Quotulatiousness

May 11, 2017

QotD: Stereotypes

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

Stereotypes are of course a tool of the trade for writers. We have to know what the stereotypes are in people’s minds, and therefore use them to suggest things we can’t thoroughly describe. (No one can thoroughly describe everything, even in a long book. Nor would you want them to. It would get truly tedious.)

Sometimes I fail at this, the same way I have trouble picking fonts for covers, because the stereotypes in my head are not the same as in most of my readers’. Take Irishmen for instance. I actually know something about the stereotype here, because it’s all over the books everywhere. However, if I’d tried to write an Irishman (or woman) when I came here, and assumed that my readers knew to round out the character with extreme politeness, drive and organization, it would backfire, and at best people would think I was being creative. At worst it would be a “wait, what?”

I suspect the Portuguese stereotype for Irish tells you rather more than you want to know about Portugal, but also about the sort of Irish we got in Portugal. Here you go people looking to make a new living, perhaps not drawn from the higher echelons of society. There you got either rich people, or people who came over as upper servants to British residents. In either case, the unruly Irishman stereotype doesn’t apply, even if both agree on song and poetry.

In the same way I often disappoint on the Portuguese stereotype, because my family runs to relatively tall, I haven’t been in the sun much the last few years, and oh, yes, I fail to be outwardly and loudly pious.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Dealing in Stereotypes”, According to Hoyt, 2015-07-28.

April 24, 2017

QotD: Introducing socialized medicine in Europe

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

There are things left behind, in that past I came from, things I can easily live without. First there’s the lack of access to medical care. Most Europeans who are happy with socialized medicine are happy because at the time it was introduced it was a huge step up over what was available at the beginning of the century — when it was introduced there. If all you have in the way of treatment is a local nurse who administers shots, the local pharmacist which (say, apropos nothing) will change dressings on the back you completely skinned while seaside-cliff climbing (or rather falling from. I managed to turn around and take the slope on my back. I still don’t remember/have no idea how we kept mom from seeing the dressings) and the occasional overworked, over harried doctor who will do house calls at a prohibitive price if you’re seriously ill, yeah. Socialized medicine is an improvement over that. I don’t think the progressives (I almost typed primitives — curse you, auto-correct mind) who push for socialized medicine understand that it’s not an improvement even over the f*cked up bureaucracy of the US. They tend to live in a state of envy of the fact that France has a pony and imagine that pony neither craps nor eats.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Being a Time Traveler”, According to Hoyt, 2015-07-12.

April 4, 2017

The Forgotten Ally – Portugal in WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 3 Apr 2017

Portugal’s participation in the First World War 1, especially the service of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps on the Western Front, is often forgotten. And even when the troops were still fighting, the political situation back home had changed so much that the soldiers were largely forgotten.

February 20, 2017

QotD: Privilege

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

Then there are the charming SJWs (no, it’s not an insult. They called themselves Social Justice Warriors. They don’t get to escape the name when it turns out everyone knows how stupid it is) in my field who call me a race and gender traitor. Children are confused like that. How can you be a traitor to an allegiance that doesn’t exist and which you never swore fealty to.

Doesn’t exist, you say? But race! Gender! Well, they SAY gender is a social construct and as for race, I know enough history (if they don’t) to know it’s a cultural construct. In the nineteenth century they talked of “the Portuguese race” and the “British race.” I understand that under the microscope, absent some kind of marker like sickle cell, you can’t tell anyone’s skin color. You can, interestingly enough, at the cellular level, tell the sex of the cells. But the SJWs tell us it’s a social construct, and they are honorable women and girly men.

Actually what is a social construct are the archetypes they push into those things: females and other races as archetypal oppressed races. As a Samoan e-friend put it, her people weren’t oppressed by whites. They didn’t care what whites were doing. The Portuguese might have been oppressed by the whiter parts of Europe, kind of sort of. I mean, at various times English Literature referred to them as a vile race, the French did whatever the French were doing, and the Germans tried to organize the study of Portuguese literature (among other things.) But in the end, the Portuguese were too busy fighting their eternal enemies, the Portuguese, and occasionally distracted enough to fight the Spaniards, to care overmuch about more remote European countries. They were rather busy not being eaten by Spain, as every other country in the Peninsula was. (Well, technically not being eaten by Castile, but…)

Here do I get oppressed by non-Latin people? Meh. I’d like to see the idiot with enough gumption to try to oppress me. Sometimes they stereotype me and are rude to me, but I ignore them and that works.

