The end of the GOP?

No, I don’t think this is the disintegration of the GOP. But we are certainly witnessing the beginning of the end of the convenient, cynical 3-way alliance that has fueled the rise of the party for almost 40 years. The alliance among fact-based political conservatives; Christian conservatives with a genuine religious underpinning for their views; and self-interested, retrograde charlatans hiding their racism and nihilism and greed behind a pseudointellectual religiosity about the Constitution—that alliance has come to the end of its useful life. And the charlatans won. Continue Reading

The radical contingency of postwar Europe

This sort of thing is just common sense to professional historians, I know, and was taught by my esteemed 10th grade history teacher Dr. Johnson as a first principle. (I think the way he phrased it was “Everything changes everything.”) But the clearest lesson I’ve gotten from Tony Judt’s Postwar so far (100 pages in) is that many of the settled realities of the world into which I was born in 1965 very easily might have organized themselves very differently.

Culturally speaking I was born into a world with a black-and-white narrative about Western and Eastern Europe. But until 1940, there was an economic and cultural continuity between the two halves of Europe.  And lots of what happened in the immediate postwar period seemed to happen more or less by accident, as the result of a critical mass of individual, local decisions, pressures, and opportunistic moves that turned out to have long-term consequences. This included events as significant as the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany and the DDR. Even as late as 1950, although the proto-NATO alliance didn’t trust Stalin, there was still plenty of potential for a different lineup of powers and interests. Continue Reading

iPad Mini 4 with the Brydge keyboard

In furtherance of my ongoing experiment in doing real work with the iPad Mini, here’s my iPad Mini 4 with the newest Brydge Bluetooth keyboard attached.

This is the simplest, most seamlessly functional iPad keyboard I’ve ever used. The iPad drops neatly into hinges at the top of the keyboard. Rubberized inserts inside the hinges hold it in place, but it can be lifted right out anytime you want to use it naked. While it’s in the hinges, the whole assembly folds shut like a clamshell and can be carried around or dropped into your bag.

The keyboard itself is shrunk down from standard, and certain keys are half-size, but even the half-size keys seem to be right where my fingers expect them to be. (I’m guessing that the layout maps very closely to that of the onscreen keyboard.) I type a little slower than on a full-size keyboard, but not noticeably less accurately. (As with the onscreen keyboard, I depend on AutoCorrect, which does the right thing about 95% of the time.) The feel and finish of the keyboard surface are very similar to the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, and there are function keys that include “home button” and “Spotlight” which I find I use constantly.


Reliable chocolate layer cake

Finally I’ve found a chocolate layer cake recipe that was easy to manage, came out perfect, and is worth making again: this one from Nigella Lawson.

I ignored all the nonsense of “just throw everything in the food processor” and did it in the stand mixer in the conventional order: cream butter, add sugar, add remaining wet, add dry. The batter came out thicker than I liked, so at the very end I ended up adding a couple tablespoons of milk, but the final product probably would have been fine without it.

I also liked the frosting, which was easier to manage than buttercream and a little less rich.


Pretentious Potatoes

I’ve been looking for something to do with potatoes as a dinner side dish that isn’t baking or mashing. (I do have a good hot oven-roast technique, but oven-roasted potatoes are something I need to be in the mood for.) Last night, to go with a Texas dry-rubbed brisket I had sitting around, I tried Hasselback Potatoes.

I used a mixture of olive and peanut oil (both high quality), and minced the garlic — and I left it in for cooking.

And the verdict is… worth further study. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that impressed with them straight out of the oven. Greasy, and not that flavorful. But the leftovers are sublime.

I think a recipe like this is highly dependent on the quality of the potatoes you use. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used these:


I also should have used a hotter oven (more like 425), and left the potatoes in a bit longer for more starch-to-sugar conversion.  

Doing real work on iOS: a tentative endorsement

I’ve spent the last week trying an experiment: can I do my real work effectively using only an iPad and an iPhone rather than a MacBook Air? I last tried this about a year ago, at which time the answer was a definite no. This time around I’m a bit surprised to be reporting that the answer is a qualified yes. Continue Reading

How E.F. Benson helped make me a better gay

Inscription in my copy of BensonThis week I reached up to a high shelf and pulled down my copy of Make Way for Lucia, the weighty compendium of all of E.F. Benson’s Riseholme and Tilling novels. (That photo is the inscription inside the front cover.) This is light stuff, but it’s not Wodehouse; it’s more deftly observed, much more archly written, and much, much, much gayer—although words like that are not only not used, they’re barely hinted at. It was a different time.

Benson, a minor writer but beloved by generations (reportedly the late Queen Mother’s favorite author!), is an author you don’t trip over by yourself, and probably even less now than 25 years ago; someone has to tell you about him. For me, it was an older gay man I’ll call “Ray” whom I used to work with and who took me under his wing (and when I say “older,” well, he was probably about 34 at the time), whom I lost touch with decades ago. The pseudonym is simply so that other people who knew him don’t recognize him; I don’t mind if he recognizes himself, but I’m guessing he’ll never find this, and given his very common name, I’m unlikely to be able to find him.

I was a terrible gay back then; I’d gone straight from the suburbs to a very heterosexual college campus at a very conformist historical moment. So the gaps in my subcultural knowledge were stunningly wide. I thought Ray was amazing. He seemed so amazingly well-read and knowledgeable about art and culture and history, and in retrospect I think he may have been self-taught, which makes all this even more impressive; almost certainly he came from a modest cultural background. He had an intellectually informed, allusive cultural manner, and a set of exaggerated physical mannerisms (which he code-switched in and out of) that you don’t see nearly as much anymore.

In those days, before Jack McBride or Ellen, there was no “gay” on TV, unless you count Jack Tripper; and being comfortably gay and out was seen by everyone as an aggressive act. Writing about this reminds me that I came of age as one gay world was passing away and another was taking its place, which of course every gay person does, but I think that inflection point—1985, let’s call it, the year I turned twenty—was a particularly sharp one. Certainly it looks it in retrospect. As one marker of the change, people my age and younger as a general rule are totally comfortable with their smartphones, for everything from ordering groceries to requisitioning bed partners. And people Ray’s age and older don’t do any of those things with their mobile devices.

Ray was the first adult gay person who treated me like an adult gay person. (When I first started that job where I met him, I was 21, and uptight as the dickens.) He was the first adult gay person who invited me to a dinner party at his house along with other grownups (some of whom were gay, and some of whom weren’t, and everyone was fine with that! and if you’re under 30, it’s probably impossible for you to understand how transgressive that sort of matter-of-factness seemed then). He was the first adult gay person who drove me somewhere in his car. He wasn’t the first adult gay person I knew who had a gay wedding, but he knew that person and was a guest at that wedding along with me.

Along with various other snippets of popular and unpopular culture, Ray used to quote Benson’s novels all the time, and refer to the characters in conversation as though I knew them. I liked Ray and wanted to be like him, so I sought out the books; and once I started reading (in the summer of 1988) I don’t think I stopped until the end of the series. (The other thing I read that summer was War and Peace. I was a pill.)

Given how evocative the memory of reading these novels is for me, and how much I loved them on first reading, 27 years ago (!), I was terrified that they wouldn’t hold up. (Lots of things don’t.) But I’m halfway through Queen Lucia, the first of the series, and I’m pleased to report they are as delicious as ever. So I’ll see you in a few months, when I’ve gotten through 900 pages.