The Perfumed Void Research, Feelings, and Life with Alyssa Gonzalez Sat, 17 Sep 2022 01:08:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Perfumed Void 32 32 134704142 Mexican-Inspired Oatmeal Cookies, Alyssa Style Sat, 17 Sep 2022 01:08:01 +0000 The post Mexican-Inspired Oatmeal Cookies, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


Having already succeeded in making banana bread and date squares using my staple gluten-free flour, masa harina, I set my sights on another baked good I often enjoy: oatmeal cookies.

Using masa harina as my designated gluten-free flour proved challenging. Few gluten-free oatmeal cookie recipes specify what gluten-free flour to use, despite all the alternatives and blends having different properties. Masa harina is neither a perfect 1:1 substitute for ordinary wheat flour nor a common choice for this role in the English-speaking world, so information about how to use it here was scarce. I did, eventually, find a recipe that gave me the insight I needed, and it added a surprising ingredient to the mix as well: bananas.

The result was a moist, sweet, slightly fruity oatmeal cookie that I will definitely be making again. The sticky effect of the oatmeal helps the whole hold together while letting it keep being crumbly and soft, resulting in my favorite oatmeal cookie texture almost by accident. With Mexico’s signature flour keeping it gluten-free and within the ingredients I routinely have on hand for other recipes, this new cookie has already made me pleased indeed.

This recipe produces about 12 large cookies.

A selection of moist oatmeal cookies on a baking sheet.


You will need an oven, two mixing bowls and a smaller bowl, a fork, an ice-cream scoop (optional), and your favorite measuring tools.


  • Butter, ¾ cup
  • Granulated sugar, ¾ cup
  • Molasses, 1 tablespoon
  • Bananas, overripe, 2.
  • Masa harina, 1 cup
  • Baking soda, ½ teaspoon
  • Salt, ½ teaspoon.
  • Cinnamon, ½ teaspoon
  • Rolled oats, 3 cups
  • Variations: Feel free to add raisins, walnuts, pecans, or chocolate chips if desired, perhaps ¼ cup. For a variation reminiscent of Mexican-style hot chocolate, add chocolate chips and ½ teaspoon of a ground spicy pepper, such as Cayenne or jalapeño.

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten free.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: The is recipe is not compatible with a ketogenic diet.
  • Low-FODMAP: This recipe is reasonably safe for a low-FODMAP diet.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Substitute out butter for coconut oil to make this recipe vegan. It otherwise contains no animal products.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 °
  2. Let the butter reach room temperature in the small bowl while the oven preheats. Finish softening it in the microwave if necessary.
  3. Mash the sugar and molasses into the butter using a fork. For more professional results, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to formally cream the butter, but I found that performing this crudely with a fork was more than sufficient.
  4. Peel and mash the bananas in a mixing bowl until there are no chunks. A fork is sufficient, but a potato masher would also work.
  5. Mix the dry ingredients (masa harina, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and rolled oats) in the other mixing bowl. The result should be the creamed butter and sugar in a small bowl (Step 3), the mashed bananas in a larger bowl (Step 4), and the dry mix in a second larger bowl (Step 5).
  6. Add the creamed butter (Step 3) to the mashed bananas (Step 4) and mash together with the fork.
  7. Add the dry mix (Step 5) to the mixing bowl (Step 6) and mix well using a fork. Continue until the mixture is uniform and no pockets remain of unmixed material from previous steps.
  8. Use an ice-cream scoop or similar measuring and dispensing tool to shape and place cookies on a baking sheet. It can be beneficial to apply pressure to them by hand to help them keep their shape during this process.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes. Shorter bake times result in moister, less cohesive cookies, while longer ones result in crunchier cookies.
  10. Let cool and serve.

This recipe has already firmly replaced the almond-flour-based cookie recipe that used to be my go-to when I wanted homemade cookies. I hope it brings you similar delight.


