Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Heartfelt, if Unwarranted, Open Thank-You Note

Dear HR Department Representatives of the Six or So Companies who have Sent Me Rejection Letters,

Thank you for your note. I very much appreciate knowing that you received my application and reviewed it to some degree before deciding against it. Over the past two months I have sent out upwards of 50 job applications but have only received about ten confirmations that I even did so. While I am of course a little disappointed that I was not selected for an interview with your company, I am absolutely elated that you took the time to tell me. I am seriously not joking. It makes me feel so much better to hear a solid no than to just sit and wait, confident my application probably was discarded without so much as a glance but still nagged by the niggling hope that maybe your office is just really, really inefficient. It took the BBC 4 months to send me a rejection letter--who's to say you're not all like that? And then where would I be if I accepted a job? Weeks after I accepted a job on a sailboat, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I received four calls from other companies--boats, offices, and even the circus--offering me interviews and expressing interest. Not fair! I have no patience for false hope. I have more respect for companies who tell me no in a timely manner than for those who string me along or simply say nothing. It's one thing if they cover their tracks from the outset with a quick "due to the high volume of applications we receive we are unable to reply individually to every letter, so if you haven't heard from us in a week please assume you were not selected for interview." blurb on the job description itself. That's a reasonable stance, particularly if you have over 50 applications for each position. That quick line of text gives an unsuccessful applicant closure. But the ones that just say nothing, particularly in the arts--that can mean anything. Seriously, with flaky artsy types at the helm, no response could mean no, maybe, yes, or even where are you, we've been paying you for six weeks. So seriously, the clear concise and timely rejection letter is a courtesy I appreciate.

warm regards,

One of the Thousands of Applicants You'll Never Meet

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cool Events I've Come Across

What's that? I do believe that's a Thames clipper coming about after having just passed through the drawn Tower Bridge.

Oh, and what's that? I believe I witnessed London Henge.

And that is a very mean swan.

Jardin Entr'Acte, avec les photos

Well, my tulips are pretty much done for the year. The dark purple tulips are still clinging onto solvency, but they'll dry out by Wednesday I'm sure. I've cut the stems back but left the foliage so hopefully they'll be strong for next spring. Thanks, Tulips! You really brightened my winter. See you back soon.

The tomatoes are getting bigger but they're not big or strong enough yet for me to stop worrying about them. I probably shouldn't have put them outside when I did but I was tired of hauling watering cans up to the attic, which is now hot and stifling without the skylights open. A fox dug one of the Gardeners Delights up in what appeared to be an aborted burial for a six-inch piece of a mouldy baguette. Bizarre. The plant was uprooted but not damaged and seems to be springing back.

I've had to move my growing operations up the garden somewhat as the huge ugly sycamore in my neighbours' garden now has enormous limbs overshadowing the end of the yard. Irksome, as I already have a big ugly holly doing that on the opposite side. I'm sure my neighbours wouldn't give a flying hoot if I lopped the branch off, but as I have no car and the city does not provide garden waste removal, I have no idea what I'd do with it. The idea of "chop it up and burn it" has a certain appeal, and there's no law preventing me doing just that, but I'd like to get a chiminea or sturdy metal trash can before I tried that. The idea of chopping both of those trees down and burning them is even more appealing, figuring I swept the garden yesterday and it is already again covered in nasty sticky tree pollen sacs and pointy painful stupid ugly holly leaves.

The Big Pink Plant has pink flowers now but it's not as showy as it was last year, probably because I pruned it quite severely after it dropped its blossoms last May. It was scraggly and lopsided and kinda sad-looking without the flowers, but I guess that's the trade-off. It also appears to have two cousins in the garden that are also blooming, but with white flowers of the same shape. Pleasing. I dug up some photos from 2010 to demonstrate just how much less floofy it is now.

Big Pink Plant Whole 2010

Big Pink Plant Detail 2010

Big Pink Plant Whole, 2011

Big Pink Plant Detail 2011

Just this morning the Azalea has begun to bloom, and the peony is about to. Yay! Also as of this morning I have visible seedlings for my bell peppers and beefsteak tomatoes. Go little plants!

Peony bud! Eeek!

Azalea! White flowers are hard to photograph.


I have an interview with another temp agency on Tuesday, so hopefully I'll start getting somewhere soon.

