A Twist of Peppermint

 

When Joey Dee and the Starliters had a hit with the song “Peppermint Twist” early in 1962, they were merely combining the name of a dance craze – the twist – with the name of the Peppermint Lounge in New York City, where they were headliners. The band was notable at the time for being integrated, with three white members and three black members. The lyrics of the song make no mention of peppermint candy, either of white twisted together with other colors or of anything deeper than a repeated entreaty to get out on the dance floor and gyrate, a plea few could resist when hearing the tune, forgetting for the moment the different colors of the bandmates together producing such an irresistible groove.

 

Peppermint, the flavor, has always been hard for people to resist, especially when it’s used in candies. Most peppermint candies are sold during the holidays at the end of the year, though it’s not clear why people don’t prefer peppermint’s cooling effect more in summer than in winter. Candy canes, with their indelible association with Christmas, are a big reason for the inflated sales of peppermint candies in December. Hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps for the adults is popular, while children will get a candy cane with their hot chocolate instead of schnapps. Other peppermint candies and baked treats abound over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations.

1962 White House Christmas Tree - John and Jacqueline Kennedy 1
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy introduced Christmas Tree themes in 1961 with a “Nutcracker Suite” theme from the ballet by Tchaikovsky. Ornaments included gingerbread cookies, tiny toys and packages, candy canes, and straw ornaments made by disabled or elderly craftspeople throughout the United States. White House photo by Robert Knudsen.

The peppermint plant (Mentha x piperita) contains up to 40% menthol, as opposed to less than one percent found in spearmint (Mentha spicata), and with such a high concentration of menthol there are indications that ancient peoples initially used peppermint medicinally, discovering along the way that of course the addition of sweeteners helped the medicine go down. Since menthol is a proven balm for distressing respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, it makes sense that the most popular incorporation of peppermint oil into sweets would be as a lozenge or hard candy, meant to be sucked over a long time rather than chewed quickly, which would enhance its effectiveness in relieving respiratory or gastrointestinal distress.

Piedmont Candy in Lexington, North Carolina, has been making peppermint candies since 1890, though not candy canes. They don’t use corn syrup, the ingredient which makes candy shiny, hard, and brittle.

All of which may help to explain the popularity of peppermint sweets in winter over summer. Certainly respiratory illness is more common in winter than summer because people are cooped up with each other indoors, where contagion spreads more easily. Gastric problems may be more plentiful over the holidays because of the tendency to overeat then, and to overeat rich foods particularly. A soothing, minty dessert, made with real peppermint oil instead of artificial flavor, may fit the bill in those circumstances the same as popping one of the red and white swirled peppermints, known as starlites, offered in many restaurants at the end of a meal.



Joey Dee and the Starliters perform “Peppermint Twist” on the American Bandstand television program in 1962.

 

As for the crook in one end of a candy cane, all stories aside about its possible religious significance, it was most probably put there for the purely practical purpose of making it possible to hang candy canes on Christmas trees. The same practicality most likely applies to the red and white twisted colors, along with some secular aesthetics, because they add visual interest to the candy and contrast well against Christmas greenery. Until the 20th century, peppermint candy sticks had been plain white. There is nothing inherently red about peppermint. It’s nice to imagine there may be something more profound about an object such as a candy cane than meets the eye, but really any deeper meaning can be found in eating it, not in looking at it.
— Vita

 

Naughty Naughty

 

It’s not necessary to dive into the dark hole of right wing media articles attacking the so-called Squad of four Democratic congresswomen to catch the drift of the big stink they make; instead, simply read the loaded language of their sneering, derisive headlines. The most obvious characteristic of right wing media headlines of articles about these four women is the use of language indicating they are bad girls who deserve to be put in their place, even punished. This is a characteristic of right wing authoritarians, who see those who disagree with them as misguided souls deserving the wrath of Old Testament Jehovah.

 

The authoritarian right wing media seems to have a sliding scale of punishments for meting out to liberals. Of the four women in The Squad, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) appear to be naughty young ladies in need of correction, according to the authoritarian mindset, while Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), being Muslim, are too far Other for authoritarians to bother at all about disciplining, and therefore beyond the pale altogether and deserving of harsher treatment. Which is not to say the inflammatory language of right wing media has not fanned enough hatred in some quarters to prompt threats of violence against any of the congresswomen, regardless of the patronizing view that two of the four may be capable of redemption if only they would stop being uppity.

