Monthly Archives: January 2010

Bacon


There is something inherently good about bacon.  To purgatory with broccoli, soy, wheatgrass or edamame, bacon is Nature’s Nearly Perfect Food.  It is the belly of a pig, cured in a salt brine, then smoked for your enjoyment.  Fried in a pan, the fat melts away, leaving goodness behind to titillate your taste buds with a symphony of four-part fatty harmonies overlaying the salty melody and a crunchy bass line. 

Be it from the belly, the side, the back, the jowl or even the shoulder, bacon is good.  If it weren’t for the inherent health risks, most of us, being honest, would eat bacon four times a day, every day.  Even those with dietary restrictions long for the beauty of bacon.  Why do you think some cultures brine, spice and smoke beef?  To approximate the taste of that most terrible of treyf:  Bacon.

Today, bacon is most commonly sold cooked and ready to eat.  Fourteen slices, or barely 200 grams that you can microwave for 11 seconds and put next to the eggs and toast.  Someone in a boardroom somewhere decided, after much market research, that we didn’t want a half kilo or a pound of bacon, we just wanted fourteen slices after cooking. 

We wouldn’t notice that each slice was cut so thin that it only had one side.  We wouldn’t notice that each slice was barely big enough to qualify for adhesive bandage membership.  We wouldn’t notice that the price per pound was up over $5.  We surely wouldn’t object if the actual product tastes almost exactly not like bacon at all, corners being cut for production convenience.  Most assuredly, we consumers would be amazed by the blazing beacon of bacon convenience, pre-sliced, pre-cooked and pre-measured for our convenience and their profit.     

Which is why today’s bacon is so distressing.  Bacon is not supposed to be so thin that your can do Thai shadow puppets through it.  A certain burger chain advertises their creation as having six strips of bacon.  If the measure ‘strip’ is equivalent to the lineal dimensions of the Penny Black stamp, yes, it has six strips of transparent smoked and salted pork-residue related product.  Bacon was created to have substance, heft and taste; not just of fat, salt and smoke, but also the taste of Pork. 

Bacon, until metrification stirred the waters in Canada, circa 1971, was sold by the pound.  454 grams of raw, salty, smoked Grace that you had to cook.  You could buy it unsliced, as a plate of bacon that you cut as thick as you wanted, or chopped it into cubes of Goodness for perogies. 

There was also the niche product called Green Bacon, salt brined (but not smoked) pork belly, which has gone MIA from the marketplace;  It is more profitable for the manufacturers to turn it into pseudo-bacon and shovel at us in a resealable package as part of a marriage proposal. 

By the way, notice the weight of that convenient resealable package of potential goodness.  Is is actually a metric-standard 500 grams?  Is it 454 grams, the convenient and familiar pound?  Nope, it’s less but still priced at what you would expect for a pound of bacon bliss.  It just looks like its a pound.  Read the label.

However, there are still some practitioners of the Noble Art of Bacon, who sell their products in your average supermarket.  You have to root around on the bacon altar to find them, but they’re there.  There is a PC-brand “Olde Fashioned – Farm Style” kilogram package that tastes like bacon, has enough heft per slice to have a full three dimensions and actually contains lean meat as part of the slice.  Occasionally some western brands sneak over the Ontario-Manitoba border that taste and look like bacon.  Frenchy’s comes to mind.

In Quebec, there are several producers that take their art seriously.  In the Spring, you can get Oreilles de crisse, which is brined, smoked and deep-fried pork jowl.  The literal translation from Quebecois is Christ’s Ears, but despite the confusing and disturbing moniker, it’s bacon:  Excellent, perfectly proportioned lean to fat to salt to smoke, bacon, served screechingly hot with eggs poached in amber #2 maple syrup.  Yes, it’s more calories than most people eat in a month, but once a year, it’s a dietary choice you make, then enjoy.   

There are regional brands that bring burning wood smoke near the pork bellies instead of showing four tons of frozen pork a photo of a smoker and yelling “Hickory”.  There is even a Bacon of the Month Club.  Look it up if you don’t believe it.

I have personally consumed artisanal oak-double-smoked bacon that transcends mere rhapsodic linguistic gymnastics to land and stick a half-gainer dismount onto the crunchy scented floor of Bacon Heaven outside Flavour Town:  A now-closed butcher shop made it in the back.  It wasn’t merely good Bacon; it was Communion.    

As chef and author Anthony Bourdain said: “God lives between the skin and the bone of a pig”  Amen Brother Tony.  Amen.

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Winter Prorogue


Back in the semi-drunk, food-coma before New Year’s Day, our esteemed Prime Minister, Stephen “Steve” Harper decided to prorogue Parliament.  He wrote up a note from himself excusing the government from school until March 3rd, drove across the street from 24 Sussex Drive and dropped the note off with the Governor General, Michael Jean.  In with the unopened Christmas cards and hidden in the preparations for the New Year’s Levee, someone slipped the note from Stevie for Her Excellency’s signature. 

