Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Standing Prime Rib Roast done two ways: On the BBQ or in the oven with mushroom gravy

There is something truly special about a standing Bone-In Prime Rib Roast, despite the costs associated with them. But, if you can either get them on sale or use them as a terrific substitute for the equally expensive and often far less tasty holiday turkeys or hams, they are well worth the investment.

Though only, we should note from the start, if they are cooked to a proper rare to medium rare. There is simply no point in cooking a Prime Rib Roast if you intend to cook it beyond this point of "doneness". 

Previously I blogged about how to do more "inferior" roasts using the Hi-Low heat method. This method is, in my opinion, also the perfect way to cook the royalty of roasts. Follow these instructions exactly to oven cook a Prime Rib roast with two exceptions. 

First, a Prime Rib Roast does not need the olive oil. Its delightful fat layering and marbling will take care of the moistening that the olive oil is a substitute for.

Also, it is called a "standing" rib roast for a reason. Being bone-in, the roast will come with a curved bone rack on the underside. You want to stand the roast up while cooking, bone side down, fat side up. For smaller roasts, 4 pounds or less, you might find that they fall over at some point during the cooking, but that is OK. Whether the roast falls over or not, you must never, under any circumstances, open the oven. 

When the roast is done, and has been allowed to sit as outlined, I am always partial to cutting the slices a little on the thicker side. The photo at the start shows both the size and doneness that I think makes for a perfect Prime Rib Roast. This will have a great and contrasting texture,  will be incredibly moist, and will be full of flavour.

If you want a gravy, and why wouldn't you, take the tray that you cooked the Prime Rib in and leave all the drippings in it. Add some mushrooms, place it on a medium-low burner and stir to brown them. Add salt and pepper to taste as you go. After a few minutes, add a cup of beef stock and, if you want, a little red wine, and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer, adding a tablespoon or two of flour to let it thicken to taste, stirring this in to ensure that it fully dissolves. Simmer and blend down to your desired thickness.

Different people like very different gravies. You will find yours!  

If you want to try for something a little different, and truly spectacular, you can do the Prime Rib Roast over charcoal on the BBQ using the indirect method. This always sounds daunting, but is, in fact, rather easy once you get the hang of it (though you should not let family or friends know that!). 

This method only really works for roasts that are 3-4 lbs or less, so if you are having a few folks over, you will have to do at least two.

First, after following the instructions for starting up the charcoal grill that I laid out in a previous post, instead of dumping all the charcoal in the centre, you must instead divide the hot coals into two separate piles along the side of the BBQ drum, leaving the centre without coals. This can be done with a cheap accessory fitted side tray for charcoal made by Weber and other companies, or by simply piling it!

When BBQing prime rib I suggest using a Montreal Style steak spice as you would on any steak. Coat the roast liberally on all sides with it, other than the bone-in side. As always, leave the roast to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.

After you have the separated coals glowing a red or white hot, take the Prime Rib and put it directly over one of the piles for 5 minutes a side. You want to get grill marks and that lovely searing.

Once you have done this, put the roast in the centre of the grill, with no coals underneath. If it will stand, fine, but usually you are better off to simply rest it one side down and flip it half-way through.

You need to cook the roast a further 15 minutes per lb., again making sure to evenly spread the time out in terms of what side is cooking, to get a medium-rare. You should do this "lid on" for the most part, keeping the flue open, and taking the top off every few minutes to allow the coals to get hotter again. You will get the hang of it. 

 If you do not like the timed method, simply check the roast for "give" as you would a steak.

After done, let the roast sit for only 5 minutes, uncovered,  as opposed to the 15 for an oven roast. Again, I suggest slightly thicker slicing.

The BBQ method is incredibly flavorful and worth the effort. The Prime Rib will come out wonderfully juicy and moist, but also with a distinctive smokey charcoal grilled  taste that is impossible to acheive any other way. It is truly delicious.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Keep the progressive announcements coming, Tom: An open letter to the Leader of the NDP

An Open Letter by Simon Dougherty

Dear Tom,

It’s been great to hear you’ll pull Canadian troops from Iraq if elected. Also, having a Prime Minister who’ll take from the rich and give to the poor will be a great relief to Canadians struggling with record levels of inequality.

These progressive announcements are important pieces of the “compelling new alternative” Jack Layton left for New Democrats to build. As you roll out more announcements in the months before the election, Canadians will “give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives -- and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together.”

People are listening and ready to build the alternatives; hopeful alternatives that overcome Harper’s politics of fear. Clear alternatives that cut through Trudeau’s mixed-messaging.

Offering clear alternatives to Harper’s war measures and hopeful alternatives to his austerity measures has the Conservatives stalling, the Liberals slipping, and the NDP surging. But there’s still a long way to go before the election; ample time to give a careful hearing to more alternatives and make them even better. Let’s build on the momentum.

Keep the progressive announcements coming, Tom.

Like that $15/day childcare plan to be phased in over eight years -- let’s go even further and make Quebec's $7/day the Canadian standard immediately. Then, let’s phase in a free and universal program like other countries around the world.

Like that $15/h minimum wage pledge -- let’s make it universal upon election, not just for a small number of federal workers in 2019. American cities like Seattle and Portland are showing $15/h can be achieved right now. Australia passed that threshold five years ago and is on track to hit $19/h in 2019. While strong minimum wages are being put in place, let’s secure living wages with a Guaranteed Annual Income program, like the successful "Mincome" experiment in Dauphin, Manitoba.

