But the Survivors Became Such Strong Swimmers!

On May 7, 1915, RMS Lusitania was sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale, in southern Ireland.  She went down in sight of land, taking 1,128 lives with her, including 128 Americans.  She went down fast, in less than 25 minutes, sufficiently fast that many if not most people onboard had no time to get to the few lifeboats that got off the ship.

The entire world — outside the Central Powers, at least — was horrified.  This was most definitely Not the Straight Bat, Old Man; such things Were Not Done.  Welcome to the 20th Century.

Imagine, if Gentle Reader will, if the newspaper reports of the atrocity had claimed to find a silver lining that the passengers and crew who survived in the water had become such strong swimmers out of their experience, and had got over their fear of the water.

That is roughly what is done with this article from this morning’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, reporting the presentation of a paper in Beirut.  The paper is the findings of a study conducted across the Arab-speaking world.  Significantly, the study did not actually cover Saudi Arabia itself, which is the first clue that we might not be dealing with something that is all that useful.  The second, and perhaps larger, red flag is that the study was sponsored by the UN (of sex-trafficking and sanction-evading bribery fame) and several NGOs whose names are not given in the article.  If you follow the link, you’ll find that they are outfits identified as Promundo and UN Women.

[If you visit the Promundo web site, you will quickly notice some clues about their agenda:  “[P]romoting gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.  We believe that working with men and boys to transform harmful gender norms and unequal power dynamics is a critical part of the solution to achieve gender equality.”  “Gender justice”?  “Harmful gender norms”?  I’m going to state it as a near-categorical principle that every time you see an adjective pasted onto the word “justice,” you’re listening to a closet Stalinist.  “Gender norms” is another pot belching dense warning clouds.  And finally, if you remain unconvinced by my few preceding sentences, I offer you:  “Our advocacy campaigns, community mobilization, group education, and group therapy create safe spaces for men and women in post-conflict and high-violence settings to heal from trauma . . . .”

UN Women’s web site is scarcely more reassuring.  They tip their hand to the careful observer pretty much right out of the bag that they’re not so much interested in protecting women from any or many of the horrors of life as a woman outside Western Civilization.  “On the occasion of the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UN Women spotlights the voices and activism of indigenous women from around the world, as they tackle the challenges of climate change, poverty, gender-based violence, armed conflicts and more.”  Folks, when you choose to lead off your list of action items at a conference where, one might suppose, the question of forcible marriage of 11-year-old girls in Subsaharan Africa might possibly find mention, with . . . “climate change,” then you’re not serious about protecting women from anything at all.]

The study was a survey of roughly 10,000 men and women in Egypt, Morocco, Palestine (in other words, bits of Israel), and Lebanon.  As the paper’s web site describes it:  “The International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) is the largest multi-country study of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa.”  The problem, of course, is that Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran are not covered.  As any oaf who’s been paying attention to world history since 1979 could tell you, there are two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia.  They don’t play well with each other.  Their centers of theological gravity, in the sense of being those locations whose religious leaders are widely regarded as occupying an elevated position of moral authority, are Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively.  Given that — much as with Christianity and Judaism, to be honest — a great deal of understanding of the function and practice of men’s and women’s existences as such is strongly colored by religious understanding, you’d think that Saudi Arabia and Iran would just about head the list of places where you’d want to plaster your ear to the ground.  I can understand the absence of hell-holes like Libya and Syria from the list, and even Iraq.  War-torn places where outsiders are likely to be burned alive, beheaded, or just shot beside the road are not fertile grounds for asking the butchers how they see themselves as men.  But there’s no excuse at all for omitting the two Big Ones.

The FAZ article at least cuts to the chase in one respect:  Roughly half of all respondents, both male and female, allowed that equality of rights as between men and women does not belong to their tradition or culture.  Oopsies!  As has long been recognized, culture drives politics, not the other way around.  That result alone is “sobering” (the FAZ‘s word) enough, one would think.  Among “Palestinians,” roughly 80% gave housework as the woman’s most important task and role; roughly the same percentages in all four places (I refuse to describe “Palestine” as a country; it’s part of Israel) opined that access to jobs should be reserved preferentially for men.  The man should set the tone in the family, should decide what rights his wife may enjoy, where she may go, what she may wear.  [N.b.  Any man who sets himself the job of deciding what a woman will wear is setting himself up for failure.]

And yet . . . .

The authors of the paper make the usual excuses for violently abusive men:  they’re without employment; they’re oppressed themselves; they’re afraid they can’t protect their families . . . from the world they’ve made themselves with their slavish devotion to their 7th Century death cult and their tribal loyalties.  And so forth.  You almost can hear the drunk in the wife-beater, down at the precinct, complaining to the officer who’s booking him in for beating his wife into the hospital: bitch just won’t listen!!  Sure, buddy, sure.

From all this the authors claim to see hopefulness:  So many women, especially in the “refugee” camps scattered about Syria and Lebanon, have been effectively abandoned by their men, who are off slaughtering other women’s husbands, fathers, and brothers, and slaughtering their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters as well — at least when not selling them as sex slaves.  So the women have had to step up to the plate and become mistresses of their own fate, much, the historically literate will observe, as did the wives of medieval European warriors and brigands.  When your husband is off on Crusade for six or eight years (or being held for ransom in some dungeon somewhere), or is off plundering Picardy, or Languedoc, or Piedmont, or wherever, if you’re the Woman of the Castle yours is the responsibility for dealing with tenants, retainers, merchants, churchmen, and the rest of the parasite classes.

Color me skeptical, but celebrating the world-historical disaster that Islam has made of its homeland in the past 15 years because the women seeking shelter from the elements (and from the men, let us not forget) in the tent cities are of necessity taking more responsibility for their daily lives is like celebrating the survivors of the Lusitania for having become such strong ocean swimmers.

Cooking Chitlins: On Experimentation

How joyful it is to welcome chitlin season once again!  Went to my regular supper this past Friday evening, and I must say they were very tasty.

