Why We're Stuck With President Trump
The reason why we're all stuck with Trump: Obama didn't do enough. Sad, but there are enough people in the country who feel left out, who feel they've been ignored and forgotten by the Powers That Be. Obama was elected because he promised "change." He accomplished some stuff, but not enough. Many, many people are afraid they're going to lose their current lifestyle – their jobs, their homes, their families, what have you. To many of these people, the current status quo wasn't doing enough. They want the system to be shaken, enough so they feel safer and more secure – in general, not because "the Mexicans" or "ISIS" or "Insert Enemy Name Here" are out to get them. Hillary represented the status quo. She was going to adjust the current system, and that wasn't enough. The popular support for Bernie Sanders was that he was running against the status quo – against "Wall Street," which is easily seen as the status quo. If Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, he would have kicked Trump out because he was running against the status quo, and he's a better person than Trump. But Hillary managed to grease the Democratic party enough in her favor – as the Wikileaks emails reveal – that Bernie was rejected and she became the Democratic candidate. No one would have believed her if she ran on a platform of "massive change," because her whole career demonstrated otherwise. The stupid email server thing was a way for people to attack her, yes. But if she had been a legitimate outlaw and game-changer, the way Trump was seen to be, the email stuff wouldn't have mattered any more than the crap about Trump's put-downs of everyone around him (especially women, other communities, Mexicans, Muslims, "the blacks" as he says, etc.). Hillary wasn't going to change things, and so people felt any other choice was better…and they went for Trump.
They went for Trump because the country is still a two-party system. The people want things shaken, but not massively broken and started over from scratch as the third parties want. So they went for Trump. The crap about Trump's terrible behavior wasn't enough to stop him, because he was seen as the guy who would shake things up the way people wanted, and want them, to be shaken up. And there was enough of this popular outrage against the status quo to get Trump in. Obama was given another chance to "change" in 2012 (and he was re-elected because Mitt Romney was more of the same, but even worse), but he didn't do enough. So, we ended up with Trump. Now we have to put up with him for four years. He'll probably make a mess, he'll probably cause a lot of damage. But if the Democrats don't recognize this and find a way to really, really shake things up and really change things for the people by 2020, then Trump will stay.
And for the record, I voted for Hillary because I abhorred Trump's character. I still do. I didn't want Bernie because I personally object to a number of his policies. But if he had been the Democratic candidate, I would indeed have voted for him because I do abhor Trump. However, regardless of my own opinion, the general, popular feeling was that Bernie represented enough people that, if he had ran, he would have shaken up the status quo enough to get in.
This situation was an eye opener for me, because I'm a political neophyte. I hope it's an eye opener for many people. Two little comments about the current protests saying "Trump isn't my President:"
I found this video after writing this little piece, I promise: A Trump Victory: How It Happened
As with any hobby, there are niches and cliques where the hardcore geeks get into shouting arguments over the silliest little details. In cast iron, I'm a geek and nerd for Birmingham Stove and Range, a brand that went out of business in 1992. I enjoy the fact that these cast iron pans are great users, and I'm fascinated by the history and the mystery of this company. Posted on the Facebook group for Birmingham Stove & Range cast iron:
"I know of one person running a Facebook group - not this one, but I'll not mention the name because I don't want to cause arguments over this - who suggested it's the fault of research on groups like this one that eBay prices for things like BS&R are going up. It's certainly true that eBay speculators are gathering up this information and using it to jack up the prices of their listings. Now on eBay you can see folks trying to sell "BSR Red Mountain - RARE S SERIES!!!" and the like. However, I actually prefer this state of affairs for one reason: the history and the information is being preserved and not lost. Folks like Saunders and Hugh aren't going to live forever – no offense, folks! smile emoticon – and those of us who know and enjoy BS&R would rather see the legacy of this company live on in the future, even in the heritage of its cookware. Besides, much of those eBay listings are from speculators who use any excuse to inflate their prices. In general, eBay is far overpriced and often (not always, but often) not to be trusted. The best prices can still be found in the vintage treasure hunt; but it's especially because eBay is overpriced that the Facebook selling groups like Iron Man, Patriot Cast Iron and Black Iron are becoming as popular as they are. Besides, there are speculators and shysters out there, no matter what we do. Just yesterday in Sweetwater, Tennessee, I came across a guy running an antique store who knew his iron…sort of. He kept pushing me to look at his Griswolds and Wagner, and showed me a very impressive Etowah with lid that he was selling for $250. Heaviest skillet I've ever held, including older spiders - it was an impressive piece. That same guy was selling a fake Griswold #0 at a price of $39.95. I pointed out to him that it was a fake, and he nodded with a smile and said he knew that. He didn't make any hit that he'd be dropping his price, either. This Facebook group can't be blamed for that, not in any way. I did find a rather rusty Century No. 8-B (7) there and bought it from him for $10, because he obviously didn't know what it was. It's doubtful he'd ever know BS&R because he wasn't a specialist in the history of cast iron; just an antique vendor following the trends and the hot brand names."
Regarding the so-called "right to know" argument for labeling GMO foods: We do not have any "right to know" based on conspiracy theories and scare stories. That's all the GMO "controversy" is: scare stories based on conspiracy theories. We do not have a "right to know" about deadly GMO toxins in our food - because there aren't any.
And that is why we do not have a "right to know" about toxic GMO ingredients in our food. There aren't any.
I recently acquired and restored a gate-marked 19th century 8-quart dutch oven, and this weekend I'm going to give it away to a family in New Hampshire. I can't post this on the group because we've been discouraging giveaways to strangers, and I can't post this on my own Facebook because they're on my friends list and will see it. So, I have to confess here.
These are new friends I visited for the first time last week. They're very nice people, and they live in poverty because they are struggling to recover from some very tough times – they were both homeless and drug users for a while, until they met one another, cleaned up and married, and had two kids. One of the toddlers is autistic; and they have several health issues themselves. When I saw in their kitchen that they only have one small cast iron skillet, I felt I needed to make a donation to help them out. Among other things, they need more cast iron for cooking to increase their iron intake. So, I'll be visiting them on Sunday to give them the big 8-quart pot, a Lodge chicken fryer, and a Lodge 12-inch skillet. I also have a spare chef's knife to replace their dollar-store kitchen knife. None of these had been acquired at great cost; the chef's knife was purchased for $5 at a flea market, and I've been working to get it sharp and in working condition.
Meanwhile, the main reason for giving away the gate marked pot is because I already have a BS&R #10 sized dutch oven, which is about the same size. Having two cast iron pots of the same size would mean one of them would gather dust while the other was used. Given a choice, I'd prefer the BS&R because it's a lot thicker, and I prefer thick iron for use. Also, I'd only paid $15 for the gate marked pot – it was an exceptional bargain. So, I'm really not losing a lot of money by giving this stuff away to friends who need them.
Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.
Some silly thoughts pass through my mind as I'm driving to work in the morning. This morning, I found myself thinking of Santa Claus and the problems he might face in the 21st century – especially since kids could leave their webcams on in an attempt to catch him in the act and prove that he really does exist. What would you do if your kids said to you, "Daddy, can you leave the webcam on so we can see Santa when he comes?"
Now, I should say that I have two adorable nieces (my wife's sister's daughters) who are ages four and two. The oldest one has just reached the age where she knows about Santa and his yearly visits, and she has been mesmerized by all of the Rankin-Bass Christmas TV specials as they've aired on TV this year. She can barely contain her excitement about Christmas and the presents she's going to get. So this morning, I got to thinking: What if we got Mommy and Daddy to turn on the webcam and record Santa's visit for the girls?
Unfortunately, my sister-in-law isn't enough of a Net geek to even have a webcam; and if I offered to let her borrow mine, she'd most likely refuse because she knows very little about it. So alas, we won't have the opportunity to record Santa's visit this year. But even so, I thought about ways to make this happen as I drove to work this morning. So here's my suggestion to you: maybe YOU could surprise your kids by recording Santa on your webcam.
Here's what to do: First, you'll need a Santa suit (or a relative wearing a Santa suit), a webcam, and a recording program. Set up the cam at an angle so that it can capture most of the view of your living room and Christmas tree – but not the entire room, so that there are still areas where people could sneak around without being caught on camera.
Place the kids' gifts in a couple of sacks (pillowcases and laundry bags should suffice). You may want to ensure that the kids sleep through this little show, so be sure to give them turkey sandwiches and maybe a sip of wine (if you agree with the idea of kids having a special sip of wine on Christmas), to ensure they fall fast asleep. Set up and test the webcam, and show the kids that you're going to sneak a picture of Santa for them.
Wait until the appropriate time – it doesn't have to be too late in the evening; maybe an hour or so after the kids are asleep. And when the time comes, you get to put on a show for them. You can record Santa sneaking into the house (through the front door, that is – after all, he has a special golden skeleton key that can open any lock), bringing his sack to the Christmas tree, and unloading it. (He may have to take two or three trips, if you're the type of family who lavishes your kids with tons of presents at Christmas!) Of course, since Santa loves his work, he will be jolly and happy as he unloads his pack. Then, just as he is ready to leave, Santa can suddenly notice the webcam and come take a close look at it…and laugh with delight, realizing that he is on camera. Finally, in a move that will really blow your kids' minds, Santa would then take a couple of candy canes out of his coat, show them to the camera, and sneak off-camera towards the kids' rooms. After a minute or so, he comes back in sight of the camera, waves happily, and exits out the front door.
When the kids wake up the next morning, they would find candy canes under their pillows. And when you play back the webcam and they see Santa in their own living room, they should be excited and joyful in a way that you yourself will remember for the rest of your life.
And be sure to upload the video to YouTube!
(A repost of an old Usenet message from eight years ago…)
Trying to link it all together. RSS feed for my Google+ page: gplusrss.com/rss/feed/2b99e53a8c661808ab1f28107c49ad5e5421fda08f24e
After all this time, I finally have a working Twitter feed for my Web site. Welcome to the Internet.
The "Food Babe" has a bachelor's degree in computer science, and before she became a radio personality she was a banking consultant. She is not an expert in genetics, in chemistry, in biology, in botany, or in anything whatsoever to do with food, nutrition, or food safety. Her mantra is "don't eat anything you can't pronounce," which is an admission of ignorance and outright stupidity. (I'd better stop taking acetylsalicylic acid, a.k.a. aspirin.) What she has learned is how to get attention for herself by scaring people with conspiracy theories, scare stories, nonsense, and outright lies – that's why she's become a prominent figure in the "alternative medicine" field and frequently appears with dangerous quacks like Mike Adams (Natural News), Joseph Mercola, and of course Alex Jones. And, sadly, people believe her and follow her every word…then declare the rest of the world to be "sheeple" who need to "wake up." I refuse to step into a Whole Foods Market or shop the "organic" section of my local supermarket because of this misguided hysteria that "natural is good and processed is bad." Thanks for nothing, Food Babe.
The tale of my trip to the Brimfield Antique Show on May 17, 2014:
On Saturday morning, I cleaned out the electrolysis tank and refilled it with fresh solution (tap water and washing soda). I kept the Erie kettle there for a full 36 hours, and took it out last night. The results were much more satisfactory.
The Erie kettle was in the lye tank for a full three weeks, and that appears to have taken most of the paint off. I took it out of the lye on Wednesday, scrubbed it with steel wool and Barkeepers Friend, and I've had it in electrolysis over the past two nights. However, I don't think my electrolysis setup is doing a good job: I can barely get 2 amps of current in my tank with the 12-volt 10-amp charger, and there have been hardly any bubbles or foam despite all of my efforts to improve it. Yesterday morning I scrubbed off a lot of black paint residue (and got it all over myself); this morning there was hardly any paint coming off, though there were still rust stains. Until I can figure out what I'm doing wrong with the electrolysis, I'm going to fill the inside with a 50-50 vinegar-water solution tonight and let it soak until tomorrow evening. That should clean up the inside, at least.
