On the cult of printed books.

April 27th, 2016 | Posted by Mush in Memes | Reading | Reference | Soapbox | Whining - (0 Comments)

In which I’m kind of a dick about people trying to wean themselves off of their identification with their belongings (which is a very important stage of development, of course, but seriously, this has to be the hundredth blog post I’ve read about how deeply attached bitches are to their Harry Potter books, and I’m like, You were literally raised in the cheap portable personal electronics age, and your attachment to books, to actual paper printed books, is, compared to those who went before you and truly used books in a way you never needed to, tenuous at best, and yet here you are talking like you were a monk illuminator who just watched his whole life’s work burn to the very ground).

I love to read, but this maudlin affectation about book collecting currently infecting our group consciousness is getting silly. “I really love books!” is turning into some sort of off-kilter, past-worshiping, item-hoarding cult. We get it: you love the smell of books and the feel of a favorite volume in your hand. So does everybody else. Shut up already.

The vast majority of books you read aren’t that good, and won’t need to be read again. And reference is all online now, you don’t need encyclopedias or dictionaries or histories. You can put a thousand years of human knowledge on a single eReader, but you’ll still probably read throw-away pop fiction. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

The old fashioned library is dying, and in many ways, yes, it sucks, but let it go. Jesus. The TERRIBLE STRUGGLE you go through trying to pare down your embarrassment of stuff, to minimalize, to quit decorating with books you’ve never even read, truly verges on the absurd. You’re having crazy romantical identity feelings about a particular style of inanimate object. If you talked like this about rolls of aluminum foil, we’d tell you to see a specialist.

(I realize the analogy breaks down, because while aluminum foil is incredibly useful, it’s not potentially filled with knowledge in the same way a book is, but books aren’t dying: the format is changing. As are our lifestyles: we don’t have family seats where libraries can live for generations; we move every few years. The energy expended in moving a library of paper books that you could store on a six ounce device just for false nostalgia is wasteful. Period. And there are more books being published every day than used to be published in entire years.)

I get that it’s hard the first time, when you’re ten or eleven or so, and, because you spent all Saturday fucking off and not cleaning your room, your dad stuffs “everything that isn’t schoolwork or clothing,” meaning all your books and toys, into trash bags and throws it all out: yeah, you’re a kid, and you cry because you just lost your purple teddy bear for disobeying, and losing your beloved things is hard.

But if you’re old enough to have a book collection, you’re old enough to know that you are not your stuff, and that reading itself, that magical alchemy in which somehow an entire world fits inside you and lives there, isn’t going away, and everything in your books and papers can be digitized and stored in a smaller, lighter, more easily searchable format, and your maudlin attachment to a data format is too forced and common to really seem genuine.

books

I recently started learning how to make bread. It turns out that holding a ball of soft, living bread dough in your hand feels an awful lot like holding a book: it’s an act that belongs to everyone of us, it reaches backwards and forwards through time, it contains potential, it nourishes, and, honestly, you really have only a vague idea of how it’s going to turn out.

All of which is to say, hey, if getting rid of some treeware is truly heartbreakingly difficult for you, then you’re basically a Disney princess in terms of level of real world difficulty. Lucky you!

In which my life is so completely the opposite of rock star. I’m not entirely sure how I’m supposed to feel about it.

Both of the houseplants, the kalanchoe a co-worker gave me last year and the avocado pit I started in 2014, were totally root-bound and desperately needed to be repotted.

Pastels

On Saturday we went to the ghetto K-mart for pots and toilet paper. It was the first time I’d gone anywhere in the car in months! The weather was gorgeous but everything was still grey and brown; it took today’s endless hours of rain to start any greening.

I also got a little gardening tool — I have half a plan to dig up the overgrown bed in front of the building and grow tomatoes and parsley instead of weeds and grass — and some tomato seeds.

Tomatoes

On the other hand, the rabbits would probably eat any seedlings, the site gets brutal direct sun all summer, weeding sucks, and I could just grow tomatoes in pots in front of a window and eliminate pretty much all the bother altogether.

I recently bought myself an apron. AN APRON. So when I cook and clean and do dishes, I wear my little housewifery uniform. I’m pushing 50 and I wear an apron because it keeps me from wiping my hands on my clothes and that seems like a good idea.

Apron

I still haven’t bothered to go out and make friends; I’m perfectly content hanging out with my weird and wonderful boyfriend and never going anywhere. (Plus, as far as I’m concerned, “going anywhere” weather lasts about four months a year in this part of the country. I miss Walla Walla weather so fucking much.)

I keep thinking I need to join a stitch & bitch or drag my carcass to an open mic, but then I don’t, which makes me think I don’t really want to. I’m generally pretty hard to stop when I set my mind to going out and doing things.

I cook dinner every night, I do dishes. I sleep in. I make the bed, I tidy up, I fuck around online, I read a few hundred books per year, I play with miniature sewing machines.

Miniature sewing

I don’t knit for shit anymore.

I also don’t sit on the floor anymore, which is beginning to get on my nerves. There may be a rug in my life soon, so I can sit on the floor. Chairs are stupid. I also think they might be bad for your legs, or at least your circulation, and your lower back.

Here’s a zucchini lasagna I made. I even made the marinara from scratch, since all the store-bought sauces these days have added sugar.

Lasagna

I do laundry, I sweep floors, I maintain seasonally appropriate decorations. Basically the only people I ever talk to are Scott and the guy at the gas station. Once in a huge great while I walk over to the taco bar for a drink or three, but I’m so cheap these days I feel like that’s only for treat, not for regular, even though I always used to blow my cash at bars. I mean, you can get twice as much booze for the same price at a liquor store than at the bar!

Bloody Mary

I actually like my job. I close the bedroom door, login to the other account on my computer, and take calls for Comcast. (You’d think taking calls for Comcast would be awful, but I support the security system rather than cable or internet, so we have totally different metrics and it isn’t.) After four hours, I log off and walk into my living room. I never have to wear a bra, or even brush my hair for that matter.

