Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Super Bowl

Oh, and I should mention. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil." Isaiah 5:20.

The Great Patriotic War

Everyone is disgusted that the team that consciously cast itself as the champion of racial hatred won the Super Bowl.

What this reminds me of more than anything is the novel Envy by Yuri Olesha. The protagonist/antihero of the novel is Nikolai Kavalerov, who envies the "new men" who epitomize Soviet virtue. His benefactor/patron Andrei Babichev is such a man—part of the ruling class of Soviet Russia, I seem to remember that Babichev runs a Soviet sausage factory. By contrast, Kavalerov is a man out of his time. Much the same can be said of Nikolay Krymov in Life and Fate. And in a sense, the same designation applies to Otto and Elise Hampel, whose hapless efforts against Nazism were fictionalized in the great novel Every Man Dies Alone. Or the White Rose.

I hope you're sensing a theme. For a brief time, fascism (or totalitarian Communism, which amounts to much the same thing) can seem like an irresistible wave, a force of history. When Hitler swept through France in a matter of months, it was an embarrassment, and also a symbol of fascism's superiority over decadent liberalism. Similarly, when Nazis came within view of Moscow, it seemed that Bolshevism had been defeated.

The Battle of Britain and Stalingrad. These are what I want you to remember. The RAF soundly defeating the Luftwaffe, and then hundreds of thousands of Nazis slowly starving to death, wracked with disease, easy prey for Soviet snipers. Even the ones who survived to be taken prisoner... well, let's just say very few of them ever set foot on German soil again. It's easy to be dismissive of the Hampels, or the White Rose, since they were rounded up and executed by the Third Reich without achieving their goals. But history is not over in a day, and retaining your conscience is not an empty victory. Soon enough, the Russians were on the offensive. It wasn't just their stunning victory at Stalingrad. They essentially never lost a battle after that. Kursk was a bloody stalemate, but in the middle of it the Allies landed on Sicily, and the Germans pulled back to try to preserve their homeland. That dream did not survive very long. Operation Bagration soon followed, and before long  the boom of artillery could be heard from within Berlin. And then Hitler committed suicide, and the triumph of fascism became a distant memory. Bolshevism held on longer, but its writing was on the wall.

The Patriots will forever be known as the team of racial animus. A Super Bowl is not worth that. They won today, a victory for Trumpism and all of the hatred that he stands for. And Trump won yesterday. But tomorrow does not belong to them, any more than it belonged to the blonde paragon of Nazism in Stalingrad, or to the new Soviet man. The Team of Trump has chalked up another victory, and the racists will be insufferable for the next few weeks. Just remember that there was plenty of celebration in the high ranks of the Nazi Party in the years from 1939 to 1942. It stopped abruptly in 1943. Our task is to make 2020 another 1943. And of course, we will never cheer for the Patriots (the "Team of Trump") for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I "Wrote" Another Poem

"All Apologies"

Come live with me and be my love,
The years to come seem waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ashes

I have become obsessed with Norwegian farmhouse brewing, as documented by Lars "not remotely an arsehole" Garshol on his blog.  I'll write about it another time, but for now I just want to observe an overlap with another obsession of mine, World War II.  The Germans invaded Norway during WWII for strategic reasons.  The Norwegians had built a hidden torpedo station at an old naval base on the Oslofjord, allowing them to sink a large German battleship and delay the invasion.  The Norwegian government was therefore able to escape with its gold to England.  During the war, the Norwegian resistance was courageous and effective.

Anyway WWII comes up a couple of times on Lars's blog.  Here's a remarkable passage, in which Lars is talking to a Norwegian man who brews traditional farmhouse beer, and who is describing his experiences during WWII:

"We brewed from the light grain [lettekonnjet]," Rasmus says. I guess this needs some explanation. In the old days, before the time of purebred genetically identical seed grain, people sorted the grain, setting aside the heaviest grain for seed grain, and for brewing. The lighter grain would be used for bread, and, if there was enough, for animal fodder. But Rasmus is saying they used the light grain for beer.
"Why," I ask. He shrugs and says, "we couldn't afford anything else." Which figures. 1941 was not exactly a year of plenty in wartime Norway. I remember my grandmother saying my father as a baby, in 1945, ate ashes in the fireplace because he was so hungry, and the ashes contained fat. So brewing from the heavy grain would have been too extravagant, I guess. But people still brewed.
It's amazing to me that Europe managed to move on after the war.  Of course, eating ashes from a fireplace is relatively benign, as far as memories of the Nazis goes.  But it still seems like something that would stay with you.  And so many people had vastly worse memories—Londoners could remember the blitz, and of course pretty much all of continental Europe could remember the Third Reich's atrocities.  Meanwhile if my father had been so hungry he had to eat ashes, I think I would harbor resentment for my whole life.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Good Officer

Another passage from A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova.  At this point the Red Army is on German soil and the rape and pillage are terrible.  Again the book quotes Grossman's notes:

Women's screams are heard from open windows. A Jewish [Soviet] officer, whose family was killed by the Germans, is billeted in the apartment of a Gestapo man who has escaped. The women and girls [left behind] are safe while he is there. When he leaves, they all cry and plead with him to stay.
This might sound too good to be true, but in fact Grossman recorded (but did not publish, I think it goes without saying) a lot of stuff that reflects extremely poorly on the Soviet troops.  That lends credibility to examples like this one, even though they seem contrived.  (Also, this passage doesn't reflect that well on the Soviet troops in general, obviously, just on this one officer in particular.)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hey, Khren!

