Month: Dec 2017

Not Chicken With White Stripes! There Are Better Things To Eat

AN ALARMIST piece from a serially paternalistic news outlet — published in February, now being recirculated — warns of the evils of chicken breasts with stripes: apparently, the danger is not the meat, but the fact it is battery farmed. Whilst this column would never recommend battery-reared chicken, those with a responsibility to report news should chill out. In any case, there are better options if such sensationalist rubbish really turns you off your chook.

You know it really is the silly season — and that even the silliest of news sites are scraping the bottom of the barrel for content — when the Twitter feeds and home pages of publications everywhere start reposting their “favourite moments” of (insert year here); there is a lot of subjective rubbish making a comeback thanks to this practice during these final few days of 2017, but for sheer crassness, something from one of Britain’s news portals really takes the biscuit.

Stop eating chicken breasts with white stripes. Immediately,” screams the tagline on a tweet by The Independent, that even-handed, fair-minded, “independent” journal out of my beloved UK.

If it sounds like I’m being sarcastic there is a very good reason, because — back when I was publishing my currently mothballed political comment site — The Independent was a trusty go-to source for one-sided political “analysis” and comment; rank anti-Tory rants; a refusal to give credit where it was due, if doing so involved crediting a conservative of any description; and the entire moralising, finger-shaking diatribe so typical of the all-knowing, “intellectually superior” Left, whose actual superiority is non-existent and which, in this case, invariably misrepresented “independent” as a synonym for “impartial.” (There are plenty of other allegedly “independent” news organisations globally that do the same thing, just to be fair about it).

It should surprise nobody, therefore, that this finger-shaking goodness should extend beyond politics to…well, to…chicken. Readers can peruse The Independent‘s article about chicken — which it says is “loved for its leanness, adaptability and inoffensiveness” — here.

Inoffensiveness, indeed…it’s a bit like the kettle complaining because it’s blacker than the pot.

The two-sentence version of The Independent‘s article is: Chicken breasts with stripes of white fat running through them are from battery hens. Battery farming is bad, and therefore you must stop eating chicken immediately.

No health risk. No exotic disease of Chicken White Stripe or something similarly ghastly; just an agenda to push, and the same high-handed, prescriptive approach to food as the one The Independent takes to all things political.

The voluntary vegetarian and vegan communities — not the ones who don’t eat meat for cultural or health reasons, but who choose to do so because it fits a political agenda — will be cock-a-hoop, of course; The Independent strikes a blow for the cause! (As they will all likely sit around afterwards and sing Kum-Ba-Ya together, however, the rest of us can leave them to it and get on with a discussion more securely based on common sense and sanity).

Mind you, I’d never recommend eating battery-reared chicken; for me it isn’t a question of the farming methods (although, clearly, any animal reared in such a fashion is hardly going to yield a premium product) but of quality and taste. The few times I have been unfortunate enough to eat intensively produced chicken the taste difference is enough to make me wonder whether it was past its use-by date when it was cooked.

And I’m not deaf to the argument that battery cages are cruel: note, per the previous paragraph, that I vote with my feet.

But there are people — millions of people — who, to have the opportunity to eat chicken at all, have no choice; not everyone is able to afford free range, organically reared chickens that cost two or three times the price of something out of the refrigerator cabinet at Sainsbury’s or Coles.

There are other people — tens or hundreds of millions of people — who would give literally anything for the opportunity to eat battery-reared chickens, or in fact anything at all, and these would be undernourished and starving inhabitants of third world countries that virtue signal factories like The Independent loudly proclaim their “compassion” for…at all other times bar a discussion involving the henchman-esque crusade against battery farmed chicken.

And all that aside, what about the good old-fashioned concept of consumer choice, whereby those who want to buy intensively produced products are free to do so, and those who don’t are free to do something else?

What about those people who just want to buy a cheap chook?

Never fear, says the Indy, for there aren’t any health risks to the pinstriped chicken — but “let’s hope more restaurants and supermarkets avoid factory-farmed birds.”

Quite. And with that brilliant declaration, we’ll move on.