Like closing tax loopholes on CEOs  -- recovering $700 million is a good start. Let’s recover another $31 billion by uniting against austerity with Quebec’s second wave of the “Maple Spring.” The World Bank, IMF and OECD admit that inequality is killing growth. Let’s implement a comprehensive set of progressive tax reforms as outlined by Linda McQuaig, the Broadbent Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Uruguay has utilized progressive taxes to achieve the greatest income equality in a region that has seen 16 of 18 countries successfully reduce inequality.

Like the urban agenda you introduced in Toronto and Vancouver -- let’s make clear commitments to affordable housing and start moving towards free public transit. Many medium-sized cities across Europe and the Americas have made the transition, already. Cities as large as Paris have experimented with the idea.

Like your rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and all your talk about “sustainable development” -- let’s reject the Energy East pipeline and develop a transition plan to 100% renewable energy by 2035 as Canadian researchers have shown is possible. Costa Rica has already been powering itself on 100% renewable energy for the last 75 days.

Like your promise to establish a national inquiry into Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women -- let’s build on that by honouring Treaty, respecting Aboriginal sovereignty, working in solidarity with Idle No More, and developing people-to-people partnerships as Canada was supposed to be doing from the start. Consider allotted seats for Aboriginal representation, as is done in New Zealand.

Like that promise to bring in Proportional Representation -- let’s join President Obama in advocating the idea of mandatory voting. Democracy is the NDP’s middle name, and many democracies, from Australia to Greece, already have compulsory voting.

Like your opposition to Bill C-51 -- let’s fully repeal it once in power. Repealing attacks on civil liberties is better than amending attacks on civil liberties. Tommy Douglas unequivocally opposed Pierre Trudeau's War Measures Act, and the same must be done with Harper’s ‘Secret Police’ Bill.

Like your promise to return the retirement age to 65 from 67 -- while we’re making sure Canadians can access the pensions they have earned, let’s make sure they can also access education and prescription drugs when they need them. A universal pharmacare program would save Canada billions. With savings like that we could abolish tuition like Germany and over a dozen other OECD countries.

All of these things have already been accomplished in some place at some time.

Another world is more than possible -- it’s actual. Don't let them tell you it can’t be done!

People will try to tell you that you have no choice but to vote for more of the same. More wars. More oil pipelines. More breaks for mining companies. More small business tax cuts. More corporate ‘free’ trade deals. But you do have a choice, Tom. It’s time to keep the focus where it belongs -- on helping Canadians with living wages, affordable homes, universal childcare and pharmacare, free tuition, public transit, a clean environment, a fair electoral system, the protection of civil liberties, the rejection of austerity, and justice for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.

C'mon, Tom—together, we can do this.

Simon Dougherty is a former NDP candidate from Scarborough, Ontario. The son of Irish and Slovenian immigrants, he worked in trades and senior care like his parents, and then in education before graduating from York University. Simon has also done work in community organizing and videography. He is currently conducting doctoral research at ACU’s Institute for Social Justice in Sydney, Australia.

Photo via wikimedia commons

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Doing a Sirloin Roast with Horseradish Dijon Sauce using the High-Low Method.

How to make a great beef roast? One that comes out a nice rare-medium/medium rare, is juicy and has a delicious texture and crust. How to do this especially when using a less expensive, less fatty cut?

While the method we are blogging about today works for cuts like the ultimate, the standing bone-in rib roast (which we will look at cooking in a separate blog), it also works wonderfully for far less expensive roasts, like a sirloin roast.These cost half or less of the same sized rib roast.

This is the high-low heat method. We will be accompanying the roast with a Horseradish-Dijon Sauce.

Sirloin Roast seasoned with sea salt, pepper and Keen's Dry Mustard

First, take about two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and brush all around the roast. I like to do this with lower fat, lower cost roasts as I find it helps moisten them and acts as something of a  substitute for fat.

Then liberally season on all sides with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Rub it in! This can be done to taste, of course, but meat needs to be seasoned, and a nice level of salt and pepper helps to create the texture that the hi-low method gives to the outside of the roast.

Finally top with about a tablespoon of Keen's Dry Mustard (or any other brand...I am just a fan of Keen's). I only put this on top. It will drizzle down during cooking.

Let the roast stand for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Put the roast on a roasting rack in the middle of the oven and cook at this temperature for 10 minutes. Then reduce the temperature by half to 250 degrees and cook for approximately 15 minutes per pound for rare, 20 for rare-medium, 25 for medium-rare or 30 for medium. During the entire cooking time it is critical that you do not open the oven! You should not open it until you think it is time for it to come out.

I highly recommend doing a roast of this type on the rarer side. Even at medium it will be quite dry. But it is a matter of taste. An instant read thermometer can be used. Around 120 degrees is time to remove for rare, around 130 is for medium rare. The internal temperature will continue to rise after cooking, when you let the roast sit.

Always remember, if a roast is not cooked enough for your taste, you can always put it back in or sear it a bit in a frying pan after slicing. If you overcook it, there is nothing you can do!

Remove the roast from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes on a platter before slicing. You should cover it loosely (with foil is the most common way). Do not cover tightly, as it needs to "breath".

Slice into pieces of whatever size appeals to you. I like them not too thin. About half an inch.