In preparation for the festivities, the preceding weekend I had thawed out a couple of quarts that I’d saved from last winter, and on a whim I tried a little variation when I heated them back up to eat.  Specifically, having warmed them back up, I put a couple of forkfuls’ worth in two teacups.  In one I added Worcestershire sauce, and in the other, Marsala cooking wine.

I am pleased to report that the Worcestershire sauce was a complete success, a result which I confirmed Friday at the chitlin supper when I had them bring a bottle to the table and I tried it out on an entire serving at once.

The Marsala wine was just too strong a flavor.  It may well be that because I added it to the finished product the flavor hadn’t had a chance to mellow out.  Maybe I’ll add it in while heating up a small helping next time.  The jury’s still out on that, in other words.

My next two experiments will involve apple cider vinegar and teriyaki sauce.  The vinegar will definitely be something to add while heating them back up.  I know some folks cook with it in the pot as well, and that’s certainly something I intend to try, based on how the smaller-batch experiment turns out.  The teriyaki will be something that can be, like the Worcestershire, added to the final serving.  You know, if you ever-so-slightly slur “chitlins teriyaki” when you say it, you sound amazingly like you’re saying “chicken teriyaki.”  So the impish chitlin chef could have a little fun offering his unsuspecting guests a nice plate of chitlins teriyaki.

I will keep Gentle Reader informed of my results obtained, as always.

And This, Dear Children, is Why You Must Travel

Or at least read about different places, times, and peoples.

Here is a chart published over at The Washington Post.  It breaks down alcohol consumption by adult Americans into deciles, according to “number of drinks per week.”  It’s an interesting chart, not only for the reasons obviously being pushed by the newspaper (“if you do much more than sniff a cork, you’re a drunk”), but for several others.

For starts, it demonstrates pretty well what the article refers to as the “Pareto Law.”  I’ve not heard that particular expression, although I am familiar with the concept of “Pareto efficiency.”  I have heard of the concept before, expressed as the “long tail” effect, which applies not only in purchases of consumer goods but across pretty much all human activity.  According to the Pareto Law, it seems, the top 20% of purchasers of a particular class of consumer goods generally account for 80% of all sales of those goods.  Do you have a friend who’s got not just one or some, but all the most recent versions of Apple’s i-this-that-and-the-other? He’s the guy they’re talking about.  The article presents this pattern in the alcoholic beverage industry as being of peculiar concern, because if you drink that much (so as to get into the 80th percentile or higher) “you almost certainly have a drinking problem.”

By the way, I love that expression: “a drinking problem.”  According to what standard?  Different people’s bodies tolerate different levels of alcohol consumption.  Different other life behaviors affect how well your body tolerates different levels of alcohol consumption.  Different patterns of alcohol consumption affect what alcohol does to your body.  All of those factors also affect in profoundly different ways how your consumption of alcohol affects your life, your work, your patterns of friendship, how you perceive and deal with the world you move through.  And on and on.  But for some reasons Americans just love them the notion of “a drinking problem.”  I know someone who is, with a few pretty glaring exceptions, of unusual discernment and reasoning capacity.  And yet this person parrots without batting an eye the old saw that “if you have more than four drinks ‘at one sitting,’ that’s ‘binge drinking.'”  To which the only possible response is, “Bullshit!”  What’s “a sitting,” for starts?  Is it without getting up from the same table?  Is it at the same event?  Or does it mean just sitting down to watch a football game and drinking four beers over the course of the three or so hours it takes for a professional football game on television?  And is four Miller Lite “beers” the same as four George Dickels?  Anyone who asserts they are equivalent is not entitled to be taken seriously on the subject.

My point is not that it’s not possible to drink indisputably too much, too frequently.  It’s certainly not that doing so over any length of time is going to harm the drinker and very likely those around him, in some physical or moral manner.  My point is that all this pseudo-scientific “measurement” nonsense is exactly that: pure bullshit, from start to finish (here’s a link to a National Institute of Health article, in which much is made of exceeding the “recommended limit” on drinking”; on what scientifically defensible basis is that “recommended limit” based?).  It’s like the notion of a “best college.”  Are there colleges that are undeniably better than others by most relevant standards?  Of course.  But is there a “best college”?  Anyone who asserts there is such an animal and he knows which one either is lying to you, or he is so foolish that you are within your rights to question whether he’s smart enough to judge a college in any event.  As Thomas Sowell pointed out decades ago, the question to investigate (and it does take digging; a lot of digging to find the answer, because the education industry goes to outrageous lengths to hide such information) is not, “Which is the best college?” but rather, “Which is the best college for this student?”  The same with “a drinking problem.”  You simply cannot answer the question whether someone drinks too much by reference to counting the “number of drinks” per day, or per week, or per month, relative to some manufactured-from-whole-cloth “recommended limit,” and then declaring that if that number is greater than X, he has “a drinking problem.”  You have to ask whether that person drinks too much for his own life.  But that doesn’t make for very large research grants, does it, or for splashy headlines, or invitations to let an opinion in a 30-second spot on the evening news show?

So just what does this chart show?

It shows how little Americans drink, most of all.  Fully 30% of American adults drink exactly nothing alcoholic during the course of a week.  Go find another Western country in which that is the case.  Remember, “nothing” is a pretty stiff standard to meet.

Another 30% of adults drink (on average) less than one “drink” per week.  That’s per week, Gentle Reader.  So if you have a single glass of wine on Friday night with your wife, congratulations!  You drink more than 50% of the American adult population.  If you on top of that have one (count it! one) beer at the turn, and then — O! the dissipation!! — a second beer at the 19th hole on Sunday afternoon, that makes three “drinks” per week, and you are north of the 60th percentile.

Now let’s suppose each day during the week you have a single glass of wine with your supper each evening (you know, like the damned doctors tell you is good for you), then a single beer while watching television over the balance of the evening.  That’s ten “drinks” per week; you’re above the 70th percentile.  And now let’s add those two (you lush!!) beers at your Sunday golf round (up to twelve now), or maybe while bowling on Saturday evening, or perhaps after working outside all day long.  And now let’s add in, at some point during the 168 hours comprising that week, another four random Miller Lite “beers.”  That’s sixteen “drinks” in the course of a week.  You may well never have had, depending on whether you were eating at the time, any measurable blood alcohol content at all.  But you’re above the 80th percentile now.  You drink more than 80% of all other American adults.

I spent two full years living in Germany as an exchange student, among Germans.  I have travelled there in the interim.  I have also travelled, although much less, in a not unrespectable portion of the balance of Europe.  And I read, and have read, copiously about other places, peoples, and times.  And I’m here to tell you, three “drinks” per week doesn’t even get you in the gates in the vast majority of other cultures, other places, other times.  Fifteen “drinks” per week likewise won’t raise an eyebrow, particularly not if it’s in the form of beer, “in the manner of a Christian” (to borrow one of my favorite Charles Sibthorp expressions).  At least as of 25 years ago breweries in Germany still either by law or custom were obliged to provide their employees with a liter or two of beer per day, which had to be consumed on premises and during working hours (back in the day the draft horses delivering the barrels also got a daily ration).  And how about France, where a half-bottle of wine with lunch is neither more nor less than what any civilized man would expect?  Or Italy?  How about Eastern Europe, where alcohol consumption is more skewed towards hard liquor (and beer, of course, as well)?

And let’s go back in time, Gentle Reader, to a time when only a fool would drink the water anywhere outside a pristine forest.  Wine and beer were what you drank because the water would kill you.  Literally.

I categorically refuse to recognize behavior at levels indulged in by hundreds of millions of people all over the world, places which are highly civilized, pretty damned prosperous by any historical measure, and overall desirable places to live as being either aberrational or objectionable.  Period.  I likewise refuse to consider those levels of behavior, when indulged in across centuries of civilized culture, as being objectionable.  Period.

Let’s look at that 90th percentile and up, the tenth decile.  It’s hard to imagine consuming ten “drinks” per day, on average.  On the other hand, there’s a huge difference between the 15.28 “drinks” per week averaged within that ninth decile (80th to 89th percentiles) and the 73.85 of the tenth decile.  It’s almost a factor of five, in fact.  Which suggests to me that there is a curve hiding in there somewhere.  I’d be mighty curious to see the numbers of the constituent percentiles of that last, highest decile.  Because if the pattern of the long tail still holds within that last decile, then the bulk of that 73.85 “drinks” per week is accounted for by the very top-most percentiles.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of this writing the U.S. population is just over 323.1 million.  As of 2014, the gross U.S. population was estimated at 318,857,056, of which 82,135,602 were ages 19 and down, leaving 236,721,454 ages 20 and up, which I’m going to suggest is a usable proxy for “adults” in that drinking study.  Ten percent of that is 23.672 million people, a lot of people.  But if my hunch is correct that we’re looking at long tail pattern, then maybe only about 3% of the people are still accounting for the vast majority of whatever it is we’re interested in looking at, in this case alcohol consumption.  Three percent of “adults” still works out to 7.1 million people, which is a lot of people to round up.

On the other hand, if my hunch is right (and I’d be very surprised if I’m all that far wrong) it means that 97% of “adults” are consuming “drinks” at a rate which, except in the fevered imaginations of the National Institute of Health, The Washington Post, and this breathless fellow who wrote the book referenced in the WaPo article, just aren’t and have never been viewed as being at all out of the ordinary in the balance of the world, either now or at any point in recorded human history.

Perhaps what this chart and its attendant newspaper article are really telling us is that in a population of 323.1 million people, even a pretty large number of people with undeniably destructive behaviors still works out to be a fart in a hurricane as far as the societal scope of the problem represented.  But that the huckster and the demagogue can easily make it out otherwise.  And that we as citizens and voters would be very well-advised to examine very closely all such sermons and exhortations.


Unplanned Interlude

Oh, where to begin? If what serves me for memory these days is reliable, the last time I put any up on this ‘umble blog was just about exactly two months ago today.

This is being typed in the Pittsburgh airport. I had not intended to travel to Pittsburgh. Not that I have anything against the city or its state. It’s just that I had intended to be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean at this exact moment, on my way to Germany by way of Constantinople. [Digression: The place was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for just over 1,100 years, from 330-something to 1453. It was Constantinople all that time. Even once the Turk conquered it, the place stayed Constantinople until the 1920s. When the Turk has held the place as long as the Romans did, I’ll call it whatever they want me to. So call me back in 500-odd years.]

I am flying to Germany for the first time in almost exactly five years. In fact, other than a nine-day trip with my youngest boy in the summer of 2013 (nine days, eight nights in a tent, 2,512.4 miles, six states, five battlefields, two museums, a national parkway, and a mountain, and although he was one month past his seventh birthday, he never once complained about being hot, thirsty, hungry, tired, or bored . . . and the whole trip was for the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg), it’s my first vacation since then. I’d like to say I’ve earned it, but that wouldn’t be the case. Suffice it to say that the opportunity came my way, and that was that.

I’ll be spending most of my time in southwest Germany, rednecking around with an old law skool buddy of mine. But weekend after this coming one, I’ll be heading to Dresden for a few days. I’ll be there on the anniversary of the bombing. Every year on that night everyone turns out in downtown, down by the Frauenkirche, mostly, with candles. At exactly the moment when the first bombs began to fall, every church bell in town lights off. Here’s a YouTube video of it. Pretty impressive.

On a side note, one of the things I miss most about Germany is the sound of church bells. Real church bells, not the anemic tinklings of American churches, or – even worse – the electronic carillons you run into in places as incongruous as the county seat of my tiny little county.

So there we were, heading for Washington International, and the nice pilot comes over the intercom to allow that the weather’s closed in at Dulles and we’re getting diverted to Pittsburgh. We were supposed to arrive at Dulles at 9:15 p.m; my connecting flight (on Turkish Airlines) was to leave at 11:10 p.m. At the risk of understatement, I did not make my connecting flight. So my choices came down to either throwing away all the money I’ve put into this trip so far, or paying several thousand dollars for an alternative connection to somewhere in Germany, or just buy another ticket for the same flight tomorrow night (Turkish has only a single flight each day from Dulles). I went for Option C, and so now, once United finally puts this flight on the ground in Washington, whenever that happens, I’ll get to spend until not quite 24 hours from now mooning about an airport.

I do propose to blog from Germany.  I also propose maybe to catch up on at least some of the posting that’s been cracking about in my skull.  We’ll have to see.

Oh Boy! We’re Famous!!

For me, June, 1987 was a bittersweet month.  Without going into too great detail, a relationship which I thought had wonderful potential got side-tracked, although it took it another three years and even greater heartbreak to die.  Looking back from 25 years on, I have to admit that not only did she make the right decision for her — as was her absolute right — but also more likely than not for me as well.  But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt as badly as it did at the time, or that it took any less time for the wounds to heal.  But heal they did, eventually, and although the might-have-been is always tantalizing (call it emotional rubber-necking:  I drive slowly past the memories, looking at the wreckage, and wondering what the hell happened to wad things up like that), it no longer has the power to tear the old scars wide open.

June, 1987 was also the month of the Last Show on A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor’s radio show, which was — up until the point that he discovered left-wing politics — wonderful.  It was funny, creative, poignant, well-done yet quaintly informal.  I’d bought tickets for the March 20, 1987, show for a friend and myself, and about two weeks after placing my order Keillor announced on the air that he was killing the show at the end of June.  After which point tickets became unobtainable.  My friend and I ended up driving for what seemed like six months past forever (although familiar with the map of the U.S. for years, it really hadn’t soaked in until I physically experienced it just how huge a place the Upper Midwest actually is; there were places where for more than an hour we couldn’t get FM radio on the interstate), but made the trip in good time, successfully, and had a wonderful time at the show.

That summer I was underway on my ship the night of the Last Show, and so my mother taped it for me, right off the air.  [Aside:  The video of that show, or what was purported to be that show, which came out a couple of years later, was, to put it mildly, fraudulent.  The show that was aired, and was taped by my mother live as it aired, simply does not match the performance on the VHS tape, in several material respects.  Interestingly, the CD of that show, which came out many years later and which I also have, matches the show that my mother taped.]  It was wonderful.  I didn’t have time to listen to the tapes (as I recall it took two) until some time later.  And this is the tie-in to the first paragraph of this post, above:  I listened to that show as I was driving across Canada, then through New York, and then the Massachusetts Turnpike (by way of utter irrelevance, the turnpike runs right past Stockbridge, Mass., and there was a small sign beside the road that I noticed to the effect that the fine for littering was still $50), on my way from visiting this young lady to a Navy station on the coast.  For whatever messed-up reason the two recollections — of listening to that Last Show and feeling my heart slowly tear out, mile by mile — got all twined together, with the result that it was the better part of twelve or so years before I could listen to those tapes again and not immediately experience the emotional trauma of that earlier time.

In any event, among the other things they did on that Last Show, aside from the last installment of News From Lake Wobegon, was wrap up one of their long-running series, The Adventures of Buster the Show-Dog, starring Timmy, the Sad Rich Teenage Boy, Sheila the Christian Jungle Girl, Father Finian, and of course the eponymous Buster.  The questing heroes finally make it back to St. Paul after wandering the world and decide, before parting ways, that they’ve just got to get a group photo.  So off they go to the corner drugstore, where a crooked clerk intentionally trips the alarm system and makes off with $100,000 from the till, leaving the five (including the cabbie who drove them there; they’d insisted he get in the picture as well) to face the music alone.  This all dawns on them the next morning, as they sit around the empty boxcar down at the CB&Q rail-yard, where they’d found refuge from the police the night before.  Father Finian comes back with some donuts, coffee, and a morning paper.  There on the front page are their pictures, identified as the perps in “$100,000 Drug Heist.”  They’re now wanted, fugitives.

But the point of it all is that Timmy’s reaction to reading the paper is the exclamation (he says it twice, in fact, as I recall), “Oh boy!  We’re famous!!”

So what does a radio show broadcast 28 years ago have to do with anything?

As the ‘umble proprietor of this ‘umble blog, I do pay attention — embarrassing though it generally is — to the site statistics so helpfully compiled by the lads at WordPress for my enjoyment.  It’s how I know to address things to my reader.  No, seriously, tossing posts up here is half a jump from what must have gone through Field Marshal Haig’s mind as he dispatched the troops over the top at Third Ypres.  Splendid ranks and all, and well-equipped, but you don’t really expect to see them living again.

But there is one post that I put up last year about this time, here, about cooking chitlins.  That single post has probably garnered more views than the entire rest of the blog combined.  Over the past three or four weeks it’s out-stripped by a factor of fifteen or more (I’m not making this up) every other post, new or old.  The search terms that have brought people to that post have run a pretty decent gamut of the questions that people have about the preparation, cooking, seasoning of the guts.  I really don’t quite know what to make of it.  Here I’ve spent three-plus years now putting up all manner of “heavy” stuff on this site, and yet the solitary item that routinely fetches ’em (cf. Twain: “If that don’t fetch ’em, I don’t know Arkansaw.”) is a post on cooking hog guts.

So I’m constantly reminded of Timmy’s line from that Last Show:  Oh boy!  We’re famous!!

I suppose I ought to count my blessings and go home.  If it’s true, as Oscar Wilde observed, that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, then being the go-to guy on the internet on how to boil up a nice vat of hog’s intestines beats nothing at all.

Once Every 35 or so Years Won’t Spoil Me

I have to suppose that I’ll weather the challenge to what’s left of my virtue.

Back in the 1960s, right about the time my little then-nearly-completely rural county was desegregating its schools (the last graduating class of the “colored” high school was 1964, I think), they built a new high school in the largest of the county’s five incorporated towns.  Back then the county had three high schools in different areas of the county, and each high school was very much an integral part of the social peculiarity of the part of the county it served.  My home county isn’t all that big — the only interstate highway through it has exits that happen almost exactly to coincide with its opposite borders, and those exit numbers are 19 miles apart — but for generations each part of the county was, if you were so inclined, a world unto itself.  People tended to marry within the geography; they went to church near where they lived; for decades the county was dotted with tiny one-room school houses (some of which still exist, forlornly out in the weeds); they worked in “their” part of the county, and that’s where you’ll find them buried.  There are nearly 300 family cemeteries in my tiny little county.

