mokie: Stonehenge with the sun shining through the stones (holiday renewal)
My family always started the new year off with a Southern tradition by way of Africa - a meal of black-eyed peas and greens (cabbage, in our house), symbolizing wealth in the year ahead. It was a fartstravaganza, guaranteed to chase home any lingering relatives.

Alas, this year I'm down with the flu, which is not conducive to cooking, or focusing, or staying awake.* Maybe I can fudge it, and count six days after the Greek Orthodox Christmas...


* Or posting publicly: this post has been post-dated for quality assurance purposes.
mokie: Vintage photo of a woman with legs crossed reading a book (reading smut)
So I was discussing fiction with a friend... No, that's not quite right.

So last year I started watching Hemlock Grove, but got distracted and wandered off. When I saw an advertisement for the upcoming second season, I thought two things: "Better to catch up and keep up, then," and "Wait, what? 'Emmy-nominated'? Hemlock Grove was nominated for a fucking Emmy, but there's no love for Hannibal?"

Because I like Hemlock Grove, more or less. Contrary to appearances, it's not yet another True Bloody Vampire Twilight Diaries teen romance soap opera with fangs, but a collection of Hollywood's classic Silver Screen movie monsters translated to a modern setting, and that's a pretty nifty idea. But I love Hannibal, and most of the critics who've bothered to watch it call it the best show on TV right now - better than Game of Thrones, better than Mad Men, better even, some thought, than Breaking Bad. And yet it was more or less snubbed by the mainstream American awards shows, and even the piddly media awards; for instance, it shows up only in vague "Best Villain" and "Best Show" categories on TV Guide's online awards voting. Why is that?

Because society is full of snobby assholes who take great pride in not watching horror... No, that's not quite right.

Because society is full of snobby assholes who take great pride in bragging about not watching horror. And the little committees that pick award nominees and winners are loaded with those assholes. This is no surprise to 'genre' fans - we're pretty used to the world looking down its nose at us - but it is a surprise to see so many vampires and werewolves sprinkled around out in the open and accepted. They're not horror anymore, but romance, the new soap operas, and the voters are totes cool with them as long as they stay sexy and don't look like, y'know, monsters.

Even so, I suspect Hemlock Grove's nomination had more to do with patting Netflix on the head for making its own series than the series it made.

But anyway.

So I was discussing that with a friend, and we wandered off on a tangent about romance novels, including paranormal romances, historical romances, the old-fashioned gothic romances, and all that jazz. Eventually we circled around to poking the fanfiction concept of 'id fic' with a stick, because that is a clever, clever way to look at literature.

Id fic appeals to the squat little reptilian pleasure-seeking part of brain, your id, the little masturbating monkey mind, the part of your brain that embarrasses you at parties with inappropriate thoughts and grunts, "Uhn, sexy!" at shit you know just ain't right. As one fanfiction writer put it, "Because 'good' stories often have to temporize, to maintain reality and your suspension of disbelief and the dynamics of the canon. But idfic says fuck that, let's turn this shit up to ELEVEN and SEE WHERE IT GOES."

See? That's brilliant. Instead of blushing through flustered and defensive explanations of how V.C. Andrews' hypermelodramatic incest porn has deeper meaning, or romance novels aren't really about the smut, or how pulp fantasy novels have deeper wish fulfillment blah blah blah, look at the freedom of just saying, "It's id fic" - acknowledging that the masturbating monkey mind loves its stories, too, and that this is totally okay.

But, at the same time, it also lets us see how V.C. Andrews' hypermelodramatic incest porn, etc., can have deeper meaning, because where you've got id, you've got context for the tight-laced and prudish super-ego to stroll in: the masturbating monkey mind likes it dirty, and what the masturbating monkey mind finds dirty has a lot to say about the culture and society and baggage of the mind it squats in. For instance, Wuthering Heights is a big ol' floppy melodramatic mess of id, crouched in the corner fapping furiously and leering at onlookers, but it's also a classic that "challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality."

Would it be going too far to suggest there's also super-ego fic? Stories that consciously and purposefully poke at social constructs and cultural baggage, that get all up our noses about being a better person? Those stories certainly exist - they're the things we rarely read on our own, because they're preachy and boring, not at all as interesting as peering through a book-shaped keyhole with the masturbating monkey mind at things we know we'll later feel dirty for enjoying.

Maybe that's what I like so much about Hannibal - having both the monkey and the monk at the dinner table together, uncomfortably aroused.

Edited to add: Yes, I know, the id fic concept has been around for ages, but my circles don't overlap that way. Sometimes it takes a while for things to pop up on my radar. Also, when discussing some topics, particularly fandom or fan-adjacent topics, things work out best if I just assume that the other person has no idea what I'm talking about until/unless they say otherwise, and thus I need to explain from scratch without getting too slangful or complicated.
mokie: Original Bad Seed Rhonda is getting upset (womb of doom)
I don't know if I can take another guy saying the Hobby Lobby decision is no big deal.

Let's set aside that the Supreme Court has said it's OK for employers to insert their religious beliefs into an employee's private life, by specifically limiting that employee's options in areas where they should have no say. No, your employer should not have say over your health care decisions.

Let's ignore that the Court has given employers the go-ahead to insert their political beliefs into an employee's medical decisions, by ignoring how certain medications actually work according to doctors, in favor of their own 'interpretation' of how it works based on their political agenda - this even though that incorrect interpretation is still perfectly legal in this country. No, your employer should not get veto power over your perfectly legal health care decisions.

