Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Journal of My Journal

The various physical volumes of my journal
(or at least the ones I have tracked down)
If the word journal were to be defined were defined based on my practice, the definition would be “a work of memoir for personal use characterized by suddenly breaking off in the midst of a notebook and then starting a new one.” I’ve used several notebooks for my journals, most of them end in blank pages.

I have used (at least) fifteen notebooks.[1] I started at fifteen and filled out (end-to-end) four composition books. I started a fifth, but I do know that I stopped making entries in it (at the moment, I am reasonably certain that this one is lost). That fifth volume, which had plenty of empty pages, was a harbinger for what was to come.[2]

I eventually started a sixth volume (and in the first entry, wrote about the lost three-and-a-half volumes). It’s a small volume, and I wrote on every page. By that point, I had been (intermittently) keeping a journal for a decade, and I had filled out five of the six volumes.

The next volume covers exactly nine sheets of paper. I didn’t like the paper. Clearly. Finally, I stuck a Post-It Note on the last page to show me where to pick up again. Then I bought a new notebook and used just three sheets. Oh, I must have really hated that one.

The ninth volume starts off with a comment on how much I love the paper. Yeah, that lasted for ninety-pages when I stopped writing in it. At that point, I abandoned paper journaling for a while and created one in HyperCard. Given that HyperCard saw its last update in 1998, you might not have heard of it. Maybe you could look it up on Wikipedia.[3]

I am not sure why I wrote my journal in HyperCard as opposed to a stack of text files in a folder or something. The single HyperCard stack (HyperCard files were called “stacks,” and they consisted of a variety of “pages”) did have the advantage of everything in one place, new entries were easily dated (I created a script that inserted the date when I created a new entry[4]), I was able to password protect the whole thing, and it was faster too. In other words, in 1990, I created a little electronic journal program in HyperCard.[5]

One of the downsides was that I could only work on my journal while sitting in front of my Macintosh SE/30. Not a very portable device. Despite its limitations, I used the HyperCard journal from 1990 to 2008. Not too shabby: eighteen years of sporadic journal writing in a single format, when I had kept a (also occasionally sporadic) journal for fourteen years prior to that. HyperCard went from computer to computer. As the application hadn’t been updated in a decade, it was showing its age.

Plus, even before I abandoned it completely, there were still moments of going back to paper. I have a few entries in one notebook from 1994 and and a few in a notebook from 1998, just a few pages each. I started a third in 2001, and when went to Italy, that supplanted the journal on my Mac. This twelfth volume (not counting a not counting a hard drive as volume[6]) got filled end-to-end.

I continued this with the thirteenth volume. Perhaps it was because both of these blank books were gifts. It wasn’t just my own money I was wasting, it was the generosity of a friend. I was obligated to fill out those pages. If that’s the case, then I made a tragic mistake in buying a beautiful leather-bound book in Italy, but that ends with just a few more than half the pages filled in.

Not bad!
And that’s when I went back to the computer. By this time, HyperCard was now inoperable. That tragic day when you upgrade your operating systems and a cherished piece of antique software no longer functions.

Earlier, I said that my my practice had been that the journal was for me and me alone, but in 2005 lots of people I knew were blogging on LiveJournal and it seemed like the thing to do. Sure, I couldn’t put things in there I didn’t want to share with other people, but it was an interesting experiment while it lasted.

In the end, I wanted to go back to things that were just for me, but I knew that I had done better when I was on something electronic (the HyperCard stack or the LiveJournal pages) than with scribbling in a notebook.

Let me be clear, I love the romance of taking a beautiful blank book, uncapping a fountain pen, and writing in my journal. I still look longingly at blank books when I see particularly nice ones available. I do ink fountain pens and write with them. I have not been all that interested in writing my journal with a stylus on a tablet. As I’ve gone though and transcribed old journal entries (an ongoing project) I’ve occasionally thought, “what did I write here?” Sometimes that has gone unanswered.[7] When it comes down to it, while the thought of lying in bed writing out your thoughts of the day sounds great, it’s actually a bit of a pain to write in bed.