There are worse things to worry about in the world of consumable poultry than factory farming; as the UK begins to feel its way through the likely substance and texture of its trading relationships once its exit from the European Union is finalised, one of the issues it has to consider is whether — in return for its goods and services being openly received into the United States — American poultry farmers should be allowed to flood the British market with chicken treated with high levels of antibiotics during rearing and rinsed in chlorine solution during processing and packing.

I know what I’d prefer.

Here in southern Australia, I can buy a free-range chicken grown in Bannockburn, near Geelong, that isn’t full of chemicals or antibiotics and is processed with iced water, not the chlorine bath, and it only costs about half as much again as its cousin in the supermarket freezer. Money well spent.

If British consumers are worried, of course, they’re close enough to France to buy the best: Poulet de Bresse, renowned across Europe and globally as the very best chicken in the world, but which is priced accordingly (upwards of £20 per kilogram in London markets I am told).

In chicken terms, the Poulet de Bresse is a veritable Rolls-Royce. (Picture: Wikipedia)

But even in Britain, there are plenty of other things people can eat beside chicken, which The Independent helpfully advises “is no longer as good for us as it once was;” British beef — forget about the stuff from Ireland — is seriously good eating, and a match for our clean, grass-fed Australian product. The cold waters around the UK produce a sensational array of seafood. British game — deer, rabbits, and of course, all the game birds such as pheasants and grouse and woodcock — are first-rate.

Seriously, should we have a campaign against the local fish and chippery because it might sell a piece of fish that was farmed?

Newspapers have a responsibility to report news fairly, responsibly and accurately. That includes their social media trails. The article I have shared today stretches a point to qualify on any of those grounds. It should more properly have been published as an advertorial for Compassion in World Farming — a group whose campaign the “story” is clearly designed to advance.

So if your chook has white stripes on its breasts and this scares the shit out of you, do the only sensible thing you can, and just eat it.

And if you don’t feel inclined to do so (and when it comes to the taste of battery chicken, I wouldn’t blame you) then a roasted venison loin with dauphinoise potatoes, braised red cabbage and all the trimmings would be my recommendation — if the histrionics of The Independent (and many others like it) haven’t scared you away from eating good red meat as well.

After all, the last thing we need is more vegans on the loose.

 

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Five Ways To Escape Hollywood These Holidays

AT A LOSS for something to watch? Sick of formulaic clap-trap with a “plot” you know ends heroically — no matter the title? Stuck at home dodging “festive” crowds, or taking a break away somewhere and looking for something to fill in a rainy day or a bit of solitude in which to catch your breath? They may not be the most recent releases, but here are five viewing choices that may add an “accidental discovery” to your DVD library, and a little lustre to your time off.

If you’re like me (and I say this from a southern hemispheric perspective), the Christmas period is the very worst time of the year to take time off work. People in their thousands, sky-high prices and searing summer heat are, in my view, a recipe that is not conducive to personal enjoyment in any way — no matter how much “Christmas cheer” is consumed to soften the blow.

I have never been much of a fan of what emanates from the Hollywood firmament and the predictable, formulaic methodology that seems to underpin virtually everything it produces, and all of what it produces when it comes to non-fiction material; having said that, and somewhat perversely, my favourite movie of all time is an American production, and for anyone who hasn’t ever seen it I can thoroughly recommend it.

But really, who could be seriously captivated with a formula consisting of:

  • Everything is just fine and dandy;
  • A really big, “evil” problem suddenly appears out of nowhere;
  • A hero (often just some glorified meathead) similarly emerges out of thin air to deal with it;
  • There is a colossal struggle to overcome the “evil” problem…
  • (…and a gratuitous sex scene — because that’s just what happens…);
  • Good triumphs over “evil,” of course — it’s “The American Way;” and
  • Everything is just fine and dandy once again. Hallelujah!

This kind of idiot simplicity might reap the big bucks at the box office, but it is hardly stimulating or mentally challenging.

When it comes to viewing preferences, mine are distinctly British and European; I know a lot of people who think of subtitled content and say “eewww, I couldn’t watch something like that:” these would be people who opt to miss out on some of the best content available, and it’s a shame.

But these unfortunates aside, today I’m sharing five easily-acquired options for watching something far, far better than the standard drivel from Hollywood these holidays; all can be bought from JB HiFi or online from amazon.co.uk, and — happily — all of this stuff is eminently binge-worthy, so you will be able to shut yourself away for hours if you really want to.

