Daily Archive: 28 Nov 2013

Nov 28

Tradition Is Turkey’s Last Hope

Turkey: Eat BeefPeople sometimes ask me why I cook with chicken so much. I think it is a stupid question. You might as well ask why someone eats bread or rice. Chicken is the easiest meat to cook with because it has relatively little flavor. Other meats need to prepared in such a way that compliments their distinct flavor. I think of other meats as I do broccoli. Have you ever noticed how broccoli isn’t generally used in soups? It’s flavor is too distinct. You really have to cook especially for it, whereas potatoes or cauliflower go in pretty much everything. Ditto for chicken. And as someone who likes making sauces, chicken is just easy.

Chicken is also cheap. Pretty much all beef, pork, and sea foods are more expensive than boneless chicken breast. Ground beef is slightly cheaper. So why not cook with chicken? In general, I don’t see the need to try different meats. After all, I am always doing something different with it. It isn’t like it is fried chicken every night. (It is actually pretty much never fried chicken. And it is only chicken about twice a week anyway.)

I am not alone in this respect. According to data collected by Matt Yglesias, Americans eat almost seven times as much chicken as they do turkey. He notes:

Every Thanksgiving a tedious debate erupts on the Internet between joy-killing trolls who argue that turkey is a bad food to eat, and sentimental liars who claim to think turkey is delicious. But you can actually just look this up. Not only is turkey not delicious, nobody thinks that it’s delicious. The numbers don’t lie.

He is certainly overstating this for effect. For one thing, I know that Andrea claims to really like turkey. And it is certainly true that part of the reason we don’t cook more turkey is that it’s a pain. They are big and who needs that much food except on Thanksgiving and Christmas? And turkey is more expensive. But it is also true that if turkey were distinctly better than chicken, people would go to the trouble of preparing it.

When I think about the dishes I usually make with chicken, they are things like cashew nut chicken and chicken pot pie. I rarely make a whole chicken, although chicken stuffed with saffron rice is really great. Only one dish I make is even associated with turkey: chicken tetrazzini. I don’t think this has to do with the fact that turkey parts aren’t commonly sold. I think it works the other way around. There is nothing special about turkey. So given the choice of buying smaller chicken parts for less money and larger turkey parts for more money, people go with the former.

So when it comes to America’s kitchens, the turkey stays around for one reason only: tradition. And if that works for people, great. As for me, I don’t need to hassle with a big bird that mostly tastes like the chickens that I cook with on normal days. On special days, it should be something like beef with a red wine demi-glace. But since I’m not cooking today, I only get the beef. But at least it isn’t turkey.

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Nov 28

The Myths of Thanksgiving

Indian SkeletonJohn Green is an internet phenom. He and his brother Hank make highly produced videos that seem that be educational while being very entertaining. But if you watch them enough, you’ll come to see that they are neither. Or maybe it’s just me. If I already understand the subject, then I can follow along and see that they are in fact hitting the high points. If I don’t already understand, I might pick up one or two things, but I end up wishing that I had spent the time reading Wikipedia. As for entertainment value, let’s just say that John Green is a one trick pony who gets old fast. (In fairness, I can put up with Hank a lot longer.)

But now and then, a John Green video is just what the doctor ordered. And I’m desperately looking for things to post on this Thanksgiving Day. I figured that he would have something interesting to say about the history of the day. Surprisingly, he didn’t. But he did make the following hodgepodge video about the European colonization of America. It all goes by rather fast and I can’t help but think that at this point he isn’t trying very hard. It is more schtick than anything else. Still, it’s kind of fun and interesting in as much as it make sense:

The most interesting thing about the whole Thanksgiving story is the ex-slave Squanto, who is probably the only reason any of the Plymouth colonists survived. Something that I don’t think is highlighted enough is that only half of the people who came over were Pilgrims. Included in their cargo was beer and opium. And most of all: the Pilgrims weren’t searching for religious freedom. They had religious freedom in Holland, but it wasn’t going well. Many of the older members of the congregation were going back to England and the children were leaving to start new lives. Moving to the new world was their way of surviving as a going concern. That’s fine, but I get really tired of the happy horseshit about the brave Pilgrims coming to America in search of religious freedom.

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of Christians trying to claim Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. Where does that come from? Even the standard story they tell to children doesn’t indicate that. The Native Americans saved the colonists from all starving to death. So to pay them back, they had a big old party with turkey. To me this says that the colonists were gracious, but clearly the natives are the heroes—you know, the pagan natives. In retrospect, they’ve got to have regretted that.

I like to think of it happening like this:

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Nov 28

Let’s Pardon More Humans Not Turkeys

Wild TurkeyLook at that fetching bird! Do I want to harm a feather on its body? Of course not! Especially after what happened to my chicken Fred. But what’s with this tradition of presidents pardoning turkeys? To begin with, a pardon implies a crime. What did these turkeys ever do to deserve a death sentence? Perhaps it is a good metaphor for our society where punished crime is mostly something you are born into. Born poor and black? You may need a pardon before you are through. Born rich and white? Forget about it! You’re untouchable.

Yesterday, President Obama pardoned a turkey named Popcorn. I think we can all agree that no animal with a name should ever be killed and eaten. But Obama noted that the pardoning of Popcorn was not one of the important jobs of a president. I might take exception to that statement. After all, much of what a president does is provide photo opportunities for the press. We don’t have any royalty to do that job here, so he’s stuck with it. And he knows this. He even prepared a joke for the event.

