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3 February 2005 to 13 January 2005
The man in the seat in front of them has the body proportions of an overfed infant, the mannerisms of a sleep-deprived eight-year-old and the mustache of an octogenarian Groucho Marx impersonator on his deathbed. He is drinking, compulsively, from a battered cardboard coffee cup that has been empty at least since the station, and may have been brought empty from home for not the first time. A chewed plastic straw intended for bubble-tea sticks far out of it, pushing along the side of his face into the frame of his glasses as he gulps determinedly at nothing. Periodically he sets the cup down in the aisle beside his seat to put on or take off a layer of clothing, which he does in multiple small, furtive movements, reclaiming the cup in between each, the way one might reassemble a broken cassette player while riding a bicycle. When not drinking from the cup, he holds it in front of his face with his left hand, and alternately presses his right one against his mouth in a fist, knuckles out, and then opens it to bat lightly at the cup with the tips of his fingers, as if trying to dislodge aphids from the rim without killing them.  

He wears heavy, yellowing work-boots worn nearly through on the outside of the heels, and sits with his feet splayed sideways like a limp doll's. Dressing and undressing reveals a white T-shirt with the logo of a car wash I've never heard of, under a green cardigan that seems to be acrylic abused to the texture of terry-cloth, under a plasticky black jacket with a powder-blue anime horse on the back, under a red hooded cotton sweatshirt with the insignia of a high-school junior-varsity hockey team called the Waltham Hawks. When he takes off his hat, a dense ring of hair on the sides of his head fans out around a perfect bald dome like a disarrayed crown of soap-stiffened black felt jammed too far down onto an old volleyball varnished pearlescently pink. He carries thick stacks of colored paper in two thin plastic shopping bags, and also an empty vinyl courier bag on a long and tightly-twisted shoulder-strap.  

They exchange relieved glances when he gets off the bus less than a mile into the route. They have identically trim legs in identically snug tan corduroy pants with back-pocket flaps like birthday-card envelopes, and I am surprised to be surprised when I look up and discover that they do seem to be twins. Their earrings are different, and their hats, and the one on the aisle is wearing athletic shoes in which you wouldn't actually run.  

In the seat behind them, I am listening to a Japanese metal band playing American Christmas songs at triple speed, and daydreaming about new shoes I didn't wear today, and waiting for the bus to drive slowly off the end of the world.
Remember to turn the oven off.
Hmm. Not bad, but not that spectacular, either. I bet I can do better next time. B notes that they're a little dense, and that the larger chunks of apple seem to prevent the batter around them from cooking as much as the rest of the muffin. Also that the granola is kind of prickly. Next time I might use a lighter flour. And I bet butterscotch chips wouldn't do any harm.
On the left of a solid counter, collect:  

- a very large bowl
- one egg
- a jug of milk
- two apples
- a bottle of canola oil
- a jar or bottle or whatever of honey
- a liquid measuring cup
- a big wooden spoon
- a small soup spoon  

On the right, with a comfortable space between:  

- a reasonably large bowl, but perhaps a little smaller than the other
- a bag of whole-wheat flour
- some brown sugar
- a can of baking powder
- a carton of salt
- cinnamon and nutmeg
- some really crunchy granola you like
- measuring spoons
- a 1/2 cup measuring cup
- a whisk  

Somewhere else in the kitchen, put a twelve-cup muffin tray, with those little paper muffin-liner things in the holes. Apertures. Whatever you call them.  

Turn your oven on, and set it to 400. It is important for it to be one of those older ovens that heats things up with gas or electricity or wood or something, not microrays or ultrasonic vibrations or necromancy. The effect we are going for is bakingness, not magic.  

Now, turn your attention to the left. The apples are obviously too large to put into the muffin apertures, and besides there are too few of them. Do not panic. Cut them into quarters and remove the cores. Cut four of the quarters into thin slices, and then cut the slices into thirds or fourths. Dump these in the bowl. Chop up two more of the quarters into very small bits, and dump that pulp in the bowl, too. Eat the remaining two quarters leisurely during the rest of the preparation, to maintain the proper applish mood.  

Crack the egg into the bowl. Discard the shell. Pour a half a cup of milk into the bowl. Don't put the jug away just yet. Add a quarter of a cup of the canola oil to this mess, and then mix it all up fairly well with the spoon. Don't do anything with the honey yet.  

Now the right. Into the other bowl go three half-cups of flour, half a cup of brown sugar, half a cup of granola (and don't put this away yet), a couple teaspoons of baking powder (with any worms removed), half of a teaspoon of salt, and a little bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. Maybe a little more than that. Oops, not that much. Well, it'll probably be fine. Use the whisk to mix this all up very thoroughly. Think of how little salt there is, for example, and how unpleasant it would be to get a bite with no salt.  

