Friday, November 26, 2010


This was my first Turkey day in my own home that I made myself. Well, Boy helped. A lot. But we did it ourselves, and it was exciting.

We did blend a little bit of British food in with our traditional American fare. Instead of mashed potatoes and a sweet potato casserole, for instance, we made a vegetable roast of potatoes, purple potatoes (nom, and colourful!) parsnips, carrots, and butternut squash, seasoned with fresh rosemary and sage from the garden.

The result was NOM.

I made buttermilk biscuits, not really out of respect for tradition, but because I've never really understood the point or intended flavour of stuffing. They were very tasty, but did not rise very well--I've noticed this trend in my gas oven.

Boy and Boy's Brother roasted a chicken and said it was delicious. I'll take their word for it.

I also made a green bean casserole. The mushroom soup and green beans came out of tins, but I French-fried my onions myself! The result was pretty tasty, and amazingly bad for you. I baked it in a terra-cotta dish I found stashed above a cabinet that looked like it'd seen the inside of its fair share of ovens. It did a beautiful job. The recipes I found were all American, and I think they expected the soup to have more salt, so it wasn't as salty as usual, but it was certainly edible. (We ate the other half today for lunch, on toast, with a garlic and habanero sauce, and it was Wonderful.)

We bought cranberry sauce from Tesco, and it was actually much tastier than similarly-priced American sauces. But alas, no slorping sound when it fell out of the tin. (It was in a jar.)

We set up some speakers in the dining room and listened to Skynyrd for its cultural value. We sliced into my second pumpkin pie in the space of a week and it was glorious. The crust worked, and was (remains) flaky and tasty. I wrung out the fresh pumpkin in an old t-shirt instead of squeezing handfuls and it made the process much faster. (Thanks, mom!) Whipped up more maple syrup and cream. For their cultural value.

I'm still full.



Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I have painted my bathroom yellow, and will shortly be painting the study blue. I think it looks quite nice. My new drill has not yet arrived, but I do have a package for my next-door neighbours in my front hall.

I made my first pumpkin pie this past Thursday and it was wonderful. Well, I say wonderful. The fill was wonderful. The crust was just...bizarre. I used an Alton Brown crust recipe and did not like it. The edges did not burn, but became very hard and crunchy. The crust under the fill remained flexible and almost...rubbery. Not sure how I managed that. I've asked my mom to source a more idiot-proof crust recipe if she or the neighbours can think of one. The fill was really, really good though. I made it completely from scratch, from a whole pumpkin. (Didn't have much choice, actually--I couldn't find tinned stuff. But I was up for the challenge.) I gutted and steamed it (kept the seeds) then peeled and squeezed the water out by hand. I pureed it with my soup-er-izer (little spinny blade on a stick thing) and added it to single cream, a few eggs, hand-ground cloves, hand-rasped nutmeg, and some cinnamon, a bit of sugar (with a few drops of Lyle's Golden Syrup mixed in 'cos I didn't think to get brown sugar) and a pinch of salt. Baked it for 45 minutes, rotating a few times 'cos its a gas oven, and served it with cream that I whipped (with a whisk) with a generous teaspoon of maple syrup. OMG. It was light and fluffy, not overpoweringly sweet or spiced but very flavourful. I did it almost entirely by hand and all by myself.

Like I said, the crust was garbage. I think it may have been because I included some vegetable shortening when I should have just used butter. Oh Alton, why did you lead me astray?


Also on Thursday I officially received my MA in Advanced Theatre Practice. My post-study work visa application is all ready to go with the exception of my bank statements, which must be mailed to me because NatWest has to have them hand-engraved by Norwegian monks. I don't look at the £550 application fee as a great spending of money--it was just money I was holding in my account for this purpose. It was never mine at all.


This past weekend was our 1-year House-I-Versary here in Lewisham. We celebrated with some friends who moved into their house the exact same weekend we did. It was a lovely time.


The 25th is both Thanksgiving and Ben's and my 6th anniversary. Though of course 4 of those 6 years have been spent in wildly different time zones, we've nevertheless perservered with close affection through the modern marvel that is Skype. Thank you, Skype, for making my relationship possible, and keeping us in constant contact for years so that we might eventually find a way to be together on the ground.

