Thursday, May 25, 2017

Technical Difficulties

Pink Slip is experiencing technical difficulties.

I can either focus on trying to figure out why my blog writing tool - OpenLiveWriter - stopped working. Or why I can download the exe but not run it.

Or I can use the clumsy Blogger app.

Or I can watch Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O'Donnell report on more critical matters. Like the Guardian reporter who was roughed up by Greg Gianforte, who's running - the election's today - for Montana's one and only seat in Congress.

Hmmmm. A blog post or the future of our country?

No contest.

Anyway, we're taking Friday off, too.

Back on Monday.

Looks like it's time to convert to Wordpress. Which I really don't like as much as LiveWriter with Blogger...

Alas. Alack. Woe r' us.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Slaughterhouse

I have many, many vivid memories of my childhood – perhaps even an absurd number of vivid memories. And among the most vivid was the day Johnny LaChappelle showed the neighborhood kids a cow’s eyeball that he had somehow gotten his hands on. It was floating in some type of clear liquid, in a screw-topped jar. And it was fascinating.

I can’t recall precisely where he’d gotten it, but I think it was something about a visit to a slaughterhouse he’d made with his father. (Maybe it was some sort of male bonding thing. Johnny was the youngest of five kids, and the other four were girls – two of them (“the twins”) were our sometime babysitters.)

Frankly, a floating eyeball wouldn’t have been considered all that creepy and weird to kids who were raised on the gory iconography of Catholicism. Just about the time we were seeing the eyeball, we’d seen the mummified arm of St. Francis Xavier, which toured the world in a glass case, and which all the little angels at Our Lady of the Angels had to kiss. Mummified arm under glass! Yum! Lip smacking good!

So none of the kids in the ‘hood would have been particularly grossed out by a cow eyeball. Maybe if Johnny had unbottled it and hurled it. But he was way too nice a kid.

Anyway, I’m guessing that, in the 1950’s, there was at least one slaughterhouse in Worcester, Massachusetts. As far as I can tell – thank you, Google – there are now none, the nearest one being in Athol, way out there in remote Worcester County.

And it’s not just Worcester that no longer has places where they can, say, get a cow eyeball for their kid.

In 1967 there were 9,627 livestock (cattle, cal, hog and sheep) slaughtering establishments in the U.S. That same year, Congress passed the Wholesome Meat Act, requiring producers to use a USDA-inspected facility if they sell meat across state lines. A mass consolidation of the meat industry followed. Today, commodity meat is dominated by large companies. Just four companies sell about 85% of America's beef and the pork and chicken markets are similarly controlled by huge corporations. By 2016, there were only about 1,100 federally inspected meat and poultry slaughterhouses in the country….Of those approximately 1,100 facilities, 215 large slaughter establishments (defined as 500 or more employees) produce about 75 percent to 90 percent of the country's volume.(Emphasis mine. Source: Bloomberg)

From what I’ve read about meat processing plants, that Wholesome Meat Act has a lot of wiggle room in it. Not to mention that they’re dangerous and unwholesome places for humans to work. Conditions may not be quite as terrible as they were when Upton Sinclair exposed those conditions in The Jungle. But the Wholesome Meat Act did its number on slaughterhouses. Other than any reservations you have (and if you think about it, you’ll have plenty) about the food industrial complex, I don’t imagine there are too many tears being shed about the decline in the number of slaughterhouses.

But on the high-end of the meat biz, the restaurants that do the farm-to-table thing, there aren’t enough slaughterhouses to bonk the noggins of all those grass-fed beef, or wring the necks of all those free range chickens.

The whole thing is turning into something of a foodie crisis.

Imagine the folks at New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which raises its own meat for their restaurant.

How foodily serious are they about meat?

At one point during a recent meal, a diner's candle was extinguished and poured over plates as a sauce, because—surprise: The candle was made of beef tallow.

Needless to say, folks like this want to take some care when it comes to how their meat gets from farm to table.

Despite ever-increasing customer demand for noncommodity meat, there aren't enough slaughterhouses to keep up. It's a major hitch in the supply chain—keeping supplies down, prices up, and making the already grueling job of farming even harder.

Stone Barns considers itself fortunate in that they only have to drive an hour and 15 minutes to get to a slaughterhouse. Many other places have to drive up to four hours one-way to get their farm animals “processed.”

