Monthly Archives: May 2017

“I don’t know, let me find out”: learn this phrase. Use it.

I’ve hit the end of my tether with this fucking election. It’s driving me right up the wall, daily doses of bullshit. Today, it’s one politician making what the Jolyons treat as the worst boo-boo ever. Tomorrow, it’ll be another.

The boo-boo in question is not knowing some numbers off the top of your head, as though politics were no more than an end-of-the-pier mentalism show. The politician–who will always be The Absolute Worst, unless they are a shiny member of the pigfucking class and therefore more palatable to news outlet owners–will generally respond in one of two ways. They will give a wrong figure, presented with confidence, which is Bad. Or they will admit that they do not know off the top of their head. This is Worse.

The latter is Worse because it does not fit in with macho politics, which, of course, reflects some of the worst trappings of masculinity. The phenomenon is related to mansplaining, blurting out any old guff without any expertise, yet with all the confidence in the world. To say “I don’t know, let me find out,” is to back down, admit weakness.

For myself, it was a difficult journey getting myself in the position where I could admit that I was not a computer, able to immediately spit out the right data on request. As a woman in STEM, it’s one of the worst things you can say (despite the entirety of science being built on identifying what we don’t know, and finding out!). As a girl surrounded by boys, you’re considered a thick bimbo. In schools, your teachers will tut when you’re put on the spot and can’t perform. It’s an age-old valued skill, and I suspect it dates back to antiquity, the orators droning things out from their head.

But it’s a bullshit skill, demonstrating only your ability to be spoonfed and regurgitate. It smacks of public school, the political and media class being steeped in its values.

“I don’t know, let me check” is a beautiful phrase. It is honest, and you emerge smarter from the act of checking. You have learned something that you didn’t know. You have proved yourself aware of the limits of your knowledge, and willing to grow, in a very slight way.

I have more respect, any day, for someone who can do this.

The transition from awkward to liberated, for me, was a little slow, but I forced myself to keep saying “I don’t know, let me find out”, when I didn’t know and needed to find out. People would look at me like I was stupid, but you know what? I emerge knowing a little bit more, every time I check. And I realised just how little that others are growing.

I want to see more value placed on self-awareness and willingness to learn, replacing the value placed on false confidence and spurting bollocks. I want to see a sign of weakness turned into a sign of strength: someone who will grow rather than stagnate.

And yet I feel, in the macho shitshow that is the world, this is likely doomed to fail. But I don’t know that for sure–and I’d like to find out by trying.

 

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Your especial dislike of Diane Abbott is irrational (and probably racist)

Diane Abbott has once again been The Worst™, having done something a lot of other politicians do and… actually I’m not 100% sure what it was this time, but I think it was a bad TV interview. And, from all sides of the political spectrum, there’s scaremongering about the fact that there’s a possibility she could become Home Secretary.

Some people are openly misogynoiristic about Abbott, and that’s grim. But at least it’s honest. The rest, who like to think of themselves as Nice People™ leap through hoops to try to justify their dislike of this politician, and their irrational opposition to a black woman occupying one of the great offices of state.

It starts with “but she’s not qualified to be Home Secretary!”. That’s an interesting assertion to make. Taking less than thirty seconds on google reveals that her CV presents her as more qualified than most previous Home Secretaries or shadows. Abbott’s career before politics included two very notable roles. She was a civil servant in the Home Office–which is significantly more direct experience of working in the Home Office than most of the others who have held the office. Later, she worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties, which is again a crucial home affairs role. As an MP, Abbott has served on committees pertinent to home affairs. And her track record is reasonably good: even the goddamn Spectator recognised her speech opposing the New Labour government on civil liberties issues with an award for speech of the year! Her voting record on home affairs is all right, and if you’re a Lib Dem who wants to root for a party with a chance of getting into government, she’d probably be your best bet for Home Secretary, because she’s not bad at all on the civil liberties front.

Like I said, this took me all of thirty seconds on google to find. So ask yourself, why didn’t you take those thirty seconds to check? Why did you just assume Abbott was unqualified for the role?

Rather than interrogating themselves at this juncture, usually the goalposts get shifted to “but Diane Abbott isn’t great at TV interviews.” This one is particularly nonsensical coming from Tory voters, in the midst of a campaign riddled with Tory car crash TV interviews, and Lib Dems, whose leader has done a pisspoor job of portraying himself as Not A Homophobe. It’s also not like Labour are particularly excellent at TV interviews either. In short, this is because the TV interview format is generally not designed to make the politician look good. Nobody’s above the car crash interview, and when it’s a politician you like, you’ll generally either ignore it, or claim that it’s media bias. Funnily, such defences never seem to come for Abbott, and it’s assumed she’s given a harder time because she deserves it, because apparently the media and journalists are always flying above racism and misogyny.