I routinely get perfect VOC (“voice of the customer” survey) scores, and about once a week somebody will ask to be transferred to my supervisor to report how much they liked my service. I don’t even have to wear shoes. When it’s slow, I read books between calls, or surf on my tablet. When it’s busy, the 4-hour shift goes by quickly. I have an incredibly comfy, cushy job and after the shock and awe of that year in retail I’m terribly grateful for it.

Comcast-bashing mail

I didn’t have to leave the building once during blizzard season. I worked from home and had groceries delivered! It was awesome!

I am basically the most coddled, most spoiled person on earth. Seriously. I don’t even get out of bed some days until two in the afternoon. The place is so small I can scrub the bathroom or clean the kitchen in half an hour. It takes minutes to sweep.

And the relationship is awesome. I love the shit out of him, and he loves me right back. We’re nice to each other and we help each other. There’s total affection and total parity, plus he regularly makes me laugh (even though he watches vintage pro wrestling way more than anybody should). If I get up to do some chore or another, he’ll jump up too and take out the trash, or run the broom, or pop off to the store with the grocery list (he does most of the household errands).

His only real bad habit is his regular failure to close cabinets. I close the medicine cabinet every single day, and kitchen cabinets frequently. But that’s it. Otherwise — well, beyond his propensity for puns and other forms of very unfunny, low humor — I couldn’t find anything to bitch about unless I made it up.

Sure, I do the bulk of the chores, but unlike all the other losers I’ve dated, this one actually pays the rent and the bills, so I’m happy to. And, unlike all the other losers I’ve lived with, he doesn’t treat our home like a hotel his mother works at. It’s fucking glorious.

Here’s the photo they’ll run if we ever get accused of some sort of heinous crime. (We won’t have committed it, though, because that would require us to go out and do something.)

First pic with new phone's front-facing cam

The neighborhood is host to tons of heavy traffic. I’ve never lived on a busier street, and I once lived on Powell boulevard in Portland. There’s traffic past our building 24/7, and a lot of it is emergency vehicles with sirens on. Tons of foot traffic, too, all year, although a lot more when it’s a decent temperature, of course. In the summer, there’s the pedal pubs too. Somehow it gives the impression that you’re doing something, all that activity just out your window, even though you’re probably just sitting around looking at Pinterest or something. Maybe that’s part of why I don’t seem to feel compelled to get out there and meet people.

I’ve lost a lot of of the weight I’d gained in the past few years, and intend to lose still more. But even though in some places my dimensions are what they were, say, five or ten years ago, that middle age thickening thing is clearly taking over. It’s something about where the fat lingers, and the elasticity — or lack there of — of the skin, somehow. I can look at myself in the mirror and know that this measurement and that measurement is what it was awhile ago, but now I look like an old lady. The body changes. It’s vaguely disconcerting.

My eyelid continues to indulge in its slow decline and now my eyes are entirely asymmetrical. I do wonder what causes one’s eyelid to droop. I think it’d freak me out more but Scott doesn’t give a shit, somehow that helps. I guess you can relax about the issue of your beauty or lack there of when you’ve already got a mate.

KINDLE_CAMERA_14386

Getting into other middle aged pursuits: old movies. Movies from the 30’s and 40’s. Movies I used to find uncomfortably dull are now enjoyable. I find myself thinking about how when the weather gets nice, I should persuade Scott to go for brief postprandial walks around the neighborhood with me, for our health.

I think about holidays and tea pots, whether I should buy a spiralizer, I read tons of recipes; I don’t think about bars, gigs, and parties. I put on makeup about every six months for no reason and then generally wipe it right back off. I consider appropriateness when choosing clothing. (Well, secondarily. First it’s comfort, then it’s “does this hide or emphasize the fact these old tits aren’t in a bra?”)

Becoming amused by my invisibility; when I walk around or hang out in front of the building veritable packs of “young people” walk by and they register me exactly the way twenty-somethings register people old enough to be grandmothers. It’s weird. I used to be them, now I think of them as idiot kids and they think of me as old. Conversations that were once painfully new and riveting are now painfully derivative.

(I do know the “cure” for these feelings of aging into obsolete unhip decrepitude is to go hang out with a slightly older crowd. Then you quit being an old lady and you start being the hot young thing; but again, I just can’t be arsed.)

It makes me invisible in a way, being older than the neighborhood, and it’s such an interesting dynamic, since most of it occurs internally. The kids in the building usually say hi on the rare occasions I see them, and certain personality types will nod as they walk past on the sidewalk, but in general most of the population’s eyes just slide off me like I’m not there. I’d probably be super bugged by it if I didn’t live with someone who smooches me frequently and somehow manages to grab my butt every single day of the year.

Aired up my bike tires! Told Scott to buy me some bike baskets. Getting ready to ride for groceries! Having them delivered is awesome, of course, but hardly necessary when it’s over 50F (and under 80F). Had considered going for a ride today, but it decided to rain non-stop. At least the grass has started to become green.

Maybe I’ll go ride my bike around tomorrow!

2015 Kindle Fire 7″

January 20th, 2016 | Posted by Mush in Admissions | Gadgets - (2 Comments)

In which there’s a review, sort of. Not really. Whatever.

I more or less demanded this for Christmas, because they had them marked down to $35 and you know that’s a shitload of hardware for $35. I thought we’d put Android on it or something, if it turned out nobody was using it.

61vuTHMmf0L._SL1000_

Well, I love it. So much more comfortable to use than the big ol’ 8.9″, plus the OS is kinda neat. Way more store-like, but still, fairly charming in its way. And it’s really, really fast.

The only problem I have with it is that that battery life sucks. Really bad, actually. Thing dies every day and needs to be plugged in, and I really don’t think I’m getting 7 hours of battery life out of it. Well, that and the fact that you can’t find the pictured wallpaper anywhere.

