Quotulatiousness

January 25, 2016

The Davos Men

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente explains why the great and the good at Davos are worried about the lumpenproles back home:

Forget APEC and the G20. Forget the climate-change summit. If you belong to the global elite, the only place that really counts is Davos – the yearly schmoozefest where central bankers and celebrities meet to network and exchange Big Thoughts. Where else can you party with both George Soros and Leonardo DiCaprio? When they invite you to Davos, you know you’ve arrived.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has arrived. This year he shared top billing with Mr. DiCaprio, the activist actor who has been nominated for an Oscar for being mauled by a bear. Everybody wants to get a load of the hottest star in politics. Besides, they need a break from the relentless doom and gloom.

[…]

But Davos Men aren’t like the rest of us. As Chrystia Freeland so memorably wrote in a famous 2011 piece in The Atlantic, they live increasingly in a world apart, “a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with” each other than with the folks back home. They live in gated communities and send their kids to private school. “The real community life of the 21st-century plutocracy occurs on the international conference circuit,” she wrote.

[…]

The gathering at the Swiss ski resort is as close as you can get to a pure meritocracy. All the people at Davos are the smartest people in the room. Like Mr. Trudeau, they are forward-looking and postnational. They believe that nationalist sentiment is a defect of the bitter clingers, who don’t understand that diversity (despite Cologne) is good for them. Unlike the bitter clingers, they are personally untouched by the seismic shifts underfoot. They’re on the winning side of change. Every year their lives get better and better.

But now, the bitter clingers are rising up, pitchforks at the ready. They are rallying behind Donald Trump – Trump! – in a massive rejection of every value a Davos Man holds dear. They’re convinced the elites have failed them. They blame the elites for the disruptions of globalization and technology that have stolen their jobs and their children’s futures.

They will never work at Google. And they’re mad as hell. They’ve lost all trust in the business and political and intellectual and celebrity class, jetting to their conferences 60,000 feet in the air. That includes the folks in Davos – the smartest people in the world, with no idea what to do.

January 23, 2016

QotD: The Canadian Broadcorping Castration

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is the CBC that exists in reality, the CBC that no one watches or really cares much about. Then there is the CBC that exists in the mind of its defenders. The CBC that may have at some point existed, albeit briefly, but never quite as anyone remembers it. The Mother Corp’s dwindling band of supporters think of it as they think of Canada; a bundle of vaguely patriotic abstractions carefully divorced from the frigid realities of daily life.

There is little point in reminding the reader that the CBC is a government subsidized anachronism that, so far as it ever made sense, made sense when men still walked around wearing fedoras and chain smoked at office desks. Though in fairness it’s unlikely Don Draper would have ever watched anything quite so lame.

If a thing lacks either beauty or utility the sensible thing is to get rid of it. Yet the Mother Corp survives. The seemingly indestructible zombie of the Canadian media landscape. The CBC continues to exist not because it’s relevant but because it’s too much trouble to kill. The Conservatives are afraid of pulling the plug because they’ll be attacked for silencing their critics, the Liberals are afraid of firing their most loyal supporters and the NDP has an ingrained resistance to cutting things loose, however useless. See Chow, Olivia.

Take the frequently used line by the CBC’s defenders and erstwhile allies: We need the state broadcaster to ensure a national conversation. Thing about conversations is that at least two people are required. Otherwise you’re just talking to yourself in a dimly lit room. There are terms to describe people like that and defender of the Canadian nationalist faith isn’t one of them.

This is more than just beating a dead public policy horse. The CBC’s absurdity is not as fascinating as what it reveals about the Canadian Left’s mindset. As a life-long resident of the Imperial Capital I can attest to the prevalence of the CBC Friend. This Friend will wear CBC buttons, buy CBC apparel and speak passionately about the value the CBC provides to Canadians of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and regional localities. About once a week they’ll muster up their patriotism and spend twenty minutes slogging through whatever’s on Radio One before switching back to classic rock.