Is there sex and violence? Of course there is. Is there bad language? Certainly. But credible storylines count for an awful lot too, and in any case, the intemperate language and scantily-clad characters in some of these actually sit naturally in those plot lines — rather than the gratuitous inclusion of the “interesting bits” in American material so shallow it’d be impossible to drown in it if it were a wading pool.

Today’s recommendations aren’t necessarily recent, but I am certain most readers will never have heard of them, let alone seen them, so we are on safe ground in this regard.

So here we go. In no particular order, starting with

1. House of Cards (the proper version)

It is hard to believe the first instalment of this was released in 1990, and even harder to believe that its first screening coincided with the day of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; the material has stood the test of time surprisingly well, and while there are a few pointers to its vintage — big 80s/90s hairstyles, landline telephones with dials rather than buttons, and an appearance by “Princess Diana” — this is as relevant today as it was the day it was made.

What is even harder to believe is that so few people (in Australia at least) have ever heard of this, let alone seen it: if you mix in political circles as I sometimes do, “everyone” has long known and loved House of Cards, which is actually a trilogy of miniseries (House of Cards, To Play the King, The Final Cut), but that’s a comparatively small group when you consider the millions who don’t even know it exists.

Yet “everyone” in the broader sense knows all about the American remake featuring the now-disgraced Kevin Spacey and his co-star, Robyn Wright; for something that was supposed to be a sympathetic remake that kept fidelity with its British forebear, the US “version” of House of Cards ran off the rails somewhere in the middle of its third season, and lost all credibility completely within another season or so of that, with its silly storylines of talking to the President of Russia (the quaintly-named Victor Petrov — now there’s a not-so-bright allusion to a real person) through a drain in the bathroom, or the imbecilic notion of a husband-wife team of President and Vice-President of the United States.

“Proper” House of Cards features the devilish, love-to-hate-him, hate-to-love-him Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart — “FU” — at the top of a stellar British cast including Diane Fletcher, Susannah Harker, Colin Jeavons and Nick Brimble, and unlike its unfortunate US counterpart, the storylines remain credible from start to finish. The investment of $20 for a copy of the whole thing at JB HiFi will be money well spent, and an experience that you will revisit again, and again, and again…

2. Maison Close

If it’s sex you want, this thrilling period drama certainly delivers; set in a brothel in post-revolutionary France, this multi-layered story examines themes of the exploitation of women set against a backdrop of the wider struggle for control of French society during a turbulent period in France’s history that is authentically represented in painstaking detail in the execution of this production.

Remarkably, only two seasons of Maison Close were ever made: the first — released in late 2010 — was warmly received to critical acclaim, triggering a rapid commitment by producer StudioCanal to a second series; by the time the second aired three years later, much of the following garnered by the first had predictably dissipated, as people moved onto other things, and despite better dramatic values than the original, the ratings did not warrant a third.

Forget about the sexual content — this is some seriously compelling viewing, and features masterful performances from French actresses including Catherine Hosmalin, the underrated Blandine Bellavoir, and French-British star Jemima West. The grimy splendour, the suspense and power plays and carefully-constructed characters, well portrayed by a capable cast, make Maison Close an experience that is very difficult to stop watching. Look for this one online at Amazon.

3. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Based on the true story of the White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany, this film — starring Julia Jentsch in the title role — is a chilling reminder of the paranoia of Germany’s Third Reich and its heavy-handed readiness to smash a nut into oblivion with a sledgehammer.

It is impossible to watch this film without feeling a deep empathy for and affinity with Sophie (or Sophia) Scholl, the anti-Nazi heroine whose words struck terror into the very heart of the Nazi firmament; convicted of high treason for publishing a leaflet, the show trial depicted in this grimly realistic production would almost be laughable were it not for its factual basis. The penalties it doled out were completely out of proportion.

This should be a depressing, almost unwatchable piece; in truth, I am prepared to admit to being haunted by it. But it is also something which warrants repeat viewing: at least once to fully absorb the sheer lunacy of the regime that terrorised Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and then to marvel in horrified revulsion at just how barbaric and monstrous human nature is capable of being. This film is part documentary, part eminently watchable drama, and part warning: for those who forget the lessons of history are bound to repeat them.

