedigree -- they were taken from the saliva and guts of some of the Soviet and Russian space program's most distinguished astronauts. As if yogurt (I adhere obstinately to the American spelling in this case) weren't nasty enough already. They're apparently touting this stuff as a health food. I don't know about you, but I'm not hungry at all -- no, not even a little bit. Enough with the weird foods for this week.
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Compare and contrast
Here's a legitimately useful site. Your Nation lets you compare and rank two or more nations or groups of nations according to whatever statistic you're interested in. It'll generate a neat bar graph showing that, for example, Russia has 1.57 times the forested land of Canada, with 7.82 million square kilometers to Canada's 4.98 million, and 9.47 times the merchant marine shipping, with 540 ships to Canada's 57. Or that Burkina Faso has a greater population of people over the age of 64 than Chad: 337,992 vs 220,785, respectively. As those little samples imply, there's a remarkable range of different types of statistics available to use for comparisons. Data isn't available for every country in every respect -- the number of heliports in Kazakhstan vs that in Fiji, for example, remains a matter for conjecture and speculation -- but it's still an impressive resource. Caveat: Most of the data comes from the 1998 CIA World Factbook, so it may be slightly out of date, plus I would bear the CIA's recent track record in mind when figuring how much weight to place on the results (don't use this information to pick bombing targets).
No bad dogs
An acquaintance who owns several Very Difficult breeds of dog, including multiple basenjis, has been raving about an effective method of training dogs called "clicker training." It's affection-based rather than punishment-based, relying on behavior modification and positive reinforcement. (It's also supposed to work on spouses and children, by the way.) You can get a starter kit consisting of two clickers, some treats, and a beginning training book from "Karen Pryor's Clicker Training" page. Pryor learned her positive-reinforcement precepts training dolphins and is the author of the classic "Don't Shoot the Dog!", a revised edition of which has just been published by Bantam Doubleday Dell.
If clicker training doesn't work for you, you can always release some steam giggling at the Bad Dog List, which collects "phrases dog ownees should get their naughty pets to write on a blackboard a la Bart Simpson." Examples: "I will not jump on the bed and wash my human's pillow;" "I will not roll the ottoman around the house humping it while the priest is visiting Grandma;" and "I will not chew the waterbed because I am thirsty." Linked to the page, you'll also find some other, analogous "bad pet" lists to peruse, including cat, horse, ferret, bunny and -- seriously -- iguana. It takes all sorts, I guess.