Sarah Hoyt, “The Privilege Of Not Caring”, According to Hoyt, 2015-05-17.

February 13, 2017

QotD: Guilt as a tool, guilt as a weapon

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

Yesterday I was hanging around in the kitchen with my older son, waiting for the coffee to brew, and he made some joking comment about my being oppressed when I was growing up.

I told him I was oppressed enough, or at least women were, in that time and in that place – as they still are in many times and in many places.

Yes, I like to point out and do – often – that it wasn’t a gigantic conspiracy of men against women that kept women down for six thousand years because frankly most men can’t conspire their way out of a paperbag. (I suspect women are naturally better at it. No, don’t hurt me. Just women seem to be naturally more socially adept. But even women couldn’t manage a conspiracy of that magnitude.) And I like to point out – and do – it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder but the pill and changes in technology that liberated women or at least that made attempts at liberation reasonable instead of insane. (Of course, shoulder to shoulder makes for better movies and books, which is why everyone believes it.)

However, as I told the boy, given the conditions biology set up, women were “oppressed” enough in most cultures and in most places. Yes, men were oppressed too at the same time, because this type of shackles is double-sided, but the oppression of women lingered a bit longer than that of men – say a good couple of generations by habit and custom and because humans simply don’t change that fast. Which is why the oppression of women is remembered as such and the men are remembered as being on top.

So I told him in Portugal, until the seventies, women weren’t allowed to vote and, oh, by the way, a married woman couldn’t get a job outside the house unless her husband signed papers saying that they needed it, due to economic hardship. (Which of course, meant the dumb bastard had to sign a paper saying he wasn’t man enough to support his family. Made it really easy on him, it did.) I’m sure there were other legal and economic hobbles that went with that. And I told him of course in many many countries in the world that inequality persists, only much worse.

Which is when I realized he was squirming and looking like he’d done something wrong.

Guilt. My poor kid was feeling guilty of being born male.

Guilt is a useful enough emotion, in small doses and well administered. For instance when I was three I stole some very small coin from money my mom had left on the kitchen table. I don’t remember what – the equivalent of five cents. I stole it to buy a couple of peanuts at the store across the street (they sold them by weight. In the shell.) My mom made it clear to me I’d made it impossible for her to buy her normal bread order when the bakery delivery (no, don’t ask. Delivered. Door to door. Every morning. I missed it terribly my first years in the US, but now they don’t do it in Portugal either, anymore) came by the next morning because she didn’t have the exact change. It wasn’t strictly true. The money amount was so small she just said “I’ll make the rest up tomorrow.” But she told me it was, and how she had to be short a roll. My understanding there were larger consequences for my stupid theft made me feel guilty, and that ensured I never did it again. The same, with varying degrees of justice, managed to instill the semblance of a work ethic in me in relation to school work.

However, the guilt my son was feeling was stupid, counterproductive, all too widespread AND poisonous.

Stupid because he could hardly be held accountable for something that happened thirty years before his birth, even if he has the same outward form as the people who benefitted from an inequity. (And benefitted should be taken with a grain of salt here. Countries in which women are kept down might offer an ego bo for the guys, but they are far less materially prosperous on average. Everyone suffers.) Counterproductive because guilt by definition can never be collective. Well, not beyond a small group like, say the Manson family. You get beyond that and you can’t assign blame with any degree of accuracy. So, going and yelling at my father, say, for “keeping women down” when I was little would be as insane as yelling at my son. Why? Well, because a) he didn’t and wouldn’t (he was raised by a strong woman, practically on her own, while my grandfather was in Brazil, working and grandma ruled the extended family with an iron fist.) b) to the extent he enforced societal rules, it was usually to keep us from getting in trouble with society in general (which, btw, included women. In fact women were the greatest enforcers of “you shall not be seen anywhere with a young man you’re not dating” rule that got me in the most trouble.) c) his standing up and talking given who he was and the amount of social power he had (or in fact didn’t have) would have changed nothing except get him treated like a lunatic.

