All posts by RameyLady

I write. I design. I cook. I read. I make music. I talk to people -- all kinds of people. I used to teach and hopefully will do so again someday. My dream job would be a cross between barrista and therapist, with a large helping of international travel and bohemian wandering through concerts, museums, galleries, and open spaces. Somewhere back in time, my students started calling me "RameyLady" and the name stuck. I like it. There's a Ramey-man too. He's a much better writer but he seems to be too humble to share it with the world....at least, not yet.

The Crisis of Public vs Private Discourse in the Social Media Age

The other day, driving home from rehearsal, I chuckled to myself at a thought that I would probably say to friends in my living room but would never post to a public forum. It involved a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall sitting next to an overly enthusiastic Christmas decorator who seems to take extra joy at installing new holiday lights at this time of year.

Does my unwillingness to write a joke here about that irony make the thought bad in itself?  I’m not JW and I like my holidays, so it’s funny to me.  I have zero JW friends, so the risk to me personally of giving offense is slight. Yet as soon as this blog post hits the Internet, my private musings become public discourse, and they carry much more weight.

* * * *

I’ve been blogging for over ten years now. Surely at some point I’ve said things I’d now disagree with. Am I held to today’s standards for what I wrote in 2005? Should I blow up everything I’ve ever written to ensure that Future Me won’t pay the price for Past Me’s immaturity or ignorance?

And if so, what’s the point of writing anything now?  What benefit does the “average person” gain from engaging in any social media or digital discourse that might outweigh any risk of being misunderstood (or rightly understood but on the wrong side of prevailing consensus)?

Though many science fiction writers predicted we’d have global communication, only Black Mirror (the British TV series) seems to grasp how horrific mass communication can be as it engages the darkest of human nature.  In the 90s, early netizens skirted around pedophiles in chat rooms across the world. In the early 2000s, AIM kept us awake late at night (“bing!”) with 17 message windows stacked across the screen. (And we were still trying to avoid predators.)

But I don’t think any of us realized what we were getting into when Facebook opened up to public membership or when Twitter invited us to encapsulate thoughts in a space smaller than a standard text message.  We live our lives publicly now, via Instagram histories of meals eaten and trips taken, alongside Facebook shares that mingle cat videos with political fights.

The Internet is a rough rodeo. Read any comment stream and examples of Cunningham’s Law quickly surface (the fastest way to the right answer on the Internet is to post the wrong information). It’s exhausting to be corrected non-stop for pedantic elements inside a larger post. But even Cunningham couldn’t have predicted the rancor and hate which accompany those corrections or disagreements. If you can’t handle someone insulting your grandmother and suggesting that you have incestuous relations with your mother on a regular basis, you probably shouldn’t post a comment in any public discussion.

What kind of world have we fostered, then, by moving the public square into cyberspace? A lonely, nasty, and dark one (if 2017 is any indication).

Our public and private spaces have bled into one confusing sphere.  What I think to myself in the car, I might choose to say to friends who share similar backgrounds and who would not be offended. But what I write – anywhere – is publicly owned in this 21st century, subject to scrutiny and the infinite memory of Google and internet trolls.  No conversation takes place within a limited audience anymore.

 *  *  *  *

As a person grows in their understanding of the world, certain forms of humor stop being funny. And other observations move from public sharing to private chuckle. Hopefully I’m more aware of why some statements are offensive rather than merely a “joke in poor taste.”Yeah, this. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t laugh at anymore. #cringe 

Reputation (or notoriety) is critical for a society where the driving currency of fame is likes, clicks, views, and ad revenue generation.  I recall a moment in a recent episode of The Orville (a Star Trek knock-off helmed by Seth MacFarlane that’s way better than I expected it to be).   Like in Star Trek, the Orville economy doesn’t require money because people have access to free material synthesis/replication for food, clothes, or supplies. The first officer comments to a junior officer that once money ceased to be an issue for people, reputation emerged as the primary currency of value.

From the imdb character page for Lt. LaMar found here: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0585874/quotes

Except that our new desire for protection also shuts down conversation when we need it most.