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Home Cladograms – The Evolution of a Menagerie Wed, 14 Sep 2022 23:54:55 +0000 The post Home Cladograms – The Evolution of a Menagerie appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


Evolution is a powerful thing. In the span of generations it turns scuttling reptiles into towering sauropods and soaring birds, and it has made and unmade more living things than humanity will ever know. Understanding the relationships between the lineages of living things is one of the grander ways in which humans understand our place in the infinite assemblage of life, and it also tells us an enormous amount about how everything is related to everything else. For the right ultra-specific kind of nerd, it’s also barrels of fun. Fortunately, we have just such a nerd in attendance.

So I made cladograms for all my pets and plants.

Ancestors and Descendants

Cladograms differ from other classification diagrams in that they explicitly present and are organized in terms of evolutionary relationships. On a cladogram, organisms are placed based on their ancestry, not how different they appear to be from each other. Groups, in turn, are defined as a specific common ancestor and all of its descendants, again regardless of apparent differences. This contrasts cladograms with older classification systems that rely specifically on grouping things based on their appearance. In older diagrams, “Amphibians,” “Reptiles,” “Mammals,” and “Birds” coexisted as the four kinds of four-legged animals, with no deeper insight presented into how they might be related to each other. Each group was recognizable and that was enough. The primary value proposition of a cladistic system is to illuminate and demonstrate those relationships, and they are often not what people expect.

One of the most common surprises that cladograms reveal is that some highly recognizable, highly specialized groups of animals, such as whales, snakes, and birds, are relatively recent representatives of older lineages they no longer strongly resemble. In the older model, they were so distinctive that they seemed to warrant top-level billing as whole separate categories, but cladistic investigation shows that, while they are indeed definable groups in their own right, they are groups within other groups and those other groups cannot be fully understood without their inclusion. As a result, when cladistic definitions are in play, snakes are lizards, whales are even-toed ungulates, and birds are the last living dinosaurs, among other curiosities. For more on how cladistics works, have a look at this.

But Why?

For pet owners whose animal friends are common domestic animals, a cladogram holds little appeal. Such people usually keep few species, so the relationships between them might be interesting but are not complex enough to make the effort of diagramming them feel quite as momentous as mine did. That is the delight of being an aquarist, and one that reptile and arthropod collectors can also understand. It is routine for aquarists to keep numerous species of fish in their aquaria, often from many parts of the world, and the diversity of shapes and behaviors they provide is part of their charm. In turn, because bony fish are by far the most diverse lineage of vertebrates, containing more species than all the other lineages combined, their evolutionary relationships can be much more involved than those of mammals or birds.

Houseplant collectors, likewise, often have many species in their homes and, like aquarists, often choose their green charges for a diversity of appearances. Plant evolutionary relationships are often even more involved than animal relationships thanks to the sheer abundance of plant species, the complexity of plant genetics, and the flexibility of plants’ general body plan.

And I am not only an aquarist, not only a houseplant collector, but also a planted aquarist, specializing in lavish aquatic gardens that often have more plant than fish species in them. I also have cats, so, I’m all of the above.

Seriously, Though, Why?

Cladograms combine my special interest in informative diagrams with my special interest in understanding living things.

But also, using the concrete example of the organisms in my care, rather than the somewhat more abstract-seeming diversity of all of the planet’s life, places practical bounds on what would otherwise be a nigh-infinite project. We are not seeking to enumerate every connection between every living species on this teeming planet, but merely between the tens of species in my collection. This is a manageable task that nevertheless illuminates something about life on Earth, and that makes it worth doing.

Next Question: How?

There is a lot of software for making cladograms, and a shocking amount of it is free. Scientists often want to help and be helped by other scientists and free open-source software is a way to enable numerous researchers, each with a little relevant programming skill, to continuously improve a specialty program such as this. Protocols such as PhyML are a testament to their efforts. They are also difficult to use for this kind of project.

Most cladogram software works by comparing specific gene sequences fed into it and building cladograms for those genes. This is immediately useful for, say, researchers tracking the divergence of genes after gene duplication events (vital for understanding certain medical conditions and embryological milestones), but it is also potentially useful for situations like mine. I know my way around GenBank and the other public repositories of sequenced genes, and I used one of these programs (based on PhyML) to create a cladogram as part of my doctoral thesis, but here, it did not work out quite so easily.

