Breathing Room: They Live On

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s blustery and bitterly cold here today after the two-day snow we had in Michigan – perfect weather for queueing up an old film.

Perfect political weather, too, for a movie I have long adored and have wanted to re-watch.

I can’t recall what kept me away at the time but I missed the anniversary celebration this past autumn of an important John Carpenter film.

Halloween, you’re probably thinking. Nope, never seen it, not about to break down now and watch it. Not my kind of horror film.

What I missed seeing re-screened in the theater was They Live which first released 35 years ago November 1988.

There’s a lot of critical analysis published online about this multi-genre science fiction action horror film which has become a cult classic over time. One of the best pieces of criticism isn’t online but in text by Jonathan Lethem, They Live: A Novel Approach to Cinema (Deep Focus).

“But it’s a cheesy B-movie with a wrestler as lead, what the heck gives?” you may be thinking.

Yes, I admit, it’s not The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or The Accused, or even Die Hard, all of which also released the same year. But They Live had something important to say which transcended its time.

Contrast and compare to Die Hard, about which more people spend time arguing if it’s a Christmas movie or not, versus They Live’s anti-capitalist message.

This one image encapsulates the challenge main character Nada (played by Roddy Piper) is up against as he tries to wake his fellow humans:

Screenshot from They Live (1988), by director John Carpenter via Universal Pictures

If fascism is defined as government of, by, and for business, these messages – WORK, WATCH TELEVISION, SURRENDER, BUY, THIS IS YOUR GOD, REPRODUCE, CONFORM, YIELD, STAY ASLEEP, CONSUME, and above all, OBEY — aren’t just capitalist.

They’re fascist.

They Live is a profoundly anti-fascist film which relied on common men – a nobody drifter named Nothing in Spanish, a Black blue-collar co-worker, and a neighborhood preacher – take on forces which have subsumed humanity into a form of unwaking slavery in which dominant authority figures are not human.

Was Carpenter prescient?

There have been plenty of negative critiques about They Live, claiming Carpenter didn’t go far and deep enough with his topic, that his approach was too shallow and populist, inconsistent.

Not to mention the 5-1/2 minute long fight scene between Nada (Piper) and his co-worker Frank Armitage (Keith David). Too long, too violent, too crude, not relevant, you name it — there was some criticism about it.

And yet that fight scene still garners intense conversation decades later having stood out as punctuation in the film. Two of the proletariat fight each other, one intent on trying to save the other from the sleep walking state of submission. Is this what it will take to persuade those who’ve been brainwashed from their anti-woke Qanon’d MAGAted possession, a virtual emotional and psychic slugfest to get them to wake up and smell the fascist coffee?

Or does Carpenter tell us we’ll need to get our hands dirty, talk with the possessed where they live in Red America?

You can stream They Live now on STARZ, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, and more. I should have bought a copy of this film a long time ago for my library.

What about you? What are you going to watch this snowy Sunday, or tomorrow on the federal holiday observing MLK Jr. Day?

Share in comments. Treat this as an open thread.

Breathing Room: What Are You Cooking?

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s been quite a while since I posted an open thread around an open question, like what are you reading, or what are you streaming or podcasting.

This time I want to ask what are you cooking, since even more of us cook than read and/or stream – even if cooking for some of us is nothing more than preparing a Cup-O-Noodles.

The topic occurred to me as I wandered the internet looking for recipes for a Lenten meatless Friday supper. I’m a long-lapsed Catholic but I still observe Lent this way.

My youngest who vacillates between agnosticism and atheism, asked me once why I still gave up some non-essentials and/or observed meatless Fridays. I told them it was one way in which I recognized my privilege – I can choose to forgo something when many people have no choice but to go without.

It’s also one of the ways I can consciously reduce my carbon footprint, recognizing not only the privilege of conspicuous consumption and its burden on climate, but actively practice a habit on which I should and will expand.

Meat production is carbon intensive, there’s just no way around it. If I want to be more aggressive about reducing my CO2 production, reducing meat in my diet is a big step in the right direction.

Animal protein is also not good for one’s health. I really don’t want to take my spouse to the ER again for another euphemistic “cardiac event,” thank you.

Nor do I want to be the reason why children are injured or killed in the work place in states like Arkansas where child labor has once again become acceptable. (Thanks, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for that new spin on “chicken fingers.”)

Yet I admit I’m an omnivore. I can’t see myself ever completely giving up a juicy rare steak, crispy bacon, or plump and tender poultry though I’ll eat less of them. I’ll be in line when lab-grown meat finally becomes commercially viable as a replacement for our current meat production. It hasn’t yet arrived and may not for some time.

But I can cut back on the number of meals based on meat and I can stretch what meat I use. This past week because of Lent I focused on a meatless Friday meal.

I’ve got lots of different whole grains in my pantry and a mess of canned tomatoes. When I ran across this recipe for a North African barley-tomato soup, I ran with it.

Holy wah! It’s easy and tasty even with a few tweaks – even faster with an Instant Pot pressure cooker.

I found the recipe in The New York Times (I swear Cooking is the Grey Lady’s only reliable section):

But there are other very similar versions elsewhere:

Tomato Barley Soup – a simple version more soup than stew

Barley Tomato Soup – a variation from a kosher website

Vegetable Barley Soup – less emphasis on tomatoes, more veggies and some curry

Hssoua Belboula Hamra – another version of North African barley tomato soup, this time from Morocco

All of these are pretty easy to make straight from the recipes. The Campbell’s version does have one problem: it calls for two cans of tomatoes but doesn’t specify the size. Based on the NYT-Cooking version, I’d recommend two 14.5-oz cans or one 28-oz can.

