L'enfer, c'est les autres

This is an infuriating article from the New York TimesA pedophile writer is on trial in France — along with French literary and elite culture. The article includes a long interview with French writer Gabriel Matzneff, who for decades was fêted by cultural and political elites in the western world. His books involved very detailed accounts of his sexual relationships with children, sometimes as young as 8 years old. I am not going to provide an excerpt here, because the facts of the case are revolting (as the mother of an 8-year-old). But I still recommend reading it and pondering narratives regarding where we are as a society.

France has now had its own “Me Too” political moment, and Mr. Matzneff finds himself both in extreme legal jeopardy and a pariah among terrified elites who still don’t know what’s wrong with “trussing a domestic” behavior. They’ve tried calling their detractors prudes to no avail. How did a man who boasted about traveling to the Philippines so he could have sex with several 8-year-old boys at a time end up a reliable fixture of a French president’s social life? How did it come to be that such a vile human being was invited to live with fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, business tycoon Pierre Bergé, when the police were pursuing him (at age 50) and his barely-in-her-teens girlfriend? He was given a lifetime stipend in celebration of his work detailing his (very non-fiction) practice of pedophilia. Of course, it’s not like he’s the first famous French writer to think or write this way.

We are (according to the media) living in a period of profound political turmoil, where the masses have (wrongly, according to the media) come to distrust and outright revile cultural and political elites. This is supposed to be some sort of a crisis, a turning away from the “tasteful” behavior of the wealthy and well-educated toward the provincial and barbaric tastes of the middle / working class and adequately / under-educated. Our social and cultural institutions (according to the media), which have served us (them) so well across the centuries, are in a state of collapse. We are situated in the midst of a populist emergency, led by people who have decent lives but (gasp) are inarticulate and impervious to the forces of fashion and ridicule like the professional class and their rentier gods.

This has always struck me as something of a false narrative. In many ways, the elites are tasteless and barbaric. Michael Bloomberg talking about how you just have to throw black boys up against the wall to fix crime is tasteless and barbaric. Many “elite” artists and critics are tasteless and barbaric. To the “art scene,” being deviant is a criterion for producing “good” art. Elites buy fruit duct-taped to a wall and call it art, while the city they live in has a record number of homeless and heroin addicts. They don’t understand why literally no one cares what they have to say about how the government should be run. To not care about these people is rational.

PSA: This is not a place for trolls

This is my personal blog. I created this blog to keep up with family and friends because I can’t stand social media and I’m not on it. More specifically, I can’t stand the way social media makes people behave. Unfortunately, not everyone can leave that behavior on social media. Once trained to behave that way, like Pavlov’s dog, they carry those impulses with them everywhere they go.

On my personal blog, I share things that I love or find fascinating. I understand that not everyone in the world shares my opinions about what is worthy of love or fascination, especially about homeschooling/education and politics. And that is fine.

But if you do not want to interact with me or with my family and friends in a positive way, then you will not be allowed to comment here. I have the ability to moderate and even block comments, and I block people who behave like trolls right away.

A troll is someone who wants to engage strangers for the sole purpose of picking fights, especially pointless or petty fights. Someone who wants to drive by and shit on someone else’s social ecosystem for the giggles. Someone who derives pleasure from turning the Internet into a hellhole.

If the above paragraph describes you, don’t waste your time submitting a comment to my site. It will be trashed. You will be blocked. Do yourself a favor and go set up a Twitter account. You will find 70 million people there with similar garbage to broadcast to the world. Some of them are even celebrities, and if you are superlative at broadcasting garbage, they might even retweet you. There is a place for you in this world, but it is not here.

To the normals, thanks for reading.

A ride through Graham Swamp

We went on a bike ride through through the Graham Swamp Conservation Area when we broke for lunch today. I know it seems strange to say this about a swamp, but everything was so green!

Elise is very proud of her new bike. She’s finally tall enough to be able to ride a bike with gears. (Yes, she has a horn in the shape of a parrot. ) It had been very difficult for her to take a little kid bike on sandy trails.

We didn’t see any alligators today (although we’ve seen dozens on swamp outings before). We did see a lot of other wildlife though.

We had stopped for a drink of water when a gopher tortoise booked it across the trail. He walked straight between the wheels of our bicycles and back into the swamp. They are an endangered species, so I’m always happy when I see one.