The CBC Friend is to the CBC as Sunday Catholics are to Christianity. Piety bleeding into righteous hypocrisy. Which would be fine really. Except that Sunday Catholics don’t dip into my pockets. Messers Baldwin and Lafontaine mostly separately Church and State in Canada. Unfortunately Mackenzie King made a point of not separating Broadcasting and State. The basic conceit remains the same in either case: My Truth is so True and so Right that everyone else must pay for it.

But the Truths that the CBC promotes go far beyond whatever Peter Mansbridge is grumbling about tomorrow night. They are a vision of Canadian society that most Canadians find unrecognizable. It’s been joked for years that the CBC doesn’t tell Canada’s story to Canadians, it tells Canada’s story from Torontonians. This explains the special smugness about the reporting that simply isn’t found elsewhere in the country. Not even in Ottawa.

Richard Anderson, “A Platonic Relationship”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-12-10.

January 20, 2016

A Swiftian modest proposal to solve the masculinity problem

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Thompson finds the eminently sensible and logical proposals of Feminist Current (“Canada’s leading feminist website”) editor Meghan Murphy to be well worth sharing:

… Murphy tells us that “female students are under constant threat” and that all women everywhere live in a state of unending terror:

    And who is it we fear? Is it other women? No. It is a male. A male with a penis that he may or may not use as a weapon.

Armed with a mind of infinite subtlety, Ms Murphy has more than a few ideas on how to combat this throbbing phallocratic menace:

    There are solutions: a feminist revolution… an end to masculinity… all of that would help.

An end to masculinity. Yes, I know, it’s quite a project. But first, baby steps:

    It’s time to consider a curfew for men.

One more time:

    While a curfew would not resolve the problem of patriarchy and male violence against women, it does, in a way, address entitlement and privilege… The more I consider the idea of a curfew for men, the more it makes sense.

Why, it almost sounds like a gratuitous power fantasy, the product of an unwell mind. Of course a curfew will make dating rather difficult if you’re not a lesbian, and overnight motorway maintenance will have to be done exclusively by ladies. And there’ll be no more working nights to support your family, you indecently privileged patriarchal shitlord. Happily, however, our collective punishment as menfolk may not be eternal:

    After a designated period of time, we’ll allow them back on the streets after dark to see how it goes.

Clearly, Ms Murphy is determined to upend idle stereotypes of feminists as batty misandrists unmoored from reality.

January 5, 2016

QotD: Culture War 2.0

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Paranoia is the political currency of the emotionally unstable culture warrior who is always certain that someone is looking at them the wrong way, threatening them on social media or committing some other microaggression against them.

There are people who can’t hear a “good morning” without seeing a conspiracy against them. In normal life, they’re diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics. In political activism, they’re just sensitive to microaggressions.

The left has always valued oversensitivity because neurotics are easy to convince of their own victimhood. And career victims naturally dehumanize those they consider to be their oppressors. As neurosis has become culture, the only way to escape accusations of privilege is to find your own victimhood. And there’s nothing like being forced to develop insecurities to make you insecure.

Culture War 2.0 is culturally crazy. Its personal dysfunction so entangled with politics that there is no way to tell where one begins and the other ends. It politicizes insecurity and narcissism for campaigns that are indistinguishable from trolling. It reduces every issue to personal unhappiness and demands the abolition of traditional freedoms and rights as the answer to that unhappiness.

Its demands are unanswerable because they are personal. There is no solution to them except sanity. And in a cultural conflict where insanity is an asset, sanity is no answer. It’s an accusation.

The truly paranoid see the world as hostile and are driven to destroy it. Their crusade to find happiness by making everyone else miserable can only [succeed] halfway. They can never be happy, but they can always make others miserable.

Daniel Greenfield, “Our Insecure Culture Warriors”, Sultan Knish, 2015-11-02.

January 1, 2016

QotD: When capsaicin invaded America

Filed under: Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Consider spicy-hot food — and consider how recent it is as a mainstream phenomenon in the U.S. In 2002 many of us cheerfully chow down on Szechuan and Thai, habaneros and rellenos, nam pla and sambal ulek. Salsa outsells ketchup. But it wasn’t always that way.