But other than that, it’s pretty great.

The 8.9″ is still worth, on eBay, between $80 and $100. I’m considering selling it, plus its keyboard and case, and then getting myself the Fire HD 6″, the model up from this one, which is HD but actually a wee bit smaller than this one. Maybe I’ll sell this one too, or give it to someone who needs a tablet.

Seriously, having three Kindles — two Fires and a Paperwhite — is pretty ridiculous.

In which I state my opinion. An opinion literally no one has asked for, or is even interested in!

OMFG, fitness trackers. Waste of money and resources for the collection of so-called ‘data’ you can mentally jerk off over while learning absolutely nothing of use!

Most of what you know about how your body works is either so incomplete as to verge on useless, or is just plain wrong. Like that whole calorie theory thing turned out to be bullshit, for instance, so knowing how many calories you’ve “burned” while, I don’t know, walking on your lunch hour, is “information” that basically means nothing in the real world and so why the fuck should you be tracking it?

But fitness trackers record how long you’ve worked out! Super useful! Because, what, clocks don’t exist? You don’t need a device to tell you how long or how hard you’ve worked out, and you know it. You know every moment of your life how you’re eating, how you’re moving, how you’re feeling. A device can’t tell you shit about those things you don’t already know. Nor can a device make you care about things you don’t actually care about, or cause any change in your behavior whatsoever. Only you can do that.

And sleep problems? Bitch, please. Quit the drugs and alcohol and stimulants, stabilize your schedule, and go to bed earlier. That’s it. You don’t need a high dollar toy to tell you what you need to do to sleep better, and you fucking know it.

Your nifty new toy — and the charts and graphs it generates — will not strengthen your willpower, relax you, or increase your health. It’ll just give you a bunch of useless data and increase whatever anxiety you might have about your body or your health. I mean, come on. You already know that software has never truly changed your life for the better; generally the trend is that avoiding software is the best choice for mental, emotional, and physical health. Who doesn’t know this already?

“Fitness” tracker is an oxymoron because there’s no fitness — of anything — involved whatsoever. It’s just another high tech gadget, the mass production of which is wasting more goddamned resources so that upper class white people can learn absolutely nothing meaningful about themselves while still seeming to be doing something.

Knowing how many steps you took today is important in a total of absolutely zero ways to everyone except perhaps people in physical rehab after foot surgery. Knowing how often your heart beat today is useful only if your numbers are far, far out of the range of the norm, in which case you’d best get yourself off to a doctor and wonder how the fuck you’re so out of touch with your own body that you never noticed you were dying before. Knowing how many calories you ingested or burned is useless too, considering that the quality of calories is far more important than the quantity in terms of intake, and incredibly complicated in terms of fat storage or calories burned, so much so that these numbers are effectively meaningless.

If you really want to quantify yourself, please find some other metric (like maybe how much money or time you donated, or how many minutes you spent with friends, or how many times you think about love per hour). Unless you’re a professional athlete, having a fitness tracker is dumb. Everything you might think a fitness tracker can tell you, you already have methods of measuring: you have clocks and the internet. With clocks you can measure how long you exercise, how long you sleep, and what your pulse rate is. With the internet you can find out in an instant that your spaghetti squash Alfredo has an incredibly low G.I. for such a delicious dish. You do not need another piece of plastic and rare earth-wasting electronics to tell you shit you already know.

Plus nobody actually uses the things! They end up in random drawers within weeks. Tell you what: rather than buy a stupid piece of future landfill, just send me the a hundred bucks and an email about what you’ve eaten, and I’ll send you back a pie chart explaining that you need more fat in your diet and that you should go to fucking bed already. Win/win!

Feminism, college students, and #BLM

December 29th, 2015 | Posted by Mush in Soapbox - (2 Comments)

In which no one will ever truly understand you.

...just like everybody else

Five Inches

December 21st, 2015 | Posted by Mush in Food | Health - (5 Comments)

In which I went on a half-assed diet the Monday after Thanksgiving because I was fucking miserable in my own body.

On Thanksgiving day I did not measure my waist, but I’d measured it awhile before so I knew it was 40 inches.

40 inches! My waist! That’s fucking insane! I’m 5’4″; not even my hips should be 40 inches. But there it was, obesity, as a result of a completely unregulated diet.

tape measure

As you probably know, I fell in love with a boy a few years ago and moved two thousand miles to be with him. He’s awesome and I’m totally glad I did, but, well. He’s male. And he’s 13 years younger than me. He eats whatever the fuck he wants when he wants it, just like I did at his age, and I fell back into the habit of pizza and potatoes and bread and Basmati, because that’s how he eats and it’s nice to eat together.

But I’m not 35! I can’t eat white bread and white rice and pasta and potatoes! (Well, I can, obviously, but not without getting totally fucking fat. Which is what happened. Under the skin of my back is basically a slab of solid fat, from neck to ass. It’s terrible how much fat I’ve packed on this little frame.)

So the Monday after turkey day I went back on the diet I was on 3 years ago when I got so slender: basically, modified vegetarian Atkins. Which means I’m not eating white stuff or refined stuff for the time being, and I’m using an app to track my food intake with the goal of keeping my daily net carbohydrate intake to about 40 grams.

In three weeks, I’ve lost five inches off my waist. Five inches! In three weeks! (I have no idea what I weigh, because we don’t have a scale, but seriously, who gives a fuck what they weigh.)

I feel so much better! Being so fat makes me utterly miserable. My feet and hands swell up and I’m forever exhausted and disinterested and lazy. I had an experience on Thankgsiving weekend when, after getting up from having sat at my desk for a few hours, I found my legs from thighs on down to be so swollen and water-logged that they felt like sausages, and the skin on the bottom of my feet felt like it would split. It was awful.