Rare, with a Horseradish Dijon Sauce
Traditionally this is served with a gravy. And that is great. But I like to have it with a Horseradish
Dijon Sauce. To prepare this simply combine two parts Dijon mustard for every one part horseradish and stir together in a bowl. Serve this on the side for dipping. For a 3 lb. roast I will generally blend 4 tablespoons of Dijon and 2 of horseradish. For added kick use an extra-hot horseradish.

I find that this method produces moist, textured and flavourful roast every time, with every cut. Enjoy!

Friday, March 27, 2015

The externalized enemy: Conspiracy theories and the left

Imagine a world of absolutes of black and white. A world where a self-proclaimed group of people have discovered the truth, and have discovered that this truth is hidden from us by a powerful and frightening super-elite who are able to manipulate and control the actions of tens of millions of people and to get the media, the courts, the police and the "state" to do their bidding, seemingly without any serious effort. Imagine that, supposedly, those who are in the "know" but who turn against the powers that be, or those who innocently come across knowledge that they should not have had, are killed off. Imagine that this tiny overclass is responsible for what ails the world. They rig elections, assassinate leaders, pull off "inside jobs" etc.

A world where, presumably, if the people only understood this truth, could only grasp at this light in the midst of the dark night, they could discover how things really work, and then, apparently, do something about it.

Imagine this and you have entered into the realm of the conspiracy theory and conspiracy thinking.

From Sandy Hook to 9-11, from JFK to RFK, from the New World Order to the Zionist Occupied Government. From Masons to Rosicrucians. The narrative is always basically the same, the details matter less than you might think.

The world is governed by hidden and tremendously powerful forces that, to varying degrees depending on the theory, control everything or almost everything. They are capable of making anyone do their bidding, and notions of democracy, an independent judiciary and political class, are simply illusions held by the "sheep" that are the bulk of the population.

These ideas, these "theories" of society, are becoming increasingly widespread with the advent of the Internet and with the consolidation of neo-liberalism. They are permeating and effecting our political discourse. They are also, in one form or another, held by many of those who are on the "left" and they are a larger part of the "left" narrative than they have been, outside of the paranoid delusions of some Communist regimes and their sycophants, since the modern left came into existence.

The purpose of this piece is not to attempt, at all, to debunk this or that specific conspiracy theory. That has been done elsewhere. It has also, for reasons we will return to, had little effect.

All grand conspiracy theories are equally and obviously false once subjected to any objective and reasoned analysis (1).  What renders this not obvious to those that hold them is the flawed narrative through which they construct their vision of the world and the way it works. Conspiracy theories are broadly and profoundly damaging to society as a whole. They are even more damaging to the basic socialist idea itself. They take systemic and real issues and transform them into sensationalistic and ultimately liberal fantasies about "dark forces". They provide the illusion that nothing could have been done to stop the "conspiracy" and that, therefore, "we" are not responsible. In doing so, oddly, they also let the liberal democratic system off the hook for social ills, as they basically claim that this system does not really exist.

Further, in an era where labour, both at home and internationally, the peoples of the Third World, and the very fabric of life on Earth itself due to accelerating climate change, are threatened by deregulated global state capitalism, these notions and theories do not at all confront the real problems that lie at the heart of our economic system; problems which are not a conspiracy, they are the basis of our economy.

When it comes to conspiracy thinking and the way it frames the world, no way of thinking could actually be further from the "truth".

The fallacies of neo-conspiracy thinking

Conspiracy theories, or what I think could be termed neo-conspiracy thinking, in that it takes an ages old interpretation of how the system supposedly is structured and simply updates it to a modern context and modern events, manifests itself in several ways, all of which are interconnected. (2)

While notions influenced by conspiracy thinking sometimes infiltrate more minor elements of  political discourse (3), the better known, and more obvious manifestations of it are centered around specific events such as the 9-11 attacks, the JFK assassination, the Sandy Hook shootings, and so on. Theories around these alleged conspiracies are usually way points to the greater narrative that the theorist or "movement" sees as the motives behind the event.

The grand conspiracy narrative is the destination point. These are actually thinly disguised ideologies that claim that the "people" are being oppressed and duped by a relatively tiny cabal that is the real, hidden force behind the complex, disturbing and bewildering tapestry of events and tragedies that is life and society in modernity. This cabal, and it really does not matter who the cabal is, the theories are all essentially identical anyway, "perverts" democracy, the nation, the economy, the constitution, the "race" or whatever it is that the theorist feels is being destroyed.

Related to these very focused notions of specific evil overlords are ideologies that appear and claim to have a broader analytic framework, but whose analysis is so mechanistic and simplistic that they are de facto conspiracy theories. All fascist and neo-fascist ideas are like this, with their talk of "vested interests", the Jews, the Federal Reserve, etc. So too are crass pseudo-"Marxist" narratives or narratives like the notion of the 1 percent (4) that see the state and its structures as some kind of direct arm of the capitalist class and whose concept of how modern society functions seems as if they live in the Moscow of Ivan the Terrible.

In other words, these ideas necessitate a belief in a set of specific "bad guys" whose exposure and overthrow is, presumably, the goal.This is not, at all, how society is actually structured, works or can be changed, a point to which we will return.

In addition, one of the primary and central mythologies of the movements and theories is that no one will listen and that, due to a media blackout (the media is always a key player in conspiracy theories, and all the major figures and outlets of the media have to be seen as tools of those "really" running things in order for the theories to "work" at all) their voices are not being heard. A corollary to this is the notion that if only they were allowed to get the message out, and if only they could expose the "secret" knowledge that they have acquired and accumulated, this would prove that they are right, and everything would change.