4. The Closet (La Placard)

For something a whole lot lighter, this delightful comedy — featuring Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil and Michelle Laroque — is a quintessentially French take on workplace relations, office politics, and a politically incorrect use of minority status (being a gay man) to get what you want.

For once in his career, Depardieu plays very much a secondary role to the primary hero of The Closet — Francois, played by Auteuil — whose character, set to be run out of his job after a broken marriage exacts its inevitable toll on his performance at work, is the bumbling, awkward star of the show.

This is a movie during which it is difficult to stop laughing, and it’s a testament to the calibre of this French production that the subtitles are barely noticeable. And with an eye to the timeless Laroque, an actress who embodies the stereotype that France has more beautiful women who remain beautiful for much longer, it’s impossible to argue that Francois doesn’t come out on top in this brilliant little tale of how to play the game and win.

5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (again, the proper version)

Anyone who thinks it’s impossible to get it right the first time should think again — and anyone who believes Hollywood does it better even after someone else gets it right will quickly think twice after watching the original Swedish adaptation of this electrifying piece of crime fiction and its sequels, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked A Hornet’s Nest.

This movie was remade in Hollywood some years after the original, and was quite deservedly a flop; forget the formula: if there is one thing the Swedes (and Scandinavians generally) do well, it’s crime drama. Brutal, confronting and dark, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo offers the refreshing take on a whodunnit investigated not by a policeman, but a journalist (played by Michael Nyqvist); its unlikely heroine — Lisbeth, portrayed by Noomi Rapace — is, with her tattoos and piercings and bad skin, about as far removed from some vacuous bimbette Hollywood stereotype as you could ever find.

If you are looking for a seriously well-spent day in front of the TV, all three of these movies can be purchased instore at JB for about $35 in total and — like the other selections I am showcasing here today — represent money that will be very well spent indeed.

Just to be clear, there are plenty of other options we could be talking about today: even just in keeping with the Scandinavian theme I could as easily highlight any or all of The Killing, The Bridge, the Department Q Trilogy, Kurt Wallander or Borgen (and if anyone is of a mind to go looking for those, they will quickly see that the roster of Scandinavian talent appears on high rotation through these different productions).

What are you watching these holidays? I’d love to know. And if there are other options in a similar vein that people may find truly riveting — feel free to let us know.

 

Third Time Lucky, Or Could This Be The Last Time?

FOR A THIRD consecutive year — albeit later than I made it back here last December — I find myself looking at what could have been a regular column with a growing readership; but the money has to be earned somewhere, and right now, that isn’t here. Even so, chatting about “stuff that happens” remains a reasonable concept. As the winds of change continue blowing strongly in my world, for a third time we’ll see if the column might yet become a regular thing.

I should begin by wishing readers as they trickle back a belated Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the new year that is now just four days away; 2017 has been an excellent year for me — representing a colossal leap forward in terms of my personal goals — and 2018 is looming as a similarly great advance, with the winds of change continuing to blow as they have for the past few years now, but showing signs of really gaining strength from this point.

Those who’ve been through the first two attempts with me to get this column to fly — a purely personal, spare time project literally for the love of writing and telling a story — know that twice, just as a head of steam began to form in terms of building momentum, circumstance intervened; not one to do anything by halves, the breadth of my various workloads has meant that something had to give, and twice now, that something has unfortunately been this column.

But before I get to that, a few pieces of housekeeping…

Despite the fact I’ve already shown a bit of a penchant for posting lots of links to clips, especially to music, I’m loathe to post the same thing twice; even so — and just because it’s been so long since my last article, and given my sails continue to billow with the breeze of the new — I’m sharing one of the tracks I originally posted when I first started the “Retro Tuesday” segment back in 2015 a second time today.

There are some readers who have approached me privately since I last published something here back in January, wondering where I had gone; since May, some of them have also noticed that my “legacy” political comment column had also disappeared; and a couple of really sharp pairs of eyes even noticed that that last article, on 7 January, seemed to disappear altogether.

