27 October 2013

PLEASE GENDER-SWAP EVERYTHING, BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW HOW TERRIBLE YOU ARE YET

THE LAST OF US

The world has been overrun with zombies, as usual, and the only people who survive are rugged individuals and bands of armed mercenaries.  You play as an ordinary tween girl, El, tasked by a boy you love and trust with protecting a headstrong middle-aged man, Joely, who may hold within his delicate body the key to human salvation.  For the first half of the game, you must use your skills to keep him safe, though eventually you trust him enough to give him his own pistol and he assists you during fights.  You grow to bond with your grizzled middle-aged companion through a series of incidents, while stubbornly denying that he is nothing more to you than a surrogate for your own father.  When you are gravely injured, Joely feeds you and brings you medicine, but while he is on his own he is captured and held by the tween leader of a cannibal cult, forcing you to torture and kill the cult members you capture before mounting a raid on their compound to rescue him.  

In an innovative twist, you are briefly allowed to play as Joely (though admittedly only while El is incapacitated by injury).  The writers have gone out of their way to present the men in this game as having their own agency and goals, a laudable change from the passive wriggle-and-squeal tropes of men in video games.  Also refreshingly, no one suggests that the cannibals will abuse Joely sexually (perhaps because of his age), only that they are likely to eat him.  The violence, however, is still quite shocking: especially when you play sidekick, the animations have you stabbing girls many times in the eyes, neck, and groin to disable them.  The context cues of the game ensure that whenever El kills a girl, you know you are killing a human being with personal relationships to her sisters-in-arms, and one of the last human survivors of the apocalypse--all the more distressing because the game frequently requires you to kill all the girls in an area before you can progress.  

The visuals, writing and music in the game are all top-notch, but it suffers from being mired in a survivalist fantasy that has always been about honoring and privileging feminine skills at the expense of masculine ones.  The world of The Last of Us is designed to make technological consumerism, lawn-mowing, and high-shelf-reaching look like ridiculous, obsolete skills; mending, cooking, conflict resolution and child-rearing are the valued skillsets of the post-apocalyptic age.  It gives me pause that so many of our modern fantasies are about this type of world.  It seems to presage a generation of women dreaming about a world where they can be respected for their base animal qualities, without having to worry about male concerns or social pressures.  I shudder to think about the position of men in such a world.  

06 October 2013

Portfolio Rejects

So it's time once more to try and go get a job, doing art or something else.  Meaning time to look over my drawing folder and see if I think any of it is fit for the eyes of potential bosses.  None of this is, to my mind.

This won't do on account of how it's sexy fanart. Plus the 
anatomy seems weird, like her neck is too bendy or something?  
Probably worth a redraw.


Unfinished, plus it doesn't really demonstrate the compliant spirit 
I associate with successful employment.

This is a picture of a developmentally-unfortunate dragon.


WHEN I LIVED IN THE PALACE
Remember when Ursula was talking about how she used
to live in Triton's palace? I wanted to see her young and dangerous years.

ZIEGFELD GIRL
This one is a bit nude, plus I think I can do the lighting better now.  Redraw!

YAY FOR DOLLS

Surely you cannot submit paper dolls, particularly paper dolls 
you've made of yourself or anime characters.

STRIPER
I'm worried that this one (of popular Shadowrun 
were-tiger Striper) is racist, and also about the lighting again.

Potential employers must never know that I routinely fill
character commissions for D&D friends.

Much pride still in my Doom emoticon set,
but it is possible to notice that the anger balloon
is pilfered from...I think a Sailor Moon game?

27 September 2013

A Few Weeks of Clear Skin

Dear diary, I never thought it would happen to me...

What have I been doing?
• oil-cleansing once a day, using wipes or cetaphil otherwise
• changing my pillowcase every three or four days
• witch hazel/lemon juice/aloe juice toner
• rosemary essential oil-- a few drops mixed with jojoba to cleanse or for a night-time moisturizer.
• taking zinc & vitamin C tablets

What haven't I been avoiding?
• sugar
• dairy
• fried foods
• frying foods
• makeup
• sulfate shampoos
• fancy livin'

21 August 2012

Runcible Rape

So, if you're a person, you're probably aware of the latest spasm of insane nonsense in Republicans' ongoing battle against women who have bodies: Todd Akin's assertion that pregnancies resulting from rape were rare enough to be a non-issue in outlawing abortion, because the wombs of women who were victims of "legitimate rape" had a mechanism by which they would "shut that whole thing down."  This fantasy must be a great comfort for anyone who is genuinely troubled by the idea of a woman suffering through an additional humiliating, expensive, life-threatening ordeal after a traumatic assault, yet who must still demand that such a woman be prevented at all costs from accessing safe abortion services.  Akin was at first roundly decried by all sane people everywhere, then right-wingers demanded that we shut up about how terrifying it is that this idiot is allowed to make laws on health care and science and that we ought to only talk about how bad the economy is.  After that, a number of defenders of the sanctity of life until birth emerged from their Morlock caves, and now we have a media "debate" about "legitimate rape" just as we had a "debate" about going to war in Iraq, torture, global warming, et al, ad nauseum.

I am, by nature, an internet feminist, and so in this case I want to discuss issues of language.  When Akin laid his giant head on the sympathetic lap of Mike Huckabee the day after his moronic remarks, he explained that he had misspoken, and that by "legitimate rape" he had of course meant "forcible rape", rather than something that was worth the little ladies getting all het up over.  This term, "forcible rape", has a long history in the anti-abortion fight, most recently when Paul Ryan and Todd Akin forcibly inserted the phrase into a bill which would have denied any federal funding for impoverished women's abortions unless they were victims of rape.  "Rape" not being rapey enough, the co-sponsors made sure the bill read "forcible rape."

Now, "forcible rape" is a bit of a poser, as a phrase something like "close proximity" or "unexpected surprise" or "personal friend."  It modifies a noun by placing before it an adjective which is a central defining characteristic of that noun.  "Rape" means sex which is forced, coerced, produced through threat or violence.  Now, I'm not against differentiating between different circumstances of rape via categorical adjectives, if it helps break the idea of stranger-rape being the typical case, which arguably phrases like "date rape" or "acquaintance rape" do.  But the very use of the words "forcible" and "rape" in conjunction suggests that people who use it believe that there are other species of rape which are important to distinguish from this type.

