Simplistic but pithy

This Land Is Mine from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Cartoon characters dramatis personae on this blog post. Yes, it’s not totally historically accurate, but that’s just nit-picking. Whenever I lurk past a blog touching on the perennial troubles in the Eastern Med, I’m forever amazed at the virulence of the far left and right on this topic. Not that there’s any real difference between either viewpoint, totalitarians to a knuckledragger that they are.

By way of comparison; in some pubs I frequented in my youth, mainly in certain University towns, simply uttering the word ‘Israel’ loudly in particular bars was, and probably still is, enough to start a fight. It rather reminds me of the mindless tribalism that goes on around football teams. An old friend of mine claimed he occasionally did this sort of thing for fun, but then he really liked fighting and beating the shit out of people. He was good at it; no names, no pack drill, and I know for a fact he once hospitalised a black belt because his opponent thought that a pub car park brawl worked the same way as a dojo. Newsflash; for anyone tempted to try it, it doesn’t. The same rules do not apply because there aren’t any. Visit any inner city Emergency department late on a Saturday night or early hours of Sunday morning for proof.

Yet I never understood why the existence of Israel as a nation is so offensive to those without obvious skin in the game. Why they were often willing to pitch into a scrap with a far more aggressive and experienced bar fighter over a country they really knew bugger all about, and never been to. I freely admit to knowing little about the region apart from that they’ve always been fighting.

Nina Paley’s video above rather puts this endless aggression into perspective. People have been so busy fighting over that particular chunk of real estate (And over the religions from that area) for so long, I think they’ve forgotten how to stop. You’d think after over four millennia of ping pong like mayhem people would learn. You know, maybe all the various parties could decide that the near constant killing is just pointless and decide simply trying to co-exist for a change. Do business. Do what the Zionists started, which is actually buy title to the land and sell stuff. Own it that way. On the other hand, I think that just shows pointless naivete and optimism on my part. Like Kashmir and any one of a dozen other semi-permanent war zones around the globe, fighting and killing is too ingrained as part of the way of life. The killing would continue regardless of any rationalising self justification or holy book, or lack thereof.

As the video predicts; if matters continue in the current vein, no doubt it will all end in tears, and any ‘victory’ will be cataclysmically Pyrrhic. For all concerned. Yet perhaps there is hope.

All the aforementioned gives me an idea; maybe if the various peoples involved turned their semi-permanent war into some kind of regular sporting fixture. Level the playing field. Pile a load of weapons and ammo in the middle of a football stadium or other large sporting venue, then let the interested parties have at it in private four times a year. Maybe even wall off a section of city too polluted or unpleasant for habitation, and Robert would be your Fathers brother, so to speak. Stick webcams all around and sell the rights, world wide. Think of the advertising revenue. Maybe even run a league. Let Simopn Cowell do a show on it; hey, perhaps call it ‘The Mayhem factor’. Each faction could put up a team, Hamas, IDF, Hezbollah, Orthodox and Armenian denominations, whoever, and the team with the most members still standing after three days wins. Perhaps some form of trophy could be arranged? A years free access for their followers to worship in the dome of the rock or something of that ilk. Televise said fixture and licence William Hill to run a book on the result. At least civilian casualties could be minimised, and since some of the current Palestinian factions seem to have an odd notion of what constitutes ‘fun’ anyway. Unless of course it involves religion and killing. Remember the theme park incident? Family fun is ‘un-Islamic’? WTF?

Apply to any war zone. Agree factions. Seal off limited area, give unlimited ammo, and let the games commence. It might just save the world.

Gravy snobbery

Hereby hangs a tale and a cookery conundrum; how do you make gravy? Traditional rich thick gravy. Not so thick as to stand a spoon up with, but not so runny it’s more like dark water. Simple question isn’t it? Hey, no problem, use the dripping from the meat, a little Bisto and corn starch mixed in cold water and liquor from boiling the spuds for mashing and no problemo, right? Perfect every time.

I happen to like gravy made in this fashion. Great when the dinner choice is traditional English meat veg and potatoes? Just the ticket every once in a while, yeah? Some good old fashioned British style nosh for a change. Gravy made heavy on the onions for serving with Sausage and Mash, or with a pinch of garlic salt to add an edge to chicken or pork. It’s grrr-eat! Or not. However, chacun a son gout. Each to their own, right?