We all maintain an inner discourse rife with thoughts we’ve learned not to share because the risk is too high, even if as a society we usually benefit from airing thoughts, having them challenged by competing experiences, and growing in our understanding. (I had to add “usually” to that sentence because I’m not convinced, in a year when we saw real, live Nazis and bigots marching proudly in the streets, that all discourse is useful or helpful. Some public platforms degenerate discourse. But that’s a thought for another post.) 

Our swirling political discourse occupies a minefield of prejudice, racism, political correctness, philosophical disagreement, political theory, and religious tenets.  We face critical conversations about what freedom of speech and belief mean when white supremacists are insisting on a seat at the table.  So a little prudence about what thoughts escape my mouth into the air is probably justified.

I have grown to realize that my life as a white, WASPy female includes privileges of someone with advanced education and white skin alongside the consequences of my parents’ actions and my own. I’m the product of my upbringing and my experiences, but I’ve also learned – often through conversation with others or reading which force me to consider other perspectives- that my experience is not the yardstick by which reality is measured. 

The conservative Christianity that raised me pinned the label of evil onto a lot of concepts that a pluralistic society embraces: women holding positions of authority and power; freedom of personal expression and sexual expression; self-determination; non-traditional family groupings; non-Christian religions.  As I navigate what it means to be both Christian and American, those circles don’t nicely overlap.

For example, I have to face the implications of a patriarchal authority structure in the church and its negative effect on women, including rampant sexual harassment and abuse within Evangelical churches – a reckoning that’s yet to come. (Not that the Catholic church has succeeded much better. Toxic patriarchy is way worse when it’s located within enforced celibacy.)

I recognize that while my understanding of morality may guide which policies I support, not all people share that same perspective as they act out their values in the voting booth or public discourse. I’ve learned that some of my goals for others ought to be chosen by them for themselves, not enforced, in a pluralist republic like the United States. 

 *  *  *  *

These are confusing, difficult thoughts. I’ve been angry for ALL of 2017, nearly llivid by this point thanks to the legislative malpractice circus that led to the passage of a tax reform bill no Senator has even read, on top of six weeks of continual allegations and revelations of sexual abuse and harassment. I have zero chill right now about this stuff. 

But I know many of us are confused and secretly worried about what we’re going to wake up to once the dust settles in 2018.

I’m thrilled that chronic sexual harassers are finally getting it but also scared for my male friends who I know are good and kind people, who may have at some point set their hand on a woman’s knee or mentioned how nice her blouse looked. I don’t want to see them punished for an honest mistake that could instead become a teachable moment for better behavior int he future.  And I want us to develop new vocabulary to describe the range of actions humans can take toward each other. A hand on a knee might lead some men toward engaging in sexual abuse but it is not the same as rape or abuse. We need places to discuss this, to hash out the language and the consequences.

We can’t use a sledgehammer to solve every problem in public life, yet it seems that the collapse of public and private discourse leaves us little else.

My point is this: we’re all caught in a messy web of ideas and half-baked thoughts and assumptions which form the foundation of how we see the world. And right now, social media is making it worse. 

I’m not longing for us to return to some mythical good ol’ days. But it would be foolish not to recognize how much of a mess this is. There are few safe spaces to ask potentially explosive questions or to express doubt because no conversations are private anymore.

Perhaps, as with many of these problems, the solution lies in the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. That starts with building an actual relationship with “neighbors,” whether in digital or physical proximity.  The hard work of community development lies at the heart of diffusing the social and political rancor we’re experiencing.  I do not believe we will gain ground any other way but by building relationships. 

The NFL’s Thanksgiving games are a spectacular display of America’s ‘God and country’ obsession – The Washington Post

You know you’ve entered a temple when disagreement is treated as sacrilege. The animosity directed toward NFL players kneeling at the anthem, protesting police brutality and structural racism, is the sort of acrimony we reserve for infidels….

This response to the kneeling controversy tells us something about the state of American civil religion and the way it accommodates — and then deforms — traditional religious communities.

The tropes of “God and country” or “faith and the flag” are almost always instances where country and flag domesticate faith in God. Or, to put this in terms that religious folk should understand: These liturgies of civil religion are covert modes of idolatry. The rank and priority are reversed; our political identities trump all others.

