How's School Going This Year?
Teaching is always a pleasure and a frustration: I am passing to my students shards and evidence of civilization, along with the ability to sustain it through the development of learning and other cognitives faculties; but I know the students are becoming less and less capable not only of learning, but more importantly of caring. The modern "solutions"like "No Child Left Behind," "Zero-Tolerance" school policies, and even "Abstinence-Only" sex educationare worsening the situation. Failed generations are trying to craft policies and prescriptions to rectify failures magnificently evident in their own lives. All too easy is the noble task of repairing others compared to the tedious work of reforming ourselves.
I must stipulate that the lament of youthful ignorance, indolence, and sloth is as old as time, and few are the generations that can honestly claim their own moral, intellectual, or spiritual superiority over generations that followed. We are swift to condemn those whose youth reminds us of our own that we have lost, and we are even quicker to the judgment that we would do better if only we were once again young yet endowed with the wisdom of long lives, even if poorly managed as they have been.
Still, I see the end of America as empire of knowledge, craft, ambition, and abiding intellectual curiosity. If I am right, I must acknowledge that I have no one to blame but myselfnot because I am a failed professor, though, because I am, in all honesty, a fine college teacher, one of the best of a vanishing breed of face-to-face lecturers with fiery oratory and unrelenting interest in his many disciplines of specialty. The blame I carry is that I am undeniably a member of a generation that failed, both in its whole and in far too many of its constituents. We failed in the leaders we chose, the policies we pursued, the self-indulgence we embraced, and the paths to rectitude we feigned.
Now, I must fail far too many students in my classes.
To that extent, I am, if nothing else, consistent.
Dark Voices Radio Is on the Air Tonight
Click on the graphic above to go to the showpage for the Saturday, January 23, 2010 live broadcast of Dark Voices Radio tonight at 10:00 p.m. EST. Politics, economics, and all manner of other troubling, infuriating, fabulous topics are always on the agenda. Listen to your host, the Dark Wraith, once again go into his trademark rant overdrive. Call in if you dare to join the howl-fest.
This is progressive radio the way it should be: fierce, intellectual, populist, uncompromising. This is Dark Voices Radio!
Click on the link above to launch the one-minute audio file in your computer's default media player or use the shockwave player below to play it.
Featured Grousing, Installment 1
Oh, stop it with the "How cold is it?" comeback. I'll tell you how cold it is.
It's cold enough to make me grouse. Never mind that there's nothing unusual about something making me grouse. Today, I groused about a driver in front of me who spun her car 360 degrees or so. She looked pretty shaken when she came to a rather sudden stop on the road where there wasn't any ice, so I decided not to share my annoyance with her.
Normallyand this is especially true if it's a younger, male driverI'd go around the person and yell out the window, "Is that yer momma's car?!" I cut this lady slack, though. She didn't look too well after rotating in a big metal object that, I'm pretty sure, had never before so utterly disobeyed her.
I was grousing about my fellow shoppers in Walmart, too, today. It was the people who were on cell phones, completely oblivious to their random, meandering paths and the fact that they were slowing down to almost a stop as they engaged in what were not crucial conversations with their phone raconteurs.
I want one of those air horns, the ones that make an unexpected and thoroughly rude honk that snaps the heads of unwary people within 50 feet.
And that reminds me: have I mentioned lately how annoying those Website ads have become? First, it was the blinking, jerking, twitching ads trying to get my attention; those were bad enough. Now, it's that whole thing with those Flash ads that have something race into the picture, then slowly float around, then race back out of the picture. There are all kinds of variations on this, and they're all just infuriating. I've taken to the habit of simply leaving a Website where these ads are posted.
I go to a Website for content, not to see some ad embedded in the code by a hard-up Webmaster who actually believes he or she will make some money distracting visitors from the real reason they went to the site in the first place.