Any phone company executive that would destroy net neutrality for the sake of trying to "recoup" perceived "losses" from international internet telephony is a horrible, disgusting entity that deserves nothing but inconsolable loneliness for the rest of his meaningless, pitiful life. You will not make money from making VoIP prohibitively expensive.

You will only break families.

Financial Antique

I am sick to the teeth of British banks. Not that American ones are much better, but at least from US banks you can expect some semblance of modern business practices.

Let's have a look at my bank, shall we? Let's call them, oh, I dunno, DouchEast. DouchEast says they close at 5 on weekdays, but that actually means they lock the door and clear the place out by 4:15, a good two hours before most of their customers leave work. Cheque deposits, done by machine or in person, take 8-11 business days to become available to you, despite their ability to be processed instantaneously. DouchEast can rarely do anything for you in-shop--most things you request must be mailed to you, and will arrive in 7-10 days. Even if they're just documents that could be easily and securely printed off in office.

DouchEast's business practices involve a great deal of pressure--both on the employees and the customers. Employees are expected to maintain a quota of account openings per week, regardless of what their customers come in there for or the number of people in the country who need to open bank accounts. They are pushed to use every tactic available to them--up to and including flat lies--to lock customers into the ugliest, most expensive accounts and credit cards they have. When modern, skeptical customers shake off this pressure, employees are reprimanded for not meeting goals, and may eventually be fired for not being good enough salespeople. Likewise, employees are required, for PR purposes, to use their unpaid time to volunteer in the community in some capacity. Rather than be at work, where the community needs them most.

I believe DouchEast has, after helping as best they could to collapse the economy, had to make some HR cuts to maintain top-tier bonus packages. Naturally, most of these cuts have had to come from front-line plebian services, as of course the investment bankers who caused the depression are too valuable to let go. Most of their branches have desks and windows for up to 8 cashiers, but rarely have more than one person running them. Likewise, they have offices for up to ten people at a time to discuss their accounts, but typically have one person or no one available to do this. This causes queues--and fury. In banks, even a queue of five people can take an hour to slog through, as there's no telling what people are coming in to handle. It's not like checking out at the grocery store, or even getting on a roller coaster. These days queues are out the door, with fifty people or more waiting for one stressed, exhausted clerk to call them. Fifty people who have stepped out early on their lunch break because it's the only time they can be there when the bank is open, and will be delighted to discover that they won't actually have their inquiry addressed until their office closes for the day.

What makes this even more fun is the fact that their operation model sends most of their employees out of the building for lunch breaks at exactly the same time as most of their customers arrive. This is not a new problem or phenomenon--most people have jobs these days. Even back in the day when women generally did not have jobs, they had no need to go to the bank because they also weren't allowed to manage accounts. Banks have Always had to deal with most of their customers at lunch time. And they've always been short staffed at lunch time.

There are several very simple, practical, and inexpensive solutions to this problem. One is part-time shift labour. The morning shift arrives at 9 and leaves at 2; the afternoon shift arrives at noon and leaves at 5. The office is double-staffed for two hours right when most of their customers show up, everyone works a reasonable amount of time between meals, you can stagger in a few 15-minute breaks for tea, snacks, and cigarettes, and everybody gets a fair day.

Alternatively, you can have lunch-cover employees. Backstage administrative assistants most of the day, this team eats first, then comes in and takes people's places as they leave to eat in groups arranged by the size of the cover team. Once lunches have cycled through, they may go back to stapling forms and playing solitaire like normal.

Another option is to do what several companies I've worked for in New York do and call in lunch for the whole office. You buy a variety of foods, making sure to account for everyone's eating preferences and allergies--some online services even allow everyone in your office to login and, within a price cap set by the company, select a meal from up to 5 delivery places a day--and then let folks sneak off for fifteen minutes at a time to eat.

What you do not do is let most of your staff disappear for an hour the hour they are needed the most. That is stupid. And it makes people angry. Angry enough to take their money elsewhere.

Oh but wait. Everyone else behaves exactly the same way.