Indeed, the one which anti-abortion campaigners suggest as an example of non-forcible rape is statutory rape.  Now, I haven't thought much about statutory rape since I stopped wanting to have sex with teenagers, at around age 19, but I think I have a pretty good handle on the right-wing objection to statutory rapes being included in the category of "rape" for the purposes of judging victims' merit.  The idea is that that slutty teens (abetted by the satan-worshipping lesbians at Planned Parenthood) will be so keen to get free abortions that they will (falsely, it is assumed) accuse venerable older men of consensually raping them, so the state had better at least ask the teens to display some vaginal bruising to back up their accounts.  Again, this is a fantasy of female evil created by anti-abortionists to escape from the knowledge that they are hurting children, rape victims, and women in general with their stance against modern fertility control methods.  Statutory rape is not a perfect legal construct, but it codifies the idea that extreme power imbalances, such as those that exist between children and adults, create a coercive atmosphere in which the child's consent is not legally meaningful when compared to the adult's coercion.

Anyway, all this is to suggest that, when you see the phrase "forcible rape" used as though it were a serious concept, you might well want to substitute "runcible rape," because "runcible" is a delightful nonsense word created by Edward Lear, and "forcible rape" IS A NONSENSE TERM CREATED BY POWERFUL SOCIOPATHS.

26 November 2011

Men Ain't Call Me Shit

My enthusiasm for blogging has been on the wane for some time, but nothing has been quite as boner-killing as the recent outpouring of feminist bloggers' litanies of death and rape threats they have received from readers.  This mirrors a lot of my experiences with the feminist blogosphere, in that it's an awareness-raising campaign about an apparently universal female experience (rape threats when you express a feminist opinion online) that has never happened to me.1

I have two main reactions when my whole sphere suddenly lights up with solidarity over how men are always treating you as primarily sexual objects.  First, there's the reaction of horror at the malice these women experience, which makes me genuinely fearful about blogging and being in public.  Later, as I read more and more and learn how widespread such campaigns of internet terror seem to be, I begin to wonder what on earth is so wrong with me that apparently no one wants to choke me with cocks for my opinions.

It's a real headfuck.  The consciousness-raising, solidarity-promoting campaign to reveal the extent of the abuse other women have suffered in silence makes me feel pressured to either self-censor my own lack of abuse or attempt to compete with other feminists in the victimhood stakes.  While I often feel alone in my (patently dickish) reactions, I know I'm not alone when I feel pressure to conform to feminist narratives of victimization, because shit like this crops up from time to time.  I have a great horror of becoming an editor of my own experiences to match the narrative of a group I ache to belong to. 

I'll try and work on my failures of empathy. In the meantime, I think I can advance an explanation of the origin of rape threats themselves, which many feminists seem to be crying out for.  In brief:
1) Everyone feels massively threatened by the current climate of fear and despair, even male sexists.
2) Powerless male sexists feel that the feminist narrative has totally won out and they are disenfranchised, making attempts at civil disagreement futile.  Feminists, despite feeling themselves embattled and fearful, are perceived to present male empowerment and female disempowerment as universal rather than situational and relative. 
3) Powerless male sexists cast around for ways to silence feminist arguments they feel are so wholly baseless (due to their own experiences as embittered social rejects) that they cannot engage with them intellectually. 
4) Because women have a sex, sexists settle on the notion of attacking their ideological opponents at this point of weakness.  Historical styles of disciplining misbehaving women are employed, which mostly hinge on women's desirability as sexual objects.  Men who advance opinions which are similarly objectionable to reactionaries receive a different style of threat--threats of violence toward themselves or their loved ones, accusations of homosexuality, or threats towards their jobs.  Men perceive the problem of threats as a lamentable characteristic of public life, while women perceive it as a problem of their gender. 
5) Real patriarchs continue to live blissful lives unfettered by consequence while the rabble tear each other to pieces. 

1. "Ah, privilege!" cry the feminist bloggers.  "Your existence has been so privileged that you may even regard our identification of your privilege," they add, "as simply a way of dismissing any experiences which contradict our narratives."

18 September 2011

tone it down

For the moment, let's turn our focus on the notion of a person being "attention-seeking."  This is the concept we draw on when we sigh "he just wants attention, ignore him", or sneer "shut up, you attention whore."  We might describe Lady Gaga this way, or Louis Spence, or a small child--anyone shrill or grating.  It's a catch-all term of abuse for anyone whose behaviour is outré in a way that people consider otherwise unjustifiable.  This is a term of discipline, meant to evoke shame.

This first started niggling at me when I was seventeen.  My high school's yearbook committee had planned a page devoted to photos of couples kissing (which was dumb), and administrators had excised a photo of a pair of my lesbian classmates from the final product while preserving the rest of the page (which was dumber).

The message was clear: the school didn't see our relationships as valuable or meaningful in the same way as our heterosexual classmates, but rather as obscene. The administrators advanced two arguments in their defense: first, that the young ladies involved would benefit from not having a permanent record of a relationship they might later characterize as a youthful indiscretion (a courtesy not advanced to a straight couple who had vowed on the page that they would be "still together ten years from now" but who had broken up between the taking of the photo and the yearbook printing); and second, that any further debate over the fairness of this decision would distract other students from their important studies.

Naturally, we organized a kiss-in.  That is to say, we called up the local newspaper and tv news and told them that all the high school students would be kissing each other in a variety of gender permutations out on the school lawn one afternoon.  The form of this protest was considered.  It held up as ludicrous the idea that being photographed kissing your girlfriend might be shameful, and demonstrated that failing to value us queers as students was going to be more distracting than just treating us like everybody else.  It referenced the golden era of American protest, and it had a hook to draw in the media (hot teen sex lawn).  We did get a good amount of coverage, and although we had to add our own lesbians to the yearbook that spring, they made damn sure to acknowledge the existence of queer students in the following years.  It was also, incidentally, the first time I ever kissed someone.  A successful protest all around, I would say.