This is how stadiums became temples of nationalism. When the Constitution functions like Scripture, and the pledge serves as our creed, and the flag is revered like the cross, and the national anthem becomes our hymn, and the hand over heart is a sacred expression like the sign of the cross, then a swelling patriotism becomes our religion and dissenters are heretics.

via The NFL’s Thanksgiving games are a spectacular display of America’s ‘God and country’ obsession – The Washington Post

Perfect Skillet Nachos

I love making a particular type of pork roast that leaves me with a couple pounds of succulent pork for sandwiches, quesadillas, and eating straight. (Plus I make a batch of beef stew* in the pot once I remove the pork- it’s mind-blowingly good!)

Making skillet nachos takes this way beyond “next level” to “the best couch movie night supper you’ve ever put in your mouth.”

Please try the pork recipe too – you could use any non-smokey shredded meat here (including chicken) but I can’t tell you enough how much we love this pork roast.

Balsamic Beer Braised Pork Roast from She Wears Many Hats (a local gal!)

Two adjustments to the pork recipe: I sear the roast in a bit of bacon drippings instead of oil, and I deglaze the pot with some cream sherry or bourbon before pouring in the braising mixture. I also think this recipe works best with a non-bitter, non-hoppy medium brown beer. A Belgian double or triple would be quite nice.

Ok, now for the nachos!

Perfect Skillet Nachos

Serves 4

  • 12″ Cast iron skillet— if you don’t have one, use anything heavy that will really hold heat and is both oven and stovetop safe
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 T butter
  • 1-2 cups pulled pork or other shredded meat
  • Tortilla chips – maybe half a bag?
  • 2-3 cups shredded cheese (we used a blend of yellow cheddar and a block of cheddar/gruyere from Trader Joe’s)
  • Jar of corn salsa, preferably Trader Joe’s (it has a nice sweetness)
  • 1 can of Rotel tomatoes
  • Salt, pepper, and fajita seasoning (to taste)
  • 1 avocado sliced OR guacamole
  • Sour cream
  • Optional: salsa, hot sauce, etc

Heat butter in cast iron skillet on stovetop over medium and sauté onion (with a little salt and pepper) till lightly browned. Set onion aside and remove skillet from heat.

Preheat oven to 425

Create two layers in the skillet, each in this order: 1/3 of the chips, 1 Cup cheese, 1 Cup pork (break it up and scatter), ½ cup or so corn salsa, and half of the onions. Sprinkle with a little fajita seasoning or a bit of pepper, if desired.

Make 2 layers like that, then pour the can of Rotel over the top of the second layer.

Top with remaining chips and cheese and sprinkle with fajita seasoning. Make sure there’s a layer of cheese on top to get melty.

Place skillet in oven for 15-20 min. You want it to heat and melt all the way through without burning.

Broil on high for 1-2 min at end to brown the cheese, if needed.

Top each quadrant with avocado (or guacamole) and a dollop of sour cream. Dig in!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Making the pork recipe? Prep ahead to make beef stew in the same pot as soon as you remove the pork. You can set it aside when done to eat the next day. The pork drippings add a depth and richness to the stew that’s unbeatable.

I do mine this way:

Remove the pork, leave all pan drippings. Return pot to stovetop over medium heat and leave oven on 350.

Toss beef cubes with 1-2T flour, salt, pepper, and favorite steak seasoning (or thyme). When pot is hot, brown beef cubes but don’t cook through. Deglaze pan with a liquid you like- I usually use either wine or sherry, about a quarter cup.

Chop onion, celery, carrots (and optional potato) and add to pot. Stir well to pull up bits on bottom of pan.

Add 4 cups beef stock and stir.

Stir in 1+ cup of pearl barley (optional) or add egg noodles about halfway through cooking (see below).

Season well with thyme, salt, pepper, etc.

Bring pot to simmer on stovetop then cover and return to oven to finish cooking. I usually check after 45 minutes to see if the beef is tender and the vegetables are cooked. If you’re doing egg noodles, wait about 20 minutes before adding them.