Back to the laptop, so the obvious thing was to find if there was a Mac app for keeping a journal, and there was.

I wanted to like MacJournal, but I don’t. It just never sat with me. Sorry. Well, not really. I used it anyway, and when it came out for the iPad, I convinced myself that it would et me to write a journal on a more regular basis. Well, it’s a lovely sentiment, at least. Between March 2010 and September 2013, I have a total of 85 entries. Admittedly, in the past I’ve written journal entries that are nothing but a note that it’s been a month since my last journal entry.

In 2011, for reasons that totally escape me, I used a few pages of a Molskine notebook which had been resident in my camera bag for years to write out a few journal entries. No idea why.

Which brings us to the most successful iteration of the journal. After that, I downloaded DayOne, getting the iOS version on July 11, 2013 (I think Apple gave it away[8]) and then the desktop version on October 23. I won’t pretend it’s magic: it doesn’t make you write out an entry. It has made it easier. Instead of sporadic entries, I’m writing almost every day.[9]

I’ve been keeping a journal for forty-one years. Mostly sporadically. I’m delighted that I’ve found something that actually works for me. If you keep a journal, best of luck with it!

  1. Just writing these words makes me suspect I’ll stumble upon a forgotten volume. [After writing this, I found my journal for my trip to Italy in 2000, and had to revise the word thirteen to fourteen. After taking the pic and actually counting, I realized I had left one aside. Fifteen.]
  2. I have the vague memory that at one point I thought the fourth one was lost and that I had first three and the fifth. Or something. That said, I have a journal entry from 1992 in which I list it as the missing volume.
  3. I did, to remind myself of some of the particulars.
  4. To dig down into it, I attached the script to a button, so I created new entries by hitting a button.
  5. I also created a cataloging system for my books in a different stack. I really should have gone on further from using HyperTalk, the programming language for HyperCard. Too late now.
  6. Even though it is a volume.
  7. Not that my typed journals are free of typos. [Note: in typing this, I hit the D key by mistake and wrote “typods.” Are “typods” typos made on iPads? As I said.]
  8. Thanks, Apple!
  9. Looking at the calendar view, I see October 2015 has only two entries. Thinking about it, that was the month I wanted to see if I could write four short stories. I managed it, but I did little else. Had I written entries they would have been “I worked all day on [name of story].”  ↩

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Moving to iCloud Photos and What I Learned

One of my earliest digital photos, circa 1994
(And What I Wish I Had Known Beforehand)
I recently made the jump to iCloud Photos. It was a very slow jump, in that I am several days into this jump with many more to come until my photographic feet are on solid ground again. Some of the things that I did in preparing for this jump may have prolonged it. Mistakes were made. Nothing serious, just irritating.

Had I known certain things, the whole process would have been smoother. In my reading beforehand, I didn’t find anything that would have let me know these things, so I’m committing them to my blog, because maybe someone will stumble on them.

Okay, that'll take a while (this is from day four)
Going to iCloud Photos meant syncing photos from three places: two iOS devices and on Mac. My photos are in several other places, as the Photos for MacOS is backed up to my TimeMachine drive. As photos are added to Photos, I also store them on another external drive. I started doing this before Apple released iPhoto, and I’ve never found a reason to stop doing it. My oldest digital photo dates back to 1999, a few years before iPhoto. Over the last twenty years, I’ve accumulated a lot of photos (at ever-increasing resolution), scans of photos, and so forth. What I’m saying here is that my Photos database is pretty big.

Nevertheless, because it was (and will continue to be) the repository for all my photos, I decided that it would be the first set of photos that I would send to iCloud. That was a mistake.

It was also an easy mistake. I upped my iCloud storage to the appropriate amount (lots) and then set Photos preferences to use iCloud Photos. That was the easy part. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the place to start.