This soup is also forgiving if you have make little adjustments. I didn’t have sweet paprika on hand; I substituted smoked paprika instead and added a couple healthy shakes of ground cayenne. It was delicious. Nor did I use the amount of salt the recipe called for, choosing to taste it first before adding any more salt. Still turned out great.

But I also split up the cooking between two Instant Pots – yes, I know, I’m kind of ridiculous about Instant Pots, using them 4-5 times a week and often two at a time. I divided the vegetable stock between the barley and the tomato base, using three cups of the stock in which to cook the barley, and the rest with the remaining ingredients.

In the first pot I put the 1-1/4 cups pearl barley with 3 cups vegetable stock, a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent foaming which can clog the pressure vent, and a minced clove of garlic. I cooked it on high pressure for 20 minutes and let the pot naturally depressurize.

In the second pot (you can simply put the cooked barley aside in a bowl and use the same Instant Pot), I placed all the other ingredients with the remaining two cups vegetable stock. I cooked this on high for five minutes then let the pot depressurize.

When the tomato-broth base is done, I mixed in the cooked barley and stirred well. After tasting I adjusted the salt, added a little cracked black pepper, a smattering of fresh thyme leaves from my winter kitchen garden, and served with grated Parmesan cheese as a garnish.

The NYT-Cooking recipe says it serves 4-6 and believe me, it’s more like 6-8. It’s very filling.

The pearl barley will thicken the soup as it cools; after refrigeration it will be much more stew-like if you serve it the next day. Thin with tomato juice or vegetable broth when reheating if you like it more soup-y.

Some cultures eat soup for breakfast. This one would be great with a poached egg on top, like a variation on shakshuka.

If you try this but want more non-meat protein, try cooking along with the barley a gluten-free cooked grain like rice, corn, beans, peas, or lentils which assures a full complement of amino acids. If you’re not allergic to soy you could add some TVP or tempeh chunks.

Next time I need a meatless meal I’m going to try a mushroom-barley variation since barley was so good and easy, and I’ve got both dried and frozen mushrooms to use up.

What about you? What are you cooking? If you’re cooking less meat, what’s on the menu?

This is an open thread.

Breathing Room: What Pods Are You Casting?

Two weeks ago it felt like things were on the verge of breaking loose. I still have that feeling, as if things are beginning to pick up speed and might run away with us.

Here’s another opportunity to slow things down a little and take a deep cleansing breath in and out before we’re swept away.

What are you listening to these days? I want to be very focused on podcasts, not music programming now that we’re in the golden age of time-shifted listening.

What podcasts do you find to be informative? helpful? restful?

What podcast platform works best for you?

I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to podcasts. I avoid the white-dudes-yacking-with-each-other because Jesus Christ, how much of that do we really need when white-dudes-yacking-with-each-other still constitutes huge swaths of news media?

I don’t have a regular podcast I consume regularly, either. I’m fond of the Android app Stitcher and I often browse on a hit-or-miss basis for an episode which hits my fancy.

Over the last several years, though, there were three podcast episodes which really stuck with me:

NPR’s Planet Money: We set up an offshore company in a tax haven (re-cast October 6, 2021)
An exploration of offshore companies and bank accounts in which the hosts set up their own company in a tax haven and found the easiest place to register a business anonymously. First released in July 2012, it still amazes me how easy it is to move assets offshore.

Hakai Magazine: Can We Really Be Friends with an Octopus? (Episode 67, January 11, 2022)

This Is Love: Something Large and Wild (Season 1, Episode 2)
A story about a teenage swimmer and an encounter with something wild.

These are rather diverse with nothing apparent in common though the Hakai Magazine and ‘This Is Love’ podcast episodes have a natural element.

But after thinking about these three favorites, I think I need podcasts to contain an element of wonder. Not necessarily a positive state of awe, but something which checks me up short and makes me think or elicits an emotion I hadn’t anticipated. My favorite three episodes each possessed that factor.

Take a break, take a breath, then share in comments what podcasts have attracted your attention.

Breathing Room: What Are You Streaming?

I don’t know about you but I have the sense things are about to snowball, and I don’t mean because there’s a lot of the white stuff out on my lawn.

There’s just so much on our plates right now between trying to carry on with our lives and yet hang back in safety because the pandemic continues. Too many balls in the air which must descend and yet our hands are already full.

We could use a little breathing room before things get hairier than they already are.

With that in mind, what is it you’re streaming these days if you’re a streaming platform user?

I finally caught a movie I’ve been meaning to watch since it released in 2018 — Fast Color, directed by Julia Hart featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, David Strathairn, and a youngster who will surely appear in many more films, Saniyya Sidney.

It’s an allegory about Black women and our changing world. I don’t want to spoil the film. I will only say that it’s a remarkably deft work making excellent use of a lean cast, a small number of settings, and in spite of it being a story about super powers, no heavy handed excess of CGI like Marvel or DC films.

It was perfect, not too much or too little. I’m sure I will watch it again. It’s currently on Netflix and Hulu though you can rent it on many other streaming platforms.

It wasn’t like the rest of my usual viewing which runs heavily toward Asian dramas (ex. Midnight Diner), documentary series about food and culture (ex. Taco Chronicles), with the occasional historical fiction series (ex. The Cook of Castamar).

What have you watched lately, and what are planning to watch in the near future?

For those of you who don’t stream, what are you viewing these days and how?

Not certain yet what I’m going to watch tonight. It may depend on what you have to say in comments.

I do know I’m going to be eating popcorn. Somebody bought me a microwave popcorn popper; it was shipped to me without any card or gift receipt so I have no idea who to thank for this groovy silicone device which I have used every day since I got it. No more prepackaged microwave popcorn with the funky chemicals and too much plastic packaging.

In two hours I’ll whip up another batch and find something suitable for breathing room.