The Irony of Durian

Published at 08:07 on 26 March 2014

The nations where it’s the most popular and beloved — Singapore and Malaysia — happen to both be repressed, right-wing, authoritarian sorts of places with a very harsh attitudes towards illegal drugs. Yet they’re both nations of junkies, where an addicting substance, capable of producing euphoria in those who consume it, is sold openly in the streets, even to children.

One would think the general lack of harm caused by this one substance might help promote tolerance for consenting adults to engage in other sorts of voluntary, pleasurable activity (tellingly, both nations are also repressive to those of us who are not heterosexual). But, no.

Never underestimate the ability of hypocrites to rationalize double standards.

A Fateful Decision

Published at 21:02 on 25 March 2014

About five years ago I happened across a bag of durian candy in an Asian market. That piqued my curiosity: Many Westerners describe its odor and taste in most unflattering terms, it can’t be that bad, can it? Moreover, I’ve always tended to like strange and strong flavors, so maybe I’ll be one of those Westerners who actually likes durian. After all, all humans are the same species; there’s very little difference between the “races”, really. Race is a socially-defined construct, not a biological one.

So anyhow, I bought it. And they weren’t bad. Sort of disappointing, in fact; I had expected a stronger taste. As I recall they were sort of pleasingly vanilla and caramel flavored. They were certainly not in the slightest way repulsive (as I later learnt many Western palates found such candies).

That prompted me to purchase some frozen durian meat and try it with a friend. That was anticlimactic; sort of vaguely sweet and mild-flavored, with an oniony aftertaste and only a slight whiff of pungency. (In retrospect, it was probably underripe.) Perhaps something suited to going in an Asian dessert like sticky rice where I could mix well with other flavors, thought I.

Fast forward several years to last week, and for some reason I’m craving that sweetness and oniony aftertaste. Plus there’s a pot luck coming up. A perfect excuse to make a trip to an Asian market and purchase the ingredients for durian sticky rice.

But something was different this time. On the ferry ride home a very strong pungent odor became evident. Not vile, but definitely very strong and assertive. Yes, it was the durian flesh, even though it was still over 90% frozen and sealed inside two layers of plastic! Oh, dear. People were giving me evil glances. Apparently this sample of flesh is ripe, and the rumored pungency is no rumor.

I get home, put it inside a Ziploc bag, and stick it in the refrigerator, hoping the apartment doesn’t get too fragrant overnight. The extra layer worked. Mostly.

One of the things I do when cooking is conduct “quality control assays,” i.e. I sample all the ingredients as I go. That includes the now completely thawed durian flesh. Wow, vanilla custard. Then onion. Almost completely unlike the pungent odor, which of course has completely filled my apartment. Did it really do that, go from sweet to savory like that? I must taste it again and see. Yes, it does. The urge to eat more gets stronger, not weaker. But I only have as much as the recipe calls for, so I restrain myself until the recipe is complete, then conduct numerous “quality control assays” throughout the batch of sticky rice.

Must… stop…; I’m supposed to be sharing this and what with all the coconut milk it’s way too rich for me to just pig out on myself, anyhow.

So, anyhow, at the pot luck with a “warning, it is pungent, don’t let that intimidate you, it tastes very different than it smells,” two people leave early when they hear the dessert course involves durian. Everyone else stays. Most try it, some hate it, some love it, and one guy says “I’m not sure I like this garlic aspect to it or not” as he helps himself to thirds.

I return with leftovers, but that’s fine because I get to eat all the rest. And each time I have a portion it just tastes better and better and there’s more pure pleasure involved. It’s as if I’m Edmund and durian is my Turkish delight. I’m not alone, either.

And now I read that chocolate (which I can’t eat) is in the same plant family and durian is suspected of having addictive properties (which probably accounts for its popularity throughout its native range; the customers are hooked) much like its more famous and less pungent New-World cousin. I don’t just “suspect,” I know.

Well, at least in contrast to heroin, it’s 100% legal, healthful at least in moderation, and not that easy to get here in the USA, so I won’t be pigging out and gaining weight too badly.

It Was So Cold in Chicago! That Proves Global Warming is a Myth!

Published at 10:45 on 20 March 2014

No, it doesn’t.

First, Chicago is but one observing station, and last winter was but one season, what matters is what happens on a global scale, over time. As Robert Heinlein once quipped “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” You’ll always have deviations from norms, that’s what weather is all about. What matters is the general trend of those deviations.

Second, as cold as last winter was in the Midwest, just in the USA alone the extremes of warmth were more profound:

tempsNote how most of California was the warmest on record. Despite having a very cold winter, none of the Midwest was the coldest on record.

NASA study: Radical Ecologists Have a Point

Published at 21:09 on 18 March 2014

That’s basically the executive summary of this article.

Particularly trenchant is the role that the authoritarian class hierarchy of civilization plays in helping to facilitate the collapse:

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

And technology offers no quick fix:

Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.

Two Ravenous Hyenas, Snarling at Each Other Over a Carcass

Published at 20:11 on 4 March 2014

That’s what the brouhaha between Russia and the West over Ukraine strikes me as.

Really: the country that went into Iraq in an invasion of choice, and whose purportedly “opposition” party leaders refuse to even entertain the thought of prosecuting those responsible, acting as if it has some sort of principled moral objection to imperialist land grabs? It is to laugh.

And on the other side, the country that was so purportedly upset in principle when the West grabbed a chunk of Serbia, doing basically the same thing to the Ukraine? Statecraft, thy name is rank hypocrisy.

If that uprising had toppled a pro-Western regime, you can bet that the same talking heads bleating in unison about national sovereignty would instead be bleating in unison about the need to “restore order” via military intervention.

Pay no attention to the rhetoric; the words have no meaning in any real sense. It’s just how the hyenas snarl.

Could Someone Point Out the “Hate” or “Racism” Here?

Published at 08:04 on 2 March 2014

Right wingers have been getting their panties in a knot over some recent remarks by Spike Lee.

Really, where? I don’t see any racial hatred there. There’s plenty of resentment against both a colonialist mentality in more affluent and generally White newcomers, and against a disparity in the quality and level of city services in Black neighborhoods, but that’s a very different thing from asserting that some people are particularly evil or inferior simply because of their race.

It’s actually an anti-racist rant, taking offense at what genuinely does seem to be an instance of White privilege.

I’m a White guy, and I don’t feel threatened or attacked by Lee’s remarks. I can’t even see how I would be should I happen to live in one of those NYC neighborhoods that Lee mentioned. Criticized, perhaps. But being criticized and being hated or threatened are completely different things.