Let us pause and review. On your left is a large bowl of wet things, on your left a large (but maybe slightly smaller) bowl of dry things. Nearby is a muffin tray, and a hot oven, and a bottle of honey that hasn't been mentioned yet. Also, there is still milk and granola, and maybe some apple you're not finished eating. This is all fine.  

Now, with a calm and gentle flourish, empty the bowl of dry things into the bowl of wet things. With the big wooden spoon, mix industriously until the glop achieves a sort of uniformity. It is our intent for the consistency to be faintly, but distinctly, liquid, so if it seems drier than that, add a little more milk.  

Once you've got a good, turgid batter, use the soup spoon to incrementally apportion it into the twelve muffin-tray apertures such that a) all the batter is in apertures, b) none of it is still in the bowl, and c) the most-full aperture is not significantly more full than the least-full aperture. Sprinkle a little bit of granola over the top of each aperture of batter.  

With rough simultaneity, put the muffin tray into the hot oven and start a reliable time-measuring device, which I apologize for having failed to mention until the very moment when it is suddenly crucial. It need not be linked to any sort of atomic clock, but it must be capable of measuring the passage of fifteen minutes, and then every two or three minutes thereafter.  

Close the oven. Step away. Find something else to amuse you for the next fifteen minutes. I generally start cleaning up, but B considers this obsessive of me, so I only mention it in case it's helpful to hear an example.  

When the fifteen minutes are up, open the oven and look at the muffins. Some of the bits of granola on top should be getting a little brown at the edges by now. If they are not, you may have failed to turn the oven on, or set it for 40 instead of 400, or some similarly disappoint piece of ineptitude. It is not my job to anticipate errors of this severity, so correcting them is your responsibility, but I do wish you luck.  

If the browning is happening on schedule, now is the time to use the honey. Drizzle a little honey on the top of each muffin. That's all. I know, after all this anticipation it seems like the honey should have a more dramatic role to play. But it doesn't. Drizzle, and then put the tray back in the oven.  

Every two or three minutes hereafter, annoyingly, yank the oven open and peer at the muffins again. They will look the same as they did the previous time. You will fear that one time you're going to open the oven and they're going to be all burnt, but this will not happen. Actually, it might, and then you will have ruined them. But probably you will lose patience with checking before that, and declare the muffins done. Take the tray out and put it on the counter. Let the muffins sit for a few minutes. They must adjust to the room and the light.  

Now you have a dozen muffins. I don't know if they are any good. Mine are still adjusting. Hold on, I'll eat one and see.
1. Place one standard metric drum of whole or partial flour in a preheated diorama for one hour at 11°40' South, 43°19' East.  

2. In a separate movement, collect the impetus of four ovals, and encourage until mildly absent. If ovals are unseasonable, you may substitute another idiom.  

3. Add the olive pits, caramel wrappers and peeled marshmallows, two at a time, being careful that they do not become defibrillated or indurate.  

4a-4d. Set aside.  

5. Present each guest with an uncontroversial discussion topic, or a single unscented flower.  

6. 20 minutes before serving, restate the major objections in a penitent tone. Objectors may require a moment of relative silence or absolute darkness.  

7. Line a large ukulele mold with gravel and paraffin. Spread the batter counterclockwise, with quick, variegated strokes of a 3.25mm (or wider) vegetable punch. Qualify with silvered almonds and doll hair.  

8. When the winter has just started to become oppressive, exchange the final two layers. Performate the top crust with hardwood in moral or gull shapes. Allow to coalesce, and then demonstrate at anteroom temperature on slowly revolving stained glass.

Red Line, Cambridge/Boston
1. Boy with orange hat. Seen by Emma waiting, apparently, for a bus outside of the Vargeld.  

2. Construction planner. Referred to twice in the conversation between Marik and the couriers. Known to be exacting and arrhythmic.  

3. Civic meterer. Lives in one of the blue houses on the street behind Aria's building. Older, listing. Complains to Storod on the street during the blackout, although it's not clear whether she understands that power is a quantity. Collects silkscreened eggs.  

4. The replacement florist. Shoes suggest decline in fortune is recent; idiom implies acceptance. Would give flowers to unattended children, but obviously in the Corridor there do not tend to be many of these. Hums drones. Panics in traffic.  

5. The translator who dreams of the continuity of oceans. Implied by Marik's speech to the victims, later referred to by Emma in her list of terms. Misses the last train the night of the crash, and thus is still in Anholz Station when the Minister's staff arrives. Wary of owls, expectations and shadow.  

