Why You Might Not Have a Choice

Hey, I’ve got some questions for you.

Do you have a driver’s license? Yes?

Okay. Do you normally stop at red lights?

Do you wear your seatbelt?

Are you a smoker? No?

Would you get upset if someone lit up a cigarette inside a public building?

If you do run red lights on a regular basis, or – being a smoker – ignore the signs and walk around your local mall puffing away?

You don’t?

Why not?

Because these are public health issues and you accept that the government had not merely a legal right but a DUTY to protect people from obvious dangers. You know it would be irresponsible to do those things, that it would be dangerous to you, your children, your community, to allow others to do those things.

If you keep on refusing to protect yourself, your family, your community, the government might just have to “restrict your freedoms” in the interest of making sure your toddler tantrum doesn’t kill other people.

Shut up and get your vaccination.

Café Society

Lately, I’ve seen a definite trend on Twitter and elsewhere, extolling the idea (and attendant, buyable merchandise) for making “café-style” drinks at home.

They usually focus on how much you’ll save by making your own lattes and cappuccinos, and while the entry-price is steep, it is undeniable that those daily plunk-downs of $5 at Starbucks mount up pretty quick – so I cannot dispute these claims.

But I think that in so many ways, the entire idea misses the most salient points about coffee houses.

First of all, the chains are frequented in the early a. m. by people whose lives are not going to accommodate getting up 20 minutes early to make their own delicious mochaccinos.

I’m serious: no one who uses the Timmie’s drive-thru or whips into the Starbucks across from the office is unaware that the coffee is overpriced, and that pushing the alarm back a quarter-hour and then actually getting out of bed could save them a bundle.

It doesn’t matter how gorgeous and pricey the appliances are, or how thrifty and delicious their drinks would be: they still won’t do that.

And for everyone else, it isn’t the coffee.

Heck, half my friends meet me at the local café and grab a can of soda, for Pete’s sake.

It’s not about the coffee – or at least, it is only peripherally about the coffee.

It’s about the where.

It’s about the comfy chairs, the neutrality, the socialization, the feeling of specialness and the conversation.

It’s about the conversation.

Even when you are alone…there’s are reasons why writers wind up working away at their keyboards in  coffee houses and despite what they may tell us, I suspect it isn’t the free wifi or whatever, but because of the community feel, the ambience, the sense of the past backing you up and cheering you on.

Otherwise, they could have saved more money and just gone to the public library instead. It’s very quiet, and there are tables and chairs, and all the research material you could dream of, right at your fingertips.

But they go to cafés, and that is no simple accident.

Café society, coffee houses – they have a long, although sometimes disreputable, history of fostering the arts. Of welcoming the different, the outcast, the misfits of the world.

They have been at the forefront of so many cultural and political movements that were they to utterly disappear, I suspect society would vanish immediately thereafter.

I don’t know what it is, exactly, but my friends are smarter, more articulate, and a whole lot wittier when we sit down in a real café to have a catch-up.

Their advice is more thoughtful – and I’m more open to it, in a café.

Their jokes are wilder and funnier than they are in someone’s living room. Their stories are more compelling, and we all listen better, harder, than we do at home. We give each other more space.

So stop with the “this $500 gizmo means you’ll never buy Starbucks again.”

Because that really isn’t why we go out for coffee.

La plus ca change…

At some point on Twitter, I pointed out that Boomers do bear the largest part of the current economic debacle and climate emergency we are facing, and (as might have been expected) many of my fellow-boomers began whatabouting like their very souls were in the balance.

Several respondents began trying to shift the blame onto previous generations, which, while not precisely “wrong”, seemed disingenuous, because it misses the reason we are called Boomers in the first place.

We were part of a baby boom.

The very term points out the enormous power we wielded – we formed, by the end of the 50s, that largest chunk of population, and by the end of the 60s, could have easily outvoted the rest of the electorate on pretty much any issue. That’s what “baby boom” meant.

Everything pretty much revolved around us: the entire advertising industry focused its attention on people under 30, because that’s where the $$$ were.

But someone just had to absolve themselves of all responsibility…by dumping it on their own parents.