So it was with some dismay that I read a letter in the paper (an early form of online commenting!) the next day, admonishing the editors for deigning to attend the protest, grousing about all the "giggling bisexuals" on the local news, and generally complaining that it was clear that all the protestors wanted was attention.  Well, yeah.

The more I considered it, the more of a mystery it became to me.  Attention seems like such a Maslovian need--would we sigh "ugh, what a food whore" when we see a starving man?  "She's only doing that because she's looking for a sense of security and belonging in a group."  Attention is how we understand ourselves to have a reciprocal social connection with others.  Not being attended to frequently by people in your life fucks with your sense of self.  Ask a homeless man, charged with the task of soliciting permission to survive from every passerby, how dehumanizing a lack of attention can be. 

Then I started looking at whom the epithet was directed--first, children and reality show subjects.  Second, trolls and bullies.  And thirdly, women in the public eye, queers of all stripes, and people of color who complained of institutionalized racism.  People it's not applied to include parents, reality-show creators, the owners of sports franchises, and straight men in general (hard to be attention-seeking when your gaze is constantly subjectified). 

So.  The framework that's being encoded in the pejorative use of "attention-seeking" is that some people have an excessive desire for our finite attention, like small children, and that ignoring them will serve both to punish them for their bad behaviour and to help them grow up into strong, capable straight white men who dress conservatively.  This is untenably paternalistic, and I reject it.

There is, however, one instance in which I support the diabolization of attention-seeking, and, spoiler warning, it's when corporations do it.  I am profoundly annoyed whenever I see a corporate blog post end with an exhortation to "join the conversation!" or "tell us what you think!"  It's a lazy and useless attempt at online community-building, one which attempts to shunt all the work of fostering a discussion space onto commenters.  Moreover, it's one part of a creeping systemization of creatives working for free (not, as I wrote initially, "pro bono") to make profits for corporate stockholders--regard the ads you see regularly nowadays which ask you to produce content for more advertising campaigns, presenting this as a fabulous creative opportunity rather than a pure scam.

It's really getting to the point where capital is in such a strong negotiating position that it can demand years of free service from a worker before paying him, that he may prove a faithful and uncomplaining employee.  We can fight this, but we need one thing.  Workers of the world: get attention.

28 July 2011

Don't You Look Nice

I'm seeking permission to compliment people on their appearance when I see them in a public place.  I want to do this nearly all the time, and I never, ever do.  Here's a breakdown of the things that stop me. 

1. Communicating with someone has a number of stages, and it's difficult for me to perform the first one: attracting the attention of your communicatee.  At some point I learned not to speak up in public, not to touch others, etc.  I'm naturally quiet and I get quieter when I feel embarrassed or insecure.  Consequently, I have a lot of trouble soliciting and holding someone's attention long enough to speak a sentence to them (unless I'm paying). 

2. Maybe my attention is unwanted.  Maybe the subject of my attention has an eating disorder, and compliments are triggering for them.  Maybe they're just sick of being reacted to on the grounds of their appearance (viz).  All the outcomes where I hurt someone's feelings instead of making them feel buoyed are readily accessible to my imagination. 

3. It's possible that someone might interpret my attention as a sexual advance, which would distress me.  I mainly want to buck up girls (who tend to have made more of an effort anyway), and I think they're generally less likely to pursue apparent sexual advances, so this one may be just neurotic. 

4. Maybe they're a fucked-up psycho or overly gregarious, and when I talk to them they stab or attempt to prolong conversation with me.  Conversely, maybe engaging a stranger in a constrained public space is the kind of action a psycho or overly gregarious person would do.  I would hate to be seen that way!

I guess I'll probably wait to act on these impulses until I'm an old dear, since at that point talking to people on trains will be my ordained right.

19 July 2011

Meat Foods I Have Not Missed

A companion piece, for your reference. 

Raw Chicken
I don't care how you cook it, the fact that it was recently a gooey pink gibbet of pathogens freaks me out. 

Raw Beef
How can you not feel like a murderer just looking down the meat aisle?  It looks like what you'd see after you set about yourself with the katana in Left 4 Dead 2. 

Iridescent ham or roast beef
This has got to be a bad sign. 

Hamburger
If you buy it pre-made, it is made from ONE MILLION COWS, as well as all the cows those cows ever had sex with.  Think about it. 

Octopus
The worst possible combination of rubbery and intelligent.  Each tentacle is has as many nerves and moral feelings as a mouse's brain, perhaps. 

Scallops
Pointless, chewy.

Clams, mussels, molluscs generally
I just hate eating something's eliminatory organs. This goes for shrimp and their "sand vein" as well.  

Rattlesnake
Tasted this the last time I was in Colorado in an attempt to be cosmopolitan.  What does it taste like?  No idea.  It was prepared as a falafel, and the snake meat was completely imperceptible.  This experience is characteristic of other exotic meats I've tasted, such as ostrich and venison. 

Salmon
Just never liked it that much.  Best as sashimi, I suppose.

Any kind of white fish
Ditto. 

Puppy
Awfully gamy. 

Bacon-wrapped bananas
Nauseating. 

Veal
Associated with my most serious ever bout of food poisoning, plus it is an adorable baby cow.

Poultry fetuses cooked in the shell (mao dan or balut)
This is as close as you'll see me come to expressing an opinion which is anti-abortion.

17 July 2011

Meat Foods I Have Missed

I thought I'd keep a running tally of foods that I enjoyed a lot as a meat-eater, pined for as a vegetarian, then used my newfound cooking skills to recreate.  After some consideration, I've excluded recipes where the flavour comes from heavy spicing and the meat is sort of a blank center point, e.g. curries, buffalo wings, that sort of thing.  I never want for those.  Also burgers.  The state of veggie burgers is fine. 