News & Observer History Rewrite
The News and Observer, a newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina, spins the events of the Wilmington insurrection of 1898 in headlines for the November 11, 1898 edition of the paper to suit the viewpoint of the white supremacist power structure. As the preacher observed in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Using any decent news aggregator website which offers a buffet of articles from across the political spectrum, rather than from only one side or the other, makes it easier to spot the language of paternalism and punishment in right wing headlines because of the contrast with the article headlines from other media outlets. Loaded language is unfortunately a feature of too many media outlets, whether from the left or the right, but it is the punishment angle which is unique to authoritarian right wing media. Those naughty Democrats! When will they ever learn? They’re messing with the wrong people, and the righteous shall come down hard on them, the transgressors!

From the 1980 film The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance and Philip Stone as Delbert Grady discuss the need for correcting misbehavior.

Far right authoritarians are more likely to confine their media consumption to a bubble than are people on the left or in the center, because right wingers feel threatened by ideas and viewpoints from elsewhere on the political spectrum. That, too, along with the desire to punish others, is a feature of the authoritarian mindset. It’s tempting to edit a news aggregator’s collection choices, if that’s possible, in order to avoid even skimming the ugliness of many right wing media headlines. That would be a mistake; that would put the liberal or centrist news reader in their own bubble. It’s better to keep those headlines, with their self-serving denunciations and propagandistic lies, so as to be able to occasionally peek into the netherworld of far right wing media. It’s unnecessary and probably unhealthy to dive in and read the articles.
— Ed.

 

Too Much Information

 

The recent revelation that Lin Bennett, a Republican State Representative in South Carolina, subscribes to the QAnon internet conspiracy theory, means the followers of the QAnon cult surrounding the current president have another friend in a powerful position openly siding with them. Validation like that keeps the embers smoldering while the QAnon cult followers await prophesied heroics from their leader in the Oval Office. It’s all fun and games until some deluded idiot with access to weaponry takes it all too seriously and acts out self-righteously, as a fellow from North Carolina did in reaction to the Pizzagate conspiracy in December 2016.

 

With so much factual information available on the internet, it’s hard to understand how people can continue deluding themselves with conspiracy theories that common sense would see fall apart after the application of a few facts. A lack of common sense and a capacity for self-delusion are the very traits preventing some people from seeing the foolishness behind many conspiracy theories. For those people, the great amount of information available on the internet supports their pet theories even when the information is not in their favor. They do not lack for information concerning their theories, for or against. Where they fall short is in the self-confidence to accept and honestly examine divergent information, because to do so might undermine the fragile construct of their self-worth bound up in the things bigger than themselves they have lashed themselves to stay afloat in a world to their minds uncertain and threatening, the cult and the conspiracy.

Gerard Houckgeest 002
Interior of the Old Church in Delft, a 1654 trompe-l’œil painting by Gerard Houckgeest (circa 1600-1661). Are the drapes real, or are they part of the painting?

People in prominent positions, like State Representative Bennett, are irresponsible to publicly endorse nonsense like QAnon, because of the loons who are more likely than ever to act out in light of her endorsement. Some conspiracy theories, like the Flat Earth one, are relatively harmless, and if Rep. Bennett had come out as a Flat Earther the majority of Americans would probably have shrugged and considered her nutty, maybe a little too nutty to be entrusted with public office, but otherwise nothing to worry about since it was unlikely her outlandish belief would have any effect on public policy or discourse. QAnon theorists are different because they advocate smearing, imprisonment, and summary execution of their opponents. It’s as bad as if Rep. Bennett had declared herself a member in good standing with the Ku Klux Klan.

What is real and what is illusion? One of the questions examined in The Manchurian Candidate, a 1962 film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey.

QAnon arose and spread entirely over the internet; there was no broad based movement addressing needs in the real world, with people openly discussing its tenets, adopting some and rejecting others. A few trolls threw up some outlandish claims on internet message boards and some of them stuck, not because they were true and promised to solve real problems, but because other people wanted them to be true and hoped they would solve their imaginary problems born of hate for the Other and their own self-loathing. But for responsible adults those are really nothing more than excuses. With more information available than ever before in history, remaining bigoted and ignorant is a conscious choice of chip-on-the-shoulder anti-intellectualism, and such people need to be held accountable for their vile behavior, the better to keep them in check before they act out violently on their delusions.
— Techly

 

Hey, Stupid!

 

Donald Trump (40238321295)
Photoshopped picture by Taymaz Valley.

Hey, Stupid! takes your questions about weather, or climate or whatever.