Not to mention how terrible the hangovers are when your metabolism’s all fucked up. Basically totally incapacitating.

It’s also amazing at how immediately the body responds when you stop feeding it pasta, white rice, potatoes, and white bread at every turn. And no trips to the gym required!

It’s still a diet, in the sense that one must abstain from nomming certain things that taste good (I’m looking at you, Mesa Pizza’s peerless portabello bleu pesto), but it’s so much easier than low-fat calorie-counting. For snacks, I have olives and cheese cubes and walnuts instead of potato chips. Breakfast is eggs with veggies and cheese, or a plate of foule with a hard boiled egg and olive oil. Dinner’s a tuna melt on Jesus bread, or bean & cheese nachos (the number of chips being dependent on my carb count for the day). Heavy cream in one’s coffee is delicious. Very dark chocolate is allowed. Butter on anything you like.

In place of hash browns, I sautée cabbage in butter with salt & pepper. There’s an edible cauliflower “dough” one can use for garlic-cheese “bread” sticks. There’s spaghetti squash as a pasta substitute. You’re never hungry, but you pretty much have to eat at home because restaurant food is — with the exception of, say, burrito or sub sandwich bowls — universally rife with refined carbohydrates.

So, in a couple months I hope to have my waist down to under 30″, and my physical misery vanquished, and my health much improved. (Well, as improved as it can be for a sedentary hedonist, at any rate!)

Being fat sucks. Whenever I get fat, I develop an amazed respect for those persons who are truly grossly obese and still go to work every damned day, and get their laundry done, and raise children. Everything’s so difficult when you’re always tired, always hungry, and too big for comfort. Not to be terribly crass, but when my waist was 40″ around I could barely wipe my own ass: I have no idea how even bigger people manage. My toenails are still dragon talons as I’m waiting for another inch or two to go away before I tend to them; sitting folded in half for even the few minutes it takes to trim and clean one’s toenails is disturbingly uncomfortable when you’re too fat to bend over your own gut.

Furthermore, I feel terrible that a lot of really big people are big because they’re poorer and have to buy the cheaper food, most of which is nothing but low-fat refined carbohydrates, like boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, TV dinners, ramen bowls, and drinks, and also that the government is still endorsing the low-fat diet theory publicly even though it’s been thoroughly debunked by over forty years of study.

At any rate, I got fucking huge, which often happens in new relationships, and it was fun while it lasted, but I’m off white bread and potatoes and I’ll be back to normal by spring. Smooches!

In which I’m working full-time and NOTHING (in terms of domestic chores) IS BEING DONE!

Floors are filthy. Sheets really need to be laundered. Tub could use a scrub. Not sure when I last brushed my hair. Have done zero Christmas shopping and don’t even have Christmas cards, let alone have any of them addressed and ready to mail.

I’m working 40 hours a week, and every minute is tightly scheduled because I’m in training. Five weeks of training. Five weeks of Power Point, PDFs, videos, interactives, lectures, TeamSpeak breakout sessions, and teach-back presentations.

And a firewalled VPN that has the shortest whitelist I’ve ever seen. (Honestly, it’s amazing I’ve never worked behind a tight firewall before, and I not only understand but respect why they feel the need to keep the network, distributed as it is, as secure as possible. But there’s still this sort of vague sense of rage about not being able to surf on your own machine when you realize you can’t surf, not even for a second, even if you are on the clock. #firstworldproblems)

Returning from break

While the training itself is of very high quality, and the instructor is freakin’ amazing, for me a lot of stress comes from the fact that you have to clock in and out EXACTLY ON TIME. All lunch breaks are EXACTLY thirty minutes, never 29 or 31, not ever. (Thirty minutes is barely enough time to eat, let alone prepare anything. And since lunch break keeps moving, good luck getting delivery when you have to order 45 minutes beforehand.) The ten-minute clock-punch leeway given by, like, every other employer in the world, ever is simply not present: if you’re too early — you’re not allowed to clock in more than 5 minutes before your scheduled start time — or too late, you’re fired. Period.

My class of 20 new hires is down to 12; four just never turned up at all (which is weird to me, considering all the crap you have to do, including proving your machine meets standards and going to have employment documents notarized, to even get hired in the first place). The other four have dropped out at various points during the past three weeks, probably, I’m assuming, due to simply not being back from breaks and lunch on time.

It’s so rigid it’s basically killing me, except for the weird perqs: I can go to work unwashed and barely dressed if I want (which I don’t. I usually get up, dress in something I could probably wear to a real office only without the bra, tidy up the place, and eat breakfast and make coffee or tea before my shift) and my commute (from bed) is about two feet.

I can look out the window and see the season change and watch the neighborhood. When I clock off at exactly eight-thirty, I have no freezing commute home in the dark and Scott doesn’t have to come pick me up because I’m already home. He never has to come home to an empty apartment. I never have to wear uncomfortable shoes.

And I’m making a buck more an hour than I was at The Home Depot!

But the time micromanaging — which I understand, in context; this is a distributed call center and they probably have a huge number of employees who just don’t give a fuck about the company’s scheduling needs — is quite wearing. I mean, I get to work on time when I’m working normal jobs, but having never been required to be accurate to less than 60 seconds, it’s stressing me out. I live in fear of something happening that makes me 5 minutes late — spending a couple extra minutes in the bathroom, having to buzz in the FedEx guy, losing track of time while standing over the sink horking down a sandwich — and getting instantly terminated without even finishing the damned training.

Once I’m “in production,” their in-house jargon for being trained and “on the floor” taking calls, though, I’ll be able to drop down to part-time and get my nasty floors swept and mopped. (I know that some women work full-time and keep their floors clean; I am not one of those women. I can barely even stay top of the dishes.) I understand breaks and lunches will move around a bit if one’s stuck on a call, and that it will still be important to be back on time, but I think it’ll feel a bit more loose, subjectively, somehow.

