Potatoes and poisons

21 July, 2008

Idly thinking about gardening, and hoping to have the opportunity, if I can move to a suitable living situation, has led me to wonder about potatoes.

A friend surprised me a few years ago by opining that potatoes that were green, or had “eyes”, were poisonous and should be discarded. Well, if they were that bad I’d be dead several times over. Of course, I don’t actually eat the eyes, and generally peel potatoes that have gone green.

It turns out this is correct – potatoes that have aged, or been exposed to light, or temperature extremes, secrete neurotoxic Glycoalkaloids, and in particular solanine, in their skin and leaves. This is more dangerous to children than adults.

Googling reveals that some people eat raw potato in small amounts, or take its juice for (alternative) medicinal reasons. However, when potato starch is digested raw, it ferments in the bowel, and in significant quantities causes painful abdominal cramps and acute flatulence.

These factors in combination may explain why Europeans thought of potatoes as inedible for many years.

So it would be safest to peel and cook all potatoes before eating. If you are a gardener, you can try burying the peel eye-side up to grow your own potatoes! To do this, it’s best to peel with a knife, so there’s a good chunk of potato to sustain the new growth.

Note: I haven’t actually seen this much-hyped opus from wunderkind Nolan. But I’ve seen the publicity clips and heard a lot of the fanboy and critical praise. The problem I have with superhero films in general is their unbelievability, their tendency toward cliche, and their overwhelming urge to be “cool”. The first X-Men movie is the best I’ve seen in circumventing these problems, but the sequels got too much into goggling at cool costumes and awesome powers (and terrible acting from Halle Berry).

Batman is exceptional in the world of superheroes for having no magical or science-fictional powers. Okay, there are a few others, but they haven’t had one hundredth of the impact. Batman went several better than The Shadow in combining hard-boiled crime fighting with Gothic mood-setting, a sort of Phantom of the Opera burst out onto the dirty streets of the modern city. His portrayal has varied quite a bit over his history, from the primitive gun-wielding Bat-Man of the 1940s, through the cartoonish antics of the 50s and 60s, the noir-ish naturalism of the 70s and 80s, and the angsty kill-fest of subsequent years, famously kickstarted by Frank Miller and Alan Moore.

For me, the 70s and 80s are key. Firstly, because that’s the period I grew up reading, but secondly, and more importantly, because of that key word “naturalism“. Burton’s Gothic camp joined with the over-emotiveness of the Miller/Moore period to shape the current public image and expectation of Batman. However, I think what is most interesting and original about Batman is not his position as operatic super-hero, but the implications of his backstory, the basic elements that make him different from all the other adolescent fantasy figures.

What if a rich guy was screwed-up and crazy enough to spend his nights wearing a mask, trying to “stop crime”? (Never mind that crime is such a pervasive and far-ranging phenomenon that such an enterprise would be doomed from the start.) What would that look like? You can be damn sure it wouldn’t be the carnival show Nolan has staged, which, for all the hype, is a direct heir to Burton’s series and successors in terms of campness, and perhaps even worse in terms of childishness. (No, kids, violence does not automatically make for adult entertainment, if you consider what we actually mean by the word “adult” in its best and fullest sense.)

Another thing that I dislike about the Batman movies is the double- or even triple-teaming of villains. I think only Burton’s first film avoided this foolishness (but on the other hand it included songs by Prince, which is also pretty damning). Surely the drama of the story is diluted if Batman, a somewhat unbelievable figure already, is confronted by not one but several costumed grotesques, each with their own unrelated origin stories and personal issues. In conflict with one villain, Batman’s story has a Manichean quality that sustains its credibility, but if it’s “Batman versus the ultimate evil: the Joker – plus, also, the quite-nearly-as-villainous Twoface, who appears later in the show”, it descends to the circus level of the old Universal horrors, which sought to be “even better” by piling half-a-dozen villains into a picture. Those films are now regarded as trash, whose only value is nostalgia or camp. That will be the fate of the Batman movies too, Nolan’s included, until someone really has the courage to resist the worst fanboyisms of the comicbook culture, and make a film that is genuinely gritty, dark and real.

Terrible fan-fiction is compulsive:

Harry potter was on the interstate in LA dricing his cool 60s convertable and looking out at the dirty city of angels. it was getting dark and neon lights lit up the roadslike crazy colonoscopys by a crazy man.Its anuther tough day inn the city thought harry surly But

then he saw her its that girl!!!!!!! he shouted and truned and rode the car up on the sidewalk in alarm. Stopp!!! thje orlock hasd the flame of vengaence and used it to stop harry there, he was frosen and the girl cried out to save me!!! but harry he was better and used a spell his froend from school has found, that ina secret book staircaseand the baddy guy came all alight and screamed and smoke up into the sky and wirling clouds and thunder and the girl sauid I am safe now thank you harry potter, and then she BJD him to say thks.