These gene-based cladogram programs can only work with the data they are given, and that means that they are only as good as the available gene sequences. For a cladogram like this, it is necessary to pick a gene whose sequence is available for all species, and one whose evolution is conservative enough that it mostly tracks the time since their divergence from one another rather than recent selective pressure. Common choices for this sort of thing are genes involved in protein synthesis or mitochondrial function, which govern the most basic workings of metabolism. The need to avoid genes that geologically recent habitat or lifestyle changes might have altered limits the options that can be considered, and the need to find one gene whose versions in all species to be included are available in public repositories makes finding a good candidate gene exponentially more challenging with each additional species. In some cases, a species might be obscure enough to researchers to be missing data altogether. Atop these challenges, modern published cladograms that purport to relate entire species, not just specific genes, are generally the result of even more complex algorithms that synthesize the relationships suggested by multiple genes, and these programs are not as easily accessible. The Tree of Life Project provides a program like this as a web service, but charges for its use for groups of 10 or more species.

As is often the case for problems I am solving, the solution that worked best for me was a combination of online reading, Microsoft Excel, and graph paper.

Wikipedia, the Tree of Life Project, and various other sources provide extensive information on the current classification consensus, especially when combined. Using this information without specialized cladogram software costs one access to things like maximum-likelihood values that suggest how much confidence a researcher should have in each part of the cladogram, but I did not need those for what I was doing. The consensus information itself could be enough, especially with me rarely keeping large numbers of closely related organisms whose specific relationships might be difficult to suss out from such public information alone.

Information in hand, the next step was organizing it. This is where Microsoft Excel came in handy. With major clades generally having names, I could write out those names in a sequence of columns with a row for each species, adding extra columns as needed, and then use the alphabetization function to find species that shared higher-order groups. This sorted what was previously 19 animals and 30 plants by their consensus relationships, doing most of the work of organizing the cladogram automatically.

Then came turning data into art. I translated my Excel work into crude sketches on scrap paper to help make the mental switch and further organize my process, but the real work involved graph paper and math. Graph paper is useful for this kind of diagram because it enables visually accurate distances in two dimensions and reasonably sharp corners. I chose a minimum node length of four squares and to align all species in a single column on the right for visual clarity. This was also the maximum I could fit on a single sheet of graph paper on its short axis given that my nodes were seven layers deep. With that, I started sketching.

Something I figured out early was that I had to work from the most recent groups (pairs of relatively closely aligned species) toward the deeper, older links, not the reverse. The style of diagram depends on similar spacing throughout to maintain aesthetic cohesion (rather than, as more scientific versions do, deciding on spacing based on measures of genetic relatedness or palaeontological distance), so to get it right I had to work from the evolutionarily newest to the oldest splits. That meant marking related pairs first, then their connections to adjacent species or pairs, and then the next layer older, onward through all seven layers that applied. I performed this separately for animals and plants, since all 49 species would not fit on a single page. As a bonus, that makes it trivial to upload the two sections as separate images and avoid issues with file sizes.

Once I had a good sketch on graph paper for each cladogram, I scanned them, added text labels, and overlaid each hand-drawn line with an AutoShape line in PowerPoint. This added boldness and clarity to all the lines, and importantly, also effectively digitized both cladograms. In this form, they could be altered without me going back to graph paper and scanning. Which was good, because I would indeed need to alter them: my inventory changed over the course of this exercise, adding some species and removing others. I don’t think I got the spacing quite right on the additions, but I’m satisfied.


A detailed cladogram of 19 animal species in Alyssa's private collection. Several group names are highlighted on relevant branches.
My 19 animal pet species. A selection of named clades are included where space allows. In some cases, all members of a larger group are also members of a smaller one, such as all members of the Actinopterygii shown here also being members of Teleostei. This is indicated with >>.