Given how widespread belief in conspiracies of one type or another is in North America right now, and given that actual majorities of the population believe in part, or in total, in many specific conspiracies, this is obviously not true. It is, however, an essential component of the conspiracist belief system as part of the appeal is the notion that you "know" truths that others don't and that those who question you or feel that your claims do not warrant discussion (and only people without a real understanding of concepts of science, history and sociology think that all ideas are of potentially equal merit) are either in on it or have been fooled. To paraphrase the tag-line of the paranoid conspiracy theory driven TV series of the 90's, the X-Files, people "want to believe".  It serves a psychological need.

This ties into the dependence of these ideas and theories on credulity. The lack of media coverage is seen as "proof" of what they are saying. Surely, if the media was not in on it they would at least be willing to look at their "claims". This has a satisfyingly democratic ring to it and appeals to those who think that everyone's ideas, no matter how absurd, should be heard. (5)

It is also indicative of how their "evidence" is presented in general. Their theories do not depend on evidence at all. Because the powerful can manipulate everything, in some cases tiny bits of proof are taken as "smoking guns" even when they are massively outweighed by the rest of the evidence, and sometimes the very lack of evidence is actually seen as evidence!

As Steven Novella wrote on the Skepticblog:

The world is a complex and chaotic place, and our ability to make sense of it all is limited by comparison. We like, however, to have a sense of control, so we look for patterns and ways to predict what will happen in this chaotic world. Superstitions are one way to deal with the chaos, and conspiracy theories are another. They are both forms of pattern seeking behavior. The illusion of pattern that leads to the illusion of understanding and therefore control is psychologically appealing. But it is all a neuropsychological illusion.
Rigorous logic and empirical methods need to be applied to let us distinguish real patterns from fake or coincidental ones. Conspiracy thinking is the opposite of rigorous logic. It employs conspiracy logic, which can turn any evidence against a conspiracy or lack of evidence for a conspiracy into evidence for the conspiracy. Conspiracy thinking is a closed  mental feedback loop. There is no way out from within the conspiracy mindset itself.
This is why these ideas, theories and ideological narratives are tremendously resilient versus overwhelming evidence to contradict them. While debunking specific conspiracy claims, and pointing out their absurdity, is still worthwhile as it may prevent people from entering into the mental feedback loop to begin with, it is of only limited effect upon not only those who are already within the mindset, but also against the broader spread of conspiracy thinking socially.

The confusion of the systemic with the "system"

Liberal democratic society, with its illusions of equality of opportunity and its deeply ingrained notion (especially within the North American context) of the power of the individual as an independent agent, has always had problems with a real understanding of class and the nature of systemic oppression.

In so far as most North Americans acknowledge that there are institutional limits and obstacles to individual achievement they most often acknowledge this through narratives that consist of the individual being "screwed" by the "system" in some way, whether it is through bureaucracy, taxes, by-laws, the courts, the police, etc.

North Americans, therefore, are prone to talk about obstacles to the individual, often in a very libertarian way that sees the individual as outside of the system and in struggle against it, as opposed to acknowledging that all individuals live within the same context, that this context is very complex, and that, socially, there is no escape from it.

When Marx famously wrote of how "the generations of the dead weigh like a nightmare upon the brains of the living", this was what he meant. People "make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past".

We act as independent agents within a context, a context that is not of our choosing, and a context that both informs and limits our actions.

This is not a system per se, and it does not directly "govern" our actions or force them. Nor does it directly govern the actions of the courts, media, police, and so on. Rather it frames them.

Systemic injustices of class, sexism, racism and colonialism are very real, and terribly violent and oppressive. That they are real is easily demonstrable. However they are not "controlled" by anyone, nor do they have some committee of the state that tells everyone what to do. They are woven into the fabric of society itself. They are hegemonic in the same way that neo-liberal ideology has become.
To some degree or another they influence the actions of all citizens and movements and turning the tide against them involves not simply working together to overcome social institutions of oppression and power, but also to overcome these ideas within ourselves. It is not a battle against an "other" it is a battle against our own society and our own collectively inherited ideas and institutions. This is what has made it such an historically difficult struggle (6).

In addition, class itself in North America is more complex than it has ever been. The traditional proletariat no longer constitutes anywhere near a majority of the population, and notions of the working and middle classes have become hopelessly entwined in our political discourse.  There is no worker's movement that bears any meaningful class or social relationship to the worker's movements of fifty years ago, and the left has not only to struggle against misconceptions of who is or is not "working class" and who thinks they are or are not "middle class", it also  has to struggle against the elevation of the individual to a pedestal of philosophical predominance socially.

Conspiracy theories and thinking, as well as mechanistic visions of society, inhibit real efforts to understand the amazingly diverse, contradictory and  overlapping strands of various social forces and oppressions. They also obscure the reasons why people seem so often to act against their own apparent social interests.

By seeking to place the individual (whether described as such, or as a part of an enlightened or historically destined group) in an external, almost Atlas Shrugged style battle against the Prometheus of the "state" or the "ruling class" or "vested interests", whatever it/they might be, these ideas are inherently individualistic, alienating and dis-empowering.

It is not at all surprising that these notions have become more widespread with the consolidation of neo-liberalism as a hegemonic ideology, as pillars of community and collectivity have not only been dismantled, they have been vilified. As all mainstream political parties now embrace neo-liberalism, these parties have also aided in creating a sense of personal dis-empowerment among many citizens as well as in the seeming futility of the political process, parliamentary or otherwise.