Fortunately, I haven't discovered any cracks; so the indication is this pot can be cleaned up to the point where it can safely cook again.
The markings on the bottom of the pot are more legible; there's some pitting, but not too much. The writing on the bottom can be seen as: "ERIE" PATD. MAR 19, 1891. 827 8.B.
The initial discovery of this huge 1890s-era Erie (Griswold) stovetop kettle: April 14, 2014
If I hadn't seen this one, I wouldn't have believed it. Last week I'd mentioned the once-famous, and now gone, Spag's market in Worcester, Massachusetts has recently re-opened as an antique marketplace. I dropped by there again today to look around. I was on the lookout for old kitchen knives, and didn't find anything satisfactory (one that looked nice, but too small for my needs)…and then, I came across this. This is a huge cast iron pot, measuring about 11 inches deep and 13 inches across at the widest point. I've seen these a number of times at antique shops in many locations, but without exception these pots have been rusty and cracked, often with holes punched in the bottom to make them into planters; essentially worthless. Except that this one…wasn't. AND, it was at a price far, far lower than one would expect for an iron pot of this sort. Antique vendors usually slap a ridiculously high price on a pot of this size because of the ongoing belief that "old is good, big is good, therefore old and big is better." I picked it up and examined it closely for cracks, and could not find any. The pot had been painted on the outside and inside, and brush marks indicated this was not a manufacturer's paint job. What's more, there was a mark on the bottom, partially obscured by rust or pitting. All I could tell was this: ER-- (maybe Erie), 82A, 8B, and something in the center that appeared to be -ARDMAN—-. I've been burned before, when I acquired a huge gate marked enameled pot last year that turned out to have lead in its structure. So, the first thing I did with this one was get a lead paint test from Lowes hardware. I tested both swabs on the pot, inside and outside. Both came out negative! So that means I can treat this one in the lye bath, and see if it can be restored.
According to the Cast Iron Cooking group, this piece is likely a Griswold (Erie) Flat Bottom Bulge Kettle, which can be dated to somewhere from the 1890s to before 1910.
If you want a cure for insomnia, it would be hard to top this: a half hour video of me, talking and talking about antique cast iron pans.
So, I accidentally stumbled across the reason why I was banned from Reddit. After six years on Reddit, someone posted my name to a board especially for "reporting spammers." There was even a comment on this board that expressed surprise I'd been on Reddit for six years. Based on the number of votes, two people said yes and one said no. And just like that, I was banned from Reddit. I emailed them several times asking for an explanation, and never received a reply. Then, over a year later, I came across this entry by accident, as no one had informed me of it. www.reddit.com/r/reportthespammers/comments/12ir74/modemac/
It seems as though each year I start off by saying how the New Year will be better than the last one was, and then the year proceeds to suck. That certainly seems to have been the case for 2013. This year is ending in the wake of a lot of disappointments: I went to visit friends and had good times; then I returned home to consequences that practically ruined the experiences and cost me at least one good friend, who is now trying to smear my Web site as "Satanic" and dangerous to young children (and doing a poor job convincing anyone of this). This was after I spent most of the year preparing for the National DOG, which I enjoyed immensely; but thanks to this stupidity, I have to selectively edit my own memories of that trip to preserve any semblance of the good feelings from there. Meanwhile, my travels earlier this year to conventions were fun, but lacking; I don't see myself returning to to the convention scene again. Even seeing Nine Inch Nails turned out to be a disappointment, as Trent Reznor has proven himself to be pussy-whipped ever since he got married. Meanwhile, I've had to redouble my efforts at work to be a properly subdued cubicle slave, and I'm no longer cooking for the office. Considering this, the only genuine success I can claim for this year has been the explosive growth of the Cast Iron Cooking group.
I suppose I can be glad that I still have a job (barely), I still have a home, and I still have my health. If this sounds whiny and pathetic – welcome to my life.
It's a wonderful 18 degrees Fahrenheit right now, with the temperature expected to be in the single digits tonight. I'm definitely not in a mood to go and brave these temperatures in Boston tonight, so I've been at home, cooking. So far I've made a sirloin roast with vegetables, cooked using rendered duck fat reserved from making roast duck last week. A loaf of bread is in the oven right now, with 15 minutes to go. Cooking always makes me feel better, and that should at least help me to say goodbye to 2013 in a good mood. At least it's over – that's certainly something to celebrate.
As an outside observer (since I have no intention of converting to Islam), I’ve been fascinated by the mystery and tradition of the Hajj, the Muslim holy pilgrimage to Mecca. There’s a rich history behind this annual ritual, and a great attraction to it because of the way it makes all of the pilgrims equal – rich or poor, regardless of nationality. Or rather, that’s how it used to be. Within the space of a mere ten years, the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia has transformed the holy city of Mecca into the world’s largest, most expensive, and probably gaudiest luxury resort and shopping mall. Pilgrims aren’t going on the Hajj anymore; they’re taking a vacation trip to Kaaba Land, the Holiest (instead of Happiest) Place On Earth ™. So when crowds in Iran shout “Death to America” these days, they’re ignoring their own hypocrisy of how they allowed their own culture to be subverted and destroyed by modern-day greed and commercialism. See also:
As I drove to work today, on a day that I’d scheduled for vacation but had to cancel because the boss asked me to come in and work, the following songs played on my iPod. This was in shuffle mode, and these came on at random:
On this day of all days, I could read something into that.
I've been working on a lot of cast iron restoration over the past few days. About a month ago, I took two cracked gate-marked cast iron skillets to a welder and had them sealed. At this moment, the smaller of the two pans is in the oven on its second coating of seasoning; while the larger pan with the wonderfully elaborate handle is in electrolysis right now. With any luck, I'll be able to begin seasoning it tomorrow evening. All of this has put me into a routine, in which I've developed a method that appears to avoid flash rust: when the pan comes out of the lye bath or electrolysis, scrub it thoroughly in the sink with soap, then rinse all of the soap off to leave bare metal. At this point quickly towel dry it, then apply a coating of vegetable oil to the entire surface of the pan, top and bottom, immediately so as to block oxidation. From there, place it on the stovetop burner at low-to-medium heat, in order to thoroughly dry it without burning on the vegetable oil. After twenty to thirty minutes, turn off the burner and let the pan cool off completely. This appears to solve the problem of flash rust: from here, the pan is covered with a layer of oil that prevents rust. I don't consider this to be seasoning, but it lets me leave the pan on the stovetop in this state for a day or more before I get around to properly seasoning it, using Jeff Rogers' method. Over the next couple of days, I give it two coats of vegetable shortening seasoning, then for the third seasoning I melt on beeswax, and season that in the oven at a slightly higher temperature (425 degrees F). And finally, after this comes a fourth layer of seasoning, again with vegetable shortening. I might even do a fifth layer after that, if I feel like it. The entire process takes time, as it's spread out over several evenings of work (since I work at the office during the day).
The gate-marked cast iron pans: www.facebook.com/groups/castironskillet/permalink/549889515094888/
(Hello to the folks from the "Cast Iron Cooking, Classifieds and Hellraising" group who are reading this blog in order to laugh at my crazy "magic" bullshit. This one is probably going to make you think I'm completely batty.)
A first draft:
During the 1990s, I was an outspoken opponent of the Church of Scientology, and I enthusiastically participated in the criticism and opposition to the organization, labeling it as a cult and openly deriding its efforts to keep its "secret" OT Levels I to VIII (Operating Thetan) documents private. This was nearly twenty years ago, as I write this (in October of 2013). I've learned some things in the years since then, and my perspectives and beliefs have changed somewhat. First of all, I will state that I do not "hate" Scientology with the vigorous and venomous enthusiasm I had in the 1990s. I still know for a fact that the organization itself is an elaborate sham, designed to destroy the lives of its practitioners in order to make money for the ruling elite of the Church of Scientology. This, sadly, is still true.
Meanwhile, in the past few years, I've been researching and experiencing techniques in meditation, including mental exercises meant to assist with meditation. This is what brought me into the realm of Chaos Magic. Much of the practice of Chaos magic involves the use of focusing exercises, in order to reach a state of spiritual awareness usually referred to as gnosis. At this point, it is that a "magical" effect can be enacted. How much of this is truly "magical" is open to personal interpretation, and that's one of the aspects of Chaos magic that I like. However, in exploring the methods and techniques of meditation, I've come to the realization that this is very similar, if not identical, to the techniques practiced in Dianetics and the secret "upper levels" of Scientology.
In other words, it is possible to state: Dianetics and Scientology are not science - they are magic.
L. Ron Hubbard devised a series of pseudo-scientific trappings to dress up magickal ritual, and he called it the "science" of Dianetics.
The basic practice of Dianetics is that of an "auditor" trained in the use of a Scientology E-meter. The auditor asks questions and encourages the practitioner ("preclear") to close his or her eyes, relax, and enter a state of "dianetic reverie" – in other words, meditation or self-hypnosis. From here, the auditor asks a series of questions designed to re-create incidents in the preclear's life. This is monitored through the use of the E-meter, which supposedly detects the occurrence of "engrams" created by these incidents that occurred over time.
(The actual functioning of the E-meter is a matter of considerable controversy. I agree with those who say it actually detects physical impulses, the body's electrical activity, and the like. In terms of magical activity, I would say the E-meter is not actually necessary.)
Over time and repeated auditing sessions, the preclear eventually reaches a state of "clear," in which these "engrams" have been supposedly cleared out of his or her psyche. The state of clear is not unlike the state of gnosis that practitioners of magic look to achieve.
However, this simple form of meditation and self-hypnosis is only the first step, and the "magical" aspect is actually well hidden. The plunge into the realm of "magic" comes when the preclear achieves the state of Clear. At this point, the Church of Scientology then begins pressuring the initiate to advance into the further levels of Scientology, and reach for the level of OT (Operating Thetan). It's here where the "magic" of Scientology really comes into play.
When Scientology's critics claim that Hubbard actually used "black magic" when he designed the system of Scientology, they were actually correct. There have been reports that after World War II, Hubbard spent some time with Jack Parsons (and even briefly met Aleister Crowley, who wasn't especially impressed), and spent some time engaging in occult rituals. This was likely the basis for Hubbard's foundations in magickal ritual, which he later worked into the foundations of Scientology. Hubbard devised a system of self-hypnosis with Dianetics, and he cloaked it in the facade of "science." After the Dianetics fad died off, he took on the "religion" angle and developed the system of Scientology. The methods of focusing and "creating your own universe" within Scientology are, in fact, the same techniques used in the practice of magic.
One of the basic mantras repeated by Hubbard (which he called "axioms") is a statement that is one of the basic assumptions of magic: If it's true for you, then it's true. This is the idea of the power of belief, and it is one of the fundamental ideas of magic.
Hubbard devised the system of Scientology to address the "spiritual" aspect of oneself. Scientology begins with the assumption that "you are a spirit" – a thetan – and moves on from there. (A lot of this had to do with Hubbard creating a "religious" system in order to remain non-profit, but I won't get into that here.) While Dianetics looks at engrams and "incidents" that supposedly occurred over the course of a person's life, Scientology looks at "past lives" – and it is here that the magical aspect of Scientology flowers into full bloom. Scientology addresses the "spirit," and it is looking at the same unknown aspect of ourselves that we cannot codify or define: the part of oneself that makes up our personality, our creativity, and our consciousness. It's here that "magic" resides.
