Satanic Milton

Let me tell you a story.

Years and years ago, when I was media specialist at East Coweta High School, the assistant principal in charge of curriculum bustled in, needing my assistance.  A mother had come in to complain that her son was being taught Satanic literature in his college-bound senior English lit class, and they wanted my recommendations for an alternative assignment.

I raised my eyebrows and pursed my lips and inquired as to exactly what Satanic literature this woman could possibly be objecting to in the British Lit textbook.  The asst. principal turned to the page and showed me.

Satan being cast down from heaven, from Milton's Paradise LostIt was Paradise Lost, by John Milton.  Right there, opposite the first page of text, was a full-page woodcut illustration of a leather-winged Satan being cast down from Heaven.  There was more: the text contained such damnéd names as Lucifer and Beelzebub. LUCIFER AND BEELZEBUB, KENNETH!

Really?  Really?? I asked the asst. principal.  We’re going to confirm this woman’s crazy, superstitious, ignorant error?

Well, Day-uhl, we have to accommodate parents’ requests, came the reply.

We’re not going to explain to this woman that she’s wrong, that in fact John Milton was a Puritan and wrote Paradise Lost to prove that Christian themes could support epic poetry?  (Leaving aside the fact that Satan is by far the most interesting and dynamic character in the whole piece…)  That her son is in a college prep English class and that he kind of will be expected to know at least something about the poem when he gets to college?

Oh, Day-uhl—as if I were the one who needed to be humored…

So I assigned him “L’Allegro and Il Penseroso“.  Served him right.

It’s simple.

A local church has on its street bulletin board the message:

“IT’S SIMPLE. GET AMERICA BACK TO GOD!!”

That’s good. Simple is good.

But as H. L. Mencken reminds us, “For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.

And so I’d like to ask some questions.

What does that mean, exactly, to “get America back to God”? I know where the concept comes from, all those Psalms and Old Testament moanings about Israel “turning away” from Yahweh, wherein Yahweh got testy if the Israelites weren’t paying attention to him 24/7. I suspect this church means the same thing, i.e., make everyone worship exactly as they do — since we haven’t been doing that, God has allowed (or worse, caused) our problems.

What mechanism is the church thinking of, exactly, to “get” us back to God? Public whippings? The stocks? Re-education camps? Blue laws?[1] The Mildred Layton Committee to Stamp Out Strife and Tribulation?

What problems, exactly, have been caused by America’s not paying attention to God? Are these real problems, like global warming or income disparity? Or are they the imaginary boogeymen that are the usual sources of fear for this church’s amygdalas, like Teh Gays and illegal immigrants and some soaring crime rate that doesn’t exist?

Does this return to God involve increasing freedoms and liberty and prosperity to every American and non-American in our country? Or does it involve repression and hiding and cutting off? Do they want everyone to support each other with love or are they demanding that we all straighten up and fly right?

Do they mean that we should throw our weight behind politicians who are going to vote to provide for the least of these, with policies like socialized medical care and childcare and a livable minimum wage? Or do they want to restrict our tax dollars to those who “deserve” it?

It would be uncivil of me to put words in this church’s mouth, so to speak, but I think the odds are pretty great that what this church means is that this nation has changed in ways that make them uncomfortable. Where before there were tidy boxes for every category — and there were categories — now we have boxes and crates and beanbag chairs and waterbeds, and people keep going from one to the other with shocking ease. Those People act as if they have a seat at the table, and this church wants us to remove those chairs immediately. With prejudice.

In the end, their sanctimonious sign is empty posturing, a static version of the gospel of Luke’s Pharisee in the Temple, smug that they are not as other men are. They might be better off reading Matthew’s reporting.

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[1] Blue laws, for those too young to remember, required local businesses to be closed on Sundays — and yes, this church would be in favor of their return.

New cocktail: The Vivian

Last week, our good friends Marc and Mary Frances became grandparents with the birth of Vivian. Marc promptly asked me to come up with a cocktail to commemorate the event, something honoring both the South and Korea (her mother is of Asian descent). I replied, “So bourbon and kimchi?,” which I thought was rather witty, but that idea went nowhere.