“Please. When boomers started voting, their parents, grandparents and even some great grandparents WERE STILL VOTING. Many still have parents who vote and some grandparents. Previous generations didn’t just disappear when we started to vote.”

Yeah?

Were they still voting in the 80s?

Were your great grandparents still voting in the 90s?

I mean, by this logic, we should really just shrug our shoulders and lay the blame at Adam Smith’s door.

At some point, we have to take that collective responsibility on, and do something about the grim future we are set to bequeath our grandchildren – or, at the very least, stop blaming 40-year-olds with iPhones for the catastrophe.

Learning Curves are a myth

Germany 1933-45

destroyed  property of Jews (Kristanacht)

Stole businesses, artwork, money, homes of Jewish people

Forced Jews into ghettos, then into concentration camps

Used disease and starvation as weapons to kill millions

Systematically murdered millions of Jewish, Romany, homosexual, disabled people

Used any form of resistance as excuse to justify further destruction and murder

And the world mourned and wept when they “found out” about it.

Europeans 1492 – present day

Stole land, property, religious and ceremonial objects of indigenous people

Used disease and starvation as weapons to kill off indigenous people

Forced indigenous people onto reservations, and then set out to exterminate the people and cultures via harsh torture and abuse along with indoctrination, murdering thousands of children in the process

Kidnapped and enslaved people from various parts of Africa, worked them to death, denied their rights as human beings, later forcing them into segregated areas and preventing them from getting education, jobs, etc.

Used/uses any form of resistance to this oppression as excuse to justify actions and retaliate/destroy further.

And the world mourns and weeps when they “find out” about it.

Israel 1940s to present day

Steals land, businesses, homes from Palestinian people

Forces them into ever-shrinking areas

Straight-up shoots children, teens, parents with intent to kill

Bomb hospitals, schools in Palestinian areas, killing thousands

Uses any attempt to resist as excuse to escalate retaliatory measure, and to acquire more money from the rest of the currently silent world to fund genocide

Do you not see a fucking pattern here?

The Rocky Road to Change

There’s a weird phenomenon that sometimes occurs right before catalclysmic social change, and it isn’t what you think.

The ever-tightening grip the ruling classes have on the majority population is usually what people focus on: the kneejerk reaction of the people in power – when confronting an increasingly angry mob fighting for freedom – to double-down on the restrictive/punitive legislation to keep the mob firmly in their place and to push for even more people to be under their thumbs is what people tend to see as driving even more of a population towards rebellion.

And that’s true: as that legislation negatively affects more and more of those who were, originally, sort of okay with putting the boots to those “beneath” them, the will for change, the radicalization of those who were formerly doing all right and therefore content with the status quo, does grow.

When the numbers get to a certain point, the elite get pretty scared, and that’s where a very curious thing can happen.

In the case of the French Revolution, for example, the ancien regime agreed to some reforms that at least the more moderate factions of the rebellious population supported: “establishing a constitutional monarchy in which the king enjoyed royal veto power and the ability to appoint ministers.”

That is, the ruling class recognized, belatedly, that if they did not walk back some of the more egregious powers and allow for at least the trappings of a constitutional monarchy and a semblance of freedom for the bourgeoisie, they would face even more civilian uprisings.

It was, in hindsight, the small loosening of control that enraged the harder-line factions, and galvanized those who were essentially unaffected by this “liberalization” (because their oppression was not lessened at all) that precipitated the actual revolution.

Fast forward to 1918. There were a lot of causes of the Russian Revolution, but a similar pattern of events played out over several decades: rights were gained on paper, but the fact that people’s lives were largely unaffected (ie: In 1861, the Tsar passed the Emancipation Act, which ended serfdom, but kept people tied to the land through “labour obligations”) precipitated the actual revolution.

So we need to be aware that the road to real change doesn’t always (perhaps never) follow a logical path.

We also need to be suspicious of the bones that those in power throw us. We need to examine things closely, to make sure these are not merely cosmetic “rights”, and more importantly, that they affect positively those at the bottom rungs of the ladder at least as completely as those edging towards the top.