Hardly anyone in the normal cyber-universe makes money off Web ads. The few who do generally start talking about porn ads. That's really irritating because I won't post porn ads. The closest I've come is having affiliate status with Playboy and its sister company, Playboy Bunny, which sells degradingly skimpy women's apparel. I don't want to sell thongs and bust-lifting bras. They make me hurt just thinking about what they do to tender parts.
See? I can't even bring myself to post barely naughty ads.
Maybe I should sell posters of myself. Yes, that's going to sell like hotcakes.
So what ads do I run? Amazon.com, for one. And I try not to think about why on Earth anyone would click through to Amazon.com from any of my Websites when just about everyone knows how to get to Amazon.com without going to my sorry sites to do so.
"Oh, I'd better go to The Dark Wraith Forums today so I can click through and buy what I need at Amazon.com." Sure. That's going to happen.
Now I've forgotten why I even bothered to start this article because I'm fully out on the tangent about Websites, ads, and revenue therefrom. This is where I get to mention my supreme annoyance with the people who actually do monetize their Websites.
Did you ever wonder how the guy who's behind Wikipedia is so filthy rich, even though there seem to be no prominent ads on Wikipedia pages? Did it ever make you wonder how those first-tier bloggers have gotten rich, even though the ads they post aren't really all that different from the ads you'd see on some loser's site?
You know how those people get all their money? Well, I do, and if you ever figure it out, you might be pretty bothered. Unless, of course, you're a blind Republican or an equally blind Democrat, in which case reality is a thing of beauty crafted from the whole cloth of fevered opinion without the complication of noticing that far too many of the leaders of the Right and the Left are nothing but sell-outs to the very institutions and people you loathe.
Most of you aren't stupid, though. I'll bet you're just tired: tired of the liars who sucker you into voting for them only to find out that your lives aren't getting any better, your rightsespecially your rights to be left alone and not to be watched like you're a criminal waiting to happenaren't coming back, and, even worse, this country isn't going to get any better. The Right-wing mobs cry for policies that benefit the rich even though the members of these mobs are working-class stiffs who are considered nothing but trash to the elite; and the Leftists still cheer Barack Obama even though he has demonstrated his willingness to continue prosecuting unwinnable wars, even though he caves to corporate and Right-wing interests, and even though he retains the services of failed and venal men like Timothy Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Robert Gates, Arne Duncan, and Robert Mueller.
Look hard into that darkening twilight: the sun is setting behind you.
No, big city Main Street and corporate media newsrooms aren't the only places where the commerce starts with a wink and ends with a meeting of minds and parts south in the company of ugly strangers and their fat wallets.
I've been pretty sure it wasn't always this way, but I'm beginning to suspect I've been wrong about that.
Yes, I'm just being overly cynical, though. It's not like that at all.
The world is good. First-tier, liberal bloggers are straight shooters. The government isn't still spying on you, and it deleted of all the databases you were in that were created during the Bush II era. Conspiracy theories are nonsense. The Democrats care about you instead of K Street lobbyists. The courts side squarely with the rights of the citizens over the claims of police and the privileges of corporations, and that promise of health care reform is about to be realized beyond your wildest hopes.
It's all good.
It's the 21st Century, we have a progressivenay, a veritable liberalin the White House, and our nation is at peace.
Yes, it's all good.
Personal Journey and Red Velvet Cake
I had become old before I should have, I was fat, and I was depressed. My health was poor. I was planning for my untimely death. Notwithstanding my defiant denials to the contrary, I was scared, scared of the world around me, scared of myself, what I had become, and where I was headed.
Not a person around me, even among those who might have cared, few as they are or should be, saw how bad off I was.
This is nothing new. It's been going on like this, off and on, back and forth, my whole adult life. With occasional bursts of vowed rectitude, I could always imagine that the side trips were the main road, but they weren't. The highway I was really traveling was big, wide, compelling, and most obvious if I hadn't been too blinded by self-excuses, fantastic voyages of delusion, and attempts at judgmentalism that didn't even fit my rather more live-and-let-live personality.
You've heard the terms, I am sure: "manic depression," "bipolar disorder," "obsessive-compulsive disorder."