We can even sidestep the fact that the Court has said it's OK for companies to selectively ignore parts of laws they dislike by claiming a religious exemption, even if they're for-profit outfits and not actually people, and definitely not churches. No, your employer's religion should not affect your health care decisions.

Basically, your employer does not own you and should not have control of your private life.

Guys, the Supreme Court has given employers the right to veto preventative care for a specific class of employees.

If a woman gets pregnant and decides to have the child, she's going to see a doctor for prenatal visits, for tests and check-ups to ensure things are OK, and for intervention if things aren't going OK. When time comes to pull a human being out of her body, she's probably doing it in a hospital, and given statistics in recent years, she'll quite likely have surgery. Pregnancy and childbirth involves a chain of medical procedures and is very much a big deal, one that has permanent physical repercussions for the person doing it aside from the impact on their lives in general. That's why lots of women decide not to have the child, and lots more - 99% of American women at some point in their lives - take steps to avoid conceiving in the first place. That's what makes birth control 'preventative care'.

No, Hobby Lobby was not being forced to foot the bill for abortions. Don't forget that employees pay into these packages, which are meant to cover the health care needs of employees, not the political agenda of the employer.

No, it does not matter that Hobby Lobby covers some other types of contraception, because they've opened the door for other employers to deny contraception entirely, which gets us into the sticky fact that, apart from pregnancy being a real risk for some women, 'birth control' often has medical uses outside of preventing pregnancy - treatment of endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and reduction of ovarian cancer risks, for starters. You should not have to sit down with your boss and prove you're not just horny in order to get medicine prescribed by your doctor, dammit.

No, "They shouldn't have to pay for you to have sex!" isn't relevant, because these insurance packages sure as hell cover prenatal care and treatment for STDs, so by that logic they're already paying for people to have sex.

No, "It doesn't cover my condoms!" isn't remotely the same thing, because even if the condom breaks, that guy is never, ever going to risk having a person pulled from his dick nine months later.

Yes, it is a big deal, because contraception is expensive, but so is getting pregnant, and if you're working retail at the fucking craft store level, in all likelihood you can barely afford either.

Update: Oh look, folks are already trying to use Hobby Lobby's "sincerely held religious belief" precedent to skirt LGBT anti-discrimination legislation.
mokie: Red-haired punk Vyvyan makes rude gestures at the viewer (snotty)
An odd trend popped up and caught my eye over the last decade: failing businesses requesting donations to keep from going under. I mean donations literally: not an exchange of goods and services, but outright requests for money to pay off outstanding rent and utility bills. They were usually from bookshops under three years old, crossing my path because I am bookish and frequented bookish sites and forums where the requests appeared.

What the requests suggested to me, depending on the details:
- The owner did not have a viable business plan and knew diddly-squat about running a business.
- The owner confused their daydreams about what they'd do with 'the keys to the candy shop' with having a business plan.
- The owner confused being a business in the business of [whatever] with being a church in the service of [whatever].
- The owner confused being a business in a community with being a community center.
- The owner should have started a club instead, as it seemed they wanted a place to hang out with fellow [whatever] lovers rather than a business.
- The business was already beyond saving.

Bookshops aren't really the point here, but they do illustrate it well.

First, more than half of all new businesses fail by their fourth year, simply because new business owners are inexperienced. Successful business owners usually have a few failed businesses under their belt; their failures taught them the pitfalls of business, how to mess up and pick themselves up and eventually succeed. Bookish people who've long daydreamed of having their own bookshop look from a customer's point of view, seeing a lack of bookshops as a need for bookshops, but missing the obvious counterpoint: shops with decades of experience in successful operation were put out of business by Amazon and the chains, and those that survived did so because they had advantages others didn't (like a great walkable urban location) or because they made changes that brought in a wider range of people (like bric-a-brac hunters).

Second, these small business owners overestimated the importance of their interests to the local community, and their role within the community. To bookish folks, a refrigerator is just an appliance, a bath towel just a flop of cloth. They're just things. Books are different, sacred vessels to which we entrust ideas, containers for other worlds and lives. Opening a bookshop isn't just like having the keys to the candy shop - it's like being entrusted with your own church. A church of candy, even. That lends itself to unhealthy expectations, because to the rest of the community, a book is just a thing, and even dedicated bibliophiles are going to have to pay their own rent first.

That's why new and troubled bookshops take to their blogs and Facebook pages, asking for $15,000 in a month to cover their outstanding debts so they can stay in business. They do a little interview with the local paper about how they'll have to shut their doors if the community doesn't come through and show it values its bookshops, and keep Twitter abuzz with updates. They'll certainly get a few more customers, mostly looking for really good going-out-of-business sales, but I haven't seen a single bookshop yet saved by begging the community to keep their dreams afloat.

For some, as the deadline looms, the bitterness creeps in. If all the people offering supportive comments were regular customers... If they were real book lovers, they'd have been there all along, and the shop wouldn't be in trouble. They get huffy at what they see as invasive questions, because who do you think you are, asking them about their business plan and how you can be sure they wouldn't be asking for donations again in a few months? How dare you want to make sure your money wouldn't be wasted? They forget that they run a business, not a charity or a church or a fucking community rec center, and that nobody owes them a goddamn thing - certainly not to be rewarded with free money for their incompetence, no questions asked. "Show us you value our business" is the customer's line.