French Dip sandwich
My favorite thing made from a cow.  Easily recreated with sliced portabello mushrooms and tons of garlic.
Satisfaction: High

Tuna Salad Sandwich
Very successfully recreated with cold crumbled tofu and vinegarMy partner enjoyed this moist sandwich not one bit.
Satisfaction: Mixed

Unagi
The buttery, tender flesh of eels is one of the last things I gave up on my course from pescetarian to proper vegetarian.  Hit on the solution to this one after frying tofu marinated in alcohol a few days ago.  Made some kabayaki sauce to put on it and I was in non-hog heaven.
Satisfaction: High

Ham
It's a struggle.  The grocery store won't sell me any liquid smoke.  I use some quorn lunchmeat right now. 
Satisfaction: Low

Bacon
Lots of work has been done on this by eminent bacon scholars.  There's baco-bits for your baked potato, veggie rashers for your bacon sandwich, and smoked cheddar for anything that takes bacon and cheese.  As to streaky bacon, I haven't really attempted a remake due to the aforementioned liquid smoke issue. 
Satisfaction: Moderate

Sausage
I've posted about this before.  Morningstar sausages also provide that greasy wrongness you want in a full breakfast sometimes.  
Satisfaction: Perfect

Braunschweiger
I like how it tastes of liver.  Haven't really tried recreating it, but Marmite has a nice kind of metallic organ-meat quality.
Satisfaction: Untested

Short ribs
Heartbreaker.  There's lots of good barbeque options for the veggie, but nothing is quite like using your low incisors to scrape the smooth muscle off a jerk-glazed pig bone.  I'm just saying. 
Satisfaction: Low 

Crispy Duck
Of all the ghoulish things I miss about meat, it's eating that layer of crispy, fatty waterfowl skin that I miss most.  There's apparently a couple of Asian solutions to this: Buddha Duck, which is made of stacked tofu skins, and mock duck, which is made of wheat gluten.  I've managed to find neither in Boulder or Scotland as yet. 
Satisfaction: Pending

Chicken wings
The good thing about these was eating all the flesh, then chewing the cartilage, then cracking the bones with my teeth and sucking out the marrow like it was crab meat.  But I also just like dark meat on a chicken.  I'm not going to bake any false bones and then fill them with marmite or something.  It's not worth it. 
Satisfaction: Not to be had

Crab
Is crab delicious, or is it just something vaguely saline that you can dip into lemon butter?  Think about it.  It's more the activity I miss here, the cracking and picking.  Replaced that by buying walnuts in the shell. 
Satisfaction: w/e

Beef Jerky
Again, it's less that I like the actual food, which is just beef, and more that I love taking something very tough and fibrous to pieces with my teeth.  There's plenty of vegetarian options for something tough and fibrous, believe you me.
Satisfaction: At peace 


When I started this list, the intention was to demonstrate that anything you miss as a meat eater, you can substitute as a vegetarian.  As I went through the things I liked eating when I ate meat, however, I found that many of my pleasures were bound inextricably to the consumption of animal parts.  It wasn't a question of taste or texture, but rather my enjoyment at using my hands and teeth and tongue to render those things that had made an animal able to live--its connective tissues, bones, and organs--into energy for myself. 

The capacity to enjoy meat is hardwired in me, and it would certainly be easy enough to pursue its pleasures.  But enjoyment isn't a moral imperative.  We can weigh our pleasures against the harm they cause and make decisions that both minimize harm and make us happy.  Frankly, I think if more people would accept this premise, I'd hear fewer of them assert that a monogamous bisexual is a contradiction in terms.

04 May 2011

more than a handful

Yesterday was the birthday of Christina Hendricks, which occasion prompted a debate on Slog (and probably other places on the internet) about whether her breasts are real.  Hendricks is currently most famous for her role as Joan Holloway on Mad Men, a show which has been continuously and effusively praised for its artifice.  She also has the dubious privilege of being the go-to centerpiece for any hand-wringing think-pieces about body image in Hollywood, being at once almost impossibly beautiful and constructed at a scale that makes her co-workers look like snappable dolls.  This generally means that discussion of her dimensions will begin in the opening paragraph of the article itself, rather than with the first comment.

It's niggled at me for a while, this question of real breasts.   The term sounds like it ought to apply to people whose tits have been altered in the digital realm, right?  Breasts which are literally imaginary.  But no, someone whose breasts are unreal is a person who's pursued surgical implantation.

Implants are a job requirement for a bunch of female professions, let's admit that up front.  Natural breasts are untidy, usually asymmetrical, and behave like sacs of fatty tissue in motion.  Women generated with reference to some kind of Platonic ideal, as befitting fantasy industry professionals, should have breasts which remain conic as their hosts bounce around and fail to age.  And so women who want to do these jobs are gently but firmly coerced into submitting to horrifying surgery.

As a society, we tend to consider implantation (as well as less aggressive forms of fantasy-conformation, e.g.) to be dishonest, immoral.  So you have vehement fights in which one party feels they are defending the honor of a beloved figure by claiming that she would never be so awful as to physically change her body for acting, while the other party believes they're performing a public service by revealing a base fraud.


The problem is that our judgement of a real person who works in the dream factory implicitly compares her to the fantasy creations she's helped present, and the real woman--however plastic she may be--is inevitably found wanting.

24 April 2011

Love Sausage and Respect the Law

I get a good amount of flak from meat-lovers about being a vegetarian who likes the taste of meat.  Most of them regard it as the height of folly to decline to eat something which is delicious, and a delusion to try and replace meat for any purpose.  And of course I find more people who are suspicious of the very idea of cooking in the meat-eating camp than among veggos, probably by necessity. 

There are more cogent arguments as well--an ethical, local meat industry is developing, and it's a lot easier to source one cut of beef than a jar of coriander if it's sustainability and cruelty to humans I'm concerned about (it is).  I don't know that vegetarianism is necessarily the most ethical choice all the time, so I try to present it rhetorically to others as a matter of personal preference (it is).  On the rare occasions I actually eat meat, it's the texture that's offputting: impossible not to think of my own body rent and flayed when I'm pulping muscle fibers between my molars. The taste, however, is very nice. 