One problem was that although there are multiple Korean alcohols to try, none are readily available in these parts other than soju (which we were aware of after watching Mystic Pop-Up Bar). Another problem was that I had no idea what soju tasted like.

You may imagine my surprise when I found that soju is flavorless. Rather, it tastes like water, unlike vodka, the ABV[1] of which produces a burn that has to count for flavor. (Soju’s ABV is only 25%, stronger than wine but nowhere near the 40% of Smirnoff No. 21, for example.)

Therefore the cocktail I had imagined of soju and bourbon would have been pointless.

And then I saw it: a bottle of muscadine juice. I don’t know why I had a bottle of muscadine juice, nor why I had set it on the kitchen counter in my “lab” space and left it there for months, but this was certainly a message, right? Southern and Korean. Bingo.

It took me three or four tries, but finally I achieved a drink that is sweet, but not overly, with layers that are detectable. May I present

cocktail with bottles behind itThe Vivian

  • 1.5 oz soju (unflavored)
  • 1.5 oz muscadine juice
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • .5 oz Richland Rum (distilled here in Georgia)
  • .5 oz orgeat

Shake with ice, double-strain into a cocktail glass. Lemon peel garnish.

The rum and orgeat tilt the drink towards tiki, but not overly so. If you don’t have muscadine juice — and really, why would you? — try white grape juice. For Richland Rum, any aged rum should do.

And here’s to Vivian!

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[1] ABV = Alcohol by volume

Useful Kitchen Stuff

A couple of months ago, a friend on Facebook asked for advice on upping their kitchen game. I failed to respond, because my brain immediately went into overdrive. I did make a note in my to-do list, but we all know how that goes.[1]

Today, though, I am stuck at Southtowne Chevrolet while they figure out why my 2012 Equinox is making weird little beoop noises and claiming that the engine is overheating, so I might as well get this one off my list. Here are my suggestions for bumping up your efficiency and overall coolness in making your meals.

I’m going to presume that you already have decent knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. I also presume you have a few whisks, a ladle or two, all the basic stuff.

Here’s more.

First up: a grapefruit spoon. You may already have one of these as part of your flatware set, but if not, go to your nearest kitchen outlet and buy one. It’s the easiest way to de-seed tomatoes, peppers, etc.

Prep bowls. You may think these are just trendy affectations, but your life will change if you start using them. I have a set of smaller glass ones, but you may also find slightly larger ones useful. These are especially good if you don’t have counter space; you can do all your chopping and measuring and set your materials aside without having to keep shoving the bits around your chopping board.

You may already have a chopper/scoop, but if not, it’s dead useful for corralling all that stuff you chopped up to put in your prep  bowls.

If you ever have to roll out dough, then go to Home Depot and Michael’s and buy yourself some pieces of wood or metal. I have 1/8″ strips of aluminum, 1/4″ strips of lath, and pieces of craft wood that are 1/2″ x 3/4″. With my flat rolling pin, all I have to do is set these down on either side of my dough and roll away. Pro tip: They’re also handy for slicing bread like focaccia by sliding your bread knife along your guides and for rolling out hamburgers. Use freezer paper to keep the meat from contaminating your wooden roller.

(I know you can buy rolling pins with interchangeable disks that do the same thing, but those arrived on the scene after I figured out this solution.)

Silicone mats are ubiquitous these days, but when I first bought ours we were trendsetters, I tell you. Very useful for cookies. I just recently bought the copper ones to use on the grill. Very nice.

Tiny spatulas and whisks are more useful than you might think.

You can find wooden tongs in a lot of places, and they’re great at retrieving toast or muffins from the toaster. I also have more than a few wooden spatulas for sautéing and shoving stuff around in the pan.

I found this long-handled spoon/fork thing at some chi-chi kitchen store (in Greenville, SC, I think) and I thought I would use it at burns for dining, but it has proven to be ace at scooping out the last of the mayonnaise.