As I said, it’s got everything. Well over 100,00 items. These range in size from a 750 MB video to those early digital photos at less than 50 kB each. This means, of course, that the per-item countdown I’m getting isn’t completely helpful, since uploading that video or one of those tiny pics would knock an item off the list, but they’re not going to take the same amount of time. Progress seems to be newest to oldest, so I’m anticipating that things will speed up as I get to smaller files.

The two iOS devices held a subset, all of which are also on the Mac, with some seventeen thousand items on my iPhone and six thousand on my iPad. Once I had the Mac uploading the massive number of items to iCloud, I set to work on the iOS devices and tried to switch on iCloud Photos. It warned me that my albums synced from iTunes would be deleted. I agreed and I promptly got the message that iCloud Photos couldn’t be turned on.

What follows is a mistake. I looked this up on the web and I didn’t find much. The best answer I had was to sign out of iCloud and sign back in again. That didn’t work. Nor did restarting the machine. I decided that the problem could be the photos already on the iPad, so I methodically exported backups (even though these photos were backed up) and then deleted them. I tried again. It still didn’t work.

Well, if it wasn’t the photos… I cancelled the deletion of slightly more than 6,000 photos and synced the iPad to my computer checking the setting to stop syncing albums from Photos. One of the things that had lead me to iCloud Photos was the inconsistent behavior of albums synced through iTunes, which would typically vanish from my iPad sometime between when I had verified that they were there and when I wanted to show them to someone.

Once the synced albums were off, I started iCloud Photos again. Success! But also something of a mistake. Then I did the same thing to my iPhone. I compounded the mistake. This is a lesser mistake, since getting rid of the synced albums was a good thing. My sequence was off.

At this point, things were slowly beginning to make sense. I was beginning to see see the error of my ways. The iPad took a couple of days to finish uploading, after which it began downloading (which it’s still at). There are still black bars where I deleted photos which are now being re-dowloaded. Because I sent things to be deleted, I’ve been making a daily round of the Recently Deleted album to make sure that none of my photos end up there.

It also became clear that every device was uploading things in reverse chronological order (either by file date or import date). Time creeps backwards. For the Mac, it was clear that anything new would wait until the end, while the iOS devices and iCloud did share their new content. There’s probably no way around that, but the process might have gone smoother if I hadn’t had three devices uploading at the same time (as I write this, I’m anticipating another two days for the iPhone, after which the Mac is on its own for uploads, apart from now photos).

This Is How I Would Do It
If Apple’s TimeMachine really could turn back time and I could take my current knowledge back to when I began, I would do this (so maybe you, gentle reader, can profit from my adventures):

An important step: The first clean-up step would be to remove the albums synced with iTunes. Since if everything goes right, they vanish anyway, it’s no loss to speed them on their way.

Then I would sync the device with the least number of photos and videos first. (In my case, that would be my iPad.) Move from there to the next item, only as a final step send the remainder of your photo library to iCloud.

Had I done that, at this point, I’d have all the same photos on my iPad (less the albums shared from iTunes, though they’d get there eventually) and it would be adding photos from my iPhone (which is most certainly is doing).

This is all working. I’m going to get there (and I’ll probably make another blog post about it). With just a bit more knowledge, I probably could have got there more quickly and easily. I think I’m going to like iCloud Photos, but there will be a delay getting there and that delay is partly my fault.

Wish me luck.
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Friday, March 29, 2019

Social Media Incantations

This is what bullshit looks like
You’ve probably seen these posts. The ones that claim that if you copy and paste them, it will change what the Facebook algorithm feeds you (it won’t). The one that claims that everything on Facebook becomes public tomorrow (it won’t). The second one never actually specifies what day “tomorrow” refers to, but that only heightens the urgency, right? Unless you’ve seen it multiple times over an extended period and tomorrow never comes.