Now, my partner and I are different kinds of vegetarian.  We both like animals and dislike the thought of eating their flesh, but for the most part he genuinely dislikes the smell and taste of cooking meat.  There are a few things he misses, though--chicken, mainly.  But when I mentioned the idea of recreating the Scottish sausage known as square slice, he perked right up.  This recipe has become one of his favorites, something we both enjoy on a roll or with tattie scones. 

This recipe, then, has at its heart a Vegan Dad recipe for sausage.  The first changes I made to it were to take it further from the Seitan O'Greatness, which I have always hated.  So paprika and nutritional yeast were out, as well as fennel seed and oregano.  For some reason I find that oregano always makes bitter sausages.  After a while the puréed beans dropped out as well.  What I had at this point was a pure wheat gluten log of variable size, prepared with soy sauce, vegetarian boullion, and sesame oil (which always has the effect of convincing my tongue I'm eating meat).  I mix some powdered ginger, garlic, and onion into the flour because they add to the meatiness without adding bulk or moisture. 

Pictured: some seitan. 
Wheat gluten, or seitan, is probably the best meat substitute out there.  Tofu never has quite the right texture, being either too soft if I prepare it or too chewy if I leave it to Asian restauranteurs, plus it's the devil to try to get spices to penetrate to its interior.  TVP only works for dishes that want mince.  Beans and mushrooms are tasty, but they usually have better uses.  Commercial meat substitutes like Quorn can be good, but usually taste like feet.  Seitan is as neutral as bread but takes flavours readily, and it can be prepared with any texture you like (boiled for juicy and soft, steamed for chewy-but-tender, baked for dense) with a minimum of effort.  If you're vegetarian and untouched by celiac disorder, you've definitely had seitan in a commercial veggie burger. 

Around this time we had developed a taste for a certain frozen meal, Aunt Bessie's vegetarian toad in the hole, consisting of a couple sausages in frozen Yorkshire pudding batter in a little tin.  I copied the spices off the back: coriander, nutmeg, thyme, sage, parsley.  I guessed at the amounts and added them to the flour, carefully omitting parsley. 

I started experimenting with other additives besides spices, mainly to cut the rubbery quality steamed seitan can have.  Grated cheese was one of the first things I tried, along with minced fried onion.  The cheese stuck to the foil and created hard little pockets in the seitan, while the onion had the opposite problem and just slid away when the log was cut.  An egg seemed to improve the texture without these downsides.  It was later, when I started making pakoras all the time, that I added a bit of gram flour, which has a distinctive flavour and makes it hold together better.  And of course I'm always looking for ways to put MSG into things, so Maggi seasoning, in both its liquid and cube forms, has been a godsend.  I decided to add TVP on a whim one day and it's been the best decision in the whole sausage-making process. 

Innovations in the mixing stages mainly had to do with the preparation of the TVP and the amount of water.  This part was a total bastard.  Eventually I stopped trying to wing it and measured everything out by weight.  As for cooking, I've not deviated very much from the standard instruction to steam for 45 minutes.

Here, then, is my favourite recipe, tested exhaustively by me.  It's quite forgiving, so I encourage you to experiment and find out what works for you. 

Seitan Square Slice
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 Minutes
Yield: 750 g, two good-sized sausage logs

Spice Mix
    1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1 teaspoon ground ginger
    1 teaspoon onion powder
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    1/2 teaspoon thyme
    1/2 teaspoon sage
    1/2 teaspoon rosemary

    1 1/2 cup (180 g) wheat gluten
    1/4 cup (25 g) gram flour (If you can't find this, leave it out.) 

    1/2 cup/40 g soya mince/TVP
    1 tablespoon sesame oil
    1+ tablespoon butter
    2 - 3 tablespoons Maggi seasoning (or 4 cubes)
    around 1 2/3 cup/400 ml water
    1 egg

Dissolve boullion in 400 ml boiling water, then stir in TVP, butter and sesame oil, and a bit of the spice mix.  Allow to cool to a temperature that won't cook an egg before adding the egg. 

Combine remaining spice mix and flours in a dry bowl.  Turn in the cooled mince mixture and soaking liquid and stir with a fork until well-mixed.  You don't need to knead it, just make sure everything's wet.  Let it sit for a half hour or so in the fridge, then knead if you like. I tend not to, because it's pretty much like squeezing a bunch of oily meat.  The next stage is what determines the density, anyhow. 

Cut the dough into two pieces, and place each piece on a sheet of foil.  Roll up in a short fat log & steam for 45 minutes.  Let it cool until you can handle it, then pop it in the fridge.  When it's cool, it'll be sliceable and you can fry it up or use it in other dishes as you would any cooked sausage. 

Half of this recipe (one log) will fill 500 g puff pastry as sausage rolls.

23 April 2011

Introducing Comment of the Week

From now on, in order to improve the quality of my comments section, I'll be posting the best ones in a weekly roundup of the very best of the wit and wisdom of readers of this blog.  First up, this week's entry:







14 April 2011

let's pretend I have a tumblr

Lately I've been feeling a little like it was time for another of the periodic stylistic shakeups that we go through in our lives, so I started outlining the kind of themes and roles that I aspire to in my dress, based on Russell T. Davies' essay about pretending.  Davies, you may recall, is the creator of the initially warmly welcome (but later deeply mortifying) David Tennant series of Dr. Who.  [EDIT: Actually the man from that link is a different Russell Davies. My apologies for accusing him of responsibility for Love & Monsters.]

I thought I'd say a bit about the things I pretend from day to day.  A couple of sartorial constraints inform my choice of fantasy roles: I like to keep a lot covered (if only technically); I tend to wear browns, greens, and golds; I like flat-soled, lace-up boots and long coats; and I'm quite messy and disorganized.  And I want to be desirable--not necessarily desired, but maybe like an acquired taste.

Hippie
In truth, I am a bit of a hippie--I'm pacifistic, left-leaning, and my standards of personal hygeine are relaxed.  Only the passage of years and the development of the internet prevent me from really joining any kind of social movement.  "Hippie" as a style, though, covers a lot of ground.  Let's say it's round wire-frame glasses, flowing cotton prints, Indian influences, hair, and sandals.

