Thursday, January 29, 2015

Racists Gonna Be Racist

The video above is not terribly unusual, though it should make you a little angry (or a lot angry, depending on how much outrage you can still muster up over illegal police behavior). It's a video of a William Wingate, 70 year old man (who happens to be a veteran) being arrested for threatening a police office with a weapon (a golf club he regularly uses as a cane).

If you watch the video, you'll note that he does not seem to be threatening her in any way. If you possess even the most simplistic understanding of physics, you'll note that it would be difficult for an elderly man to threaten someone who is inside of a car (as the officer was when the interaction began) with a golf club.

Turns out the Seattle PD and city prosecutor agreed, as they decided to drop all charges against Wingate. This little case is really important for two reasons: first, note that Wingate had already plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of a weapon. One thing most people not familiar with the criminal justice system have a hard time grasping is the number of people who plead guilty to crimes they have not committed (hell, according to the Innocence Project, nearly a third of all people exonerated from death row had confessed to the crimes they didn't commit). Why would an innocent person confess to a crime they didn't commit? There are myriad reasons (read the Innocence Project list for a rundown of the common ones), but in this specific case, I'd be willing to be it's a combination of the fact that Wingate probably had to rely on a public defender (as do roughly 80% of all people charged with crimes) and was in a he said-she said situation until the video was recaptured. And who do you think any judge or jury is going to believe? The officer or the person charged with attempting to assault an officer? Especially if the accused is a Black man.

But the other, more important takeaway from this is that video is not a cure all, and is only effective when combined with community pressure to reshape our police departments into forces for the protection of all citizens. Because you'll note that in the video, the arresting officer is well aware she is on camera. Hell, she even tries to use the fact that the interaction is being recorded to intimidate the innocent person she's arresting on false charges. This is obviously not some mistake the officer made, but an obvious and blatant abuse of power committed by someone who was sure they could get away with it. And, of course, she has; her entire punishment for such a blatant disregard for the law consists of the incredibly harsh method of "counseling from her supervisor." I'd sure love to see those counseling sessions. "Let's see here, it looks like you're willing to completely disregard the law you took an oath to uphold just so you can harass an elderly man who is doing nothing wrong whatsoever. Umm…don't do that again. On camera, I mean."

Finally, I've barely touched on race here. Because if you possess even the most simplistic understanding of American race relations and the role of police in enforcing them, you know the role race played. But if you need further evidence, here's a Facebook post from the arresting officer in this case:

Take a second to savor the sweet, sweet irony of a racist prick complaining that Black people unfairly say they're targeted by police for no reason going out and unfairly targeting Black people for no reason. Would almost be funny if it weren't real life...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Always Ahead of My Time

Once in college I was riding in a car with some bandmates on the way home from practice late at night. Being that a car full of college-aged boys will always lead to someone doing something stupid, at one point we drove by a police car and a buddy of mine dared me to flip off the cops. Because I am nothing if not a bad ass rebel (NOTE: I am roughly as far from being a badass rebel as is possible), I took him up on the dare and flipped off the cruiser as we drove past.

Fast forward a few blocks and suddenly we get pulled over. Given that several minutes had passed, none of us had yet made the connection that this was the same police car, so we didn't really know what was going on. As in any routine traffic stop, an officer appeared and asked for the license and insurance of the driver and for some reason my license, even though I was in the passenger seat. After running our info, the cop came back to the car and asked me to step out of the vehicle. I actually had to have him repeat the order, because I was incredibly confused as to why I was being asked to step out the of the car when I wasn't driving.

As soon as I did step out, though, the other officer from the cruiser was standing about 6 inches from my face and while jabbing a finger in my chest asked if I flipped him off a few blocks back, to which I admitted that yes, I had. He then asked me why I did it, and I gave him the honest answer of "my friends and I were being stupid and thought it would be funny." This obviously angered him in some way, as he became even more belligerent and we had the following exchange. I obviously can't guarantee this is verbatim, but both my buddies and I have told the story so many times over the years, I can say this is pretty much what was said:

Cop: If there was someone just walking down the street and you flipped them off, would that be a crime?