Some of them sound legal. There’s one the cites the UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) and the Rome Statute, both of which sound really serious. The only problem is, as lawyers are happy to point out,
the UCC is a model code and is not law. Where the UCC has been adopted, it only applies to commercial transactions, not intellectual property.[1]
The stuff you’ve posted on Facebook: pictures, comments, and such are all intellectual property. Some of it might even be yours. That meme you copied? Not your intellectual property. There is a piece of text that floats around the Internet which inaccurately implies that stuff found on the Internet is public domain, while the stuff the person who posted the notice also posted is most definitely not public domain. Posting something on the Internet doesn’t alter its copyright status.

The Rome Statute part is even more interesting.[2] It’s the international statute (to which the United States is not signatory) which sets up the International Criminal Court. I really wanted the ICC to be the court that dealt with dashing jewel thieves who smuggle diamonds from Paris to New York while impeccably dressed. No such luck. The ICC is the court that deals with war crimes, genocide, and things like that. No matter how badly you think of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, you probably don’t think them guilty of genocide.

If your lawyer really told you do to this, find a better lawyer.
So what’s it doing in a much-shared post? It makes it sound legal. Same thing the reference to the UCC does. Or the posts that begin “under the advice of legal counsel” and go on to proclaim that the poster is a “free citizen of the world.” The concept of sovereign citizens has some pretty ugly roots in white supremacy. The people who coined the term felt that the only “free citizens” were free white citizens. Ouch.

Why is these things so attractive to people, given that they have no actual legal standing and that there are some associations that at best seem to be conspiracy theorists? I have a thought on that.

I am not a lawyer (IANAL) but I do have some training in Medieval Studies (IAAM).[3] I have seen legal mumbo-jumbo before. These posts aren’t intended to be legal. They’re incantations.

The Internet has become a scary place, in part due to Facebook.[4] The online world probably would be scary without hoaxes, fake news, reports of Russian manipulation, fake accounts, and so on. Then there are the moral panics, where someone is happy to report that social media will degrade your intellect and made you a worse person (typically without any data to support such a thesis), which fall in nicely with previous moral panics such as novels[5] or reading newspapers.[6]

What can you do about it? How do you deal with the terrors of the Internet.

You can recite an incantation. Because if these don’t have legal force, but they have emotional force (and why else would people share them?) they’re in the category of the superstitions people do to ward off harm (which is exactly what they hope these posts will do). Are they effective at warding off harm? Probably as effective as throwing spilled salt over your left shoulder. Also saying “bless you” after someone sneezes has no clinical efficacy in preventing colds. Or warding off evil. But you do it, don’t you?

These social media posts, with their meaningless language, are our contemporary version of some medieval charm. They sound good, although they have no actual power to ward off malign influences. If you’re bitten by a snake, you need modern medical attention, not the poultice of herbs in the Nine Herbs Charm (which tells you to recite the charm three times over each ingredient, and then in four places on the victim).

Medieval charms were chanted repeatedly, just like a social media post that gets shared again and again. Like a medieval charm, they don’t actually become more powerful by repetition. They never had any power at all.

The next time you see that a friend has posted something that tells you to copy it to your own timeline in order to ward off some dreadful aspect of social media (Facebook billing you, or showing you only twenty-six friends[7], or taking possession of your photos[8]), cross your fingers, knock on wood, close your umbrella before you go inside, but don’t copy that post. Please. Even if someone said that someone else’s lawyer said that you should.[9]

  1. Protecting Your Legal Rights on Facebook, retrieved 5 February 2019. If that’s not enough, here’s a post by a lawyer whose work is on copyright, trademark, publicity right, and media law.
  2. Well, at least to me.
  3. I Am A Medievalist.
  4. Yeah, thanks a lot, Facebook.
  5. The novel was guaranteed to be injurious to the mind, particularly the minds of young women. Clearly your high school English teacher did not have your best interests at heart, but we are talking about someone whose brain had been disturbed by years of reading novels.
  6. The death of conversation.
  7. We don’t know the specifics of the Facebook algorithm, but we know it rates posts as to how sticky you’ll find them. If you interact with a lot of memes and wonder why you never see the posts where friends tell what going on in their lives, it’s because Facebook can tell that you like and share memes and scroll past your friends. It’s watching you, which kinda does make you want to ward off evil.
  8. A violation of copyright, though if Facebook tried to monetize your work (instead of just you), you’d probably have a hard time getting damages.  ↩
  9. I mean, free legal advice from a lawyer who didn’t put their name to it?  ↩

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

How Did Italian Food Conquer the World?