At that point I think I’ll feel very fortunate to have a work-from-home job, even if it is taking customer service calls for Comcast, a company almost universally loathed. (I’m lucky enough to be supporting their home security products rather than, say, doing retention for enraged cable internet customers under contract or whatever, so I doubt it’ll entail getting screamed at for 24 hours a week.) I’m sure once I’m fully familiar with the various tools and call expectations I’ll be fine and my sense of stress will go away.

As long as it’s part-time. I’ve done too many years of call center work already in my career and there’s really no way I can be truly empathetic for 40 hours a week for very long. I know my call center customer service limitations (and so do you, if you’ve ever worked with me before. I can be a horrible, condescending cunt over the phone, and nobody wants that) and I respect them! So I’ll work F/T for just as long as it takes to really get a handle on production and then I’ll try to get down to 20 hours, if possible, but I’ll do 24 if they really insist. After all, what’s four more hours if don’t have to wear a bra.

~+~+~+~+~+
Scott and I stayed up absurdly late both Friday and Saturday nights this weekend, so when I got out of bed this afternoon and realized that HOLY SHIT, SUDDENLY IT’S THE SUNDAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING!!!1!, I went ahead and paid InstaCart to bring me my groceries since Scott was still in bed. They took hours to get here, but when they did all I had to do was put things away!

Even after taking an hour to form my shopping list, I still managed to forget the baguette for the spinach-artichoke dip and soda for the cranberry vodka, but otherwise all the Thanksgiving day shopping is done, and I have stuff to eat for breakfast and lunch for the next three days. I also did the shopping for my internet Secret Santa recipient today, so that’s basically sussed. GOD I LOVE THE INTERNET.

Because I have the great luck to be in training just now, I actually get four days off for the holiday weekend, like a regular grownup adult-type person. (But after I’m in production, I’ll probably never get another holiday off, ever, unless I request it off a quarter of a year in advance or trade somebody for it. (Apparently most holidays are dead, though, and if they’re dead enough you might be offered voluntary time off so you’re not stuck sitting at your desk for hours doing nothing.)) So excited to have four whole days off together! So looking forward to our second Thanksgiving together!

Relish tray

Our Thanksgiving menu is going to be completely traditional this year: the usual relish tray items, from deviled eggs to olives to stuffed celery. The spinach-artichoke dip we made last year and decided should always be our T-day tradition because it’s amazeballs. Ham steak (for him; I’m having tofu, of course), mashed potatoes, sage and onion dressing, green bean casserole, and mushroom gravy. Cherry pie (or cobbler — I haven’t decided yet) and vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. Potato skins in the evening when we’re peckish again with our celebratory adult beverages.

Friday I’m going bring the tree and decorations up from the basement. Super excited! No idea where I’m going to put our little tree (because I really fancy the idea of somehow getting it right in front of the living room window so it’s visible from the street) but I’m sure something will present itself.

I need to go order Christmas cards and see what else I can have shipped so I don’t have to go anywhere in person. Happy three-day work week, everyone working traditional schedules in America!

Amazon Prime Now: Fun, but weird!

November 7th, 2015 | Posted by Mush in Nerd - (0 Comments)

In which the lack of integration and the strange selection of available items is weird.

Prime Now. It’s a thing where, if you live in a designated big city, you can order stuff from Amazon and have it delivered in a couple of hours rather than in a couple of days.

The stuff arrives in Amazon-branded paper shopping bags. Which is a cute but unnecessary touch:

Amazon Prime Now

Seems like a great idea, except, well, it’s not integrated with your existing Amazon account at all. You can’t shop Prime Now from amazon.com, you have to use the app. (The app which doesn’t even run on Fire devices! You can only run it on Android and Apple devices.) You can’t tell if anything in your cart or on your wishlists is eligible for Now unless you search for it in the app. You cannot see your current cart or lists in the Prime Now app, either.

The selection is massive but weird. You can get a coat tree, toilet paper, or a skein of black wool yarn delivered; you can’t get a plain ol’ gallon of milk (unless it’s organic or almond). You can get candy, game controllers, electronic cables, and snacks. You can get Amazon devices like Kindles and Paperwhites and a selection of cases for them.

You can get orange juice and organic TV dinners, high end kettle chips and most of the items you’d find in the organic or health food sections, but you can’t get much else food-wise that isn’t snacks. You can get some AmazonBasics items, but not the armless office chair you actually want now that you sat in this chair for 40 hours:

My new desk!

I mean, it’s a very cool chair, but it’s not height-adjustable and the cushion is quite lumpy and flat.

All in all, Now is pretty cool if your car is in the shop and you need certain specific things within a couple of hours, but the lack of dotcom integration and the unintuitive nature of the stock makes it a strange service.

In which I freak out. Seriously. Not even kidding.

I haven’t spent much time in chans or forums because they’re stupid, but even so I’ve seen countless nerds type “kill yourself” at each other, and sometimes it’s hilarious. In IRC it’s practically a tradition to tell chatters to go commit suicide — preferably immediately, by gun, and live via Skype. It’s typical shock-based online shenanigans and it’s funny.

BUT THEN THERE’S MOTHERFUCKING FACEBOOK, AND THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT EVEN KIDDING.

I’ve been ranting forever about the impossibly dumb shit people post about — the anti-vaxxers and the New Age hippies and the holistic practitioners with their weekend retreats and cooking classes or whatever — but after today, I think I really just can’t afford to look at Facebook ever again.

Because today on Facebook, I saw someone I went to university with tell somebody with cancer to do the Gerson “protocol” instead of taking his chemo.

Which is literally one person saying to another, “lol go kill yourself fgt,” only it’s not even mildly funny.

If you have the kind of cancer that would have chemo prescribed in the first place, you have a type of cancer that has a record of responding to chemo. (If your cancer historically doesn’t give a fuck about chemo, they’re not gonna recommend it.)