In fact it wasn’t that way until quite recently, historically speaking. I’ve enjoyed capsaicin-loaded food since I was a pre-teen boy in the late 1960s; I acquired the taste from my father, who picked it up in South America. In those days our predilection was the peculiar trait of a minority of travelers and a few immigrant populations. The progression by which spicy-hot food went from there to the U.S. mainstream makes a perfect type case of cultural assimilation, and the role and meaning that the stuff has acquired on the way is interesting too.

(Oh. And for those of you who don’t understand the appeal? It’s all about endorphin rush, like a runner’s high. Pepper-heads like me have developed a conditioned reflex whereby the burning sensation stimulates the release of opiate-like chemicals from the brainstem, inducing a euphoria not unlike a heroin buzz. Yes, this theory has been clinically verified.)

Baseline: Thirty years ago. The early 1970s. I’m a teenager, just back in the U.S. from years spent overseas. Spicy-hot food is pretty rare in American cuisine. Maybe you’d have heard of five-alarm chili if you’d lived in Texas, but chances are you’d never have actually eaten the stuff. If you’re from Louisiana, you might have put Tabasco sauce on your morning eggs. Aside from that, you wouldn’t have tasted hot peppers outside of a big-city Chinatown.

[…]

This probably evolved out of the tradition, going back at least to the late 1940s, of defining barbecue and chili as what an anthropologist would call a “men’s mystery”. Despite the existence of male professional chefs and men who can cook, most kinds of domestic cooking are indisputably a female thing — women are expected to be interested in it and expected to be good at it, and a man who acquires skill is crossing into women’s country. But for a handful of dishes culturally coded as “men’s food”, the reverse is true. Barbecue and chili top that list, and have since long before spicy-hot food went mainstream.

For people who drive pickup trucks, spicy-hot food went from being a marked minority taste to being something like a central men’s mystery in the decade after 1985. I first realized this in the early 1990s when I saw a rack of 101 hot-pepper sauces on display at a gun-and-knife show, in between the premium tobacco and the jerked meat. There’s a sight you won’t see at a flower show, or anywhere else in women’s country.

The packaging and marketing of hot sauces tells the same story. From the top-shelf varieties like Melinda’s XXX (my favorite!) to novelty items like “Scorned Woman” and “Hot Buns”, much of the imagery is cheeky sexiness clearly designed to appeal to men.

Nor is it hard to understand why the association got made in the first place. It’s considered masculine to enjoy physical risk, even mostly trivial physical risks like burning yourself on a sauce hotter than you can handle. Men who like hot peppers swap capsaicin-zap stories; I myself am perhaps unreasonably proud of having outlasted a tableful of Mexican college students one night in Monterrey, watching them fall out one by one as a plate of sauteed habaneros was passed repeatedly around the table.

There’s a sneaky element of female complicity in all this. Women chuckle at our capsaicin-zap stories the same way they laugh at other forms of laddish posturing, but then (as my wife eloquently puts it) “What good is a man if you rip off his balls?” They leave us capsaicin and barbecue and other men’s mysteries because they instinctively grok that a certain amount of testosterone-driven male-primate behavior is essential for the health of Y-chromosome types — and best it should be over something harmless.

Eric S. Raymond, “The capsaicinization of American food”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-02.

December 18, 2015

Camille Paglia on “Feminist trouble”

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Spiked, Camille Paglia talks to Ella Whelan:

It’s doubtful whether Camille Paglia – cultural critic, academic and the author of several acclaimed books including, most recently, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars – has ever pulled a punch. Since she burst on to the cultural scene in the 1990s, following the publication of Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson – as she put it, the ‘most X-rated academic book ever written’ – Paglia has been a trenchant, principled voice in the Culture Wars, attacking, with one hand, the anti-sex illiberalism of her feminist peers, while, with the other, laying waste to the trendy, pomo relativism infecting the academy.