Doesn't that just make you think of Bavaria?
I’m not disputing the title of John F. Mariani’s How Italian Food Conquered the World, since like Mariani, I’ve seen Italian restaurants all over the world, with some particular hot spots. In a recent trip to Kolkata, India, I noticed there were several Italian restaurants. Even though some were recommended by the locals, I did not eat in them.[1]

Nor did I eat in Italian restaurants in Japan. Japanese restaurants typically display photos or models of the food. In a land where there’s a cuisine built around the artful arrangement of food (kaiseki), Italian food gets presented as something you might refuse to eat on a dare. Even the worst red sauce joint might look at it and say, “did you just hurl it on the plate?”[2]

Then there was the trip to a town in Germany where it seemed that Italian restaurants outnumbered the German ones (and if you got tired of wurst and sauerkraut, well, there was Italian), including one where Germans sang Italian songs while waiters served Italian dishes. Many of these Italian restaurants are staffed by Italians. To make it clear: I am not disputing Mariani’s contention, just wondering if he’s made his case.

A small error of geography.
His book gets off to a shaky start, since on pages 7 and 10, I found two errors of fact. First tells us that vomitoria were rooms were Romans would force themselves to vomit so they could go back to eating; these tales of bulimia in antiquity are fantasies based on a fourth-century word for “stadium exit.”

Nor is it the case that Vasco da Gama visited Calcutta (or Kolkata, founded 1690) in 1498. How could he? He sailed to Calikat (modern Kozhikokde). Kolkata is Northwest India, Kozhikode in Southwest India, and they’re only separated by about a thousand miles, so just a small sloppy mistake, likes those plates of pasta in Japan.

Another of Mariani’s problems is that as a food and travel writer for Esquire, his real expertise is in destination restaurants, not food history. Does he make the case that Italian fine dining is how Italian food conquered the world? No. Does he know a lot about Italian fine dining. Yes. Does he name drop like a status-hungry socialite? Absolutlely.

Take these two sentences from the end of a paragraph:
Living above the restaurant until she died at the age of 97, Bice was known for her egalitarian approach to her guests, rich or not, famous or from nowhere, and she got along with everyone. Once when Sophia Loren entered the room, everyone applauded.
Can we assume that those who were neither wealthy nor famous (like humble and obscure Sophia Loren) were applauded when they walked into Bice? The next paragraph tells that restaurant was always packed when the designers showed off their collections in Milan. On this one page, Mariani finds room to reference Gina Lollabrigida, Ingrid Berman, Franco Zeffirelli, Gianni Versace, before he gets to Sophia Loren, and the fashion houses Burberry and Gucci.

Was it through Italian food nudging French food aside as fashionable dining that Italian food conquered the world? Given that those restaurants in Japan and India and some in Germany were the more humble sort (red sauce joints, really), it’s tough to say that the success of the Bice Group (from that one restaurant in Milan to locations around the world) was conquest for anything other than one company specializing in upscale dining.

Not wholly trustworthy.
It’s not long after this that in his discussion of upscale dining that Mariani simply asserts that by this point Italian food had conquered the world, without any evidence of this sudden capitulation. When did that happen and how?

Although it’s a bit of a non-sequitur in his telling (though undoubtably important in how Italian food conquered the world), Mariani has a good chapter early in the book on the rise of the Mafia-themed pizza parlor, part of a broader context of Italian food wrapped in ethnic stereotypes and slurs, with sniggering suggestions that Italian-Americans can’t really master English and they all have connections to organized crime. Long after Italian immigrants stopped serving up low-grade Italian-American food, it’s been adopted by corporate restaurant concepts.