Witch
My first association with a witch these days is Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena.  Anthy is Ishtar, re-interpreted as a devil in a newer patriarchal myth structure, but to my mind a witch isn't so much a force of nature (a la S6 Willow) as a woman who leverages a bit more personal power and fearsomeness than would generally be considered acceptable to get what she wants (a la Granny Weatherwax).  I find this image of the unregenerate scary spinster to be somewhat romantic.  So: Fluevog witch boots, black dirndl skirts abbreviated to the low calf, that whole 19th-century librarian vibe.

Amy Pond
The newest Dr. Who makes the next-newest Dr. Who look shameful and silly.  One of many reasons for that is the character of Amy Pond, who is some kind of goddamn sexual tyrannosaur.  Did you see the Comic Relief special?  The contents of Amy's panties nearly caused her men to become permanently lost in time and space.  That's not even mentioning the power of Pond's crack or her Pandorica Box.  On account of being so fucking foxy, Pond basically clomps about in a man's shirt or sweater, a short skirt, colored nail polish, and Converse.  Like the 80s with flat hair. 

Flapper
The meaning of this iconography, like any of the sexualised roles I've listed, is fraught.  There's the romance of the sexual revolutionaries: Louise Brooks, Zora Neale Hurston, Josephine Baker, Tallulah Bankhead--but all these women were subjected to terrible abuse and exploitation because of their sex. The twenties was this period of incredible sexual objectification and subjectification of women, not unlike today.  Unlike today, the silhouette is boyish instead of hyperfeminine: dropped waist, longish skirts; tight hats with little to no hair visible; sculpted-heel mary-janes or t-straps.

Pre-Raphaelite
Another artistic/fashion movement which was about glorifying and exploiting sexy women in equal measure.  Long cotton-lawn gowns or tunics, tight sleeves.  Velvet if you absolutely must. 

Gunne Sax Girl
It's a sort of 1970s interpretation of the Laura Ingalls Wilder look, with lace and calico aplenty.  Prairie Underground (aside from having the perfect name) is currently producing some fine pieces in this idiom (albeit not in calico).  Occasionally Free People as well.  I can't quite afford either.

memento mori
A bunch of my fashion life has been spent orbiting goth--trying to dress as near as I can without falling in.  It's worth interrogating what it is about goth I find cool, and what it is I find embarrassing.  Goth is a look which is all about details, proportions, lines, with colour taken out of the equation entirely.  For that reason, it's a good place to start a journey into fashion.  And because of that, there's something adolescent and unsophisticated about it, as well as retro in the mortifying way that anything from your early high school years can be.  What I think of goth as being is all about D-rings, but what I want it to be is distressed Victoriana. 

Daria
Sometimes, you just need to look like you're Not Trying.  You can't do the big shop in all your finery.  That's when Daria is my fashion icon.  I hardly need to say, but the look is prescription glasses, longish skirts, sturdy low boots, and sensible outerwear. 

Kabuki
This would be David Mack's Kabuki, the complex pre-Alias tale of a cyberpunk agent's psychological journey.  I used to be a Japanophile, but now Japan and I are just good friends.  Similarly, I used to regard cyberpunk as a dystopian future, rather than the dystopian present and/or a dystopian retro 80s style.  Still, there's a goodly amount of this retro-future-present in my day-to-day style: think Black Milk. Shiny tights, sinuous cyber seams, Japanese influences.

Elf
My elf aesthetic is all about practical gear for the forest, made from the forest.  Legolas or Link.  Pixie hoodies, ragged-edge jersey skirts, pocket belts.

Snake

Snake?

SNAAAAAAKE!
Like Naked Snake and The Boss, I'm about having a camo index of 98% while still sporting military and Red Commie influences. 

Wonder Woman pin-up
This one has very little to do with the rest, but it's been relevant to my life since I moved to Scotland and am trying to live here as an American.  When I'm out and around, I want to be a cheerful, helpful, 1940s American in a smart uniform handing out Marshall Plan candy bars, not Ugly American Neoliberalist.  Coincidentally (perhaps) Wonder Woman is the MAC theme this spring.  There's an absolute wealth of 1940s retro style about, you're probably familiar enough with it.

I feel like I'm honing in on what I like and why, as a result of this exercise. There's a militaristic/anti-militaristic thread, a sort of natural or environmental theme, and the idea of death and decay.  Also anything with a nipped waist.

17 March 2011

You're Doing Gender Wrong

I enjoy watching pop videos, I guess.  I'll certainly watch them for hours until I've had my fill.  Sometimes I even like the songs.  But mainly I enjoy watching brief linguistic and visual spectacles on the Semiotics Channel.  Take Mike Posner--if you listen to his lyrics, he just sounds like a classically-trained date rapist.  Classically-trained in date rape, I mean, not music.  But the videos for his odious songs are great!  "Cooler Than Me" has him stealing sunglasses off hipsters and looking into different film universes through them, and in "Please Don't Go" the emotional pain of a breakup causes the world to fragment and artifact around Posner like a badly-streamed video.  And every week produces a new guilded turd of similar caliber. 

Generally these days UK pop videos are fashion shows whose central themes alternate between a kind of Babestation Lite and personal affirmations that you are, in fact, okay to just be yourself, even if maybe you don't look and/or fuck like the video people.  So basically music television has become women's magazines, with all the conflicting messages about women's roles that that implies.  I'm open to the idea that young women may be in need of someone to tell them that becoming the world's most lifelike Realdoll is only one of the many things they can aspire to, of course.  I'm just not sure that message is best delivered by a writhing professional dancer with no skirt or trousers.

One style of video I have come to find especially grating is the specific claim, made over and over again, that women are in fact just as good as men and can achieve anything they want.  This was a brave sentiment in 1961; the fact that it's still in heavy rotation in 2011 would seem to imply that it hasn't really soaked in, despite the very different material conditions of first-world women these days.  These songs--Jessie J's "Do It Like A Dude" is the one in current rotation, but previously we had Alexandra Burke's "Broken Heels", a couple entries in the genre from Beyonce, and basically Pink's entire oeuvre--they appear to stem from a sense of inadequacy at not being male, a kind of "penis envy", if I may coin a phrase.  And the answer in the videoverse is to do what men do, but sexier. 