The smaller local slaughterhouse complain that they’re over-regulated, and have to deal with the same level and kind of regs that are more appropriate to the large factory-style slaughterhouse. So they’d like the USDA to back off. I suspect they have a point, and that – especially the ones that work with the beef-tallow-candle style foodies – the smaller outfits already take greater care with their slaughtering.

Perhaps when the current administration is finished brining back coal mining, they can bring back the slaughterhouse.

Think of all the swell jobs!

Think of all the kids they can make happy with eyeballs under glass…

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Romper Room.

Yesterday, Pink Slip’s topic was the Rowing Blazer, a fairly ridiculous piece of garb, especially when worn by someone who hasn’t earned it by putting the throw-up inducing effort required to become an elite oarsman or oarswoman. Seriously, it might be kind of fun – in a snotty, preppy kind of way – to wear a silly blazer if you’re part of the club. But on any one else? Poseur!

But the rowing blazer is not the craziest fashion for men out there. That would be the RompHim.

From the brief article I saw in it in USA Today, my initial impression was that it was beachwear, which I was going to compare and contrast to my father’s beachwear: plaid boxer short bathing suit and white tee-shirt (skivvy shirt), worn with wing tips and black socks. Well, that look, to me, is the height of fashion and masculinity when Romper himcompared to the RompHim.

Admittedly, I understand that I’m not the demographic that this look is supposed to appeal to. But in what way, shape, or form can someone sporting this be deemed attractive to a member of the opposite sex. Or the same sex, for that matter. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit if one of these dudes approaches.

The only one who looks cute in a romper is Prince George. And even he’s outgrown the look. These days – unless he’s wearing a page boy costume for his Aunt Pippa’s wedding – George wears big boy shorts Prince Georgeand sweaters.

Really, if there’s a question of who wore the baby blue romper better, my vote goes to Price George.

Anyway, a group of students at the Kellogg School at Northwestern were looking to come up with:

….a menswear option that wasn’t “too corporate,” “fratty,” “runway” or “basic.” Thus, a romper for men.

I’ll give them points for creating an option that wasn’t “too corporate”, but I’m not quite sure that their romper is the antithesis of “fratty.” Hard to imagine anyone who isn’t a frat bro slipping into a romper.

Nonetheless, the inventors have raised $365K on Kickstarter to fund their idea,which they believe will “turn heads and break hearts.”

Turn heads? Maybe. But there’s a big element of turn stomachs in there. I’m all for a youthful look, but I’m not a fan of the infantilization of men (or women, for that matter: I really don’t like seeing women my age wearing Winnie the Pooh sweatshirts). Years ago – i.e., when I was in my twenties – it was considered rather endearing when boyish men wore black buckled galoshes like the ones they wore in grammar school. Yet galoshes were functional. And, at one point of time, grown men had worn them, as they were pretty much the only winter footgear available. A romper is another story all together.

As for breaking hearts, I can imagine something breaking. And that would be breaking out into outright prolonged laughter if I happened upon some guy in a romper.

I hope that this is a joke. I hope that the designers end up admitting so, and giving the $365K back to their funders. Failing that, I really hope I don’t ever see anyone walking around wearing one of these. Anyone older than Prince George, that is. Back when Prince George was under the age of two.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What ho, rowing blazers!

Well, today would have been my father’s birthday. Since if he were still alive he’d be turning 105, he’d likely be dead by now. Still… Birthdays are birthdays, and even though my father has been dead for nearly 50 years (gulp), my thoughts today are turning to him.

My father was both a natty dresser (other than his beachwear, a topic that will be addressed tomorrow) and an athlete. So today’s subject – the preppy blazer for those who crew -  is fitting.

No, Al wasn’t exactly a preppy, a category that didn’t exist, at least in our world, while he was alive. And rowing wasn’t one of the sports he excelled at, as rowing was a category of sport that didn’t exactly exist in our world, either. Nonetheless…

Jack Carlson, on the other hand, is a prepster rower, and he’s put his prepster rowing background (and, I guess, his PhD in archeology from Oxford) to use by becoming a clothing designer, focusing the work of his eponymous company, Rowing Blazers, on rowing blazers.

 “We’re bringing the blazer back to its origins,” Carlson says, in pitch mode. “The original blazer was kind of like the hoodie of its day,” he continues, explaining that the garment, which originated as casual warmup gear, made a shift from pure function to nonchalant fashion in the 1800s.