The 19 species of animals on my animal cladogram were about what I expected, but showing them like this led to some amusing surprises. My collection is mostly bony fish, so the relationships outside of the bony fish (tetrapods and invertebrates) all look much closer than they are. This is an artifact of the decisions I made while crafting this cladogram, which prioritized aesthetics over making the inter-node distances reflect evolutionary distance. This proved particularly funny for the invertebrates, where extremely distantly related arthropods (Amano shrimp) and mollusks (three species of snails) look as close to each other as some fish lineages are to each other. With a diverse enough assemblage of creatures, the difference evens out, but not here. It was similarly charming to have my cats nestled next to my turtle and to the aquatic frogs in my paludarium as the whole of the tetrapods.

Most aquarium fish fall into one of two deep bony-fish branches, the Ostariophysi and the Percomorpha, and those two branches are well represented here. Ostariophysi is almost exclusively freshwater and its constituent groups are very well known to tropical aquarists and anglers: cypriniforms (including carps, barbs, loaches, and suckers), characins (including tetras and piranhas), catfish, and knifefish (including electric eels). I have members of three of these linages in my collection. What may surprise people familiar with the shapes of these fish is that the catfish are closer to the characins than they are to cyprinids, given that cyprinids also famously have fleshy barbels on their faces. The details here are dense biochemical and anatomical tidbits that will be left out for brevity, but indeed, the cypriniforms are not catfishes’ closest relative.


A detailed cladogram depicting my 30 aquarium, paludarium, and house plants. Aquatic plants are underlined.
All 30 of my aquarium, paludarium, and house plants. Aquatic plants are underlined. The lack of resolution in the Lamiales is indicated with a dashed line.

Plants were a much more involved story. In addition to turning out to have far more species of plants on hand than I did animals, plant relationships are in an intense state of flux at present, being reevaluated extensively as new genetic information comes to light and is processed. A lot of old ideas about how plants are related to each other are being reconsidered now, and the field is constantly updating. The result was a cladogram with some familiar ideas, some expected oddities, and some dramatic surprises.

One reality I expected that this cladogram bears out is that the habitat and form of plants are both mostly irrelevant when it comes to their evolutionary connections. Aquatic plants are the majority of my collection and are found all over the cladogram, though they often cluster together in smaller branches. Similarly, whether a plant is a low rosette, a climbing vine, a woody shrub, an aquatic stem, or some other general shape is almost completely invisible on this cladogram. The Asparagales branch is an especially apt illustration: the tall, woody Dracaena has as its closest relatives in my collection the low succulent Hawarothiopsis and Phalaenopsis, an epiphytic orchid.

The two main surprises were, first, that a group with five representatives in my collection, the Lamiales, is in a state of such flux at present that the relationships within it were not resolved in any of the sources I checked, leading to a five-way unresolved junction I have marked with a dashed line. The second was what a large fraction of my collection in and out of water is in the single plant family Araceae, the arums. With my collection being as eclectic as it is, having one in six of them turn out to all be arums was unexpected, especially with several of these not strongly resembling one another: Cryptocoryne has long grass-like leaves, Epipremnum is long trailing vines, and Zamioculcas is a woody shrub resembling a cycad. The arum family is, for the record, most famous for the calla lily, titan corpse flower, and jack-in-the-pulpit, all characterized by an inflorescence that takes the form of a flower-covered spike with a sheath around it.

People with a little knowledge about plant classification might be startled to see the water lily Nymphaea off to one side and the main split in my flowering plants being between monocots and eudicots. Older texts divide flowering plants into monocots and dicots based on a variety of characteristics, including leaf veination, number of embryonic leaves (cotyledons, providing the names), and characteristic growth patterns, with the monocots presumed to be a primitive branch. In the 2000s DNA evidence revealed that most “dicots” were actually more closely related to monocots than they were to a small set of other dicot branches, including Amborella, magnolias and their kin, and water lilies like Nymphaea. Monocots’ distinctive anatomy is a specialized characteristic, not a primitive one.

Life Evolves Onward

I fully anticipate updating these cladograms as my inventory changes. I have one more addition to make to my inventory of animals, as well as any changes that might unfold in the future as fish age, perish, and make way for new acquisitions. Much more likely are changes to my plant collection; even now, I am testing some additions to my paludarium’s land area that might add some species. This is enough fun for me that, like my computer and electrical diagrams, keeping them updated is its own reward. With luck, these diagrams have also been interesting for you, dear readers.