The community sees a business begging, and a business begging for donations is a business that's bad at businessing. Why throw good money after bad? That hardly gives them any confidence in the business owner's competence.

The community wants to see the business taking steps to fix its own problems, and telling them how they can help - not that it's dead in the water unless its customers come up with a load of cash. People will happily help someone raise money to start a business (and I will, because St. Louis needs Dr. Dan's Pancake Van). People will gladly patronize a business if they like it and it fulfills a need or want for them. People don't want to be blamed for a business they've never heard of going under, however, or shamed for not taking up the flag in someone's personal cause, be it books, raw dog food or organic produce.

To be clear: the point is not bookshops, failing bookshops, how many bookshops turn to donations/crowdfunding, that small businesses should not ask for help, that small businesses should not be given help, or that one should write off troubled businesses as, "Oh well, do-over." It's that the community loves to give businesses support, but asking for charity makes a business look non-viable.

All of which brings us to the inspiration for this ramble!

A local organic grocer's expansion fell through, and now the business is in debt and at risk. Though only five years old, they are pretty well established on the local food scene, and increasing their business steadily. On social media, they're sending a business message that suggests confidence and capability: we're responsible and well-run, not asking for donations but having a sale to raise funds to fix an identified issue. Not a hand-out, just a hand-up - that sort of thing.

It's perfect! It should appeal not just to the organic church and choir, but also to the community. Except, in local print media...
Horine says it would defy the Local Harvest ethos of building a stronger local-food community to close without first turning to that community for help.

"We've always stuck with it," he says. "We believe in what we're doing. It sounds cliché, but we feel like it's bigger than us. So we're going to give the community a chance to try to save it." (Ian Froeb, "Local Harvest Grocery and restaurants face imminent closure, seek help", St. Louis Post-Dispatch 27 January 2014)
Give the community a chance to... Gah!
The Scoop talked with Earnest about her fund raising plans. “What we built the [Local Harvest] model on was building a local food community,” Earnest said. “People will have the chance to say…whether it’s important that we continue to exist. Whether it’s worth it. Whether it’s right for them. Obviously we think so, but do they?” (Ligaya Figueras, "The Scoop: Local Harvest launches community fund raising campaign to avoid closure", Sauce Magazine 27 January 2014)
Whether it's worth.... Gah! 'Cause' wording undermines any sense of confidence and capability. By shifting all action to the consumer, it doesn't tell us how (or if) the business is trying to fix its problem, if there's a plan besides "beg for donations help", if the problem has even been identified or if this is just rescheduling a crisis. It's all just "Support my church of candy! Don't you love candy? Prove it!"

Besides, who says something like that when they're asking you for money? "I need $1000 to pay my rent and heating bill and buy food. You have the chance to say whether it's important to you that I don't freeze to death homeless and starving on the street." And why am I hearing Sarah McLachlan?

To the owners, local and organic is its own little church of candy. To the 'church and choir' customers, it's local, it's organic, but it's also asking for a lot of money, while using language that puts responsibility for its success or failure on the people it's borrowing from. To the community that might have been persuaded to help a local business out, it's a goddamn business, and they do not need to prove any goddamn thing to a goddamn business. The community does not have to prove its love, prove that it cares, prove that it values a certain kind of business. The business has to prove that it's not going to tank and leave people high and dry with worthless gift certificates. Because it's a business, not a cause.

SPACEBALLS: THE CLARIFICATION! (and update): Yes, this entry was edited to clarify the intent (I hope), eliminate some repetition, and address my lack of caffeination when it was written. But more importantly, on February 1st, LHC met their funding goal, and the villagers rejoiced!
mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered I might not be allergic to coconut after all.

When is an allergy not an allergy? When it's Oral Allergy Syndrome, also called Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome (along with several other names, because everybody wants to be the one whose name gets used on House M.D.), in which regular nose-based allergies masquerade as food allergies, due to certain fruit and veggie proteins vaguely resembling problematic pollen proteins.

Basically, it's like your body mistaking a dust-bunny for a spider and wigging out inappropriately.

Outside of allergy season the problem food isn't a problem, because your body hasn't been primed by pollen and pushed into kill it with sneezing! mode. The heat involved in cooking and canning can also denature the troublesome proteins, which is how some folks can be allergic to a raw fruit or veggie but able to eat the same item cooked--because they're not allergic to the food itself, even though they are having an allergic reaction to it. Either of these could explain why I've been able to eat coconut just fine until recently, mostly baked in cookies or simmered in soups, but also just noshing on raw flakes without any ill effect. I just happened to do it at the wrong time of year this time.

The upside of this, apart from that OAS usually doesn't cause anaphylactic shock, is that it would also explain why my late winter/early spring allergies have been so bad since moving to this neighborhood: birch.

I used to live next to Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Garden, two big green spaces dedicated to growing a large variety of greenery, pretty much all of which I tested allergic to back in middle school. Apart from swollen hands when walking past a bushy area on Magnolia Avenue, though, my allergies just translated to a runny nose and some occasional sneeziness--and good luck narrowing down which bit of all that greenery was responsible for which sneeze. (Especially since the allergy scratch test throws a lot of false positives, as dracunculusdracunculus pointed out.)