In a way, it’s not far from the upscale dining, often just a different sort of restaurant packaging. Mariani doesn’t cover how Italian restaurants on every level aren’t family trattorias, but packaged by corporations (from Bice and Il Fornaio with roots in Italy to Buca da Beppo founded in the Midwest and owned by Planet Hollywood). That Italian food can be readily marketed on a global scale is part of this story. (The only type of food more relentlessly churned out by corporate America is, of course, the burger joint, though that’s only one segment of dining, while Italian restaurants can be found in several.[3] The number Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Germany indicate that the next level down is open for conquest.[4])

In Mariani’s telling, Italian food had yet to conquer the world when any supermarket in the United States already had extensive quantities of Italian food in their aisles. Again, this is Mariani focusing on the sort of dining he writes about in Esquire and completely failing to look supermarket shelves which have been home to Italian foods for decades. Ragú, now owned by a Japanese company, was founded in New York in 1937. I grew up with ads that told Massachusetts residents that “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day.”[5] Mariani doesn’t mention how the Italian food on supermarket shelves is increasingly the product of global food conglomerates. Maximizing the profits of companies with no connection to Italy or people of Italian descent is part of that story. When someone in the Midwest pours a jar of sauce from a company headquartered in Japan on pasta from a company headquartered in Spain and tells themself that they’re eating Italian, Italian food has conquered the world (without any actual involvement by Italians).

At turns inaccurate, gossipy, and too focused on Mariani’s experience going to nice restaurants for Esquire, How Italian Food Conquered the World never actually answers how. Yet, Italian food really did conquer the world. Great title. The book, not so.

  1. I ate Indian food in India, mostly Bengali food, since I was in West Bengal. I didn’t actually trust the Bengali cooks to turn out Italian food I wanted to eat. Besides, there was so much good, authentic Indian food to have.  ↩
  2. Again, why eat ugly, poorly-made Italian when there was so much good local food to eat? Eating in Japan was an experience of almost no two restaurants alike (I had sushi more than once), since there’s such specialization in Japanese food. There was no overlap between the place the served only eel, the place served only crab, and the place that served only fugu. That’s a different blog post.  ↩
  3. Throwing this in a footnote. Burger and pizza: fast food. Pasta places are typically family dining. Things slide from there to casual dining to fine dining. These are best typified by the beverage choices: no wine, house red or house Chianti (glasses and carafes only), a wine list, an expensive wine list.  ↩
  4. As much as I like their Bavarian cream donuts, I just don’t see myself having one in Bavaria.  ↩
  5. Founded on Prince St. in Boston in 1912 (just blocks from the site of the 1919 molasses flood). It is now owned by the US subsidiary of a Spanish corporation.  ↩

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

My First Encounter with Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison has died after a life of many contributions to literature. If there is an afterlife, he’s probably threatening to sue God. Or mailing off dead weasels to angels.

I met Ellison only twice, both times at World Science Fiction conventions. The first time, if memory serves, was in 1986 at Confederation in Atalanta, Georgia. It was my first Worldcon and I was still amazed that I was sharing the same air as the names that graced the books that I had been reading for years.

Ellison was chatting with a group of fans. He was easy to pick out, since he was the only one in the group who was under 5’10”. I plucked up my courage, walked over, and hung at the edge of group, unnoticed.

There was a break, and I said, “excuse me, Mr. Ellison.” He looked back and upward a bit, to that space whence the voices of fans typically came. Then he did a double-take as he realized his interlocutor was at his own height, if not a little shorter even. (Okay, okay, yes, a little shorter.)

I told him what a pleasure it was to meet him and how I had enjoyed his work. He thanked me, briefly turned back to the other people, and then back to me again. “Do you get the short shit too?”
“All the time.”

“This is what you do,” he said putting an arm over my shoulder. “You say, ‘my height is genetic; it is completely beyond my control. You could do something about being an asshole.’”