This, incidentally, is the same sort of thing that happens with the equally-irrational “but she sent her kids to private school!” Yes, she did. So have other politicians. She’s not even the only one on the Labour front bench who has. Is it good? No. Is she alone in that? Of course not.

So, once we’ve hit the unfair singling out, shit starts to get abstract, and what we usually end up with is a mumbled, vague “her manner isn’t good.” If we interrogate this, it’s almost always one of a few things. Which are almost always rooted in racist stereotypes.

“She’s angry!” Such a common misogynoiristic stereotype, it’s got its own wikipedia page.

“She plays the race card too much!” Again, a pretty common racist stereotype, and not evidenced, considering she’d been an MP for 30 years before she finally spoke out about personal abuse she’d received.

“She doesn’t look like a politician!” Ask yourself. What does a politician look like to you? The answer is, invariably, a possibly-shinyfaced pigfucking public school boy. A white man in a suit. You might extend your vision of a politician to a white man out of a suit. Or a white woman in a suit. Or a black man in a suit. But for some reason, the black woman doesn’t look like a politician to you, with her wig and her black skin, her tendency to sound like she’s black and from London, as opposed to Rodean. Abbott isn’t the only black woman MP to “not look like a politician”. Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central, and a black woman, was once mistaken for a cleaner by a fellow MP. And remember how you just assumed Abbott wasn’t qualified for the job?

“I… I just don’t like her.” Fair enough. Maybe you grew up in a vacuum, and your brain just irrationally fixated on this particular MP with your especial dislike.

We’re bombarded with messaging, daily, about what a politician should look like and be like. We’re also bombarded with negative messaging about black women. It sinks in. And it sinks in, even, to people who don’t think of themselves as racist, don’t think of themselves as carrying misogynoir within themselves. But that’s impossibly unlikely, and you’ll only unlearn and unpick it if you start from the statistically-likely assumption that it’s there, in yourself and in other people.

The truth is, Diane Abbott isn’t any less competent than any other politician–in fact, she’s more competent than many. She’s no more awful than any other politician–all of whom are a bad bunch, and she’s one of the ones I have least of an axe to grind with. She’s not bringing the negative media attention on herself, it’s that the media themselves have an issue with a black woman in a position of power; don’t forget they’re very much owned by racist white men. Ask yourself: why are your expectations of Diane Abbott higher than they are for any of your white male politicians? It’s not Diane Abbott rubbing you up the wrong way, it’s that you’re rubbing yourself.

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Things I read this month that I found interesting

Bloody hell, has it really been so long since I did a round-up?

Our collective unconscious of violence: on networks and discipline (Flavia Dzodan)- This is fucking great. Just… read it.

Don’t Go to the Doctor (Karma Nalbusi)- Perhaps even more vital to read after the Manchester attacks. The unmitigated disaster of the Prevent strategy.

The engine of irrationality inside the rationalists (Ketan Joshi)- How self-identified rationalists lose all of their sceptical principles when they get a chance to attack women.

My Father Spent 30 Years In Prison. Now He’s Out. (Ashley C. Ford)- A daughter reconnects with her father.

An illustrated taxonomy of queerness and mental illness in film (Ruby Tandoh and Kelly Wroten)- This is one for keeping in your bookmarks and referring to every time the same old representations come out.

The hierarchy polyamorous people don’t talk enough about (Lola Phoenix)- On friendship and relationships.

Malvolia in Yellow: Reflecting on National Theatre’s Twelfth Night (Catherine Baker)- I saw this production a few weeks ago, and my feelings are mostly the same. Malvolia as the queer art of failure.

Heineken’s New Ad Is A Terrifying Sham — And I’ve Lived It Many Times Over (Ruchika Tulshyan)- Cracking open a cold one with fash… doesn’t usually work.

JK Rowling Can Dream of Wizards But Not of a Better Future (Megan Nolan)- The bestselling novellist shows a devastating lack of imagination.

Sex Work Is Inherently Traumatic… (Kit Snicket)- Where the real trauma in sex work lies.

And finally, have some amusing spacing errors.


Sourdough pancakes/blinis… which can be made vegan! (fannycakes?)

If you just want the recipe without the incredibly annoying formatting and story section here, it’s available for patrons!

Content note: this post talks about food 

On a conceptual level, I fucking love pancakes. However, there are numerous things which, when it comes down to it, make me unhappy. They’re a pain in the arse to make, with all the elbow-hurting whisking. You can’t just whip them up when you feel like you want pancakes, because you’re supposed to leave the batter to set for arcane breakfast-mancer reasons. They taste a little bit eggy, and I fucking hate eggs.

Before you leave a comment saying “actually, my pancakes don’t taste eggy”… they probably do, you just don’t hate that kind of eggy flavour like I do.