Why conspiracy theories are harmful to the left 

When confronted by conspiracy theories  there is a temptation, as Noam Chomsky has done, to point out the obvious.

So what? Even if the theories are true, which Chomsky thinks is absurd, who cares? What difference would it make?

And, of course, he is correct.

If you believe, as a majority of the population of the United States does, that JFK was assassinated by a conspiracy, even if this was conclusively proven tomorrow, what difference would it make?

Fifty years later, and given that most of the Oliver Stone myths about how "progressive" he was (the president who was behind the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis) are obviously false, who cares?

The 9-11 Truthers face the same problem. Bush is no longer president. Obama has won two terms and has carried on the "War on Terror" with equal vigour. Not only does it no longer matter if 9-11 was an "inside job", if it was revealed to be so, what would this accomplish? Electing another Democratic president who will continue to do what his or her predecessors did?

To a degree, however, this misses the point, especially when it comes to the impact of these theories on leftist and socialist movements and ideas.

These theories propose that, even if it is not the Bushes or the long dead people who supposedly engineered the assassination of Kennedy, there is someone who is controlling it all. There is some group of people who need to be thrown out or eliminated, and once they are, the system, society, civilization, the nation, or what have you, will "work" and, presumably, freedom and justice of some kind will reign.

This is entirely analogous to medieval notions that if you kill the "bad" king, then a "good" king will make it all better.

But this is false.

Leftism and socialist thought is about ending systemic injustice through a long and difficult struggle to shift the consciousness of everyone away from the systems of oppression that permeate our discourse and social interaction. It is about fundamentally altering class relations. It is about changing a social order, a task that requires mass collective democratic action and that sees individual action only in the context of a long-term collective democratic struggle.

There is no "good" king or leader. All the kings or leaders within the context of neo-liberalism and capitalism, to one degree or another, are bad.

Conspiracy theories and neo-conspiracy thinking undermine the fight against systemic injustice and towards socialist ideas. They do so by making that struggle about a specific event, group-of-people or  simplistically constructed overclass/ruling class. They do so by replacing concepts of systemic injustice with reductionist myths about "the system". They do so by creating narratives that make mass popular action and building a long term alternative to capitalism and systemic injustice seemingly irrelevant and meaningless and instead lay emphasis on the actions of individuals or small groups of individuals in the "know" acting against equally small groups of people who are the "enemy". This is the antithesis of constructive, democratic mass anti-capitalist political parties and movements.

In the end, we cannot defeat capitalism, social stratification, racism and sexism by getting rid of "bad people".

There are no short cuts.

We can only do it by changing people's consciousness and society as a whole.

(1) For clarification, one of the methods that conspiracy theorists use to sow doubt and confuse is to point out that, historically, countless conspiracies have occurred. This is obviously true. They exist today as well. There are criminal conspiracies to do any number of things, and these sometimes involve governments and elected officials. They also involve groups like the CIA and FBI which have, without any doubt, engaged in illegal and secret conduct. For reasons the article will make clear, however, this has nothing to do with the notion of a society and a power elite that is a product of and that depends upon a conspiracy to exist. These two notions are qualitatively different.

Further, while acknowledging that conspiracies have historically existed, the difference between studying actual conspiracies and what conspiracy thinking represents is that the conspiracy theories filter events within the context of a broader overarching grand conspiracy, as opposed to understanding them within the context of broad societal structural and systemic factors.

(2) Often critiques of conspiracy thinking descend into debates about whether they are more often right or left-wing or whether they are more likely to flow out of a left or right analysis. Jonathan Kay's otherwise excellent book, Among the Truthers, for example, is derailed by his totally unnecessary insistence that the left is more to "blame". This is an ultimately uninteresting debate, because in reality they are neither. Left or right conspiracy thinkers and theories have far more in common than do genuine left and right ideologies, and they overlap to such a degree that they function as wings of a worldview entirely separate from mainstream notions of ideology at all.

(3) An example of how these notions, even in a minor context, can stand rational thinking on its head can be found in those who felt that Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal NDP, had been "bought" by the Israel lobby due to the fact that he received a handful of relatively minor donations from some prominent figures within it and because his riding has a sizable alleged pro-Israel voting block. They saw him as an external threat to the NDP who was under the influence of external forces. They never considered the far more likely notion that these donors donated because of Mulcair's already existing beliefs, and  that Mulcair, who had been brought into the party in a leadership role by Layton, was a leadership contender not because of external forces, but due to forces entirely internal to the NDP that had been shifting the party for decades. Mulcair was a symptom, a part of a process, as opposed to the sole or even primary agent of this process. Otherwise, he would not have won the leadership.

(4) I realize that it is highly controversial to describe the 1 Percent slogan of the Occupy movement as a crass narrative or a conspiracy theory, though in every meaningful sense, if taken literally, it is. I have written about this before, and critiqued the slogan in a piece published on Rabble and republished here.  For those who have and who will claim that the slogan is just a rhetorical tool one only need point out that all such reductionist ideas are rhetorical flourishes. That does not make them any less false and nor does it change that fact that many in the movement or who are supportive of it will see it as the literal truth. A slogan that is basically false as a theory of society is not in the long-term interests of a genuine democratic movement.

(5) As Issac Asimov once said "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has  been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.""