This evening the Sticker household was faced with a dire emergency. A cataclysm threatening to dwarf that bit of inclement weather over the other side of the continent by a factor of 12. No Bisto gravy powder; and I wasn’t going to hike 15km along rainstorm darkened rural Canadian roads to the nearest stockist just for one five dollar packet, or 25km to the nearest stockist of overpriced British products. Think of the carbon footprint dahlings! I thought in my naive optimistic way I’d just fire up the ‘pooter and find a recipe on the jolly old interweb. Job done, brownie points in the offing, another expats hurdle overcome. Yay. Piece of cake. Or not.

Typed the search term “Home made gravy browning” into the mighty Google and was promptly brought up short. Some of the recipes were along the lines of “Roast corn starch in oven for two hours at high heat until dark”, or “Caramelise sugar in an old pan you don’t particularly like, oh, and don’t forget to leave your windows open” which almost made me reconsider cooking roast chicken for Sunday supper. Some of the recipes I came across were far too cumbersome and time consuming. On the cookery forums I also found some snotty types saying that they only cooked ‘Au jus‘. Yes, I really needed to have some sauce snob clogging up the forums when I was trying to find a recipe or some helpful hints. If you don’t know how to make gravy, then what the fuck are you doing telling someone who does want that specifically British sauce about your preference for ‘Au-fucking-jus‘ on a thread asking for recipes? The sheer, looking-down-my-nose-at-you-cos-Delia-don’t-do-it-that-way ignorance of some people, really. Like those sanctimoniously superior people whose response when asked a simple question is to tell you that what you want isn’t what they would do – so you shouldn’t. WTF?

Good gravy, for those of you not initiated into its intricacies, is an art that Michaelangelo would have carved paeans of stone to glorify for eternity, had he not been a renaissance Italian, and therefore ignorant of such a delicacy. Smooth slippery simplicity made wonderfully glutinous and conjured mid to dark brown to accompany Roast Beef, Chicken, Pork, Venison, Lamb, Sausage, Moose, Elk or whatever. It is a particularly English taste, and one I’m proud to cater for, even though it took years for me to perfect my technique. Both stepkids specifically love my Onion gravy, and Youngest has made it known that when she becomes disgustingly rich, she will have me kidnapped and set to work as her personal cook. Or else set up home close by in order to have my small culinary expertise on tap. By such things are the bonds of family strengthened.

Yet this isn’t telling you how I resolved my gravy powder less condition, does it? O-kay. Unfortunately I had cleaned the meat pan after breakfast, and had no cooking grease left. So; I took a rasher of fatty bacon and grilled (broiled) it until there were a couple of teaspoons of bacon fat left in the pan and the rasher was a dried husk of its former self. Then I took a teaspoon of cornflour and mixed it with enough cold water to form a smooth, milky liquor in the sauce boat. Next step was a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and Soy sauce to darken the cornflour and water mix halfway to the desired state of brown. Next, I stirred in some hot water from cooking the vegetables and, decanting the mix into a small saucepan, let the sauce thicken on a low heat. Potato water is good for this, being slightly starch heavy, but can result in excessive blandness. So I mixed in some liquor from cooking the green vegetables. Finally, I added the bacon fat and seasoned very carefully to taste, stirring constantly to keep the lumps at bay until it had thickened to the desired consistency. The end result was a slightly more aromatic than usual sauce, but was consumed with gusto, and English style (No milk) mashed potatoes, roast chicken and mixed veg. Re-sult!

Some Australian and New Zealand cooks, so I am informed, use half a teaspoon of Vegemite, but I find that gives the end result a slightly odd flavour for my palate. The same for stock cubes. I really don’t like gravy made with stock cubes, I feel they overpower the taste of your dinner, and produce watery gravy anyway. My personal preference is for something with a bit more body, because runny gravy gives me PTSD-like nightmares of school dinners past, from which I sometimes awake sweating and screaming. The trick here is balance. Good gravy should not overpower the roast, like some sauces do. Its purpose is to accentuate, and add a rounded, softer edge, not to swamp. Unless it is particularly good gravy and carries much of the roasts flavour anyway, in which case, mine’s a pint.

