The Enemy Family

Sometimes I hate people.

I recently submitted DNA samples in a project to discover our human ancestry. There are several organizations out there that will, for a fee, analyze one’s DNA and provide the customer with information about his or her genetic past. The results will allow me to see into the distant past and possibly discover where my family came from and how we got here. Many people have paid for this analysis to be performed on their cheek swab material. Evidently, enough genetic material may be collected by scrubbing the inside of your mouth for 45 seconds to give scientists a detailed picture of what you’re made of. As it turns out, genetic researchers, along with historians and anthropologists and archaeologists, have traced human migration patterns to a precise spot in East Africa. Over a few hundred thousand years, Homo Sapiens moved from there to all points on the globe to where we find ourselves now.

It is clear to me that my ancestors came from Europe. One path will undoubtedly trace back to England, then further, to Central Europe and beyond. Another path will connect with the Iberian Peninsula, then to North Africa. Perhaps. But recent discoveries have identified a significant amount of Neanderthal DNA mixed in with some of us, the ones who descended from early Europeans. It will therefore come as no surprise to find 3-4% Homo Neanderthalensis in my sample, which is about average for people of European descent. It is much lower with Asians, and practically nonexistent among Africans.

Neanderthals have had a pretty negative reputation since first appearing in popular culture. They’re seen as ogre-like cave-dwellers with low intelligence and a knuckle-dragging posture. But a lot more is being learned about them and how it is they vanished. Well, they didn’t disappear entirely, it turns out. They are us (some of us, anyway.)

I don’t know anything about early humans, but I like to think part of who I am, my psyche, my physical attributes, I can trace back to those Neanderthal roots. Nevermind that I have a natural talent for music. I don’t know where that comes from, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily an inherited trait, but many members of my family have similar talents.

I was raised a certain way, and my family is not prone to violence or aberrant behavior (although there have been a few alcoholics). As a man, I am, however, fiercely protective, especially where my wife is concerned. When she feels threatened by someone, my instincts start working through my primitive components, and I become angry. No one causes my wife more harm more than her family.

My wife’s siblings are all very protective of her, especially her brothers, about whom I should refrain from drawing ancestral conclusions, but there are a lot of people who would be quite surprised to find that they have sub-Saharan African genetic roots. But the main problem we have with our families is not with siblings, but with in-laws. It is for this reason that I am a proponent of arranged marriages. Who better to pick your mate than the people who know you better than you know yourself? But I digress.

These in-laws, ex-in-laws, as it were, of my wife’s siblings, are not bad people, but they are hurtful and cruel. It is their upbringing, I suppose. Just as most people would find beating their children repugnant, they see it as part of life, a necessary affliction. Their parents abused them, therefore abuse begets abuse. But say anything disparaging about their family, no matter how horrible growing up was for them, and you will find yourself ostracized if not assaulted both physically and verbally.

It is enough for me to beckon my Neanderthal 3% and smite these people with the efficiency and thoroughness of the berserker. I feel a little like Bruce Banner, struggling to hold back this juggernaut within me. In reality I have nothing of substance to administer as a rebuke to the injury brought upon my family. And I consciously know that violence is not an answer. But there is rage, Neanderthal notwithstanding, inside me knowing how my wife is being punished for no reason.

People like to think that, above all else, family is the most important thing. Family trumps everything. Well, kind of. The Civil War rent families beyond reconciliation. Brothers fought brothers. The entire country was ripped apart. Family is not the strongest bond, it appears. It is my opinion that one’s family is made up of the people who care most for us, those who will stand by us, who will be with us no matter what we’re going through. These “relatives” of my wife are not family. They will not come to our aid if we are in need. They will not comfort, they will not defend us. They are the enemy.

I know how to treat enemies.

My Neanderthal ancestors probably had similar problems with in-laws. But their solution was probably a lot more gruesome. My solution is to cut them off entirely. Not so easy for my wife. And the struggle persists. But we do have family. Real family. Our friends who have always stood with us, who would travel halfway around the world just to see us. That’s family. Anthropologists like to remind us we are all one big family of humanity. Well, they haven’t met everyone, have they?

 

Advertisements

Disposable Me

I find myself being more conscious of the world and its woes. How we all have a part to play, and that we are all part of this world. We are responsible for its well-being. Now, I am not an activist by any stretch of the imagination. But I am concerned about our environment, and it bothers me a lot about how much trash we produce as a species. To be fair, other animals trash up the place. Just in my front yard the mockingbirds have made a shambles of my garden statuary. The saints would take offense. But birds will be birds, and we can’t fault them for their peculiar sense of aim.

Humans, on the other hand, are prolific suppliers of refuse. This is nothing new. A few years ago, I came across a documentary about the Anasazi, a Pre-Columbian people in the Southwest region of the US (actually, they predated many civilizations in the Americas.) Among the artifacts and ruins uncovered, there was also evidence of what amounted to a garbage dump. Even they discarded some things. But here in the 21st century, even though we recycle and repurpose some things, we produce a staggering amount of trash.