I have a better one: "me."
How do I reach into the world of prominent people to make accusations of greed, hatefulness, and self-interest when I cannot bring my own house to persistent and self-evident order? The hypocrisy I see as others' glaring flaw parades in front of me as nothing other than the reflection of my own magnificently obvious defect.
I have lashed out in literary fury at people like George W. Bush; Richard Cheney; Sarah Palin; Al Gore; Paul Krugman; and now, with increasing frequency, Barack Obama. Their hypocrisy stuns me; yet, from what moral ground do I stand to cut through their false representations about themselves, their political positions, and their decisions?
This chasm between the desirable and the desired carves a broad scar through me every bit as much as it does them. We have our ideals that we wish for everybody, even for ourselves, but we cannot help but act out our lives at some lesser or greater difference from our expectations.
I am not sure of how much personal, emotional injury this causes any individual, although I suspect that I am not alone in suffering greatly inside for this hypocrisy; but I am most certain that the way we conduct our own lives at odds with our public expressions is of great harm to those who must suffer and fight their own battles in the shadow of social disapproval, laws, and other devices that project the desirable upon those acting for their own part on their desires.
Surrendering to license is no answer; I still have the call to a better nature in myself. Others do, too; but vows to be a better person, to live a cleaner, more genuine life are just so much talk in the few hours when the ill effects of living hedonistically become too obvious to ignore.
In some old languages, so-called "state of being" (or "copulative") verbs could be used in such a way that they became something like "action" verbs. In English, the classic state-of-being verb is "to be" since what comes after the verb is nothing but a description of what was put before the verb. "I am hungry," merely gives a description ("hungry") to the subject ("I"). Imagine how a verb like this could be made to convey a sense of action. It's not easy for speakers of languages that strongly distinguish what the subject is from what the subject does; but that's what could be done in some old languages. Translating into modern English what an ancient person had said when using this tense would be quite difficult and probably wouldn't be attempted at all. Most likely, the subtlety of that old sense of a copulative verb in active mood would be simplistically translated as some weakly related action verb.
Consider that when you hear the rather famous young rabbi from several millennia ago quoted as saying, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
"Go"? Try thinking of the quote instead using a state of being verb with the directive to action as that state. It helps bridge the chasm between the desirable and the desired. Whatever I intend to preach, the scar is first, foremost, and always in me, not in those whose hypocrisy is a parade that runs over my life.
The men and women who have inspired religions, sects, and cults have their moments, some more than others. Given that they have died, even they have passed the time of their actions, and only their lives matter much, if at all. State of being is, in itself and without even so much as the quality of animating life of the person, the entire action.
That's how it is with everyone, so I should get down to work. The world is becoming less free in the countries that preen themselves on their dedication to freedom. No matter what we do, this age of authoritarianism is pressing forward. From the Right, it wields the fist of ever-mounting, increasingly oppressive laws to replace individual choice with the fear of state violence through fines, imprisonment, and even death to ensure security against real, falsely magnified, and imagined enemies. From the Left, it wields that same fist of ever-mounting, increasingly oppressive laws to replace individual choice with the fear of state violence through fines, imprisonment, and even death to ensure compliance with group norms established beyond the counsel of individual conscience.
Nevertheless, my long walk to war with modernity must be from the inside out. That large highway of self-decline is so easy to use, but it leads at least for me to nowhere I need to go and to be.
A few months ago, I got rattled by several personal events that happened in short succession. I am hopeful that I am mature enough, now, to have seized those painful opportunities to put myself better and more permanently on a road that is good. What I know is that, with each cycle like this through which I have gone, I have stayed longer and found my way back more quickly when I drifted perilously away.
I have resolutely set aside my eating habits that had really been at the heart of some of the worst of my health problems. Instead of running to the medical establishment for promises wrapped in pills, procedures, and surgeries, I am eating well, in small portions, and without the obsessive glee of stuffing myself almost exclusively with meat until I am in sick pain.
