Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why I've Never Finished Moby Dick

Reading Moby Dick is a lot like walking down a very long, straight road lined with orchids. It's exceptionally lovely, but it takes a very long time to get anywhere, and after a small while the monotony makes you want to stop where you are and give up trying to reach your destination.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Tea Party Protests

Tea parties (of the non-tea variety) have been popular lately among angry taxpayers, allegedly a chance for the people to protest reckless spending in government. Unfortunately, it has instead become a chance for the ignorant to declare the sky is falling, and for politicians to pontificate where they believe they are welcome (though their business at such an event ought instead to be listening).

Before I go any further, I believe I ought to revisit the purpose of a Tea Party Protest - a purpose that appears to have gone missing. A Tea Party Protest is not some kind of Republican convention. It is not the place to yell about gun control - unless the government is raising taxes specifically on guns and ammunition. It is not the place to discuss abortion - unless our tax dollars may be paying for those abortions. It is not the place for praising national defense - unless it's part of a complaint on the budget being "balanced" away from the military and towards stupidity. Additionally, we who attend these protests are not an "anti-tax group," as I have seen us called before. If we don't recognize the necessity of some taxes, we think no further than the people who tax too much to pay for "free" programs, and would then be just as wrong.

So the purpose, then, is to proffer a people's complaint against unfairly high or graduated taxes, and taxes spent irresponsibly by our elected officials.

With that in mind, I speak first to the members of Congress who attend, or have considered attending, these Tea Parties.

Men and women of Congress: When we the people protest, we the people do not want to hear from you. We can see your websites, friend you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter. More importantly, we can track your voting records to see what you do - a thing far more important than what you say. I beg you, do not attend Tea Parties to campaign and to prattle. Truthfully, none of you really say anything anyway. But do attend. Attend instead to listen, to take in your voters getting angry, to consider whether or not you are actually doing what is right, and to consider what it is you and all of Washington ought to be doing instead.

I next must address the members of the general public who attend the Tea Parties.

To the people who attend: Firstly, do not attend simply because a politician you like is speaking; in fact, such speaking should deter you. If you care about the politicians enough to be so drawn to their speeches, you should consider avoiding them for a time to ensure you can form an original opinion in your own head. I trust this is not too much an epidemic. But what, then, will draw the crowds? The crowds, that is, you the people, should instead attend to have the theoretically intelligent voice of the country heard. The Congressmen cannot hear you if they themselves are speaking. But as they do not speak, the speaking is the task of you, the people. Consider well your motives and your words before you step up to the microphone. If you have something to say, make it worthwhile, and make it brief. If it has been said already, don't be redundant. If you will come across as paranoid, as many of you do when you get the chance to speak, no one will take any of us seriously; the world will likely not end because of fiscal irresponsibility. If you only want to speak to put attention on yourself, get as far away from the mic as possible. And if you only care to ramble about some unrelated ideal, please re-read the beginning of this article. I attended one Tea Party where some blowhard went on for an absurd amount of time about why natural gas is a good thing. It took forever to finish and he never should have started.

And finally, to the people who do not, for their various reasons, attend: Thank you for reading this blog anyway, even if it was with a spirit of criticism.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Afternoon In Mom's Kitchen

I went to my mother today to ask her if I could keep my chopstick rests in a kitchen drawer. As the appropriate drawer was an organizational disaster, this simple request led to a bit of an organizing party, and a lesson in the great knowledge of fantastic inventions that is evidently required for modern cooking.

I couldn't believe the contraptions she had in there. I'll admit I don't exactly cook, but at least to my amateur eyes, the amount of gadgets seemed quite absurd, each one more specialized than the last. Egg separator I understand, and orange peeler, but pickle fork?

Here are some of the ones that I found noteworthy for various reasons. The picture is given, followed by an explanation, so if you don't scroll too quickly, you can try to guess what it is! Of course, if you cook often or enjoy kitchen widgets, you probably won't even have to guess.