Sadly, I only met Harlan Ellison one other time after that. Still, when people make comment on my height (yeah, that happens), I think about what Harlan Ellison said.
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Friday, May 18, 2018

Who the Fuck Says “Hebrews” in 2018?

Who the fuck says "Hebrews"?
Tip: Don't.
There’s a meme going around Facebook which attempts to promote a viewpoint about Israel. I won’t share it here, because memes take complex issues and reduce them to their most stupid and reductive elements. Although I don’t think anyone should be sharing it,[1] I do think it should be unpacked.

The meme shows a Native American man, dressed in traditional garb while riding a horse. The text says, “So you’re telling me…” and continues “You believe Hebrews are entitled to the land of Israel because their ancestors once lived there?”

It’s simple. It’s clear. It’s also wrong.

Let’s start with the guy on the horse. The image reduces the Native American to a caricature. He’s the Noble Savage fighting against the cowboys in the Western Expansion. Specifically, he’s the actor Rodney Grant in a scene from Dances with Wolves. In the image, he’s in character as a Sioux during the Civil War. He’s not indicative of the lives of modern Native Americans. When Mr. Grant is not acting the role of a nineteenth-century Native American, he doesn’t dress like that. There are plenty of pictures of him in a tux or in t-shirt and jeans, and even a picture of him wearing a shirt patterned with images of Elvis.

On the other hand, a Native American dressed up for a job in biotech or computer programming might not have quite the same impact on its intended audience of white liberals who might be convinced to be unsympathetic to Israel.[2]

Then there’s the text. “Hebrews?” Who the fuck says “Hebrews” today? It used to be a commonly used term, but those days have passed. The Union for Reform Judaism was named the Union of American Hebrew Congregations from is founding in 1873 to 2006. According to Google Ngram Viewer, the term “Hebrews” had its biggest use between 1910 and 1930, while “Hebrew” had its biggest use between about 1935 and 1945. Both terms are used far less than “Jews” for any period. So then why use it?

It mucks things up if you call them, not Hebrews, not Jews, but Israelis. After all, many Jews no intention of taking up residence in Israel.[3] So it becomes the standard question: does Israel have a right to exist. Well, no more (or less) than any other nation. But we never seem to question it about France. Or England. Should the Welsh be agitating to take back their island?[4]

If we’re not giving the throne of Britain to a descendent of Owain Glyndŵr, then why would we ignore all the history of Israel that doesn’t fit tidily into that meme? Unlike Britain or the United States, Israel didn’t come about through the conquest an indigenous population by foreign invaders.

I don’t want to deny that people were violently displaced from their homes. That happened. On both sides. This becomes part of the complex history that can only be dumbed down in a meme.[5] Maybe, just maybe, Israel’s legitimacy comes from decades of treaties and international resolutions, and not only because in the wake what is likely the largest genocide in history[6] it seemed appropriate to establish a Jewish homeland, something the Zionist movement had been trying since about 1896. But that’s hard to put into a meme.

When I posed the question with which I’ve titled this post, a friend of a friend (who had posted the meme) had an answer. I can’t verify her answer, but it is tempting. Who the fuck says “Hebrews” in 2018? Anti-Semites.

Instead of looking at memes on Facebook, read this. It’s a balanced look at the issues on both sides.

  1. Although some of my friends and relatives have.  ↩

  2. Which is to say, if you’re white and posting this, you might want to check if you property was once in lands claimed by a Native American tribe. I’ll wait until you figure out your back payments.  ↩

  3. Wht? Nd hv t lrn Hbrw? Ths ppl r n nd f vwls.  ↩

  4. It’s only been about 1,570 years.  ↩

  5. Memes are cancer. Memes make you stupid. Memes are the irritating inspirational poster in the office of that asshole boss you hated. “Work smarter, not harder,” reminding you that you just cancelled your plans because you have to work late and clean up a mess of your boss’s making.  ↩

  6. The Holomodor in Ukraine may have killed more Ukrainians than Jews died in the Holocaust, though the total death toll of the Holocaust is larger.  ↩

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Going for Gougères

My gougères
I run the risk of this being one of those precious bits of food writing when I say that I first had gougères while doing wine tasting in Bordeaux. I’ll take the risk. It might sound less hoity-toity if I mention that we signed up for the tour at the tourist office and that we travelled about by minivan. (And given the cost of the tour, those were some terribly expensive glasses of wine.)