The basic system of Scientology practice uses an expanded version of Dianetic auditing: the E-meter is still used, and an auditor is still involved; though now they are using the E-meter to (supposedly) audit "thetans" (spiritual or past life incidents) rather than "engrams" (psychological incidents). The exercises of the "secret" OT Levels also consist of mental exercises that fairly reek with the idea of magical ritual. Because the Church of Scientology's is well known for attacking anyone who even hints that they may have a copy of their "unpublished, copyrighted, undocumented trade secret" materials, I am not suggesting you obtain a copy of the OT documents for yourself. Fortunately, there are sites on the Internet that offer legal summaries of the OT writings, such as the OT Archive at Operation Clambake. An examination of the OT materials will show that this is essentially magical meditation: it involves "projecting your intent," "thought beams," "placing yourself in other beings," and other aspects of magical concentration that are regularly seen in rituals and incantations.
If you want a look at one of the strangest and most hysterical works of "non-fiction" ever written, track down a copy of L. Ron Hubbard's book Have You Lived Before This Life? This book is the result of Scientology auditing sessions that address the incidents that supposedly occurred in the past lives of Scientologists, including incidents that took place on other planets, in other galaxies, and often dating back millions or billions of years. Looking at this book from the view of Chaos magic, I realize that Hubbard did exactly what Chaos magicians do when they create magical entities and assume their aspects. Through Scientology auditing, Scientologists are practicing magic of the same sort seen in many rituals and cast spells. Hubbard created a magical effect in his subjects, causing them to experience gnosis and invent images and "memories" exactly in the same manner that magicians engage in astral projection, create magical realms, and populate those realms with magical entities. The past lives of Scientology, the other universes, and the other galaxies and planets all existed within the realm of magic, and Scientologists are using their "advanced tech" to travel there and visit these realms. It's not science – Have You Lived Before This Life? is not a document of the actual scientific history of this universe. (For that matter, neither is Hubbard's other famous "historical" work, A History of Man.) Rather, it's magic. It exists in the mind of the Scientologist, and as such it is as true as he or she believes it to be.
This is the summation of my theory: that Scientology is actually a kind of magic – a magickal system devised by L. Ron Hubbard especially to benefit himself. He cloaked it in the guise of "religion" in order to escape prosecution and taxation, but its basis actually formed on magic.
This also explains why some former Scientologists still claim to have found a benefit from Dianetics and Scientology.
Of course, there's one fundamental, inescapable difference between the magic practiced at the Church of Scientology, and magic practiced by pagans and magicians worldwide. That, of course, is the fact that the Church of Scientology charges thousands of dollars for this magical training. The rituals and magic exercises provided to Scientologists come at an astounding cost, and the entire structural system of the Church of Scientology is designed to keep Scientologists trapped within the system, paying for a level of magical expertise that could just as easily be achieved for free, or at a far lower cost, by embracing a different magickal path.
Today I brought my 19th century enameled cast iron pot to an environmental testing service, in order to determine once and for all if the makeup of the pot was infused with lead. The result was some bad news: the pot did indeed contain lead, in both the enamel and the iron itself. I found it hard to believe, but that was what the results showed.
Lead was a common additive to the makeup of enamel and vitreous glazes, all the way to the 1970s when regulations on lead content and lead removal were enacted. Because of this, when I acquired a huge 14-quart cast iron pot with an enameled interior (from the Marietta, Pennsylvania foundry; with an estimated manufacturing date of the 1850s through the 1870s), it was suggested I have the enamel checked for lead content before I tried any serious cooking with it. The question of lead in antique cast iron has dogged enthusiasts and collectors for a long time; and I decided to find out once and for all. So, I made an appointment to take the pot to a professional environmental testing service today, in an office park located in Woburn, Massachusetts. I arrived at a small classroom where a training course for professional lead paint and chemical inspectors was taking place. The instructor greeted me and I placed the pot on a table at the head of the class, and he took out a case containing a very high-tech X-ray gun, one that he claimed had a cost of about $40,000. According to him, this device is used by manufacturers of airline parts, and it was really heavy duty. He placed the gun inside the pot on the bottom of the cooking surface, and ran it for about thirty seconds or so. I could see a faint florescent light at the point where the device contacted the surface of the pot. Finally, he lifted the gun out of the pot, and used a digital screen on the top of the device to read the lead content of the enamel. First of all, a red warning on the digital screen gave a "FAIL" reading, along with a number. The instructor explained that current government EPA standards for lead content in construction allow a limit of "nine parts per million." The lead content in the enamel of the pot: "over two thousand parts per million." Next, he took one of those lead testing sticks that you can buy in a hardware store, and tested the surface of the pot to determine if it was leeching lead. The testing stick did not change color at all, and it did not detect any lead on the surface of the pot. This meant the lead was infused in the structure of the enamel itself. So as far as cooking with this pot was concerned, his words were, "I wouldn't eat from it." He then told a little scare story about how scientists had exhumed the body of a man hung for murder in England, and found a high lead content in his body – "No wonder he was so bad."
From here, he then took the X-ray gun and used it on the outside of the pot, where there was nothing but bare iron. The result of this test: it still failed. He told me that it was extremely unlikely the gun could penetrate a quarter inch of heavy iron and read the enamel inside the pot; therefore, the iron itself was infused with lead. This was a real eye-opener to me, and I asked, "I thought lead would boil away during the manufacturing process?" He said, "They added lead to make it more malleable."
So as a result, I am now the owner of an antique cast iron pot that would be little more than a display piece if I were to keep it. While there is next to no chance of any lead from this pot contaminating anything, just from casual contact, it would be a different matter entirely if I cook in it.
I have to admit I was surprised to be told that a cast iron pot could indeed have lead infused in the metal itself. However, I am a strong believer in scientific proof, and I'm not going to reject the result of this test just because I don't like it. It certainly does give pause for consideration, nonetheless.
Given the results of today's testing, I need to make statements about two subjects related to this:
First of all, I am not cancelling the Cast Iron Cooking video contest because of this. I had decided to give away my Lodge 12-inch camp oven especially because I had acquired this antique pot for cooking. Nonetheless, I am not an Indian giver. I had promised to give the Lodge camp oven to the winner of the contest, and I will still do so. I don't have many opportunities to cook outside, anyway, and as such the Lodge pot has not seen a lot of use. So rather than let it take up space, I'll still be giving it away.
In spite of the statement that there was lead within the iron itself, I remain convinced bare and unenameled cast iron is safe for cooking. The statement "they added lead to make it more malleable" would be seen more for purposes of heavy construction where iron was meant to be withstand heavy pressure without cracking, such as in the making of wrought iron girders and beams for building construction – not with kitchen utensils. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that slag removal is a standard part of the Bessemer process of making cast iron, which had been in regular use since the 1850s to 1860s. (See also: Wikipedia - ''Bessemer process''.)
Meanwhile, there's another question to address: does this have any effect on my recent, frequent, and determined statements about cast iron from China being free of lead? Upon consideration of this, I state the following: No, cast iron from China STILL doesn't contain lead. Why not? Because this test today was from a cast iron pot made around one hundred and fifty years ago. Manufacturing technology has come a long way in the past century and a half, and they simply don't use the same process today that they did in the 1800s. Saying a cast iron pan today has lead because a 150-year-old pot has lead, would be like comparing a modern-day handgun to a Civil War pistol. So because of this, I will still stand by my statement about modern-day cast iron being free of lead.
Update on the huge 14-quart 19th century cooking pot: I've been informed this pot is from the cast iron foundry at Marietta, Pennsylvania; it's not from England as I first thought. My biggest concern for this pot is whether or not the enameled interior contains lead – if it does, then I can't cook with it. So, on Monday I'll be bringing it to a professional lead testing service, and they'll use an X-ray gun to examine the enamel for lead. The results will be interesting, regardless of what happens.
After working on the big 19th century cast iron pot since Sunday, here are the results so far. It doesn't look too bad – far from flawless, but in workable condition. I think it's time to season the pot, tonight. The Google search was correct, as I can barely see a logo on the bottom that looks like "MAR" "TC C Co" "A". The middle part definitely stands for "T&C Clark & Co." I'm not sure what the "MAR" is - month of manufacture, maybe? The "A" must be a model type or a mold number.
September 20, 2013, pdate on the huge 14-quart 19th century cooking pot: I've been informed this pot is from the cast iron foundry at Marietta, Pennsylvania; it's not from England as I first thought. My biggest concern for this pot is whether or not the enameled interior contains lead – if it does, then I can't cook with it. So, on Monday I'll be bringing it to a professional lead testing service, and they'll use an X-ray gun to examine the enamel for lead. The results will be interesting, regardless of what happens.
This was probably the best flea market score I've had in quite a while, including discovering my Griswold dutch oven at Brimfield for $10. One of the larger flea markets in Massachusetts is the Grafton Flea Market; in more rural areas of the country, this might be a mid-sized market, but here this is one of the bigger ones. Most of the stuff sold there is the usual junk, but once in a while a treasure can be had there. Among the many stands there was one vendor selling a bunch of vintage items, mostly military cast-offs from the early to mid 20th century: genuine Army helmets, metal meal mess trays, wooden boxes with ammunition labels branded onto them, and various vintage metal items…including several pieces of cast iron. I saw a Wagner Krusty Korn Cob corn stick pan there, but I still haven't been interested in getting one…but when THIS caught my eye, I stopped dead in my tracks. He was selling it for $20 and would not go any lower, but I still feel I ended up with a bargain, nonetheless. It's a HUGE cast iron cooking pot, with a gate marked bottom and an enameled interior. The enamel doesn't look in too bad condition; there are a few chips and cracks, but no major gaps, and it looks decent for a pot that dates to before the year 1900. The outside is covered with a layer that is flaking off; I suspect that's probably paint, not seasoning or enamel.
And did I mention this thing is BIG? Its measurements are: top rim, diameter: 13 inches inside rim, 13-1/2 inches outside rim; height, 8-1/2 inches including underside heat ring; 8 inches deep inside! At a weight of fifteen pounds, this thing is probably just around the size of my Le Creuset 14-inch cast iron pot. With no actual stamp on the pot except for "14 QTS" (14 quarts) and the gate mark, I needed to do som research to identify the maker of this pot. I looked online and found a picture of a pot with the exact markings, including the "14 QTS" stamp: au.picclick.com/Vintage-T-C-Clark-Co-Large-151085784792.html Based on this, that means this pot is likely to be a "T & C Clark & Company large enamelled cast iron cooking pot cauldron." T & C Clark was a British manufacturer founded in 1795, who produced a lot of cast iron in the 1800s into the 20th century, but apparently shut down or went out of business in the 1960s . Another reference  states: "1839 ~ Thomas and Charles Clark of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, patented a way of 'glazing and enamelling cast-iron, holloware, and other metallic substances'. They were iron manufacturers, not gentleman scientists like Rinman and Hickling, and their company went on to produce and market enamelled metal items for cooking, hygiene etc." This likely dates this pot to the latter half of the 19th century.
As an exercise in Chaos magic, I developed my own personal system for producing magical readings based on Tolkien's Elvish writing, the Tengwar. (Tolkien has had deep personal meaning for me for most of my life – and I'm over 45 years old now – so I felt there would be personal significance in choosing the Tengwar as my "magical alphabet.") My system for reading takes some getting used to. I am not versed in tarot readings, and this gives me both an advantage and a disadvantage in that these readings are not influenced by the tarot. However, they also take a while to produce, as I am still familiarizing myself with this system. It's not the type of system where I can sit down with a person and produce an immediate reading; one reading seems to take a while.