In my home, we have two large recycling bins – they’re blue, and they hold about 250 litres – which we tend to fill weekly. And yet we still have enough non-recyclable waste to fill the even larger trash bin. (Truth be told, we don’t routinely fill both recycling bins.) Most residents are not aware that almost every container can be recycled, including most types of glass, plastics, paper, cardboard, and steel. Steel, in fact, is the cheapest material to recycle.

But one problem with all this is that few of these containers are meant to be reused. In fact, practically none of them is. Glass beer bottles are a major culprit. In Texas, bottles are not returned, and therefore get discarded. Recycling glass is pretty expensive, and it consumes a great deal of energy. Beyond recycling, beyond repurposing, it is clear that we throw away a lot of things. We produce a lot of things that are intended to be discarded, and that disturbs me.

In January we threw away a bunch of 2015 calendars. They were of no use. I thought about how we purchased something that was only intended to be used for a year. Then I thought about magazines. They have a very brief shelf life. Even shorter for church bulletins, theater programs, fliers, brochures, and the list goes on. And that’s just paper products. We throw away practically everything we use. It bears repeating that we produce a lot of things meant for consumption and disposal.

The only solution I can offer is to do a small part, reusing my water bottle, reading e-books instead of printed ones, downloading music rather than buying CDs. It’s really not much. But I also try my hand at composting, not that this reduces my waste production. And I like my reusable glass containers. My house is illuminated with LED bulbs, so I use less energy – a little less, anyway.

Meanwhile, I’m using that saved electricity to write this post. Okay, time to shut it down.

Until next time.

Big Band Sounds Abound in Cowtown

If you live in or around Fort Worth, Texas (or in my case, within 120 km), and you like swing music and dance, you will enjoy the First Friday Dance at Southside Preservation Hall in the hospital district just south of Downtown. This historic location, maintained by the Southside Preservation Association, was originally a Methodist church, then a boxing gym, and now hosts weekly Tuesday night swing lessons and the monthly dance event. Buddy’s Big Band covers many of the classics, including “Moonlight Serenade”, “In the Mood”, and “Nice Work if You Can Get it,” to name a few. They feature guest singers from time to time. And their sound is phenomenal.

The dance hall is expansive, with tables lining the outer edge. The event starts at 8:00 PM, and it’s clear that people are in it for the duration, with some veterans staking claim to a table early in the evening. The night we visited, we saw many young people, teenagers and early 20-somethings. There were some in their autumn years but with lots of energy. A collection of ringers swarmed the center of the floor for the most part. It was obvious these folks had practised for a while, and they gave the appearance of gearing up for some dance competition in the near future, and they needed to test their skills. Whatever the case, it was a blast.

Swing dance has been in a slow-cooker comeback since the 90’s, with groups like Cherry Poppin Daddies and Squirrel Nut Zippers, and movies like “Blast from the Past.” The Dallas Swing Dance Society keeps a calendar of local dance events, workshops, classes, and more on their site. However, they do not include the First Friday event listing, furthering the chasm between Dallas and Fort Worth.

Buddy’s Big Band is the real deal, and the lead trumpet and tenor sax players were quite good, belting out solos all night. We ducked out for a little while to grab a bite, but on our return, the party was still in full swing (no pun intended). I recommend a high-protein meal. Swing dance requires a lot of energy.

This is a neat little secret in the area, and it surprised me that the dining crowds a few blocks up didn’t even know about what was happening. Dancers were dressed in various levels of formality, some with a t-shirt and a jacket, others wearing a tie and vest combo, and ladies in 1940’s era dresses. One young woman wore a pink poodle skirt. It was fun just being part of the scene.

Early in the evening, the band played a charleston rhythm, and those in the know took to the floor. My wife and I attempted to join in, but clearly, this was a rehearsed number. In any case, we all had a lot of fun.

Four hours of sanding is enough for anyone, and my legs are still sore. It’s obvious I need to get into better shape. I applaud the real dancers. They were really impressive, and the band seemed to take that as some sort of a challenge, playing yet faster tunes. The mirrored ball threw disorienting patterns around the room, but that didn’t seem to have deleterious effects on the dancers. And the band played on…

The next event is scheduled for March 4. We will probably skip it, but only because there is a dance workshop in Dallas that Saturday, and we need pointers.

Allons-y!

Gastronomique

I am a man of passion. I am passionate about language. I have a passion for art, particularly photography. And I am passionate about cooking. I love to cook. But it goes well beyond a fondness for making meals. Since I was very young, I have had a yearning to create things. And for me cuisine provides the best palate: the human senses of taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing. When you combine all these in various aspects, you can create something that is not achievable from the sum of these senses. A photograph only appeals to one’s sight. Music is often only perceived by the ears, but sometimes it is seen and heard. But when we eat we experience something more.

When you peel open a navel orange, the zest bursts forth its oily essence, releasing the unique properties for your olfactory receptors. That, combined with the juicy flesh of the fruit, awakes the senses, bringing together the sight, smell and taste. Texture is a part of the experience, too. And let’s not forget about the sound the peel makes as you tear it open. You might have to really pay attention to get all five components. Maybe we are in too much of a hurry when we eat to take notice. It is easy to blame the fast food industry for this catastrophe, but we are also partly to blame. Humans are pre-programmed to crave fat and salt. We can’t help it, and so when offered the choice, it takes a lot more than willpower to resist it.