I am still working on my addiction to nicotine, but in this cycle, I have brought it down to an allocation of nine ultra-light, short cigarettes a day. I will get it down further in the months ahead.
Instead of the random, miserable bursts of grueling exercise, I'm doing a moderate, 20-minute workout every day.
Within, rather than trying to will myself to stop obsessing about matters of loneliness, want for abiding and lasting love, greed for things, and want for expressed sexuality, I am thinking about creative ideas and the ways I can make them happen more consistently than I have in the past.
What is the payoff? As of today, I've lost 36 pounds. Gastrointestinal problems that had literally torn me up for years for decades, in fact have all but disappeared. Terrifying spells of what might be described as "silent heart attacks" that had been gripping me almost every day (at their worst, sometimes several in short succession) for the past three years have completely disappeared. My hair has gone from an old and elderly, lifeless look of almost gray to something much better, and my face looks noticeably better. You can see for yourself with this picture I took last week. (Those who know how my recipe posts work can click to see another at the end of this article.)
How long will all this last? Permanently, I hope. I'm sure I'll have setbacks, but it feels so good to feel better that I don't think the alternatives are all that attractive anymore. I still have so much work to do, though; but that's part of the journey, and this is the kind of road that is best because it is as long as the life lived traveling it.
It's almost time to start writing with fury, again. Readers will see that soon enough, but you will also see other kinds of writing, too. Only very rarely did I publish works of fiction, here, but I'll do more of that from now on. I like metaphorical narrative. I also like humor, and I will write more that is not so serious. I will also write more short articles, especially ones involving political and economic analysis. No normal person can frequently endure my detailed, gruelingly long-winded economic expositions, and I promise not to do those very often from now on.
I'll also be publishing some video work. Editorials, mostly, but I cannot promise that I won't try to get creative in a medium that is still quite new to me. Be patient; if the first couple aren't particularly good, that doesn't mean they won't get better as I master the craft and its technologies.
I've bleated long enough. It's time for the cake recipe.
Although I can usually remember all the details of how I make something, given that I had not made a red velvet cake in years, I had to go to one of my old recipe magazines to jog my memory. I have a nice little collection of recipe publications, mostly the ones you see on the shelves near checkout lines at grocery stores. I don't buy them there, though, because they used to show up all the time at flea markets, used bookstores, and places like that. They're not worth much to anyone else, but my collection is an invaluable resource, even though I have few opportunities to cook ambitiously.
This red velvet cake recipe, modified as I recalled from my version, comes from the November 30, 2004, magazine, Southern Living: Our Best Recipes (Birmingham, Alabama: Oxmoor House Special Editions). While the magazine version might take a little more than half-an-hour, rest assured that, unless you are a very efficient cook, the total preparation time will be more like an hour. In my case, the time is somewhat longer than that because I clean pans, dishes, and utensils as I go along so there's no big mess to clean up at the end of the food preparation phase of the project.
Here's what you'll need for this recipe.
• 1 stick (½ cup) of softened butter
• 1½ cups of sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 2½ cups of cake flour
• 1 teaspoon of baking soda
• ½ of salt
• 2 tablespoons of cocoa
• 1 cup of buttermilk
• 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar
• 1 ounce of red food coloring
• 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
• 2 greased, 9-inch round baking dishes
• 1 cup of milk
• 1/3 cup of regular flour
• 1 cup of softened butter
• 1 cup of sugar
• 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
For those of you who are not familiar with ingredients for making food from scratch, let me tell you a couple of things about the ingredients, above. First, cake flour is not the same as what is commonly called "all-purpose flour." In the first part of the recipe, notice that you'll be using cake flour; in the second part, for the frosting, you'll be using all-purpose flour. Your cake will be a little sorry if you use all-purpose flour in that part of the recipe.
Second, when I write "softened butter," that means you should take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it set for about an hour so it warms up and mixes well with the other ingredients. No, leaving butter out of the refrigerator for that long will not endanger your health as long as the butter was good when you put it in the fridge. When I was growing up, butter was left out for much longer, and I don't recall any of my people dying from gastrointestinal upset.
