Thursday, September 18, 2014

Terry Gilliam says NO HE ISN'T

LIES, it's all LIES! The great cheddar cheese scam

From a site called

Canadian Cheddar

Although, Cheddar is originally a product of England, but now, Canada produces some of the best cheddar in the world. The climate, soil, pasture, cattle stock, and milk quality separate out superior Canadian Cheddar from the regulars. Unlike other cheddars, Canadian cheddars have a smoother, creamier texture as well proffer the right balance of flavor and sharpness. Depending on their age, the flavor, texture and aroma of a cheddar cheese can vary.

All right, I'm having a problem with this (and not just the awkward writing). For years and years, I bought a very nice extra-old cheddar made by Lucerne, Safeway's house brand. Then ownership shifted around, and I couldn't get it any more. Lucerne was out. The search was on for something similar. Since house brands are often surprisingly good, I tried President's Choice and was appalled: I might as well have been eating Velveeta. Not only was the flavour "off", blandly dairy like warm milk right out of the cow, it was gummy, rubbery, not at all like the rich, crumbly texture of a good cheddar. Damn. 

So I tried a fairly large block of Armstrong, thinking: I KNOW this one will be good, because it's, well, it's Armstrong cheddar! Award-winning Armstrong Cheddar. They're constantly bragging about all their awards, and I have always had good experiences with it. And voila, mild, milky, bland, almost waxen cheese. Not anybody's idea of a real cheddar. It's hard to get your knife through it because it sort of bulges out and sticks to the knife like glue. I could use it in place of mozzarella on a pizza, and it would "string" the same way.

I just don't get it. It's not cheese. It's not the cheese I grew up with, that I continued to love, unchanged for decade after decade, that I crumbled into salads - CRUMBLED, do you hear me? If you try to crumble this stuff, it just bends and flexes like a piece of rubber. And this is "extra old", the crumbliest kind.

So I've blown considerable dollars on two large blocks of extra-old cheddar that seem to have morphed into something more like Velveeta. We are pensioners and can't throw out food unless it is absolutely rotten, so once more I will have to find a way to use up this monstrous inedible brick. I may slice it up (if I can get the knife through it) and make grilled cheese sandwiches and serve it with Campbell's tomato soup. But how I will miss my sharp, nippy aged cheddar, with walnuts, with grapes or slices of tart apple, melted over Triscuits or grated and sprinkled on hot pasta (I'd hate to grate this gummy stuff), or a big slice by itself. I guess my only recourse is to go to some deli or market or premium cheese shop and spend $25.00 for a small slice, then find out it's just as bad. I can't believe consumers haven't bitched and complained about this, but when you DO complain you get the company line: "we have improved our product to reflect the desires and tastes of our customers." Speaking of cows, this is total bullshit! Don't TELL me yet another of life's small pleasures has been withdrawn from me forever.

CHEESE DETECTIVE'S REPORT. I actually did find out something about rubbery cheddar that I didn't know. Cracker Barrel, a Kraft product that I remember used to be fairly decent, failed a recent Huffington Post taste panel test for the same reasons I objected to: a bland, waxen product with a gross kind of steaming udder quality. About as appealing as a baby's sour spit-up curds.

Cracker Barrel, Sharp White

Comments: "There's something weird about this that I can't explain and do NOT like." "Tastes like nothing." "Too creamy, sort of like eating butter." "Bland and waxy." "There's something about this that I don't like. Too lactic?"

Cracker Barrel, Extra Sharp White

Comments: "The texture is too gummy but the flavor is decently sharp." "Boring." "Way too mealy -- how did they manage that?" "Rubbery, with not much flavor." "The texture is weird, but I love the sharpness."

Cracker Barrel, Sharp

Comments: "I like the creamy mouthfeel but it tastes like Velveeta." "Seems like a good melter, but it's not sharp enough." "Tastes fake, like American cheese." "Tastes like American cheese." "Tastes too processed, almost like Velveeta."

Hmmmmmm. There's that V-word again.

Most of the high-ranking cheeses in this comparison test are brands I've never heard of, probably available only in the States. Somebody mentioned Costco, and though I quailed at the thought of bringing home a 30-pound brick of bad cheese, I've been pleasantly surprised at their home brands up to now and am tempted to take a chance, once we've somehow gotten through this awful Armstrong stuff that set us back a miserable $12.00.

Listen, folks, we'd love to be cheese snobs. We'd love to drive 100 miles to a specialty store, but we can't afford the gas. Nor can we afford the cheese. We've got to find something that, like my beloved, rich, piquant Lucerne, can serve me consistently without breaking our budget. I can't afford to have a formerly-yummy cheese end up tasting like a block of blubber. I have to be able to depend on it.

By the way, I discovered in my cheese sleuthing that the "off" texture and Heidi's-milk-pail smell and taste results from insufficient ageing. Armstrong used to pride itself on a cheddar that had been aged 5 years, and it was pretty darned good for the most part. Now it's just junk. It's barely aged at all, maybe for a few months. Rush it along, age it the minimum amount and add some sort of flavoring to make it appear "extra old", while the industry web sites burble on about Canadian cheddar winning international awards. I've even noticed a kind of fake texturing made by small air bubbles injected in it, to imitate the marbled quality of good cheddar with its natural cracks and fractures. From the outside of the wrapper, it even looks kind of like the real thing.