At one of the chateaux, the woman who showed us around the property (which was lovely) and led the wine tasting, said, “oh, look, the chef has made gougères for us.” The words were meant to indicate surprise and delight, though the way she said them made it clear that she said them about eight times a day. They smelled good, though. Instead of getting to the gougères and the wine, we got a tour first.

The French ones. Nicely piped,
but a little flat.
We had them between our first and last tasting. Yeah, they were yummy, but I was already analyzing them. They were cold, since they were already there when we arrived and we walked about for about a half hour before we even drank any wine. They were a little tough. One was slightly deflated. Everyone was enthusiastic about them. I munched on mine and thought, “someone makes these better.”

As we walked back to the minivan, my husband expressed surprise about them. “Oh, you can have those any time you want,” I said. “They’re just choux pastry with cheese.” Yup, gougères are cheezy choux pastry, and pâte à choux is easy.

I learned how to make it years ago. We took a cooking course and the dessert was profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream. Profiteroles are easy. I prefer the term “cream puff,” since instead of ice cream, I fill mine with pastry cream (which is also easy). While I’ve been aware that you can fill profiteroles with all sorts of things, I’ve stuck to filling them with pastry cream and dipping them into chocolate.[1]

Recently, I was making a French-themed meal and decided that gougères were showing up in the menu. I checked a few recipes for choux pastry, two from Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Way to Cook), one from Françoise Bernard (La Cuisine) and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Both Child and Bernard noted that gougères were made by adding cheese, though in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child adds pepper and nutmeg. That allowed me to get my basic recipe:


1 cup water
6 Tbs butter (¾ of a stick), cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
dash of nutmeg
1 cup flour
4 eggs
about 5 oz. shredded cheese, preferably Gruyere or similar[2]

Preheat the oven to 425°
Put the water, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg into a saucepan. Bring the ingredients to a boil. Once it is at a boil, turn off the heat, and pour in all the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden or plastic spoon until everything is combined. Continue until it is a thick paste that pulls away from the sides of the pan (this should take a couple of minutes).

Put the pan back on heat. Cook, stirring, until a film appears on the pan. (This takes another couple of minutes.)

Let cool for (you guessed it) a couple minutes then beat in the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one before you add the next. (This can be done by hand, or you can use a mixer.)[3]

[At this point, other than the pepper and nutmeg, you have pâte à choux, which you could fill with something sweet or savory.]

Add the cheese. It will not incorporate into a smooth batter, but will be somewhat lumpy.

Using a pair of tablespoons, form the batter into balls on a baking sheet or parchment. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool (but not too much, these things are heavenly hot from the oven).

Just a note, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child says these will cook in fifteen minutes. I took her at her word and my gougères deflated on cooling. People ate them anyway, but I gave the next batch another five minutes and they retained their shape as they cooled. And people ate them just as avidly.

These can be piped out (the ones in France clearly were), but that starts to transfer this from a quick and easy recipe to one that has you scrubbing cheese off a piping bag. I own piping bags but I’m happy not to use them.

These are going to become a standard at my house.

  1. I’ve read that as a savory appetizer, you can fill them with chicken liver paste, that is mousse de foie de volaille. That’s easy too, but I haven’t thought they’d go over well at parties.  ↩

  2. I’ve seen variation on this from 4 oz. to 6 oz. How cheesy do you want them?  ↩

  3. You can double this. Then you’ll really want to use a mixer.  ↩

You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook. If you like this post, share it with your friends. If you have a comment just for me, e-mail me at impofthediverse@gmail.com.
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