Now, I’m not going to suggest our Governor General wasn’t paying attention, but hey, it’s the day before New Year’s Eve and everyone with a lick of sense has the mental cruise control engaged in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  That would include our G-G in that category, so she signed it.

What a prorogue is, in a parliamentary democracy for those who were sleeping in Civics class, is a break.  It shuts down the previous session, s-cans the previous bills and puts a happy bow on business.  Recess is a reasonable analogy, except that rather than coming back in from recess and resuming the six-times multiplication tables, it’s a recess that ends the school year.  Go outside, play some four-square, hockey cards or marbles, come back in and holy crap, it’s the first day of Grade 4 with Miss Welch as your new teacher talking about Uganda in Social Studies.

Stevie figured that taking the heat in Parliament for Afghanistan, the Economy, Jobs, a bottomless deficit and his generally hurtful vindictive demeanor would be a daily bummer on the news.  So, instead of taking the heat, standing in his Place as an elected representative of the people, our Prime Minister decided to be true to his form of micromanaging bully and take the dickless coward route: He wrote up a note, asking to be let out of school until March 3rd and to not have to do his homework either.

To keep this in perspective, let’s say you take the same route with your credit card company.  Write up a note saying you’re proroguing your payments to Visa for January and February and will resume giving a damn about them around March 3rd, 2010 and Visa can’t charge you interest, as you’re going to the Olympics.  After the laughter subsides, Visa will send over someone to knock some sense into you with a ball-peen hammer upside your head.

Unfortunately the problems with our Economy, Jobs, Afghanistan, the Deficit and now Aid to Haiti never got the memo from Stevie with the Get Out Of School card. 

This also means the collection of lame, halt and closed-head injured that compromise Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, can’t ask questions in Parliament, holding the PM and his groupthink meat puppets to some kind of standard of vague participatory parliamentary democracy. 

There is no accountability.  We now have an Emperor ruling by fiat, pronouncement and Order in Council.  

Haiti


I’m not entirely convinced I can write about Haiti without resorting to clichés, screaming out loud and then flailing at the ground impotently:  No one can, if we are honest.  The same emotions percolate around any tragedy, either manmade or natural.  Fear, anger, frustration, shame, guilt, sorrow and so on. 

The Haiti Earthquake is a natural disaster, one that could neither be foreseen or prevented, in an impoverished country, with a rickety political state and a cobbled together infrastructure that barely works at the best of times.  Aid has been pouring into Haiti for years, most of it skimmed off by the political elites to be resold to the truly needy at insane prices, or doled out as ‘cadeaux’ for various menial tasks, political favours or as expressions of loyalty. 

We don’t see that level of corruption here in the “Western” world.  We have that luxury of reasonable prosperity whereby we don’t have to bribe a cop to allow us in to see a doctor at a “Free” clinic, to get charitable medical treatment for easily preventable diseases like malaria, dysentery, or simple inoculations for uncomplicated illnesses.  We don’t see that every day, so we don’t have a frame of reference, or even a basic comprehension of the issues of the elemental struggling to stay alive that millions of Haitians have to face every day.

Which makes it doubly difficult to watch pundits and “our correspondent in Port-Au-Prince” bemoan riots at food distribution areas, uncontrolled lines of the terrified pushing and shoving to get a simple bottle of water, or bodies being piled across a street to get some attention from the authorities.  The people of Haiti are reacting the only way they can, if only to survive and it is not our place to complain, comment or bemoan their actions.  They have never known any other way, and have no other recourse.

Our reaction as “Westerners” should be to ignore the things we see as savage and inhumane, as our rules do not apply.  Haitian rules apply and we have to overlook much to bring our resources to bear to help as many as we can.  Much like the tsunami of a couple of years ago, or any of the hundreds of genocides (spin the wheel of African meltdowns and pick any name that comes up) we have to do what we can for basic human needs and let the rest of it sort itself out. 

Unfortunately, our media attention span is short.  Even in our own backyard, New Orleans, whole districts are still unrecovered, unrepaired and uninhabitable.  For those keeping score, Hurricane Katrina was in August 2005.  That would be more or less, four and half years ago.  We still, with all our ability, money, will, infrastructure, political machinery and public outcry, have not fixed New Orleans.  It will take at least a generation, under the best possible circumstances, to put New Orleans back together.

Which leads to the question:  If we can’t fix our own messes, what the heck makes us think we can fix Haiti in a week?  We can’t.  Nobody can.  That is where the frustration and the anger seeps in and we react badly as only well-fed, comfortable westerners can from the luxury of our living rooms.  The media know this and make sure we are fed a diet of outrage and incomprehension to both make us donate money and be pissy about it. 

Yes, Haiti is a tragedy of staggering proportions.  No, there is not way anyone can fix this in a week, a month, a year or even a decade.  About all we can do is donate money to reputable, compassionate aid organizations. 

The Red Cross is the most effective in these situations.  Be assured that there will be charity scams on their way to your email.  If you’ve never heard of them before, then odds are the charity is either a scam or being run by well-intentioned but less-than-skilled people who are in over their heads.