The couple that bought Malcolm and Simon's house sounds like they're installing shelving. They smoke some stinky brand of cigarettes, which is disappointing--the Polish woman on the other side smokes something that smells nice after it has diffused a bit in the night air. Yesterday we happened to see the new dude bring in a set of golf clubs. There goes the neighbourhood.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ancient Wisdom, or Fear of Change?

Why do people feel the need to justify the actions and attitudes of the present against documents from the past? The Bible, the Qu'ran, the Constitution, the company mission statement...all referred to constantly by people to prove that they're right, that they're good, that they're striving to attain some well-established ideal. I don't understand.

The Constitution is a big one for me. I don't understand the reverence afforded the Founding Fathers, a bunch of frustrated men whose primary goal was to set up a country that would be Not England after years of colonial oppression. I don't get why people hold up the Bill of Rights as though it's some sort of scripture, perfect and unthinkable to modify, despite the fact that it is comprised of the first ten corrections to a distinctly flawed original document. Why do we hold old writings and rules in a better light than contemporary? Why do we convince ourselves that the values of the ancients are somehow superior, nobler, despite the fact that society has been constantly progressing since the time of writing?

I think the Constitution should be reviewed every year by a randomly selected body of poli sci professors. Once a year they sit down and read the rules and say "okay, does this one still make sense? Is this still a good idea? Could we rephrase it to be more clear? Could we replace it with something more applicable? Should we change this to something that more accurately reflects the best interests of everyone in the nation, not just the white christian ones?" The good ones, keep. The ones that have already been amended, or the ones that are discriminatory or perpetuate inequity get struck. Like the 18th Amendment--it was repealed. Surely that means the 18th should be kicked out and women's suffrage should move up a space. Indeed, why can't women's suffrage just be added to the 15th? What's wrong with modifying the document itself, instead of eternally adding to it? If you're amending it, clearly the document is not sacrosanct. Why do you wish only to fill in the white space at the end? You can keep the first one on file, but don't use it if it's no longer useful.

As for laws that may suck, why should people have the right to wave guns around or not have to give evidence against themselves? Why should the government reserve the right to quarter soldiers in people's homes in wartime? Is it really a good idea to not re-try acquitted cases if new evidence comes to light?

(I'd like to take a moment to consider the right to bear arms. Regardless that its original phrasing intended to state that the people have the right to form militias and defend themselves from tyranny, the right to have a weapon doesn't actually give you the right to use it. If you use your gun on someone in a non-defensive act, it's a crime. Likewise, if you use your gun on someone in an act that you believe to be defensive but turns out to be unnecessary, it's a crime. The only time it's okay to use your gun for its designed purpose is if someone else is using their gun for its designed purpose on you and you'd prefer they didn't. That's just weird and pointless. Kinda like the christian "god is three distinct people at once while at the same time just one dude" argument. Weird, bullshit, and pointless.)

But why do we constantly re-interpret the presumed-noble intent of the written edict, when we could just write something better? We give new meanings to the Constitution and scripture all the time to reflect current thinking, despite what it actually says. Like the current dispute between godbotherers and halfway intelligent people over the first amendment. The godbotherers like to construe it to mean that the government won't dictate religion, but may still behave in a religious manner. Whereas sane people figure it means that the government is a secular body that must not have anything at all to do with religion. If the law as written can be misconstrued, and in particular if it may be misconstrued to repress people or impose discriminatory values on them, it must be re-written. More specifically, if circumstances progress and the world grows up and we realize that a particular law is outdated or represents a view that is no longer universally viewed as just, laws must be updated to reflect--not just the views of the vocal, but the logical, objective truth.

As logic stands now, so long as adults of sound mind consent to an action, provided that action does not affect non-consenting parties, it is no business of anyone else to intervene or even regulate it. But back-assward busybodies nevertheless believe it is their right and obligation to impose their narrow world views behind everyone's doors, so laws remain on the books--some of them utterly unenforceable because federal laws contradict them--that ban perfectly reasonable behaviours because religiosos are holding out for the day the federal ban will go away.

Just as it is unacceptable for religion to control private behaviour and thought by scaring children into believing they are always being watched and their minds are always being read, it is not acceptable for the state to pass laws against doing as one pleases provided it doesn't harm anyone else or break or take their stuff. This is reasonable and just and appropriate. But it would require a complete re-write of everything. I'm okay with that. I don't hold the law as sacred. I believe history is recorded to be learnt from, not to be repeated or maintained. Yes, we know how things were 200 years ago in this country. That doesn't indicate that that's how we need to stay. The People at large don't give a whoop what we used to be. Standing up in front of Congress and saying "well for 200 years the US was ruled by and for christianity so we better keep it that way" is akin to a representative in Israel standing up and saying "well for the past thousand years we didn't have a country here so we better give it back." History is not a mandate. What things were is not necessarily what things oughtta be.