Chemo is demonstrably effective and does save lives. The evidence is literally everywhere, because basically everybody knows someone who has survived cancer through chemotherapy. Fuck yeah, chemo sucks. Fuck yeah, nobody likes it. But we do it when indicated because even though it sucks ass, doing chemo is much more effective against certain kinds of cancer than not doing it. People telling you that 2% bullshit are trying to sell you something.

Juicing, on the other hand, DOES ABSOLUTELY FUCK-ALL FOR CANCER*, and all the other wacky shit in the Gerson ‘protocol,’ like the no-salt diet and the liver injections, is actively fucking dangerous:

Between 1980 and 1986, at least 13 patients treated with Gerson therapy were admitted to San Diego area hospitals with Campylobacter fetus sepsis attributable to the liver injections. None of the patients was cancer-free, and one died of his malignancy within a week. Five were comatose due to low serum sodium levels, presumably as a result of the “no sodium” Gerson dietary regimen. As a result, Gerson personnel modified their techniques for handling raw liver products and biologicals. However, the Gerson approach still has considerable potential for harm. Deaths also have been attributed to the coffee enemas administered at the Tijuana clinic.

…A naturopath who visited the Gerson Clinic in 1983 was able to track 21 patients over a 5-year period (or until death) through annual letters or phone calls. At the 5-year mark, only one was still alive (but not cancer-free); the rest had succumbed to their cancer.

And forty years before that:

In 1947, the NCI reviewed ten cases selected by Dr. Gerson and found his report unconvincing. That same year, a committee appointed by the New York County Medical Society reviewed records of 86 patients, examined ten patients, and found no evidence that the Gerson method had value in treating cancer. An NCI analysis of Dr. Gerson’s book A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases concluded in 1959 that most of the cases failed to meet the criteria (such as histologic verification of cancer) for proper evaluation of a cancer case. A recent review of the Gerson treatment rationale concluded: (a) the “poisons” Gerson claimed to be present in processed foods have never been identified, (b) frequent coffee enemas have never been shown to mobilize and remove poisons from the liver and intestines of cancer patients, (c) there is no evidence that any such poisons are related to the onset of cancer, (d) there is no evidence that a “healing” inflammatory reaction exists that can seek out and kill cancer cells.

These idiots have been torturing human beings (and not curing cancer) for over forty years! And yet it’s the real doctors we hate?

Using woo and pseudo-science to scare people off an effective, proven tool like vaccines is one thing (because you’re likely to be far removed from the real-life results of your stance, alternately known as “other people’s dead babies”), but telling someone diagnosed with cancer to buy a fucking Vitamix? Seriously?! Someone freaked out and terrified and grasping at straws, you’re gonna give them half-assed off-the-cuff advice about shit you know nothing about and are UTTERLY UNQUALIFIED TO DISCUSS? HOW THE FUCK DO YOU EVEN SLEEP AT NIGHT?

I mean, I know. I know. You’re not trolling, you really do believe in this stuff. You’re nice people and you have big hearts and you’ve dutifully internalized everything you’ve been told about “healing” (which is not the same as actual medical science, which is fine… until you’re dealing with actual disease) and you hardly ever truly contemplate the sources of these teachings. You honestly think you’re being helpful and insightful and open-minded and you pride yourselves on being alternative. Shit, a lot of you have undergone various numbers of years of training in these things, and make your livelihoods from selling your services to the worried well.

You’ve bought the conspiracy hook, line, and sinker, and you really do think that “natural healing” modalities are being suppressed by The Man because money. You haven’t stopped to deeply consider that “natural” not only doesn’t mean anything (everything that exists is “natural”), but that even if it did it wouldn’t matter because natural isn’t intrinsically better. Which is why we take aspirin, which is dosage-controlled, uniform, and well-understood, rather than willow tree bark, every example of which will vary wildly in terms of strength and effectiveness. It hasn’t really occurred to you that the vast majority of the time, Reiki and yoga and Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine and herbs and homeopathy and The Secret are fine because they give people a very deep and very needed sense of agency — I myself do Sun Salutes and eat kitcheree and throw I Ching on occasion — but that for actual life-threatening diseases, these approaches universally fail to produce measurable, repeatable results**.

Which means, in a nutshell, that they’re placebo. They don’t work. They don’t work because the Universe is orderly and full of laws, and regular ol’ unenlightened people only get cured when the cures actually work.

So you’re not malicious or even truly stupid, I know that, but I just don’t think I can stand it anymore. It’s not just the political nonsense; I can’t count the number of times some addle-headed creature I’m friends with (usually but not always from Fairfield) has posted some pseudo-scientific jargony bullshit on Facebook and I’ve replied with the appropriate Quackwatch or Snopes or Wikipedia link… and then gone back and deleted it ten minutes later, because these are nice people and their intentions are good and they’d probably be really hurt if I called them gullible addle-headed twats right on their own Facebook walls.

But the truth is that Reiki doesn’t cure anything, homeopathy doesn’t cure anything, and The Secret just make terminally ill people feel guilty for being sick. Making the worried well feel better is something, obviously, but it’s NOT THE SAME AS ACTUAL MEDICAL SCIENCE. We need to develop the discernment that allows us to tell the fucking difference between a healer-prescribed smoothie diet for your psychosomatic fibromyalgia and chemo-fucking-therapy for your actual cancer: The first does nothing, is not detectable, and operates only in the so-called sufferer’s head. The second is measurably effective in the real world. Which is what you need if you’re unenlightened and sick.

Most of the time, believing in bullshit is harmless. Most people, regardless of their Facebook posts, do get their vaccines before international travel, and they do take chemotherapy when they get cancer, so what they “believe” in between times is essentially irrelevant.