Above all, Paglia, who some have called the anti-feminist feminist, has remained a staunch defender of individual freedom. She has argued against laws prohibiting pornography, drugs and abortion. And, when political correctness was cutting a swathe through a host of institutions during the 1990s, she stood firmly on the side of free speech. So, what does she make of the political and cultural state of feminism today? What does she think of the revival of anti-sex sentiment among young feminists, their obsession with policing language, and their wholehearted embrace of victimhood? As spiked’s Ella Whelan discovered, Paglia’s convictions burn as brightly as ever…

“The gift economy of the digital world is a mirage”

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Grant McCracken responds to Clay Shirky’s “gift economy” notions:

In point of fact, the internet as a gift economy is an illusion. This domain is not funding itself. It is smuggling in the resources that sustain it, and to the extent that Shirky’s account helps conceal this market economy, he’s a smuggler too. This world cannot sustain itself without subventions. And to this extent it’s a lie.

Shirky insists that generalized reciprocity is the preferred modality. But is it?

    [In the world of fan fic, there] is a “two worlds” view of creative acts. The world of money, where [established author, J.K.] Rowling lives, is the one where creators are paid for their work. Fan fiction authors by definition do not inhabit this world, and more important, they rarely aspire to inhabit it. Instead, they often choose to work in the world of affection, where the goal is to be recognized by others for doing something creative within a particular fictional universe. (p. 92)

Good and all, but, again, not quite of this world. A very bad situation, one that punishes creators and our culture, is held up as somehow exemplary. But of course reputation economies spring up, but we don’t have to choose. We can have both market and reputation economies. But it’s wrong surely, to make the latter a substitute for the former.

Shirky appears to be persuaded that it’s “ok” for creators to create without material reward. But I think it’s probably true that they are making the best of a bad situation. Recently, I was doing an interview with a young respondent. We were talking about her blog, a wonderful combination of imagination and mischief. I asked her if she was paid for this work and she said she was not. “Do you think you should be paid?” I asked.

She looked at me for a second to make sure I was serious about the question, thought for a moment and then, in a low voice and in a measured somewhat insistent way, said, “Yes, I think I should be paid.” There was something about her tone of voice that said, “Payment is what is supposed to happen when you do work as good as mine.”

[…]

Finally, I do not mean to be unpleasant or to indulge ad hominem attack, but I think there is something troubling about a man supported by academic salary, book sales, and speaking engagements telling Millennials how very fine it is that they occupy a gift economy which pays them, usually, nothing at all. I don’t say that Shirky has championed this inequity. But I don’t think it’s wrong to ask him to acknowledge it and to grapple with its implications.

The gift economy of the digital world is a mirage. It looks like a world of plenty. It is said to be a world of generosity. But on finer examination we discover results that are uneven and stunted. Worse, we discover a world where the good work goes without reward. The more gifted producers are denied the resources that would make them still better producers and our culture richer still.

What would people, mostly Millennials, do with small amounts of capital? What enterprises, what innovations would arise? How much culture would be created? I leave for another post the question of how we could install a market economy (or a tipping system) online. And I have to say I find it a little strange we don’t have one already. Surely the next (or the present) Jack Dorsey could invent this system. Surely some brands could treat this as a chance to endear themselves to content creators. Surely, there is an opportunity for Google. If it wants to save itself from the “big business” status now approaching like a freight train, the choice is clear. Create a system that allows us to reward the extraordinary efforts of people now producing some of the best artifacts in contemporary culture.

December 15, 2015

QotD: When “pop culture” is based on myth rather than fact

Filed under: History, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Everything you think you know about the 20th century is wrong.

It’s been a favorite theme of mine for years — that liberal (self-)mythologizing rarely withstands even the slightest scrutiny:

    The Rosenbergs were guilty. Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty. Alger Hiss was guilty. OJ was guilty. Lee Harvey Oswald was guilty. Mumia was guilty. Leonard Peltier was guilty.

Rachel Carson lied. Alfred Kinsey lied. Betty Friedan lied.

To that list, Ed Driscoll adds familiar names like Kitty Genovese and Truman Capote.

Earth Day started out as a commemoration of an event that didn’t quite happen as advertised.

Vietnam? Don’t get me started.

One day, we’ll find out the Scottsboro Boys were guilty.

And some people still wonder why a lesbian waitress would cook up a hoax about homophobic customers…

Kathy Shaidle, “Altamont: When the Hippies Were Expelled From the Garden: Did the Sixties really end on December 6, 1969?”, PJ Lifestyle, 2013-12-06.