Cop: (obviously not hearing what I said) THEN WHY SHOULD IT BE ANY DIFFERENT FOR ME?

Me: (having no idea how to answer) shouldn't?

Cop: You're damn right. I could arrest you and take you in right now.

Me: For what?

Cop: Assault of an officer.

Me:, I'm pretty sure you can't? Like, I don't see at all how gesturing at you from 100 feet away makes an assault.

Cop: Oh, I can definitely arrest you for that.

We then went on to argue for a few minutes about whether he could arrest me for assaulting an officer or not, and I have to give myself credit for being able to hold back laughter then entire time (quick legal tip: assault, by definition, has to include physical contact). Eventually he told me I could either apologize or be arrested, so I gave a half-hearted apology and told him we were just being stupid, didn't mean anything by it, etc. He seemed kind of disappointed that I apologized instead of continuing to be an asshole, but he stayed true to his word and let me go (well, "let me go" is a generous assessment, since again, there was literally nothing he could have actually charged me with).

And while I've found this entire exchange hilarious for quite some time, I now get to officially have the last laugh, as the 2nd circuit federal appeals court has ruled giving cops the finger is free speech protected by the Constitution.

So to you, random Waterloo police officer, out there somewhere -- I'd like to use my legally-protected right of free speech to let you know how I feel about you harassing kids for being kids:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Offally Good, Part II -- Tongue

Today (well technically yesterday) we're tackling beef tongue. Unlike oxtail, I've actually had tongue before several times, but I've never actually prepared it myself. I knew in advance that it's somewhat tricky and that doing it wrong leaves you with a weird, rubbery substance that's not remotely appealing. Was I successful in avoiding this? Kinda! Read on as we prepare some delicious tongue tacos, or tacos de lengua if you're fancy. Here's the recipe I'm kind of following if you want some specifics, but this one allows more room for improvisation than the stew did.

First things first, we need to thaw and unwrap the ol' tongue. I actually happened into possession of two separate tongues. The other tongue was much more picturesque and probably would look a lot better in shitty phone pics, but that one is also vacuum wrapped all nicely, while this one was just wrapped in plastic and butcher paper. So I figured the other one would keep a lot longer. Anyway, this is what a beef tongue looks like (albeit one that's already had a bit of pre-butchering):

A tongue
 Unlike the oxtail, there is zero doubt what you're working with here. The second you touch it to wash off the excess blood and whatnot on it, you instantly know you're holding a tongue. It's…well, off-putting would be a word that comes to mind, but doesn't accurately describe it. Anyone who has a dog will already be quite familiar with the sandpaper-like texture of the tongue of most mammals, but damn  if it still isn't weird and creepy.

The tastebuds. It's most definitely a tongue.
I started to write about this in the previous post but deleted it for space, but cooking with offal really reminds you that you're cooking with something that used to be a living animal. I'm sure plenty of people have already written about the phenomenon, but the modern grocery store really divorces you from the fact that meat used to be a living thing, not just some shrink-wrapped pieces in a refrigerated display case. Handling tongue there is zero way to not be conscious of the fact that there was once a living cow using its tongue for cow stuff which was then killed and its tongue was chopped off and put into some wax paper.

Anyway, much like the oxtail, the tongue needs a nice long bath, simmering in various flavorful things to make it both tender and tasty. Here it is enjoying some soaking time:

Celery, onions, bay leaves, peppercorns, tongue
 After a few hours of simmering (I went for 3 and a half, probably could have used a bit more), it's pretty good to go. However, the very outter layer of the tongue needs to be removed before eating, so you root around a bit in that milky white part with a knife, but once it gets loose, it sloughs off pretty easily. Most of the bumps on the tongue go with it, but there's still plenty there to remind you of what you're working with:
May not look like a tongue, but again, it most definitely feels like one
After removing the funky white covering (which probably has a name, but you have the same access to google that I do if you're so damn interested), you chop the tongue up into roughly half inch or so slices. Here's where you relearn a lesson about how heat dissipates, as the outside of the tongue will quickly feel cool enough to work with, but as you start to slice into it and burn your fingers, you remember that heat doesn't move evenly through objects like that. So after swearing a bunch and occasionally running your fingers through cold water, you end up with tongue slices:

