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Category: Humans

Crackers
If you are curious about where we are at this stage of our sheltering, I will tell you this: we made crackers here last weekend. For most folks, that would be a marker that we’re pretty deep into this thing. They would, I’d guess, work through a pretty long list of possible baking projects before arriving at crackermaking.

My list is different, though. Crackers, to me, are in the top row of necessary food items. Even crackers that don’t crack, like the Ritz or the Keebler Club, make the grade. I would be lying, however, if I said I fully respect a “cracker” that does not crack. Ritzes don’t even “crunch” when you bite; it’s more like a “crunge.” There is such a thing as too much crack, of course. Ry-Krisps, though they have a lot to recommend them, require a bit more force than I am comfortable with. You could pop a crown off on a stale one.

That said, I don’t really want to single out any cracker for criticism. I admire them too much as a food genus to do that. I will admit here and now that I am a cracker addict. I could eat them three meals a day…or five. They are the staff of life in a lightweight, bite-size form. Sure, you can put salami on them or the schmear of your choice, from hummus to triple cream brie, but for me the cracker is the thing.

Crackermaking, then, was actually pretty high on my pandemic baking agenda. Taste is important, of course, but mostly I am looking for the perfect “crack.” Not just a crunch (though crunchiness is a worthy texture), but crackfulness, in both the sound and the tooth. Think Wheat Thins or ak-maks. The sequence of ingestion should go like this: crack, crackle, crunch, crunch, chew.

That ideal is, as I have discovered, a deceptively simple goal. My first batch (using almond flour and a topping of Parmesan cheese) was, best case, a valuable learning experience. I baked them — according to the recipe — for 9 minutes or until they were light brown at the edges. That amount of time proved to be insufficient. (Thanks in part to my addiction, however, it took me eight crackers to be sure.)

For starters, they had nothing like the crack I was looking for. Instead, I got more of a “croonge” — not even as good as the Ritzy “crunge.” Also, they were a bit mealy for my taste. In fact, the “croonge” actually made me cringe. So I put the remaining crackers back in the oven for another 6 minutes at a higher temperature. I might burn them to a crisp, I thought, but at least they’d be crispy.

I can report that the tactic at least partially succeeded. As we all know, most foods taste better when some part of the dish is a little burned. The edges on the new versions were no longer light brown, but rather a rich (and tasty) burnt sienna. The bite improved as well. I don’t think I have ever eaten a cracker that went “craunch,” but I found it to be a pleasent texture.

But not fully satisfying. Simply put, there was no crack. A crunk or two, maybe, but I was still well short of my ideal cracker. I will say, however, that the rest of the crackers did disappear pretty quickly. Not Wheat Thin quick, but none of them got anywhere near staleness.

As I say, this was a learning experience. I have now resolved that, going forward, I will set aside the almond flour and even the Parmesan and try for a more direct route to my ideal. My new plan: it’s got to be whole wheat flour, simple no-nonsense ingredients, err on the side of over-baking, and eat all of your mistakes.

But never forget the mission: crack, crackle, crunch, crunch, chew.
Yes, It Isn't
I look up from my reading and address my mate here in self-isolation: “Are you done with that section of the newspaper?”

She does not look up, but answers, “No, I’m not.”

That effectively ends our discussion, and I’m pretty sure I know what she meant by her response. But it leaves me dissatisfied. “No, I’m not”? I don’t say so, but I can’t help thinking that this is wrong. Shouldn’t her answer in this instance be “Yes, I’m not”? Her answer featured a double negative, as I see it, and such usages bring with them a cloud of imprecision.

I must tread carefully these days, however. We all must. We are cooped up (or, if you prefer, locked down) with one or two or three people during this time of social distancing. Those same one or two or three people are with us constantly. For this reason, it seems wise to maintain strict standards of civility and personal space. After all, we are going to be here for awhile.

Keeping the peace, it seems to me, is vital to the continued keeping of the peace. And yet, there it was again today. I ask my cellmate, “Have you decided if we should we go pick up some groceries today?” She answers, “No, we should.”

I don’t want to be picky, and I wisely decide not to be. If I had decided otherwise, my suggestion to her might have been that a better answer would be, “yes, we should.” My rationale for this hypothetical edit, as it was in the first instance, would be the pursuance of absolute clarity. Surely, no one could quarrel with that.

Just in case she might, however, I refrain from commenting. As I say, peace itself is at stake. When this crisis is finally past, though, will I resume my quest for linguistic precision?

Yes, I will.
An Ironical Pandemical
Reach out but
Don’t touch someone

Let’s all stay close
By staying apart

Because we are in this together
Separately

We are many
And we are all ones.
Believe It or Not
As hard as I try, it’s a challenge for me to shrug off the boneheaded political views of others. I’m not talking about people who simply disagree with me, even though there are plenty of those. I’m talking about people whose beliefs are founded firmly and proudly on ignorance. Ignorance is curable, of course, so there is always hope for a conversion. If that ignorance is armed with cynicism, however, it can be impervious to reality and to logic. And that can be a problem for all of us.

I was confronted once again with this sad truth recently while listening to an interview by KQED producer Lacy Jane Roberts with her grandfather. His cynical position: “I don’t believe anything the news media say.” He delivered this declaration with a kind of smugness that suggested he had found some wisdom that was obvious. After all, he said, how can those so-called reporters be sure that what they are reporting is the truth?

Lacy didn’t press her grandfather on that point, even though she, as a reporter herself, was equipped to do so. Her mission with the interview, I think, was simply to present the phenomenon of the old boy’s mindset. So she didn’t ask him how he knew what was true or how he went about sorting fact from non-fact. He did volunteer that he only believed “information” that substantiated what he already believed. How he arrived at those original beliefs, however, was left unclear.

His mindset, however, was abundantly clear. Like so many of his fellow Trumpers, he watches Fox and gets more than enough support there for his boneheaded opinions. Fox, in turn, is happy to do its part. His views are not based on fact, and neither is their reporting (if one could call it that). He is a cynic, and he thrives on the cynicism of others.

Cynicism, it should be noted, is not a philosophy. Instead, it is an absence of philosophy, an admission of defeat, a last-ditch defense mechanism against fear and uncertainty. It signals, in the cynic, an unwillingness to form a coherent response to the world and instead to retreat into an utter distrust of everyone. It is not skepticism, either. Skepticism is a method of seeking the truth through examining the credibility of sources and applying logic.

Cynicism doesn’t seek truth; it denies it. It is nourished by laziness and fear, and these days, it can be dangerous — not just to the cynic, but to everyone. The coronavirus doesn’t care about truth; it just does what it does. It certainly doesn’t care if you believe it’s a hoax or an attack on the President or an asian super weapon. If you are cynical, then, and you do nothing to address the threat from the virus, you are much more likely to be infected by it. Your defense mechanism is powerless against it.

It might be interesting to reflect on the irony of that situation, but we don’t have that luxury. The laziness and fear of our cynical fellow citizens will also magnify the threat of the virus to the rest of us. The more infected people there are moving around out there in our society, the greater chances are that you or I will come down with it. The virus will not care if we have been careful or followed the advice of the CDC or listened to the experts. Consequently, Lacy’s grandpa and all the other boneheads will have to be part of the solution…even though they’re part of the problem.

Which only heightens the irony. But COVID-19 doesn’t care about irony either. So the most we can do is try to accept what happens, move forward…and try not to get cynical.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon