If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake

2 04 2018

Why didn’t anyone tell me about The Great British Baking Show?

Okay, yes, there all kinds of social media stories and tweets and whatnot about the show, but still.

I was scrolling through Netflix last weekend, once again failing to get into Jessica Jones, and thought, huh, this Brit bake bit, why not.

Why not, indeed. I slurped down that first season Fri-Sat, then on Sunday watched the entirety of season two. This past weekend, did the same with seasons three and four. (I was going to save that last available season until next weekend, but then thought, Who am I kidding, and binged away.)

I don’t know why I liked it so much. I have watched my share of cooking shows (tho’ I’m not much for cooking) and enjoy baking (tho’ rarely do), and even a few competitive cooking shows, but nothing about all of the media around the show made me particularly want to watch it.

The set-up (for the eight of you who haven’t watch it) is simple: 12 (in one season, 13) amateur bakers start in episode one; after 3 different bakes judged by two judges (and watched over by the mildly-comic-relief hosts), one person is declared star baker and one sent home. Episode 2, same as the first, on down to the last episode, in which the final three bakers compete for the title.

That’s it. Regular folk from across the UK watching their custards curdle and caramels crystallize and peering into their ovens for their goods to rise and bake in the too-little time left.

All the while trying to meet judge Mary Berry’s standard of “sheer perfection”.

It’s charming.

The bakers are both competitive and cooperative, aware of their own positions but also helping each other and teasing each other and sharing a kind of esprit de corps in the face of the judges oft bewildering instructions.

And withering criticism: Berry and fellow judge Paul Hollywood are unsparing, clear in what they like and don’t like.

That first season, I admit, I cringed at the criticism. I found it hard to watch the bakers as they presented wilted towers and underbaked breads to the judges, watched the color flow into or out of their faces as Berry and Hollywood noted precisely what was wrong with the bake.

Of course, there was plenty of praise for “good bakes”, too, but it was the criticism that got to me.

I’m terrible with criticism, more so now than I was when younger (when I was also not great with it). I have difficulty separating a critique of a performance or an essay from an evaluation of my very existence as a human being, which has meant, unsurprisingly, that I have difficulty putting forth anything which matters to me out in front of other people.

I have of course: am doing so now, with this blog. But it took awhile to get comfortable with this—early on I went to some effort to separate my give name from my chosen blog-name—and even now I oft say, Well, it’s not like any of this matters.

(Which is, of course, a dismissal of those of you who do read this. The joy of neuroses lies in the double move of magnifying the number of those who see one’s faults and diminishing those who see the good.)

Anyway, these firefighters and gardeners and stay-at-home moms and students are afraid—literally shaking afraid—and putting themselves out there in front of gods and country and having a go.

So there it is: not just charming, but inspiring.


Better stop sobbing now, v. tl;dr

11 02 2015

If you’re going to hold to any significant political, religious, cultural, or economic commitments, someone else is going to point out the bad shit associated with those commitments.

That’s how it is, so stop whining.

Better stop sobbing now

11 02 2015

I have no sympathy for Christians who whine that President was unfair to Christianity at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Not just because I am not a Christian, nor because I disagree more generally with these folks’ politics.

No, the reason for my “get over it” response is their unwillingness to grapple with the violence woven into the history of the belief they hold dear. It’s as if they can only hold to Christianity if Christianity without [recent] flaws.

Oh, wait, that’s pretty much exactly what they mean, even if they didn’t mean to mean it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a couple of posts on the response to Obama’s remarks, as does Jamelle Bouie, and they do a fine job of tag-teaming the No-True-Christian phalanx: here is this example and this example and this example and, oh look, another example of how Christianity was used to justify violence and oppression.

Reference to the historical record is crucial (even if the tres or quinque solas types want to claim history’s got nothin’ on them) if want wants to make or rebut historical claims—that’s kinda the whole point of historical claim-making.

But I want to focus here on the bad faith of those who seek to wash Christianity of its sins: they cannot abide criticism of their faith, not because God will punish them if they don’t savage the critics—I’d think such a position bonkers at best and murderous (see: killers acting to uphold the honor of the Prophet Mohammaed) at worst, but it has its own kind of insane integrity—but because it is “offensive” to and displays “contempt” for Christians.

And, yes, I get why these folks don’t like having the unsavory bits of Christianity against the unsavory bits of Islam—We’re good and they’re bad so how dare you!—but honest to pete, is their faith so thin that it is bruised by mere mention of imperfection?