Don't let the remarkable resemblance to dog food throw you.
 Then it's time to cook again! I'm beginning to realize the one through-line of working with offal (other than the fact it will take you all day) is that it will need to be cooked in a minimum of two different ways. Starting to understand why people do not gravitate toward these parts of the cow. Anyway, you take those slices and pan fry for awhile, till they're nice and browned:

This is what something looks like in a frying pan.
This picture was probably unnecessary.
 So now we've got some nicely fried cow tongue slices, but since we're going for tacos, they need another rough chop to make them tiny little taco-ready cubes. Once again, you think you've waited plenty of time, but you most definitely burn your fingers again chopping until you have this:

Hi! I'm a pile of tongue!
Then you're pretty much ready to go. Every recipe I read indicated the salsa verde was the go-to condiment for tacos de lengua, so I went with a healthy pile of that. I also saved some of the raw onion, most of which ended up in the simmering pot, to put on them. And then cheese, of course (more on that below). Throw that all in a fresh tortilla, and you get something that's not nearly as photogenic as the stew:

Yup, those are tacos alright.

But was it any good?

Well…kinda. I mean, they definitely weren't bad, but they weren't spectacular. However, I think I made a few key mistakes that could easily be avoided in future tongue cooking. Specifically to the tacos, the grocery store was out of queso fresco when I was there, and I'll be good God damned if I'm going to go to two grocery stores, so I just went with some generic "mexican blend" packaged cheese. This was a big mistake, as the queso fresco would not only have tasted better, but the salty fattiness of it would have really complemented the tacos in a way they could have used. Similarly, I didn't have any limes, and these things were just screaming for some acidity.

In more general tongue preparation, there seemed to be a split opinion on the google machine as to whether tongue needs to be brined before cooking. I skipped it mainly for time concerns (and I'm honestly getting sick of washing dishes -- this shit makes you use a lot of dishes), but I imagine it would have gone quite a way toward solving the acidity problem as well as softening the tongue up more to get rid of the rubberiness. You can't ever completely make tongue loose that rubbery texture, but I think I could have done more. Mine was still fairly rubbery and at the very least probably could have used another hour or so of simmering (but it was getting late, and I was hungry). I'm going to try making the leftovers into a quesadilla incorporating a few more ingredients, though, which I think will make it significantly more palatable. One other problem was that even though I chopped up the tongue as soon as I possibly could (probably sooner than I should have, given how I repeatedly burnt my fingers), by the time the tacos were all assembled, the tongue had cooled quite a bit. Like to basically room temp. While I still could have done more to make the tongue less rubbery, I'm guessing consuming it at room temp probably doesn't help.

Finally, as alluded to above, there is no mistaking you're working with a tongue here. If you had just given me these tacos and not explained what the meat was I might have thought they were a tad rubbery, but not really cared or noticed. But after you've had to handle the tongue for quite sometime, it's simply impossible to push that…feeling out of your head. I think when I have the leftovers and haven't just recently been handling a bloody tongue it might go better.

Have we learned anything from this process?

Yes. Cooking is fun! This is something I already knew, but it's been a long while since I've tried to push myself into really different foods/recipes than I normally cook with. It's a fun hobby, and typically leaves you with something delicious at the end, so it's nice to occasionally just do it for fun rather than for utilitarian purposes.

Also, I don't do much day-long simmering like this very often and I've forgotten how awesome it makes the house smell. I've always been too young and/or single to own a crockpot, but this is making me rethink that. My house has smelled pretty awesome all week. Drives Dog nuts, though.

Coming soon:

A friend passed along a tasty-looking recipe for beef heart, so that's going to happen in the near future. But the true golden grail is brain, which is probably my favorite of all the organs. I'm going to try making it two ways, so that should be a fun entry. I'll either end up with the most delicious thing I've ever made or a really fun blog post about how I wasted a day ruining food. Or I'll get mad cow and post nothing but insane gibberish. In any event, that oughtta be a fun one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Offally Good, Part I -- Oxtail

I've got a colleague in my department who is from nearby farm country, who after the break bought home an entire cow from a friend of theirs (obviously already butchered and all of that). At some point it came up that they had no idea what to do with the various organs of the cow. And if there's one thing I will not stand for, it's deliciousness like tongue, brain, heart, and other assorted innards going to waste. I can't help it, I'm Polish -- I'm genetically pre-disposed to love organ meats.