Fortunately, Canada is a civilised country and good gravy is generally not hard to come by, even over here on the hippy drippy wet coast. The Quebeckers (bless ‘em) even invented Poutine, which is French Fries with lashings of cheese curds and thick gravy. But on the cookery forums, oh my goodness, there’s more controversy over gravy than global warming alarmism, the pro and anti camps are so polarised. For heavens sake it’s just a bloody sauce!

Yet I find in my search for Bisto-less gravy the mirror for much that is wrong in the world. When you go looking for advice, there is too much telling you what you should want, and too little telling you how to do what you want the right way. Sometimes I feel it’s like going into a cigar store and asking for a fine Havana, only to be offered a lecture on the evils of smoking and handed a pamphlet on Cancer awareness with a pack of nicotine flavoured gum. Or, if you like, entering a liquor store and asking for a 15 year old fine Malt Whiskey only to be handed half a pint of Soy Milk and a stern imprecation about the evils of alcoholism. Both of which, if anyone is interested, I would consider a casus belli. There are people in this world who really should know when to butt out. The only problem is that far too many appear entrenched in positions of public trust, snouts firmly wedged in the taxpayer trough, narrow minded eyes on their pet causes and regarding all else as a threat. Perhaps we could do with a cull.

In the meantime, all I have to say to such people is this; you can stop me having gravy with my fortnightly English roast when you can pry the sauce boat out of my cold and dying hands. To me, saying ‘Au Jus’ is the only way is just another way of declaring your culinary incompetence.

A fishermans tale

This is a completely true story. Not terribly dramatic, no-one famous was involved, nothing really happened, but I’ll try to explain my reasons for recounting the incident in question at the end.

In the late 1990’s I was taking a long weekend down in Cornwall. On my own as usual. I’m a solitary individual by nature, and during those years had grown to like long, lazy time outs casting my cares, and the odd line or two, on the waters. As far as human company was concerned, I’d given up on it and immersed myself in my job. That morning I’d picked up a crab line at one of the local beach shops, and taken myself down to a small rocky bay called ‘Prussia Cove‘, one time haunt of the notorious wrecker and pirate, ‘John of Prussia’. It’s a picturesque little place, popular with snorkelers, and of interest for the cart ruts cutting obliquely through rocks from the beach to the little rocky channel to the west. As you face the water, up above on the left are the grey granite Coastguard cottages overlooking the tiny beach. In Summer it’s as pleasant a piece of English Elysium as can be found on a (mostly) sunny day.

On this particular morning, I’d picked myself a spot on the rocks, sat down and waited for a couple in wetsuits to slip into the water before baiting a hook. After a few abortive attempts (standing on the line, throwing too hard, in the wrong direction, getting caught up in seaweed, usual shore fishing mistakes) I cast the weighted orange line some fifty feet or so into the desired middle of the channel. Not really expecting to catch anything. To be honest, at the time I was wrestling with a coding difficulty, and was making the best of this weekend time out for an exercise in contemplation. Taking my mind off the immediate problem, and just letting the light, wind and water work their magic on my hindbrain. Disengaging my mind from its usual over the top frontal assault and trying to slink up on the issue sideways.

“What are you doing?” The voice of a little boy quite startled me. An ordinary looking little lad, about four, maybe six. Slim build, wearing blue (I think) canvas shorts, off white T-shirt, curly dark brown hair forming a sort of mop on his head. Can’t remember what shoes he was wearing. Almost what I’d call the Christopher Robin look. I glanced around, media warped paranoia on overdrive. I’d briefly noticed the same rambunctious little lad annoying his Mother as I made my way down to the waters edge. I think they must have been staying close by. Dark haired woman in sunglasses, mid / early 20’s, lightweight floral dress. Wearing a wide brimmed sun hat as I recall. When she’d been speaking to him earlier I’d registered her accent; educated middle class Surrey. Did I mention I used to pride myself on my ear for English accents? Never mind. Not important.