I’m a pinko, and there has been all sorts of nasty shit—war, oppression, mass murder—done in the name of pinkoism. I can say Oh, but I’m not a Bolshevik/Leninist/Stalinist/Maoist, that’s got nothing to do with me, and nothing to do with Real Socialism, but that would properly be understood as a bullshit response.

I am an adherent to a tradition which has all too often failed miserably, murderously, to uphold its promises of liberation and the creation of a truly human society, and it would not be in any way unreasonable for you say, Uhhh, so why do you hold to ideas which have been used to justify those miserable, murderous failures?

And whether or not your motives were bad in asking this, I’d still respond, with both acknowledgement of the flaws in various incarnations of the socialist politics and a defense of the socialism itself—because I am fucking serious about my belief in socialism. As long as I think it possible to avoid or overcome the problems of previous socialist regimes, I will continue to think socialism is a program worth pursuing.

In other words, even though socialism has been flawed six ways to Sunday, I still think there’s something there worth hanging on to. I take socialism as it is, and as it has been, and what I think it could be. It ain’t perfect, but it’s all right.

Now, I understand that it’s easier to hold to imperfection in political than in religious programs, and my general sense that, well, to quote Leonard Cohen, there is a crack in everything, means that I can still see that’s how the light gets in. I don’t require perfection because I don’t think it’s necessary (which is also handy, given that I don’t think it’s possible).

Still, even you do believe that Christ were perfect, and that Christianity is the only path to salvation, it’s not clear why you can’t accept the bountiful historical evidence that that belief in something perfect has nonetheless been used to justify war, oppression, and mass murder. It’s a hard acceptance, sure, but if you want to argue on behalf of the Christian movement within history, then you have to engage that history, not wave it away or scourge those who dare to refer to it.

Again, radical sola types may not bother with history one way or another—all that matters is God, and we can’t really expect much of humans, etc.—but those who are incensed at the mere suggestion that Christian history might fairly be compared to Islam’s history clearly do believe that this history—the actions of Christians in the world—matters.

So to those who think history matters but are unwilling to look closely at it, I can only ask, Why not?

Because if you cannot accept the imperfections of Christianity in this world and still have faith in it, then I question whether you can have any faith at all.

If you decide to make the sky fall

9 10 2014

I am not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I am not Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jain, Taoist, Bahá’í, Wiccan, Yazidi, Shinto, Zoroastrian, Sikh, or any sort of pagan or animist.

I am not spiritual, and believe in neither demons nor angels nor supernatural vibes of any sort.

I am agnostic, which means I lack knowledge, along with faith and belief. I do not know if none, one, some, or all of the above traditions holds any or the entirety of truth. I do not know if some other tradition holds any portion of truth.

And I’m all right with that. I call myself a “doubter”, and that doubt works for me.

I’m also all right with others who have do have faith in some tradition or another, and, contra Hitchens, do not believe that “religion poisons everything”.

Or should I say, that religion uniquely poisons everything. I think religion is a powerful human invention and thus, like any powerful human invention, may poison its adherents or the course of events, but not that it necessarily or always does so.

It is also possible that religion (l.a.p.h.i.), may serve as an antidote to other invented poisons.

All of which is a rather long prologue to a rather convoluted post on the rather convoluted topic of the role of Islam in the world today, viz., is it uniquely bad in its effects on co-religionists and non-co’s alike?

There is today far more violence among Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims than there is in other world religions*. This doesn’t discount other intra- and inter-religious violence or aggression, nor other less-deadly forms of intolerance, but given conflicts across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it’s pretty clear that there are. . . issues in Islam.

Are these issues unique to Islam? A little trip through history points to “no”, and had pundits existed in the 16th century, they may have raised similar questions about the aggressiveness and intolerance of Christianity.

Are these issues endemic to Islam? Whatever the violent history of Christianity, it’s mostly not violent today*, which leads some to note that aggression is therefore not an essential part of Christianity. Can Islam work its violence out of its system as Christianity has, or is supremacism and aggression so interwoven in its scripture and traditions that it cannot transform itself as Christianity has?

Trick questions!

Christianity is a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation which has sometimes been violent, sometime intolerant, sometimes triumphalist, and other times, not. That Christianity is currently not at the center of strife in the world* does not mean that its aggressiveness has been bred out of its system. It’s sidelined, but extirpated? Eh.

Islam is also a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation, and thus like Christianity, can find within that complex support for both aggression and tolerance. It is thus difficult to determine whether any one strand within is always and forever at the center of what it needs to be Muslim.