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You Don’t Want to Live in Miami Mon, 15 Aug 2022 03:18:57 +0000 The post You Don’t Want to Live in Miami appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


I have been away from Miami, the city where my family made their homes after relocating from the northeastern US, for many years. I moved away in 2009, and this year made the most complete departure I likely ever will. One by one, the threads holding me to that place in particular wither and crumble, in items reclaimed and funerals attended. I had sad, sad cause to spend a few days in this sunlit hometown recently, being driven around in relatives’ cars, and those days were enough to cement in my mind what my opinion of Miami had already long been: the sheer heedless decadence of this place is incompatible with a life well-lived. You do not want to live in Miami.

This is a difficult idea for many to imagine. Miami is the stuff of dreams and fantasies, a lush subtropical oasis on the USian mainland where beaches are never far and retirements are passed in style and comfort, where Latin music wafts on the same breezes that carry ocean salt inland and tropical delicacies are in every storefront. Miami’s latitude aligns it with Algeria and Sinaloa, but oceanic humidity keeps its heat wet and its vegetation green. Miami is a narrow strip of urbanity between the warm, sheltered water of Biscayne Bay and the wilds of the Everglades, an ecosystem like no other on this planet, and the limestone beneath it is made of fossil plankton shells and ancient coral. Everything about this place screams out for the sweaty coziness of guayaberas and mojitos and walking to a corner store that sells tropical vegetables and then to a canal shore for fishing in skin-baring swimwear. This place demands outdoor dance parties late into the night, waterfront bungalows where aging adventurers spend their last days amidst mementoes of youth, and recreational tromps into the wilderness to see it in its hidden glory. This place is a wonder. But peel the layers back and it is also a tragedy.

The lizards, trees, frogs, and birds are almost all invasive species from around the world, squeezing their native counterparts to the margins or to extinction. Beneath the limestone is an aquifer collapsing so rapidly that the streets above it turn to sinkholes, while the sea creeps inland around it. The Everglades has been subject to extensive human engineering aimed, in no uncertain terms, at its destruction, and the too-late recognition of that folly has yet to heal the scars. Tree-filled hammock islands in its expanse of razored sawgrass burned so that snail collectors could feel sure of the uniqueness of their finds. Mercury warnings push fishers from the canals and coliform bacteria counts give swimmers pause. On the shore, waterfront developers panic as the sea, in its decadal motility, pulls the sand out from beneath their towers, and their seawalls try in vain to keep it from pulling down the towers, too. The waters are ravaged by invasive lionfish and the propeller-pulped remains of sea jelly blooms that sting swimmers even in pieces. Dive tours sullenly escort tourists to see the old reefs, knowing that all that is left by now of most of them is the algae-covered skeletons, the corals themselves long, long dead. Most of the largest and most spectacular creatures of land and sea in Miami, among them the smalltooth sawfish, the local puma subspecies, and the American crocodile, are endangered or worse, and some of Miami’s other megafauna are still more intruders from elsewhere in the world wreaking yet more ecosystem havoc. Old accounts paint amazing pictures of swarms of insects and frogs and other wonders of the sheer life of this place, all long gone. The crabs and baby anglerfish desiccating alive in the washed-up sargassum at every shore all paint the same picture: to know nature here is to hear the endless, inchoate shrieking of its Frankensteinian undeath. The subtropical lushness of southern Florida is but a patchwork skin worn on the shambling corpse of what once was, and it never stops screaming.