What the old neighborhood didn't have, and this neighborhood does, was a lot of birch trees. Specifically, a cluster of them half a block down from my current apartment.
In springtime, two of the biggest cross-reaction offenders are birch and alder trees. Depending on where you live, anywhere from 20 to 70 per cent of people who are allergic to birch and alder pollens will also have oral allergy syndrome. (Janet French, "Oral Allergy Syndrome: Why do Pollens and Foods Cross-React?" Allergic Living 2 July 2010)
The doctor interviewed in that article pointed out that OAS is more common than the legitimately scary food allergies like peanut, which might explain why so very many people believe they have food allergies even after a smug host points out that they just ate something they're supposed to be allergic to. (And fuck you if you do that to people. Seriously.) The article also mentions a point I regularly make, that chamomile and echinacea cause cross-reactions to ragweed because they're in the same family, which makes it really annoying when every suggested cure for your allergy woes is a nice cup of chamomile and echinacea tea.

The author does lose points for bad editing when she inadvertently (I hope) suggests that honey is somehow a plant related to ragweed, rather than that honey could contain ragweed (or related) pollen. That in itself sidesteps the point that many allergy sufferers intentionally eat honey hoping there's allergy-causing pollen in it, due to the old wives' tale that this will desensitize them. It doesn't work, though, because most of the honey on store shelves is (a) filtered, microfiltered, and then filtered some more to remove all possible pollen; (b) heated and treated till it's thoroughly dead so that it won't crystallize on store shelves; and (c) from China, and thus unlikely to contain any pollens you're familiar with. You could try raw local honey, but as someone who gave it a go, just go take a Claritin and save yourself the disappointment. (And the awfulness that is clover honey. Ugh.)

Back to the point! How vile is birch?

Here is the Wikipedia checklist of foods that are cross-reactive with birch: almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, cherries, chicory, coriander, fennel, figs, hazelnuts, kiwis, nectarines, parsley, parsnips, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, potatoes, prunes, soy, strawberries, walnuts and wheat. That's not even a definitive list--other lists add all the tree nuts, and coconuts, and peanuts, and tomatoes, and turnips...

If you Google "oral allergy syndrome" and a food, Google will say, "Birch. It's the fucking birch, man."

Birch will take from you everything that you love.

Apart from a visit to an allergist, the only way to know for certain if my coconut allergy is a real allergy or a birch cross-reaction is to wait till the birch stops its arboreal spooging around June or July, and then nibble a little raw coconut while someone stands by with a heavy dose of Benedryl. A preemptive strike on the trees is out, as they wisely chose to be planted in front of a cop's house.

Sneaky, bastardly birch.

Update: TESTED AND CONFIRMED. The same coconut that made me miserable in April and May caused no reaction at all in June. Of course, now my grass allergies are in full effect, so I couldn't taste the coconut, but still...
mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered that I'm allergic to coconut.

Scoffing scoffer: "Aw, did ums get a bellyache? Getting the shits after eating a bad slice of pie isn't an allergy."

No, I got puffy lips after a piece of coconut creme Easter candy, and put it off to some weird reaction to spring pollens. "Maybe I touched my face after checking the mailbox...?"

Then my lips swelled up like someone had just popped me one, the inside of my face swelled up like a sinus/ear infection, and I got a nice big can't-swallow lump in my throat after a bowl of homemade coconut milk-based ice cream. "Maybe it's the way it was processed? It can't be the coconut--I used to nibble shredded coconut out of the bag..."

Then I got the lip and face and throat swelling after having a piece of chocolate cake that had been touching a piece of cake with shredded coconut on it. "But...but...I had coconut curry soup and I was fine! And I use coconut oil in all my soaps!"

On the upside, it turns out the oil is [usually] safe, as the problematic protein is in the meat and milk and water.* You know, all the tasty parts. Also, I'd taken allergy medicine before eating the soup. Tricksy allergies!

Okay, fine, I don't eat coconut anymore.

Except no.

I peeled potatoes today, shedding the skin into a bowl that had previously covered the coconut cake. Lunch was fried potatoes, a cup of coffee, a reusable bottle of water, my 2x daily dose of penicillin (root canal, joy) and a swollen lip and throat and right hand.

What the...

Did I cross-contaminate the potatoes simply by peeling them into the ex-cake cover? Did I cross-contaminate the cup by handling it after the bowl, even though I didn't touch the inside of the bowl or the lip of the cup? Did I cross-contaminate the water bottle during the 'my cakes can't touch' issue, or after the coconut curry soup?

Did I touch a bit of counter on which coconut cooties had previously wafted from mere proximity to the cake? Was the plate I used for the finished potatoes previously used for coconut cake, and if so, how goddamn, do I need to bleach everything in the cupboard just in case?

Is this not cross-contamination at all, but a sudden allergy to penicillin too? Or did I touch the pill bottle after touching the potatoes after touching--GAH!

Mold and pollen and pet fur I can handle: basic cleaning, an air filter during bad spells, take my pills and wash my hands, blah blah blah. An allergy that practically requires me to become OCD might be out of my league.

Update: WOO! I am not allergic to coconut! One of my run-of-the-mill pollen/tree-spooge allergies was having a weird oral reaction to coconut. Once the spring allergies gave way to summer allergies, the coconut reaction went away. VICTORY!