The sport coats at Rowing Blazers are inspired by the traditional jackets worn by the members of venerable boat clubs. Although these jackets are the antecedents of the navy blue blazer in your closet, they’re vastly more expressive. Think of big crests on breast pockets and bold stripes of team colors. Imagine endless fathoms of grosgrain trim. (Source: Bloomberg)

Here’s Doctor Jack wearing a rowing blazer, flanked by none other than the Winkelvoss twins, similarly garbed. And let’s face it, one never gets tired of Preppry blazersseeing the Winkelvoss twins. What a brand those bros have got going. Even though nerdy Mark Zuckerberg got to be the Facebook ka-billionaire, I’m quite sure that he never rowed for fair Harvard. So, while he might be able to afford one of these rowing blazers, he is really not entitled to wear one.

If you’re wondering what Doctor Jack is holding, it’s his book Rowing Blazers. (Hey, when you’ve got a good thing going, keep going.) While it’s hard for me to imagine that there’s a book’s worth of reading to be had about rowing blazers, I’m admittedly not an elite oarsman such as the Winkelvi, nor an elite oarswoman for that matter.

From a business perspective, Preppy blazer twoit’s equally hard for me to imagine that there are enough elite oarsmen and oarswomen, plus wannabes, to grow and sustain the Rowing Blazer business. These blazers are not the understated, collar up, prepped out boringness that Ralph Lauren has been flogging for decades. Never in style, never out of style. Bland. Blend in sorts of clothing.

But rowing blazers?

I’m not a big fan of the word, but these blazers, to my eye anyway, seem ultra-douchey, even if they were (and I’ll take Dr. Jack’s word for it) the hoodie of their day.

That said, I can understand the allure for those who have rowed. You really can’t live in Boston, a 2 minute walk from the Charles River, and not develop some appreciation for those whose sport is crew. Rowers, from what I can see, work really hard. They’re jock-y, they’re clubby, and if they want to wear something that screams “white privilege”, well, they’ve earned it.

But is there a business here?

Okay, now that I’ve said that, maybe there is. After all, more than one fellow showed up at Pippa Middleton’s wedding in tartan pants. 95887120Tell me these blokes wouldn’t be happy in a loud blazer with piping and a big old crest on the breast?

Anyway, Dr. Jack does get that the rowing blazer biz is somewhat tongue-in-cheeky. He uses a bee motif on his labels and brass buttons.

It’s a symbol of industriousness that Carlson connects with two fictional social organizations he admires: P.G. Wodehouse’s Drones Club and Wes Anderson’s Rushmore Beekeepers.

I don’t know much about Wes Anderson, but, ah, yes, the industrious Bertie Wooster and his Drones Club, home of all those feckless, upper-crust, between the wars Brits. I can just see Jeeves holding a rowing blazer out to Bertie, and brushing off his master’s shoulders with a tiny whisk broom.

The rowing blazers don’t come cheap – $550 to $1100. But they’re made in the USA. The line also sells button-down shirts for $175 that appear to be pre-frayed. And $150 ties.

Some folks may be thinking w.t.f. But I’ll borrow a line from Bertie Wooster: What ho!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sky King?

Even by the dismal standards of 1950’s TV, Sky King was pretty lame. 330px-Sky_King_castFor those unfamiliar with this show of shows, Schuyler “Sky” King was a rancher (his ranch: The Flying Crown). But he was no ordinary rancher. He flew around in is plane – The Songbird – and solved crimes. Sometimes he was assisted by his niece Penny and nephew Clipper. That’s Clipper to the right, with Sky and Penny. I’m sure you can immediately grasp just why I had a major crush on Clipper. Unfortunately, Clipper wasn’t on as many episodes as Penny, and I was always disappointed when it was just Penny, who while always getting into fake girly trouble, was pretty boring. I recall that she once pissed off Uncle Sky by attempting to dry her hair with the whirling propellers of The Songbird. (Kids, don’t try this at home.)

The very thought of the hours I spent watching Sky King embarrasses me. (In my defense, when I was watching this and other wretched shows, I was generally reading a book at the same time.) Anyway, Sky King made other lame-o shows like Fury and My Friend Flicka look like high art.

Anyway, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Sky King, or pining for Clipper. But the show came to mind when I read the other day that the Dutch King, Willem-Alexander, is actually a sky king. He’s at least temporarily giving his wings a rest, but for a good long while there, a couple of times a month, he had been a fly boy:

King Willem-Alexander told national newspaper De Telegraaf in an interview published Wednesday that he has ended his role as a regular "guest pilot" after 21 years on KLM's fleet of Fokker 70 planes and before that on Dutch carrier Martinair. He will now retrain to fly Boeing 737s as the Fokkers are being phased out of service. (Source: AP via Bloomberg)

Given the low-key monarchy in the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander generally went unrecognized, but there he had been all those years, making announcements and sitting there as the co-pilot, ready to take over if something happened to the pilot-pilot.