Chaos magic stems from the subconscious, so I decided to ask the "collective subconscious" (if it exists) a question about the Boston Marathon bombing. The actual question shall remain a secret. Based upon the translation of the question into the Tengwar, and its distribution into the kuru tekele reading system, the following result occurred:
This translates to:
hwesta (breeze): Light: A light wind can be refreshing, as it blows across one's face and cools a hard worker. It may bring scents and sounds of pleasure, drawing us into further delights. Dark: A breeze could also be the first sign of an ill wind to come, an omen of change.
ore (heart): Also defined as one's "inner mind," the heart is the center of caring, compassion, and thoughts about the world outside of oneself. Love springs from the heart, and many deeds of Men have been accomplished by following the guidance of one's heart.
thule (spirit): The soul, the inner being, that which gives us our sense of self. Strength and durability of spirit can help a person overcome adversity, difficulty, and strife.
numen (west): …but the West was open only for the Elves, and it was taken away from the reach and sight of Men. The West can be a sign of an unfulfilled goal or purpose, something one can strive for during their entire life but never reach or accomplish.
umbar (fate): Destiny, that which controls and guides us, and which shapes our future. The appearance of Destiny as a sign is certainly a portent of an important event, something memorable and possibly life-changing.
malta (gold): Desire for gold is seen as the epitome of greed, miserliness, and selfishness. It is a lust for possession, the amassing of precious things, or the seizure of something one cannot have but desires above all else…even illicit desire and lust.
silme (starlight): Stars, comets, and the distant glow of the planets (as opposed to the twinkle of stars) can indeed be omens of things to come, meaning that a time of strife and difficulty may be approaching.
tinco (metal): The mark of civilization is when Man first began producing metal tools, moving from the Stone Age into more sophisticated metals, progressing to higher levels of technology. Metal is "processed," the result of civilized metal processing. Foundations are made of metal. Metal can be seen as "building a structure" or "embarking on a project."
ando (gate): A gate can be opened (by friend or foe) to allow the world access into a private place, revealing secrets and weaknesses one is trying to hide from the world. It can also be a barrier to discovery, a sign that the seeker cannot enter and finds his way blocked.
From this, my reading of the Boston Marathon bombing seemed to produce the following:
The first part of the reading applies to the Self, namely to the subject of this reading. The winds of change are definitely blowing, for we know the Marathon will never be the same after yesterday's tragedy. (There will certainly be a strong military presence there next year.) But there's a suggestion here that even in spite of this tragedy, something positive may come from this – a change that will caause everyone to move forward in a manner even better than before. There's a lot of patriotism involved here, and the usual message would be "we will return even stronger than before;" though there's a suggestion that there's something even more than this here. I hope there is indeed a positive aspect to this, though I (and everyone else) certainly wish people didn't have to be killed and hurt for this change to happen. This positive aspect is reinforced by the fact that random selection also produced the symbols for "heart" in the East, and "spirit" in the West. Both of these, of course, are positive aspects for caring and openness.
However, upon examining the Past, the reading is less friendly and more menacing, especially when we take yesterday's events into account. We start with the sign of an unfulfilled goal or purpose, something one can strive for during their entire life but never reach or accomplish; and we move to Destiny, that which controls and guides us, and which shapes our future. This moves on to lust for possession, the amassing of precious things, or the seizure of something one cannot have but desires above all else…even illicit desire and lust. This, I think, can be applied to the person who accomplish this despicable deed. It suggests that this person could think he has been chosen by Destiny – maybe by his religious faith – to commit this horrible act, maybe out of frustration or hatred. I don't want to stereotype and state that it's the mind of a typical "foreign terrorist," because it could also apply to someone who grew up here in the USA – think of Timothy McVeigh and his supposed "strike" against the Powers that Be when he blew up that building in Oklahoma.
From here, we move on to the Future. Here we see omens of things to come, meaning that a time of strife and difficulty may be approaching. However, the positive aspect of the Future is "tinco," the Elvish word for "metal," and this can apply to the building of a foundation; giving strength and durability to one's creation; or even providing reinforcement and strength. The final aspect of the Future is curious: it suggests the opening of a gate to allow the world access into a private place, revealing secrets and weaknesses one is trying to hide from the world. This could be applied to the other aspects of the future, meaning that it will be difficult to locate the person who did this. Expect the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber to last for a long time, possibly in the same manner of the time it took to hunt down Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympics bomber. Curiously, Eric Rudolph also seems to match the profile given in this reading. Perhaps the person who did this may have his own selfish and hate-ridden motives, in much the same manner as what happened in Atlanta.
Some sigil magic to celebrate this day, the day of Eris and Operation Mindfuck. I hope someone gets the joke at the 1 minute mark. www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4NlWmtaNp0
Every time I plan a vacation trip, I get the idea of doing one of these stupid projects that require me to run to the ends of the earth. I'd mentioned that I'm going to Anthrocon in July; and on the message board for the con, I casually mentioned the idea of throwing a "chocolate party." Those words have been going through my head, and now I'm thinking, why not throw a chocolate party in my hotel room? First of all, a trip to the Necco outlet store north of Boston should provide a few pounds of high-quality chocolate candies at a reasonably low cost; I'd just need to pack them in a cooler and bring them along. But now, an idea popped into my head, and of course I'm wondering if this could be made into reality. What if I put together a pot of molten chocolate, and provided a big bowl of cut up fruit, plus sticks for them to dip the fruit in chocolate? The fruit would not be a problem, neither would be the sticks (wooden skewers are a buck for a pack of 50). But, the melted chocolate? Either, I could get one of those chocolate fountain thingies – which look nice, but they're made of cheap breakable plastic, and I don't want to clutter my apartment with a single-use toy like that. OR…here it comes…I could put together a setup with my cast iron for melting chocolate. (You knew this was coming, didn't you?) I could bring my induction stovetop (to provide a fireless heating source), the round potjie pot, and a smaller (stainless steel) pot to fit inside the potjie. I'd boil water in the pot, and use that to melt the chocolate in the smaller pot. This would give me an excuse to set up my potjie, which does look cool. And here I go again, planning another dumb project. This happens every time. Someone shoot me.
I'm continuously amused when these little "magical" coincidences show up. This one occurred when I baked a Giant Cookie in Cast Iron and put together a cooking video over the past weekend. Not only were the pictures of the cookie a hit – over 10,000 views between Reddit and Imgur – the curious coincidence came when I prepared the video for YouTube. I was stymied on the choice of music to use for the video, until I stumbled across another Sun Ra track. The title of this piece would appeal to any magician: "A Call To All Demons." When I placed this into the video, the music synchronized quite well with the editing, even though I hadn't planned it that way at all. It just fell into place, and it worked. Yet another of those strange little coincidences that can't be explained, and one that could easily be called "magic."
This weekend's trip to New York City (more on that later) has had more magic than I anticipated – and nearly all of it has been good. Definitely one of the highlights of the weekend was our visit to the Tahuti Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis (The OTO), and taking part in the Thelemic Middle Pillar – an hour-long exercise in meditation, and generation and focusing of energy, that left me more refreshed, relaxed, and content than I've felt in a LONG time. There were ten of us there, and the experience of performing a communal meditation was far different than the self-practice I've been doing since I started using magic (or "magick with a K"). Even as I meditated and let my mind roam, the skeptic in me still noted now the repeated incantations and slow breathing exercises were inducive to creating a minor deprivation of oxygen, which makes the mind and body more conducive and accepting of exactly the sort of feelings and sensations we achieved yesterday. That, of course, is a large factor in how people get sucked into religious cults of the kind who deliberately use this experience to control their flock. (Think of the love bombing" techniques used by many Bible cults.) However, these were thoughts I already knew and were familiar with, nothing new; and no one there was trying to "control" us. We just had a relaxing and pleasant session of meditation and incantation – and because of that, I just let myself enjoy it immensely. Combined with the other major emotional moments of last night, this was definitely a high point to the year 2013 so far, one that I will be hard-pressed to top.
Taking pictures and video of the big blizzard in the New England area:
Posted to Facebook's group for Steak & Blowjob Day: Okay, I joined this group in order to post this: Every year on Wikipedia the same thing happens. Someone creates the entry for Steak & Blowjob day, and Wikipedia promptly deletes it because it's "not notable." Because this is a "joke" holiday and because it was originally created by a Rhode Island radio DJ, these criteria exclude it from inclusion as an officially recognized "holiday." The fact that thousands of people worldwide know about Steak & Blowjob day – and many have "participated" in it (ahem in the years since its introuction – apparently aren't enough. In order to stand erect…err, I mean TALL…alongside Talk Like A Pirate Day, Bloomsday, Pi Day, and other "funny holiday" days, Steak and Blowjob needs OFFICIAL RECOGNITION of some kind. There are a little less than two months to go before March 14, 2013. This Facebook page has nearly 9,000 likes (and I'm not the guy who created this page, I'm just someone who joined in order to post this). Surely there are enough people here to spread the word and get some kind official media recognition for Steak & BJ day. What we need is CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENT and a NATIONAL NEWS STORY! A mention on CNN and a press release by some celebrity or another should be enough to get "national recognition" of Steak & Blowjob Day. Can this be done in less than two months? Which celebrity do we need to give a BJ to in order to endorse it?
This was a cooking experiment in progress. A simple three words will describe it: bundt apple pie. No, not cake - PIE. An apple pie with a crust and filling, baked in a cast iron bundt pan.
My newly acquired cast iron bundt pan was ready for use, and I'd been bursting with excitement over it. I'd even had a bundt cake recipe all chosen out as the first thing to bake in it – Alton Brown's Apple Spice Bundt Cake mix. However, thoughts come unbidden to my mind that often distract me; and while I was driving to work the other day, I had let my mind wander. (I prefer to let my mind wander than listen to idiot-oriented morning radio). In the space of a few fleet moments, thoughts had flashed through my head about how I had a cool heavy iron bundt pan – one that would kick ass over a thin, lightweight bundt cake tin. It was just like the times I'd cooked pies in cast iron, ones that were far superior than a pie baked in a pie tin…and then the three words flashed together. BUNDT APPLE PIE. Why not use the cast iron bundt pan to bake an apple pie?
When I looked on Google for any examples of a pie in a bundt pan, I'd found exactly ZERO. Evidently, no one has done this before – everyone bakes cakes and sometimes other things in bundt pans (Hello, Janine and her chicken! ), but apparently no one had written anything online about baking a pie in a bundt pan.
Thinking the idea over, I realized there was only one major difference between baking in a bundt pan versus a pie tin: at the end, you flip the whole pan over and let the result stand on its own. Therefore, the key to this idea would be to use a pie crust recipe that resulted in a solid crust, one that would allow the pie to hold together when flipped over, and keep the pie filling from leaking. And, based upon my experiences with steaming British steak and kidney puddings, I knew exactly what would be called for: suet. I reasoned using a shortening or lard pie crust recipe, and simply substituting suet for the lard, should give a pie crust strong enough to hold together. Indeed, the previous week I'd baked a Christmas pork pie with a suet crust, and that had produced a very solid and satisfactory crust – it required a knife to cut it, but the crust was still tasty and not "chewy" or rock-hard. This was the way to go!
And so, here was my first attempt at making an apple pie in a cast iron bundt pan: Bundt Apple Pie
I went out on New Year's Eve in search of adventure, but there was little to be had. Nothing bad happened, but nothing good either. Last year's New Year was the best I'd had in a long time, then the rest of the year seemed to go slowly downhill after that. I can only hope things improve after this, then. New Year's Day was better, as I had a chance to see Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. More about that in a bit.