And a bird feast.

Some delightful Middle Eastern cookbooks and food blogs

We’ve gone out to eat at Lebanese restaurants in Jacksonville so often recently and enjoyed it so much that I ordered several cookbooks in an attempt to replicate the experience. I love the history of all of the civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean, and their food is a living history of sorts. It has also been a great excuse to order a litany of new spices.

As far as cookbooks go, however, these are especially wonderful. They have very thorough discussions of the history and culture of the region – and in many cases, they take the time to explain the origin of particular dishes, spices, and techniques. Much like the Caribbean, the Mediterranean is an on-going collision of people from wildly different backgrounds, so dishes can have very interesting origins and fusions.

This is my favorite of all of the cookbooks I found. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi have written a sort of love letter to the city of Jerusalem. The book is filled with pictures of people from all different backgrounds going about their daily life there. It includes recipes from across the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities. I plan to work my way through most of the recipes in this book.

Another great cookbook is Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food: The Classic Cookbook, Expanded and Updated, with New Recipes and Contemporary Variations on Old Themes. This book also contains a lot of history, but has fewer pictures.

I have also enjoyed this book, Taste of Beirut, from which I learned how to make many of the mezzes we love to eat when we are up in Jacksonville.

This is not a true Middle Eastern cookbook, but Bobby Flay’s cookbook Fit also has a lot of great recipes inspired by the region. He uses a lot of Middle Eastern flavors to make western food taste a lot more interesting.

One of my next projects is going to be to start making preserved lemons. It seems a little funny to do this when one lives in a place where citrus is so abundant, but it really does seem to create an irreplaceable flavor. I’m also not sure how we’ve lived so long without knowing about pomegranate molasses.

Lastly, if you love Middle Eastern cooking, I would highly recommend a couple blogs for you. The first is my pal, A Jeanne in the Kitchen, who posts a wide variety of absolutely amazing recipes (including a lot of Middle Eastern food). The second is Orange Blossoms and Rose Water.

Michael Bloomberg does actually hate minorities and poor people

Michael Bloomberg says he is prepared to drop a couple billion dollars of his vast personal wealth on an advertising campaign and political infrastructure to become president. He has already built a political organization that rivals the entire DNC in size and scope. He’s hiring top political operatives and paying them through the year just to keep them from working for his opponents.

And he does seem to be climbing in the polls after his advertising blitz. Quinnipiac even suggests that he’s stealing Biden’s support with black voters, which I find impossible to believe. It’s difficult to tell whether he’s climbing in the polls because after Biden’s spectacular (but totally predictable) collapse Bloomberg is the only candidate remaining for disillusioned Democratic voters to try on or if his ad campaign is really having a psychological effect. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

It would be hilarious if Bloomberg survives the nomination process simply because he was late to the party and remained out of the fray as the others tore each other to shreds. Bloomberg is a Republican opposition researcher’s dream come true. Perhaps even more so than Elizabeth Warren. And not just because he once tried to regulate access to Big Gulps of soda.

There are endless videos of Bloomberg speaking with open disdain for poor people and minorities. And not just about his “stop and frisk” policy, which allowed the NYPD to stop and search any random (but usually black or brown) person they encountered on the sidewalk with zero cause.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, the NYPD was used to spy on Muslim groups.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, poor people had to submit to being fingerprinted to obtain food stamps.

And that policy attitude also extended to public housing.

You need assistance, but what you don’t need are civil liberties! If you don’t want your kids to starve or live on the streets, your fingerprints will be in our police database! So liberal. So enlightened.

Rather than deal with homelessness, Mayor Bloomberg had a clandestine policy to put homeless on buses and airplanes out of the city. His ostensibly liberal political pals on the west coast have also adopted similar practices now that their own policy ideas have dramatically increased local economic inequality.

Bloomberg’s not a compassionate guy. But he’s also not a smart policy guy. He doesn’t look for practical solutions to anything. Instead he relies on abusing police powers in a thousand ways.

Consider how he used law enforcement to try to harass the poor, black, and brown out of NYC and then ponder what he could do with the Department of Justice, CIA, and Homeland Security. This is not a man who wants to lift all ships through general economic prosperity.

