Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Midweek Meander Around the Issue of 'Othering'.

I experienced some synchronicity a few days ago. Synchronicity was once explained by Carl Jung as being “meaningful coincidence”. A Quora friend had recommended to a questioner a very good piece by John Powell, from The Guardian:

Us vs them: the sinister techniques of ‘Othering’ – and how to avoid them.

I decided to read the piece. 'Othering' wasn't part of my everyday vocabulary. Snips from the piece will follow in a mo. Synchronicity occurred that same day when, towards the end of a slow trek, evening by evening, through a streamed sci-fi series (Amazon Prime), Electric Dreams, based on short stories by Philip K. Dick, we reached an episode titled "Kill All Others". There's a review of the episode HERE.

My nutshell synopsis: Philbert Noyce is a quality-control factory worker of the future, one of three in a vast factory powered by robots which needs just 3 humans when it once needed 3,000. Noyce is a decent guy, dislikes the hate speech being offered up by the single presidential candidate on offer - it appears there is in place a one-party political system. What we, in 2019 might consider to be hate speech is always capped by a catch phrase, also used frequently on billboards :
"Kill All Others".
'Others' were anyone who dared not to toe the line in respect of government edicts and approved opinions. No critical thinking allowed!

That experience of synchronicity persuaded me to start scribbling! Following are snips from the aforementioned piece, plus one other article available on line. These helped to clarify, for myself, various aspects of 'othering'. Perhaps any stray passer-by might find them of interest too.

From John Powell's piece, linked above:
Humans can only process a limited amount of change in a short period of time without experiencing anxiety. It’s a natural human reaction – but how we respond to that anxiety is social. When societies experience big and rapid change, a frequent response is for people to narrowly define who qualifies as a full member of society – a process I call “Othering”. An alternative response is seeing the change in demographics as positive, and regarding the apparent other as enhancing our life and who we are. This is what I refer to as “belonging and bridging”.

Othering is not about liking or disliking someone. It is based on the conscious or unconscious assumption that a certain identified group poses a threat to the favoured group. It is largely driven by politicians and the media, as opposed to personal contact. Overwhelmingly, people don’t “know” those that they are Othering.

So while today’s global anxiety has been precipitated by globalisation, technology and a changing economy, demographics play a crucial role in the process of Othering. The attributes of who gets defined as Other differ from place to place, and can be based upon race, religion, nationality or language. It is not these attributes themselves that are the problem, of course, but how they are made salient, and how they are manipulated.

I am therefore particularly concerned with how Othering shows up in today’s power structures: how it is used to divide and dehumanise groups, and capture and reshape government and institutions. For society’s leaders and culture play an oversized role in helping us make sense of change – and so greatly affect our responses to anxiety...........

People don’t just figure out on their own that collectively they need to be afraid of another group. Leadership plays a critical role. Often people who have been living with one another for years are made to feel suddenly that those differences have become threatening..

So how do we respond to our collective anxiety today? Either we “bridge”, reaching across to other groups and towards our inherent, shared humanity and connection, while recognising that we have differences; or we “break”, pulling away from other groups and making it easier to tell and believe false stories of “us vs them”, then supporting practices that dehumanise the “them”......

If we are to combat the rising tide of extremism across the globe, we must actively create bridges across difference, and resist strategic exploitation of our collective anxiety. For when we bridge, we not only open up to others, we also open up to change in ourselves – and actively participate in co-creating a society to which we can all belong.

The opposite of Othering is not “saming”, it is belonging. And belonging does not insist that we are all the same. It means we recognise and celebrate our differences, in a society where “we the people” includes all the people.

From: Otherness 101 - What is Othering?

This psychological tactic may have had its uses in our tribal past. Group cohesion was crucially important in the early days of human civilisation, and required strong demarcation between our allies and our enemies. To thrive, we needed to be part of a close-knit tribe who’d look out for us, in exchange for knowing that we’d help to look out for them in kind. People in your tribe, who live in the same community as you, are more likely to be closely related to you and consequently share your genes. As a result, there’s a powerful evolutionary drive to identify in some way with a tribe of people who are “like you”, and to feel a stronger connection and allegiance to them than to anyone else. Today, this tribe might not be a local and insular community you grew up with, but can be, for instance, fellow supporters of a sports team or political party.

But there’s no doubt that grouping people into certain stereotyped classes, who we then treat differently based on the classes we’ve sorted them into, is a deeply rooted aspect of human nature. Intergroup bias is a well established psychological trait.