The urban fabric is no more intact. Most of Miami is laid out in grim reflection of all the worst ideas American urban planners have ever had and those in the tiny parts that aren’t must venture into that asphalt thunderdome to get to anywhere else. The glorious heat and sea breezes and subtropical ultramarine skies work overtime to make this hell of highways, reckless driving, and strip malls bearable, and every bus shelter set up in the median of a ten-lane stroad lays this contradiction bare in the most sunburnt terms possible. Miami is not for people: it is for automobiles, and its every layout decision bellows forth its confusion that the beings inhabiting it don’t have four wheels and engines. Even stepping out of one’s car after driving to one’s destination, one is confronted with the place’s hostility to actual humans, as fields of pavement radiate heat that makes shoes stick and drivers careen past like they’re surprised, too, that people might have the temerity to not be cars. Walking anywhere gives the unmistakable sense of one’s smallness, as Cyclopean monuments to car dependency loom throughout, walls and crossing-free streets block more direct paths, and residents glare at pedestrians they assume must be poor, homeless, or drug-addled, because why else would one do it? That this suburban moonscape is wedged between the gentrifying downtown, with its intriguing transit projects, and lower-income and university neighborhoods elsewhere being strangled by the press of the car-centric urban planning running around and through them, is all the more tragic.

An aerial view of an enormous parking lot near a shopping mall in Miami, packed with cars.
Get used to this; it doesn’t get much better in Miami.

I am still reeling over being driven to the lovely Colombian bakery “around the corner” that was actually a 10-minute drive away through suburban collector roads to an adjacent strip mall walled off from said suburb to make sure this long way around was the only way to reach it, that would easily have taken more than 30 minutes to reach on foot, all the while the driver crossed lanes with the reckless abandon of someone who would never admit it but fundamentally believes that it is possible to “win” an automobile collision.

This is Miami’s real inheritance, the surest description of its soul. Miamians drive with the foolhardy disregard for personal safety one might expect of places where one’s healthcare is not a personal expense, but the opposite is true. In reality, this wildness is part of why Florida is so opposed to correct (that is, single-payer and universal) healthcare despite being full of elderly people who literally already have it via Medicare. That recklessness isn’t borne from a love of “freedom” like they will say it is, but of a fundamental disregard for anyone else’s safety. In the Miamian mindset, caring about other people is the bleeding-heart foolishness or low-income desperation of those who have not armored themselves against the world with SUVs and gated neighborhoods. The highest aspiration of any Miamian is to be well-off enough to be immune to the consequences of not just others’ callousness, but their own. These are people that think in walls, fences, locked doors, hurricane shutters, and homes that sprawl into palatial McMansion garishness just to accommodate all the cars in the driveway. It is little wonder that they spend dinner conversations interrupting and talking over each other, asserting dominance before understanding, or that Ayn Rand’s writing on how selfishness is the highest virtue is required reading in its schools.

Miami is packed full of people so invested in the idea that no one can tell them what to do, that they don’t even notice how much their thoughts and lifestyles and desires have already been engineered by those with more power than they have. Their petty revolts against road markings, occupancy laws, and animal-importation ordinances and their vaunted “choices” to do the things their handlers from on high have already decided would always be the optimal course make it all seem so infuriatingly childish. I don’t even have to mention that Miami is, somehow, one of the better places in Florida, a sort-of-blue oasis in an increasingly solidly red state, because that doesn’t help when this is how Miamians think. A Miamian will argue until they and everyone around them are exhausted against any attempt to convince them to do anything, but quietly rearrange the circumstances to make your desired course the optimal one and they will happily decide your idea is their own, all the while decrying the tyranny of those people who want to take the freedom away. They will set themselves on fire if you convince them it was their idea, or that putting out the fire is yours. It is little wonder that southern Florida in general is one of the US’s hotbeds of petulant shrieking tantrums as policy, the Libertarian Party.

That Miami has any life to it at all is despite, not because of, how its well-off residents think, behave, and lay out their neighborhoods. In the most literal sense possible, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot, because the parking lot was more convenient, and they don’t even miss the paradise. I would not hate this place as much as I do if it would just be ugly, but no, it must taunt me with the beauty it holds prisoner only so long as it can keep finding new ways to destroy it. It must dangle the possibility of its own perfection before me and so many others and save its grotesque reality for after they’re already in its grasp.

That’s what Miami feels like, in the end: the perfumed operculum of a pitcher plant, luring prey into the digestive pit below. And most of its people don’t even realize they’re the insects in this analogy rather than the plant.