There’s something quite appealing about “royalty” in countries like Holland and Denmark. Compared to the Brits, they seem low on pomp and circumstances, low on bowing and scraping, and I think you mostly get to see them as royals when they show up in their cutaways (kings) and fascinators (queens) at the wedding of some distant cousin in the British Royal family. Mostly, they’re quasi-normal folks, who do quasi-normal things like flying planes. Which is more normal than someone flying around as a civilian crime-stopper, which was Sky King’s preposterous role. (I was going to write that these types of royals are quasi-normal, except when they get to be moral exemplars, like Denmark’s King Christian’s wearing a yellow star in sympathy with his nation’s Jews during WWII. Alas, although Denmark had a pretty exemplary record during the Holocaust, according to Snopes, the yellow star thing never happened.)

Anyway, I did get a kick out of reading about Willem-Alexander’s gig as a commercial co-pilot. A lot more calming than reading about what our head-guy’s up to…

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Never too old to learn, Ireland edition

Because I’ve been to Ireland so many times – somewhere in the 12-15 range, I think – I wasn’t anticipating a lot of revelations to come out of my trip to Ireland. But live and learn.

And what I learned is that barmbrack, or brack, is actually a cake that I love and that was known in my family as Daddy’s Favorite.

Here’s how this was revealed.

While my sister and niece cleaned out Molly’s student digs, my friend Shelly and I wandered around Claddagh and stumbled across a little art center and odd-bit shop (jewelry, scarves, lawn statuary, antique fireplace tiles – of which I came away with one to use as a trivet) in an old, thatched roof cottage. It was a gorgeous day, and we decided to have a cup of tea out in the garden. Would we like a slice of brack with that? Well, yes, we would.

I knew vaguely what brack was – something sort of fruit cake-y – but, in all my trips to Ireland  (12? 15?), which included many, many, many cups of tea, I had never had a slice of brack.

Sitting in the garden of Kate’s Claddagh Cottage, I took a bite of brack and said, “Hey, this is Daddy’s Favorite.”

Oh, this recipe used Guinness. Our family recipe had walnuts. But, damn, Daddy’s Favorite was, indeed, brack.

Who knew?

This should not be a surprise. My father was an Irish-American, and the recipe was probably my grandmother’s by way of her County Louth mother or County Mayo mother-in-law. Still, I had never thought of Daddy’s Favorite as something Irish. I do know that I’ve made it at least once in the last decade or so. I just went and dug out that recipe, written in my mother’s hand, and I’ll be making it soon. And having it with my afternoon cup of tea.

When I first started going to Ireland, there were plenty of aha moments like this: the way people looked, their speech patterns, the way they gestured, the way they pronounced certain words (like the name MAUR-een).  It was all very familiar. After all, I’d grown up in a largely Irish-American neighborhood, where most of the “grown ups” were the children or grandchildren of Irish immigrants. 

Still, the brack was a pleasant surprise.

As was the discovery of something called a Baby Guinness. Which has nothing to do with Guinness but which does look quite a bit like a pint. A Baby Guinness is a shot glass about 90% full of Kahlua, with a layer of Bailey’s on top. That’s Baby Guinness, standinBaby Guinnessg next to a pint. Having had a few pints during my week+ in Ireland, I will say that the head looks too white. The tannish-head on the Baby Guinness looks a lot more like the real thing.

In any case, the Baby Guinness was yummy. And while it’s tough to find a good pint of Guinness in the States – I do understand that the Burren in Davis Square in Somerville pours a decent pint – I suspect that it’s easy enough to find a Baby Guinness. Not that I’ll be out looking for one. But as a one-shot, it was a fun and tasty little drink to try.

Brack and Baby Guinness. Two pretty good take-aways for an old Ireland hand…

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Daddy’s Favorite

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 1 pound of raisins. Cool. Add two teaspoons baking soda to raisins and water.

Mix 2 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons shortening (not specified, but I bet Liz used Crisco), 2 eggs

Add raisins and water. Mix well. (Liz instruction aside: “I usually add first the water, and hold the raisins until I have added the flour.”)

Add 3 cups flour. Mix well.