In the early 1970s they consolidated all of the high schools into one rather large facility located in the largest town, and the three former high schools became junior high schools, running 7th through 9th grades.  When I came through that high school in the very early 1980s there was still quite a bit of the initial culture — I don’t know if it’s the right word, really — shock aspect when each year’s 10th graders got to the county high school and suddenly there you were in class with a bunch of strangers, people whose frames of reference were to places and activities you were largely unfamiliar with.

You have to understand that back then children around these parts were, while largely “free range” within their own part of the county (in the summer time I’d vanish into the woods or wherever after breakfast and I’d be back for supper), also largely immobile in terms of other parts of the county.  If you lived up in the “north end,” there were certain creeks where you went swimming or fishing; you went on hay rides with certain families; you rode your horse on certain lands; you went hunting in specific woods and fields.  If you had a paying job, it would have been on someone’s land or in someone’s business you could ride your bike to, or bum a ride with an older sibling or neighbor (usually in the back of a pick-up truck).  Ditto in the south end, the middle, or over towards “the river.”  So in addition to never having been in school before with all these strange people, you had had very little interaction with any of them outside school.  By the time I came along the acculturation process went pretty rapidly and by the end of the second or third week of school we were all one seething mass of pimples and hormones.

All three of the former high school buildings are still school board property, and two of them in use as middle schools.  The third houses what my generation knew as the “jail school” for disciplinary hard cases, the ones a thoughtfully administered three of the best out in the hallway couldn’t adequately tune up.  The parents hated it when you got sent there because the school bus didn’t stop at that school.  The parents had to carry you there, and if your parent worked in the next large city, 45 miles in the opposite direction, that was a pain in the butt. And so it goes.

The former high school, then junior high, now middle school in the central, largest town is typically hideous late-1950s/early-1960s institutional architecture.  Looking at it you take some convincing that at one point this joint was considered sleek.  In that next city over, there are numerous much older school buildings still in use and almost without exception they exude a character that the architecture of that period just seems to lack.  It is architecture that looks like it was made — predestined from the deepest recesses of all time — to be painted institutional green.  My mother taught in that school for 142 years, and it must have been soul-crushing.

Back when it was new, however, back when boyfriends carried their girlfriends’ books, when those girlfriends would get their butt sent home if they showed up at school with a skirt above their knees and the boyfriend likewise if he showed up in a t-shirt, someone built a tiny little burger joint right across the street from it.  It was called The Frosty Jug, or simply “The Jug.”  [Aside:  Perhaps someone will as an exercise in dredging up useless trivia calculate how many hundred thousand burger-and-coke joints there are out there with that name.]  They had curb service, still, even when I was in what was by then the junior high school.  It was where those kids who didn’t have after-school jobs or chores back on the farm could congregate, poke their noses under each other’s hoods to admire the new Holly four-barrel or the breather cover, gossip, and do what teenagers back then did.  I imagine it must have looked more than a little like something from a story-board from a Happy Days script.

When they consolidated the high schools The Jug entered a decline from which it’s never really salvaged itself.  Junior high school kids seldom had jobs and therefore spending money, and so the market for The Jug dried up.  You could still go and get a greasy burger, ditto fries, a flat coke, buy a can of “dip” (i.e. “smokeless” tobacco such as Copenhagen (“Cope”) or Skoal), or play pinball on one of their beat-up machines.

By the time I was in junior high The Jug had acquired a further function, as the venue (behind the building, where you weren’t so visible from the street) for the kinds of vicious fights that would get all participants and most of the spectators thrown out of school, had they been staged on school property.  I still remember one day seeing this thug named Mike G. walking back towards the school building, his face an absolute mass of blood.  He’d been over at The Jug, where he had fought another thug, John F., and at some point John had applied his belt buckle (this was the heyday of the redneck belt buckle as big as a small hubcap) with energy and dexterity to Mike’s face.  John F. later went on to distinguish himself by getting sent to one of those teenager Gulag facilities where the parents have to sign over legal custody of the child to the jailers.  While there ol’ John made a name for himself as one of their hardest cases, ever; last I heard Mike G. was in prison somewhere.  Right, in other words, where the rest of us need him to be.

The Jug closed completely shortly after I left high school.  It was vacant for a good period, then it was any number of equally forgettable things, most recently a barber shop.

Within the past year or so someone bought the building and has re-opened it as a burger-and-coke operation.  Much smaller scale than it was, because middle schoolers have even less disposable money than junior high kids, and besides, nowadays as soon as school’s out the remorseless grind of “activity” starts, with grim-faced parents and hapless children dragooned to a never-ending series of practices, recitals, games, tournaments, exercises, and so forth.

Today, for the first time since about 1978 I think, I had a hamburger and fries at The Frosty Jug.  It was pretty good, I have to say; I’ll be back.

I must confess that before I left I crept behind the building to check.  I’m pleased to report that the ghost of John F. does not haunt The Jug.

Announcing the First Change in Forever

The reader of this blog will have noted that I haven’t spent a great deal of time or energy figuring out how to snazz up the place, or what additional features and fillips to add here and there.  It’s all and frequently more than I can get around to just to toss a post up now and then.

But after my post of this past Thursday I got to studying, as we say around here, if maybe an additional post category would not be what the Germans describe as “angebracht,” or “in Ordnung.”

The left-extremist media and blogosphere emits among its more predictable output regular installments of excoriation of everyone who lives south of the Ohio River for not crawling about on hands and knees, scattering glass shards ahead of ourselves and sprinkling ashes over our sackcloth, and all for the horrible crime of being from the South and not thinking exactly as they do.  Commenting and fisking such items is something of a regular thing around here.  Not frequent, but something of a theme.