* An allergist's website says the oil is safe. A friend spoke up to say (a) oh hey, me too, and (b) no, the oil is not necessarily safe.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
A month or so ago, for reasons I can't remember, I found myself reading about milestone episodes of South Park--which episode really gelled the show's dynamics, and which episode cemented Cartman not merely as a tiny Archie Bunker but a budding psychopath, etc. This kicked off a marathon review of the entire series for me. It's turned up a few surprising realizations, like that Stan and Kyle aren't as interchangeable or even alike as many fans claim (and complain about), and I can't explain that without going full nerd, so I'll just leave it there, because that's not the realization I want to write about.

I realized that some of the episodes are so damn far ahead of the moment that many of us don't seem to get them at the time of release.

The episode that brought this home is season 12's "Britney's New Look", about the media frenzy over Britney Spears and her long, slow public meltdown. In the episode, the boys learn people will pay insane cash for Britney photos and trick their way into her motel room by telling a guard they're her kids. For the distraught but otherwise normal Britney, this is too much: under the stress of the media onslaught that she knows will never let up, she blows her head off. Through some fluke she survives, and nobody treats her any differently except the boys. They feel guilty and try to help her escape, only to discover it's a massive conspiracy, and she's just a human sacrifice for a good harvest. (Yes, really.)

(Edited to add: I refuse to add spoiler tags for a TV show that aired two elections ago, especially as the spoileriffic element is the whole point of the episode.)

First, there are the reviewers who see only a parody of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and describe it simply as that, even though I don't think that's technically accurate. The episode imitates the end of Jackson's story, the crowd surrounding the damned woman with cameras instead of stones, but it's using Jackson's story to satirize paparazzi culture, not satirizing her story itself. (Interesting aside: Jackson said about the original reaction to her story, "People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.")

Then there are the folks who missed the point. Spears fans protested that it was a heartless mockery of a low point in her life, and completely missed that she was being portrayed sympathetically, while everyone else (even the boys at first) were villains. Show fans whined that there weren't enough jokes, not enough Cartman, and the only laugh they got was hearing Clinton say "spearchucker" in debate with Obama, completely missing, well, probably anything in the series more intelligent than a fart joke.

And then there were the folks complaining that if they were going to do a Britney Spears episode, they should have done it properly, because there's so much to make fun of, missing both the point ('Holy fuck, there's celebrity poking, and then there's this, and this is not right--we as a society are killing this woman, let's back off and not do that anymore'), and the fact that they were in fact the very people the episode is actually satirizing. For example, and an egregiously creepy example it is, there's the review that crowed the episode "takes a stab at Britney Spears and her popularity" "[w]hen the Queen of Trailer Trash visits South Park," and "[o]nly the boys seem to notice her head is blown off in a great parody of her train-wreck life. We love how Matt and Trey treat her as a brain-dead machine propped up by the media. No head. No brain. Doesn’t matter. Look at the camel toe!"

That's driving right past the point and off the pier, into a lake of fire.
mokie: Thelma Harper glares at the viewer (stfu)
I'm medicated, because it turns out I'm allergic to coconut. (Ooops.) It also turns out that Benedryl makes me chatty--more so than liquor, surprisingly. And thus you get the benefit of my doofy wisdom!

#1. Vaguebooking is punishing everyone who reads because one person pissed you off. It's throwing a rock into a group because you're angry and you want someone to pay attention. It's an act of verbal aggression, and should be met with equal aggression--call that shit out when you see it.

#2. I don't mean privately. Those "Are you OK?" private messages and emails are what the poster wants, someone to come and coddle them so they can spread their misery around without actually asking for help or dealing with the person they're upset with. It just feeds that godawful behavior.

#3. I don't mean nicely, either. Vaguebooking is punishing everyone because you're mad at one person. That's not nice behavior and it doesn't deserve a nice response.

#4. At the same time, I know sometimes folks are just looking to vent. They're not trying to passively-aggressively lash out at someone, they're not asking for help, they just need to release a little steam before the auto-smacking starts. The problem really comes in when they fail to notice that all of their blog posts or status updates or tweets or [insert next big thing in social media] are this kind of venting, because they're never actually socialling in their media--they're just sticking anyone who reads in the position of having to be their ear for venting, without ever giving anything but venting.

#5. And who the fuck wants to read a non-stop negativity engine, just churning out nothing but misery and spite? Fuck, at least toss people a cat picture once in a while.

#6. Ironically, this looks very much like vaguebooking. I'm aware of that. Two minutes before I loaded Semagic, the free-form rant flowing through my wobbly grey bits was all about avocados, so at least this is moderately relevant to the medium.

Edited for clarification: I could have also mentioned in #6 that what sparked the vaguebooking rant was some Buzzfeed article in passing, but that would have made too much sense.
mokie: Vintage photo of a woman with legs crossed reading a book (smart)
The sad thing about "Back in the day..." rants is how often they're wrong.

Today's example: someone asked for advice on storing potatoes and onions. In particular, they wanted to know if it was true that the two shouldn't be stored together, since each supposedly gives off a gas that causes the other to go off.

In comes the so over this nonsense type, who points out that back in the day, grannies just put all their veggies into the root cellar and didn't worry about gases.

Except that's not true. No, back in the day, grannies knew the importance of properly ventilating a root cellar, so as to keep gases from building up and all those stored veggies from going bad. Grannies also knew the importance of separating stored fruits and veggies by type, too, because some need to be kept cooler while others need to be kept drier, and some just don't play well together at all--like onions and potatoes.