Questioner asks: Last week was bitterly cold throughout much of the U.S., and of course you chimed in about that on Twitter. This week, high temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast are forecast to rebound above freezing, and in Washington, D.C., where you can sometimes be found when you’re not on a golf course, are forecast to be in the 50s, 60s, even 70s. That’s pretty warm for mid-winter, even in D.C.. Will you be making any follow-up comments about that on Twitter?

Hey, Stupid! responds: Pffft! Sounds like good weather – or climate, or, you know, whatever – for hitting the links. Nice to get in 18 holes without having to go all the way to Mar-a-Lago this time of year.


Q: Just what is the difference between weather and climate?

HS: It’s the difference between owning the libs by throwing red meat to my base and another slow news day. Next question!

Q: As an erstwhile casino owner, couldn’t you view weather as individual wins and losses, and climate as long term profits assured by the house edge?

HS: You think you’re real smart, don’t you? Security! Interns!


March for Science NYC (22362)
A demonstrator at the April 2017 March for Science in New York City. Photo by Rhododendrites.

Q: Haven’t you taken practical, business measures to ward off the effects of climate change privately, while denying there are any such effects publicly?

HS: I like walls, that’s all! Border walls, sea walls, all sorts of walls. You keep asking smart aleck questions and you’ll be looking at prison walls.


Doonbeg 14th hole
The green at the 14th hole of Doonbeg Golf Club, now known as Trump International Golf Links and Hotel, Ireland. Photo by Terrance Siemon.

Q: Does your public denial of climate change have anything to do with protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry?

HS: What a dumb question! You’re always asking dumb questions! Of course it does.

Q: When you say “throwing red meat” to your base, what exactly do you mean?

HS: I mean I know what they like, and what they like is anything that gets a rise out of pointy-headed, know-it-all liberals and scientists. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Facts are irrelevant. What matters is reassuring them in their ignorance.


Q: My, that’s a remarkably cogent and well-spoken analysis coming from you. Did someone write it for you?

HS: Nah. But mostly I prefer saying how I could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. People like the optics of that.

Q: So it doesn’t make any impact on your base of support to point out how climate change will affect everyone, even them, and especially their kids and grandkids?

HS: First of all, nothing ever affects everyone equally. The rich will always manage to skirt the consequences of their actions. It’s the poors who will suffer the worst effects – and I’m not saying there will be any, because you know it’s a Chinese hoax – anyway, the poors will suffer if there are any problems, and no one cares about them. Meanwhile, get what you can today, Make America Great Again, and let the Chinese worry about tomorrow if global warming is such a big deal to them.


Q: It’s hard to believe you’re openly admitting to contempt for the poor, instead of merely implying it as you always have. Aren’t a fair amount of your supporters working class or poor?

HS: Yeah, but they all imagine they could be like me one day. The people I’m talking about, and they know who they are and my supporters know who they are, are the Other ones, the ones who are looking for government handouts and are rapists and druggies.


Trump Welcome Parties in Greensboro (37312332750)
Supporters of the current president turn out to welcome him on a fundraising trip to Greensboro, North Carolina, in October 2017. Photo by Anthony Crider. The same flubs and ignorant or hateful remarks that dismay Democrats and even some Republicans serve as badges of solidarity for these people.

Q: Ah ha. So getting all this straight now – the cold weather last week was an opportunity to beat up on the libs and the scientists for the benefit of your base, who don’t care whether climate change is real or not because people they resent stand for it’s reality, and your base prefers to take the immature position of opposing whatever those other folks are for, regardless of the merits, and they are either ignorant of or do not care about how they are being used by you and your cronies in the corporate oligarchy. Does that sum things up?

HS: Yup, that’s about the size of it. You forgot to mention jobs. Dangle jobs in front of them and they’ll go for anything, never mind whether the jobs materialize or not, because when they don’t, it happens down the road. They have short memories, these people, Lord love ’em. By the time the temperature hits 70 later in the week, they won’t make any connection with my comments from last week. That kind of critical thinking is for people wearing pointy wizard’s hats, not good ol’ MAGA hat wearing Americans like my people, the Second Amendment people – they’ll only remember the rosy glow of how I outraged the libs and scientists and got them sputtering mad over my very stable genius remarks. Never mind the change in the weather. Or climate or whatever.
— Izzy

 

Powering Down

 

A strong nor’easteror northeaster, if you prefer – is causing havoc along the east coast from North Carolina to Maine and into Canada to kick off the first weekend of March 2018. Nor’easters typically occur in the colder months, almost always in the eastern third of the country, though occasionally slightly farther west, as in November 1975 when a storm whipped up Lake Superior, sinking the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, and they can be as destructive as hurricanes when taking into account the wider swath and longer duration of a nor’easter over a hurricane. Blizzards with heavy snowfall, downpours and consequent flooding, beach erosion, and power outages and damage to houses, businesses, and infrastructure from gale force winds, all can be attributed to nor’easters.