December 8, 2015

QotD: Politics, ideology, tribalism, and religion in the Middle East

Filed under: Middle East, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Western media and intelligentsia don’t seem to have a clue that the issues in the Middle East are not related to competing political ideologies, but to competing religious tribalism.

The ongoing conflicts throughout the region, and in other parts of the world, are not about democracy versus monarchy; or fascism versus communism; or imperialism versus freedom. Or indeed any of the other childish ideologies Western journalists fell in love with during their undergraduate post modernist deconstructionalist courses by failed ex-[Trotskyites], who simply can’t accept that the last century has proven how appalling and basically evil their over-simplistic ideologies are. (Yes Comrade Corbyn, that’s you and your gushing twitteratti I am slamming!)

In fact the problem in the Muslim world is that they are entering the third decade of the Muslim Civil War.

The Sunni and Shia are at about the point that the Roman Catholics and the Protestants were at in Europe in the 1620s to 30s, and it is only going to get worse. That war was ideological, and paid very little attention to national boundaries. This one is the same. The Christian 30 Years War is about to be repeated in a Muslim civil war, and 30 years might be an optimistic number.

Interestingly the Christians split over three or four centuries into Orthodox and Roman, then split again into Albigensian and Protestant, etc. Eventually it got to the point, after 14 or 15 centuries of slow development, that major conflict broke out. Is it co-incidence that the Muslims have followed a similar path? Is it inevitable that after 14 or 15 centuries of existence, they too are having a major internal conflict? Or is it just that a century of renewed prosperity and development (largely brought on by Western intrusion into their secular affairs) has given them the semi-educated proto-middle-class who traditionally stir up revolutionary stuff they don’t understand?

Whatever the reasons, stupid Westerners are eventually going to have to admit to a few of realities.

  1. No matter how much you fantasise about the functionality of republics and democracy, you can’t impose systems that don’t work in places that don’t have the necessary pre-requisites.
  2. No matter how much literacy or free press you do manage to push in, you can’t impose rule of law and understanding of natural law on societies that have very specifically rejected such concepts for eight or nine centuries.
  3. No matter how much your secularist ideologies (developed from safely behind two millennia of Christian teaching that accepts rule of law and natural law) is offended, you cannot expect a similar acceptance from people whose cultural development of such beliefs is several centuries behind the West.
  4. No matter what you want to believe, the Muslim civil war is happening.

Let’s hope we really are at least half way through the 30 years…

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s”, Rethinking History, 2015-09-19.

December 2, 2015

QotD: “It’s microaggressions all the way down”

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A while back, when I wrote about shamestorming, I ended up in a Twitter discussion with a guy who chided me for letting my privilege blind me to the ways that minorities (specifically women in tech, and more broadly on the Internet), experience microaggressions. You know how that conversation ended? When I pointed out that he had just committed a classic microaggression: mansplaining to me something that I had actually experienced, and he had not. As soon as I did, he apologized, though that hadn’t really been my intent. My intent was to point out that microaggressions are often unintentional (this guy clearly considered himself a feminist ally).

But I inadvertently demonstrated an even greater difficulty: Complaints about microaggressions can be used to stop complaints about microaggressions. There is no logical resting place for these disputes; it’s microaggressions all the way down. And in the process, they make impossible demands on members of the ever-shrinking majority: to know everything about every possible victim group, to never inadvertently appropriate any part of any culture in ways a member doesn’t like, or misunderstand something, or make an innocent remark that reads very differently to someone with a different experience. Which will, of course, only hasten the scramble for members of the majority to gain themselves some sort of victim status that can protect them from sanction.

Megan McArdle, “How Grown-Ups Deal With ‘Microaggressions'”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-11.

November 29, 2015

QotD: German women

Filed under: Europe, History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If anything change the German character, it will be the German woman. She herself is changing rapidly — advancing, as we call it. Ten years ago no German woman caring for her reputation, hoping for a husband, would have dared to ride a bicycle: to-day they spin about the country in their thousands. The old folks shake their heads at them; but the young men, I notice, overtake them and ride beside them. Not long ago it was considered unwomanly in Germany for a lady to be able to do the outside edge. Her proper skating attitude was thought to be that of clinging limpness to some male relative. Now she practises eights in a corner by herself, until some young man comes along to help her. She plays tennis, and, from a point of safety, I have even noticed her driving a dog-cart.