But it bothers me. Obama seems to take his obligation to pardon turkeys a good deal more seriously than he takes his job to pardon human beings. As Think Progress notes, Obama has increased his pardons from zero last year to 17 this year. “But those few pardons did not change his record of the lowest clemency rate in modern history.” Obama is also the deportation king. He is also the drone civilian murder king. If I agreed with him about any of these policies, he’d be my hero. As it is, not so much.

Looking back on the history of turkey pardons, we naturally land on the conservative icon Ronald Reagan. He didn’t actually pardon any turkeys himself. But at the end of the Iran-Contra scandal, he was asked if he would pardon the criminal Oliver North. Reagan deflected the question by joking about pardoning some turkey named Charlie. Most likely as a result, George Bush Sr started the tradition the first year of his term.

So we can see the whole turkey pardoning business as an example of how the media get sidetracked from important business to trivial photo opportunities. The Iran-Contra Affair was a very big deal. I have absolutely not doubt that both Reagan and Bush were involved in it. And it represents a far worse crime than anything that Nixon ever did. Yet it came to nothing. And it made Oliver North, who absolutely should have been tried for treason, into a conservative hero. But then, being a conservative hero comes pretty cheap. All one have to do is publicly shit on everything that America is supposed to stand for.

I don’t mean to suggest that Obama has done anything so terrible—at least to Americans inside US borders. But his record is far from stellar. And I am really tired of hearing people apologize for him. Somehow he just can’t be liberal because he’s black or because he used drugs or because he’s a Democrat. (That’s a great irony in US politics: conservatives can’t be liberal because they’re conservative; but liberals can’t be liberal because then people might accuse them of being liberal. The horror!) Regardless, Obama is fooling himself if he thinks he will go down in history as a great president. People might point to Obamacare. But like with Johnson, they will be scared away from his conservative governance and the bad economy. And no one will care at all about the turkeys.

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Nov 28

Standing in the Shadow of Berry Gordy

Berry GordyRandy Newman is 70 years old today. As a movie composer he is middling. But as a singer-songwriter, he is great. His first couple of albums are just great. Two in particular, were very important to me: Randy Newman Live and Sail Away. Later, he lost me, but there is no doubt that he is great. I remember seeing him live when I was in college. Before doing the song “My Life Is Good,” he remarked, “This is unfortunately autobiographical.” I believe him; he’s always struck me as a dick, but one who has a sense of humor about it. Here is one of my favorite of his songs, “Last Night I Had a Dream.” I love the evocative anxiety dream about the impending break up. “I said, ‘You know what my name is.'” It gives me chills. (Also: great guitar part by Ry Cooder!)

Hooray! Dick Morris is 65! Hopefully, we will never again have to hear him make pathetically obtuse electoral predictions. A mainstay of last year’s election coverage on Fox News, Morris was a big guy in the Clinton White House. What more do you need to know about conservatism in the New Democratic movement?

Judd Nelson is 54 today. A big happy birthday to him! Look, I thought it was very funny when Bill Maher made a joke about how Reagan was the movie star equivalent of Nelson. But the truth is that this is unfair to Nelson. He is actually quite a good actor. And while Reagan was only ever a B-movie star (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Judd Nelson really was a star when he was young. And of the “brat pack,” he has gone on to have one of the best careers—an actor’s career. So it’s all fine to throw his name out because he isn’t the big star he once was. But the man deserves our respect. And he gets mine.

Jon Stewart is 51. He really has found his place at The Daily Show. Because here’s the thing. He wasn’t a very good stand-up comic. He was okay. But really, Jerry Seinfeld seemed edgy next to him. I’m not saying he wasn’t funny. And I know that my younger sister was rather fond of him. But it was never clear to me why anyone would pay money to see him. But he took The Daily Show that was pretty good under Craig Kilborn, and turned it into something great. Here is his take on the conservative media freak out about Obama’s Thanksgiving address two years ago (you remember: when he didn’t mention God):

Sam Seder is 47. He’s a comedian of sorts. But mostly, he is a political observer. He does the daily podcast The Majority Report. At this point, there is no one I agree with as reliably as him. What’s more, he is as out of it about pop culture as I am. He often makes literary references that I’m totally in tune with, but which his (younger) producers kid him about. What’s the big deal?! We are in our late 40s. We’re supposed to be out of it and interested in more enduring works of art.

Other birthdays: the great poet William Blake (1757); philosopher Friedrich Engels (1820); anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1908); singer-songwriter Bruce Channel (73); actor Ed Harris (63); actor Martin Clunes (52); and model Anna Nicole Smith (1967).

The day, however, belongs to the great Berry Gordy who is 84 today. As the founder of Motown Records, he is arguably responsible for more joy than any other person in the 20th century. Usually, people like him don’t get recognized. He’s the semi-sane guy in the center of a creative hurricane. Think: Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Show. And just like Kermit, Gordy is a creative guy: a songwriter and producer. In fact, before Motown, he co-wrote a number of hit songs, including the great Jackie Wilson song “Lonely Teardrops.” In fact, let’s listen, shall we?

The story of Berry Gordy and the history of Motown Records has been told much better than I could, notably in Motown 40: The Music Is Forever. Here is the start of it:

Happy birthday Berry Gordy!

Afterword

Here is a nice playlist “100 Greatest Motown Songs.” Great Thanksgiving music!

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