Yet I've never actually had the opportunity to cook with any of them, and I really like to learn how to cook new things. So now I'm hoping I can learn to not only make them edible, but make some halfway decent food in the process. Join me, won't you, as we begin our journey and I teach you how to cook with oxtail. Which I am not at all ashamed to admit I didn't realize was literally the tail of the cow until I got it (I mean, it makes all sorts of sense, sure, but I thought it was one of those weird old timey words that had some sort of long story behind it).

Anyway, the key to most all offal is cooking it slowly to make it tender enough to eat. And by slowly, I mean like 6-7 hours, so start this shit early if you're cooking along at home. Today I'm making an oxtail stew, based loosely on this recipe (careful though, it's an English recipe and uses the metric system. Like I'm some sort of super human who has time to translate measurements while cooking. Fuck that. Besides, measuring is for chumps. The stew has enough rosemary when I say it has enough rosemary).

First, the tail itself. Looks pretty funky, but definitely was once a tail. Or an H.R. Geiger creation.

Seriously. This could totally be something that bursts out of a dude's chest.
Apparently you've got to cook the thing before you actually cook it. Probably because it's a damned tail, and not some expensive cut of meat. Obviously one of the reasons for the cheapness of offal is that it's tough, a pain in the ass to prepare, and not particularly the healthiest for you. To that point, you typically need a lot of other stuff to jazz up your offal, since it's not that great and all. So you throw a bunch of vegetables and aromatics (as I've learned is way classier to call them) in a pot. The recipe I linked to calls for fresh herbs, but fuck that noise, this is a stew (there's a misconception amongst people that fresh herbs are always better than dried. Not the case! Fresh are best for when they are added at the end of the process and will receive minimal cooking. For something that's going to be sitting and stewing for a long time, dried can often serve you better).

Specifically: carrots, celery, leeks, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, and cloves.
 So that stuff all hangs out and makes the house smell ridiculously amazing for a period of time. I was aiming for 20 minutes, but I think I got impatient at around the 16 minute mark. It's going to spend all fucking day in the oven anyway, I don't think it's that big a deal. At roughly the same time, apparently the tail is getting ready to join the party, so it gets yanked out of the oven where it had been hanging out with some olive oil and caramelizing itself. It now looks like this.

Still looks like an alien, but now one that is a tasty golden brown.
Then once again you need to add a bunch of shit to give this stuff flavor. So about a third or so of a bottle of wine. Make sure to pour yourself a glass as well. (Sure, it's barely past noon, but it's just one glass, it's not like you're being crazy irresponsible. Ok, maybe two glasses, but it's not like I'm not putting in work here. That was a lot of chopping. Besides this is America, and if you don't have a glass of wine while cooking, you're letting the terrorists win. Why do you hate America so much?!?). Then put in a can of tomatoes. Not the giant can, and not those tiny itty-bitty cans, but you know, like the regular size ones. In addition to that, you could add some boring-ass water, or you could add the homemade stock you made from all of the Thanksgiving leftovers. You feel particularly clever when you do this, because when you made and froze the stock, you had no idea what you were going to do with it.

Homemade stock. Physical evidence of my complete lack of a social life.
Then everything gets together in the pot and hangs out in the oven for several hours at some lowish temp (something in the low-300s). You can't quite see it in the pic, but this time you remembered to unscrew the plastic handles of the pot and lid before you put them in the oven, which helps the house smell like delicious stew instead of melting plastic. You are once again quite proud of yourself.

The alien baby rests in a warm bath.
So that's been hanging out in the oven pretty much all afternoon. I think it went in a little before 1:00 and other than the occasional stir (which was really more of an excuse to open up the lid and smell its deliciousness, but I'm sure stirring does something to something), it didn't come out until about 6:30 or so. But you're far from finished! For the tail is just chockablock full of the rest of the cow's spine. So you fish it out with a slotted spoon because it's already falling apart of its own accord (a very good sign!) and it now looks significantly less like something that might burst out of Kane's chest after encountering the face hugger and more like delicious meatstuff.