Cooking the stew in the oven keeps the beef really tender, and makes use of the oven heat you just spent making the pork. 😉

NYT Opinion: A Christian Case against the Pence Rule

When the NYT writer understands that we can’t make a rule big enough to solve the problem of sexual harassment, I have to stand up and cheer… and repost.

The answer is not to ask women to leave the room. It’s to hold all men in the room accountable, and kick out those who long ago lost their right to be there.

via A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule – The New York Times

And this too…

{R}easonable people know the difference between a business meeting over breakfast and drinks at a hotel bar at night. And what the Pence rule fails to grapple with is that the Weinstein story wasn’t, at its root, about attraction but abuse of power. The producer’s behavior wasn’t fundamentally about lust gone wild. It flowed from male consolidation of power in Hollywood, and the lack of opportunity and influence that women have there and in many other industries. Mr. Weinstein could prey on women because of his undue influence over actresses’ careers. He knew they would have little recourse if they spoke out. Those women wouldn’t have been helped by greater isolation from men. They needed a stronger voice in the industry and greater agency over their careers.

The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.” If that’s the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.

The Kids (Tastebuds) Aren’t All Right

Of all the things I didn’t expect about turning 40, my increasing intolerance for mediocre food wasn’t on the list.

Let’s be honest: When I was 20-something, I ate a lot of food that was honestly meh. I shopped at Sam’s and bought Hamburger Helper by the case. I had my share of processed, canned, and crock pot meals that somehow tasted good to me at the time.  We ate where we could afford (though even in my 20s I knew White Castle burgers are gross and Skins hotdogs are vastly overrated).

It’s no surprise that one’s taste’s mature as we age, but I didn’t anticipate the side order of snobbery that seems to have come along with it. 😉

This may or may not be the hipster venue in question…

Case in point: A couple weeks ago, the hubs and I stopped by one of Green Vegas’s up and coming hipster paradise locavore farm-to-table restaurants. The place has a carefully curated interior (I’d die to have those raw brick walls and rough-hewn tabletops in my own house).

But the food?  Underwhelming. Tastes like…. well, not much of anything. Despite having “delicious” in the title of the restaurant, the food….wasn’t.  It was weak.  Good quality, but lacking any nuance in flavor.

I looked around at a crowd of Millennials with their knobby knit scarves and fall boots and flannel shirts and trimmed beards, munching down on food that I could have made myself far better. I longed to throw an arm over their shoulders and bring them into my kitchen to taste tonight’s beef stew, rich with the flavors formed in the pan by a little pork and a spike of both sherry and balsamic vinegar over the local farm beef chunks, slow-basted in the oven, married to carrots/onions/celery and creamy with pearl barley.  There are flavors under the flavors, flavors that unpack themselves inside your mouth like a spy who’d stowed away in a shipping container, springing out to surprise you with truly golden-brown and delicious tastes.

Or consider one of our really popular hangout joints here in A-town.  Formerly a noisy street tavern full of loud music and shouting drunks, the reimagined Earle Street Kitchen throbs with activity every night. Can’t even find a place to park on Fridays and Saturdays. How’s the food? Well, the goat cheese potato fritters ARE really tasty, and I can usually find something worth drinking on tap. The rest of it? Salt. It tastes like salt. No nuance here either.  People from age 18 to 65 are packing out the place. What gives? (I was genuinely offended when someone I know raved about their mahi-mahi & grits. Yeah there was goat cheese in the grits and that’s a good idea and I plan to steal it but…. the rest of it still tastes predominantly of salt with a side of garlic.)

**UPDATE, Dec 2017**
I have to be honest: I was at this restaurant again a few days ago, and my meal was genuinely good. The crab cakes in particular were tasty and well-seasoned. Perhaps the kids are learning to cook. 😉

Photo of a gathering for a friend last year at ESK by Fisher.

I’ve got more money in my pocket than I did at 25 (more bills too, so I think we’re even, younger self), but I’m loathe to spend it on food that, while may be the freshest and most environmentally conscious, fails to thrill. If the cooks haven’t learned to layer flavor in ways that provide a satisfying experience for my taste buds, why am I giving them money?