It occurs to me that "traditional" cooking can indeed be a kind of cooking magic, because I'm giving respect to history and casting my spell (through my cooking) to achieve the effect intended with today's dish: a meal meant to bring good luck and prosperity. And so, I'm hoppin' on the Hoppin' John bandwagon today, and it's my first time making Hoppin' John. I've only been cooking for a little over two years, and today was my first time following this Southern tradition on New Year's Day. This was also my first time eating Hoppin' John – because I'm a New Englander from an Italian family, dishes from the Deep South didn't show up on our table very often as I grew up. Fortunately, as those of you who make this regularly will know, this is one of those dishes that are simplicity itself to make. I live in a Brazilian neighborhood and consequently pork pieces can be had in abundance here; there's a chain of Hispanic-themed supermarkets called "Seabra" that have everything you would ever want for Latin American cooking. So, picking up a big bag of pork pieces, including jowls and hocks, was no difficulty at all. From there, it was simply a matter of soaking a pound of black-eyed peas overnight, and then adding all of the ingredients together in the pot: peas, a pound of pork pieces, the extra leftover pork fat from yesterday's ham, chopped onion, chopped red bell pepper, salt and pepper. Bring the pot to a boil, then simmer it for an hour and a half. The recipe I used said to then stir in long grain white rice and simmer it for another 25 minutes until the rice was soft; some recipes say to make the rice and greens separately, and serve the pork and beans over it. I didn't see any problem with cooking the rice directly in with the dish, as it certainly added flavor and made for a much thicker broth. From there, the dish was sided with some steamed kale and spinach, and Southern style cornbread. Happy New Year! (P.S. - it's hot! I don't mean spicy, I mean piping hot!)
2012 began with a fun time last New Year's Eve; but the year as a whole dealt some hard knocks for everyone, and it only seemed to get worse as the months passed by. I can only hope, as the calendar begins anew, that we all manage to keep our heads above water. The highlights of the year were relatively modest, and the true highlight was certainly meeting and becoming close friends with Aquaisces Mancuso; and spending many fun times with Panik EVlynn Bedlam. There really haven't been too many highlights of the year that didn't involve these two wonderful persons, between running to conventions and camping and visiting Boston with Nina, Panik, and Jessica Darling; with some great cooking to help keep me occupied for much of that time.
On the other hand, lowlights included spending the first half of the year planning for the National DOG in Texas, then having to give it up because of car problems. (But I did get a terrific new car out of the deal, again thanks to Panik.) And the year has closed with a series of family tragedies, as no less than four close relatives ended up in the hospital; one of them, sadly, passing away.
Is it any wonder why all I seem to do is post to Facebook about cooking? It's rather appropriate that one highlight and lowlight of the year was cooking what may well have been my final dinner with the person who changed my life forever.
Well, I still have a job and I still have (I hope) my health. And I still have my family and a few friends. At least I can be thankful for that.
December 25, 2012, 4:10 AM. I just wrote the following message to a young lady, whom I'd chatted with last night: "Good morning. I wanted to tell you that I just dreamed about you…no, not THAT way. :P I had a dream and you were in it - a science fiction kind of dream. This was unusual because I never remember my dreams – and I mean NEVER. For my entire life, I've always forgotten my dreams almost instantly upon waking up. I've always been envious and jealous of people who have vivid dreams they can describe in detail.
"Actually, compared to the dreams others have, this one was somewhat disappointing…because it was short, and it ended just as it was getting interesting. As I said, it was a science fiction kind of dream where I was in a big corporate office kind of building full of futuristic equipment, and you were there. The machines were beginning to come to life, and I remember that I was trying to protect you…but then I woke up as we were in danger. That's usually what happens when I have a nightmare, though I can't say this was a nightmare. I'm not upset or scared by this – just amused that I remember the dream at all. And I hope you don't mind the fact that you were in it. "
To the two or three people who might actually be reading this – no, I'm not covering up any pornographic details of that dream.
I think it's time to open presents.
The corned beef went over very well at work – people gobbled it right down! Not many of them tried it with the cranberry sauce, though. I think it was just because it was something new – after all, cranberry sauce is supposed to be a turkey dish. How dare someone try it on beef? Well, I took a serving of the beef and tried it myself with the cranberry sauce…and personally, I thought it was terrific. I’m not just saying that because I cooked it, either. I feel it turned out well enough for me to declare the recipe satisfactory. Hopefully someone will try it…and if you do, I hope you like it: Yuletide Corned Beef
There aren't many venues available to tell people you've devised a system of magical reading, it appears. I posted it to Reddit's [ /r/occult] forun and got some upvotes, but no comments. Shortly after that, I was banned from Reddit because they considered that to be spamming. Go figure. Tonight, as I prepared my Saturnalia holiday cards for mailing, I found myself writing a spell of forgiveness for someone I didn't expect to forgive.
Having developed it to the point where it can now be put into general use, here is a system of divination and magical readings based upon J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish writing, the Tengwar. This particular alphabet has had personal meaning for me for two-thirds of my lifetime (since the late 1970s, in fact), and as such I decided to adopt it as my magical alphabet when I embraced Chaos Magic. Consequently, the method of reading takes its ideas from Sigil Magic (for the generation of the characters) and the Futhark Runes (for assigning "meaning" to the symbols). Some folks would see the significance of my introducing this system on the date of 12/12/12 – but, as with many occurrences in magic, this is a coincidence. It's also a partial coincidence that I developed this system at the time of the release of the first of the movies in The Hobbit trilogy. I realized that this would be a good time to introduce this to the public, as the movies are bringing J.R.R Tolkien into the public eye once again. However, this system is not based upon the movies – if it was, then I would be using the Futhark Runes instead of the Tengwar. Also, just as important: I am not selling anything based upon this system or the movies. By the way, I know about the Lord of the Rings tarot deck. I have never looked at it and I don't own a copy.
As I was driving to work and pondering thoughts of the upcoming day, I laughed to myself. Then, with a shock, I realized how long it's been that I'd been in such a jovial mood. I haven't laughed to myself in a long time…longer than I'd realized until just now.
As I was taking a walk before work to relax and meditate, an idea for the tengwar reading system popped into my mind - just like that. I think I can make it work, and have it done in time for the premiere of The Hobbit this Friday.
So, ever since the Chaos ritual over Thanksgiving, I've been trying to develop a system of magical writing based on the tengwar of J.R.R. Tolkien. It's not finished. I'm still working on a way to actually generate the correct symbols in a satisfactory manner. (I don't want to just draw letters out of a bag, the way the Runes do; or shuffle them at random in the manner of the Tarot.) The method I'd tried ended up producing a large number of symbols at a time, using only a small pool of different characters – 36, the number of characters devised by Tolkien. Then, tonight, I considered that if you give a light (good) and a dark (evil) definition to each character, the number you have to choose from doubles from 36 to 72 – the same number of options as the Tarot itself. So that may be a sign that I'm moving in the right direction.
I'm slowly working towards creating my own Alphabet of Desire. Not having a lot of artisitic talent, it seems to take a long time to come up with the desired symbols and assign the proper meaning to them. I'm using the Runes as a starting point, then adding and changing them where I feel it's correct to do so. Austin Spare's Alphabet of Desire was based on a hexagram with six points, and obviously I'm aiming for an octogram to match the eight points of the star of Chaos. If you've done something like this, what are the meanings you assigned to each point? In a yin-yang opposing-poles fashion – and based on the emotions I most often experience in my life – my points seem to be: Love/Hate, Pleasure/Pain, Wisdom/Ignorance, and Want/Fulfillment. (Laughter falls under pleasure, loneliness under hate, the blind faith I often encounter goes under ignorance.)
Perusing the Book of Runes has made me realize the similarity of all the existing systems that use a random generator to produce results. Whether it's runes, or tarot, or I Ching, or numerology, astrology, or graphology, the method used for divination is the same: produce a random spread, then apply a system to read "meaning" into the results. The system applied to read the results is what separates divination from true science: you apply a system of symbolism to the results, then you then apply those results to yourself, personally, using intuition and faith. This, I think, works best when you use a system you create yourself: because you're basing it on your own intuition and experience, it makes it easier for you to apply the results to yourself. Fortunately, the tendency of the human mind to evoke patterns and meaning into seemingly random occurrences allows many people to apply the same results to themselves, as well. The end result: when you apply this reading to someone else, there is a good chance that person will feel as though it applies to himself or perself, personally.
For example: today I've been assigned by my employer to leave the house at 5 AM and drive 45 miles to go to a job. Out of curiosity, I looked for a reading of the Runes and asked a simple question, "What will happen today?" I ended up with the following:
Now, I could apply this to myself as a warning that today's job is going to be more difficult than expected. Given that is a common occurrence with my work, that would not be especially surprising. If it does turn out to be a difficult job, I could say this was predicted by the Runes. And if it turns out to be an easy job? Then I could just brush aside the results and apply it to something else, perhaps with the excuse that "applying a strict time frame of today to the prediction makes it less effective." That's how the vagueries of fortune telling and cold reading work.
Nonetheless, I still have an urge to go ahead and create my very own Alphabet of Desire, based upon the Runes plus a special system of writing that I've taken very personally since junior high and high school: J.R.R Tolkien's tengwar Elvish writing. More on this later.
Update: The road trip turned out to be one of the easiest I've ever done: I drove an hour and 40 minutes, walked into the place, and had the entire job finished in ten minutes. So as I left, I figured the runes were wrong. Then this afternoon at the office turned out to be one of those crazy days where every call coming in was a nightmare. I ended up being on the clock from 5:00 AM to 6:45 PM. So who knows?
I was ready to experience magic during this past long weekend, as my companions and I had prepared for it. I was even fortunate enough to take part in my first full magical ritual, complete with the invocation of several deities of Chaos (including Ut-Nephishthim the World Mage and the Black Rabbit of Inle), empowerment of magical items, and the embodiment of Choronzon. That was only the beginning of the magic of this weekend, which included my own ritual (preparing a lavish Thanksgiving feast) that was largely successful in its own right, and then topped off with a trip to Central Square, where we acquired several useful tomes of information.
I've experienced tarot readings before, but have always had trouble getting into it. Nonetheless, my interest was piqued enough for me to look into enhancing my sigils with traditional magic, and to this end I picked up a copy of The Book of Runes. This is a simple introduction to Norse Runes, their magical meanings, and suggestions on properly reading them. Upon examination of the book, I immediately noted that this is exactly the same methodology used for tarot readings, although the 24 Futhark runes here provide a simpler, more archaic, and mor "rough" system than the tarot. It offers the basics of runecasting, from the simple Odin's Rune – draw one single rune and apply its meaning to yourself at that moment – to the Three Lifetimes Spread, in which five runes are placed in a cross formation, with the placement of each rune having significance and meaning from "Past" and "Future" incarnations, to "Birth and Childhood," "Present," and "Future in this life."
After waking up this morning in a haze, I had the idea of taking my own name, "MODEMAC," applying the sigil rule to it (remove vowels and duplicates), and translating it into the Runes. This gave three letters:
Translating these letters into the Runes gives the following:
As it turned out, this was listed in the Book of Runes as a "Three Rune Spread:" "The number three figures prominently in the oracular practices of the ancients. The Three Rune Spread which, according to Tacitus, was already in use 2,000 years ago, is satisfactory for all but the most demanding situations."
Reading the runes from right to left, the three symbols represent: Opening, Breakthrough, The Self. Curiously, this is suspiciously similar to the tarot reading I received last night, in which it was declared that I have a big change in my life coming, one that will make everything I've done before seem like a prologue. That is, if I make it happen - it's not going to happen if I sit it here and let the Universe deliver it to me.