This last one is fairly niche, but if you need it, you’ll know. These long tweezers are for cocktailologists to smugly retrieve cocktail cherries or other garnishes from their jars and plop them in your craft cocktail, probably with a flourish. But I have found that they are also excellent for manipulating food items in your fryer: I have begun frying my own tortilla chips and these are primo for stirring and keeping apart the little buggers as they frolic in the oil, and for retrieving any items that have finished before the rest of their cohort.

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[1] Cras melior est and all that.

Crossword shenanigans

I’ve blogged about this once before, but the serendipitous overlap between the New York Times crossword puzzle and my life is often unnerving.

I have a big fat book of Sunday puzzles that I work through while we’re watching TV, and here are some of the occurrences. (This also happens with the daily puzzle I do online.)

  • On March 23, we were watching Stanley Tucci’s Italian travel series Searching for Italy. In the first episode, he visits Sicily and meeets a woman winemaker, whom he describes as “groundbreaking,” just as I’m reading the clue to 41D: GROUNDBREAKING PERSON. [#60, Sounds of the Past]
  • March 24, with Sicily still in mind, 56D: SITE OF A 1943 ALLIED VICTORY. The answer is Palermo, the main city of Sicily. [#61, Yule Get Over It]
  • March 25, we’re listening to some comedian tell the story of a girl who stole syrup from the hotel breakfast bar as I’m reading the clue to 87D: HOTEL FORCE [#62, Beans, Beans, Beans]
  • April 7, we’re rewatching the first episode of Ted Lasso, wherein Rebecca asks Ted if he’d like a tour [of the team facility] and he responds, “I’d love to see Abbey Road,” as I’m reading the clue to 27A: PLASTIC ___ BAND. [#69, Leading Singers]
  • April 21, we’re watching Shtisel, and the clue to 32A: LEUMI is one of the themed answers, wherein the clue is a word in another language leading to a pun, so that SALATA >> GREEK SALAD. Leumi is an Israeli bank >> HEBREW NATIONAL. [#73, In Other Words]

(Be patient; this is leading to a really bizarre conclusion.)

  • May 3, I had just returned from a burn weekend, where the cocktails I served used FOUR ROSES bourbon [30A: BLENDED WHISKEY, OR A VALENTINE’S GIFT] and on the drive home, the phone randomly played 74A: “THERE IS NOTHING LIKE ____.” [#75, Railroad Crossings]
  • June 5, we’re watching The Kaminsky Method, ep. 22, and in the background of a scene is a billboard from Kaminsky’s upcoming movie, The Old Man & the Sea. 76D: PART OF A HEMINGWAY TITLE (SEA), 101D: PART OF A HEMINGWAY TITLE (OLD MAN). [#85, Personal Score]
  • July 4, we’re watching A Capitol Fourth on PBS. The military band played the Olympic Games fanfare on bugles as I was solving 10D: BASE CALLER, and the B-roll footage of our great nation threw up an elk for 41D: PLIABLE LEATHER. (Who knew?) [#96, Rare Birds]
  • July 5, the last episode of Ted Lasso, he exasperatedly cries, “If God had wanted games to end in ties, she wouldn’t have invented numbers.” The title of the puzzle is Rational Numbers. We then watched the third episode of Worn Stories, wherein one of the stories is an astronaut. The soundtrack included “Major Tom,” and I got 45A: 1983 DAVID BOWIE #1 HIT. [#97: Rational Numbers]
  • July 15, we had just returned from a trip to New Orleans, where I had bought the fabulous Thomas Hamann piece, “Ikarus I,” and the puzzle hit me with 89A: SON OF DAEDALUS. [#101, See O2]

And now, finally, the exciting conclusion — or is it?? — to this series of weird coincidences.

Yesterday, August 29, I was tootling around Facebook and came across this post from an old friend, David Hammett, who had taught math at GHP for several years and still returned to help run the game show segment of the math tournament.