Poem by ― Kamand Kojouri (Goodreads)

“They want us to be afraid.
They want us to be afraid of leaving our homes.
They want us to barricade our doors
and hide our children.
Their aim is to make us fear life itself!
They want us to hate.
They want us to hate 'the other'.
They want us to practice aggression
and perfect antagonism.
Their aim is to divide us all!
They want us to be inhuman.
They want us to throw out our kindness.
They want us to bury our love
and burn our hope.
Their aim is to take all our light!
They think their bricked walls
will separate us.
They think their damned bombs
will defeat us.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that my soul and your soul are old friends.

They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that when they cut you I bleed.
They are so ignorant they don’t understand
that we will never be afraid,
we will never hate
and we will never be silent
for life is ours!”

― Kamand Kojouri (Goodreads)

I've highlighted two lines which I find particularly striking. We are, all of us as Carl Sagan wrote, made from stardust. We humans came from the self-same ancient batch of that stardust. Once we, as atoms and particles, nestled together on the shores of the universe. It is sad that we no longer choose to remember that, but strive constantly to divide ourselves, one from another.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Music Monday ~ Three Musical Birthdays

I notice that three singers whose voices I'm always glad to hear were born this day, 14 January: Billie Jo Spears, Jack Jones, and Allen Toussaint. They are all of my own generation, born in either 1937 or 1938. Ms Spears died in 2011 and Mr Toussaint in 2015. As far as I know, Jack Jones is still oing strong. I was born in 1939 - amazingly I am still here too, albeit creaking a little around the joints.

A favourite track from each:

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Saturday & Sundry Memories: Mysteries in S.W. USA.

Mention of UFO sightings in a bunch of predictions by a "time traveller", featured in my post dated 2 January 2019 set my mind back almost five years, to a post I wrote in February 2014. I enjoyed re-reading that post myself (inner narcissist coming out) so shall re-air it, lightly edited, for the weekend.

Back in 2014, we had recently watched an "indie" movie on DVD: The Wicksboro Incident. It's one of the genre often labelled "found footage", in documentary style though purely fictional. The film's theme: Wicksboro, a fictional small town in far south-western Texas, disappeared with its inhabitants sometime in the early 1950s. One survivor emerges from hiding decades later to tell his story to two amateur film-makers. His story involves ... aliens. 'Nuf said. A passing reader who stumbles across this blog at some future point might wish to see the movie, I will not spoil it by expanding further on the plot. The film, around 70 minutes long, starts slowly but builds. There's lots of shaky camera work, dark, almost blank screens with voices only, to reassure us that the DVD hasn't stuck in its groove (or whatever).

That film underlined, for me, how an area of south-western United States, New Mexico, part of southern Colorado, and south-western Texas seem to have developed mysterious connections to strange happenings, modern legends, the weird and the would-be wonderful. On our trips, over the years around these areas, we've visited a few locations of mysterious reputation. Roswell, New Mexico always comes to mind first.

We first visited Roswell, New Mexico in 2006, the UFO Museum and Research Center was then situated in the main street, in what appeared to be an old movie theater. A new center for the museum was under construction further down the road.

We read many of the numerous exhibits: newspaper articles, sworn affidavits and other printed material displayed around the walls. The main part of the museum deals, unsurprisingly, with the reported UFO crash near Roswell in 1947. There are, among many other things, reports and signed statements from witnesses who saw evidence of the crash and collected wreckage. Evidence of a request for "child size coffins". In several of the statements, witnesses reported seeing purple colored symbols, hieroglyphic-like, on a strip among the wreckage. There's a statement by a woman medical officer, detailed to take notes at an autopsy of bodies following the crash. She was later sent to England, and subsequently is said to have disappeared - or has not been heard from again.

Who can say how genuine any of the material is, after 60 years have passed? And yet, why would ordinary, everyday people have fabricated such a story, back in 1947 on a summer evening just before midnight, without reason? In those days there were few, if any TV programmes about extra-terrestrial phenomena to ignite the imagination. There were few sci-fi movies. What else but "a happening" could have sparked reports of such a bizarre occurrence as this? We discussed our feelings about the whole Roswell story later, after our museum visit, came to the conclusion that "something" did happen on that night in 1947. The "something" was covered up by lies from those in authority at the time. Lies from government downward are not unknown, even in current history, which fact inclined us to believe at least some of the stories told by witnesses.