So, why trick questions? Because what counts as essential has been and is contested in history, and what must be interpreted in this way today may be interpreted in that way tomorrow. That is the condition of all human inventions.

None of this is to shield Islam or any other tradition (or human invention) from criticism, and that there may exist no absolute and eternal standards of how to treat one another doesn’t mean one can’t construct and apply our own provisional and worldly standards.

Which is a rather convoluted way to say: of course Islam may be criticized, as should be those who find in Islam justification for horrid acts.

That Muslims are not unique in their religious—or ideological—justifications is also no barrier to criticism: your mom probably pointed out to you long ago that “everyone else is doing it!” is no excuse for your own bad behavior.

One last turn around: If you’re going to go after an entire religious belief system and its effects on adherents and non-adherents alike, then fer-cryin’-out-loud, look at the entire belief system, not just at what you don’t like.

Is there poison in Islam? Yes. But that doesn’t mean Islam is all and only poison.

Or maybe it is. It’s possibly that after thorough study one might conclude nothing good has ever or will ever come from Islam—or any religion.

But I kinda doubt it.


*Crucial caveat: people living in countries having bombs recently dropped on them by Christians might contest this notion of Christianity as not-aggressive.

h/t for link to Sullivan, and this entire damned post was set off by the Maher-Harris-Affleck kerfuffle

Such a mean old man

28 02 2013

Outside of electoral politics, I have an ambivalent relationship to nastiness.

I’m mostly opposed to it, but sometimes find it apropos as a form of self-defense. I am mostly not nasty, and as for the times when I have indulged, be it for self-defense or not, I generally don’t feel great about it afterwards.

It’s just low; I try not to be low.

Critical, however, being critical isn’t low or nasty. The best criticism requires engagement, and the best engagement requires empathy, and it’s tough to be simultaneously nasty and empathic. And criticism can be devastating without being nasty.

I have been and will almost certainly in the future be critical of Rod Dreher, and I’ve gotten to the point where there are some posts of his that I won’t bother reading, if only to spare myself the exasperation. And yeah, there have been times when I’ve thought he’s been nasty and low.

Still, I don’t think he deserves this.

The post, by Elon Green, goes after Dreher for (what he would dispute, but could nonetheless fairly be described as) his homophobia, and while I think Green offers the least-generous reading possible of Dreher’s writing, it’s not an unfair reading. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is, as Zoe would say, “a kindness”, but it is not required for fairness.

The commenters, on the other hand, are going after Dreher personally because they loathe his politics, and speculating about him in ways that both suit their own view and justify the attacks.

I know, I know—enter a comments section at one’s peril—and it’s not as if ad hominen attacks are anything new under the sun, but I wonder why, outside of a tavern and after having a few, anyone would bother taking the effort to be nasty to some stranger online.

Go after his arguments, annihilate his presuppositions, rail against the damage those who share his point of view have inflicted and continue to inflict on queer folk, but jeez, leave his personal life, and his chickens, out of it.


12 05 2011
From the New York Times Caucus blog:

May 11, 2011, 1:16 pm

Republicans Decry Tactics the Party Used in 2009


Yes, it’s true, Republican House freshmen say, our party did help storm town-hall-style meetings to protest changes in the Medicare plan during the debate over the health care overhaul. But they would appreciate it if Democrats did not take that page from their playbook.

On Wednesday, 11 newly elected representatives held a news conference outside the Capitol to promote a letter sent to President Obama and signed by 42 freshmen Republicans asking him “join us to stop the political rhetoric” surrounding their Medicare proposal. In asking the president to work with them to untangle the issues facing massive entitlement programs, the letter further implores Mr. Obama to “condemn the disingenuous attacks and work with this Congress to reform” the programs.

Repeatedly, the members called for a “fact-based conversation” and criticized Democrats for filling town-hall-style meetings with political operatives and citizens who complained – often loudly – about the Republican proposal on Medicare at constituent meetings over the Easter recess. The Republican proposal would convert Medicare into a program that subsidizes future retirees in private insurance plans.

The freshmen conceded that Republicans used similar organized tactics during the health care debate over the summer of 2009, when Tea Party organizers and Republican groups spoke out against the overhaul.

“I’m not going to defend anything in the past,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, a freshman from Illinois, who led the news conference calling on Democrats to stop their public critique of the plan. “Let’s get past the past.”