Sarah Hoyt, “The Sharp Edge of Guilt, a blast from the past March 2010”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-05.

February 10, 2017

QotD: “First world problems” used to be just “very rich people’s problems”

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… my bathroom book (bathroom books are essays or short stories, because if you have never gotten trapped by a novel someone had forgotten in the bathroom and lost the entire morning as well as all circulation in your legs, I can’t explain it to you) is a Daily Life In Medieval England thing. And most of the time I read something that I’m sure the authors thought was new and exotic and think “Well, heck, it was like that in the village.”

[…]

Which brings us back, through back roads to the main point of this post. I was (being evil) reading some of the entries in the medieval life book to older son (having brought the book out of the bathroom to pontificate) and I said “bah, it was like that for us, too. It wasn’t that bad.” And son said “mom, it sounds horrific.” And I said “that’s because you grew up in a superabundant society, overflowing at both property and entertainment, which is why the problems we suffer from are problems that only affected the very rich in the past” (Crisis of identity, extreme sensitivity to suffering, etc.)

Which is also true. And note kindly, that though we’re overflowing at the seams with material goods, property crimes we still have with us, not counting on anything else.

But for my child this is the normal world and it doesn’t occur to him to think of it as superabundant. He just thinks of the conditions I grew up under (I think it was the “most people only had one change of clothes, including underwear” that got him) as barbaric and horrible.

I’ve long since realized that I grew up somewhere between medieval England and Victorian England. Tudor England feels about as familiar to me as the present day which is why I like visiting now and then.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Time Zones”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-23.

October 31, 2016

QotD: Halloween stories

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

Just before Halloween my husband was talking about kids’ costumes (our favorite was when older boy was a dragon and younger boy a knight, with a plastic-sword-of-smiting brother. Good thing I padded the dragon head) and asked what I’d worn as a little girl. I pointed out we didn’t dress up for Halloween in Portugal and he asked what we did. So I started, “On Halloween night, you go to the cemetery–” and he said “Stop it. No story that starts like that ends well unless you’re Buffy.”

Sarah Hoyt, “Whistling Past the Graveyard”, According to Hoyt, 2015-11-07.

August 11, 2016

Debunking myths from the Muslim occupation of Al-Andalus

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Recently returned from a trip to her native Portugal, Sarah Hoyt explains why the stories of Muslim-occupied Iberia being a wonderfully tolerant and humane place are not likely to have been true:

I’ve been reading a debunking of the myths of the “Convivencia” paradise that Al Andalus and generally Islamic Hispania is supposed to have been.

It’s not exactly a shock to me. First of all, my preferred reading, as soon as I could read, was history, most of it written in the early 20th century, and a lot of it local histories or histories of regions of Portugal and Spain. I won’t say that the authors universally rejected the myth of Islam as a civilizing/science-bearing force. I will say that when they applied it (in elementary school we were forced to memorize the improvements the Arabs brought to the peninsula — we did that with each invader, and boy did the area get invaded — almonds, pillows (al-mofadas), the sort of fountains that spout by themselves (you build them by making the water gravity fed from above where you want it to spout. I’m explaining very badly, but I am still not fully sleep recovered, and there’s a hole where the name for the fountains should be, orange trees. There might be something about the way oxen were yoked, but I doubt it. Oh, yeah, the way we write our numbers.) it left me curiously unconvinced.

It was little things, you see, having actually been born/grown up in one of the areas/near the area where this supposed paradise existed. Yeah, sure, the North of Portugal got off lightly. We were freed fairly early on (we were a crusade land and were freed mostly by French crusaders, one of whom, having married a daughter of the king of Castille became father to our first king.)

More specifically, though there are no specific histories of the village (duh) I heard more than once from people I trusted, that we were the sort of place that got by with one or two Berber supervisors, and local toadies… er, I mean functionaries.

But Portugal is a small place, and I went to other places. And there are things…

In a truly multicultural society, with REAL religious tolerance, the local church wouldn’t have been commandeered as a mosque (apparently this was a standard humiliation technique for captive populations.) It was returned to use as a church, and has been such for centuries now, the interior having been ALMOST completely scrubbed clean of arabesque decorations. ALMOST. Why almost, you ask? The wall near the door, around the door, where you can’t avoid seeing them as you leave, was left “decorated.” It was left so that people would never forget.

