Category: History

This is America.

This is how far we’ve fallen as a country. Internment camps. Again. Wailing children separated from their parents, traumatized, used as bargaining chips for policy. Force yourself to listen to this. Imagine it’s your kid brother, your niece, your own child. Then go out and protest. Call your senators. Do something.

Everything is legal in New Jersey

… including me, apparently. I’ll be at AutomataCon the weekend of May 18-20, 2018.


I’m not okay

I’m only now emerging from the shock of the election. I’m not okay. I’m stunned by my fellow Americans’ choice for hate over love, fear over understanding, divisiveness over unity. Of course, that shock is a huge marker of my own privilege, the fact that my life is so uncompromised by bigotry and racism that I believed the majority of the country would vote against such things.

Today I have no such illusions. Shaun King’s twitter feed alone is enough to make me understand how wrong I was. While I don’t believe every person who voted for Trump is an overt racist, I do believe that their votes constitute consent to bigotry. I am also to blame because I didn’t do enough. I donated, I phonebanked, but I didn’t go far enough. I didn’t have many uncomfortable conversations because they made me uncomfortable. I was inside the echo chamber and I believed what I heard.

I’m ashamed of my complacency, my complicity. I’m terrified for my friends and family, for the nation and the planet.

I will do more. I will act. I will have uncomfortable conversations. It will be hard. I will fail. But I will do more. I must.

Cast Iron Skillet Restoration

Late this fall, I was helping my cousins clean out their mom’s basement, and we came across a stack of cast iron skillets. I don’t know much about them, but I do know that there are a few highly collectable brands — and the entire stack was nothing but Wagners and Griswolds. I half-jokingly asked my cousins if I could have one, and they said yes, that their mom would have wanted them to stay in the family regardless of their value.

A little rusty, but otherwise in perfect shape.

So of course, because I’m me, I immediately went home and looked up the skillet online. According to this article on the Wagner and Griswold Society’s website, (of course there’s a society) this pan is a Fifth-Series Griswold #9 skillet, pattern 710D, with an inset heat ring and a rounded rib handle, manufactured in Erie, Pennsylvania sometime between 1905 and 1907. It is both wondrous and a little scary that there are people who know this much about cast iron — but as a fellow history nerd, I’m grateful they exist.

The skillet was in pretty darn good shape to begin with, but since you only find hundred-year-old cookware once in a blue moon, I followed the lye-bath directions on the WAGS site to electrolyze all the gunk off.

Let's do this.

Into the lye bath.

It took a couple of dips and some scrubbing, but after about two weeks the water had turned black and thick as imperial stout. After a couple rounds of scrubbing with Dr. Bronner’s and some steel wool, I had a clean, beautiful bare iron pan.

Two weeks in the bath: I think it's working.

Scrubbing off a few decades worth of grunge.

The WAGS site suggested one seasoning coat of Crisco, but I’m a sucker for Serious Eats with their photo-heavy food-sciencey articles, so I used J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s method. The results were stunning:

Lookit that shine.

Ironically, the first egg I cooked in this stuck like glue. A few weeks later and the seasoning's much, much better.

Once I’d got the antique skillet back in working order, I took our Martha Stewart pan that had served us loyally for the last dozen years, and stuck it in the lye bath for a couple of weeks. Unlike the antique, we’d ridden old Martha hard and put her away wet, and she was covered in a gunky black crust that no amount of scrubbing could remove. That lye bath, though:

The gunk just sheeted off in 2-inch hunks. I was very impressed. I forgot to take a picture of Martha before we passed her on to some friends, but once that stuff was off, she looked like she’d just walked out of the store: perfectly clean, gunmetal-grey iron.

The experts say that the older skillets are a higher-quality iron, and that they were polish-ground to a fine finish — and I certainly saw the difference between the old skillet and Martha, who was rough and pebbly, even after I’d taken a steel drill-brush to hear a couple years ago. When you run your fingers over the cooking surfaces, you immediately notice the antique skillet’s superior quality. It’s lighter, too — the antique is an inch or two wider than Martha, but she’s lighter. There’s a lot of debate over whether or not this makes that much of a difference when you’re cooking, and I probably have some sunk-cost fallacy / confirmation bias going on, but I feel like the Erie definitely cooks better. Still, for me, it’s more about putting a family treasure back in action. Allez Cuisine!

This is Water

A commencement address given at Kenyon College, by the late David Foster Wallace.

Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen…

I haven’t had much worth sayingabout the amazing revolutions going on in Egypt and Tunisa, and to an extent in Jordan and Yemen, other than that I’m sending prayers and hope to the people of each country, that they may find a way to shrug off their repressive regimes with a minimum of bloodshed, and manage to hold free and fair elections soon — on their own terms and without American interference. Democracy has to come from within for it to stick.

Luck and love to all the brave souls fighting for their freedom of speech, their right to read the news uncensored, their right to protest. May you win the democracy you’re brave enough to fight for, and may you elect leaders worthy of your courage.

Pleasant way to start the day

Because I just woke up to find DADT had been repealed. Now there’s a nice way to start the day. Congratulations to all our LGBT servicemen and -women.

Other shipwrecks that have fascinated me

The Alvin Clark, or why we don’t raise Great Lakes shipwrecks anymore.

The Daniel J. Morrell, or the boat whose sundered stern chased its fleeing sailors “like a great wounded beast with its head shot off.”

The Lady Elgin, or why ships must carry running lights.

The General Slocum, or why you should not wire your lifeboats in place. (This was also, prior to 9/11, the worst disaster in New York City’s history).

SS Normandie, or “Hey, France! Sorry about your boat!”

SS America, or the time-lapse destruction of an American icon.

Thirty-five years in the ice-water mansion

I wore my Great Lakes shirt today, though it was totally unrelated to the 35th anniversary of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Hard to believe it’s been that long. A few months back I got on this kick where I read a mess of Wikipedia articles on Great Lakes Shipwrecks (I think it was around the time I was starting to spec out what it would take to kayak out to the Manitou Islands, where there are several), and in doing so realized I never really knew all the details behind the Fitz’s wreck. The factoids are simply astounding: That part of Superior is only between 400 and 700 feet deep, which means that, given the boat’s 730-foot length, it probably struck its nose on the bottom and broke in half before it sank. The waves only a few miles from shore were 25-30 feet tall. You see those described on Deadliest Catch as “rogue” or “freak” waves, the kind of thing that could only happen in a full-sized ocean, and yet here the inland seas can send a wall of water as tall as a three-story building over the pilot house on that giant tanker. Imagine being on board that monstrous craft, caught with its opposite ends supported by building-tall waves, then hearing the sound of 26,000 tons of ore sagging between the two heights. The storm was so bad that one of the sailors on its fellow ore carrier, the Arthur M. Anderson, “tape records his last will and testament, seals it in wax, and puts it in a jar so the world will know what happened to the Anderson.”.

The Anderson, fortunately, is still in service today. I wonder if I’ll ever see it out shipping ore along the coast.

Tonight, I’ll send up a word of prayer for the twenty-nine men lost in the wreck. Till then, I’ll have to settle for the obligatory Youtube tribute.

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