Pictured: delicious meatstuff. Spellcheck for some reason does not recognize "meatstuff" as a valid word.
The fortunate thing about stewing meat for that long is that it becomes literally fall-off-the-bone tender, so you just need to wiggle it around a bunch and rip off the bits of flesh that refuse to separate from their bone friends. Then you're left with a regular ol' pile of meat. Were you to show this to a stranger passing through your kitchen, they'd have no idea it was actually tail. At the same time, if you regularly have strangers in your kitchen, you may want to install better locks.

Hi, you can't even tell I was a creepy-looking tail only hours ago!
Of course, in addition to your new pile of meat, you also have a pile of spine. Technically the tail, sure, but I think those are pretty much the same thing (note: I am definitely not a biologist). It's fun to have a plateful of spinal bones, makes you feel like an archeologist. And don't you go throwing those bones away! Make sure to keep them and their delicious marrow for making more stock. Just toss 'em in a plastic bag with various veggie trimmings and keep them in the freezer. When you collect enough, make a big ol' pot of stock to freeze and have at the ready. What's that, you're not already making your own stock at home? Way to sell your soul to BIG STOCK. WAKE UP, SHEEPLE! Anyway, here's what your pile of bones will look like:

What you're preparing to eat used to be employed mainly to swat at flies on the ass of a barnyard creature.

While admiring your bones, you should have thrown the meat back into the pot and the pot back into the oven to hang out and stew some more. Oh, and at some point you should have made some mashed potatoes. It's no hurry, you've got about a 7-hour window, though I suggest waiting more toward the end. Then you're done. Well, I mean, you should probably put it all on a plate, or in a bowl or something, but really, it's your food, you eat it however you like. If you go with a traditional plate-based method, it will look something like this:

Pictured: A somewhat competent-looking stew and potatoes.

But what it any good?

Surprisingly yes, it was quite delicious. I've never had oxtail before, but it stewed up quite nice like. While I still advocate not paying attention to measurements of spices, I'd suggest using less cloves than I did. There's a hint of sophomore poetry major in mine that's not the best, but otherwise, pretty decent for my first foray into tail.

Check back later in the week as we head to Central America and make some tacos de lengua with delicious cow tongue. And this weekend: brain! Oh, the adventures we're having with lesser-used cow parts this week!

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Heros Don't Appear on Stamps

It's that day of the year we celebrate that guy who said some radical stuff that can be easily repackaged as milquetoast nice stuff. He's also someone our federal government probably murdered, but now gave a holiday to, so everything's fine.

As always, I feel there is no greater way to honor King than to let him speak for himself. To that end, this year I heartily endorse his rightly-famous Playboy interview from 1964 (sfw link, it's truly just the article you say you read the publication for).

Reading what King had to say is a great reminder that while people often like to claim had they been alive back then they would have been marching with King, they are probably full of shit. Why do I know this? Because all of the same problems are currently happening, and you aren't out there doing anything about. Instead, we get nothing but obnoxious riot shaming from these folks, so I'll let the good Dr. explain why that's an idiotic position to take (emphasis mine):

I mean the white leadership—which I hold as responsible as anyone for the riots, for not removing the conditions that cause them. The deep frustration, the seething desperation of the Negro today is a product of slum housing, chronic poverty, woefully inadequate education and substandard schools. The Negro is trapped in a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign, caught in a vicious socioeconomic vise. And he is ostracized as is no other minority group in America by the evil of oppressive and constricting prejudice based solely upon his color. A righteous man has no alternative but to resist such an evil system. If he does not have the courage to resist nonviolently, then he runs the risk of a violent emotional explosion. As much as I deplore violence, there is one evil that is worse than violence, and that's cowardice. It is still my basic article of faith that social justice can be achieved and democracy advanced only to the degree that there is firm adherence to nonviolent action and resistance in the pursuit of social justice. But America will be faced with the ever-present threat of violence, rioting and senseless crime as long as Negroes by the hundreds of thousands are packed into malodorous, rat-plagued ghettos; as long as Negroes remain smothered by poverty in the midst of an affluent society; as long as Negroes are made to feel like exiles in their own land; as long as Negroes continue to be dehumanized; as long as Negroes see their freedom endlessly delayed and diminished by the head winds of tokenism and small handouts from the white power structure. No nation can suffer any greater tragedy than to cause millions of its citizens to feel that they have no stake in their own society.