You don’t want to live in Miami. No one lives in Miami. They just roll up the car windows to keep out the screaming.

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Rosas Para Rosa Fri, 05 Aug 2022 18:29:17 +0000 The post Rosas Para Rosa appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


My grandmother is dead and everything is worse now.

She is all over my memories. She handled childcare when my mother and father were working, so my earliest memories have more of her in them than they do my parents. Even after my mother became a homemaker instead, my grandmother was never far. She had seven children, but it was my mother who was closest to her, and she usually kept her home near or within ours. She is so everywhere, so everywhen in my memories that even now I struggle to attach things specifically to her, because she was a linchpin in my entire life. I remember sleepovers, visits, Christmases, birthdays, Fridays, total non-events, and everything in between, omnipresent as air. There will not be more.

She loved animals. If my father’s side of the family had Yeyo as a cat-loving aberration in a city-bred lineage that seemed to tolerate pets at best, my mother’s side was agricultural stock that never felt right without animals around. She and my mother told stories about encountering snakes and tropical land crabs on their family farm in Puerto Rico, having a pet falcon trained in falconry, and tending to flocks of chickens. I have no memories of her that do not involve animals in her home. Cats were a constant presence, but she also tried her hand at so many others: goldfish, rabbits, ferrets, zebra finches, parakeets, an enormous Rottweiler named Lady who was probably not a good fit for the small apartment a few miles away from our home in New Jersey she inhabited at the time. I was afraid of that gentle giant of a dog, and her contemporaneous cat Cindy was afraid of me, and the zebra finches laid eggs despite living in a too-small cage, and I don’t remember why she rehomed the ferrets and rabbits, and I inherited her fish-keeping equipment whenever she gave up on keeping aquatic pets alive. Her metal-framed, slate-bottom 20-gallon aquarium, a style long supplanted, became a terrarium I used for lizards. In the shipment from my parents I recently received, there were unfamiliar items that were the leftovers of her last attempt at keeping fish, one last watery bequest. There will not be more.

Her cat lives with my parents now. When they found him, after her passing, he was starved, shrunken from his previous heft into a bony shell of himself. It is only a week later that he started filling out again, so shaken by his loss. Six years ago, he lost his other parent, and then he lost his left eye to glaucoma, and then he lost her, too. I spent a lot of time with him during the funeral visit. He was just as affectionate as I remembered.

A large tuxedo cat in soporific bliss in my arms.
Thank you for keeping my grandparents company, you beautiful one-eyed giant. It’s time for us to take care of you instead.

We all thought we had more time. Her health was, if anything, improving. She had gotten her diabetes under control and become more active, even as her mind was fading and ears failing. None of us thought she would make it to 90, but it didn’t seem like she had yet acquired whatever infirmity would be on her death certificate. I had hoped to see her alive again before this, to make a visit to turn the voice on the other side of five years of phone calls into sight again, and then I got a phone call from my parents and that hope died with her.

She fell. She had a heart attack, and fell, and hit her head, and my parents have to live with what they saw when they finally found out why she wasn’t answering her phone or the door and smashed their way in. On Sunday, I had my usual pleasant phone call with her, less than two weeks after my parents had visited me with a truckload of my memories, and on Monday, the bottom fell out of all our hearts.

Perceptive readers will notice that I got the news firsthand, right away, which is not how it happened with my grandfather. In the six years between, the seas changed, and my grandmother was one of the navigators on that voyage. I keep a mental list of the relatives who made the earliest switch to my new name and pronouns, and my grandparents were among the first. Even when my parents held on to their struggle for years longer, my grandmother called me by my name, called me her granddaughter, and asked whether I’d found a boyfriend yet because the idea that my transition didn’t make me a straight woman didn’t quite compute. Among the things I found in her home when my parents brought me there to claim some of her items as mementoes was a roll of Pride ribbon, in the modern extra-inclusive triangle design, meant for a craft project that never got made. And it seemed, if my deeply religious grandmother, recent convert to an evangelical Baptist church, could accept me, the rest of the family stopped feeling like they had an excuse not to. That was her greatest, most final gift to me: putting deepest lie to the hateful insults my parents had sent my way all those years ago, that my transition killed my grandfather, and then, bringing even the most regressive of her children to heel. I was warmly received at the airport, at my parents’ home, at gatherings of tens of family members, in no small part because of her. And she’s gone now.