This approach misses out one of the major conceptual gains of the feminist movement, aside from how it got pretty much everyone to agree that there was some historical point at which women were getting a raw deal (currently debates tend to rage about whether we should be locating this point in the past or the present).  The gain I'm referring to is the capacity to question the gender binary.  Rather than attempting to slavishly duplicate men's lives, only with killer heels and bouncing a baby on the hip, we could use feminist intellectual tools to stand back and ask whether the mass of men have it so good today that women ought to expend their energy on catching up. 

Also of note: I am apparently so straight these days, or Jessie J's hoodie-playsuit and wacky gurning antics are so terrible, that I didn't notice that the backing dancers for her number are largely delicious-looking Afro-Carribbean butches.  J, much like Lady Gaga or myself, identifies as bisexual, so I guess I'm meant to feel some kind of solidarity.  I don't.  Also they keep mentioning that she has a heart condition.  The phrase "save your breath" springs to mind.

03 March 2011

A RACE PUN

Is fashion the most racist industry operating today, you guys?  It's hard to think of another one where racism is so vertically-integrated, from globalist-racist textile manufacture to elitist-racist high fashion, to aesthetic-racist beauty standards in magazines. 

All these want talking about in a serious way, but high fashion is a particularly interesting case because it has a special quality, which I'll term "hipster racism".  Hipster racism is that style of racism which stems from the belief that through personal sophistication and irony you have transcended racism, and that henceforth no interpretation of your actions as racist can be valid.  This posture need not be informed by any kind of self-reflection or critical knowledge, just a belief that you can't do wrong if you mean well (or mean nothing).  The hipster racist knows that he is not a racist in his heart, because he is nothing in his heart, a valueless, empty point from which explorations can be launched.  Thus he frees himself to use racist language or imagery in the name of freaking out the squares. 


Avant-garde fashion is, by definition, obsessed with being shocking and unfamiliar, in exploring the heterotopia.  But in an information-dense environment, getting your shock from something that's new is very difficult, and so fashion often goes instead to the well of the socially-unacceptable.  So we get rotating collections of anthropological curiosities, sexual outrages, political bogeymen, obscene wealth inequity, the homeless, addict chic, grotesques. The atrocity is aestheticized and monetized.  And if you got upset, you had fallen for the hipster's trap: Gotcha!  You were holding something sacred, weren't you!  Thinking something was important, when in fact everything is arbitrary and nihilistic!  LAME.

All this is why I'm a just a little bit surprised that Dior shitcanned Galliano, rather than commissioning him to create a fall collection inspired by the legacy of Hugo Boss.

03 February 2011

Weighing in on Dickwolves

My background: I've been reading Penny Arcade since 1999, I've been reading feminist blogs since the invention of blogs, I am intimately familiar with the way internet arguments escalate, and I have a sense of humor.  My take, which you should understand is the correct take from what a fucking expert I am on all these topics, is that PA made a perfectly appropriate rape joke which no one ought to have objected to, and then a funny comic mocking the concept of rape culture, and then a series of increasingly swinish moves, followed by an absolutely stellar apologyPretty much everyone else has behaved execrably. 

Out-of-context criticism is absolutely endemic to feminist blogging, and I think it's because expressing solidarity for rape victims outweighs pretty much any other concern including accuracy and fairness.  This is a value feminists have: if you asked most feminist bloggers what motivates them to blog, "because somewhere, a woman is being forced to have sex against her will" is going to be high on the list.

But qualities of the crime of rape are variable and resist conforming into an overarching social narrative of cause and effect, whether this narrative is "rape culture causes rape" or "women's rape claims are strategically-motivated".  Proponents of each narrative have their own shibboleths and very little patience for views or data that fit their narratives badly.  And why would they display patience?  Either there's a world of women whose lives have been destroyed by rape, or a world of men whose lives have been destroyed by false accusation--in either case, the appropriate response to this terrifying world of arbitrary injustice is outrage and activism. 

My personal, meaningless opinion is that there are probably numerically more rape victims than falsely-accused rapists in the Western world, but it would certainly be easy to receive the opposite impression.  False rape accusations have inherently longer news cycles, for example, and tend to leave believe-the-victim feminists looking credulous.  Also, my high-school sex-ed teacher has by now taught generations of young men that a woman whose lips have touched even a single drop of liquor will be fully supported by society and the legal establishment in railroading any young men who foolishly have sex with her to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison.

I suppose reviewing rape conviction rates from reality would have conveyed the impression that you could do quite a lot of rapes without fear of prosecution, and so I see why she presented this nugget of men's mythology instead--still, it joins the pinpricked-condom and half in undergirding a worldview where relationships with women are a threat.  And the complementary worldview in which men are a kind of deadly animal who mainly abuse, rape, stalk, and discriminate against women is, of course, prevalent in its own circles. 

Now, on the internet, these ideologies are taken up by people whose knowledge of the nuances of their apologia vastly outweigh their experience with, e.g. the mechanics of sex, and so everything is really angry and stupid and broad.  In the case of feminist blogging, I've seen this translate into a practice of defending the notional traumatized rape victim at all costs (for example by tagging up every fucking post with "trigger warning"), even against actual rape survivors who, after all, are women who continue to live and crack wise and have idiosyncratic opinions even if the rhetoric we use tends to present them as broken or no longer fully human ("lives destroyed" earlier in this post, for instance).  For the video gamer, it is probably fairly difficult to transition suddenly to the feminist version of a term ("nonconsensual sex") which is in ubiquitous use in his subculture as a synonym for "defeat soundly", and in general use as something more like "sex obtained at knife-point, by a psychotic stranger, from a jogger".  The gulf between definitions, not to mention the existence of complete assholes on various sides, makes some kind of conciliation between ideologies a seeming impossibility. 

I'm not sure that I can bring all this together to some kind of conclusion.  I'm not sure anyone can.  I'd like to see everyone treating the person glimpsed through the screen like they were sitting beside them, but I don't exactly follow this precept in my own online conversation, and I am a bit of a dick IRL besides.  And I'd like to see fewer rapes and, I guess, fewer false accusations of rape.  I suppose I can do worse than conclude by quoting Tycho: "Go, and rape no more."