Brilliantly educated she always has been. At eighteen she speaks two or three languages, and has forgotten more than the average Englishwoman has ever read. Hitherto, this education has been utterly useless to her. On marriage she has retired into the kitchen, and made haste to clear her brain of everything else, in order to leave room for bad cooking. But suppose it begins to dawn upon her that a woman need not sacrifice her whole existence to household drudgery any more than a man need make himself nothing else than a business machine. Suppose she develop an ambition to take part in the social and national life. Then the influence of such a partner, healthy in body and therefore vigorous in mind, is bound to be both lasting and far-reaching.

For it must be borne in mind that the German man is exceptionally sentimental, and most easily influenced by his women folk. It is said of him, he is the best of lovers, the worst of husbands. This has been the woman’s fault. Once married, the German woman has done more than put romance behind her; she has taken a carpet-beater and driven it out of the house. As a girl, she never understood dressing; as a wife, she takes off such clothes even as she had, and proceeds to wrap herself up in any odd articles she may happen to find about the house; at all events, this is the impression she produces. The figure that might often be that of a Juno, the complexion that would sometimes do credit to a healthy angel, she proceeds of malice and intent to spoil. She sells her birth-right of admiration and devotion for a mess of sweets. Every afternoon you may see her at the café, loading herself with rich cream-covered cakes, washed down by copious draughts of chocolate. In a short time she becomes fat, pasty, placid, and utterly uninteresting.

When the German woman gives up her afternoon coffee and her evening beer, takes sufficient exercise to retain her shape, and continues to read after marriage something else than the cookery-book, the German Government will find it has a new and unknown force to deal with. And everywhere throughout Germany one is confronted by unmistakable signs that the old German Frauen are giving place to the newer Damen.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

November 26, 2015

QotD: Culture warriors

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Culture War 2.0 is as inescapable as it is obnoxious. Its loudest proponents, the Social Justice Warriors, live off a drama that they create, playing enlightened victim-activists fighting micro-struggles against micro-aggressions in areas most people have never even thought about.

The issues are ideological, but they’re mainstreamed by focusing on personal narratives. The victim-activists are usually millennials from wealthy families with useless degrees. It’s a story as old as radicalism, but in the dawn of the 21st century, it’s activism and culture war being replayed as farce.

Culture War 2.0 politicizes narcissism and insecurity. It obsessively masticates culture the way that its political predecessors destroyed people. Its target audience lives and thinks in terms of premium cable shows. They are to it what novels were to its 19th century counterparts.

Even its ideology is more grievance than theory. It only cares about theory to the extent of parsing the Victim Value Index and determining who has more or less privilege, who ought to feel more guilty and who ought to feel more victimized. This is ideology as soap opera. Politics as a means of deciding who gets to play what emotional role in a societal drama.

Its political expressions exist in the space of the personal narrative. In this tawdry post-Orwellian future everyone will get their essay of victimhood on Medium or ThoughtCatalog read for 15 minutes. Their drama will, very temporarily, be a trending topic. For a generation of overindulged children, broadcasting their petty pains is the closest thing their lives have to love and meaning.

Daniel Greenfield, “Our Insecure Culture Warriors”, Sultan Knish, 2015-11-02.

November 24, 2015

How’s your food innovation level for American Thanksgiving?

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle says you can safely avoid novel and baroque food variations for the most stereotypical American meal of all time:

Every year you’re supposed to come up with something amazing and new to do with the most scripted meal in the American culinary canon. Turkey crusted with Marash pepper and stuffed with truffled cornichons. Deconstructed mashed potatoes. Green bean casserole that substitutes kale for the green beans and a smug expression for the cream-of-mushroom soup. Pumpkin-chocolate trifle with a chipotle-molasses drizzle.

I’m sorry, I can’t. I just can’t.