I had seen the image several times, but I had not quite made the connection that CARNIVOROUS was an anagram of CORONAVIRUS, but David’s friend Trip Payne did. Duh.

As fate would have it, the puzzle I completed on Saturday night was called Commanders in Fiche, wherein the themed answers had the last names of our presidents anagrammed, e.g., PRESIDENT OF THE LUNAR SOCIETY? >>JIMMY CRATER, etc.

Are you ready?

::cue Twilight Zone theme::

Undocumented Travels with a surprisingly happy ending

This past week my Lovely First Wife and I took off on a trip. Normally I blog our travels, but since this trip was mostly my Lovely First Wife’s pilgrimage and I didn’t anticipate anything actually exciting, I decided against it.

But now the truth can be told.

We were headed first to Wetumpka, AL, and then to Laurel, MS. The more discerning among you are nodding your heads sagely in recognition of the Lovely First Wife’s fangirling of Hometown and Hometown Makeover, HGTV’s charming shows hosted by Ben and Erin Napier, an adorable young couple who have made bank by first renovating homes in their hometown of Laurel and then the downtown area of Wetumpka, revitalizing tourism in both.

How can I put this? The real masters of those two shows are the cinematographer and editor: when you’re actually in those two lovely towns you realize how much was just off-camera. Like, a lot.

Laurel, for example, is not this quaint little town. It’s big, really big, and just out of shot of the quaint main street area on the show are concrete and glass office buildings. Wetumpka has a lot going for it and really does seem to be leaning in on its artsy persona, but again, there’s a lot you didn’t see on the teevee.

(Fun fact: the Chamber of Commerce lady featured in Hometown Makeover is a bundle of energy and used to teach art at Poplar Road Elementary here in Coweta County. Also, in both towns, the food was very good, so if you decide to go we have recommendations.)

For its part, Laurel has a whole district of stunning 19th-century homes that are not in need of Ben and Erin’s help.

And both have torn up the very streets we were there to see.

To be clear, I am denigrating neither the towns nor HGTV’s artful presentation of them, but I would advise anyone thinking it would be fun to make the pilgrimage to consider that perhaps since the reality has been transmogrified into entertainment, being content with the entertainment rather than the reality is a choice they might want to make.

Particularly since the drive is mind-numbingly, butt-numbingly boring. We’re talking two of the poorest states in the nation, and some of the poorest areas in each, so the charms of Wetumpka/Laurel are more than counterbalanced by the shuttered main streets we passed. I was angrier than I needed to be on a pleasure jaunt.

But let that pass. Part of the plan was that once we got to Laurel we would decide whether or not we would press on to New Orleans, which we did. Here’s where the hilarity sets in.

My brain was fried from driving through Alabama and Mississippi, folks, so it should not have been a surprise when we arrived at Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery on Tchoupitoulas St. in New Orleans on Wednesday that I had made reservations via Hotel Tonight for Thursday. It took a while, but Roberto at Hotel Tonight finally straightened it out. (It just now occurs to me that all I had to do was make an additional reservation on the spot for Wednesday night. As I said, my brain was fried.)

How fried was my brain? At 4:30 in the morning, I awoke, suddenly concerned that I had misremembered my license plate number on the parking form. Was it 3441 or 1134? Even more suddenly I realized that it didn’t matter because we weren’t in my car. I had filled out the form for the wrong vehicle.

I slipped on my kilt and some shoes and went down to the front desk, where the desk clerk actually giggled at my dilemma. I didn’t blame her.

Needless to say, my Lovely First Wife’s car was already booted.

The desk clerk sent emails to correct my mistake, and I returned to the room, where my Lovely First Wife also giggled at me. ::sigh::

ANYWAY.

Here’s the point. We had a great time in New Orleans: fantastic food, phenomenal cocktails, and I bought a new hat that does not make me look like Kid Rock.

I also bought a Picasso.

It’s Woman and Clown, a lithograph, about 12”x9”, and so enamored was I that this is all I know about it. (It’s being shipped, so I’ll have more details once I can really give it my full attention.) I bought it because the figure of the old man resonates with my whole 3 Old Men burn theme camp thing, and that is dear to me.