Bloomberg has understood this was the biggest obstacle to his political ambitions. Even before Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, Bloomberg was trying to suppress media coverage of his own record with minorities in hopes of running. See this February 2015 article from a paper in Aspen, Colorado – Michael Bloomberg blocks footage of Aspen Institute appearance:

Michael Bloomberg representatives have asked the Aspen Institute not to distribute footage of his recent appearance in Aspen, where the three-term New York City mayor made pointed comments concerning minorities and gun control.

Both the Institute and GrassRoots TV, the organization that filmed the event, confirmed Thursday that they will not broadcast the footage online or on television as planned.

“We basically honor the wishes of our speakers, and Mayor Bloomberg preferred that we not use the video for broadcast,” the Institute’s chief external affairs officer Jim Spiegelman wrote in an email Friday. “He did not give a reason nor did we have any reason to ask for one. We often feature speakers who prefer that their presentations not be videotaped.”

Appearing before nearly 400 people in Aspen on Feb. 5, the billionaire founder of Bloomberg L.P. argued that in order to save lives, police should seize guns from male minorities between ages 15 and 25.

“These kids think they’re going to get killed anyway because all their friends are getting killed,” Bloomberg said during the speech. “So they just don’t have any longterm focus or anything. It’s a joke to have a gun. It’s a joke to pull a trigger.”

And this is only the tip of the iceberg of the outright racist stuff Bloomberg has said in public venues.

You can already see the Trump ads now. Maybe they’ll even pair the clips of Bloomberg with Elizabeth Warren’s observation at Friday’s Democratic Debate that Democrats always claim they are going to help the African-American community, but they never do. That’s like cheese with a fine wine.

And they can follow that up with Bloomberg announcing his plans to tax the rich to pay for increased government services (the usual Democratic bribe for votes) with shots of Bloomberg’s residence in Bermuda. It’s almost like he understands that a tax on billionaires is the most optional tax in the world and that it won’t work to fund jack squat.

Two excellent hiking websites (Southeastern US)

We promised Elise that we would plan a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail at some point in the next year. (Not a thru-hike, but just a week-long or so backpacking trip.) I have been reading a lot of websites and blogs about neat places to start. I am thinking at a minimum we need to pick a spot where there are reliable stops for water or that pass close to a town. We don’t want to put an eight-year-old through anything extreme.

Anyhow, I have found two especially wonderful sites if you enjoy hiking in general and live in the southeastern United States.

The first is Hiking the Appalachians and Beyond. This chap takes some serious trail notes and includes a lot of pictures. You have a very clear idea what you are getting into if you go on any of these hikes. And he includes detailed driving directions to get to the trail heads, which is sometimes a tricky problem with rural areas (even in the age of Google).

The second is Georgia Waterfalls. I have written before about our quests to find spectacular waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains and neighboring areas. (See my earlier posts, Playing in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and An afternoon in gorgeous Greenville, South Carolina.) The author of this site has produced an unbelievable index of waterfalls throughout Georgia, along with tips and warnings about how to get close to them.

Smoky Mountains National Park (our 2nd favorite place to wander, beside the Blue Ridge Mountains) Photo Credit

The best water shoes ever

As someone who lives in a beach town and tries to spend as much time outside as is humanly possible, I have a lot of opinions about water shoes.

Until recently, my favorite water-ready shoes were Teva sandals. I often wore them on hikes where I knew I would have to cross streams. They would dry almost instantly and were comfortable enough to trek relatively long distances in.

Well, we discovered something far better: Aleader Quick-Drying Aqua Water Shoes. Rodney bought a pair. We bought a pair for Elise (yes, they make children’s versions). We bought them for my in-laws who love sailing and need non-marking shoes with white soles. And I am on my third pair now.

(This is not a paid advertisement. I am simply in love with these particular shoes and had to share.)

The neat thing about these shoes is not that they dry quickly, but that they have a mesh top and tons of small holes in the soles that allow the shoes to DRAIN. This means you could walk/run for miles in the surf, and the water (and sand) just passes through your shoes. It’s a miracle.

I pretty much live in these shoes and my boat shoes now. When you are not walking through water, they make your feet feel breezy.

The shoes are not ideal for walking over serious rocky terrain. You will definitely feel the rocks through the lightweight soles. But they are light enough to throw in your backpack for a long hike that involves water crossings.

I also wear them a lot when I am gardening. They feel cool working out in the sun, and if they get dirty from digging or laying mulch, I can just hose them off or throw them in the wash machine.