And can someone explain to me how Mellow Mushroom stays in business? The pizza is tasty, don’t get me wrong, but the prices are like “holy mother of beelzebub, why does this pizza cost more than what I pay for groceries monthly?” And since it seems to take 45 minutes for your pizza to arrive at the table, they must start the second rise of the dough when you place your order.  I don’t get it.  Am I just impatient now?  #getoffmylawn #takeyourbadservicewithyou

We’ve also been mourning the demise of some of our old haunts. Maybe it IS me and my finicky tastebuds getting cranky with middle age, but the fries at McGee’s are soggy now, and everything seems to have dropped a notch in quality (except the wine list). I wish they’d team up with the brewery in their backyard to beef up their beer offerings and reopen the back deck to liven up the place. Maybe I don’t like the food as much now that the pub is funeral-quiet every time I walk in, as if it were a retiree rocking on the front porch waiting to die.  The food at Fiesta doesn’t stand out like it used to compared to L Taco (but I have a soft spot in my heart for Fiesta’s burro de la roqueta).  The faithful Empire Chinese on the corner is under new management, after we basically watched the former owners’ kid grow up from nugget to teenager. It’s still good, but I can taste the difference.  :/  I hope the owners have moved into a business where they can get a day off.

Even Starbucks has lost its luster for me. I like my caramel macchiato  because it’s not usually overly sweet (try swapping in the PSL syrup for the usual vanilla syrup – it’s less “candy-sweet” than a PSL but you get some nice spice). But most of the Starbucks syrups just taste like chemicals to me nowadays. Blech.

But I have digressed.

20140318-081247.jpgTo my lovely Millennials: I adore how earnestly you want your food to be sustainable and genuine. I love that you’ve said “bump this!” to boring grocery stores and are happy to let Amazon drop groceries on your doorstep. I’m glad you’ve forced Baby Boomers to learn what avocado toast is, even if they mock you for it (without good reason). I think good experiences trump having a big bank account. Your generation gives me a lot of hope that 2017 may not be the only dark apocalyptic vision available for our future. Thank you for reviving Saturday farmer’s markets and telling O’Charley’s to go die.

But please come over sometime and let me cook for you. You don’t need to spend all those hard-earned dollars on mediocre food.  Learn to roast vegetables and chicken in your oven. Learn to braise a pork shoulder and serve it with good crusty bread from a local bakery. Buy a large cast iron skillet, keep it oiled, and use it for everything including those grass-fed, free-range steaks you bought at the Saturday market. Make your own damn coffee – it takes five minutes, a $30 grinder from BBB, and a $20 Bodum.

*****
Hipster places we DO love:
– Tandem Creperie
– Methodical Coffee
– Nose Dive
– White Duck Taco (be still, my heart!!)

Non-hipster places everyone should try:
– Inky’s (Philly cheesesteaks in Easley!) – thanks, Mel! ❤
– L Taco in Anderson (owned by my neighbor!!!)
– The Pita House, a Greenville classic
– the Tropical Grille out on Pelham & 14 (and only that one) for the slow-roasted Cuban “chop” (pork & beans & rice bowl)

Loving your neighbor means supporting institutions

Great editorial by my fav philosopher, James KA Smith:

…[T]he Gospel has implications for all of life and … being a Christian should mean something for this world. Jesus calls us not only to ensure our own salvation in some privatized religious ghetto; he calls us to seek the welfare of the city and its inhabitants all around us. We love God by loving our neighbours; we glorify God by caring for the poor; we exhibit the goodness of God by promoting the common good.

But here’s the thing: if you’re really passionate about fostering the common good, then you should resist anti-institutionalism. Because institutions are ways to love our neighbours. Institutions are durable, concrete structures that—when functioning well—cultivate all of creation’s potential toward what God desires: shalom, peace, goodness, justice, flourishing, delight. Institutions are the way we get a handle on concrete realities and address different aspects of creaturely existence. Institutions will sometimes be scaffolds to support the weak; sometimes they function as fences to protect the vulnerable; in other cases, institutions are the springboards that enable us to pursue new innovation. Even though they can become corrupt and stand in need of reform, institutions themselves are not the enemy.

Indeed, injustice is often bound up with the erosion of societal institutions. For example, Nicholas Kristof’s reporting from Africa constantly observes that tyrants and warlords flourish precisely in those places where their rogue armies are the only durable institutions, preying upon the absence of any other institutions that might resist.