If it weren't for the existence of banks, no one would believe that an industry could actually survive being run so poorly. People have complained about banking services, opening hours, fees, and money-making practices since the invention of the bank. They're run badly, and they're not run with the Main Street consumer in mind. I recognize that banks are businesses and need to make money. I'm not averse to the idea that employees need to be paid. I have no real problem with bankers investing my money in rational ways for their profit, provided my money is kept safe and made available to me whenever I need it.

I Do, on the other hand, have a problem with banks being under-staffed, causing queues which waste my time and the valuable time of others. I have a problem with inefficiencies, like having to wait a week for a document I need now that can and should be printed immediately. "oh, but it's printed by our secure printing service in the middle of nowhere..." bah bah bah you could get it for me but you won't because of a policy that was established in 1870.

Everyone else has modernized. I can get free wifi on the grounds of ancient ruins. I can ride into the city in air-conditioned silence at 80 miles an hour in a train wherein, if I wanted to, I could roll a football down the aisle from the conductor's cabin to the rear fire exit. I have watched a hotel be built on its settled foundations in under a week. We have a probe ORBITING JUPITER. But you. You can't go to the printer behind you, pick up the official letterhead in the sheaf next to it, and print off six pages of bank statements for me because that's just not how you've always done things.

Banks, governments and churches. They must hold everyone else down in order to stay on top, and they have the power and money to do so.


In other news, I'm conviced the Mimic Octopus is far more intelligent than any human.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

wind and rain

Tears run freely
I blink them angrily away
Flicking my head to the side
So the wind will catch them.

If you see me
And I look like
I've just lost my puppy
Have no pity
I'm fine.

No really.
There's something wrong with my eyes.
I don't think it's allergies.
I wake up with my eyes dripping
And itchy
Every morning.

They water when I go outdoors
Blinding me
Freezing my face
Streaming like
Well, streamers


yeah, I suck at poetry, but if anyone has any experience curing constantly watery eyes please let me know. It's driving me nuts.

Monday, November 01, 2010


I finished painting my dining room today. It's a lovely, rich red-orange shade. I did an okay job, I think. It's kinda shiny, which is something I've never felt ballsy enough to commit to before.

I haven't found a job yet, but I've been applying.

I still haven't heard about graduation, but I'm not particularly worried that I'll pass. I am worried that they won't get their asses in gear on the paperwork soon enough to keep me and my international classmates out of hot water with border control.

In other news, I've been keeping up with Joe My God lately, and as much as I applaud the thousands of Americans who have contributed to her first real grassroots movement in decades by making "It Gets Better" videos, they make me sad. Most of the ones I've seen (made by individuals--not the awkwardly-read ones from politicians and public figures) have told of a difficult and painful childhood that was only alleviated by leaving. The only way they could find to make their lives better was to run away from their families, their homes, everything they knew, and to go somewhere safe. Because the people who were horrible to them stayed horrible when they grew up. Their families and churches remained intolerant, even dangerous.

The videos never say "it'll get better because the world is getting better." or "when you grow up, the people you want to love you will come to accept you for who you are" or even "I had a difficult discussion with my father, but he's come to tolerate me." The sweeping majority say "When you grow up, you can leave all that shit behind. In a little while you'll never have to see those fuckers again."

And in America today, that Is the best option for gay kids in the Bible Belt. Hell, in some communities it's the best option for ethnic and religious minorities, intellectuals, feminists, and even cancer victims. Just get out. There's no rehabilitating these fascists, and if you fight for your right to pursue your own happiness, in the open, pretty soon you'll start seeing burning crosses in your front yard.

Because that's what the Tea Party is. That's who video makers have had to escape in order for things to get better. The white, Christian, middle-aged bigots who don't want to have to accept anything but themselves. Indeed, they want their identity to be the national identity, the only collective identity. I don't think they even want 'different' people to join their religion, culture, or xenophobia--they just want them to go away. They oppose diversity, tolerance, and understanding. They oppose government spending on anything that isn't a free cheque for a million dollars that only they receive for being so wonderful.