On a 2005 trip to see Anasazi cave dwellings at Mesa Verde, Colorado we happened across a UFO Watchtower in the San Luis Valley, near Hooper. The site was run by a friendly lady who told us tales of strange sightings she and others had experienced. She also told us that some Native American tribes believe that their ancestors came from "the stars".

On a later trip, 2011, celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary, in the far north of New Mexico, we intended to see what we could find relating to some strange legends surrounding a tiny town called Dulce, on the border of Colorado and New Mexico, close to the Continental Divide, where altitude reaches 7 to 8 thousand ft at various points. Google search "Dulce, New Mexico" for numerous tales of varying incredibility about Dulce and what lies beneath Archuleta Mesa! We, unfortunately, decided to turn around and head home just before we reached Dulce, due to unexpected wintry weather, altitude (7,871ft), and a few uncomfortable health issues.

One particular little village on Highway 64, Dulce, was going to fascinate yours truly because of stories of UFOs, aliens and a massive 7-layered underground government facility said to be nearby - under a huge mesa. There are also stories/legends of a UFO crash near Aztec village in this area. Again, there's a ton of information, comment from locals and researchers online. Some, if even half-true would be hair-raising. It involves bio-tech experiments (which I can believe), mutilated cattle found regularly around the area (documented), alien cooperation following a firefight between government troops and aliens or "grays" (which I can't believe).

I'd guess that there really is, or was, some kind of underground facility in this area dating from 1950s through 1970s. The fear of nuclear war was fierce then.
The US government, paranoia-filled as usual, could easily have decided to experiment, attempting to plan for all eventualities: mutations, radiation effects, etc. etc. Where better than this wilderness area with plentiful natural underground caverns, easily extended and modified, for use without much chance of discovery? That part of the stories isn't hard to believe, given the atmosphere of those times.

We didn't reach Dulce though. We stayed overnight in Chama, a village 25 miles to the east. The temperature was frigid up there in the mountains, some of what we'd assumed was remnants of the winter's snow remained in the fields and forests over the highest parts of the route.

Neither of us slept a wink that night though. The altitude was probably getting to us both. My husband, restless, decided to get up and play on the laptop. I experienced a severe attack of allergic sneezing which brought on a sharp sinus headache and it simply wouldn't let up. In addition I had developed a troublesome sore on my ankle. We both wondered aloud whether to carry on west or head back to Oklahoma next morning. When we looked outside at about 7 AM we decided at once! Snow had coated the car, and it was still snowing. Probably not at all a surprising find to the locals but a bit disconcerting to southerners like us, spoiled by an unusually warm spring. I hadn't packed any warm clothes. We had to layer up with what we had. It was Sunday, no shops were open to buy warmer clothing - there were no shops around anyway! I'd also managed, somehow, to get myself multi-bitten by an insect (goodness knows what insect would be around in those temps!) I still have 3 itchy bites on my left earlobe, several down the left side of my neck and a cluster of bites on my chest. And they ain't love bites!! We headed home on Sunday morning.

A trip to the Big Bend area of southern Texas in 2012 threw up yet another oddity. In the village of Marfa stories of "the Marfa lights" or "ghost lights" are common. Stange lights, with no logical explanation, have frequently been observed near U.S. Route 67 on Mitchell Flat east of the village. These have gained fame due to some observers having theorised a connection to paranormal phenomena....UFOs, ghostly apparitions etc.
A half-hour drive west of Alpine found us in Marfa, a tiny town made famous by some mysterious lights which appear, intermittently, in the vicinity - Wikipedia explains.

Interestingly the fictional Wicksboro Incident, mentioned at the top of this post, took place in the same general area as Marfa - possibly chosen by its creators because of "the lights"?

I shall remain among the "don't knows" on the topics of UFOs, ghosts, and strange goings-on in general - until I actually experience something to fully convince me otherwise. The experience mentioned below was getting there, it did bring goose bumps. It was an incident unrelated to UFOs and aliens, but still strange. In Santa Fe, New Mexico some years ago, celebrating either my birthday or my husband's.
We had wandered into a hotel lobby thinking it to be the entrance to an arcade of stores. We noticed a bar, still early evening quiet, decided to have a birthday drink there. I considered taking the seat near the wall at the end of the old copper lined bar, but decided it looked rather dark.
I pulled out the next stool along, then felt guilty for leaving a single stool empty, in case a couple might want seats later on - but still, it somehow didn't feel right to move to the end stool. Later in the evening, when some live entertainment was about to begin, it was announced that a beloved regular in this bar, a lady well known in Santa Fe (local singer or musician) had died of cancer a couple of days ago. The seat at the end of the bar had been her usual place to sit. The barman brought her usual drink and placed it there, in her memory. The hairs on the back of my neck began to prickle !