At the time this whole “All white men are racists, paedo’s and rapists” thing was just beginning to gain ground in the tabloid media, and smelling possible trouble, I tried to brush this intrusive kid off. “Fishing.” I shrugged, reeling the line in. My thinking was to let him get bored and drift away in case Mum came storming over and called the cops. Not that I was doing anything wrong, just fishing. Why couldn’t the little tyke go and amuse himself elsewhere? Leave me in peace? That’s all I wanted.

“Can I have a go? Please?” For a nanosecond I thought about telling him bluntly to go away, but that’s not really my nature. He was being so polite, and Mum was less than a hundred yards away, no doubt keeping a watchful eye on her child, so on the next cast I demonstrated what I was trying to do, reeled in the line and let him try his luck. What can I say? I’m a sucker for lost kittens, puppies and children, and would rather die than see harm come to them. He made a mis-throw, I reeled the line in and let him try again.

For the next half hour, we took turns casting the lead polo mint weighted line out into the little channel, the snorkelers snorkelling in their wetsuits out where the calm waters were ruffled by a light swell, with the peace of a pleasant Cornish Summer late morning wrapping itself around us. Simply revelling in the small pleasure of male company while chilling out on a relatively fruitless task. His Mother seemed quite content to let her little boy please himself around the big stranger fishing at the waters edge.

What happened next made me sit back and think; “Danger! Warning! Warning Will Robinson!” He put his arms around my neck and gave me an unashamed hug, then sat down on our perch overlooking the water and leaned against me, rubbing my back as a kind of ‘thank you’. I clearly remember the rich soft warmth of a child’s physical contact, which gave me quite a jolt. Apart from handshakes, this was the most physical contact I’d experienced from anyone for several years. Did I mention I’m mostly a solitary soul? With a surprised look on my face, I glanced sideways to see his Mother (or female guardian) still sitting calmly in the same place and looking completely unconcerned. I’d shown him how to peel a limpet off a rock for bait, given him a pointer or two on how to cast the line, and received a hug as thanks. Then he used my shoulder as a lever to clamber to his feet and dashed off to tell his mother all about what he’d learned, who neither chided nor chastised her little boy (at least not in my hearing) for approaching (and hugging) a total solitary stranger.

About half an hour later, as the day grew warmer and the beach began to fill, I felt the call of a cold beer and packed up, wandering back to my beat up old Ford Sierra (I was between motorcycles at the time) and moved on. Yet the sudden pleasure of a hug from a completely strange child who I had never met before, never would know the name of, reminded me of my own humanity. My own instinctive need for human company. To ramp down my paranoia. To be part of a family and enjoy the innocent gift of unguarded affection.

This was over fifteen years ago. Since then I’ve married, helped steer two feisty stepdaughters through the uncertain waters of their teenage years, learned to smile and laugh a lot more, become a little more comfortable in my own skin; and somewhere along that path become a better man than I might have been. Not as cold, nor as driven. All because of that one unguarded, unsolicited hug.

So what’s the point Bill? All men are not predatory monsters? That there’s more to the male of the species than his sexual appetites? I suppose so, yes. Thinking about it, that single gesture was key to rediscovering my own understanding of Agape and Eros. Learning to differentiate properly between sacred and profane love. Discovering the love of family. Finding a new centre. Yet what I’d really, truly like to say, in public, is simply this;

Thank you.

For those interested in Weather

A rational view is online at the doughty Mr Watts web site with explanations of current extreme and not so extreme weather phenomena. Anthony has organised this exposition of meteorological expertise in an online live TV event to counter the rather less scientific assertions of a certain failed presidential candidate.

Youtube clips will be available in the next few days.

Popcorn futures skyrocket

There seems to be a lot of upset coming from our cousins down south about their recent elections, with an unprecedented array of states wanting to secede over Federal interference. Which is what started the last big kerfuffle. ‘States rights‘ was the original battle cry of the 19th century secessionists, which still echo today.

According to the LA Times, 50 states have submitted petitions to the White house formally requesting permission to secede from the Union. Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Texas have submitted petitions of over 25,000 each. Texas was over 100,000 at the last count. Which should come as no real surprise. Texans are well known as traditionally independent people.