 

The winds of a nor’easter never reach the highest speeds of hurricanes, but even 30 and 40 mile per hour winds in winter can cause trees and tree limbs to topple onto overhead power lines. The ground does not dry out as quickly in winter as in summer, and that can make the difference between a tree staying upright in high winds or falling over. Add the weight of snow and sometimes ice, and not only tree limbs and trees fall, but even utility poles may snap off at ground level. It’s not uncommon then to hear reports during a strong nor’easter, such as the one currently blowing along the upper east coast, of millions of utility customers being without power, sometimes for days.

WinslowHomer-Eight Bells 1886
Eight Bells, an 1886 painting by Winslow Homer (1836-1910).

After every particularly bad storm that causes massive power outages, many people want to know why in this country most of the power lines are still above ground, where they are vulnerable to storm damage. They want to know why more of the lines aren’t buried, seemingly out of harm’s way. The blizzard of 1888 brought New York City to a standstill, and the effect was that city leaders made a determination afterward to start placing essential services underground, in particular building a subway system to help city inhabitants keep moving no matter what the weather. Putting in new facilities at a time when the city was still in the process of being built out to its full potential turned out to be not as disruptive and expensive as it would be today, now that every square mile of Manhattan real estate has something already built on it.

 

Alley behind Connecticut Avenue, N.W. - Blizzard of 2010
An alley behind Connecticut Avenue, N.W., in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with power lines weighed down by heavy, wet snow from the blizzard of February 2010. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid.

Developers building new upper middle class subdivisions sometimes put the power lines underground because those developments can absorb the extra cost, typically 10 times more than overhead lines, and because the pleasing aesthetics and perceived security of underground lines enhance property values. There are drawbacks, often overlooked, such as the vulnerability of any overhead lines feeding into the new development, and the increased time and expense for power company crews to locate and fix compromised underground lines. One of the ways an underground power line can become compromised is through flooding, in which water or even water vapor will find its way into any vulnerability in the line’s sheathing and short out the line. Lines are usually buried from 24 to 48 inches deep, which in most cases is deep enough to insulate them from digging accidents and the soil water pressure of ordinary rainfall. In floods, however, the soil can become so waterlogged that pressure builds high enough to force its way in toward the power line.

There is no one absolute answer to lessening the risk of losing power during a storm, other than to disengage from the power grid entirely. For those who remain hooked in to the grid, some peace of mind can be had by purchasing a portable generator or installing a standby generator. Power companies should put more of this country’s grid underground in spots where the benefits can be greatest, leaving the rest of it above ground where the costs are prohibitive. Utility customers may wail once again about all the damaged above ground lines once this latest nor’easter has moved on out to the open ocean, but they often quiet down once they hear how much their power bill would have to be hiked and for how long in order to pay for putting the service below ground. The people who have it worst in some ways during a storm and for days or weeks afterward are the power company workers who have to be outside in dreadful conditions doing what is a dangerous job even in sunny, balmy weather, and is many times worse in soaking rain, blowing snow, pelting ice, and winds that could throw anyone off course.
— Vita

 

Deerly Beloved

 

Every gardener will at one time or other have to contend with wildlife or neighborhood pets causing problems in their yard and garden. Vegetable gardens are especially apt to be browsed by wildlife, obviously, and the legal options for backyard gardeners in coping with unwelcome visitors are much more limited than the options available to a farmer whose livelihood is at stake. Today as in the past a farmer can dispose of a varmint chewing up his or her crops with a well-aimed shot from a .22 caliber rifle and law enforcement or neighbors are unlikely to interfere. That option is not generally available to the urban or suburban gardener tending a small plot in close proximity to neighbors’ houses.

 

What is a varmint? A varmint is any animal whose survival habits conflict with your own, just like a weed is a plant out of place. Some people are thrilled to see deer browsing in their back yard, at least for a while, but to others those same deer have long since crossed over into varminthood after they have eaten hostas down to the ground, nibbled away rosebuds on the cusp of bloom, and used their antlers to rub the bark off young fruit trees, killing them. Garden enemies are not limited to deer, although they are probably at the top of most peoples’ lists, and a by no means complete catalog of varmints would for most folks have to include groundhogs (woodchucks), gophers, rabbits, rats, mice, voles, moles, chipmunks,  skunks, dogs, cats, poisonous snakes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, inattentive drivers, and unsupervised children.