Thus:  I now proudly introduce a new post category:  Them Awful Southerners.

Bucket List Item

This past weekend I found myself in Paoli, Indiana, with nothing much to do.  I’d been roped into a large outing to Paoli Peaks, the ski slopes just outside town (yes, you can ski in southern Indiana, believe it or not; the slope is down what appears to be an enormous glacial moraine), but was able to escape being expected to hang out with everyone and his cousin.

I’d had the foresight to check ahead of time and found that Springs Valley High School was having a boys’ home varsity basketball game that evening.

Springs Valley High was organized in the late 1950s as a consolidation of three even tinier high schools.  By a good margin its most famous alumnus is a feller y’all might have heard tell about:  Larry Bird.

I was in junior high school the year that Larry Bird took Indiana State to the NCAA final.  He wasn’t much to look at, but boy he could play the game.  He was a hero to every awkward-looking, slow, skinny, small-town white kid in the country.  And not only could he play the game like few before or since, but he was just a classy guy.  In a world of flash and bang and strut and mouthing off, he satisfied himself with quietly making it rain buckets and passing the ball like a magician.  I don’t recall ever hearing a single instance of his having behaved — either on the court or off — with anything other than dignity, integrity, and a recollection of where he came from.  As successful as he’s been, and few who’ve played the game have ever been more so, he’s never got above his raisin’, as we say around here.

In any event, it’s long been a bucket-list item to go to a game at Larry Bird’s home gymnasium.  It’s still the original gym from when the school was built.  According to the fire marshal’s sign it seats 2,700.  The seating is arranged around all four sides of the court, which I’ve not seen in a high school before.  There aren’t all that many rows, either, maybe ten or fifteen, so it produces a very intimate feel; you’re not that far above floor-level even at the very back.  The walls are covered in team photos, mostly of teams which went various distances in the state tournament (Larry’s 1974 team won their sectional tournament . . . anyone want to bet that the guys who eventually beat that team still remember the night they took one off Larry Bird?).  As you would expect, there’s a very large picture of Larry right over the main entrance, in his Springs Valley jersey.

The crowd wasn’t either all that huge or all that raucous.  It was full, of course, but I’d half expected standing room only for Indiana basketball (I have a copy of Where the Game Matters Most, the story of Indiana’s last — in 1996-97 — single-class state basketball season, and I remember the pictures of entire towns driving to away games).  It was remarkably quiet, though, well-mannered; even around here, where basketball ain’t the religion it is in small-town Indiana, the crowd at schools no bigger than Springs Valley is something reminiscent of the night Bryan gave his Cross of Gold speech.  But these folks were there to watch some ball, visit with the neighbors, and generally enjoy an evening of remarkably clement weather for early February.

I’m no aficionado of basketball, and I not infrequently have to have a friend of mine who is (and to whom I gave my ticket stub yesterday; he and I shot many a basket back in the day, and Larry Bird was there for every one of them) explain the finer points of the game to me.  But I could, and did, pick up on a few things.  For starts, both teams were much more reluctant to fire off the 3-pointer than around here.  This was even though several were scored; in fact, although I don’t have the game stats in front of me, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that both teams shot better than 50% from the 3-point lines.  I also noticed that the shooters seemed to put a lot more wrist action on the ball when they shot, and put a higher trajectory on it, than what I’m used to seeing.  Both teams also seemed very generous with the ball, in that four- and five-pass possessions weren’t at all unusual.

Inside the game was mismatched.  The visitors had a center — No. 45 he was — who took up sea room like a Nimitz-class carrier.  Springs Valley couldn’t shoot over him, they couldn’t rebound over him, they couldn’t block his shots, and they didn’t seem to be able to maneuver around him underneath the basket.  When he was in the game it was an entirely different game.  That notwithstanding, the game was only 21:19 at the half.  Beginning in the third period the visitors started to pull away.  Springs Valley kept trying to take it down inside and they kept getting stymied, with blocked shots, missed passes, or shooters who lost the ball on the way up.  At one point they were down by 15; at the end (and no small thanks to two consecutive 3-pointers late) they lost by 9.

Was it some sort of quasi-religious experience?  Of course not.  It was just an enjoyable evening of high school basketball in front of a crowd that really likes its basketball, and to whom high school basketball is important, and in a room which has known the tread of greatness.  I’m glad I went.

Go Blackhawks!

Cooking Chitlins

. . . Or “chitterlings,” as the gut snobs might insist.  This past Saturday I undertook an experiment which I’d long contemplated but hadn’t the equipment for.  Having acquired that equipment I have now done so and am pleased to report absolute and unqualified success.  I will now share the fruits of my labors with my reader.  Thus, without further ado, I offer my chitlin recipe and lessons learned.

1.    I purchased two ten-pound buckets of the frozen product.  They were Tyson’s.  I have heard of chitlins sold in a plastic bag, but have never seen them.  Around here, if you’re not killing your own hogs or don’t have an in with a slaughterhouse, you’re going to be buying them in that red plastic bucket.

2.    You will buy them frozen.  In the event you don’t thaw and cook them immediately, but rather put them in your own freezer, thawing them out can take a while.  I’d had mine in a stand-alone freezer at 4º Fahrenheit for about ten or so days.  I put them in my refrigerator late on Wednesday evening.  When I took them out at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, they’d thawed just enough to slide out of the bucket in a solid, otherwise-completely-frozen mass.  All I’d done is turn my refrigerator into an old-fashioned icebox for just over two full days.  Lesson:  If they’re that deeply frozen, put them out overnight to thaw.  They won’t go bad; in fact, depending on how you set your thermostat (mine is set at 50º in the winter) they still might not be fully thawed.  But that’s OK.

3.    It’s OK if they’re not completely thawed because you will finish thawing no later than the cleaning process.

4.    They come out of that plastic bucket pretty clean in any event.  Out of twenty pounds of chitlins I didn’t find anything that was not identifiably part of the pig rather than part of its last meal.