I want to share a passage from A Writer At War:  Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945, by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova.  The book contains passages from Vasily Grossman's wartime writings, with copious explanatory text.  I'll share some other passages that are horrifying, but this one is fun.

By way of background, the Germans at this point have pushed the Soviet defenders of Stalingrad to a narrow strip of land along the Volga River.  The other bank of the river is under control of the Soviets, and they resupply the defenders with barges, but the crossing is very dangerous.  To supplement the supplies, and to harass the Germans, Soviet pilots using training planes (apparently called U-2s), which are unsuitable for combat, fly over the city at night, cutting their engines so that they fly silently.  For the Soviet soldiers, they bring food and ammunition.  For the Germans, bombs tumbling out of the sky with no warning (remember the planes were running silent), haunting their sleep.  By the way, most of these pilots are women, and I like to imagine the pilot in the following anecdote is a woman.

Here's Grossman:

During the night, U-2s drop food for our troops. We mark the front line with oil lamps (flat dishes), which the soldiers light on the bottom of trenches. Company Commander Khrennikov once forgot to do this, and suddenly he heard a hoarse voice coming from the dark sky above: 'Hey, Khren! Are you going to light those lamps or not?' That was the pilot. The engine had been switched off. Khrennikov says this made a terrifying impression on him: a voice from the sky calling his name.
Fun story, right?  It gets better.  Here is the editors' note on the passage:

'Khren' in Russian means horseradish, but it is also a euphemism for an insult similar to 'motherfucker'. So when the pilot shouted, 'Hey, motherfucker!' Khrennikov was astonished at hearing what he thought was his own name.
There are a million stories like this in the book.  However dire things got for the Soviets, they don't seem to have lost their sense of humor.

Friday, December 16, 2016

It's Basic Physics

This weekend it is forecast to reach -17°F in Duluth, Minnesota, and 4°F in Detroit.  Meanwhile the surface water temperatures on the Great Lakes are quite high right now.  So to those of you saying that Great Lakes water temperatures aren't going to drop this weekend, all I can say is:  I think you're fucking insane.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Recipe: Squash Seeds

I just cooked up some squash seeds and they were delicious.  Here is my recommendation.  This is loosely based on Mark Bittman's advice in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

I started with a smallish buttercup squash.  I think this recipe would apply equally well to butternut squash or pumpkin seeds.  I sliced the squash in half along its hemisphere(?) (its prime meridian?  whatever man) and scooped out the seeds and the surrounding goop.  (Basically, inside a squash there are two kinds of flesh, the firm flesh that adheres to the skin, and the goopy flesh that occupies the hollow chamber and contains the seeds.  I scooped out the goopy stuff, scraping it from the firm flesh.)

I then separated the seeds from the goop.  This is the messy, laborious part of the job.  I wish I had measured the amount of seeds I got, but it was maybe...  I don't know, half a cup?  Maybe a little less?  This is painstaking work, I basically had to remove the seeds one by one (the goopy, stringy flesh tends to cling to them).  A little bit of squash stuck to the seeds is tolerable, though, so don't drive yourself crazy with this step.

I put the seeds in a bowl and covered them with warm water.  The point was just to dissolve some of the goop that still clung to them.  After maybe 10-15 minutes, I poured the seeds through a colander and then put them back in the bowl (which now had no water in it).  Then I added 1/2 cup of water and 1 tablespoon salt, stirring it around a bit to dissolve the salt and form a very salty brine.  (The seeds ended up very salty, which I found delicious.  You could reduce the salt quite a bit if you don't care for really salty results.  I will probably use more like 1.5 or 2 teaspoons next time, which I still expect to be quite salty.  But note that the ratio of salt to water is probably the relevant factor.  If you have to use more water to cover the seeds, adjust the salt accordingly.)

I let the seeds soak in the brine for maybe half an hour.  Then I poured them through a colander again but did not rinse them.  I heated a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat.  Then I added the (still wet with brine) seeds and stirred them—they hissed in the hot oil.  After a few minutes of stirring, I spread them out over the bottom of the frying pan and left them over low heat.  I stirred them a few more times, every few minutes, and after a total of about 12-15 minutes of cooking they were starting to brown up.  I removed them from the heat, let them cool down a few minutes, and ate with no further seasoning.

They were delicious.  They had a nice popcorn-like character.  I devoured all of them in like two minutes.  Oh man, they were so good.  It's my new favorite snack.  (One thing is, they were pretty oily.  I ate them with a spoon, so my hands wouldn't get all oily.  You could probably use a bit less oil, but I bet they would still be somewhat messy to eat by hand.)

One variation would be to skip the brine and salt the seeds directly in the frying pan.  That would probably use less salt, which I guess would be economical (though salt is pretty damn cheap).  I'll try that sometime and see how it works.  My concern would be that the saltiness would be less evenly distributed.  But I mean, it would probably still be delicious, maybe even more so.

One problem is that the ratio of seeds to squash is such that you'll have to eat a fair amount of squash if you want to enjoy the seeds very often.  But I mean...  squash is great too.  I will experiment with how well the seeds keep once they've been removed from the flesh, and once they've been fried.  But I doubt I will very often be able to resist eating them all at once.

You could easily season them however you want.  Pepper, garlic, whatever.  They were fantastic on their own, though, with nothing but the salt and the olive oil to flavor them.  You could also probably put them on top of various savory foods as a garnish type thing.  But again...  they were amazing on their own.