Then there are churches that were pulled down by the Muslim invaders, and into which people were buried through all the years of occupation. It was the only consecrated ground around, you see. The poor bastards weren’t allowed to have their own religious cemeteries/bury their dead in peace. Oh, and this was often in areas that were considered solid Muslim (this ties in to something else later on, so stay tuned.)

But there is more than that. I never BOUGHT the idea that Muslims were kind and gentle overlords for a more bone-deep reason.

Look, people with ancient cultures all in the same place REMEMBER. They remember in ways that no academic gaslighting, no professorial assurances to the contrary can erase. For instance, do you know how you can tell which Roman emperors were considered decent by the local people? They give their names to their kids. Still. Trajan, for instance. And then there are the bad ones, that are also still remembered, but whose names are given to dogs (Nero.) And then there are the unspeakable ones. Neither child nor dog is named Caligula.

Well, in the local area, you find some kids named Ibrahim (though that is a bit confusing since local custom does weird things to spelling) but NONE named Mohammed. (This might be different now, since the Conquista II — this time we pretend to be innofensive — is in progress.) But back then there were no Moes around.

And that is plain weird in a place that has forgotten nothing. (Seriously, there are still people around named after Roman gods, because the name runs in the family. And Greek Heroes. And Carthaginian heroes, too. My brother went to school with Hannibal, Hasdrubal, and a bunch of Roman historical names — I want to say Cipius, but I’m probably wrong.)

March 11, 2016

Equilibrium of Carnage at Verdun – Portugal Joins The War I THE GREAT WAR – Week 85

Filed under: Europe, France, Germany, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 10 Mar 2016

The fierce battle of Verdun is still going on and the initial surprise momentum of the German Army under Erich von Falkenhayn is lost. Battles for hill tops and forts turn into carnage where even the winning side is loosing too much men to go on. The Siege of Kut is growing ever more desperate as the there is virtually no food left for the British Army. And in all that Portugal is joining the war.

March 7, 2016

QotD: To modern people, death really is a stranger

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

I was thinking about this the last few days and I realized we – we modern people – have a very odd relationship with death.

Look, I’m in no way complaining about this, okay? I want you to understand that upfront. For my final exam in American culture, back in Portugal, I had to read this very stupid book who deduced all sorts of crazy stuff about Americans from the fact our dead are usually embalmed. Frankly, I think the author should have his head examined. (He also went on about our putting people in old age homes, forgetting that our elderly live MUCH longer than normal, which means at the end they need a lot more specialized care. He also seemed not to get the sheer immensity of our territory which means family can be flung all over the continent. Organizing a rostrum to visit grandma and make sure she takes her meds is a tad-bit more difficult than in a village or even a moderately sized town.)

[…]

However it makes us weird about death. And it distorts our view of everything.

Accidents most of all. What, you think it’s a coincidence that the more remote the possibility of death, the more we pile on safety mechanisms in cars? The more we make our kids wear helmets and eye protection for perfectly harmless activities? (I think the end run of this is that we pad all the trees, like the royal family of Spain when their kids had hemophilia.)

And it goes further. Any death has become unthinkable. We react with shock to any death that doesn’t take place after protracted illness. We start cowering back from eating meat because “the poor animals” and we shy back from any war and try to have it humane and with ROEs that make it impossible to do what war should do: inflict terror and pain on the enemy until they surrender. (I think this goes hand in hand with no longer knowing how to END a war. We don’t say “We’re going to end it by winning.” Or “It ends when the other guy is rubble.” No, we say “We need an exit strategy.”)

If you think of death as the dark tints of life, we’ve become washed out, and in many ways incomprehensible to cultures in which death is still very common.

I know, I know, culture this, culture that – but in the end I wonder how much of our decay and our seeming wish for suicide, from having too few kids to not being ruthless enough to those who hurt us, comes from the fact that death has come to seem unnatural and strange.