1. Lemon zester

There are many ways to remove the zest from a lemon, but apparently not one is so great as the lemon zester. I didn't even know what zest was until today, or that it's edible. Apparently, it's the outer part of the skin, the colorful part, and is quite flavorful. Other citrus fruits have zest too. It makes foods zesty.

2. Jar opener

My mother claims this is the best invention ever. If you have a tight jar lid and don't have a man around the house, you stick the tip of this thing under the edge of a jar lid and squeeze the handles. Air gets let in and voila, the jar can be opened. WikiHow says you can do the same thing with a bottle opener or a teaspoon, but that's just not as cool, now, is it?

3. Onion holder

This is for holding an onion in place while you cut it, so you avoid slicing any fingers. I didn't bother to ask if it would be acceptable to use it for other vegetables as well, or if it was onion-specific.

4. Egg slicer

I used this all the time as a kid, when my mother would make hard boiled eggs. I would slice them, pop out the yolk from each slice, and eat just the white part, because I thought the yolks were disgusting. Nowadays, to avoid the yolk, I just eat them not sliced and carefully.

5. Fizz keeper

It has a chicken on the top, so I assumed it was somehow related to basting or something of that nature. I forgot that's just the Pampered Chef logo. It's actually meant to keep sodas from going flat, something about using pressure to keep the CO2 in the bottle, but as I read in a couple places today, this apparently doesn't work. Oh well.

6. Boil-over preventer

My initial thought, at first glance, was that a stray can lid had gotten stuck in the drawer. It actually keeps the water in pots from boiling over, somehow. According to the internet, sticking a wooden spoon across the top accomplishes this as well. Ahh, kitchen physics.

7. Pineapple core-er

My mother says this is also the best invention ever, but since she uses it less frequently than the jar opener, that one probably wins. Anyway, yes, it makes nice little pineapple circles for eating, without having to fight your way through the tough outside with a knife.

8. Fancy-cucumber slicer

This slices cucumbers in a fancy way. I have no idea why this is necessary and in fact the gadget that Mom has for straight slices is much cooler (and faster).

9. Egg puncher

This pokes a hole in an egg and is somehow related to soft-boiling them. The lock position is important so you do not stab yourself accidentally.

10. English muffin opener

An English muffin opener, I tell you. My goodness.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Tea Parties

Tea is popular. Not only traditional black tea, but green, white, herbal, spiced, and chai, among others, are available for your enjoyment. If you can't find one you like, you haven't tried hard enough. However, tea is not, for whatever reason, much of a social beverage here in America. Coffee, alcohol, but rarely tea--and it is a shame, a fact quite clear to anyone who has ever attended a decent tea party.

The versatility of a tea party makes it available to women of all tastes. One may host an intimate gathering of a few friends, or a major occasion with full tea pots and finger sandwiches all down the buffet table. Japanese green tea or Indian spiced chai can accompany a tea party with a cultural theme, and English breakfast tea works well with something more Victorian. Younger girls would enjoy a doll-centric tea party, and those somewhat older can appreciate one with an Alice in Wonderland theme. The possibilities are endless.

Yet, whatever style you choose, a tea party is a quiet, sophisticated social, and an arguably superior venue for a girls' get-together. The very atmosphere demands peace and dignity, and is a marvelous excuse to dress up in attractive frocks with bows and lace. To host is to show off your entertaining skills, and to attend is to simply enjoy an afternoon in the company of your friends. Weekly or monthly tea parties may be hosted by a different friend each time, for variety and to share the hostess responsibilities.

Tea parties can have a financial advantage over luncheons and dinner parties as well. Coming after lunch but before dinner, you need pay less for food, and the little sandwiches, tarts, and scones often involve less fuss than a true meal. Additionally, tea is cheaper than alcohol; one tea bag will steep through a full pot.

Don't think tea parties must leave out men, either. You'll have to provide more in the way of food, certainly, but if you can convince them that it isn't too terribly feminine, and keep the lace to a minimum, a tea-centric gathering of well-dressed friends would be an entertaining afternoon for all.