Friday, January 11, 2019

Arty Farty Friday Rabbit-hole (ending on a rainy day in Spain.)

The search for a painter born around this time of year, with fascinating background or life story brought little of interest. My yawns caused me to stumble down an internet rabbit-hole while skimming through the biography of 17th century French painter Jean-Baptiste van Loo (14 January 1684 – 19 December 1745).

One of van Loo's best known paintings is shown in the small image below:
"Triumph of Galatea", and...ooops! Down the rabbit-hole I fell!

A better, larger image of the work is available here.

From Mental Floss website

4. "Galatea," which means "she who is milk-white," refers to three women in mythology. Of the three, the most well-known was the wife of King Pygmalion of Cyprus. Another was a Sicilian nereid, or sea nymph, who was in love with Acis, the son of Faunus and a river nymph. The final Galatea was the wife of Lamprus; she prayed to Leto that her daughter be turned into a son.

5. Jean-Baptiste van Loo's "Triumph of Galatea" is likely a representation of the Galatea who loved Acis. According to the story, the cyclops Polyphemus was jealous of Acis and thus killed him with a boulder. Galatea was distraught over the murder of her love, and so she turned his blood into the river Acis (in Sicily). However, no sources appear to document the inspiration or source of "The Triumph of Galatea."
Alrighty then - but what about Pygmalion? That word brings forth memories of Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison.

Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw, named after a Greek mythological figure. In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures, which then came to life. The general idea of that myth was a popular subject for Victorian era English playwrights, including one of Shaw's influences, W. S. Gilbert, who wrote a successful play based on the story called Pygmalion and Galatea that was first presented in 1871. Shaw would also have been familiar with the burlesque version, Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed.

Shaw's play has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the musical My Fair Lady and its film version.
See Wikipedia HERE and HERE.

Who'd've thunk it? Jean-Baptiste van Loo, via Galatea, down a rabbit-hole off-shoot, to this:

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Midweek Mealtime ~ Italian Restaurants - Red Flags.

Music Monday and Arty Farty Friday have been around this blog for years; along those lines: a Midweek Mealtime, a Tuesday Taste Test, or a Wednesday Whatever? The first title covers more than 24 hours - I shall go with that one!

What are some red flags you're at a bad Italian restaurant?

A question asked at Quora. I've picked out, below, a few points from several answers, illustration added by yours truly.

This topic interested me, having frequently complained to my husband about local "Italian" restaurants, as well as some we've had the misfortune to try, on our travels. I do realise, however, that the owners of Italian restaurants in some areas of the USA (such as Oklahoma) even if Italian by birth or by descent themselves, are limited in how authentic they can be due to difficulties, and expense, of obtaining authentic ingredients.

My own experience of authentic Italian food was during my time in Rome and in my ex-husband's family's home in the North of Italy. That was long, long ago and far away, but I have not forgotten the often mesmerising scents and tastes of properly prepared Italian food. It's never going to be possible to re-create the experience totally, even in the best of the best Italian eateries in the USA - or in the UK - though access to authentic ingredients will have been easier in the UK. Post Brexit - who knows!

I do try to appreciate what is available food-wise, labelled "Italian", as long as it is reasonably tasty and fresh; if it isn't I'll grumble and make a mental note not to darken that restaurant's doors again.

Some of the points made by Quorans, below, are a tad "elitist", but that's not to say they are untrue.
So...the "red flags":

A bad Italian restaurant looks like you imagine it: chequered red and white tablecloths and a flask of Chianti in the window display. A bad Italian restaurant has a menu with all the well known Italian specialities: Carbonara, Bolognese, Amatriciana, Pesto. The worst have also Alfredo and Chicken Parmesan and they give you a good serving of garlic bread and olive oil to put on bread (something completely unheard of in Italy). The bad ones will have an abundance of chicken in the menu: Italians believe that chicken is a very cheap meat and chefs usually avoid to put it in their menu. If there's poultry it should be roasted cockerel (usually whole or half, never just the breast), duck, capon, pheasant or guinea fowl.

The ones that are a dantesque hell will serve pasta and meat on the same plate, or, God forbid!, pasta, meat and seafood on the very same dish.