So sure, if you just have a couple of potatoes and onions to use for a recipe this week, chuck them into the same cubby next to the popcorn maker. But if you buy your potatoes by the child-sized bag or don't go shopping every week, then yes, storage matters.

Edited to add: Weird cut-off sentence fixed! Very odd...
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (geeky)
The season finale of AMC's zombie drama The Walking Dead airs tonight, and the network is running a marathon of the entire series so far. Since I'm a fan of the show, I figured I'd wax philosophical. And before anyone asks, I've not yet read the comics, so this probably won't be relevant to them at all. Don't open, spoilers inside )
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Is there anything more fun than being slammed with a cold/sinus infection and still having work to do? Besides being dangled from a tree like a piñata full of phlegm and hit with sticks by small children, that is. Being sick sends me back to my comfort teas, one of which is Eastern Shore Tea Company's Plum Good, which can be ordered from Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company.

In the Bag:
This tea also sends me back to that problem of unlisted ingredients. The site describes Plum Good as, "Deep, rich, satisfying flavor, highlighted with soft cinnamon, for an intriguing aroma. Flavored black tea. Contains caffeine. Loose tea in 1 lb. (454 g.) bag." It mentions nothing of cloves, which are plain to see, or finely red shredded petals that a recent Steepster review called hibiscus. [ETA: the company confirmed the ingredients by email as black tea, soft cinnamon, clove, hibiscus and plum extract.] Both are ingredients that make people wary--hibiscus is my mortal enemy, for example--and neither is present here in significant amounts, so I can see leaving them out of the tea's sales blurb. Omitting mention of them entirely is a different story.

(Curiously enough, I knew there were cloves in it when I went to order, and was surprised that they weren't listed. It makes me wonder if the 3oz 'ribbon bags' I used to buy locally do/did have a full ingredient list.)

When I open the bag, the scent is a burst of bubblegum. Bubblegum flavor itself is a blend of wintergreen, vanilla and cinnamon (or cassia), so I wouldn't be surprised by a bit of vanilla in the ingredients/flavoring, too, though it may just be the fruity plum and cinnamon scent playing off my mental scent pre-sets.

The Steepening:
For the first cup, a teaspoon (eyeballed) in a mug with a mesh basket infuser, boiling water straight from the kettle, steeped about 2 minutes, and topped with a small dollop of mixed local and orange blossom honey for my sore throat. (Because I hate having 2 tall jars each with a half-inch of honey left, when I can have one smaller jar with plenty. Also, local honey is clover-heavy, and clover honey is an affront to all that is good and teaful.) For the second cup, the tea resteeped, no honey and untimed because I'm easily distracted. The scent is warm and fruity, all cinnamon and plum, as advertised.

The Verdict:
Not as deep and rich as you'd expect from the description, nor as complex or spicy as you might expect with cinnamon and cloves in the mix, but very satisfying nonetheless--not unlike a tea-incarnation of the Doors' "The End" perhaps. (Sorry, Boomers.) Sure, it's got a little bass and depth, and isn't the high and bright one-note tea many fruit blends are. Its spicy side is nicely warm and mellow and supports that fruity depth like a wonderbra or a really mixed metaphor, where many spicy blends are just heat, or just spice for the sake of being spicy. It plays well with both milk and sweeteners, but has a natural sweetness if you want to forgo the extras.

But it isn't all that deep or complicated, and that's a good thing, because sometimes you just want the tea equivalent of a warm blanket. A warm, bubblegum-scented, 10-minute groovin' Space Coyote blanket. Okay, maybe that last bit's the decongestant talking.

If the red petals are hibiscus, I'm impressed that I don't taste it. I'm used to companies overusing it as filler, and letting it overwhelm the taste of their blends, but if it's hibiscus, it seems to be only accentuating the fruitiness of the plum in this blend. For those suspicious of cloves, they're not a supervillain here either: SeriousEats suggests that clove boosts fruity flavors, adds a little heat and plays well with cinnamon, and it just seems to be doing just that and only that. And adding a little Christmas vibe, but I don't think it can help that.

It's the perfect cup for waking up from an 11-hour nap and considering going back to bed.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (eljay drama)
A new reader left an awkward comment a few months ago. Introductory comments are always awkward, so I blew it off. His journal featured a few short random entries packed around various event announcements. (I don't remember what for. They weren't my cuppa.) I figured maybe he was just dropping comments around like business cards, hoping to find eyeballs for his cause. I decided to follow-back anyway, because test-driving new journals is part of the fun of community journalling sites.

He left two perfectly normal conversational comments. Not in a row, no--two in his brief time following me. Two. The rest were uncomfortable, preachy diatribes often only tangentially related to what I'd posted. I quickly learned to cringe when an email arrived telling me he'd commented.

I let things slide at first, since I'm an expert at saying the wrong thing the wrong way, coming across like a know-it-all and generally putting my foot in my mouth. (New journal title! mokievision: making an ass of myself since 2000!) But when he got pissy at me over my Newtown post, I was done. Not because of the gun debate, but because I refuse to discuss issues with someone whose response to plain logic is to throw a fit and an insult.*

In going back through those months to tag them properly (because I <3 tags), I kept stumbling on his assorted comments, except without my benefit-of-the-doubt hat on they just look like a pattern of assholish behavior--behavior I allowed him to get away with because I was too polite to put a stop to it sooner.