 So, you know, either get on solving the problem of America's long-entrenched racism, or shut the fuck up about the tactics of people actually trying to do something about it.

Oh, and no post on Dr. King is complete without an annual proclamation of fuck Arizona, now and forever:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Radio Silence and the Bullshit of Student Evaluations

Quick note: between the end of a busy semester and the beginning of an even busier semester, I took a few months off of all non-essential activities, blogging included. Life is once again in a manageable state, so blogging will resume. Schedule your life accordingly.

I just got my student evaluations from last semester. Student evals are a lot like novelty liquors -- amusing for a bit, but something that doesn't serve any real purpose (and gets gross pretty quickly). We've long known that they're basically bullshit, measuring less if an instructor is effective and more whether the students thought the class was easy or the instructor was white enough. And yet, like so many things we know don't work, student evals still form a cornerstone of evaluating instruction.

Because I'm a youngish white guy whose classes are fairly easy, I overwhelmingly get good reviews. But one type of comment I get at least once or twice every semester just drives me up the damn wall -- specifically, when a student claims I have a "liberal bias."

This annoys me for so damn many reasons, chief amongst them being that I'm not at all a liberal, so it's weird to be labeled as being biased toward a political view you don't even hold (it always reminds me of the time my religious hero Frank Cordaro was at a panel discussion and someone accused the panel of being too liberal, which caused Frank to bolt upright from his seat and shout "I'm offended at the very accusation! I'm not a liberal, dammit, I'm a radical!").

But the bigger reason it annoys me is because I strive very much to include a wide variety of perspectives in my courses. Hell, I have my students read James Q. Wilson! Which is a name you either had to google or you're already an academic criminologist. To save you the few seconds on google, Wilson is probably the most prominent conservative criminologist in the history of the US. I bring this up not only as a concrete example of the fact that I include at least one ideology I don't hold in my courses, but because it demonstrates the real reason why I find accusation of liberal bias to be so annoying -- to legitimately assess my level of bias means the accuser would have to be so familiar with the entire field of criminology, in both breadth and depth, as to be able to discern that I am either omitting or greatly misrepresenting one or more schools of thought. However, to have the level of knowledge necessary to make that call, you would basically have to have a Ph.D. in the field, or at least be a very advanced graduate student. And if you have a Ph.D. or are an advanced grad student, what are you doing in my 300-level undergrad course?

Because as much as I try not to be, I may still be biased in the classroom, but no undergraduate student is in the position to judge whether or not that's true. This is one of the many reasons I wish these evals were not anonymous, so I could actually ask these students what they mean by the accusation. Do they have a real argument as to why they think I'm biased (which would be super interesting and I'd love to hear), or is it (as I very much suspect) that calling card of modern conservatism in which any fact that challenges your world view has to be not the result of serious scientific inquiry but instead the pernicious crime of liberal bias? Because every time a student has accused me of being biased in person it has always become quickly clear by "bias" they meant "teaching things I don't personally agree with."

To bring all of this back to this most recent batch of evaluations, I got a new one this semester. According to one student (this is a verbatim quote from the evaluation), my course this past semester was the "only sociology class in which I actually learned something and without far-left rhetoric being shoved down my throat."

Of course I'm not trying to position this eval as more real because it speaks positively of me and the others as bullshit because they don't, I include it because it's just as bullshit as the "bias" evals, and pretty concretely demonstrates the point I'm making. If students actually had the requisite knowledge to judge the level of my bias, they should probably come to similar conclusions.

And regards to the exact same class, for one student I had a liberal bias and for another student I was the only person in the entire department to not have a liberal bias. Why it's almost as if these comments are not at all rooted in an empirical assessment of my teaching abilities, but instead based on the vague notions of people barely out of their teenage years...