Representative Nan Hayworth of New York, a former doctor, said it was time to “have a civilized conversation” and her class was “standing ready to work with the president.”

. . . .

Here’s the letter (via Talking Points Memo).

My favorite bits?

We have all been guilty, at one time or another, of playing politics with key issues facing our country.

As the freshman class, we have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and fulfill the mandate set by the people to strengthen our country for future generations—not continue the petty politics we have seen in the past, which only creates an environment of stalemate. [. . .]

We ask that you stand above partisanship, condemn the disingenuous attacks and work with this Congress to reform spending on entitlement programs. [. . . ]

As new members of Congress, we are committed to having a fact-based conversation immediately. [. . .]


Oh, now they want a “fact-based conversation”. . . .

Gimme some loving!

20 01 2011

This was left on my comments to “Music Thief”:

The next time I learn a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I imply, I know it was my option to read, but I really thought youd have one thing attention-grabbing to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you would fix should you werent too busy on the lookout for attention.

Love it!

Nothing changes on New Year’s day

3 01 2011

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. I mean, it’s not like I’m actually going to follow through or anything.


My life has been bumping rather than rolling along, and thus it behooves me to think, Hm, why might this be? And what could I do to smooth it out a wee?

So, plans, considerations—resolutions, if you will.

1. I will do dishes at least every other day.

When I live with other people, I’m pretty good about not leaving common areas (e.g., the kitchen sink) clogged up with my gunk, but, alone, well. . . hey, those dishes are all mine, and they’re rinsed, and, you know, I just ate cereal out of that bowl or drank water out of that glass. . . did I mention I rinsed?


I’m an adult, and not much of a cook, so it’s not as if I create a blizzard of dishes—which, actually, might be the problem. It’s really easy to let things go if it’s only a plate or a bowl and a few pieces of silverware. . . .

Regardless, this is a basic way to take care, so why not just take care. It’s not as if spending 10 minutes making dishes clean every two days is that onerous, anyway.

2. I will leave my apartment every day.

This is not an issue when I am fully or overemployed, but in my underemployment, I find it very easy to hunker down and fade away. The gym membership helps, but as I have no expectation of spending 7 days a week at the gym, I need to haul my own sorry ass out of the building and around the block or over to the park or wherever until I do hitch a  new ride in the job-o-sphere. (And if I manage to find a job wherein I work from home? Even more important to get the hell out.)

I have made this commitment before, but what the hell, it’s a good one, and worth trying again.

3. At least 5 days a week I will do one thing I don’t want to do but which needs doing.

This isn’t about the cleaning the cat box, which I don’t like doing but needs doing and already do, anyway; no, this is about going through files or organizing this or tossing that—clearing away the (metaphorical) cobwebs, if you will.

Again, I’ve tried doing something like this previously (if I could find the post about lists I’d link to it, but you’ll just have to trust me: I’ve written on this before) and have failed, but, again, it’s worth another shot.

4. I will open my mail as soon I get it.

I don’t this, and that’s bad.

I have hang-ups about mail (postal and electronic) and no, I don’t want to talk about it, but, well, there it is.

I am most likely to fail at this one first.

5. I will sit, and breathe, and try not to distract myself, for a little while every day.

Or this one—I might fail this one first.


There are so, so many things in my life which need changing, but many of those are big, or seem big, or are in any case currently beyond my will and/or ability to deal with. So I’m starting small.

Now, of course, if I fail at the small what are the chances I’ll tackle the big? Oh! Oh! I can answer this! Nil! Because I’m already failing at the small!

In other words, I gots nothing to lose.


I am unhappy with my self and my life. No, I’m not awful, but I’m not who I want to be, either.

Not that I know who I want to be, but I do know some of the pieces that I would like included in present and future versions of myself.

I’d like to pay better attention.

I’d like to be a better friend, to show up for people, in ways that matter to them.

I’d like to take more chances. On everything. And maybe, just maybe, if not on everyone, then on at least some-ones.

I’d like to learn something other than defense.

I’d like to stop making excuses.

Oh, and I’d like to be taller, please.


The list is not unreasonable (for the most part. . . ), but even now, I hesitate.Who cares about these things? Who cares that you want to do these things? What kind of pie-in-the-sky crap is this, anyway?

I don’t want to silence my inner critic—who would I talk to?—but it would be nice if I could get her to remember that a true critic doesn’t just chastise. Sometimes, sometimes, the critic applauds.

Or at least puts down her pen long enough to give a nod.

Yeah, a nod. I could live with that.