That’s about all you can do. 

Air Safety Theatre – Act II


With the capture of the latest shoe bombing nut, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab onboard a Delta flight to Detroit from Amsterdam, the Air Safety Bullshiite Theatre has moved into Act II.  In previous posts, we deconstructed the utter and complete failure of the TSA to find their ass with both hands and a roadmap.

In the name of ‘preventing terrorism’ the TSA is now pushing for full-body scanners that allow the security folks to see if you trim your Secret Garden, without asking you to disrobe, ostensibly to see if you’re packing hard to detect explosives in your underwear.  Looking further into the sound and fury, the real failure of the TSA or any of the other affiliated agencies, like the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security or even the local rent-a-cops, isn’t the technology, it’s the actual willingness to succeed.

The whole shoe bomber-terrorism game is set up so the terrorists only have to win once out of 100 tries, while the security folks have to win 100 times out of 100 to keep us safe.  The failure isn’t the game itself, as the game has always favoured the bad guys, but in how the good guys play the game.  Since 9/11 the security services have not played to win, as the game is a people game and not a technology game.  Technology can’t win a people game and terrorism is, once you boil it down, a people game:  One person getting around several dozen other people with something destructive.

Here’s the problem:  We know how to stop the bad guys getting on aircraft, but we don’t have the will to do what is needed to stop them.  El Al, the Israeli national airline, has an excellent record in preventing loons from getting on their aircraft.  They start their security screening the minute you buy a ticket or get out of the cab at the airport.  You get asked questions, lots of questions, repeatedly and forcefully by highly trained and well-paid security officers who are concerned with keeping their flights safe and nothing more:  They use people to solve a people problem.

El Al does passenger profiling.  They take anyone who looks or sounds like a potential threat aside for a serious grilling, inspecting and patting-down.  If that means someone with a Palestinian-sounding name, then that is what happens and El Al has taken significant heat for it.  El Al’s response is always the same:  If you don’t like it, don’t fly our airline.  Now, I’m not saying racial profiling is right, morally, but statistically, the math says racial profiling is very effective in keeping loons off aircraft.  Statistically, very few Mormons want to blow up airplanes for religious reasons.  Profiling is a moral conundrum that I can’t answer with any degree of comfort.

The other steps El Al takes to keep their aircraft safe include stringent background security checks and actual monitoring of anyone who goes near the aircraft, including fuellers, ramp rats, groomers and maintenance workers.  Is every piece of cargo on that aircraft inspected?  Yes, as well as x-rayed until it glows in the dark.  El Al does security they way it does because they know it works:  They use people to solve a people problem. 

So can we make flying safe?  Most certainly we can.  Hire suspicious, grumpy people to constantly question why someone is near an aircraft, what is going on the aircraft, or into the aircraft.  Give them the power of police officers, pay them a very good wage and make them Federal employees.  Let them loose and tell the airlines they’re paying half the cost.  It will mean pissing off the airlines who will moan about government getting in the face of private business, but do you want to fly safely or not?

If the price of an airline ticket has to go up, then the price of an airline ticket has to go up, but it goes up for all the airlines, across the board.  Guess what?  Passengers can look at the in-your-face stringent security and say “Yep, I’m paying for this as part of my taxes and my ticket.  It sucks, but that’s the price.”  And yes, it will have economic effects.  Not as many people will be flying, or be willing to pay the price to fly, which is not necessarily a bad thing when you look at the larger picture. 

If, and assuming the American fixation on technology solutions to people problems holds true, the back-scatter imaging stations will be all over airports sooner rather than later.  This means some poor TSA hump making $10 a hour will be locked in a private room staring at freakishly hued images of your more or less naked body every time you fly somewhere.  Yes, it will be a great job when the Hawaiian Tropic All-Girl Beach Volleyball Team is flying to Cleveland, but that’s a once a year deal.   

Will it be exciting, stimulating and sexy work?  Go look around any shopping mall and see if there are more than one out of a hundred fellow shoppers you’d actually want to see naked.  I will suggest that there are probably more people that you would gladly pay money to not see naked.

The TSA could always hire online one-handed typists who could really enjoy that kind of work, but that is a very small subset of a very small subset.  A combination of the outstanding restraining orders and the inability to leave their parents’ basement would preclude most of the possible candidates from applying for the job.  Alternatively, we could outsource the real-time image review to a call centre in Uttar Pradesh, where nobody will be stimulated by the naked image of Aunt Hazel, unless she breaks into a Bollywood dance number.

Which leaves us exactly where?  A technological solution to a problem with people who want to blow up aircraft, which would be exactly no solution. 

The reason they’re pushing for a technology solution is money of course.  It’s hard to make outrageous amounts of money with a people solution to a people problem.  Pushing ‘magic’ technology means you can charge outrageous amounts of money for it and, with the right level of paranoia in the air, the government will buy it. regardless of the cost, in the name of keeping us safe. 

It doesn’t solve the problem of air safety, but makes for good theatre.