You know what we’re having for Thanksgiving at our house this year? With minor variations, we’re having the same thing we’ve had every year since my birth in 1973. There will be a turkey, roasted whole, because my oven cannot accommodate a spatchcocked 16-pound bird splayed over a sheet pan full of stuffing. It will be brined in a cooler, stuffed full of stuffing despite all the dire culinary injunctions against it, and cooked in the same undoubtedly subpar way we have always done it. My sister will make her homemade cloverleaf rolls, and stuffing with sausage, ginger and apple. There will be cranberry sauce, little creamed onions, mashed potatoes, and butternut squash, with bok choy for those who want greens. For dessert, there will be pie: apple, pumpkin, and perhaps, if we are feeling especially daring, cranberry-raisin.

Novelty is overrated at holidays. If you want to try planked salmon and braised leeks for the first time this year, then bon appetit. But the idea that we must have novelty, that a good cook is constantly seeking out new and better things, is a curse. The best parts of our lives do not require constant innovation; they are the best because they are the familiar things we love just as they are. When I hug my Dad, I don’t think, “Yeah, this is pretty OK, but how much better would it be if he were wearing a fez and speaking Bantu?”

November 23, 2015

“Food can be used as a tool of marginalisation and oppression”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Thompson works his way through a “social justice” “analysis” of how ethnic food is — or should be — a minefield of oppression and cultural appropriation:

Again, note the loadedness, the questions begged. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten, say, chili while convinced that said meal was an adequate distillation of the entire population of Mexico and Texas, past and present. Nor can I recall “fetishizing the sustenance of another culture.” It’s a meal, not an attempt to absorb world history or to flirt with some notional brownness. Yet this is asserted as “what happens,” as some universal fact:

    Eating food from another culture in isolation from that culture’s history and also current issues mean that we’re just borrowing the pieces that are enjoyable – palatable and easily digestible.

Um, and? Isn’t that rather the point? You know, tastiness without baggage? Isn’t that what makes foreign cuisine commercially viable, a livelihood of millions? Should every visit to, say, a Pakistani restaurant entail a stern lecture on the pros and cons of European colonisation and a lifetime subscription to the fever dream of Islam? Would that aid digestion? Stated plainly, it sounds a little silly. But Ms Kuo wishes to appear concerned, deeply concerned, that people of pallor might enjoy falafel and a spot of hummus “but not understand or address the ongoing Islamophobia in the US.”

Well. I’m pretty sure that the family running my local Chinese takeaway actively encourages heathen white folk to sample their wares, regardless of whether those paying customers are intimately familiar with All Of Chinese History, and regardless of whether those customers dutifully ponder how the cooking of this particular family differs from other Chinese families, from any particular town or province, in a country as vast and sprawling as China. What they want is custom. Pretentiously agonised pseudo-sensitivity is, alas, not billable.

November 22, 2015

QotD: Bargaining in Germany

Filed under: Business, Europe, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On another occasion I listened in the smoke-room of a German hotel to a small Englishman telling a tale which, had I been in his place, I should have kept to myself.

“It doesn’t do,” said the little Englishman, “to try and beat a German down. They don’t seem to understand it. I saw a first edition of The Robbers in a shop in the Georg Platz. I went in and asked the price. It was a rum old chap behind the counter. He said: ‘Twenty-five marks,’ and went on reading. I told him I had seen a better copy only a few days before for twenty — one talks like that when one is bargaining; it is understood. He asked me ‘Where?’ I told him in a shop at Leipsig. He suggested my returning there and getting it; he did not seem to care whether I bought the book or whether I didn’t. I said:

“‘What’s the least you will take for it?’

“‘I have told you once,’ he answered; ‘twenty-five marks.’ He was an irritable old chap.

“I said: ‘It’s not worth it.’

“‘I never said it was, did I?’ he snapped.

“I said: ‘I’ll give you ten marks for it.’ I thought, maybe, he would end by taking twenty.

“He rose. I took it he was coming round the counter to get the book out. Instead, he came straight up to me. He was a biggish sort of man. He took me by the two shoulders, walked me out into the street, and closed the door behind me with a bang. I was never more surprised in all my life.

“Maybe the book was worth twenty-five marks,” I suggested.

“Of course it was,” he replied; “well worth it. But what a notion of business!”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

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