(6) The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology, as part of its definition of social and systemic oppression puts it this way: " Relationships between groups and relationships between groups and social categories, should not be confused with the oppressive behavior of individuals. A white man may not himself actively participate in oppressive behavior directed at blacks or women, for example, but he nonetheless benefits from the general oppression of blacks and women simply because he is a white man. In this sense, all members of dominant and subordinate categories participate in social oppression regardless of their individual attitudes or behavior. Social oppression becomes institutionalized when its enforcement is so of social life that it is not easily identified as oppression and does not require conscious prejudice or overt acts of discrimination."

This piece was previously published on rabble.ca among other forums. 

Photo via wikimedia commons

For a related article please see: No exception for Assange: Rape apologetics and the left

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Waterloo County Cookbook with Mincemeat, Roasted Pig Tails & more! Vintage Cookbook Throwback Thursday

Vintage Cookbook: Waterloo County Cookbook, Marcella Wittig Calarco

Publication Details: Twin City Printing, 1980

I have a tremendous fondness for the Waterloo County Cookbook despite its relatively bare-bones presentation and lack of illustrations. It is representative of a style of folksy and down-to-earth community oriented cookbooks that were far more common a generation ago and that act as a snapshot of a place and time.

This particular cookbook is about a community in Ontario, the Kitchener-Waterloo community, and reflects the Central European and German backgrounds with which the region was and has been associated.

Broken into a variety of sections, where the cookbook truly stands out is in the section about "Waterloo County Specialties" that includes instructions for making Sauerkraut in five-gallon tubs at home!

Here we share some bread recipes, as well as some classics like Mincemeat and Cabbage Rolls, as well as some forgotten classics like Roasted Pig Tails.

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The Socialist Christian League - Leftist Throwback Thursday

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In an era when Christian politics, especially in North America, is so often identified with the right and the evangelical movement, it is easy to forget how significant a force Christian socialism has been in the history of socialism, exemplified by such figures as Tommy Douglas 

Here we see an outline of the "Basis" for the Socialist Christian League of the United Kingdom in the 1950's as well as its membership application. In part it says that the League "rejects the present Capitalist disorder as fundamentally anti-Christian and strives for the creation of an international Socialist order".

Sentiments like these can be seen more recently, as for example when Venezuelan Socialist leader Hugo Chavez said " Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation. If you really want to look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ—who I think was the first socialist—only socialism can really create a genuine society."

The Socialist Christian League ultimately merged with another group to become the Christian Socialist Movement. The thinker most closely associated with it is R.H. Tawney. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Another day...another ludicrous Conservative survey!

So...do you want a prosperous Canada...or a bankrupt one?
Today I received yet another ludicrous Conservative re-election flyer disguised as a "survey" from my MP, Bernard Trottier, a fellow whose greatest accomplishment these last four years sitting in the benches of the government has been maintaining a fairly nice coif that could almost compete with Trudeau's.

(I say almost...we all know no one in parliament...nay the entire country, can compete with Justin's hair.)

These surveys are humorously facile. Today's wanted to know if, you know, you thought the government should try to balance the budget or if you would rather say fuck that to Canada's "long-term prosperity"!

I wonder if you would get a card asking you to think about all those future Canadians yet to come if you actually returned it saying "No - It is not important to balance the Budget". I really love that the "no" response does not include "right now" or "next year" thereby implying by ticking it you are lending an open-ended endorsement to the notion that the government should never, ever, try to balance its books!

Just to make sure he gets the point across, Trottier asks again if he is "on the right track" in supporting balanced budgets. Well...no not really, but that is another discussion. Major propaganda props, Bernard, on the black-and-white framing though.

Are you one of these fine citizens...or a lazy fuck? 
The weirdest question, however, is saved for last -- the "Would you describe yourself as a..." question that gives four actually rather specific options, and then one ridiculously broad one.

So if you are not a "stay-at-home parent" or "parent of a child under 18" (all of the first would also be the latter!), are not a senior or did not serve in uniform for your country like a real patriot would have, are you at least a "Working Canadian" as opposed to, say, a lazy-shifty-good-for-nothing free-loading-fuck?

Keep 'em coming folks! These surveys are the funniest junk mail out there.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Pauper's Cookbook: A Cookbook for the People from the 1970's U.K.

Vintage Cookbook: The Pauper's Cookbook, Jocasta Innes
Publication Details: Penguin, multiple editions, 1970's

Today we are going to look at a remarkable cookbook that was published in the UK in the 1970's and that very much fits the theme of food posts on this blog.

Put out in a no-frills, largely unillustrated mass market pocket book edition, The Pauper's Cookbook by Jocasta Innes was aimed squarely at the people. It is the exact opposite of the lush cookbooks by Food Network celebrity chefs (and I am not knocking these, I own more than a couple of them) and is all about using basic ingredients and stretching the household food budget.The cookbook was published by Penguin and struck quite a nerve in the UK in its day, being reprinted several times (my copy is the eighth reprint).

The book is divided in sections that reflect its aim, starting with "Where the Money Goes" and following through with sections like "Getting to Know Your Oven" and "Padding", a section that "deals specifically with the art or science of stretching small quantities of food (and money) a bit further."   

The book includes many UK staples like Yorkshire Pudding, Toad-in-the-hole, Oxtail Stew, and "Stovies", as well as some more eccentric entries. It also runs the gambit from mains to soups and salads to desserts, with a full array of meat, fish, vegetable and poultry options. Most of the dishes are simplicity itself, and many have a wonderfully rustic element to them.