The video makers have done precisely what the Teabaggers wanted them to do. Vloggers call it escaping. Baggers call it banishment. In the end, the Baggers get what they want for their community, and the Vloggers join a new one. Nobody has to change.

Teabaggers tend to live in areas of the world where they don't have to grow to accept anyone who's different because there's no one different around. Extreme conservatism is less common in urban areas because everyone is different from everyone, so there's no opportunity for cultural insularity. It is a matter of simple proximity. Urban areas do wind up hosting gangs and working around the odd integration-proofed pocket, but this is what happens to supremacy movements in diverse communities. Weirdos who can't assimilate or tolerate others find themselves on the edges of society, angry but ultimately powerless. Most people just blend in and are fine with that. They don't try to impose upon the freedoms of their neighbours, provided their neighbours extend to them the same courtesy. Any lifestyle that doesn't actively cause harm to others is just fine.

The Tea Party are the problem. They always have been. Now at least they're a unified and easily-identifiable bag of doorknobs. A quivering mountain of human blubber sitting around in their Medicare scooters, Klan hoods in one hand, misspelt sign demanding that healthcare not be extended to poor people clutched in the other sweaty palm. These are people who hate Obama because he is black, hate homosexuals because they're told anal sex is icky, try to ruin women's lives with unwanted children as punishment for not abstaining from the most natural act in human nature, and sincerely believe that America and her people are actually better than everyone else on earth.

They are not fiscal conservatives. That's giving them too much credit for learning about and understanding conservatism. Moreover, the reductions to government involvement and financial oversight they would like to see would result in catastrophe, with each one of them out of the job as soon as their employers moved overseas, or dead in explosions when their un-inspected, corner-cut factories finally shake themselves apart.

They are not social conservatives, as they don't have any coherent moral or ethical values they're sincerely trying to uphold. They demand that women not have the option of terminating pregnancy, while simultaneously demanding that no one should have to provide health insurance to them, so these miserable women are back at work trying to pay off their hospital bills mere weeks after they give birth, making them completely unable to bond with their babies or even breastfeed them. These children grow up neglected, resented, and often abused when the stress gets too bad, leading to lives of crime, hatred, and fear. They demand that students not be permitted to learn about or accept homosexuals, and demand that the only thing their kids be taught about sex is that they shouldn't do it, and try to 'cure' them as soon as they get wind that they're gay anyway, but try and hush-up the fact that their 'homophobic' pastors are routinely caught in bed with South American rent-boys, and forgive their senators and governors for having mistresses. They ignore what it really takes to uphold family values--education, acceptance, support, and dedication--in favour of hate, fear, and disgust.

Fascism is a belief that the best way to unite a country is for the government to mandate that everyone in it believe the same thing, behave the same way, and have all the same values. Once they agree on a religion, political party, and way of life, everyone must follow it without question. The Tea Party does not believe anyone should have the right to disagree with them. They do not believe anyone should be allowed to live in America without being an evangelical Christian and adhering to their teachings. They believe the church should rule the country, just as it should dictate the specifics of every individual's entire life. Because in a unified country, there is no room for individualism, intellectualism, or dissent.

No, wait. They don't believe these things. They just mindlessly repeat these things. Because they're sheep. They're sheep who have been told by their shepherds that they're the best sheep in the whole field. If they look outside the herd they may see that that's not strictly true--all the other sheep are just as pretty as them, really--so they're told not to look. The shepherd's control over them would be compromised if the herd realized that the other sheep were happy too.

You can't be at once fiscally and socially conservative in a secular state. The two are mutually exclusive. A small government cannot execute a cultural mandate. That's why they want to empower Evangelical Christian churches to bindingly establish and enforce their way of life as The only way of life. That's their goal. Not to protect religion from a powerful state that they believe would ban it, but to empower it further than it already is compared to the rest of the first world. It is frightening, disgusting, and back-assward. It is a desire fuelled not even by religion itself, but by hate, greed, and idiocy funnelled and fanned by religious and corporate leaders to further empower and fund themselves. I'm scared shitless for America right now, because too many stupid people have been organized into a singular movement that they don't and won't ever understand. They will bring painful consequences down upon themselves and the rest of the world, and all the rest of us can do is bite our fists and wait.