6. Aria's broker. Indirectly introduces Garner to Maribelle, and thus to the Morrises. Sends the letter, after all, although in the end most of the mentors probably believe this was Jonathan, especially after Jonathan conceals the sale. Dropped last, and somewhat arbitrarily, just before the move.  

7. Sprinter. Sits in front of the Minister during the first act, but is reseated in the orchestra after the arrests. Never really suspends disbelief, and would go with Gossett if the bridge were closed. Loans jazz to borrow edges.  

8. Parts buyer. Misunderstands Emma's question about phases, but gives her the right number by mistake. Takes over from the warder during the flood, and treats the children's questions seriously. Solves the maze. Sleepless and drained and stronger than walls.
Last night I finally got around to seeing Super Size Me. I've read Fast Food Nation and Food Politics, so not that much of Spurlock's industry information was new to me, but I was still appalled all over again by the magnitude of it. It doesn't seem too unreasonable to say that McDonald's is ultimately and knowingly dedicated to bleeding short-term profits at the expense of the methodical medium-term destruction of bodies with french fries and long-term destabilization of societies with ground beef.  

I hate McDonald's, the corporation, on principle, but I also physically despise the bilious crap they serve as food. Back when I occasionally ate fast food (i.e., before I read Fast Food Nation) I could deal with Burger King or Taco Bell every month or two, but I think I've eaten at McDonald's exactly three times since puking up a Big Mac in 1984, and after the last time was finally able to quit thinking that it couldn't possibly be as disgusting as I remembered. For me the burgers provoke immediate nausea, the "milkshakes" taste worse than anything I've ever ingested as medicine, and the fries are so unmistakably inorganic that if I discovered one in any other plate of food I'd want the responsible kitchen condemned. These truths seem so indelible to me that the effort required to accept that they are not universal is almost enough to make me physically ill by itself.  

Spurlock, however, likes McDonald's food. Statistics imply that his embrace is far more typical than my defiance. Because I hate McDonald's food, I would only ever conceive his month-long experiment as a contentious test to see whether it's even possible to reasonably contain the damage you're doing to yourself. But I just walk by. One profound problem with McDonald's is exactly the least damage they can't be prevented from doing to unbelievers, but that's what Fast Food Nation is about, not Super Size Me. The movie is not investigative journalism, it's a speculative memoir of surrender. The movie is about a different profound problem, the social and biological toxicity of the craving McDonald's exists to serve and promote. In this, as in so many other things, arguably the greatest horror is not the ever more amoral schemes that opportunists contrive for profiting from human weakness, it's the urgency with which people line up to pay for their own physical and moral poisoning. Perhaps the worst thing about this evil is that its executors can't be blamed for its invention. Perhaps the worst thing about Super Size Me is that Spurlock eats this way three times a day for a whole month, and we only see him throw up once.
I understand that forecasting the weather is difficult, and I hold no human being culpable for the fact that it was 35F today when the forecast had insisted it was going to be 55F. I assume there were clear, tangible indicators that suggested it was likely to be 55F today, perhaps even very likely, but something less-likely happened, and in the end it wasn't. The improbable will periodically occur.  

But what I would hold someone responsible for, if I thought it weren't a pervasive cultural flaw, is the destructive precision with which uncertain predictions are communicated. Weather is merely the most obvious daily public manifestation of a fundamental reluctance, or perhaps an inability, to say what we really know, rather than what we wish we knew. We'd like to know whether it's going to rain, and how cold it's going to be. What we know, however, is not these things, it's what's on the radar and how it's been moving and what our computer models can extrapolate given the data we know how to supply. We know what stock prices have been, and how many we sold last year, and how long other projects that seem like they will turn out to have been similar took.  

I brought the clothes I'd need for running in 55F, but since it was 35F when I left home, I also brought some others. If I'd gone out and felt too cold, I'd have come back inside. The forecasting failure of is little direct practical consequence, but that isn't an excuse for a forecasting grammar that obscures the essential natures of the activity and its results. "Today's high: 55F" is nonsense. What we should really see is a graph of the last 24 hours and the next 24, maybe, of past predictions and future ones as probability ranges, with a trendline of the actual temperature running through the past. Ditto for precipitation: past predictions, future guesses, the measurement history. This, after all, is what we actually know for sure: what we think, what we thought, what was.  

And if we learned to talk about the weather, maybe it would help us understand how to talk about other systems. Maybe a daily reminder of the limits of certainty in one natural system patently out of our control would encourage us to acknowledge the limits of certainty in the human systems over which we exert only slightly more influence. Maybe we'd be a tiny bit less likely to manage by oversimplified dashboards and spurious charts and uncalibratable figures. Maybe we'd build communication tools better suited to representing hard-won understanding of vital complexity, rather than discarding it in favor of quantification of our wishful ignorance.
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