Third, you might have noticed the two greased, round baking dishes in the ingredients. Yes, you can grease the dishes with that spray-on stuff if you like, but I won't do it like that. For one thing, I like to use butter; for another, I have this thing against inhaling aerosolized, fake grease into my lungs, where it will form a nice seal against efficient transport of oxygen to my bloodstream. (But that's just me.) The way I do it is to take a stick of butter and run the end side of it back and forth all over the inside of the baking dish. I do this until I see the dish become somewhat opaque from the layer of butter laid down. Later, not only will the cake come out of the dish intact, but the surface of the cake will be smoother and easier to frost.
Fourth, when I tell you to use "pure vanilla extract," I mean don't go using imitation vanilla. Just don't, okay? You're making good food; avoid using phony chemicals unless you must.
Fifth, when you buy sugar, buy cane sugar. Make sure it says that on the package; otherwise, you might be buying beet sugar. That's right, sugar can come from beets, but that doesn't mean you have to abide the nonsense.
Sixth, "baking soda" is not the same as "baking powder." Baking soda comes in those yellow Arm & Hammer boxes that people used to put in the backs of their refrigerators to absorb bad smells. It's used in recipes, too, like the one here. Baking powder is used in recipes, as well, but not the one here. You will be most disappointed if you use baking powder when a recipe calls for baking soda.
Finally, a word about using salt in recipes. I have to avoid salt as much as possible, and I would love to encourage you to do the same. I cannot eat even small amounts of fast food anymore because the salt content is so high that I will become incapacitated from swilling water starting about an hour after I've eaten the fare at McDonald's, Wendy's, Arby's, Burger King, and any other fast food restaurant. Sometime in the past couple of years, some grocery stores started selling their "fresh meats" laced with salt. The salt is ostensibly being put in as a "natural" preservative, but it has the effect, at least on me, of making the meats inedible unless I soak out the salt before cooking the food. Again, my aversion to salt is far greater than most people's, but you might be surprised at how good food tastes once you've stopped using salt to burn microscopic fissures into your taste buds to cut through the desensitization caused by all the previous salt you've run through your mouth. Try it sometime.
This recipe calls for some salt, and that's not unusual in cakes and pastries. I use it quite sparingly. Although I don't think it's necessary, salt added to batters is old, old tradition, and I'm not the kind of person who dispenses with an ingredient when I don't understand exactly why the tradition of using it first came about and then endured so tenaciously. Hence, in this recipe, I add half-a-teaspoon of salt. Why? Obviously, it's because that's how it's always been done, alright? (That's why I shall never be a liberal, even though most of my readers are, and I love you all more than I care for just about any conservative. But me? a liberal? Never. Progressive? Sure. Liberal? No. Life is too random as it is. Mostly, I blame quantum mechanics.)
Where was I? Oh, yes: making a cake.
The Cake Batter
Cake Batter Step 0
Preheat the oven to 350°
Cake Batter Step 1
Once the stick of butter is nice and soft, combine it with that half-cup of sugar and beat at medium speed. When those two ingredients are blended together, add one of the three eggs and keep beating until that egg is blended in nicely. Add the second egg and beat until you again have a smooth mixture. Add the third egg and beat until what's in the bowl has a nice, creamy look to it. This whole process shouldn't take more than five minutes. Once this step is finished, set the mixture off to the side while you get Step 2 finished. You might as well leave this in the mixing bowl with the mixer because you'll be running it again in just a few minutes.
Cake Batter Step 2
Take the two-and-a-half cups of cake flour, the baking soda, salt, and cocoa, and stir these dry ingredients together in a bowl. Use a big spoon to do this; it works well to lift and gather the separate ingredients.
Cake Batter Step 3
In another bowl or pan, pour in that cup of buttermilk, along with the tablespoon of distilled white vinegar, the red food coloring, and the two teaspoons of vanilla extract.