The bigger the bone, the more suspicious we should be.

https://www.history.com/topics/france/french-revolution

https://www.bl.uk/russian-revolution/articles/timeline-of-the-russian-revolution

The soundtrack of my life

I don’t think there are very many of us who don’t have a ton of music that has formed a kind of background to who we are.

There are so many musicians and bands that have resonated with me over the years…from the first time I heard the Beatles to the most recent Halsey recording – they all contribute to a sense of who I have been, who I am now, and where my future lies.

The list (because I’m old) is pretty long, but after that first amazing and enlightening moment of “She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)” to the last time I was comforted listening to “The Barricades of Heaven”, from my absolute enchantment with Joan Baez to my discovery of Florence and the Machine, and all the way on to the fact that the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” can still lift my spirits on even the darkest day – it all forms a kind of musical definition of my sense of myself.

And the thing is, for every one of us, our lives are like an ongoing film out of Hollywood, or Bollywood, or maybe just cinéma vérité…the way we understand and envision things has been shaped by the media we are raised on, and music is integral to all of that.

I wish, in this day of exploitative streaming services, that there was a way to thank all of these artists for what they’ve given me. Given all of us.

So maybe, if you can: pass these words along and all the musicians, and singers, and bands, famous or unknown, will understand how much we appreciate what they do.

Oh – and the recording producers and technicians, the cover artists, and coffee gophers, too. It’s all a part of something that we kind of take for granted.

This world would be a wasteland without them, though.

When you really don’t want to turn on the oven…

Another offering from my mom’s hippie kitchen, revised to be totally vegan.

Butternut Squash Black Bean Corn Stew

STUFF YOU NEED

  • 1 onion, chopped but not too fine
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped, as with the onion: you want decent sizes but not “choke-a-horse” bits
  • 1 carrot, chopped, I like wee cubes, but you do you.
  • 1 red pepper, chopped (or a green one, or yellow – whatever you have or like best)
  • 2-3+ cloves garlic, minced (In my kitchen, there is never too much garlic, so if you want more, have more)
  • 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, paprika, smoked paprika, ground cumin (Both paprikas are really important, but if you only have one kind, try not to stress. It won’t be perfect, but nothing is)
  • Some shakes of cayenne pepper to taste (optional), and you could even throw in some minced hot peppers of your choice. Some people need the heat, some don’t.
  • 4 cups butternut squash, cut into little cubes, maybe 1/2″ or a little bigger?
  • 2 cups (or thereabouts) cooked black beans (or a can or two, drained and rinsed) (You do need to rinse the beans, whether canned or home-cooked, because otherwise the liquid residue turns everything brownish/blackish and that isn’t all that appetizing)
  • 1 cup corn kernels (canned is fine, drain them first)
  • olive oil (Or whatever – it needs to be neutral or on the “fruity” side, though)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh coriander (cilantro) – some people dislike cilantro. You could maybe do some other herb: mint or basil?
  • lime (optional, but really amazing as a final “finish” – I really recommend it)

ACTUAL COOKING

  1. Heat the olive oil in a big pot and throw the onion, celery, carrot and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and all the spices.
  3. Add the butternut squash, black beans, and corn.
  4. Add the water and bring to a boil.
  5. Add the vegetable stock cube and bring the mixture down to a simmer.
  6. Cook for 35 minutes or so, stirring at least occasionally (to break up the stock cube, and in the interest of not letting things burn to the bottom of the pot) until the mixture becomes thick like a stew.
  7. Garnish with fresh coriander (cilantro) and a squeeze of lime (optional).

Also optional is a splash or so of white wine just before you add the water, and let it mostly cook off before moving on.

This goes really well with a nice, hearty bread.

Textiles, Language, and Change

This is not about “political correctness” or about slurs or gender or anything like that.

Or maybe it is…

It’s something that goes far deeper, and the roots of this lie in so distant a past that it is understandable that we don’t notice it every day.

The terms we use to describe our relationships with each other and with our world, and especially with the economy are all about textiles.

Think about these phrases:

The material world

Spinning out of control

Rags to riches

The thread of the discussion

The fabric of society

The rich tapestry of life

This is no accident, nor is it just people trying to be poetic. This is based on the simple fact that cloth (making it, using it, exchanging it): it’s been a major factor in human life for over 20,000 years.