Luckily, following a little bit of experimentation, I have found a way of turning sourdough starter into delicious, light fluffy pancakes without any of the annoying bullshit outlined above, and I’m going to share the good news with you. The recipe does appear in this post, but if you want to just read the recipe without any of my crap, you’ll find it over on my patreon, where you can also access other cool, exclusive content, with more to come.

Now, sourdough starter is pretty cool, because you can do lots of things with it that aren’t bread–although the bread is tasty as hell. As you probably know, I got into sourdough starter when I made one with a dash of vaginal yeast. It started out as a joke, but I kept the starter going and I’m still using it loads. Not just for bread, but also for more exciting things. Like pancakes.

One of the particularly awesome things about sourdough starter is it’s slightly acidic. This means that it has quite a culinarily-useful chemical reaction when mixed with something alkaline like bicarbonate of soda. I’ve used it, instead of trying to find buttermilk in small metro supermarkets, to make soda bread. I’ve also used the reaction in making crumpets. And, it turns out, really good pancakes without having to resort to eggs. You can have pancakes within five minutes of having decided you fancy them.

I suppose we’d better address the elephant in the room at this juncture. Yes, my sourdough starter is that one. Well, all right, it’s actually a second batch, which also may or may not contain vaginal yeast (I still can’t tell if my yeast did anything, though it certainly performs ever so slightly better than a control, cunt-free starter). I hope the starter will outlive me if it’s well looked-after.

Sourdough starter needs using up regularly between feeds, so this recipe is ideal for when you need to use up 3/4 of a cup of starter. It’s also a great recipe if you’re vegan. While I used goat milk, you can also use any of your favourite milk substitute–I imagine almond milk would be delicious if you wanted your pancakes with a sweet topping–I suppose you could also use regular cow milk, if you’re that way inclined and/or a Nazi.

First things first, you have to water down the sourdough starter somewhat. I keep my starter at 50% hydration, so it’s quite thick, because it doesn’t need feeding as often, and I find it easier to work with. I know a lot of people prefer it runnier at the 100% hydration. If your starter is thick, like mine, you’ll likely need about half a cup of your chosen milky liquid, but if it’s runnier, a third of a cup should work. I chose goat milk, because I like it and it sits better on me than cow milk. It’s also got a nice goaty flavour to it, which makes the pancakes slightly savoury: I ate them with beetroot and quark. Whisk it together until nice and smooth. Luckily, you shouldn’t need to whisk it all that much.

Then it’s time to thicken it up again, by whisking in about a heaped tablespoon of wholemeal flour. Again, this doesn’t take long at all, and is significantly less faff than beating eggs and whatnot. By this point, you’ll have a smooth batter, no matter how hungover you are. I wasn’t hungover when I invented this recipe, but I think it’ll probably turn out to be perfect for hangover breakfasts when only 30 pancakes really quickly will suffice.

At this point, I left the batter for a bit, because I wanted to go for a shower. This step is completely optional, and if you don’t fancy a shower, you can go right ahead and start heating the frying pan.

By the way, I just want to apologise for this profoundly annoying format of this recipe. I have slouched through far too many baking blogs that do this, and I’ve picked up the style. You probably just want the fucking recipe. Well, so far you’ve had most of it: proportions for three of the four ingredients, and the first two steps from a five step method. If it’s pissing you off a lot, I’ll remind you that patrons get just the recipe with a list of ingredients and how to make some fucking pancakes, without this guff. Honestly, I could do with a few more patrons, because I’m quite broke at the moment, and I am planning some cool patron-only stuff that will include bullshit-free recipes, but also very likely, short stories.

Now your batter is mostly made, get the pan on the heat. The reason for this is that the chemical reaction, when you add just half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to the batter, is very quick. You’ll want your pan oiled or buttered up and ready to receive pancakes when you whisk in the bicarb. Incidentally, I used goat’s butter for frying. I’d bought it out of curiosity, and it’s delicious. Warning: it does make your sweat smell faintly of goats afterwards, though.

As soon as you whisk the bicarb in, you’ll see your batter turn bubbly. It doesn’t fizz up like a salted slug, but you’ll see those bubbles coming in almost immediately. This means it’s ready. Put small flat blobs of your batter into the pan. In a largish frying pan, I found it possible to do four pancakes at once. They take about thirty seconds each side.

And that’s it. Once you’ve fried up your pancakes, stack them up (or fold them like blinis) and eat with whatever topping you like. They taste almost exactly Scotch pancakes, although they’re a bit lighter, so you can have more than you’d usually have. The texture is also lighter and fluffier. I was genuinely surprised to discover how much they tasted like Scotch pancakes, although without any egginess. As I said earlier, I had mine with beetroot and quark, and tried to eat them like blinis, which was reasonably successful, although it looked somewhat like I’d committed a grisly murder afterwards. I didn’t eat all 30 of them myself, I shared.

Try it for yourself. I promise, it’s really fucking easy and quick.

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