Today we will share two soup recipes; Celery Soup & Barley Kale Soup. As always these are shared exactly as they appeared in the original text.

Celery Soup

An excellent, easily made soup, which really tastes of the vegetable. Water and bouillon cubes can be used for the stock.

1 head celery, 1 large potato, 2 pints stock or 1 pint stock and 1 pint milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, butter\

Wash the celery thoroughly. If the head is small use all of it, if large you can keep the heart for a salad. Chop it roughly, leaves included. Peel and chop up potato. Melt a lump of butter in a deep pan and gently stew the vegetables in it till well coated. This preliminary stew-frying of the vegetables makes these soups richer and tastier. Now add the stock, bring to the boil, cover the pan and cook steadily for 45 minutes or until the celery is soft. It needs to be soft because you have to pass it through a sieve. After sieving, return to the pan, add the milk, stir well and heat through. Taste and add salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg. Just before serving, you can stir in a spoonful of milk or a little butter. 

Croutons go well with this.

Barley Kale Soup

An old Scots cottage recipe, and highly economical.

2 oz. pearl barley, 1 quart basic stock or water plus a mutton bone and a few scraps of meat, 1 lb. kale, 3 leeks, salt, pepper

Put the barley and stock, or water plus bone and scraps (the bone from the lamb joint would do very well) to simmer for about 3/4 hour or until the barley is tender, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Add the kale, washed and cut into thin shreds, with the coarsest stalks removed, also the washed and sliced leeks. Simmer till the vegetables are tender, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Before serving remove the bone and any unsightly scraps of meat.

These two terrific recipes pretty much embody the tone throughout; direct, no-nonsense and delicious! The book itself reflects a different time in publishing and cookbooks as well, and it truly aimed at the people and the working class.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


When Jonah was eight the doctor told us he was going to die.

The cancer was irreversible.


Janice cried for days.

All I can remember is putting Jonah in the backseat. Strapping him into the booster.

Nothing at first changing, yet all different. Looking into innocent eyes not knowing.

Am I sick dad?

How is it that a single brilliant sunset can seem eternal? Is it the grasping, the determination not to let the moment pass?

Six months before his...

Well, six months before, Jonah begged me to put him into the local baseball league.

Weak as he was.

Saturday after Saturday wondering why we were bothering. Volkswagen mini-vans to diamonds in parks across town.

He was truly very, very bad.

Couldn't catch a ball.

Never made a throw.

Struck out every time.

Thing was, last game of the season, team already out, stifling hot.

So skinny, so frail.

Refracted sunlight.

He got under it. He actually got under it. The only time.

Up late, final approach.

Janice and I all but done. Married in name only.

She angry...not at me, just angry.

You know, absolutely, he will never play in the big leagues, little leagues, any leagues.

I understood. But she was wrong.

He would play in a league. Of his own creation, yes. But nevertheless a league. And his moment would be as permanent as any from Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle.


A 4 foot tall Spartacus.

That's how, when I do, I recall him.

Roti or Naan Bread Pizzas: Fast & Fun!

My son preparing his "Pizza Roberto" for the oven! 

Frozen pizza, with very few exceptions, is fairly terrible. We buy it, when we do, usually because it is fast and easy. When it is on sale it can be affordable, but it is often not. Moreover, it is often made with inferior toppings and sauces that, especially after freezing, just don't taste that good.

While it is not entirely true, many feel that making a pizza from scratch is simply too daunting, especially after a day of work.

But today we are going to do a fast and very fun alternative that uses any fresh toppings of your choosing and that can involve the whole family. This is Roti or Naan bread personal sized pizzas.

Roti or Naan is Indian style flat bread. This is readily available, with the wonderful rise of multiculturalism, in many standard grocery stores or can be sought out in specialty ones.

While store bought roti or naan does not hold up to homemade, of course, it makes an excellent thin style pizza crust.

I like to use Pesto Sauce as a pizza sauce, and if you do you do not need to oil the bread. But if you are using a traditional pizza sauce, passata  or tomato sauce, you should brush on about a half teaspoon of olive oil over the side of the bread you are going to top. If  using the thicker naan, brush the edge of the bread as well.

Then top with your sauce, toppings and cheese or cheeses of choice. I like to spread a nice layer of pesto, top it with spicy soppressata (a type of Italian salami), anchovies,  some unpitted black olives and feta cheese.

Pictured here is a roti pizza with pesto, pepperoni, green olives, mushrooms and topped with mozzarella. But the options are endless. Top with whatever you like. It is really great to use seasonal vegetables, sliced thinly and brushed with oil as toppings. Zucchini for example!

One brand of roti or naan bread
The best part is that it is a great way to involve kids or friends in the making of the dinner. As long as you have a variety of toppings to chose from, everyone can make something they like.

Once you have assembled your pizza, place it directly on the oven rack and place the rack in the middle. If you can cook convection preheat to 375 degrees and cook until the roti or naan is golden brown (or, if you like, a slightly darker brown for a well done, crispy crust) and the cheese nicely melted.For the roti this will take about  3-5 minutes. The slightly thicker naan will take 5-7 minutes.

If you do not have a convection option on your oven, preheat conventional to 400 degrees. Either option, monitor the pizzas closely. Individual appliances really do vary. There is a world of difference between golden brown and black and burnt! After the first couple of pizzas, you will know your oven. As always, practice will make perfect.