It was used as money before we invented coinage. It figures very large in trade and exchange from the Neolithic to present-day.

And yes: the making of cloth has been heavily gendered from the beginning, although in different ways at different times in different places.

Textile production was seen as having other-worldly associations, if not downright magical in itself.

In several northern European cultures, women were spoken of as “peace-weavers”, but there was a considerable amount of poetic imagery that tied weaving to war, too.

The mythology relating to women working with textiles as a metaphor for Fate (spinning the thread of your life, measuring it out, and then cutting it off) occurs in more than one geographical location.


Textiles, and textile manufacture are literally woven into our entire way of life, whether we notice it or not, and while western  countries especially have relegated cloth and clothing to cheap, outsourced, and undervalued commodities that we take for granted, the basic and intrinsic nature of textiles still underpins our lives.

In the past, it framed a great deal of how we related to the world around us – it reflected to interconnectedness of our lives with the world around us.

It’s probably time we got back to that way of thinking.

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Manners meet magic in this tale, where curses mix with curtseys, and Charm takes on a whole new dimension . Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen fans will love this romantic fantasy, set in a Regency that never was.

Eglantine Mayland is this Season’s Reigning Toast, and seems destined to make a good marriage. When the wealthy Lord Valremer, a confirmed bachelor, begins to court her seriously, Eglantine’s cousin Polyantha senses that not all is well. Too many of his actions seem to be part of a web of evil that twines itself around the Mayland family.

And why is a well-known rogue and smuggler so interested in their plight?

To give or not to give

I got into a Twitter discussion about charity last week (why do I do this? I KNOW it will end badly) and it occurred to me that an awful lot of people are still mired in a mid-Victorian/Calvinist state of mind and that might just be the root of all our problems here in the west.

A sizable number of people who think of themselves as “good” (or “nice”, or “giving” or “Christian”) seem to feel that giving beggars money is irresponsible.

“They might spend it on drugs!”

These people often will not give the homeless money, but will trot over to the nearest Mickey D’s and order up a burger or a breakfast thing, and hand it to the object of their charity, and go off feeling like a billionaire philanthropist who just saved the world, never considering what this action really says about them.

Their excuses – that the homeless person might spend the money they give them on something the giver doesn’t think they need – are the very height of arrogance.

But the attitude reveals something deeper and darker, too.

Victorians had different classifications of the poor. There were the “undeserving poor” – the drunks, the lazy, the thriftless – and then there were the “deserving poor” – those that were perceived as being hardworking but unfortunate.

The “deserving poor” got the workhouse: the families torn apart and segregated, and then given backbreaking and frequently unhealthy work in exchange for inadequate meals and equally inadequate shelter .

The “undeserving” were left to beg and to die.

And that is what the “Don’t give them money, they’ll spend it on drugs” crowd are the direct descendants of: the self-righteous, judgemental Puritans of nineteenth century Britain and North America.

It’s not just arrogance: it’s infantilizing the poor, by deciding for grown-ass adults what they “really” need.

Look, I’ve been homeless. Most of the people who are on the streets know better – far, far better – what they need at any moment to survive than any white, middle-class, employed and self-satisfied passer-by ever will.

Sometimes it is food – but they need to be able to choose that food for themselves, without being robbed of the dignity of buying that food themselves.

And yes: sometimes it is drugs or alcohol. Life on the streets is depressing at a level most of you cannot understand, and that’s piled onto a truckload of anxiety and fear, along with that precarious uncertainty that the street life brings, not to mention the many traumas that put them onto the streets in the first place.

To presume to know better than the homeless person what it is they need, and to feel morally superior and Christ-like for putting a band-aid onto a mortal wound – well, it’s not something you should be proud of.

My dad once said that if you “give” but with strings attached (“You can have a hot meal, but only after you listen to my sermon and pray like a good little boy”) that’s not “giving” – it’s a business transaction.

If you only give what you decide someone else needs, and ignore their actual request, you aren’t “giving” – you are exchanging food (or a blanket, or a bus token or…) for your own emotional comfort and sense of superiority.

That’s kind of vile, actually.