Again, I’m not complaining. I’m no more fond of death than anyone else, and no more resolute in the face of it. I know I might be called upon to die for what I believe in, and that’s fine – it’s much, much harder to accept dying because someone’s clutch slipped, or because I caught some weird virus no one could figure out. And I can’t imagine dying even at 100 without feeling that I’m leaving a lot of stuff undone. Still, I can come to terms with my own death – the death of those I love is something else. I’ve already told Dan he must die after me or I’ll never talk to him again. The thought of losing the kids is unimaginably horrific. Heck, I’m all broken up about the idea of losing a cat within the year, and I’ve lost cats before.

BUT while I wouldn’t want a return to things quasi-ante, and while the solutions I could pose – as a science fiction author – range from the repugnant to the horrible and are all “I don’t want this” (Though some might make interesting stories.) I do wonder what part of our decay, or the decay of our willingness to fight and win, is because death is alien and a surprise to us.

We have become like the elves who spawn rarely and live unnaturally long “blessed” lives. Maybe there is some ancestral memory there. Maybe there is a cycle where you become too comfortable, too little used to death, and then the ruthless cultures come in and destroy you, because they walk with death everyday.

Sarah Hoyt, “Death in the Surprise Position – A Blast From The past from Dec. 2012”, According to Hoyt, 2015-11-06.

August 16, 2015

An interesting era in Portuguese history

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Sarah Hoyt on the time when the throne of the Kingdom of Portugal was occupied by the Kings of Spain:

When I was little, one of my favorite times in history class every year was when we studied the Spanish occupation.

From 1560 to 1640 and due to some truly gifted stupid actions of Portuguese kings, the throne of Portugal was occupied by the Philips. The first Philip was the famous Philip of the Armada.

Now the throne of Portugal was acquired as legitimately as any other succession at the time and more legitimately than most. Technically Philip was the late King Sebastian’s nephew. (And possibly first cousin, uncle and grandfather. There is no word on whether the royal lines of Portugal and Spain could play the banjo really well, but if they didn’t it was only because they didn’t have banjos.)

However by the time I studied the occupation or “usurpation” EVERY year of elementary school, great indignation was built towards the Philips. One of the reasons I really liked that lesson is that our prim and elderly school marm would instruct us to bring out our crayons and deface our pictures of Philip of Portugal and Spain. (And for those cringing about destruction of school property, in Portugal you buy your school books. You can sometimes buy them used or inherit them from a sibling — not me, my brother was much older than I and books had changed — but in general everyone from the richest to the poorest bought the school books. I rather suspect, now I think about it, that this keeps the Portuguese publishing system working.)

The reason they were hated, the reason we were instructed to deface the pictures was that while occupying the Portuguese throne, perhaps because they were sure it wouldn’t last, or perhaps because they wanted to reduce the proud and independent spirit of the Portuguese (from their perspective the last of the small kingdoms in the peninsula to be swallowed by the Spanish leviathan) the Philips seemed to go out of their way to destroy all Portuguese interests, possessions and wealth, as well as the Portuguese standing with their allies and the world.

It’s been a long time, and mostly I spent my time studying how to deface a picture, but I remember the Spaniards broke the Portuguese alliance with the English which had lasted almost since before there was England, and save for that interruption has lasted to present day. This meant Portuguese ships could fall prey to the British privateers. They also failed to adequately defend Portuguese colonies and gave some of them away as dowry to Spanish Princesses or perhaps party favors.

There were other things, and the rule must have been felt even at the time as disastrous because particularly in the North a cult of the “King who will return” (in this case King Sebastian, young and possibly nuts or at least a really good banjo player, since his mother was the upteenth Spanish princess the Portuguese kings had married in a row.) He died in a futile attack on the North of Africa (there’s taking the fight to the enemy and then there’s nuts) which left the kingdom without a king. Save the Spaniards.

For years, and then centuries, adding an element of fantasy, the legend grew that he had not died and would return “one foggy morning.”

I must have had a fantastical or romantic bend from early on, because one of my favorite songs was by a group called 1111 (Ah ah) which sang about King Sebastian and how they’d found his horse and pieces of his doublet, his sword and his heart, notwithstanding which he’d come back in a foggy morning to lead the half mad seers and witches of the foggy Northern lands. (Represent, I say, represent.)

