Friday, May 29, 2015

Those Fucking Duggars

So, a member of America's Freakiest Family was a child molester when he was a child himself (and may still be for all we know). Color me unsurprised. Since I read about this over a year ago. (The current furor is prompted by In Touch magazine obtaining legal records proving the story.) Plus, they've always been pretty fucking creepy.

Which makes sense since they belong to the Quiverfull movement, which aims to ensure that conservative Christians win the culture wars by outnumbering the rest of us via giant families. No, really. The name refers to a quiver full of arrows - arrows being children in this case. They like their women subservient and pregnant as often as God allows. Even when it's a health risk to the mother, or the marriage has already produced several children with special health needs. 

They also don't believe in going into debt, so many Quiverfull families live in overcrowded conditions. That gorgeous house The Duggars live in? They were building it themselves (literally - home school field trips were to construction sites so the older ones could learn how to build a house), debt-free, when TLC came along and did a special on completing the house - with professional assistance. Without TLC, the Duggars would still be living in a 2 bedroom apartment. They were clearly in over their heads with that one.

How do I know so much about the Duggars? Because they're a total freak show and I could not look away. I read about them and their religion as much as I could, because what the hell was wrong with these people?! You see pictures of them now and see a very large family. Back when they first sullied our televisions, they dressed like Mormon fundamentalists. 

Actually, that's completely unfair to Mormon fundamentalists. The Duggars dressed in a style best described as Prairie Hideous. Their (shared) dresses all featured giant white bibs or collars, so they could, "draw attention to their faces" and away from their sinful, sinful bodies. Of course, all those dresses drew attention to was themselves. (Pictures here.)

I watched, along with a lot of my raging liberal friends, because TLC was/is a modern freak show. When we first met the Duggars, TLC was all about extremely large families, conjoined twins (and their separation surgeries, allowing us to gawk at their anatomy) and dwarfism. Instead of gaping at people in person in a carnival tent, TLC let us gape at them through the TV. And back then, the Duggars' clothes and hair alone were enough to qualify them for the freak show circuit. They started dressing more mainstream to protect the ratings of the show, which is really the only way to support that many kids.

I finally couldn't watch anymore when I saw how much the daughters were drinking the kool-aid. One of the older daughters was asked by a producer how she felt about not be allowed to kiss boys. (They can't even hold hands without parental permission.) She pretended not to know what he was talking about and insisted that she'd kissed her brothers - and kissed one of the little ones on the cheek to prove her point. She was trying to be sarcastic, but failed. And knowing what we know now...ugh.

By that point, I'd already been worrying about how many fans they had. Millions of people were watching them sincerely instead of hate watching them. It made me queasy to see how many people agreed with their extremely retrograde world view.

This past week, I've seen liberals drowning in their own smugness on social media. Yes, their religion protects molesters and blames the victim. It has such a fucked up view of sex that the little ones are forbidden from dancing because moving their body in an enjoyable way could lead to masturbation. So yeah, I can even go along with the argument that their religion encourages sex crimes through extreme repression and misogyny. 

But - and here is where I've forced to defend the goddamn Duggars, and don't think for a minute I feel good about it - as far as we know, not all Quiverfull men are child molesters. We haven't heard anything about any other molesting Duggar brothers, and I'm sure that there is more investigative journalism going in that area right now than in corporate corruption and other worthier causes. So I'm going to assume that there's a good chance that at least once Duggar son over the age of 14 has gotten that far without molesting his sisters. #NotAllQuiverfullMen if you will. 

Now, I'm not saying this to be fair or because I like them - because I don't. I point out this fact because people love to point their finger at anyone who hurts children and declare how they'd never do that themselves. (When a local child was killed a couple of years ago, all the quotes in news stories were either expressing sympathy for the parents, or horror at the killer (how could he do that?). I didn't hear anyone sympathizing with the poor little boy, who must've been so scared and now doesn't get to grow up because he asked the wrong person for directions.) Child abusers and molesters are "other".

Except they're not. Children are far more likely to be molested by a relative or friend of the family than by a stranger. (In case you don't feel like clicking, 90% - that's ninety fucking percent - of reported sexual abuse is done by someone the kid knows.) America has been watching several sexual abuse survivors every week on 19 Kids and Counting, and had no idea. Abuse victims are so good at pretending everything's fine that no one had a clue until they finally get the courage to tell someone. And too often that someone doesn't believe them because their abuser seems so normal. So not "other".

And that's why I'm (sort of, not really) defending the Duggars. Because if we're going to protect our children, and support survivors of abuse, then we need to stop thinking that only freaks abuse. That it's only creepy uncles and weird strangers we have to worry about. Yes, we still need to teach kids about stranger danger, but anyone can be a physical or sexual abuser. You can't assume that you know what everyone does behind closed doors.

I'm not saying that we should teach kids to be afraid of everyone they know, or that we can't trust anyone. I'm saying that we need to get over our false assumptions so we can protect kids from all abusers instead of just the ones that fit the profile.

So no, I won't be rejoicing over the Duggars' downfall, no matter how much I've wanted to wipe those smiles off of their smug faces. Because the problem is so much bigger than them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stop Making Me Defend Snoop Dogg

Mont Saint Michel, but it could be Kings Landing
People are making fun of Snoop Dogg or Snoop Lion, or whatever he's calling himself these days for saying that Game of Thrones is historically accurate. Fans of the show love to make fun of other fans who miss the fact that Westeros is clearly not on Earth. It's that sort of superiority that geeks just love.