My other column is voluntarily suspended — for now — on account of a conflict of interest that arose; it was no longer appropriate, for reasons I won’t detail here, to both publish political commentary and to pursue conflicting activities. I didn’t mind suspending it indefinitely, but one thing really hurt: my last article in that column in May predicted a romping victory for Britain’s Conservative Party in the general election it had called…and two days after I placed the site behind a privacy wall, the Tories made a near-fatal suicide attempt by announcing the most ill-conceived and nastiest aged care policy imaginable. Needless to say, my instant reassessment of their electoral prospects was a correction I was unable to publish, but never mind…

I can, however, confirm that the timing of my absence from this particular column simply coincided with the recommencement of my regular workload — employment responsibilities, resumption of studies, etc — and in making yet another attempt to reflate the souffle, I’m wondering how I can avoid a similar petering out in the space of the next fortnight.

And lest we get too bogged down in apologies, my final housekeeping item is to simply note that with Christmas and now Boxing Day having been and gone yet again, those readers with a half-eaten turkey in their refrigerator should revisit last year’s Boxing Day article as a matter of some urgency.

So here we are…

As I speculated in my very first post on this site — a theme I revisited last December when I briefly resurrected it, with some spare time suddenly to hand — why start a new column? Part of it, as I have also twice noted, is the instinct to just write, and as those exhilarating winds of change blow harder, it seems that personally and professionally, writing is something I am destined to spend an increasing amount of time doing.

To be sure, there are factors working for and against my chances of making a third attempt at building this particular column into a regular ongoing feature a success.

On the one hand, the drain on my time imposed by part-time study, with its weekly same-day flights to and from Brisbane 24 weeks of the year, are over: having started my degree in 1990 I graduated this month. It isn’t just the time involved directly, but the collateral impact of the couple of days after each trip, wherein I had the energy to do my job during the daylight hours — and not much else when the working day was done.

I have ceased work on my media production business, which for years bubbled away as the constant and primary focus behind everything else I was doing; one is remiss to ever say “never,” but for now, it’s 30 hours per week or so that are no longer committed somewhere else.

And of course, the time taken up with my “legacy” political column — perhaps another 10-15 hours every week — is also no longer being expended.

But on the other hand, I took a new job in May that saw my direct workload skyrocket; I have loved it, of course, but the intensity (and often the duration) of its demands has meant that all the time that has progressively become available has been hoovered up instantly.

I have also sketched out the outline for a book I will be writing in 2018 — and yesterday made a start on writing it.

And to put a further complexion on things — and reflecting the theme that is most central to today’s thoughts — the air is thick once again with change; my colleagues and I have ended the year by delivering excellent results, and have celebrated a truly stellar win this month. But 2018 heralds further change in this, and other areas.

Will Life and Love, Happiness and Health really take off this time?

To some extent, it depends on you, dear reader; it’s nice that people who know me make contact quietly to discuss some of the material I post here — the trips down memory lane on Retro Tuesdays, or the life stories I share, or the little stories that emerge simply from (metaphorically) setting pencil to paper. But without having the word spread — through shares, through retweets, through comments on the site, and through good old word of mouth — then it is very difficult to build up the following needed to sustain an ongoing effort.

One thing I can tell readers, as they return to new content for the first time in some time, is that I have been through and fixed all of the links to the clips previously shared: despite the disclaimer on the “about” page (which, legally, is adequate to cover the use of copyrighted material on an un-monetised site), some of the original clips were withdrawn by copyright owners — although mostly due to third party breaches by YouTube users, not this site. So for now at least, everything works as it should.

But what I can confirm, having made it this far down the page, is that I am very happy to be near the end of another awkward post aimed at breathing fresh life into something I have allowed to slip into a coma twice. It isn’t like jump-starting a car; the less pleasant analogy of defibrillating a cardiac arrest springs more immediately to mind.

Either way, today’s post either marks the final attempt at getting something continuous happening here, or it marks…well, perhaps another clip is a better way to make the point…

I will be back in the next couple of days — let’s see what the world yields up for us to talk about in that time.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: with an eye to that second clip…don’t you just love multinational music companies that withdraw original clips and “provide” an audio track with a static image instead? Flagrant abuses of copyright are one thing, but the whole point of social media is to virally spread a message. You’d think they would welcome the free publicity for their products, but what would I know?