The decline of the prevalence of religion in the developed world (i.e. Europe) crossfades clearly with the advent of useful medical science. Religion has been steadily losing its grip on government, education, nursing, and daily life ever since the discovery of penicillin. As soon as it was discovered that antibiotics and sanitation were far more reliable than prayer people became disillusioned, and rightly so. (Every time someone's life is saved by a complicated surgical procedure and it's called a 'miracle' a skilled surgeon sheds a tear.) It's downright rude to attribute to your imaginary friend what was clearly the work of human beings--human beings who, incidentally, only became able to develop surgical techniques and medicines by disobeying the directives of the church. Indeed, George Eliot mentioned in Middlemarch that even at her time in small country towns the populace was disinclined to trust a religious doctor.

But it goes beyond that. Now that we have video and audio recording technology, quick and easy transport connections around the globe, and instantaneous news coverage of all planetary events which affect people, it's become incredibly difficult for anyone to insulate themselves from the fact that bad shit happens everywhere. How can a sensible person thank Jeebus for curing them of a nasty stomach bug while simultaneously aware that 28,000 people were wiped out by a tsunami--some instantly, but many slowly and in pain, while others are now left to deal with the loss and the battered survivors? Who besides a narcissist can honestly thank god for curing them of anorexia while millions starve due to farm subsidies and trade agreements on top of changing weather patterns? What arrogant freak still thinks there's something out there, in control of the universe, who loves them and gives a flying shitball where their puppy is? How Dare you be religious?

Every catastrophe, every plague, every public outcry is not a time to question the motives of your imaginary friend of choice, but an opportunity to fix something--namely, the structures, traditions, and protocols that were in place that allowed this to happen. Religion exists to restrict the functionality of the state, education, love, science, and medicine and its finally dawned on people that it's costing lives, jobs, equality and happiness. Government is likewise hobbled when its base laws, which may have appeared clear, fair, and appropriate in the religion-crippled culture of 200 years ago, were written for a different, larger world--a world where you could pretend that your way of life was the best and didn't need to change the rules just because they were wrong.

"Because that's what the ancients did" is not a justification for any action. "Because we've always sold Walkmen" does not keep your electronics shop open, even if it was founded in 1987. "Because they thought it was a good idea in 1787" does not justify the US's continued use of the inherently-undemocratic electoral college voting system. Times Change, and old documents and old ways of doing things must be respectfully put aside. Filed, stored, not lost, not forgotten, but not perpetuated. That which we do must be tailored to the world we live in Now, and when what we're doing now is no longer relevant, it too must be archived.

If it's old enough to be sacred, it's clearly out of date.

Southeast London Buttermilk Biscuits

My adapted recipe. Doing dry measures with a scale just makes so much more sense than with cups.

Start with a cup of milk. Add a tablespoon or so of chardonnay vinegar and let it sit for about five minutes. If you don't have chardonnay vinegar, use regular vinegar or a slightly larger amount of lemon juice, but chardonnay vinegar is best. Steer clear of balsamic or apple cider vinegar, and whatever you do, don't waste your time looking for buttermilk in London. It's not there. Then give it a quick stir—it should be thick.


Single recipe. Doubling may or may not require exactly the same amount of buttermilk, depending on whether or not Mars is in retrograde.

250 g plain flour
85 g butter—frozen, grated like cheese.
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

cheese grater
big bowl
sieve for flour. Sifters are dumb.
scale and other measuring devices
whatever baking pans your landlady left you
clean wooden counter-top. If you have Formica counter-tops, have your kitchen re-appointed before continuing.

See what I didn't include there? A spoon. Yeaaaah.

Preheat your crappy-ass oven to gas mark 8, otherwise known as the “who needs eyebrows?” setting. Due to the nature of your crappy-ass oven, you'll have to rotate your ungreased cookie sheets at least once to ensure the ones in the back don't burn and the ones in the front actually get cooked, so you'll let all the heat out and they won't rise properly. If your oven has a window, watch the ones in the back rise beautifully for the first five minutes, then start to fall when the temperature drops. How like life.