Bill Murray as a golf course groundskeeper in the 1980 movie Caddyshack plots the destruction of the gophers who have been disfiguring the fairways and greens.

For some of these varmints, the critter kind, there are no shortage of chemical and mechanical repellents manufactured by companies eager to help out a distressed gardener and incidentally make a buck on a continuing basis, because all of them require regular re-application or constant tweaking to keep up their effectiveness. Gardeners who have wised up to this laborious and expensive treadmill may look instead to fencing, the only truly effective solution, though effective only in the sense of diminished and insecure expectations. No fence is a 100% effective deterrent for all critters at all times in all situations, as any convict will tell you, although in this case the malefactors seek to break in rather than out.

 

Some gardeners will try to remove the problem from the garden by relocating it, or by hiring someone to do so. Although this practice is illegal nearly everywhere, the gardener can feel smugly humane about it. Unfortunately, it is a poor strategy for everyone concerned. The varmint, let’s say a groundhog, is trapped in a humane trap, but sometimes the animal injures itself in some way in its panic to escape. Injury to a wild animal is often a slow death sentence. The gardener, or his or her proxy, then takes the groundhog out to some countrified place and releases it, feeling good about him or herself, even if the groundhog begs to differ. This is likely another slow death sentence for the groundhog, because for one thing it is not familiar with the new territory, and for another the territory, if it is any good, is likely already occupied by another groundhog or two who will not treat an interloper kindly. The gardener then, with a warm and fuzzy feeling brought on by reflecting on the newfound happiness of the groundhog he or she has just released to frolic in fields of daisies in the countryside, returns home where another groundhog from a neighboring yard eyes the newly unoccupied territory and its fresh crop of tasty vegetation.

 

There are all sorts of other strategies for dealing with varmint pressure on the garden, such as companion plantings or planting only things offensive to them. It can seem the options come down to living in a fenced-in or foul-smelling compound, or giving up on planting old garden favorites like roses and daylilies. There is another option involving compromise and a relinquishing of control, and in the end it may be the only sensible option whether the gardener is willing to acknowledge it or not. It doesn’t mean giving up, but merely giving in where other options are inhumane, or too expensive or unsightly, or just plain idiotic insistence on controlling every little thing. The critters – varmints, if you insist – have just as much right to be here as we do, and that’s true whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Putting up a fight is fine, but try to retain perspective on who is supposed to be the rational creature capable of long-term, ethical considerations.
― Izzy

 

White Tailed Deer
One of the Varmint Cong, or a Beloved Creature? A white tailed deer fawn, Odocoileus virginianus, in Raleigh, North Carolina; photo by Clay Heaton.

 

I Can’t Hear You

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2014
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2014.

Rural communities and small cities took a blow to their prospects for municipally provided broadband internet service on August 10th when the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled against the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 order to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee. Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, had petitioned the FCC to allow them to build municipal broadband networks and the FCC had acted under a provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act directing it to remove barriers to broadband investment and competition. The Sixth Circuit Court ruled the FCC did not have the power to supersede state law.

19 states have laws hampering the ability of local governments to provide broadband service, with the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) offering sample legislation to more states. As Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and now an advisor to Common Cause, put it “Let’s be clear: industry-backed state laws to block municipal broadband only exist because pliant legislators are listening to their Big Cable and Big Telecom paymasters.”

The FCC defines broadband as an upload speed of at least three megabits per second and a download speed of no less than 25 megabits per second, and maintains a map displaying the different types of service available around the country. Even in larger cities where broadband is more commonly available, however, consumers have few choices of internet service provider because for all practical purposes carriers such as Comcast operate as regional monopolies.

The possibility of building municipal broadband networks has been an option in areas of low population density where private internet service providers often display little interest in building out their network for what they see as small return on their investment. People in poorly served areas sometimes turn to satellite service, though it has drawbacks in the form of high latency speeds and throttling of service for users who have reached certain data caps. In the same areas, wireless service can be spotty, with generally low data caps at high cost.


It appears the debate over net neutrality and whether to treat broadband service as a utility may revive, and it will be up to Congress to either strengthen the FCC’s regulatory powers over the states and the industry or to enact legislation defining internet service providers as common carriers, something companies like AT&T and Verizon fought tooth and nail against during the last round of discussions in 2014.
– Techly

Hand with Light and Switch