Monday, June 06, 2016

Isn't it too early to be this jaded about politics

I did not vote for Mitt Romney last election.  I did it out of the naive position that he was insufficiently principled; he seemed to be someone who wanted the presidency simply for its own sake.  It was unclear what his specific policies would be, because like his fellow Bay Stater John Kerry, he had occupied a number of positions on his way to a national campaign.  In short, he felt like the Republican Diet Coke of Hillary Clinton.

Looking back, that feels silly now.  In part because I don't really fall neatly into either particular ideological space represented by the two major political parties.  But also because now, when faced with the actual Hillary Clinton as a candidate, that the alternative is a sort of clownish villain.  (I'm thinking more Dr. Evil than Joker...)  It's hard to tell how dangerous he might actually be in practice, but that's a bit of a different question that the previous paragraph.

I don't really have a question about either Romney's or Clinton's competence, or their belief in the formulation of our economic and political system.  My reservations were about the amount of freedom each would take from us, which has been kind of a moot point over the last 16 years as, like when Eisenhower opted not to dismantle the New Deal, Obama has chosen to maintain the surveillance state and pieces of the War on Terror that were largely elective in addition to his interventionist decisions that doubled down on Bush's during the economic crashes.

The idealistic part of the electorate seems to be moving away from what I believe, the pragmatic is lining up behind an obviously corrupt technocrat and the nationalistic is distilling that occasionally compelling spirit into a volatile rocket fuel rather than a sophisticated single malt.  Volatile is the best word to describe it because there is a possible upside to a Trump presidency.  There is floor, though, is more sever and more likely.

I guess it kind of depends on my faith in the resiliency of American institutions.  I think that our institutions are mostly excellent, but if they continue to be populated by people who do not seem to believe in them -- or at least appear to elevate their partisan loyalties higher than the mores of the institutions to which they belong, notably the Senate -- then it may not matter how good those institutions are.

The crazy thing is, at this point, I think I'd pick almost literally anyone of the other serious choices than those who remain in the race.  (Ok, probably not Cruz.)  But man, does it look like Biden missed his moment.  Or hell, Romney.  This time, I think I would have been a little more willing to compromise and choke down the Diet Coke.

Friday, April 01, 2016

On the Racist Food

This week, I became the old man yelling at the cloud.   I wrote an email to a podcast complaining about its content.  It was On the Media's episode Is This Food Racist?  The podcast was a logrolling platform for another podcast that shares the WNYC distributor and had two main thrusts -- an interview with Rick Bayless, an Oklahoman who has dedicated his life to Mexican food (real deal stuff, not food truck tacos) and the response to a comment the guest made about Korean staple bibimbap about how to improvement.  A key piece of information is that both Bayless and Dan Pashman, host of Sporkful, are white and not Latin or Korean.  At least, that was key to Brooke Gladstone, host of OTM who interviewed Pashman.

I have gotten irritated by podcasts before -- mostly by stuff like how pretentious David Plotz can be on the Slate Political Gabfest -- but never have I actually written an email to voice that.  Food, though, has a powerful effect on me.  There were a few moments that made this happen.

The first was when Pashman, while interviewing Bayless, confronted him about whether he had advantages in his career with Mexican food because he was white.  He said that he never really thought about it, tried to figure out what they were asking him, and pretty much said Mexican food is good.  Afterwards, Pashman and Gladstone could not believe the gall of him unwilling to concede his white privilege.  At this point, the transmission in my brain ground its gears.  For some reason, the idea that his whole food palate is built on him being an American interpreting Mexican food, so the idea of getting advantages in this context is kind of meaningless.

The next was when Pashman acknowledged that during a discussion on Korean food, he suggested an improvement to bibimbap and got an array of calls, some positive, others not where he and Gladstone wrung their hands over whether it was ok.  The podcast played an interview with an offended Korean American discussing how as a child he was made fun of for his school lunches because there were noodles in them.  He then talked about how it felt like a white guy suggesting an improvement to Korean food was like trying to tell his Korean grandmother how to be hotter.  There are a couple of things about this: everyone gets made fun of for their school lunches.  Another is that these sorts of adjustments are how immigrant foods become assimilated so that when the next generation of Korean kids bring their lunches to school, it looks normal.  Finally, there is not definitive bibimbap, and if there were, this guy who called in would not own it.  He's not Korean Arnold Palmer.

The interview concluded with Gladstone asking Pashman if he would continue to experiment like that.  He said, probably yes, but while being more thoughtful of others.  It seems like a fine sentiment, but it also seems kind of crazy.  The idea that making food a different way is imperialism seems like it requires a lessening of the original in a way that really does not happen.  This is not the first time I have seen this sort of complaint, though.  (In the interest of full disclosure: I eat collard greens.  I cook them often, though never with peanuts.)

More importantly, though, is that this is what interaction is.  Integration like this is part and parcel of what America is, especially with food.  Pizza, General Tso's chicken, the California roll, the Cuban sandwich, everything that comes out of Louisiana, chili and the mission burrito are all results of cultures running into each other.

I also think that this is the kind of thinking that leads to people supporting people like Donald Trump.  It's hard not to see this as an argument that white people can't make foods from non-white people.  While the discussion is clearly more nuanced than that, the implication was clearly that this was somehow bad.  When immigrants arrived here with their recipes and found different ingredients available, they improved without feeling enslaved to an idea of authenticity.  I just can't see how the world isn't a richer place because of decisions like that, and if the offended Korean American's complaints cause others to be hesitant to experiment because they do not belong to the ethnicity, that's really a shame.