But first I bought this:

We were on Royal Street, stopping in galleries that had stuff that appealed to us, and at Elliott Gallery there was a stairway over on the side, kind of hidden around a corner, and on the wall of the stairway was this piece, about 3’x2’, unlabeled and unpriced. I had been looking at a Miró lithograph, but this piece struck me. I inquired the price, and — this was before I had bought the Picasso — it was affordable. I bought it.

Here’s the brilliant part. I had assumed the scrawl in the lower left was the artist’s signature, but his name is actually Thomas Hamann. The title of the work I had just bought was IKARUS: Icarus.

And yes, I decided on the spot to splurge and return to Windsor Fine Art Gallery to buy the Picasso as well.

So this has been a very exciting trip after all. Now we’re heading home. Via interstate, thank you.

Random postscript: I have received more compliments on my kilt everywhere we’ve been than ever in my fifteen years of wearing one. Thanks, Utilikilt!

It’s not me, it’s you.

I’ve been reading back through this blog and have come to a conclusion: I write really well.  But let that pass. Here’s a thought I had after reading one of my Liberal Rants posts.[1]

The post is titled Amygdalas. Why is it always amygdalas?, and it’s an explication of a spam email that invites you to click on several links to discover the hideous plots to put Hillary Clinton[2] into the White House, KENNETH.

Here’s what struck me:

It is true, boys and girls, that there are conspiracy-minded amygdala-based lifeforms on both sides of the aisle — and here I am thinking of Seth Abramson and the small flock of liberals who tweet day after day that the Trump crime family/Matt Gaetz/etc are going to be indicted/arrested ANY DAY NOW NEXT MONTH FOR SURE, KENNETH — but Jebus H. Cthulhu we got nothing to compare to the fevered brains on the right.

Remember Jade Helm?

Sovereign Citizens?

Barack Obama’s birth certificate?

Pizzagate?

Mike Lindell?

QAnon??

Here’s my point: these are all the same thing. It doesn’t matter that none of them were true, that none of them could even be true.[3] What matters to the amygdala-based lifeforms is that these theories provide the life-giving jolts of fear and anger that their brains need to live.

And let’s face it, half the conspiracy theories that give the amygdala-based lifeforms all the tingles in their pink bits are if not invented by at least cynically embraced by the leaders of our conservative movement to keep the amygdala-based lifeforms focused on the sweet, sweet buzz in their brains rather than the facts at hand.

This is what gives us comments like the one posted by some Georgian on Governor Brian Kemp’s Facebook page:

And these frauds with old lucy stole Karen handles seat how many fraud voters did she fly in from Delta state to state and bused in 10 time district to district fraud votes absentee ballot stuffing old abrams still pushing bathhouse barry hussain un aca commercials!

Foaming at the mouth and falling over backwards, indeed.

I don’t have a solution other than to calmly and firmly stamp out this idiocy whenever and wherever it shows up. We’re not going to disabuse the amygdala-based lifeforms; they’re addicted like lab rats and are going to keep pushing that button. But we can at least help others see the danger of addiction.

Further: Lauren Boebert, lost in a cacophony of crazy

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[1] Those posts are particularly tasty.

[2] aka Satan.

[3] Comet Ping Pong Pizza, for example, doesn’t even have a basement, a key detail in the conspiracy. At least Seth Abramson, et al., have actual investigations on which to hang their hopes and dreams.

Cocktails with friends

This past weekend I was invited to attend a fully-vaccinated, outdoor event by Camp Shameless, a burn theme camp who pretty much lives up to their charming name. I took cocktails for the happy hour before dinner on Saturday night, and they were a hit. Here, for those who are interested, are the recipes, with advice.

(Note: I served these on the rocks at the burn, but the first three are usually served without ice.)

No photos, alas.

Naked & Famous

  • ¾ oz mezcal
  • ¾ oz Aperol
  • ¾ oz yellow Chartreuse
  • ¾ oz lime juice
  • garnish lime slice

Shake with ice; pour into glass. Adorn with lime slice.