5.    YOU STILL HAVE TO CLEAN YOUR CHITLINS.  This means you have physically to inspect every last square centimeter of both sides of every last piece, however small.  The big worry of course is e-coli; on the other hand, e-coli is a strictly surface contaminant which is killed when you heat whatever it is to 165º F.  And you’re going to be keeping your chitlins at over 200º for hours on end.  But e-coli is not the only thing that could have got into that pig’s guts, and that’s just the strictly health concern.  There’s always the question of what might make your chitlins taste funny. No.  Seriously.  Chitlins either taste right or they don’t.

6.    In cleaning your chitlins, it helps somewhat to steep them in very hot to boiling water for a few minutes before cleaning.  (H/T stayingalivemoma.com).  This will make things like visceral fat deposits and residual undesirable membranes separate a bit more easily from the chitlin.

7.    Many people recommend wearing gloves of some sort while cleaning, mostly to keep your hands from smelling like chitlins for the rest of the day.  I’ll leave that up to the individual; on the other hand, I don’t know how I could have got a good enough grip on the smallest stuff I was stripping with gloves, even surgical gloves.  And honestly I didn’t notice that my hands stunk much at all afterwards.

8.    The chitlins come out of the bucket cut into pieces, and flat.  No tubes, in other words.  Cleaning chitlins involves stretching them out (they’re very wrinkled, and the size of the chitlin in your hand when you first pick it up is a very imperfect guide to how much surface area you’re dealing with) so you can view every last square centimeter of both sides of the chitlin.  I found that using the partition between the two basins of my kitchen sink worked admirably for the purpose.  I suppose you could use a cutting board, but why ruin a perfectly good cutting board with chitlin essence?  Your kitchen sink will be ceramic or steel and it won’t take 45 seconds to clean it when you’re done.

9.    I’d bought (and sterilized in boiling water) a standard kitchen brush, with the thought that I’d use it to dig out any stubborn residuum of undesirable material.  I used it almost not at all.  A couple of times when I simply couldn’t get a sufficient grip on what appeared to be traces of discolored (sort of a green-black color) membrane I used the brush to scrape it off.  But most of that particular sort of membrane I was able to scratch with fingernails and pull off manually.

10.    Larger pieces are harder to clean.  The chitlins are sufficiently tender that you can pull them into smaller pieces, which you’ll want to do prior to cooking anyway.

11.    As mentioned, I used my ordinary double-basin kitchen sink for cleaning.  In one basin I had the chitlins as they came out of the bucket, with a small but steady stream of hot water running.  As you pick up each piece you’ll run it under the water to make sure you’ve got any loose material off, then you’ll strip off any further undesirable material, membranes, visceral fat, etc. and then run it back under the water to rinse the remnants of that off.  I used the second basin to hold the strippings, and just dumped the clean chitlins into the 22-quart pot I had on the counter beside the sink.

12.    So what are you cleaning off?  As mentioned, there were traces — and I do mean tiny traces — of what appeared to be an internal membrane from the intestine.  Since I didn’t have a veterinarian there to explain to me what it was and whether it presented a concern, I removed it.  I also removed identifiable deposits of visceral fat.  The chitlins are going to turn out greasy enough as it is.  Then there’s the question of the dingle-berry looking things.  I assume there is a recognized anatomical expression for those.  They didn’t appear to be attached to the intestine wall, but rather to be associated with material that I could not identify as being either fat or a distinct membrane of the chitlin.  Since they add nothing that I’ve ever been able to identify to the chitlin-eating experience, I removed those as well.  Out of twenty pounds I probably removed somewhere between 1.5 and 2 pounds of . . . well, stuff.

13.    Including the time I spent getting my two blocks of frozen chitlins thawed enough to clean them, I spent three hours cleaning twenty pounds of chitlins.  Had they been thawed properly at the outset I’m guessing I might have cut that by thirty minutes.  If you have a stool of appropriate height, you might consider using it to sit on while you work.  I hadn’t any such, and after three hours of working partially bent over at the waist (I’m 6’4″), I felt like I was fixing to come apart at the midsection.

14.    As mentioned, I used a 22-quart pot to cook my chitlins.  It had ample room for the chitlins and plenty of water to cover them.  And you can’t let them boil down to the point they’re exposed.  The pot also had a glass cover, which was very helpful for checking the water level and boiling status without having to let heat escape.  I could easily have added at least one and maybe as much as two more buckets’ worth to the pot without running out of room.  I added maybe two quarts of water during the cooking process.

15.    COOK THEM OUTSIDE.  I used the stand and burner of a turkey-frying rig an uncle gave me this fall.  Worked perfectly.  I started with a completely full 20-pound LP gas tank and had more than enough fuel for the entire process inclusive of the thawing.  If you cook them inside you must reckon that their smell — irrespective of whether it bothers you or not (and it doesn’t bother me; in fact I really couldn’t tell that they smelled all that strongly coming straight out of the bucket) — will get into fabric, carpets, clothing, and everything else in your house.  Where it will reside for the indefinite future.

16.    I cooked mine for five hours at a low boil.  About every 20-25 minutes I gave them a good stir with a large steel spoon.  They came out with a nearly perfect texture.  Tender but still firm.  Whether they might have come out equally well with less time on the boil I don’t know.  All I know is that five hours produced a magnificent chitlin.

17.    So . . . how do you season them?  At the link above there are several suggestions which all look very intriguing, and which I might well try some day.  I started with a “recipe” (yes, I know using that word in connection with boiled intestine is questionable, but suggest to me a better word and I’ll use it) I’d got from a place which used to have a monthly chitlin supper around here.  For my chitlins I used (i) two heaping tablespoons of salt; (ii) one large white onion, quartered; (iii) maybe the equivalent of two or three tablespoons of crushed red pepper; and (iv) about seven or eight small granny smith apples, quartered (and with the cores cut out).  The chitlins came out . . . well, about as close to perfect as I imagine they could be.  Seriously.  I’m something of a touring pro on the chitlin circuit around here (the regular suppers see me walk in and they don’t even both with trimmings; they just bring me a massive plate of stewed chitlins) and I can honestly say, even if this is blowing my own horn, that I have never, ever, anywhere had chitlins better than what I made, and seldom their equal.  One day I’m going to substitute Cajun seasoning for the crushed red pepper; I’ve re-heated chitlins that way and they come out pretty good.