Add 1/2 cup walnuts.

Bake for approximately 1 hour. (Either 350 or 375, “depending on your oven.”)

Use 13” x 9” greased and floured pan.

It wasn’t specified on the recipe card, but you can dust the cooled cake with some powdered sugar.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

For peat’s sake

You could see if from the plane. Ireland didn’t look to me as green as it should.

And, sure enough, as we soon learned, Ireland has been in something of a drought, with little or no rain from April on into May. Which turned out to be good for us. From Monday, when we arrived, through Thursday, we enjoyed sunny and balmy (upper 60’s/low 70’s) days. Just gorgeous.

On Tuesday evening, as we headed out to dinner, there was smoke in the air and the distinct smell of peat. Turns out that there are fires raging throughout the country. Gorse fires. Heather fires. Hill grass. Sedge fires. Forests. And some of those fires – like the Connemara fire that was smoking up Galway – are burning on the peat bogs. Thus the smell of peat.

Which I actually like. In moderation. Years ago, I stuck my head in a poor farmer cottage  - this was at a replica ye olde Irish village – where the turf fire was authentically burning in the authentic low-ceilinged, windowless main room. One breath and I felt I had contracted black lung. As my grandmother used to say, “If Ireland were so great, we wouldn’t have all had to come over here.” And there you had it. A daily diet of praties while breathing intense peat smoke no doubt drove many an Irishman and woman to Amerikay.

Yet a bit of the aroma of peat is quite pleasant. I keep meaning to buy one of those ceramic thatched cottages that you can burn a pellet of peat in so that, come next winter, I can have a bit of peat in the background when I drink me Barry’s tea.

For Ireland, peat isn’t just a pleasant smell wafting from a tiny ceramic cottage. It’s:

…a cheap source of energy; at its simplest it involves no more than digging by hand. Ireland, which has bogs full of the stuff, uses it for 6% of its energy. (Source: The Economist)

“No more than digging by hand.” Hah!

We took an excellent tour of Connemara on Wednesday, and our driver (a native) pulled off at a peat bog and Digging peattalked about what a grand time they’d had as kids helping their father foot the turf. We were, of course, incredulous that something as backbreaking as digging up and footing turves might be fun. Does this look like fun to you? An Irish friend later confirmed that it was part of the no fun zone of her childhood when she and her sibs went to their grandparents’ farm during the summer, and they were required to participate in peat gathering. It sounds to me like apple-picking: the first few apples are fun, but pretty soon that bushel basket starts to look like the Grand Canyon. How are we ever going to fill that? The good news is that much of the peat gathering is now mechanized. (That said, you still do see folks out there working by hand.)

Anyway, our driver told us that none of his kids had ever had to cut turf, and that he himself now bought his turf rather than gather his own. (At least some of the country’s peat bogs are commons: you just go in and take what you want.)

So peat, while not exactly a renewable resource, is cheap (if you don’t count labor costs) and smells good (if you have a home with some ventilation):

But peat is also one of the dirtiest fuels available, emitting 23% more carbon dioxide than coal. Ireland is unusual among developed countries in burning it for energy on an industrial scale. A geological precursor to coal, it has been used on the island for at least 1,000 years. But it may at last be on its way out as Ireland turns to another energy source of which it has unlimited quantities: wind.

Ah, the wind! Which today accounts for 25% of Irish energy consumption. Nice going on making your energy renewable, while we fantasize about bringing back coal mining!

Anyway, we experienced the wind first hand on Saturday of our trip, when the weather had turned and we got caught out in a crosswise monsoon that soaked us all, and had the completely inefficient dryer in our rented house running fulltime for two+ hours to bring our clothing down to an acceptably damp level.

And, on our jaunt through Connemara, we saw some of the wind turbines that, once they’re all up and running will be generating 3% of Ireland’s energy needs. That’s the plan, anyway. The Galway fires – in the Cloosh Valley Forest – were threatening some of the turbines.

I don’t know how that resolved – couldn’t find it in the news – but Ireland will keep moving towards wind power, looking to be able to meet 100% of domestic demand by 2030, and already in the export business. They have cable connections for exporting to Britain, and are planning for a cable to the continent.

That will leave the peatlands to those who don’t heat with electric or something else. Which means that, by man or machine, there will still be those out hunter-gathering to keep their turf fires burning. Perhaps not having much fun, decidedly causing more pollution, but, in small quantities, enjoying the wonderful smell of peat.