However, no matter how bad the Spanish occupation was, in that morality tale it became the inflection point at which Portugal stopped being amazing and became beaten down and down and out. At that moment (even though colonies and empire remained) Portugal was broken in the eyes of the world and in its own eyes.

July 31, 2015

Sarah Hoyt on being a time-traveller

Filed under: Europe, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Earlier this month, Sarah Hoyt explained how a time-traveller from the (recent) past might be able to handle the changes encountered on visiting our modern world:

Yesterday some point was raised about how an early twentieth century person would react to the modern day.

Well, give them some years to adapt. I know. You see, I am a time traveler.

I think I have mentioned in the past that I was reading a book on the Middle Ages (the Time Traveler’s Guide to the Middle Ages, I think) and kept coming across things that I went “so?” on. Because they were the same conditions I grew up in.

It’s hard to explain, truly, because we had buses and cars (not many cars. For instance there were two vans and one car in the village. When I had a breathing crisis in the middle of the night (every few months or so till I was six) we had to knock on the door of the grocer across the street who — poor man, may he rest in peace, he died with Alzheimer’s — is as responsible as my parents for my still being here. He would throw on clothes at any hour of the day or night and drive us to emergency in the city, then wait with my parents until he found out if I’d be sent back home or kept on oxygen.

We also had telephones. In the grocery store. If something dire happened to one of the relatives overseas, they’d call, and so when we got the knock on the door and “call for” we knew it was bad news. Only worse news was a telegram. Mind you, my brother used that phone to call in song requests to request programs on the radio. (Programa de pedidos.)

Oh, yeah, we had radios. Everyone had a radio, even my grandparents, and had had them from the beginning of the century. There were dead tube radios in the attics, which is how I built myself my first radio. (“Dad, I want a radio.” “Good, you can have one.” And then he went back to reading Three Men In A Boat. I’m not actually joking.)

And then there were televisions. Well, every coffee shop had a TV, which is how they attracted the after-dinner crowd who, for cultural reasons, were mostly male. Then again the nearest coffee shop was a mile away. Through ill-lit streets. So, yeah.

My godmother and the housekeeper for the earl’s “farm house” catercorner from us had TVs. We often went to watch TV with the housekeeper, when the earl and his family wasn’t in (which was 99% of the time.) And all I have to say about my godmother’s door pane is that she really shouldn’t have gone on vacation at the time of the moon landing. And besides we cleaned up and left her money for the replacement. (Sheesh.)

[…]

I not only didn’t see a dishwasher till I was 12 (I think) but, having heard of them, I imagined them kind of like the robot diners in Simak. Arms come out the wall and wash dishes.

I was by no means the person from the most backward environment to become an exchange student. I certainly didn’t come from as backward a place as my host-parents expected (look, host-mom was descended from Portuguese. What she didn’t realize was that it had changed since her grandma’s stories.) They showed me how to flush the toilet…

However there were myriad culture shocks. The all-day TV, for instance. (I watched for two days solid, then decided it wasn’t my thing.) But mostly, at that time, the culture shock was the prosperity. My host mother bought a small TV for the kitchen on a whim, at a time when, in Portugal, you’d still have to save for years to buy ANY TV. Or the things considered necessary. We had patio furniture, though I don’t think anyone but me EVER went outside. (Not to blame them. Ohio has two seasons: Deep Freeze and Sauna.)

The refrigerator. When I came over we had a fridge. We got a fridge when I was ten. But a) it was the size of a dorm fridge. b) mom was still in the habit of shopping every day. So the morning was devoted to shopping for the food for lunch/dinner. The main thing we used our fridge for was ice-cubes, one per drink, because more than that might kill you.

My host family shopped once a week, and kept stuff in the deep freezer, so you didn’t need to run out to get food every day.