If you'd rather have biscuits that rise nicely, buy an electric oven, install it, and set it to 450 F, 230 C, or self-cleaning mode. Or try to jerry-rig some sort of lazy Susan type device on the top rack. Might work. Refrain from using duct tape or plastic components, particularly if you're baking at night, so as to avoid waking up the whole damn neighbourhood when you burn your kitchen down.

Working with your hands, mix the dry ingredients. Add the butter last, in small handfuls, breaking up any clumps that form as you go. Make sure the butter is nice and incorporated throughout the flour mixture before you add the faux buttermilk but pull your hands out while it's still cold. Add only as much buttermilk as necessary—this amount will change based on the humidity and the movements of Saturn—to make the dough stick together without becoming gloppy. Incorporate only as much as you have to. Do not knead. Scrape the biscuit-worth of dough off your fingers. Dump out on a hella well-floured countertop—use your sieve to snow out a nice even layer—and pat into something resembling a circle, a little over half an inch thick. Do not roll out or pat to less than a half inch in thickness, as the biscuits will come out flat and lame. Pressing straight down, use a 2 inch-diameter biscuit cutter to hack the dough into rough circles, or whatever shape they wind up as. Instead of re-forming the offcuts into another cut-able disc, just throw them on the pan. You're not gonna serve them to the f'ing queen and everybody loves offcuts. Bake for 10-20 minutes, depending on the lunar phase, and remove when most of them are golden brown on top.

Yields about 8 good-sized biscuits, plus another biscuit or two worth of offcuts. I promise this is preferable to 10 biscuits, 2 of which are puck-esque.

Serve with apricot jam, orange marmalade, mozzarella and sliced tomatoes, eggs, baked beans, black pudding, or whatever you have laying around. They'll probably go well.

If you get a chance, serve them alongside a basket of scones and thumb your nose at your friends and family by proving that no, they are not the same. There's nothing particularly wrong with scones, but biscuits they ain't.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts, Tulips, and new desktop background

Since I began painting my house back in October (or was it longer ago? Did I paint my dining room so I wouldn't have to write my dissertation? Oh memory, you fail me so speedily these days.) I've been addicted to audiobooks. While I'm still just as literate as ever, and my eyesight has not failed, I have found a joy in taking in a story with my ears that I never before knew I could. I started with the light and silly Sookie Stackhouse novels, perfectly narrated by a delightfully southern professional voice actress, but I ran out of those before the painting bug left me so I sought quickly for something else.

Relief from the silence (and constant shrick-shrick of the roller) came in the form of, which provided me with classics read by such an interesting variety of volunteers that I felt I might never grow bored with even the dullest of prose. I started to seek out texts read by my favourites, regardless of what they were, and discovered that I actually could tolerate Jane Eyre, and Finished it this time. I've completed more of Jane Austen's canon than I ever knew existed--I started with Sense & Sensibility, revisited Pride & Prejudice, and clomped through Persuasion before enjoying some of her short stories and hilarious essays. (Give The History of England a go--it's just a short thing and I think she wrote it while still a teenager. It's great.)

I'm currently halfway through Middlemarch, though I nearly gave up after a series of unfortunately-voiced readers left me bored and annoyed. (thick Italian accent with confusing phrasing, followed by thick Indian accent with guesswork inflection, followed by thick Ohio accent with inexcusably poor pronunciation. urgh.) So I'm taking a quick break from that and enjoying a professionally-read version of Brideshead Revisited from the library. As Brideshead was not published until 1945 it's got another 22 years before the LibriVox team can get their claws on it. I hope the internet hasn't gotten mouldy before then.

Anyway, some pictures. I think the hosta would make for a good default desktop background.

Two peppermint-flavoured double tulips. The pink stripes turned purple before they passed.

Bluebell with evergreen flowering shrub.

dark tulips with sunshine. mmm.

peppermint-coloured tulip beginning to curl up.

Chive flower beginning to emerge from bud. Yes, I take pictures of my onions.

Hosta, leaf almost entirely unfurled now.

More of the same.

Invasive tulip peeking, with aphid. They just seemed to hang out in them without actually hurting anything. Odd. I still smushed them when I saw them, as they were a nuisance to my tomatoes all last year.

I thought this looked like a supernova against the night sky.

The last flower-leaf of this plant to open, surrounded by older leaves that have faded to yellow. As of now they're all green, save this one, which is yellow.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tulip Time!

So today is the warmest, sunniest day yet of the spring, and my tulips sure realized it fast. I came out this morning and the soil was parched and everything was drooping, which was surprising as it rained on Monday and even some yesterday. But whatever. Onto the flower show.