(Cheese-o-philes, take notice. As usually happens when I am exploring a topic, I came across unexpected things. The blog below is cheese porn, no doubt about it, and I doubt if I will ever be able to find/afford any of these. The lady lives in Vancouver, but must spend a lot of her time at the Granville Island market. We're lucky if we get there once a year. But it's a nice blog, nicely set up, simple, no pop-ups or ugly margins or things happening all over the place. Just cheese.)

(Wait! There's more! Trying to suss out the mystery of formerly tasty cheese turning into orange rubber, I came across the Cracker Barrel company fan site. You're not going to get balanced, objective views here, folks. Keep in mind that this is THE SAME Cracker Barrel cheddar that turned the stomachs of the Huffpost taste panel. I'll just include one comment because after reading it, I became sick and had to go lie down for a while.

Back 50+ years ago Cracker Barrel cheese was the most favorite thing in my 3 year old life. My uncle would call me on the phone, I would stand up in a kitchen chair and tell him what I wanted him to bring me from the store. It was always Cracker Barrel cheese with crackers. He and I shared a birthday and a love of cheese, when he passed in 1977, he was 101 y/o he loved it too. Now whenever I sit and have Cracker Barrel cheese and crackers I enjoy a wonderful memory and a wonderful cheese as well. Thank you for a wonderful product and wonderful memories.

Pretty cheesy. . . wouldn't you say?)

It took me years to write (will you take a look)

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

It got THAT clean on the cold cycle??

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

That desperate time of year

Artists struggle to survive in age of the blockbuster


Special to The Globe and Mail
In the artistic economy, the Internet has not lived up to its hype. For years, the cybergurus liked to tell us about the “long tail” – the rise of niches, “unlimited variety for unique tastes” – that would give equal opportunities to tiny indie bands and Hollywood movies. People selling products of any kind would, in the new connected world, be able to sell small amounts to lots of small groups. Implicit in the idea was the promise that since niche tastes would form online communities not limited by national boundaries, a niche product might find a large international audience without traditional kinds of promotion in its home country. People in publishing bought this, too. The end result, we were told, would be an extremely diverse cultural world in which the lesbian vampire novel would be just as widely discussed as the Prairie short story and the memoir in tweets.

In fact, the blockbuster artistic product is dominating cultural consumption as at no other time in history. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on each successive Hunger Games, and the rep cinemas have closed. A few sports stars are paid more individually than entire publishing houses or record labels earn in a year.

A couple of prominent commentators have made this argument recently about American culture at large. The musician David Byrne lamented, in a book of essays, that his recent albums would once have been considered modest successes but now no longer earn him enough to sustain his musical project. That’s David Byrne – he’s a great and famous artist. Just no Lady Gaga. The book Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment, by business writer Anita Elberse, argues that the days of the long tail are over in the United States. It makes more sense, she claims, for entertainment giants to plow as much money as they can into guaranteed hits than to cultivate new talent. “Because people are inherently social,” she writes cheerily, “they generally find value in reading the same books and watching the same television shows and movies that others do.”

Well, the same appears to be true of publishing, even in this country. There are big winners and there are losers – the middle ground is eroding. Publishers are publishing less, not more. Everybody awaits the fall’s big literary-prize nominations with a make-us-or-break-us terror. Every second-tier author spends an hour every day in the dismal abjection of self-promotion – on Facebook, to an audience of 50 fellow authors who couldn’t care less who just got a nice review in the Raccoonville Sentinel. This practice sells absolutely no books; increases one’s “profile” by not one centimetre; and serves only to increase one’s humiliation at not being in the first tier, where one doesn’t have to do that.

Novelists have been complaining, privately at least, about the new castes in the literary hierarchy. This happens every year now, in the fall, the uneasiness – after the brief spurt of media attention that goes to the nominees and winners of the three major Canadian literary prizes, the Scotiabank Giller, the Governor-General’s, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust. The argument is that the prizes enable the media to single out a few books for promotion, and no other books get to cross the divide into public consciousness. And, say the spurned writers, this fact guides the publishers in their acquisitions. Editors stand accused of seeking out possible prize-winners (i.e. “big books”) rather than indulging their own tastes. This leads, it is said, to a homogenized literary landscape and no place at all for the weird and uncategorizable.

But even if this is true, what can one possibly do about it? Abolish the prizes? No one would suggest this – and even the critics of prize culture understand that the prizes were created by genuine lovers of literature with nothing but the best intentions, and that rewarding good writers financially is good, even necessary, in a small country without a huge market.

It’s not, I think, the fault of the literary prizes that the caste system exists. Nor of the vilified “media” who must cover these major events. It’s the lack of other venues for the discussion and promotion of books that closes down the options. There were, in the nineties, several Canadian television programs on the arts. There were even whole TV shows about books alone. Not one of these remains. There were radio shows that novel-readers listened to. There were budgets for book tours; there were hotel rooms in Waterloo and Moncton. In every year that I myself have published a book there have been fewer invitations and less travel. Now, winning a prize is really one’s only shot at reaching a national level of awareness.