May 15, 2015

QotD: Portuguese genetics

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

On the face of it it sounds like the nice narrative we are fed every time something like this happens. I haven’t been following the international scene, and frankly it wouldn’t even surprise me if Europe headed for nativism and blood-related nationality. It is what is at the basis of their nation states (even if it’s often a lie. For instance I’d hazard that a lot of people in Portugal — yes, d*mn it, I’ll do the DNA testing. Let the house sell and let me have some money first — are as mixed as Americans. My kids call Portugal the reservoir tip at the end of Europe, which is unkind but somewhat accurate since that portion of land was part of the Celtic commonwealth, before being invaded by Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, Moors (though their contribution in the North is minimal as the North was usually administered by overseers with little or no actual colonization) French crusaders, Viking raiders. Then there were British and Irish merchants due to ties going back before the Carthaginians who would set up trading posts, send their younger sons over, sometimes engage in a bit of raiding, etc. There are unkind proverbs about blue eyed Portuguese, but there are also a lot of them. (Two of my grandparents. A third was green eyed.) And in the end sometimes I think all of us are the result of some girl who tripped (on purpose or not) while evading a foreigner. All this to say that when my dad talks of the “The Portuguese Race” (and boy, does he) he’s mostly talking of a mythical entity. But it’s one they all believe in as hard as they can.)

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Multiculturalism IS Racism”, According to Hoyt, 2015-04-04.

April 6, 2015

When the Precautionary Principle meets wine corks

Filed under: Europe, Health, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Reason, Baylen Linnekin talks about wine corks and over-cautious would-be regulators:

We flew into Lisbon and drove across the Spanish border to San Vicente de Alcantara, near Caceres, where DIAM makes many of its corks. Once there, our daylong activities included a detailed tour of the DIAM factory and a visit to the nearby cork forest where DIAM obtains cork, which is made from the bark of the eponymous tree.

As I learned on the DIAM tour, the company’s agglomerated corks are made from natural cork that’s first pulverized. The impurities are then removed. Finally, the pure cork that remains is glued back together into the familiar wine cork shape.

Agglomerated corks have two key benefits over competing corks. First, they cost less than natural corks. Second, they eliminate the problem of cork “taint,” a musty taste caused by the presence of a substance found in cork, TCA, that often ruins wines before they’re ever opened.

Sounds great. Still, concern was raised by a wine writer last month, who suggested, quite wrongly in my opinion, that agglomerated corks may be illegal.

How’s that?

The writer, Lewis Purdue of Wine Industry Insight, suggested that the binding agent used by agglomerated cork makers could be leeching into wine. That agent, TDI, is listed as a potential carcinogen. If it were to migrate from cork to wine, that would be bad.

But testing by DIAM and others has shown no detectable level of TDI in wine, meaning there’s no evidence the substance migrates from cork to wine. DIAM also says, firmly, that no such migration occurs.

“Of course we guarantee there’s no TDI migration,” said François Margot, a sales manager with DIAM, told Wine Business writer Cyril Penn.

In that case, there’s no problem, says the FDA. As the FDA explains, agency rules generally permit food packaging to come into contact with food so long as it’s not “reasonably expected to result in substances becoming components of” food.

Why any fuss over agglomerated corks? It stems not from any FDA interest but, rather, from a push by competitors of agglomerated cork makers.

I dislike the kind of composite corks produced by companies like DIAM, but they’re still better than the plastic or other non-cork wine bottle closures a lot of American wineries are using these days.

April 12, 2014

QotD: Canada’s “small country” syndrome

Filed under: Cancon, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:23

It’s been a decade since Robert Fulford popularized the term: “The Longest Undefended Neurosis in the World.” It’s about as accurate a description of Canada-US relations as has ever been offered. The eagerness which, even at this late date, we lap up any mention of Canada on US media is oddly pathetic. This is the sort of behaviour typically seen in small bankrupt countries. Any mention of Portugal outside of Portugal is almost immediately reported on the state broadcaster. There is a strange cloying quality about such reports. A desperate yelling: “Hey we used to be important!”

It’s a small country thing. When a big country thinks this way you get French-style arrogance: “Hey we still are important, it’s that you lot aren’t clever enough to realize that blindingly obvious fact.”

Today Rob Ford is probably the most famous Canadian in history, save William Shatner. Neither men’s careers has done much to change international perceptions of Canada. We’re boring and probably polite. From time to time we kill seals and moose, though not necessarily in that order. As a general rule we avoid doing evil things. Short of carpet bombing a small country, which is well beyond our military capabilities, nothing we do will change these perceptions. We could annex Buffalo, something within our military capabilities, but I suspect most Americans would probably be grateful. They might throw in Rochester as a parting gift.

Richard Anderson, “Talking With Americans About Canadians”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-04-10

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