(From Emilio Trussardi's full answer -there are some argumentative comments beneath it too.)

If you find chicken parmesan or linguini alfredo, there’re no Italians in the kitchen.
But of course it’s all a matter of ingredients. Just a little example: mozzarella.
This iconic cheese from cow or buffalo milk is definitely badly imitated around the world.

(Alberto Formenti)

Examples of bad imitations are provided along with some photos of the real mozzarella

If the Parmesan cheese is on the table in a cheese shaker, there’s a good chance it’s a cheap, store bought brand. Trust the places that grate the cheese in front of you.
I know people from Italy howl when meatballs are served together with pasta, but it’s popular pretty much everywhere except in Italy.
Eggplant Parmigiana should be made with very thinly sliced pieces of eggplant, which is a lot of work. Many places slice them too thick.
Pasta is not traditionally a main course but again, outside of Italy it’s pretty standard to serve it that way.
If any spaghetti-shaped pasta is served cut, run, don’t walk, to the exit. And, of course, do the same if the pasta is cooked anything other than al dente.

(Joseph Panzarella)

Sunday had dinner at a popular Los Angeles area Italian restaurant that would be considered “bad” by purists: bread with butter; thousand island dressing as a salad option; walls covered with pictures of Frank Sinatra and old country Italians. But here’s the thing. The restaurant wasn’t trying to be an authentic Italian restaurant; it was an authentic New York/Chicago style Italian restaurant. ..................those pictures of old country Italians? His family photos, so you may come across a bad Italian restaurant, but that doesn’t mean it will have bad food….(Thomas Barnidge)

Should I find myself looking at the menu and find the Carbonara being made with milk or cream or peas, then it stops becoming a matter of authenticity. The food may still end up tasting good, but I’m not going to walk away saying that I had a great Italian meal. (I give a pass to using pancetta instead of guanciale by the way. The latter is very difficult to find outside of Italy for whatever reason.)
When dining outside of Italy, I won’t be too harsh on a restaurant if it’s a hodgepodge of dishes taken from Italy’s many regions—what I’m getting is basically “the best of.” I don’t mind Arancini being served with Puttanesca, Risotto alla Milanese with Saltimbocca alla Romana as long as they do it right and they stick to traditional recipes.
(Myron Mariano)

Any place that offers greasy cardboard pizza by the slice.
Any place that tries too hard to be hip with the Italian vibe.
Chicken Alfredo leads the menu and the sales. They don't know what penne is.
The chef is skinny.
(William Smith)

If you are outside Italy, that is a red flag from the get go. Yes, I know there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. And yes, I know there are some dreadful restaurants in Italy, but they are few and far between. Another red flag is the following: walk into the restaurant, take a deep breath and smell. If you truly know Italian cooking, you will know immediately if the food is authentic. (Anne Brooks McAdoo)

Monday, January 07, 2019


What have I heard, seen, done during the past week or so that had some musical connection? On New Year's Eve we watched two separate chunks of films on TCM channel, "That's Entertainment # I", and "That's Entertainment # III" - book-ending our other movie viewing that evening, until it was time to raise a glass to 2019. Those shows are such good value - patchworks of old musical movies of the MGM variety. Lots of dancing and spectacle rather than any concentration on purely vocal numbers. The dancing was, of course, perfection. Personally, though, when it comes to movie musicals I prefer the Rogers and Hammerstein types: Oklahoma - of course, Carousel, Show Boat, Kismet, The Student Prince - those kinds of musicals.

We watched a couple of movies with a musical heart during the week: The Jazz Ambassadors, and Lifted, available on Netflix or Amazon Prime - memory fails as to which. The Jazz Ambassadors is an interesting documentary; also been shown on PBS at some point in the past.
The Cold War and Civil Rights collide in this remarkable story of music, diplomacy and race. Beginning in 1955, when America asked its greatest jazz artists to travel the world as cultural ambassadors, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and their mixed-race band members, faced a painful dilemma: how could they represent a country that still practiced Jim Crow segregation?
[From IMDb]

Lifted is a movie from 2011, and not our usual fare - it has a blend of 'flag-waver' and Christian-themed story-line. Anyway, we'd started so decided to finish! I didn't hate it, didn't love it. It's the story of a young boy who entered a singing competition hoping to win some money to help with family finances; his father, a reservist, had been called to service in Afghanistan. The boy's mother was a drug addict. Acting was okay, singing was okay, and the story did take a surprisingly odd turn.