And that was my first foray into runic magic. I was curious as to whether these runes could help with my crafting of sigils. The meaning and symbolism imparted into these runes, after nearly two thousand years of use, suggests that I may be on the right track.
("Magical ritual?" "Invocation of deities of Chaos?" As I've said, magic is mostly bullshit. If anyone is actually reading this, then a few of you already know that. I leave it to you to figure out how much of this is true.)
Due to how the schedule for this long weekend turned out, we'll be having our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow instead of today. And that's fine, as it gave me the chance to do a lot of cooking in preparation for the feast. Apple pie…pumpkin pie…cornbread…the turkey brining on the balcony…and rabbit braising in the oven as I type this. Tonight will be a full ritual and Invocation of Chaos…then tomorrow comes the biggest cooking I've done so far. I cooked those turkeys for Thanksgiving last year, but this is going to be a bigger meal: ten dishes, including a fully roasted turkey! Thanksgiving 2012: I'm looking forward to it.
(The Invocation of Chaos is also going to be quite interesting, as it will cleanse an item I've had and wanted to wear without having any bad memories attached to it.)
After my Web site changed around last year, one person copied portions of my old Web site in order to bring back the old “High Weirdness Project.” I couldn't have cared less about the name, but I was incensed that he was essentially taking my writing and my work and putting it up on another Web site. The initial home page of that site described me as “deceased.” At that time, I wrote an email asking that it be taken down, and got the usual response: rather than give me any direct reply, they quipped to each other how “butthurt” I was and ignored my request. So I decided to just ignore it right back, figuring it would die of apathy and lack of use and attention. Apparently it did: www.highweirdnessproject.com
Cleanup from a week's worth of cast iron cooking - the pumpkin pie for last Saturday's Halloween party, plus several pots for preparing the chocolate cobbler from last night. I had a smaller number of kids last night than I was expecting - maybe a dozen, perhaps more, in groups of three and four, and I ended up with some vanilla ice cream in the freezer, and somewhat less than half a pot of chocolate cobbler. The toys I'll be saving for an opportunity; I get the feeling an event will occur where I'll be able to donate a bag of cheap party toys. (These aren't Christmas present type toys.) This neighborhood has lots of kids – I've seen them as I walked downtown. So where were they last night? It wasn't until I returned home that I learned a lesson in how times have changed these days. My neighbors had returned and were parking in the parking lot. Their kids were there in costume with them. Where did they go? They TOOK THEIR KIDS TO THE MALL for Trick-or-Treating. Apparently the local mall was packed with kids in costume. The parents these days don't "trust" one another to let their kids go trick-or-treating, so they all go to where they feel it's safe to walk around with their kids in costume, in the mall. That, I have to admit, disappointed me – not just because I didn't see as many kids as I'd hoped, but also because I can't believe how brainwashed people have become. Thanks to Wal-Mart and shopping malls, they would rather go there instead of being in their own neighborhood.
On the plus side, I did get to dress up in costume and treat kids to some sweets on Halloween. It's far more than I was able to do last year, so I can't complain.
Back from New York and the storm is over. Now it's time to get back to cooking – just in time for Halloween! Last year Trick-or-Treating was "postponed" due to the blizzard we had two days before, and I missed it. This year it looks close, but they're talking "chance of showers" during the day and "mostly cloudy" at night, so we should be able to make it this year. This is something I've been wanting to do since last year. Everyone just gives out packaged candy to the kids, but I want to cook. I live on the third floor of an apartment building (with a locked front door), so no one is going to come up to my door for Trick-or-Treating. Therefore, my plan is: dress up in costume, go outside to a street corner near my apartment building (in a neighborhood full of kids), and set up a table with three cast iron pots. The potjie pot is full of chocolate cobbler, and it looks like a "witch's cauldron." The smaller pot (actually, it's a Lodge deep skillet chicken fryer) has chocolate sauce, and I'll be scooping out chocolate cobbler and chocolate sauce into cups with vanilla ice cream for the kids. If the parents don't want their kids taking ice cream from a stranger, the big Lodge dutch oven is full of toys, and the kids will get one each from there. While it's good, of course, for parents to make sure their kids are safe taking candy from strangers on Halloween, I personally think the urban legend of "razor blades in apples" is overrated, and parents should let their kids have some chocolate and ice cream because I'll be right there with them. This is different from the usual Trick-or-Treating, and I hope to have fun tomorrow night.
And meanwhile, a major update to the Web site for Incite Entertainment Group.
Saturday night in New England: enjoying a meal of franks , Boston Baked Beans, and New England brown bread. The dishes all succeeded wonderfully! At an antique store in New Bedford, I found something that caught me by surprise: a genuine Boston ceramic beanpot. There's no manufacturer logo on it, but it's stamped USA on the bottom. As a born-and-bred New Englander, I knew I had to get this. And so on my last day on the pager before vacation, I spent the day slow-cooking a traditional New England meal of the kind enjoyed for generations. The beans are absolutely delicious, so much so that I changed the main meat ingredient in the baked beans recipe from "salt pork" to "slab bacon." (Regular strip bacon will also work fine.) I did overfill the pot, to the point where I had to drain some of the liquid off; but this in no way prevented the beans from being thoroughly cooked, soft, and brimming with that baked bean flavor. And they're not too salty. New England brown bread, meanwhile, has been largely forgotten by most of the world, even here in New England. This bread isn't baked but rather steamed – it's steamed molasses bread in a can. I prepared it in that manner, using a 28-ounce tomato sauce can and a steaming basket in my 6-1/2 quart enameled cast iron pot. I ended up steaming the bread for about an hour and fifteen minutes. The batter had filled the can about two-thirds full, and it expanded to fill the can completely. After letting the can sit for ten minutes, I shook it gently out of the can and onto the plate. As you can see, it held together and did not fall apart, nor was it undercooked. This is not a "sweet" bread, but the molasses and raisins give it a lovely taste all its own. And I can see why it all goes together with the baked beans. I am very happy with the results of today's cooking. I think it's the best meal I've put together in a while.
September 8, 2012: Today was my first time visiting the Brimfield Antique Show. This is an antiquing event held in western Massachusetts three times per year. It's enormously popular among hobbyists, collectors, and anyone who enjoys antiques of any kind. At its peak today (Saturday) there were easily several thousand people in attendance, and traffic on the route to the show area was backed up for miles – literally. However, even though I'd barely planned ahead, I managed to do almost everything RIGHT today! I avoided nearly all of the traffic; I found exactly the items I looked for, at great bargains; I didn't spend a lot of money; and I saw a lot of amazing sights. Even though I'm hardly a veteran antiquer, I strongly recommend take a few precautions when you go to the Brimfield Antique Show, because it will avoid you a lot of frustration.
First of all, I left the house at a little past 6:00 AM and arrived there at 7:00 AM. The show runs on the schedule of a yard sale, with some stalls (allegedly) opening for business as early as 6:00 AM. I arrived before the massive crowds of visitors, and I had my pick of the parking lots; yet, I still chose a parking lot on the outer perimeter of the fairgrounds, about a 5 to 10 minute walk away. This meant that when I left the place to return home – at only 11:15 AM, because I was exhausted – I didn't have to inch my car through thousands and thousands of parking cars and walking people. It also meant I was early enough score one genuine bargain, one that I would have missed if I'd arrived later that morning.
My agenda was modest, and I was looking specifically for two items: a cast iron muffin-and-cupcake pan, and a 7-inch American-made cast iron skillet to replace my Asian-made one. (I figured there would be enough variety to make a selection like that.) I stuck to my guns and mostly avoided temptation (ahem)! In all, I ended up spending $60 for the entire show, including parking and four specific items that (I think) were all great bargains.
Brimfield Antique Show: www.brimfieldshow.com/
Whew. Today I was finally able to spend a day cleaning up, unpacking, and putting things away after my out-of-state camping trip last weekend. I'd brought along three big cast iron pots – a Lodge 5-quart dutch oven, an 8-quart Best Duty potjie (a South African cast iron pot that looks like a medieval cauldron; it's a lot of fun to have this!), and a huge Bayou Classic 16-quart dutch oven (this one is a monster – 15 inches diameter and 8 inches tall). We put these pots through a lot of use on the camping trip, and as a result the big pots had some wear and tear. The potjie pot had been used to make vegan stew with tomatoes, and as a result there was a thin layer of rust on the inside of the pot. The big dutch oven, meanwhile, had some traces of rust because it had never been heavily seasoned; I'd burned off its initial wax coating (used for shipping) and oiled it before taking it camping, but I hadn't given it a thorough seasoning. So today, as I cleaned house, I took the effort to season these big pots in the manner they deserved.
These pots were so big that I could only season them in the oven one at a time. I prepared for this with a trip to the dollar store (Dollar Tree is a frugal cook's best friend!) for cheap washcloths and sponges. To clean the dutch ovens I used apple cider vinegar, and for the seasoning I used reserved bacon grease – grease that I'd collected in a glass container during previous times I'd cooked bacon. The bacon grease was at room temperature, not heated.
The actual effort of seasoning these pots was simple, but it took a lot of time and effort because the pots were so BIG. It was simply a matter of doing the following:
In the kitchen sink, I added vinegar to the bottom of the potjie (about 1/8 cup), added about a tablespoon of kosher salt (for friction), and gave every inch of the pot a thorough scrubbing with steel wool. I scrubbed inside and out, and the result was a coating of ugly black goo, all over the potjie and the inside of the sink. I then rinsed it all out with water from the sink (I didn't use detergent), poured about 1/8 cup of bacon grease into the potjie, and use a dish cloth to rub it all over every inch of the pot – again, both inside and outside. After this, I used several paper towels to wipe off the inside and outside of the pot. A grease coating for seasoning cast iron doesn't have to be dripping or sticky; all it needs is a thin sheen of a coat in order to season properly. I placed the potjie on the bottom rack of my oven, upside down so that any extra grease would not collect on the bottom of the pot. From there, I did the same thing with the iron lid to the potjie pot: pour on about a tablespoon of vinegar, vigorously scrub every inch with steel wool, rinse it off, apply bacon grease with the cloth, towel it off with paper towels, then placed it on the oven rack alongside the potjie pot.
From there, I closed the oven door, heated the oven to 500 degrees F, and let it cook at 500 degrees F for 60 minutes. Note on heating the pots: be sure to have open windows and fans for ventilation, and take down your smoke detector! This produces some heavy smoke, which will set off your smoke alarm if you're not careful. Also, this should be a standard for everyone but I'll say it just to be sure: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE when heating up a big pot to 500 degrees in your oven! This process should be supervised for every moment until the oven has been turned off and the pots cooled down.
After this, I turned the oven off but left the pot in the oven to cool down. After 30 minutes, I used heavy oven mitts to take the pot and lid out of the oven (they were still very hot!) and place them on the stovetop range to cool off some more. After about another 15 minutes, they were still very warm but not burning hot, so I used a separate dishcloth (not the one I'd used with the bacon grease) to apply a thin layer of generic store brand vegetable oil to the pot. I just poured a little oil into the bottom of the pot – I didn't need a lot, maybe only a teaspoon of oil – and used the cloth to wipe every inch of the pot with oil, inside and out. This left the pot shiny and black. From there, I did the same with the lid. Finally, after letting it all cool down, I was able to put the potjie pot in its place, and turn my attention to the huge Bayou Classic dutch oven.
I used the same process on the 16-quart dutch oven that I'd used with the 8-quart potjie pot:
After all this, I thoroughly cleaned the grease out of the sink with dish detergent and dollar store sponges, then threw them out – grease cloths, sponge, and all of the paper towels used to clean the pots. That's why I'd purchased them at the dollar store.