So I broke one of my own rules and deleted him. All of his comments, everywhere I found them. I don't remember ever deleting comments before, except for the occasional spam clean-up, and I don't like doing it, because even angry comments usually add context to the discussions and entries. But dammit, the man derailed a freaking book review to humblebrag about how many languages he could read. That should count as canned meat of some kind.

Edited to add: dracunculusdracunculus pointed out the Five Geek Social Fallacies, which explores why geeks sometimes put up with bad behavior instead of drawing boundaries. It's so on-target that it almost hurts. The most relevant of the five: you can't toss a jerk out of your circle because ostracizing a jerk is worse than whatever behavior makes the jerk a jerk, and you can't criticize a jerk's behavior because friendship means never, ever calling someone on their bad behavior.


* By 'plain logic', I mean that I pointed out several of the things he was repeating were either unproven, such as anything involving the killer's medical history; had been disproved, such as that Israel arms its teachers; or were plain wrong, like his reference to Asperger's as a mental illness. I also asked him to offer a source for his gun statistics, since they didn't match other sources I was seeing, and suggested twice that we seemed to simply be at odds on the whole topic and should just agree to disagree.

His response was to pull 90° conversational turns any time he was corrected/questioned, pull some more numbers out of his ass, and seize upon "agree to disagree" as some demented proof that he was winning some debate that only he had agreed to have. I finally insisted on seeing some sources, at which point he metaphorically threw himself to the floor and whined that I was more in favor of gun control than I claimed (i.e. tried to tell me what my opinion really was), because I wouldn't respect his authoritah and let him just make shit up without calling him on it.
mokie: A doll with an open torso featuring a diorama (yay for girls)
Feminism exploded all over my Internets from unexpected sources!

The other day, Cracked offered a lesson in tough love with 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, and in the process nailed Nice Guys: "Don't say that you're a nice guy -- that's the bare minimum. Pretty girls have guys being nice to them 36 times a day. [...D]on't complain about how girls fall for jerks; they fall for those jerks because those jerks have other things they can offer."

Today, Gawker points out [the now-defunct site] "Nice Guys" of OKCupid in all their glorious douchebaggery, complete with a handy flowchart.

I'm surprised. I mean, you expect it of Jezebel, which even offered a field guide to Nice Guys recently, but Cracked? That's dude-central!

Edited for clarification: In much the same way that 'killer whale' as a term refers to a specific breed of whale and not just random homicidal cetaceans, 'Nice Guy' is a term for a specific type of guy engaged in a specific type of behavior, which is described in-depth at the sites linked above.

Essentially, a Nice Guy is a manipulative man who befriends a girl but has ulterior motives in doing so. He has a sexual/romantic interest in her but fears he'll be rejected if he asks her out directly, so instead he attempts to weasel into her circle of friends. There he encourages her to rely on him for emotional support, and often tries to sabotage her relationship by badmouthing whoever she's with ("Why are you with him? He's a jerk!"). The Nice Guy does these things under the mistaken belief that the girl will have a magical epiphany about how great he is, and he'll be upgraded to boyfriend/rewarded with sex. Unfortunately for him, girls can't read minds either, so the object of his affection generally thinks of him as a friend—you know, since that's how he's putting himself out there.

Since he's not actually her friend and it's all a sham, he will eventually turn on her for being a bitch who only likes jerks, and then wander off to whine about friend-zones and how girls only go for assholes who treat them like shit by, oh, asking them out directly and interacting with them like people instead of "machines that you put kindness coins into until sex falls out."

Naturally, Nice Guys don't grasp the difference between themselves and actual nice guys.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Earlier this year, I imposed a tea moratorium: not another box, pouch, brick or bag would I buy until my drinking was under control. Until my stash no longer took up its own kitchen cabinet. Until I no longer had more varieties than the grocery store. Until I could look at my supply and reasonably say, "Uh-oh, better buy more tea before I run out."

It wasn't easy. I ran out of my favorite blends one by one. I used up my runners-up. I forced myself to pitch the try-it-outs that didn't work out. But finally, in November, my stash was down to one basket on the kitchen counter. Sure, it was holding about a pound of tea, but seven or eight varieties, and most of those green, and shut up, I don't have a problem, you have a problem! with cold weather coming, I decided some black teas were in order.

Long story short: I've got new sippage, so you get new tea reviews!

One of my new regular vendors is the English Tea Store, purveyors of bulk tea and snackage from the UK. One of the teas I ordered was 4 oz of blackcurrant 'naturally flavored' loose leaf black tea, to see how it stacked up to my custom currant-y blend from Adagio Teas. I love the custom blend, but Adagio botched it twice in a row and their customer service leaves one wishing for the care and attention of, say, Charter or AT&T.

I also regularly order from Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company, because they own the Eastern Shore Tea Company, seller of loose leaf tea in white paper pouches with nifty labels and reusable muslin bags. I don't remember where Eastern Shore and I first met, but after a long dry spell, they turned up again sporadically in the shop at the Missouri Botanical Garden, tucked behind items on random shelves like they'd been stocked by someone who's never worked proper retail before little surprises. Though it's been a few years since I had their blackcurrant tea, named Black Raven in honor of Poe, I purchased a pound because I remembered it fondly.

In the Bag:
- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant contains blue and yellow petals--cornflower and sunflower, probably, since they're popular fillers these days. (I guess hibiscus has been retired.) The petals aren't in the sample photo and the ingredients only list black tea and 'natural flavor' (i.e. flavoring sprayed on the tea leaves), so either the site is outdated or you only get uncut tea in larger amounts.