18.    Twenty pounds of chitlins, cleaned and stripped, makes right at five quarts of fully-cooked guts.  What do you do if you’re the only person among your circle of close acquaintance who eats them?  Well, Ziploc makes a one-quart storage container with a screw-on lid which works just about perfectly.  Last spring, at the final supper of the season, I bought about four pounds (you know, that’s assuming that the correct unit of measurement is one of weight and not length . . .), which broke out into almost exactly four quarts.  I then rationed them out over the course of the summer and they kept marvelously in that 4º F freezer.

And there you have my Lessons Learned from my first chitlin experience.  I can now say that I make my own miso soup, my own kim-chi, my own sushi, and my own chitlins.  Not too shabby for an ol’ redneck boy.

[In which latter-most connection, I’ll observe, not that it matters a hill of beans one way or the other nowadays, that I don’t fully agree with stayingalivemoma at the above link that chitlins were necessarily “soul food” or peculiarly associated with slavery or slaves.  Chitlins were food that desperately poor people ate, people who simply could not afford to forego any last source of protein or calories they had available to them.  This behavior is not peculiar to any ethnic group, time, or place (cf. Solzhenitsyn:  The very first paragraphs of The Gulag Archipelago describe a group of zeks devouring, raw, a prehistoric salamander they’d just hacked out of an ancient ice lens . . . it would have been thousands of years dead, and the zeks ate it “with relish”).  It’s quite true, of course, that slaves were given the chitlins — as well as other offal — as “scraps” by their owners.  It’s equally true that pretty much the entire rural population, most of which was (outside the large landowners) pretty poor by any standards, and which kept and slaughtered their own hogs, likewise ate chitlins.  Because they could.  This is just one tiny aspect of the curious respect in which the habits of the slaves and their closest white analogues — the rural “white trash” (an expression, by the way, which originated in the slave quarters and was used to describe those rural whites whose physical circumstances of existence frequently were even more disgusting than the slaves’ own) — converged.  Eugene D. Genovese covers such dynamics very well in his classic Roll Jordan Roll:  The World the Slaves Made.  So I wouldn’t suggest that one eat chitlins, or any other food, out of feelings of sentimentality or solidarity with one’s own or anyone else’s ancestors, but rather because they’re great food and, given how few people nowadays will even contemplate eating them, something of a cultural in-group phenomenon in their own right.  I mean, I run into the same people at suppers all over the area, and we trade tips about who’s found the sweet spot and where you need to avoid.]

Well, I Suppose That’s One Way to do It

Dress nice for travel and get treated nice.  Well, I guess you have to do what works best for you.

I have zero notion of who the author is.  His picture doesn’t betray his age very well.  But I can tell you this:  I’m turning 49 and I’m at that point in life when my physical comfort is third only to getting there in one piece and on time in travel priorities.  I don’t, for example, travel with a damned belt trying to hold in my girth, especially not on airplanes.  Those damned seats are already about six inches too narrow for me, and if I have a neighbor to one side so I can’t spread my elbows out, then at some point the circulation in my arms cuts off (yes, I’m that overweight fat).

My travelling duds are my Liberty bib overhauls.  Dammit.  I’ve got ample pocket space and in the zippered bib pocket, if I lose whatever’s in there in anything short of an armed mugging, I was going to lose it anyway.  I can let out the side buttons and take my ease.

Being treated nicely?  I find I’ve had marvelous success with “please,” “thank you,” “ma’am,” and “sir,” all delivered with a soft Southern accent.  I also find that phrasing questions and requests in less-than-banal language amuses people and prompts a desire to be just that little bit extra helpful that makes the difference.  Instead of, “Where’s the fax machine?” which produces a blank stare and a, “Down the hall on the left,” I try something along the lines of, “Excuse me, but if I were a fax machine, where might I be hiding around here?” That usually gets me a smile, a laugh, and detailed directions.  Or instead of, “They told me you could give me a <BLANK>,” our author might try, “Your learned colleagues over yonder allowed that I might be able to talk a <BLANK> out of you.”

Remember, the people you deal with while travelling are used to dealing all day, every day, with importunate jerks.  People who are fed up with the hassles of travel in the modern world and are more than content to work that shit out on anyone who pauses in their field of fire and who (they think) can’t fire back.  That ol’ please an’ thankee that your granny tried to teach you, whether or not with the aid of a switch cut from a sapling out back, is your way of communicating to those folks that hey, I know you’re probably having a lousy day and I wish you weren’t, but I do need some help and you’re the one who’s getting paid to provide it, and how about if I try to give you three seconds of pleasantness right now in the middle of your day.  People who seldom get treated nicely themselves generally react not just well but nearly effusively to being treated nicely when they’re not expecting it.

OK, class, multiple choice.  Which of the two is likely to get that smile of “however lousy today is, for this one moment I’m smiling” from the harried counter-clerk at whatever swamped-with-shouting-Americans travel-related service business is in question:  A:  “I want a <BLANK>.”  B:  “Might I so far impose on you as to organize a <BLANK>?”

I wish our author well in his pressed shirt, creased pants, and closed-toe shoes (what male travels in sandals?).  Maybe his fashion sense overwhelms his interlocutors, such that they fall over themselves to do his bidding and seek his benediction.  I’ll just stick with ambling up to the lady at the counter who’s trying, desperately, at the fag-end of her shift to look as pretty and put-together as she did when she left the house that morning (especially if she’s identifiably young — which at my age works out to 35 and down — or identifiably older, by which I mean over 60), standing tall — don’t slouch; it tells people you’re not taking them seriously — putting on my most lost-as-last-year’s-Easter-egg look, and observing, “Excuse me, ma’am (caveat:  the older the lady you’re addressing, the more you should consider addressing her as “Miss”; some find that flattering, others offensive, and you can’t really predict which will break one way versus the other), I can’t seem to find the <BLANK>.”

Thank you.