But let's look at it realistically. George R.R. Martin based the plot on the War of the Roses. The Lannisters are based on the real-life Lancasters, and so forth. The style of this world is based on Medieval Europe. There's nothing all that alien or foreign it the look of this world. Game of Thrones relies heavily on Earth mythology - swords, knights, beheadings, dragons, zombies (albeit ice zombies). 

When you look at the map of Game of Thrones the geography, it's nothing like Earth, may not be as heavily based on European geography as the Lord of the Rings was, but still, it kind of is. The seven kingdoms are on a big island continent, and then you cross The Narrow Sea to get to more countries. England is on an island with other nations (Scotland and Wales), and from there you cross the English Channel (a narrow sea) to get to other countries. Hell, the big giant ice wall manned by the Night's Watch is blatantly Hadrian's Wall.

The only thing that's radically different is that summer and winter each last for years unread of months, and the duration is irregular. Winter can last for 7 years or 20. But I think we can forgive some fans from noticing that important detail. The show might as well be called, Wait, Who Is That Again? Between all the naked bodies, and massacres and a cast so large that some of them only see each other on the red carpet...exactly how shocking is it that some fans think this show based on the events of medieval England is actually taking place in medieval England?

Oh, and scientists have figured out a way for those long, irregular seasons to be theoretically scientifically possible. Basically, big cosmic disaster screws up a planet's orbit. With all the talk on Game of Thrones about how entire societies can crumble and disappear (like Valeria which we sailed past last week), how can we be sure that this isn't all taking place many thousands of years in the future? All this has happened before, all this will happen again. 

I'm not putting forth my own little fan theory. But I am saying that people need to fucking roll with it when other fans mistake Westeros for medieval England. Because in some ways, it is.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Tale of Two Cookbooks

With luck, my couscous will look like this.
Last week, I read this essay by novelist Michael Chabon about a family trip to Morocco. Long story short, they ate so much couscous that they managed to get bored of it. It's been ages since I've eaten couscous, so now I have a hankering.

I'm not talking about the grain itself. It's unremarkable, though I do like how quickly it cooks. What I mean is the full dish - meat and vegetables served over couscous. It's kind of like pot roast or beef stew, but with different flavors. Which is probably a completely unhelpful description unless you've had couscous and know what I'm talking about.

I first had couscous when visiting a friend in France in the 90s. We spent the weekend in her friend's country home and our host made us chicken and vegetable couscous. It was good.

Side note: France has a food delivery service called Allo Couscous, which translates to Hello Couscous. Take out wasn't as much of a thing there as it is in the States, so everyone was excited that you could order food over the phone now. There's also Allo Pizza and I don't know how many other versions.

There are no Moroccan restaurants near me, so I've decided that the defunct pizza place should become a Moroccan takeout joint, along the lines of Curry in a Hurry. This will never happen, but I wants it anyway.

Back home, I've had couscous at Cafe Mogador, in the East Village. It's a bit of a hike form the subway, so I've been too sickly to go. They have a location in Brooklyn that isn't conveniently located to my apartment. Unless we get a car, and NYC car insurance rates are way too high for that to happen any time soon. Not even for couscous.

But I've been feeling a bit better lately, so I decided to cook some couscous. I started googling recipes, but immediately remembered that I own two Moroccan cookbooks, and maybe I should justify the space they're taking up.

I put them both on my Amazon wish list in healthier days when I did most of the cooking. (Things have shifted so much that when I suggest to HA that "we" try a new recipe, he assumes that he'll be doing all the work.) I guess I picked them because they were highly rated. They are Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Moore and Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert. 

Couscous and Other Good Food has no pictures, at least not of the food. Which is annoying and disappointing. And not surprising considering that it was published in 1973. That was the style then. Though Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking lacks photos, and I can still picture what each dish is supposed to look like. Maybe it's just that I'm more familiar with French cuisine than Moroccan.

It's considered one of the definitive works on Moroccan cooking, yet a 40 year old cookbook can't help being vintage and outdated. Vintage cookbooks are fun, but they usually include ingredients that are no longer available, or reflect tastes that have changed. (18th century Americans and Brits loved food that tasted like roses. 21st century Americans think that shit tastes like perfume.)

Wolfert describes the traditional method of steaming couscous (the grain). Morse does that to, but her recipes call for the instant variety because ain't nobody got time for that shit. Wolfert teaches the reader the complicated process of making warka, a light, flaky pastry that is so difficult to make that even in the 70s, Moroccans would buy theirs from artisans instead of trying to make it. She does mention that phyllo makes an adequate substitute. Morse reports that modern Moroccans buy their warka at the market and goes straight for the phyllo. Because modern Americans have shit to do.

I have two recipes in Morse's cookbook flagged, including a meat and veg couscous. As for Wolfert's book, I don't know if I'll ever use it. I may hold on to it so I can read it as travel writing. But I really do prefer cookbooks with photos. I wonder if it's just that I'm used to the modern way of including lots of photos in cookbooks. Or am I insecure about my cooking skills and need the validation of comparing my dish to the picture in the book?

What about you - do you cook from cookbooks without photos?