25 January 2011

Letting The Side Down

Increasingly I've come to regard my decision to call myself a feminist as being similar to my earlier decision to call myself a lesbian when I knew I was strongly attracted to men as well as women.  Calling myself a lesbian was a personal, political choice: an attempt to manage other people's impressions of me and a prescription for myself as a sexual radical.  But it was essentially dishonest, and so it was not only problematic for me personally but harmful to the sexual identity I was trying to establish solidarity with--what was the lesson of my love life but that dykes just need the right man to come around? 

I think feminism is super important of course, and the legal, social, and political equality between genders it aspires to are fundamental human justice issues that are far from resolved in even the most progressive circles of even the most privileged areas.  I'm incredibly grateful to my feminist forebears, who ensured that I wouldn't be compelled to whelp live young if I didn't want to and could go to university and all that.  And it gives me pause to even consider dissociating myself from an important social justice movement that has fallen on hard times. 

But I get exasperated with the unfalsifiable doctrine that wherever there are men and women, women must be getting the worst of it.  I get mad whenever "men" is used as a synonym for "patriarchy".  I get offended when media representations of white women are treated with greater seriousness than the actual lives of black and brown ones.  I get irritated whenever I see the implication that the advancement of women consists of getting them to catch up to men, and that men's lives are a fixed measure by which everyone ought to be judged.  I can't subscribe to the idea of a zero-sum game between one half of humanity and the other, and I don't feel that I'm different enough from penis-havers to automatically side with my sisters against my brothers.  And, lordy loo, I'm tired of having that one argument about rape.  

It's not just that my knee-jerk reaction in any situation is to also consider a male perspective before coming to a snap judgment.  I have selfish reasons as well.  I'm tired of how I react emotionally to mischaracterizations of feminism, feelings which seem distressingly near to patriotism or sports fanaticism.  I'm tired of dealing with the fallout from a 60-year disinformation campaign anytime I want to convey to someone what I believe generally.

What I want is a word that doesn't imply that I hate sex and jokes and men and domesticity, but which ideally implies that I hate God.  I want to go back to what I knew was the right term for myself the first time I read it as a child: humanist.  Secular humanist if you're nasty.  I want to define myself as pro-human and resolve to be in solidarity with humans. I know it's very white-privilege of me, but I just want my affiliations and opinions to be by choice rather than by default.

18 January 2011

My beloved, let's get down to business

Can it really be so?  Have I actually decided I have something to add to a discussion of that hyperinflated term, empowerment?  Well, yes, I'm afraid that time has come.  Strap in. 

What put me over the edge this time was watching Music, Money, and Hip Hop Honeys--which I dearly hope will have the distinction of being the only show produced by the BBC to feature a presenter asking a sexual assault victim to explain how her clothes influence rapists and jurors.  What happens in the show is, one of the women (who refer to themselves as 'video girls') gets quite bubbly and animated when she puts on revealing clothing, so the presenter concludes that, far from feeling exploited and unhappy and used while performing sexually, some women find it empowering

Then the presenter discovers that most women performing in videos don't get paid, and that they have shockingly unrealistic expectations that they are about to be 'discovered' while gyrating, and that being so discovered would make them super-rich.  She concludes that, while some video girls may feel empowered, the power actually rests with the people making all the decisions that affect their lives, and that this power relationship is not substantially affected by their gyration. 

That seems to cover the ways I generally see "empowerment" used in discussion.  So what I want is to tease out some of the meanings and assumptions when different people talk about empowerment.  I made a chart. 



As Twisty classically pointed out, the term has been co-opted by advertisers, tied firmly into the ideals of consumption.  At some point, "empowerment" was decoupled from the actual substance of power in capitalist society, namely the ownership of money and property, which is handy because open discussions of wealth do not benefit capital.  So the main way empowerment's used today is to describe feelings

Now, I am sick to death of empowerment discourse which is about personal feelings and not substantive measures of social power (i.e. money, i.e. redistributing money more evenly among existing humans, i.e. people pissing and moaning about the status quo but if you try and change it suddenly you're a communist).  Personal feelings pay for jack shit. 

Moreover, it seems that people who want to talk about feelings of empowerment are happy to imply that individual empowerment is simply collective empowerment at a smaller scale.  Individual empowerment is plainly not the secret to collective empowerment: I may gain a great deal of personal power by marrying a billionaire, but that does fuck-all for the rights of any group I purport to belong to.

What also tends to happen, as is very much the case in Hip Hop Honeys and in Twisty's worldview, is that empowerment then becomes the disempowered individual's responsibility, neatly removing oppression from the equation.  Anyone who comes to the table pre-empowered--whether by an accident of birth, lucrative work, or bald calumny--will be treated as though power is their birthright, while anyone trying to get somebody's boot off his face will have to prove both faultless and meritorious to be granted the right to occupy the ground he's being crushed into.

Mostly, though, "empowerment" is used to talk about women and sex.  What kind of sex would empower women?  What kinds of acts would sexually empowered women get up to?  What positions would be most empowering for them?  Would it be more or less empowering if the women were very attractive and young?  Would adding additional young attractive women to a sex act make it more empowering?  These questions and so many more like them have been discussed in tedious detail in the media for some reason. 

The position of third-wave feminists, if I may generalize, has tended to be that THEY are deeply afraid of a woman's pleasure, and as such every orgasm amounts to sticking it to The Man, even when you obtain it quite the other way around.  But this association of pleasure with power is problematic.

One of the themes of this blog is that pleasure is, at best, limited in its capacity to change power relationships: there's a lot of pleasure and peace in complying with society's plans for your ilk.  And unlike Homo Economicus, we often do things to get along, or to impress a lady, or to be sociable, or to have self-respect, which may not garner us or our identity-politics group greater social clout.  Making empowerment a stand-alone measure of whether an action is morally positive collapses a bunch of relevant factors into a black-and-white caricature of human lives, emotions, and social relationships, which I guess explains why it's so widely used.