Here are the big pots after seasoning.
After spending/wasting my entire life struggling to please others, it would be nice to go somewhere and just be spoiled for once. And to the first idiot who says, "you'll be rewarded in the afterlife," fuck you and fuck God.
Ancient Wikipedia history (ten years ago): this guy uses my history during Wikipedia's early days as proof that Wikipedia today is worthless, and that I can't be trusted.
Time to start making some concrete plans for a cross country trip in October…to the 2012 National DOG. First up: figure out how long it will take. tinyurl.com/cic-ndog-2012
Long night on the pager; four calls between 11 PM and 4 AM. After getting up at 4 AM to take the latest call, I took advantage of the extra time to do something I rarely do - attempt to make art. The result, for whatever it's worth, is here.
Unexpectedly, I found myself casting my first protection spell last night. Me, the cynic who doesn't believe in magic even as I call myself a Chaos magician.
I worked late again last night, and just before going to bed I took a look at Stickam's "Pagans Unite" video chat room. Lo and behold, there was a bit of drama taking place. It seems that one person there, mentioning no names, was saying how her boyfriend or ex (I was't sure which) was stalking and harassing her. A thought popped into my head, and so I concentrated for a bit, then sent her the following message in IM: "I've recently invoked my first entity, a dragonfly-like spirit. For the past month or so, I found myself repeating this series of letters without really knowing why: XJQNY. [This is true, I really have been doing this out of habit. This particular phrase just popped into my head and I've been repeating it, without really knowing what it means.] Lately I envisioned a name and form for it, and it became Xaj Quny, an insectoid spirit that I've had following me around. He hasn't caused me any harm. I've just cast a sigil and sent him to you – maybe he can help you. If you call his name, he'll come to you. I hope that helps you a little bit."
In effect, I engaged in the pagan and magical version of prayer. Do I expect her ex to suddenly drop dead from a heart attack? Hardly. My hope was simply to cheer her up a bit. Whether or not my spell has any effect, the intent was for her to believe I was casting a spell to make her feel better. That's what magic is - the power of belief. If it helped to cheer her up a bit, then that means I was successful. That's all.
I practice cooking magic. Since the first reaction I get from pagans when I say this is, "what the hell is cooking magic," I should explain that cooking is a hobby that helps me to meditate. When I'm working my way through the preparation of a tasty dish, I can cut myself off from the world around me and immerse myself in the immediacy of the moment – in other words, I can achieve gnosis through cooking. In the same manner that a musician finds gnosis when he's on stage in the middle of a rockin' set, or a writer makes his magic as he produces a story that comes from his soul, so I consider cooking to be my magic.
On Friday May 18th (a date that used to have personal significance in a previous life), I came across an article on jazz musician Miles Davis and his cooking. It seems Davis wasn't only a musician, though he will forever be remembered for his legendary contributions to jazz – he was also a decent cook. The article described how the author took it upon himself to re-create Davis' chili recipe – and how, to him and him only, the results were magical. He even wrote, "And for a second, while I extemporized my way through the cooking, I swear Miles entered the room." This truly is cooking magic…and I knew that I had to make this recipe myself.
First came the ingredients. Yesterday (Saturday morning) I wrote on Facebook, "So…last night I came across that recipe for Miles Davis' chile recipe. It requires a three hour slow simmer, and I thought it would be good to make it today when I'm home on the pager. So I figured I'd go out to get the ingredients at Price Chopper, because they're open 24 hours and I wouldn't have to go today, when I'm on the work pager (again). And I decided to walk to Price Chopper because it was a nice clear night. But…as I was getting my shoes on, I got a call from work. I had to do an emergency after hours shipment from our supplier in Louisville, Kentucky. Normally this would take about five minutes, but due to a clerical error it ended up taking over an hour. So finally, it finished up and I had the chance to go out and do my food shopping. At 12:30 AM. I decided to still walk to Price Chopper because I was wide awake from the work call, and ended up going to bed at 2:30 AM." Thanks to the recipe, I got to have fun playing a stereotypical role – walking the streets alone, dressed in black. That was ridiculous, and it was fun.
And so, while calls came in on the pager, I set about making Miles Davis' chili. A lowly beginner attempting to emulate Miles Davis? I was certain I wasn't the first. On my Cast Iron Cooking Facebook group, I blogged my experience.
The chili was delicious – but I'd cooked it more for the experience of making Miles' chili rather than for the chili itself. It was a pleasurable experience – and I realized I'd achieved gnosis.
And what magical results did I see from this? For one, relaxation and achievement. I was on call with the work pager yesterday, and Saturdays on the pager are usually hell – idiots from all over the country call me with equipment emergencies that have to be solved NOW, even though they're on a skeleton crew with weekend staff who know nothing. Yesterday turned out to be one of the quietest and most relaxing days on the pager that I've had in a long time…so much so, I was able to finish a lot of housework, including three weeks' worth of laundry. That in itself is magical.
Update, 8:00 PM the same day: If "magic" is an explanation for the strange little coincidences that happen in your waking life, then yesterday's cooking magic definitely produced some magic today. Pager is done, it was an absolutely gorgeous day out, I didn't have a lot of money (though I had some), and I had all day to myself. The little voice in my head just said to take a long walk to the Wayside Inn, exactly like when we were kids. Who was I to say no to the little voice in my head?
So I was off, spending the better part of the day walking across town, treading the same paths my brothers and I had wandered a good thirty years ago. And the little magical coincidences started occurring, finally culminating in my meeting not one, but two lovely ladies, but also discovering yet another addition to my cast iron collection – at a substantial discount. I celebrated my new find by making a gin slinger (sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, boiling water) in my Chaos logo drinking glass. Not a bad way to end a day of magic.
At some time around a year ago, I broke away from my old crowd over too much petty politics. I left behind a lot of whining about "butthurt" and pointing of fingers at the people who had been "banned." At that time I resigned from Scrubgenius, preferring not to know or care what was being said. Today, by accident, I learned that Scrubgenius had been given a new name and my membership in the group had been reinstated. When I looked at it, what did I see? A lot of whining about "butthurt" and pointing of fingers at another group of people who have been "banned." I resigned from the group once again. I'm glad I left when I did.
Now that the holidays are behind us, the big sci-fi convention is over, and the dishes I'd planned are all cooked and consumed, I finally have time to resume my quest for wok hei! I may not be climbing to Tibetan monasteries atop dangerous Himalayan mountain peaks, but I am still determined to create the ancient and legendary stir-fry taste in my own kitchen. I am also learning that a properly made Oriental-style stir fry is a delicacy to be enjoyed. Unlike the dose of MSG and grease you get when you order Chinese take-out fast food, this stir fry is healthy, tasty, and very filling. An hour from now I most certainly will not be hungry again. So, even if I never achieve wok hei, I am gaining practice at creating a superior stir fry – a skill that will prove useful the next time my friends come to visit.
In this stage of my quest, I'd put together a Web page describing the preparations and stages in preparing a wok hei stir fry. Including 45 minutes to heat the cast iron wok to 500 degrees, the preparation time came to about 45 minutes…I had everything prepared, and the oven beeped 500 degrees just a few seconds before the rice finished cooking. The actual frying took only 1/3 as much time – 15 minutes – and any experienced stir fry chef would still consider this to be far too long. That simply means I'll have to continue practicing, so that I eventually reach the point where I can toss my meat (make all the crude jokes you want about that!) with the best of them.
As the stir fry was still smoking hot in the wooden bowl, I started eating it. The broccoli was still bright green and crisp, yet unquestionably cooked through; and this time, there was only a bit of a hint that any part of it had burned in the wok. Furthermore, I tasted the ginger in the broccoli, giving it an interesting taste and aftertaste. The beef was chewy but not overly tough. The rice was brown throughout, thanks to the soy and hoisin. Best of all, the dish was fresh and it lacked the greasy, oily residue you get when you order beef-and-broccoli at any Chinese food takeout joint. Even more, the entire dish was piping hot – hot as in temperature, not as in spicy. I've never been a fan of drowning my food in hot, hot spices, as I like the taste of broccoli, beef, and rice. Best of all, there was indeed a smoky flavor to the entire dish – a taste that suggests it had seared but not burned!
Was this wok hei? I still didn't know…largely because I have yet to taste "true" wok hei cooking. In fact, until this evening I had been planning on going into Boston Chinatown this coming Saturday and trying a restaurant that supposedly uses wok hei in its cooking (the Hong Kong Eatery). However, they are now talking about snow arriving this Saturday, which means it would be better to wait a little longer before I discover what wok hei is like – and to compare it to my own cooking, and see if this beginning cook with an electric stove…and a heavyweight cast iron wok…succeeded in joining the ranks of the ancient Cantonese stir fry masters with my very own wok hei.
(I like the way the camera caught the billowing smoke in this photo!)
As I'd mentioned previously, I practice cooking magic. I seem to have developed this compulsion to feed people, and I had been planning on indulging in this by cooking up a storm at the Arisia con this weekend. Yesterday afternoon I began designing a sigil to post on the door to my hotel room – I was planning on casting a spell on everyone who glanced at my door. The intent behind my sigil was, "you will enter this room and you will be fed." However, despite numerous attempts, I could not come up with a sigil that felt "right," one that satisfied me. This morning, I called the hotel and was informed that convention guests are specifically prohibited from cooking in their rooms. This has dashed my plans to cook at the con. It's enough to make a magically-inclined person think that the inability to come up with a satisfactory sigil yesterday was connected to this – the magic was not manifesting because I would not have been able to achieve my intention. In spite of this, I still hope to have fun at the con, and I'm still planning one event in which I get to feed people (without doing any cooking): a Saturday morning cartoon breakfast.
What to do at the con, other than cook? I suppose I could be like everyone else, follow the schedule, attend the panels, and hang out. That's what I'll likely end up doing, though in addition I hope to see some familiar faces…or even better, meet new people.
One thing I've gotten an idea of doing is bringing the cast iron pan I'd purchased, especially to paint as a design for the new logo of the Cast Iron Chaos Web site. That would make a decent project, I think: after I'm unpacked and settling in, I'll start painting it over in my hotel room tomorrow, and hopefully have the additional layers finished and dried out by Saturday. Then, I'll lay my onyx ring in the center of the pan and attempt a cleansing. I've always liked that ring, and it was a special present given to me back in my old life. I don't need to get rid of everything that connects me to the past – last year Morgan said to me, simply, "keep your pretty things" – but it would be a good practice to attempt to "cleanse" the ring, purify it, and wear it as a new magical object. (Since Arisia always has a sizable pagan contingent, I might be able to find a person or group who could aid me in this.)
After learning the joys of cooking over the course of 2011, and accepting Chaos magic in the fall of the year, I enjoyed a wonderful New Year of cooking for guests and casting sigil magic – both of which were hugely successful. I believe I am at a new level of experience (so to speak) in cooking magic, and I am confident that I can proceed as an experienced beginner and not a neophyte. Therefore, I am announcing to the world at large:
Yes, I am a magician!
I am practicing a version of Chaos magic that I simply refer to as cooking magic. Not only am I cooking some good food and actually receiving compliments for it, I'm enjoying great satisfaction and even happiness that stems from my cooking. This, to me, is magic. It's the feeling of knowing that I am making my own creations, achieving satisfaction from them, and using them to help others (even if it's simply by making a pizza for the neighbors who live downstairs, or by cooking turkeys for homeless political activists on Thanksgiving day). This is my magic, and it's a kind of magic that I am proud to embrace. The tools of my magic are among the most ancient of magical items – cast iron pots and pans, steel knives, herbs, meat and vegetables, and fire. The spells I cast are recipes, and the results of my magic are a conjuration of wonderfully delicious food that I gladly make available to my friends, family, and lovers (if any). Just as important, I find cooking to be a good way to practice meditation, as a way to explore my inner self, fend off loneliness, learn to stay calm in times of stress (especially at work), and feel good about myself. This as good a reason as any to practice magic.