But man, these posts! I’m like, HOW DO YOU EITHER NOT KNOW (OR NOT CARE) THAT JOE MERCOLA HAS BEEN SANCTIONED BY THE FDA… MORE THAN ONCE? He sells diagnostic equipment as a breast cancer “cure,” for fuck’s sake! He lives in a multi-million dollar dwelling and repeatedly claims he’s not in it for the money! HE’S TOTALLY A FUCKING QUACK! JUST LIKE OZ AND JOHN OF GOD AND CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP AND EVEN CHOPRA! How do you not know that mercola.com and whale.to and naturalnews.com and acam.org are not news sources but stores, selling snake oil to the ignorant masses?!

Well, you do know. You obviously know, because you’re the ones buying all the pills and capsules and drops and teas and herbs and mushrooms and salves and books and tapes and retreats and seminars and cruises. You people are a multi-billion dollar industry. You’re making Oz and Oprah and Mercola and Chopra filthy fucking rich.

It literally takes only seconds, to vet anyone who’s ever been on Oprah for quackery, using an internet connection and a search engine. Seconds! I’d never even heard of this horrific and crazy Gerson therapy until I read that Facebook post, but I knew in less than 90 seconds that it was bullshit, and unsafe bullshit at that.

Those of you who continue to believe in your ridiculous “vaccine reform” nonsense are doing real damage. Infants are dying of fucking whooping cough now, because you think your feelings and half-assed, biased internet “research” equals real expertise. Well, you’re not fucking experts, you don’t understand most of what you read, and you’re not qualified to think what you think, period. I’m totally unqualified too, WHICH IS WHY I READ ACTUAL EXPERTS RATHER THAN FAME-SEEKING RETARDS LIKE THE ENTERTAINERS ON FUCKING OPRAH. You want to get involved in “vaccine reform”? Go get a BS in molecular biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or microbiology. Until then, shut the fuck up because you literally do not know what you’re talking about, regardless of your feelings. Seriously.

Those of you who tell people who are genuinely sick and suffering to turn their backs on the sum of human scientific and medical knowledge and let some unqualified, credulous woo practitioner direct their treatments ARE DIRECTLY CAUSING HARM by choosing not to vet your own goddamned idiotic beliefs! HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THIS AND FIND WITHIN YOURSELF A DEEP AND URGENT DESIRE TO CORRECT YOUR FAULT?

Yes, yes, karma, blah blah blah. Somebody may be “destined” to logon to Facebook, see a link, and fire their oncologist because they’re “supposed” to die an awful, unmanaged, hideously painful death at the hands of charlatans. What the fuck ever. I’ve read my scripture and damn right it’s my duty to at least try to stop the tide when it gets to the point it’s doing actual damage.

Listen. Any modality that blames the patient for not getting well is not medicine, it’s woo. And all woo does this. Sick? Stressed? Dying of cancer? It’s your fault! You deserve it. We were unable to cure you because there’s something inherently wrong with you, you didn’t try hard enough, you’re not pure. It’s your karma.

I just don’t know if I can deal. While I do learn a fuckton of (mostly useless!) knowledge looking up every second or third claim I see while scrolling down that Facebook feed, I just don’t know what to do when grown-ass adult human beings are posting Mercola and naturalnews.com claims as if the shit wasn’t all utter garbage, or when people are telling each other NOT to do chemo and let some fucking hippies inject them with liver extract and withhold sodium until they’re in a goddamned coma, or even just when people make claims about welfare fraud or the non-existent gender-based pay gap that I can disprove with a single URL.

I JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO IN THIS BRAVE NEW WORLD OF SOCIAL NETWORKING. Do I tell you you’re a total fucking retard? Or do I scroll on by and let all that insular, awful, Dark Age-level “belief” in totally made-up stuff continue to snowball? What’s that old adage about just standing by and letting shit happen because it wasn’t your job to do anything about it?

The following random ER doctor’s blog post sums up my conflict perfectly in a piece about a young woman “treated” with Gerson who is probably dead now:

Most woo is harmless — but that’s because most woo is directed at chronic, ill-defined, or otherwise incurable conditions. Think chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia. Wave a magnet at somebody, get them to do a lot of enemas and go on a special diet, and you get to write a book and go on Oprah and collect a lot of money. If the subjects of the “magical thinking medicine” think they are better from the intervention, then so much the better.

“But the really pernicious thing about allowing fantasy medical theories and treatments into the mainstream is that when they gain enough credence among the masses, they will tend to be used in place of real medical treatments that work.

Tons of so-called “alternative medicine” is placebo, and that’s fine. It’s fine because much of what ails us is psychological and we need the time, the attention, the touch, and the feeling of agency we get when we have capsules to take and exercises to do at home — these things help us feel like we’re doing something to combat our “illness.” But woo doesn’t heal actual maladies, people. There’s a huge difference, and I know we’re all smart enough to recognize this.

I got so much more satisfaction visiting a midwife — who scheduled 45-minute appointments, and listened to me and paid attention to me as a whole person — than I ever did seeing a gynecologist. But believe you me, when it turned out I had a fucking prolapsed fibroid cyst coming out of my uterus that was about to get infected and kill me, I went to a surgical gynecologist and not a nutritionist. Because I’m not a total fucking idiot.


* Unless you’re so sick you’re having trouble swallowing; then smoothies can be a good way to get nutrition inside you. But they won’t heal your fucking cancer. Because cancer is CANCER, not fucking scurvy. Of course life-long dietary influences must have a part in cancer-causing, but there is absolutely zero evidence that feeding people sugars is beneficial.
** Yes, I know modern science has and does and will prove that certain ancient modalities do work: the Neti pot, for instance, and Artemisinin. But Ayurved is also responsible for killing people with lead poisoning and traditional Chinese medicine prescribes toxic herbs too, and the wildly divergent dosages from one plant to the next… don’t even get me started. And the majority of treatments offered by either tradition, in terms of measurable results, are entirely indetectable. Which means they don’t actually do anything.