Why do we eat, really? I guarantee it is not just for sustenance. Our ancient ancestors did forage all day, hunting for meat and hides to cover their bodies, and eating whatever they could catch. They had to do this to survive, but then they discovered cultivation. They settled in one place, formed civilizations, and the rest, quite literally, is history. So when did we go from eating to survive to making meals more significant? Well, it probably happened about the time that grain was harvested and stored. Eventually, someone figured out that you could make stuff with it. Once mixed with naturally-occurring yeast, humans had discovered beer and leavened breads. And there was much rejoicing.

Actually, cooking has been around a lot longer than agriculture. Prehistoric peoples, I am sure as soon as they discovered how to make fire, began to cook food. It must have been that it improved the taste and texture, because it’s hard to imagine that they were concerned about microbes. But we may never really know. About 80 thousand years later gastronomy evolved. Ancient Egyptians have been credited with inventing beer. They at least learned how to cultivate grain and turn it into bread. This was a game-changer for civilization.

Now, 6000 years later, we have evolved again, with the advent of molecular gastronomy, featuring dishes like “carrot air” and Massimo Buttura‘s “Five Stages of Parmigiano Reggiano”. These dishes typically push the envelope of texture and visuals, but I don’t know if the flavor has been improved. Also, the price has increased exponentially. Of course, we get what we pay for. You can live on canned beans and powdered milk, if you want to call that “living.”

My passions lie in the making of simple dishes, actually. Lentil stew, baguettes, roasts, fricassee. Some would call it peasant food. Massimo says, “when you ask Italians where to get the best food, they say, ‘Mama’.”

Well, I’m off to the market to get some fresh thyme for my Superbowl Chicken. Go Broncos!

Blunderbuss

Just about every time I check Facebook for family and friend updates, I’m confronted by photos, text blocks, memes, and cartoons boasting about how “crazy” he or she is (it’s usually referencing a female). One recent post showed a “onesie”, a one-piece garment for infants, emblazoned with something to the effect that the wearer’s mother is prone to psychotic behaviour and bouts of unrestrained violence (a real catch!)

The most troublesome part of this to me is how 21st century adults are forcing their children to be complicit in their ostensibly deviant behaviour. I admit that an infant isn’t likely to be able to read the inflammatory slogan on his outfit, spit-up stains notwithstanding. Even so, although I can say and do whatever I want, I must accept the consequences. Therefore, if I were to wave a Confederate flag, I’d expect to offend some people. But these posters and memes seem to be published – I say publish because when you write or share something with pictures and/or text, and it is intended for public consumption, that is the definition of publishing – with the attitude that there are no consequences. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned – and you know I am, because I use punctuation – but when something is put in writing, I assume the person who wrote it (or who is wearing it or sharing it on their page) means what they say. Well, not entirely.

There are many parody news sites on the internet, namely The Onion. And even though these sites may be by some degree up-front in their intent, mainstream news sources have taken them a face value, with hysterical results. It’s a lot of fun to see how this has gone, but I don’t wish to digress. My point here is that while there is parody, for the most part it is clever and amusing. But when someone is bragging about how violent they can become at the drop of a hat, well, that’s just sad. The world has had enough of bullying and sabre-rattling. And mental illness is a real medical problem, and people suffer with it. It’s nothing to joke about, even though we have all laughed at “crazy” jokes.

My problem is not that there is an occasional appearance of this kind of thing, but that it’s everywhere. My wife says she sees the “my mommy is a psycho” toddler shirts all the time. Personally, I would not brag about being emotionally unstable as a means of explaining away one’s lack of social graces. Most people are not truly psychopaths. Actually, the statistics do happen to show higher occurrences among CEO’s and lawyers. It makes perfect sense. But psychopaths aren’t generally violent. What some people are really saying is that when they lose their temper and become unstable, it can’t possibly be their fault. Well, maybe it is.

Whatever the circumstances, we are ultimately responsible for our own behaviour, whether it’s because we’re exhausted or hungry or physically or mentally ill. We must take care of our needs before attempting to care for someone else. If you have ever been on a commercial airliner, you know the drill, “in the unlikely event of a sudden drop in cabin air pressure, the oxygen masks will deploy. Pull down and place over your nose and mouth like so…make sure your mask is secure before attempting to help other passengers.” You’re no use if you are incapacitated or worse. Again, I digress.

The bottom line here is that unless you want to have the world assume you are not a sane, stable individual, please don’t advertise to the contrary. And don’t subject your children to your particular brand of bad taste. If they want to be idiots, they should do it on their own time. Kids need their parents to be reliable and calm. Telling someone you are looking for trouble will ensure that trouble finds you and the surrounding people. Is that really what we want?

Well, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to say, “I can be nice when I want, but don’t piss me off.” But maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to brag about how nothing gets to you. You have patience. You are calm amid turmoil. You are a rock. Hell, what do I know? Maybe the world needs hot-heads.