This is Chaos magic because it comes from my inner self. I am not bowing and scraping to any gods, crystals, mystical "energies," astrological charts, tarot cards, or anything of that sort when I make my magic. However, I do respect these forms of magic, and their practitioners. I have never considered it part of my nature to go out of my way to offend others (though it does happen), unless I feel that magic is being used to intentionally hurt others (can you say "Scientology," boys and girls? Or how about "conservative Christian politics?"). One of the points of Chaos magic that I am still developing for myself is the idea that belief is a tool: the ability to literally change my belief to meet the environment I am in. However, I have taken the first steps in this direction, and I feel that this will help to enhance my cooking magic as well.
If there's one thing I've learned in the past year, it's that the only true magic is the magic you make yourself. But the world is filled with many kinds of magic, some of which I have experienced and want to experience more. I am enjoying this and it makes me feel good. This is as satisfying as any religion I can think of, including the ones I have followed in the past (Roman Catholicism and the Church of the SubGenius). Therefore, until or unless the time comes that I decide I am finished exploring this path, I am declaring myself a Chaos magician.
The events of the past weekend have made me feel that I've reached a level that I've been striving to achieve with myself, in terms of personal satisfaction. I am no longer an inexperienced cook: I am a cook. (Still a beginning cook, but a cook nonetheless.) I feel great personal satisfaction when I achieve something with my cooking, and this appears to be happening on a regular basis. I'm not fooling myself into believing I'm a superior cook, but I'm satisfied with my progress so far and I'm proud to say that I am a cook. And I believe I have reached the point where I will declare myself a magician: I practice cooking magic. As I've said before, cooking is my magic, and the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I receive from it is my gnosis. "Spell casting" is another form of ritualized prayer, and that is what I do when I cook – essentially, I'm praying to myself, and the answer to my prayer (spell) is seen in the results of my cooking: good food.
Speaking of which…thanks to an Amazon gift certificate from my brother for Xmas, I've just acquired a cast iron pizza pan! More ritualzed prayer will be coming soon, and the result of this will be some oven baked pizza.
New Year's Day, 2012: This year has already kicked ass over 2011. Last night I had the most fun I've had in years on New Year's Eve, and magic was definitely involved: the exact kind of esoteric and impossible-to-pinpoint magic that I've seen since I embraced Chaos. For this weekend's festivities, I engaged in a summoning ritual and I successfully conjured a cybernetic rabbit spirit from the future, who manifested in many strange and unusual ways. The most unusual, and positive, aspect of this came when I designed and cast a sigil with the intent having an effect that very evening, a scant few hours after it was cast. Rather than phrasing it as a desire, I took a chance and made it a declaration: instead of "My desire is…" I simply stated my intention "Something Unexpected Will Happen Tonight" and sigilized it. I then burned the sigil in a cast iron pan to project it into the subconscious. I may be an anthropomorphic cat at heart, but last night the rabbit was my spirit guide: I followed the white rabbit, and even managed to engage in Kirlian photography that showed the aura of the rabbit. I followed the rabbit and let the magic happen, and the result was that last night turned out to be the best fucking New Year I've had in many a year. I made several interesting acquaintances and met one person who I do hope will be more than just an acquaintance. The night's magic began with cast iron and ended with cast iron – true cooking magic. This makes me happy. Some people work magic with candles and cauldrons and pentagrams drawn on the floor. Cooking is my magic. My rituals involve cast iron over a blazing hot stove, wielding metal implements of culinary creation. The results of my cooking magic are slowly manifesting, but I am indeed gaining experience and confidence. Not the least of which was the way I cooked wonderful bacon two separate times in the space of five hours. I will be a beginning cook for a long time to come – but I am now an experienced beginning cook. I am achieving gnosis through my cooking.
Okay…when compared to the wonderful pho I had in a restaurant (where pho is their stock in trade), my first attempt at making pho was pitiful. Then again, as usual the folks at work were hesitant to try something new, anyway. Two of my co-workers took the chance, and one of them thought it was good nonetheless. Still, I made one critical mistake: I boiled the rice noodles early this morning,brought them to work, and kept them in the fridge, where they congealed into a big gooey mass. Oops! (My co-worker consoled me by saying, "Think of it as a big dumpling. However, I did like the way the broth turned out. I'd used raw sliced beef for the meat, and it still cooked instantly when the hot broth was poured over it. I'd provided hoisin sauce and sriracha chile sauce (the standard condiments for adding onto pho), and at least this made it more palatable.
My next attempt to make pho…and probably my next several attempts…will all be done in the privacy of my own home. But still, it could have been worse. And as I said before, cooking consists of many learning experiences and the occasional disaster. This wasn't a disaster, so I can charitably call it a "learning experience."
Man, I never know how these excursions will end up. Lately, I seem to have had these urges to head into Boston and wander around, to see what happens. My adventures are incredibly tame compared to those who have more of a life than me, but it still gives me something to write about. Yesterday, after finishing my work shift, I wanted to head into town to look for a decent-looking sweater and a couple of things to wear as the weather gets colder this weekend. On Facebook, I stumbled across an announcement of a legalize-pot rally to take place at about 4:00 PM yesterday; I thought that sounded interesting, so I got a couple of posterboards and markers, and headed there to see what was going on. Except that nothing happened – apparently the rally had fizzled out. So, what to do with some posterboards and markers? I realized the Occupy Boston tent city was nearby, so I headed over there and dropped the stuff of with them. And, for the second time, I saw these people shivering in the cold…and I had the urge to get them some hot food. The Occupy Boston community is well-organized in their tent city; they're not a bunch of aimless people hanging out there with nothing to do. They have a social structure, tents for generating power, tents for first aid, tents for meditation, and a food area where they are constantly receiving donations and serving food. Except that they have no cooking facilities at all. Even in this weather, they don't even have a bucket of hot coals. I went up to the folks at the food tent and asked about this, and they replied that first of all, they're not allowed to have any fires at all. Not even hot coals. Some of them blame it on police brutality, of course – it's one way for The Man to discourage them and eventually get them to go home. On the other hand, there are also a lot of thieves in their midst: every time they get some decent quality cooking apparatus, it disappears. So they have to make do with piles and piles of cheap utensils, pots, and dishes of all sorts. And so, just as last month when I was caught up in their street protest, I had the urge to help them out and get some them some hot food, at least for the evening. I went into nearby Chinatown and found a restaurant that agreed to cook up an order of hot soup; I found a couple of volunteers; and we carried two big pots of beef soup and chicken soup back to the tent city, where a lot of people got to eat some warm food that evening. What's more, a number of them had never had Thai pho before; this was their first time eating Oriental food. This crowd is living right next to Chinatown Boston, and they've never eaten Chinese?!? They talk about freeing their minds from media control and they don't even want to try new food? Oh well, at least I got them to eat something warm and hot. And it was good soup, too – a little later I went back to the same restaurant and had a meal there myself. And this pho was delicious! I don't know how they make it, but the noodles had a sweetness to them that I've never tasted before…it's not a sugar or honey sweetness, but I think something that comes from ginger. If this is the result of cooking noodles with Oriental five-spices, then I am definitely going to have to try to make this myself! I loved it! (For those who don't know, pho is a Thai noodle soup that's served with scallions in the bowl of soup, and big chunks of thinly sliced rare-cooked meat on top. I'd recently seen a site somewhere, maybe Time magazine or something, that rated the so-called "50 tastiest foods in the world." Pho was #3 on the list. After last night, I think I agree with that!)
Well, this Halloween sucked in general (even though I did achieve a moment akin to gnosis). I'd been planning for months to have a special Trick-or-Treat for the kids, and I'd also wanted to visit Salem in advance of Halloween in order to see the place in a new (magical) perspective. Neither of these happened, thanks to the October snowstorm.
Part 1: The past few days have been alternately tiring (physically) and relaxing (mentally). I've been at work, of course, especially after hours with the pager. I cooked a couple of good dishes and a couple of light ones, as well as gorging myself (and I'm working to clear that excess out of my system at this time). Meanwhile, I've been attempting to achieve a meditative state at least once each day, with varying results.
Part II: Last week I received a new book from Amazon, Hands-On Chaos Magic. Far more enjoyable to read than Liber Null was, I think this is the introduction to Chaos magic that I've been hoping to read! It will take a while to work my way through this book, but the writing style is both easy to read and full of useful information. It includes a few basic ways to achieve the frame of mind for gnosis, which I hope to try soon enough. It even delves into the aspect of Chaos magic that made me laugh out loud, at first – the way it mixes the fictional with the so-called "non-fictional." (Technically, it's all fictional, which is why I'm enjoying it on its own terms.) Probably more than any book on "magic" that I've read so far (which aren't very many, admittedly), Hands-On Chaos Magic is the one that has appealed to me the most as a beginner, and encouraged me to delve further into this genre.
I plan on having a fun and special weekend.
A year ago…heck, even two months ago…if you told me I would be casting my first genuine "magic spell," I would have laughed in your face. But I can't deny that if you define it as "magic," that's what I did last night. I designed and drew a sigil, and kept it with me as I was cooking last night. Then, after I was finished eating, I destroyed the sigil by burning it in a covered cast iron pan. I didn't have to do that, actually; I was intentionally being flashy and dramatic by doing so. I'm reiterating the statement here that magical "energy" does not exist, and what I hope to do is put this image into my subconscious (if such a thing actually exists) as an expression of a statement of intent. Since no one would understand the meaning of this sigil except myself, it can't possibly have any effect on the outside world, or on anything other than myself. Right?
Though, as I was designing the sigil at work yesterday, something unusual happened. About one hour after I'd settled on a design for the sigil, a call came in from one of our customers in regards to a running problem they've been having, one that I've had to deal with while on the pager. (And I'm scheduled to be on call with the pager today.) The call was actually related to the subject matter I'd worked into the sigil. Since this is supposed to be an expression of intent into the subconscious, I suppose I can't state outright what it's about. But no, it has nothing to do with sex.
And as any skeptic will point out, this highlights the dangers of magical thinking. Human beings tend to make associations and connections in their psyche that don't actually exist; this is the basis of many conspiracy theories. Because of the call I received at work shortly after designing the sigil, the skeptical part of my mind is shouting, "Coincidence!" On the other hand, the romantic side is wondering, however quietly, "Is it the sigil?" Of course, I can never have a definitive answer to this, because I had designed a very modest statement of intent into it…one that could very likely be achieved simply through everyday circumstance. (No, I didn't cast a spell to win the lottery.) If nothing else, this experience is a very good demonstration of why mystical thinking continues to exist, even in these modern days of high technology. As long as "The Unknown" exists, even something as esoteric and vague as the question "why am I here?", people will be able to refer to it as "magic." This is an aspect of human nature that will always be with us.
But rather than dwell on this subject, I'm just going to relax and enjoy a day at home in some wonderful sunny fall weather. Later today I'll be cooking some lemon pepper chicken in my Griswold skillet with a new cast iron lid. Cooking is fun, and from this fun comes magic.
Later the same day: Much to be done, much to learn, much to practice. I am a complete beginner at this. It's best to start at the beginning, of course. So, I have to set up a regular routine of meditation practice.