So next time you want some fast, fun and actually delicious pizza, with the toppings you want, try this! And watch for a future blog on BBQed pizza!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Harper, Mulcair, May & Trudeau: They all support the "Tribute to Liberty"

Lately we have been hearing some loud "protest" from New Democrat,  Liberal and Green partisans and hacks sharing articles and statements online critical of and denouncing the hideous and absurd memorial for the "victims of communism" the Harper government has planned for Ottawa.

There is a large irony to this.

As with so many other issues that confront us today, the "opposition" of the "leaders" of the parties that these partisans are affiliated with has, in fact, enabled the narrative that led us here if not the exact grotesque monument itself.

While they may be critical of the placement and budget, all of the leaders of every "opposition" party in parliament has supported the essential idea of and supposed "need" for this offensive farce.

All of their reactionary and pandering letters are re-posted as they appear on the "Tribute to Liberty" website.

Yet again we see "progressive" politicians pandering to appallingly right wing ideas and accepting them as a given while then "opposing" them in some bourgeois technocratic way so as to play both sides (amend and repeal anyone!)

So, if you are one of these partisans for the "mainstream" parties, while critiquing Harper be sure to send a letter to your own precious leaders as well asking them to stop facilitating him.

As usual they are incapable of finding their own spines.

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1976's The Vegetable Book with Jerusalem Artichokes, Broccoli, Cream of Onion Soup & more: Vintage Cookbook Throwback Thursday

Vintage Cookbook: The Vegetable Book by Terence Conran & Maria Kroll

Publication Details: Collins , 1976 (with multiple editions after)

Subtitled "How to grow and cook your own vegetables" this terrific cookbook from the 70's sought to teach people how to do just that.

While not a vegetarian cookbook, in this one vegetables of all kinds are the focus. In addition to recipes centered around each specific vegetable there are also overviews on growing and preserving them.

The illustrations by David Fordham are also a standout.

Today we are featuring some of the "how to" pages as well as recipes related to Jerusalem Artichokes, broccoli, onions and more.

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Miller goes to Metro 1994 - Leftist Throwback Thursday

In 1994 David Miller, future Mayor of Toronto, was elected for the first time as the Metro level council member for the west end neighbourhood of High Park.

These were the four pages of the main brochure that he used during that campaign.

The Metro level, at the time, was a council that had members from across all of Toronto's districts and that was to oversee metro-wide services and programs, while the "cities" at the lower level, like North York, Toronto, Etobicoke, etc., had their own Mayors and councils. These were all amalgamated into the "Mega City" under Mike Harris in 1997.

Miller had run previously for Metro and lost. He also ran for the NDP federally in 1993 and came in a distant fourth. It was a time when social democratic fortunes in Ontario were at an all-time low due to the widespread unpopularity of the provincial NDP Bob Rae government.

This made Miller's victory in 1994, over two right wing candidates including future Harris and
Harper "star" Tony Clement, a small positive in a time of many reversals for Toronto NDPers.

Miller went on, of course, to be Mayor in 2003. Ultimately he ran a fairly centrist administration and he quit the NDP in 2007. Many of his administration's accomplishments, such as they were, were undone by the Rob Ford administration that followed him.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Smashed Potatoes and Crosshatched Rib Eyes

Today we are doing a true "meat and potatoes" recipe with smashed potatoes and crosshatched rib eyes done on a cast iron grill pan.

Crosshatching is a visually and texturally appealing method of cooking a steak that gives it those grill marks that we so like to see at restaurants, while smashed potatoes are a delicious and easy alternative to mashed potatoes.

To start off you want to get the potatoes going. Boil some unpeeled whole potatoes until just fork tender. This generally takes about 10 minutes, though this can vary with size. You want a fork to go in easily but for there still to be some resistance.  While they are boiling, prepare a flat baking tray and drizzle the surface of it with olive oil. Pat dry the potatoes and place on the olive oiled pan.

With a potato masher push down on each potato until it splits open and flattens, making sure not to actually mash it. You want them to look "smashed"!

Then brush each potato liberally with more olive oil,  and cover with salt and pepper to taste (though really, these are better well salted). You can also sprinkle them with other seasonings or herbs. I like to sprinkle French Fry Seasoning on them.

Place the pan on the high rack of an oven preheated to 450 degrees. You want to bake them until golden brown and wonderfully crispy, which takes around 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove your rib eyes from the fridge, brush both sides with olive oil and coat liberally with salt and pepper. Let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

To make crosshatched steaks on the stove top you need a ribbed cast iron grill pan. These are well worth investing in as they cook great steaks, pork or lamb chops, etc. The ribbing is the key to this. As years go by, if properly maintained and cleaned (no soap!) these become more seasoned as well. 

Heat the pan on medium-high heat (mark 6 or so) until thoroughly preheated. You want the steaks to really sizzle when they hit the pan.

Put the steaks on the grill pan in one direction. I cook steaks rare to rare medium. The steaks I was doing were around 3/4 of an inch thick. Cook them around 2 minutes, and then flip and do two minutes more. Then, flip again, rotating the steaks 90 degrees this time. Do them a further minute, flip again and fry another minute more, and remove to a platter. Let them sit 2-4 minutes before serving.

 If you like them more medium or medium well, or if they are a different size, then you will have to adjust times accordingly. Cooking steaks the way you want them every time takes practice, but ultimately the best and most universal method of telling when they are done is by their "give".

This meat and potatoes pairing is delicious, easy and a real crowd pleaser. Perfect with red wine and lemon wedges for the steak.