Cake Batter Step 4
This is where we bring everything together. You'll start with that mixture in the mixing bowl from Step 1. Put in a portion (maybe a third or a fourth) of the dry ingredients from Step 2, then run the mixer at low speed just long enough to get the dry ingredients cut in. Stop the mixer, put in maybe a third of the wet ingredients from Step 3, and run the mixer again just long enough to cut these ingredients through. Stop the mixer, put in some more of the dry ingredients, and run the mixer again (always on low speed) just long enough to get what you've just put in cut through. Stop the mixer and put in some more of the wet ingredients and then run the mixer just long enough to get it blended through. You should do this alternating addition and blending until everything from Steps 1 and 2 has gone into the mixing bowl. Make sure you begin and end with the dry ingredients from Step 2. Four additions with the dry and three with the wet is plenty. You will notice with each addition that what's in the mixing bowl gets redder and redder, but the resulting mixture looks more and more like an actual cake batter. By the time you've gotten everything mixed together, the batter will be quite red and fairly thick.
Cake Batter Step 5
Pour the batter into the two greased baking dishes, making every effort possible to get equal amounts in each because you're about to put them in the oven, and the baking time will be dependent upon the volume of batter in the dish, and you want the two, separate dishes to be done at the same time.
Cake Batter Step 6
Put the batter-filled baking dishes in the oven. Give them 18 minutes before you start checking to see if they're done. Put a toothpick in each, and when it comes out clean (it can look greasy, but no batter and no sticky cake should be on it), take the dishes out. My experience is that they'll need about 23 minutes, but this is highly dependent upon the oven and somewhat dependent upon the type of baking dishes (clear or colored) that you're using. Overcooking will be as bad for your results as under-cooking, so be diligent in this step.
Cake Batter Step 7
Once out of the oven, put each dish on a cooling rack for ten to fifteen minutes. At that time, take a butter knife and run it around the inside edge of each dish several times, pushing slightly in at the bottom to detach the cake at the edges of the underside. Once you've done that, put each rack on top of its dish and flip the contraption over. Pat the cake until it lets go onto the rack. Allow the cakes to finish cooling bare on the racks like that.
Frosting Step 1
In a smallish sauce pan, put the one cup of milk and the third of a cup of all-purpose flour. Using a whisk, stir the flour thoroughly into the milk. With the pan on a stove burner set to medium, keep whisking the mixture until it gets quite thick. It will get to the consistency of mashed potatoes as it approaches boiling. Take it off the burner before it actually boils and put it in the refrigerator to cool. It should take maybe 45 minutes for it to get properly chilly. You don't want it cold, just chilled.
Frosting Step 2
When the mixture from Frosting Step 1, above, is getting to just about the right temperature, put the two sticks of softened butter into the mixing bowl with the cup of sugar and the teaspoon of vanilla extract, and run the mixer on high until the ingredients have a nice, creamy consistency. Stop the mixer and put in that cooled mixture from Frosting Step 1. Run the mixer on high, but only long enough to get the ingredients well mixed. Avoid over-beating.
Put the Cake All Together
Put one of the cake layers, both of which should now be cooled to room temperature, onto your cake dish. This layer should be flat side up (in other words, the side that was at the bottom of its baking dish should be up). Spread the top and sides of this layer with frosting from the mixing bowl.
Now, put the other layer, flat side down on top of the layer you've just frosted. Spread the top and sides of this layer with the rest of your frosting, making sure to generously cover the seam between the layers with frosting.
You have now finished your cake, and it is ready to serve.
Be sure to cover and refrigerate whatever is left over of this cake from the first helpings. You can warm it up to eat some later, but be aware that this cake won't keep very well, so you should eat it all within 48 hours or so of preparation.
It also tastes better if served by the cook; so, for those of you familiar with the tradition of these recipes offered here at The Dark Wraith Forums, you may click here to see the proper serving manner of the gentleman who has made this wonderful, colorful dessert for you.
Enjoy your cake, good readers.