There is also a much smaller counter movement who have petitioned the White House with the following plea; “please sign an executive order such that each American citizen who signed a petition from any state to secede from the USA shall have their citizenship stripped and be peacefully deported.” Yeah, like that’s going to work if someone was born in the USA. What are the petitioners suggesting? That hundreds of thousands of people are declared stateless and homeless just because they made lawful protest? First Amendment rights anyone? Besides, if those protestors ‘to be deported’ have families who have been resident since the 19th Century or are even native Americans, where would you deport them to? Canada? I bet our immigration people might have a few sharp words to say about that.

It’s a joke, of course. A poor taste partisan threat even. Only 10,000 signatures against several hundred thousand pro-secessionist so far. Although according to the White House web site “If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.” Like consigning all those petitions to File 13 after making the usual noises about “Having given due consideration” etc. Ignore it and the problem will go away. All sound and fury, nothing more. Yet…. smoke and fires. From my reading of US Civil War history, I seem to recall reading this was how the last mess began.

According to this piece in the Digitaljournal, it’s not just sour grapes by disappointed Romney voters, as some might be tempted to think; the secession movement is more deeply rooted than that. It’s not about the perpetual dogfight of partisan politics at all, but derives from perceived blatant abuses of rights by the NDAA and TSA, amongst other federal authorities.

The Texans are not the only ones to be angered about the abuse of political power. All over the world there are similar sentiments. A need to break free from overweening authority and top down thinking driven interference. A desire to be liberated from Corporatist or Socialist regimes (The two are so similar it makes no real difference). From the British EU Referendum pressure groups to the Syrian militias; it’s all about the rights of the individual over unrepresentative authority.

In the West at least these things are slow to come to the boil, and the only realistic way to deal with them is to ease off the legislative pressure. Less state intervention. Fewer, not more laws. Less, and more human, enforcement.

As a keen student of history I’m not sure where the process will lead, but one thing is certain; this secession business isn’t going away any time soon. This side of the 49th Parallel popcorn futures are rocketing. Although don’t mention Quebec.

Wrong kind of ‘ists’

Over the past twenty or so years, we have been bombarded by apocryphal tales of the world being brought to an end by corrupt humanity because of small rises in atmospheric trace gas. Kind of “We’re all doomed, and it’s all your fault!” Especially via that paragon of virtues (Guffaw) the British Broadcasting Corporation. Despite a total lack of hard evidence, everything they seem to put out, from Eastenders to the Tellytubbies and the Weather Forecast contains the message that Carbon Dioxide will be the death of us all. Non-believers are ridiculed in BBC comedy programmes, patronised and damned with faint praise elsewhere in said organisations output.

We are informed that this is because the ‘majority of scientists’ agree on this topic. Not so. This is an overt lie. We are told that the BBC acted on the advice of ’28 scientists’ at a specific meeting. Now this assertion can be demonstrated to be an immense lake, a positive ocean, of bovine excretory splatter. These weren’t ‘Scientists’ at all. Although I will happily stand corrected if the BBC’s Head of Comedy of the time had specialist expertise in IR absorption or cloud formation and meteorology. The list, which the Beeb is reputed to have spent 100k of lawyers fees trying to keep secret, is available via this post at Wattsupwiththat. Read. Weep. Laugh. Get angry. This affair makes the allegations about pop star paedo’s look like a mere bagatelle. This is massive scale fraud. A deliberate attempt to mislead and misrepresent the public and so enrich a relatively small clique (Or are these the ‘Green jobs’ said activists tell us their enterprises will bring forth?). A flagrant ‘flipping the bird‘ at the BBC’s founding charter, and by proxy at anyone who has ever reacted to the constant doomsaying with a sceptical raised eyebrow.

Far from being overwhelmingly comprised of ‘scientists’ the list of attendees at this 2006 critical policy meeting appears to consist of Oil and Energy company executives (What! Big Oil! – Never!) and a whole bunch of eco-Activists. Barely three attendees have any credible scientific credentials, and even so these folks appear to have a built in bias. They’re just the wrong sort of ‘ist’.

Not that this should come as any surprise. The ‘science’ of Global Warming / Climate Change / Whatever has always been suspect. As even the most cursory examination of the global warming premise and its repeated failures of prediction will clearly show. It has come to the point where every time someone begins to rattle about this nonsense I automatically think ‘Piltdown Man‘. Yet we have taxes based upon this flawed premise?