More reading:
Weighing up claims about cures and treatments for long-term conditions

I Don’t Know What to Believe, about evaluating scientific claims


Update: A few days later, someone else in my timeline solicited the medical advice of Facebook on the topic of an iron shot. Apparently she’s chronically anemic and her doctor recommended the shot to, I assume, alleviate this condition. She cancelled the appointment due to her concerns about “toxic” side-effects and is looking into woo iron supplements. Because at least they’re unregulated, arbitrarily dosed, and “natural.” *headdesk*

No-Knead Sourdough Bread

October 20th, 2015 | Posted by Mush in Recipes - (3 Comments)

In which there’s no recipe BECAUSE BREAD IS ENTIRELY fucking RANDOM! Whoo! IT’S ALIVE!

This is one of those food blog posts in which the author bangs on and on about nothing and talks about her personal life, but there’s no recipe at the end so it’s technically not one of those posts, you know, the ones I bitch about because the irrelevant nonsense takes like half an hour to scroll past before you get to the fucking recipe but there is no recipe here so it’s totally different!

I have no idea if any of this about the healthfulness or digestibility of sourdough bread is scientifically backed or even true, but it sounds nice and I’ve had time on my hands so I grew some sourdough starter and fed it every day for about a week.

Then I split it in half, and now I have two sourdough starters: one primarily white, one whole wheat. (The whole wheat one is slightly more active, which is the opposite of what I expected.)

I know nothing about baking but I can cook, I can read, and I can learn. So I’ve been reading everything I can get my eyeballs on about traditional bread baking, no-knead bread, and sourdough.

Sourdough

My observation is that there’s no such thing as a bread recipe. Every single recipe is different. Every single video shows utterly different methods. Baking temperature, baking times are always wildly divergent, even for the same amount of the same type of dough. It’s a complete disaster, this whole bread-baking thing.

If you want, for example, to learn how to make enchilada sauce, because you’re not Mexican and you never saw the elder women in your family do it and so you have very little sense of how it’s done, you get online and you read anywhere from 6 to thirty enchilada sauce recipes in a row. You find out what all the recipes have in common in terms of ingredients, ratios, and procedures, and you more or less do the mean, the average, the gist of all those recipes. And you’re going to end up with something fantastic.

This is how I have learned make everything I cook, from chicken noodle soup to pudlas: read as many recipes as possible, do what they all have in common. If you see the same exact noodle recipe in fifteen different places, use that one. It’s the one that works.

People have been baking bread for ten thousand years, and apparently everybody does it differently and has a different pet theory about what’s happening in the proofing bowl. Bread’s alive, and it responds to the various environments it finds itself in, so there are no hard and fast rules. All those incredibly verbose bread blogs I skimmed are trying to teach instinct, not technique: how to tell when to add more flour, when to leave it alone, when to bake it and for how long and how high. Every single blog says somewhere that you just have to bake enough bread to get a feel for it.

My conclusion: It’s just fucking bread! We discovered leavening by accident, probably from just leaving dough lying around like lazy ancient hippies! There is no technique as much as intuition! Apparently any idiot can make bread!

And I’m definitely any idiot. (In my entire life I’d made no-knead bread twice, a couple of soda breads that don’t even count, and a kneaded sourdough once that didn’t really turn out that well because I dunno shit about kneading bread. And that’s my whole entire baking career.) So I decided to wing it and go by feels!

I’d gotten the starters down from the top of the fridge to feed them and thought, “What the hell. I’ll use the discards and fake my way through some bread.” So I poured half of each into the ugly pink bowl that is my only bowl and therefore gets constant use — possibly as much as two cups of unfed starter, maybe even more — added some warm tap water, added some white flour, added some salt, added some yeast. Stirred it up. Set the bowl on the top of the (gas, and therefore always warm) stove and covered it. And forgot about it for twelve hours while I drank wine, read sci-fi, watched 70’s British horror films, and slept.

Sometime in the middle of the next day I poured the doubled-in-volume, bubbly dough out onto a floured counter top and it was so wet it just ran all over the place. I had to scrape it up with a spatula. It was a huge, sticky fucking mess. I threw it back into the bowl with a bunch of flour and stirred it up, then covered it and returned it to the top of the stove.

Did the same thing again in the evening. The dough was slightly stiffer, but still just flopped all over the place and could scarcely be folded in thirds. Needless to say, I floured the hell out of it and stuck it back in its bowl — after I’d scraped a bunch of half-dried sticky wallpaper paste out of it and washed and dried it — on top of a generous sheet of parchment.

At about the 24-hour mark, I used the now-damp parchment paper to lift it — still a floppy mass and unable to hold a shape, but still clearly active in terms of yeast — into a pre-heated stainless steel stockpot in a 400F oven, where I let it bake for the better part of an hour, misting the floor of the oven with water at random intervals and watching classic pro-wrestling with my boyfriend. (Some of those costumes are seriously hilarious, as is this video. Plus he gets a kick out of it, so who am I to judge.)

Sourdough 2

When knocking on the bottom of the loaf produced a hollow sound we left off baking (even though I’m convinced it could easily have stood another 15 minutes in the oven). It overnighted on a wire rack, and when I got up today I cut into it. It’s heavy, moist, with what they call ‘beautiful artisanal crumb’ and a gorgeous (for a bread containing whole wheat) soft but chewy crust.

Sourdough 3

It’s also incredibly sour, like a San Francisco loaf. So sour it drowns out the taste of butter altogether. I knew it would be sour because of the long rise time, but it’s REALLY SOUR. It’ll have to be eaten with really strong flavors: olive tapenade, aged cheeses, pesto. Maybe a thick, spicy tomato soup.

I’m guessing that the whole kneading thing offers a baker a little more control over her bread, but I’m not sure I’m up to bothering to learn it yet when I can have perfectly edible loaves with the no-knead “method” and time and guesses.

Off to go see what the internet suggests one do with a very sour loaf of sourdough bread, then.