The bag smells like perfume with a whiff of berry behind it, and the reviewers describe it as 'smooth and fruity', much like you'd expect from people who've never tasted blackcurrant-flavored anything before. Put the two together and it doesn't bode well.

- Eastern Shore Tea Co.'s blackcurrant is just flavor-spritzed tea with no petals or mystery bits, so it's already a step ahead. It smells like malty black tea and Ribena. Taste buds puckered, I had a brief flashback and wondered what markfinnMark's up to these days. Good signs!

The Steepening:
Plain cold tap water boiled in the electric kettle and a little hot tap water in the pots to swish off any dust from the tea--a general hazard of dried plant matter rubbing against itself in packaging. Each tea steeped long enough for me to put on coffee for the non-tea drinkers, and each poured mug was sniffed and sipped hot before cream and sugar, for thorough comparisons.

- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant is ridiculously floral, almost like a berry chamomile, with a strange oily mouthfeel. Maybe the base tea is too bright--it's all perfume and no fruit, especially as it cools down. The effect is less a nice blackcurrant tea than it is sipping regular tea out of your great-grandmother's powdered cleavage.

- Eastern Shore's blackcurrant is already gone. I finished the cup before I could write anything down. Dark, malty and tart and perfect for cold mornings and long novels.

The Verdict:
Oh, Black Raven, I'll never let you go again.

Meanwhile, a quick trip to Google [turned up a now-defunct link that] confirms that it's not me: the English Tea Store's blackcurrant tea is all wrong. Not just cornflower and sunflower petals, but blackberry (not blackcurrant!) leaves, which are the special ingredient that gives Celestial Seasoning teas its gritty "How do you fuck up herbal?" astringency, and mallow flowers, which Google proclaims floral and earthy, and which is on the list of ragweed relatives (along with chamomile) for allergy sufferers to avoid--which explains why I had to suck down ibuprofen and sinus meds after breakfast.

And, again, none of these are listed as ingredients on the packaging or the website, but now I've got an inkling why their Earl Grey left me sick as a dog...

Update: The now-defunct link was to a blogger who had requested a full list of ingredients for the tea. The blog's MIA, but the English Tea Store itself now lists ingredients, so that's good.
mokie: A girl in a bathtub wearing a snorkel (hair)
'OM-bray' is Spanish for 'man' (hombre), from the Latin root hominem, and has nothing to do with hair.

'Om-brr' is French for 'shade' or 'shadow' (ombre), from the Latin root umbra (which also gives us the color umber), and is used to describe a hair coloring effect featuring gradation in shades--usually dark roots with lightened tips as if a dye job is growing out, but sometimes a dip-dye of less natural colors.

'Om-brah', spelled ombré, is not a real word, and people should stop using it.

Update: Okay, I'm wrong, it is a real word (French for 'shaded') and not just people slapping an accent mark onto a word because they think French words all have those. Though the French term for hair is used in plural (les cheveux), so wouldn't the adjective also be used in plural (ombrée?), and unless I'm mistaken (again) still not pronounced 'OM-bray' or 'om-brah'? Oh, but it doesn't matter--all of this is entirely irrelevant, because Google suggests that the actual term used in French for this trend is, in fact, shit thee not, not cheveux ombré(e) but simply ombré hair.

It's a bit like finding out that chop suey is an entirely American dish, and Chinese restaurants are just humoring us.

We never learn.

Sunday, 22 July 2012 08:10 am
mokie: Notebook paper with a message, "Abort mission, destroy phone" (media mistrusting)
A couple of quotes from Charlie Brooker's Newswipe seem particularly relevant right now.

First, the host: "Repeatedly showing us a killer's face isn't news, it's just rubbernecking, and what's more, this sort of coverage only serves to turn this murdering little twat into a sort of nihilistic pin-up boy."

And I agree.

Second, from the same, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz:
We've had 20 years of mass murderers, throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, 'If you don't want to propagate more mass murders, don't start the story with sirens blaring. Don't have photographs of the killer. Don't make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero.

Do localize this story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market, because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week. (Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, 25 March 2009)

Update: The experts may expect to see one or two more attacks within a week, but I think we all underestimate how many plain old-fashioned assholes will pop out of the woodwork.

[Related posts: We never learn. / Let's play Armchair Profilers!]
mokie: A screaming child holding a headless teddy bear (cranky)
I'm currently stuck in a horrible depression loop.

I'm pretty sure I know why--the two week heat wave killed my appetite, my sinuses and my sleep schedule, so I'm sniffly despite three kinds of medication, sleep-deprived but not sleepy thanks to the decongestant, and hungry but not feeling it thanks to the phlegm. And then being hot, hungry, sleepy and sneezy all conspired to kill my attention span just as a big job came in, so I'm feeling all of that and frustrated and stupid and worthless.

Fortunately it's the kind of depression that manifests not as woe! woe is me! or I'm not worthy of hygiene!, but as a seething rage that pops up randomly against random people for no good reason. Actor on TV who cannot act, I will kill you with my mind! kinds of rage, pointless and brutal but quickly passing, thanks to that short attention span.

So that's fun.

I'm not sure if I should grab my camera and go hide for a while, or consume vast amounts of coffee and hammer this job until it submits.

Update: And the random brown-out just now answered my question. Camera it is!

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mokie: Earthrise seen from the moon (Default)
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