So again, what is to be done? What does any artist do in the age of the blockbuster? Nothing, absolutely nothing, except keep on doing what you like to do. Global economic changes are not your problem (and are nothing you can change with a despairing tweet). Think instead, as you always have, about whether or not you like semicolons and how to describe the black winter sky. There is something romantic about being underground, no?

Look on the bright side: Poverty can be good for art. At least it won’t inspire you to write Fifty Shades of Grey.

BLOGGER'S NOTE. I reran this piece from last year because it's awards season, or rather the season when book award shortlists are announced. In spite of all my most florid fantasies, I'm not on any of them. I'm not even "midlist" as Smith describes here, but sort of "non-list". I've deleted a few posts that were near-suicidal in their despair at my near-total failure as a writer. That's the way it is, folks.

An award is the only way out, it seems, but it's not a way that's going to work for me. I have come to the end of this and won't publish again - it's bad for my health and ruinous for my love of life. It was an experiment that failed, three times. See, I learn hard.

But I do learn.

We can't wait for Munsingwear Monday

I steal stuff, but according to the Facebook philosphy, it's called "sharing". Nobody knows the provenance of anything any more. If I go on Tin Eye, I just get a whole bunch of blogs/web sites where the image appears, in different sizes. So I won't feel guilty, I won't, that I stole these (mostly, not all) from Kitsch Bitsch, which is always good for a laugh.

It is here that I first discovered that jaw-dropping artifact, the Munsingwear Men's underwear ad.I keep finding more and more of these, with men in locker rooms extolling the virtues of Stretchy Seat briefs to each other and rating them according to how much or little they support your balls.

But we'll save that 'til last. I like this horse one, don't you? We don't want to mention poo-poo anywhere. It's not about poo-poo anyway. In fact, we don't know what it's about. Not so long ago, ads talked about "irregularity".

This isn't really an ad, but a public service. It's the equivalent of that doomsday alarm they hear in the cockpit when the plane is going down: WHOOP WHOOP PULL! UP! WHOOP WHOOP PULL! UP! Generally speaking, it's the last thing you ever hear. The government was assuring people then that a nuclear strike was no worse than a bad cold, so long as you had a well-stocked fallout shelter.

But is one minute really long enough to stay down?

Now this is a favorite, a story about a girl who is both too old AND too smelly to ever get married. What is she doing that she should smell so bad? Doesn't she ever shower? In my experiences, people who smell bad don't bathe, or at least don't wash their clothes often enough. This sort of pitch segues into the married woman's need to douche with Lysol to get rid of those "married" odors that can drive a husband away.

OK, enough smelly twats, armpits, feet, etc. Yeccccchhhh.

". . . in the dressing room I hotly accused her. In an instant we were in a disgraceful hair-pulling match. But Sylvia got in the last bitter word: 'Any girl with a breath like yours ought to lose her customers!"

Customers? This reminds me of those Women in Chains movies from the 1950s, with big butch matrons jingling keys and eyeing the young inmates as they wash their frilly black bras and hang them on the bars. I don't know what possessed Listerine or whoever-it-was to use images of two women pulling each other's hair out. "Hotly" accused her? That's hot!

The silly man sat on the wall
Playing with his willy.
With such a long shake, his trouser snake
Was getting very chilly.
Blow you buggers, blow, he said
And keep the thing from freezing!
Blow yourself, the actress said,
Teasing, teasing, teasing.

I promised you Munsingwear, and I'm giving you Munsingwear. Sorry I'm blowing these things up so much, but I don't feel like transcribing the text. But in this case, the longing look from the guy in the tie says it all. Note where his gaze rests.

Do men stand around in their underwear talking to other men about gonch (ginch, ganch, gotch, gotchees, whatever) after playing golf? The Munsingwear Men do.

And I am too lazy to transcribe all this, but maybe you can make it out, or just guess what it says.

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

A question

So who wants to win the goddamn Giller Prize anyway?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Weird shit late at night

Yes: it's time for an episode (the only episode) of Weird Shit Late at Night. In which a non-cartoonist makes a desperate attempt to screw around with somebody else's animation: i. e., make a gif.

Somebody traced over these girls or something. I think they took a movie and just drew over it. Or something.

This guy is all crumbly and scrunchy like dead leaves, and his features turn into squiggles part of the time. A new technique.

Nobody traced this guy, it is just bad cartooning with his hair seething on top of his head. Like it's about to slide off. The other guy has eyes like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.

I really hate this one, her hands are in the wrong place and the one who screams reminds me of somebody in a bar you hate but can't escape from, but perhaps those are the people they're tracing. The one with the smudged eyes is my favorite, but she's only on for half a second, or I'd make her a gif all her own. Oh, it might work: I did that with Ali McGraw in the Polaroid Swinger ad where her hair swung past her face for half a second.