Thunderer

This one is a little complicated, but worth it. The Honey Arbol Ginger Syrup is an extra step, but not hard.

  • 1 ½ oz bourbon (or gin/tequila/rum)
  • 1 oz grapefruit juice
  • ¾ oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz Honey Arbol Ginger Syrup
  • garnish: slice of arbol chile

Shake with ice; pour into glass. Adorn with the slice of arbol.

Honey Arbol Ginger Syrup

  • ¾ c orange blossom honey
  • ¼ c boiling water
  • 2 oz fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped (about ½ cup)
  • ½-inch piece chile de árbol (I use dried)

Directions

Put the honey and water in a blender and stir until the honey dissolves. Add the ginger and chile and blend on high speed until the ginger is pulverized. Strain through a chinois or cheesecloth or fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Let the syrup cool to room temperature. Transfer to a small jar or bottle and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Charlie Chaplin

  • 1 oz apricot liqueur
  • 1 oz sloe gin
  • 1 oz lime juice

Shake with ice; pour into glass.

Cedar & Sorghum

(This is one of my inventions, essentially a Manhattan with stuff in it.)

  • 2 oz rye
  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 barspoon cedar tincture*
  • 1 barspoon bourbon-barrel aged maple syrup
  • 2 dashes Woodford Reserve Sassafras & Sorghum bitters
  • garnish: orange peel

*To make the cedar tincture, char cedar wrap/paper (the kind you use for grilling) with your flame, then soak it in vodka/Everclear until it is a dark amber.

Stir with ice; pour over ice. Express the orange peel over the drink, toss it in.

[notes: When do you shake vs. stir? Cocktails with citrus juices, milk, and/or egg whites are shaken; otherwise stir. James Bond was asking for a more-diluted martini when he asked for his “shaken, not stirred.” To “express” a citrus peel, simply hold it over the drink and squish it suddenly. You’ll be surprised and delighted at the oils that spurt out. Finally, I tend to add the bitters after the pour so that the aromas are foremost, but feel free to add them to the mixing.]

Rose-Colored G

(This is another invention of mine.)

Again, an extra step, but this one is so easy that it hardly counts.

  • 1 ½ oz gin
  • tonic water
  • hibiscus-infused gin floated*
  • allspice bitters floated*

*For the hibiscus-infused gin, soak a handful of dried hibiscus blossoms in gin for 2–4 hours. Strain, store. For the bitters, I’ve used both Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters and Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters. Other bitters with predominant allspice notes would also work. Or play with other bitters — that’s the fun of cocktails.

Make yourself a gin & tonic, leaving room in the glass. Carefully pour the hibiscus-infused gin on top. Add 3–5 drops of bitters on top of that. You may add a lime slice if you wish.

New-Fashioned

An Old-Fashioned is one of the granddaddies of cocktails: bourbon with simple syrup and bitters. This is a twist on that.

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • ¾ oz banana liqueur
  • 1 dash Jack Rudy bitters (or other aromatic bitters, like Angostura)
  • garnish: orange peel or cherry

Stir with ice; pour over ice. Garnish at will.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Dishevelment update, 4/15/21

What can I say? I’m loving my dishevelment. After more than a year without a haircut, I’ve become that long-haired guy. I have product, and I’m not afraid to use it. My manbun is unsexy, but otherwise I’m happy with the look.

Having said all that, in rereading some of my blog I have been struck by several haircuts that I wouldn’t mind having again, so I’m also comfortable going back to what passes for normal when the time comes.

How They Do It

If you are of sound mind and body, you may wonder how on earth Fox News viewers are so blindered. It’s a remarkable sleight-of-hand, and after you’ve seen it in story after story, you begin to think that maybe perhaps the misdirection could be possibly on purpose. (Click for larger image.)

You will notice that Fox is not reporting on the policies that had President Biden saying mean things about those who don’t follow pandemic protocols. They are reporting only that he said mean things.