The destruction of institutions actually makes room for injustice…..

If you care about the welfare of your city and your neighbour, take ownership of the institutions around you.

Source: Editorial: We Believe in Institutions

Review: Disjointed (2017)

Watch disjointed: Netflix

I rarely disagree so fully with prevailing opinion on Rotten Tomatoes or elsewhere, because we live in an age where crowd-sourced reviews en masse are usually pretty good.

But the mob is wrong when it comes to disjointed, a Netflix original sitcom starring Cathy Bates. This is a great show, and you should watch Season 1 to see if you agree.

I rarely like sitcoms because they’re rarely funny beyond surface gags. Of course, there are exceptions: How I Met Your Mother and Friends famously made their mark in the world with great writing and a strong story arc. Usually I stick with longer-form shows that incorporate comedy but don’t depend on it. (Pushing Daisies and Boston Legal, I still miss you!) I’ve tried some of the many others which win critical acclaim– Broad City, Insecure, Hey White People — and I end up walking away halfway through the first season. I guess I’m more into drama and action.

So I was pretty surprised when on a lark we started to watch disjointed and actually liked it. The premise of the show is simple: Cathy Bates runs a weed dispensary in California as “Ruth,” the maven of weed (and law). The show’s plots are basic sitcom fare: a zany cast of characters inhabit the store, from the hippie guy who tends the plants to owner’s son who’s trying to prove to his mom that his MBA is worth something in her alternative business. Potheads abound, and the show doesn’t mind mocking their giggles or stupor or childlike excitement for their favorite strain.

Dank and Debby are two stoners who inhabit the show’s plots. They make me laugh 100% of the time.

But a couple deeper elements deserve praise, and I can’t believe the critics missed these.

First, the show tackles issues around the War on Drugs with a deft hand. Yes, the show assumes the POV that pot is relatively harmless, often beneficial, and sort-of legal. I could see how some might be offended by a show that takes as its premise that arresting people for weed is borderline immoral. Some might also feel that disjointed glorifies smoking and getting high; it’s true that most of the stoners and customers at the dispensary get along just fine with their smokey lives. But the recent legalization efforts in several states suggest that the people who decide to make weed a lifestyle aren’t generally ruining their lives or anyone else’s, and I’m not going to fault a comedy for not dealing with edge cases where weed costs someone their job. The characters do confront people who are lighting up too much or using weed to escape real issues.  I just think stoned people are funny and the show plays off that for much of its humor.

But where things really shine occurs in the story line of Carter, the security guard who checks IDs at the door. He’s a military vet suffering from PTSD. His episodes are rendered by the show via incredible animated shorts that take over the screen and unpack memories that burst into his consciousness and affect his life. The art style is amazing; the plot line is refreshing. I didn’t expect to even stick with this show more than 3 episodes; the fact that it’s dealing with PTSD is part of the reason.

The storytelling itself is interesting. Maybe I inhabit the YouTube/social media world of Millennials so much that I don’t find it disjointed (haha) as some critics; I find the blend of live action comedy, animated scenes, and YouTube episodes from Dank and Dabby to be the perfect medium for a show about living in a drug haze.

Storytellers don’t have to hedge their tales with caution signs.  The show has a strong libertarian bent when it comes to weed. I like it without the slab of moralism on top.

Are there moments where the humor is just slapstick? Yes. But critics have panned the series as “unfunny” – a charge I honestly can’t understand. Winks and nods abound throughout the writing. The chalkboard behind the counter is chock-full of witty references. You need to squint to see what books Ruth is reading in her office, but the titles are always a nod to something in the plot. The slogans on Tai Kwon Doug’s studio are the exact kind of bro-stupid that make his character funny.

Is this a genius show that will challenge America’s drug policy? Nah.  Will you see the seedy underbelly of the drug trade like in Weeds? Nope.

Is it worth 5 hours to binge all 10 episodes and laugh yourself through a bag of popcorn this weekend (because you’re gonna get sympathetic munchies)?  Yes. Yes, it is worth it.

disjointed on imdb