A roll of Pride ribbon at my grandmother's sewing station.
She came a long way from accusing my ex of transing me.

I photographed most of her home. I lingered in rooms I had only even been in once or twice before, because the condominium in Miami she most recently inhabited had mostly coincided with my time in Ottawa and then with the long estrangement between me and my family, because they felt so much like her. I claimed some jewelry, at my parents’ suggestion, as well as some of her refrigerator magnets and a statuette of an owl from the DeRosa collection that I had gifted her during one of my first trips back from Ottawa. I don’t think my parents know why I claimed the owl, but I know. I also claimed a chicken. My grandmother collected depictions of hens and especially roosters, whether as jigsaw puzzles, wall art, or statuary, and I claimed one that was on the end table near her television, but I couldn’t bring it with me. My luggage was already full of books and childhood toys that had escaped my parents’ efforts to pack them for their big trip my way a few weeks earlier, and the large statue would not have arrived safely. My parents wrote my name on its underside and set it aside for me. Someday, it will join the two rooster fridge magnets, each shown guarding chicks, that are now on my refrigerator.

A rooster-shaped jigsaw puzzle glued to cardboard and mounted on my grandmother's wall, depicting a pastoral scene.
She did so many things like this.

I didn’t want to leave. Every step made the cruel march of time that much more real, hastening the moment when all that remains is photographs and memories attached to statuary, when her clothes are long donated and whatever knickknacks her relatives did not claim have long migrated to thrift stores, when someone else (probably my brother) has moved into her condominium in her stead, when I pause before dialing her number during my Sunday phone rounds because I know no one will answer, when she is well and truly gone. Even now finding places for everything I brought home, even the things not connected to her, is a slow process, because that finality hangs behind every book finding its site on my shelves and every glued-down jigsaw puzzle in a frame—one of her hobbies—finding a space on my wall. There will be no more gifts.

There will be no more visits to the Rahway River to collect gambusias and snails. There will be no more invitations to “put our feet in the pool,” sitting on its rim and relaxing tired limbs without getting soaked. There will be no more plates of fried spam and scrambled eggs, not even crude imitations of rustic simplicity I could manufacture myself because my guts will not allow it. I will never get to compare her alcapurrias to mine, or see if she thought my coquito recipe was an improvement on hers. She was the last point in my life that truly lived the big-family giant-recipe life that all our traditional recipes assumed and I only learned a few of them before this. I wanted to bring home a jar of ground cumin, utterly ordinary cumin, because it was in her kitchen, but there was no room in the luggage. There is never enough room in the luggage.

Digital painting of my grandmother Rosa Nieves by Jenn St-Onge, showing her smiling wreathed by pink roses.
In memoriam, by Jenn St-Onge.

When I made my unannounced, unwanted-by-others visit to my grandfather’s ceremony, I brought him royal poinciana flowers. They were a testament to the oddball status he cultivated, and a symbol of his homeland, and something I could find in Miami on short notice. For my grandmother, I brought a stalk of the miniature rose I grow in my window, with three flowers. The other constant in her life, alongside the roosters, was the flowers whose name she bore, and my parents placed that motif everywhere in the proceedings that it could fit. To that fragrant chorus I added my own, cultivated on the hydroponic leavings of the aquatic pets she helped start me loving, grown in the city that helped me find myself, brought one last time to one of the people who helped the rest of the family find me. They had been damaged in transit, despite my sincerest efforts, but they were there, and they made it.

I made it, Mima. Te traigo rosas de me jardín. Rosas para Rosa. Quería verte una vez mas antes que esto. Tuvo planes para venir a verte. La vida nunca pasa como queremos. Estoy aquí ahora, con rosas de mi jardín. Llegué. Al fin llegué. Literalmente al fin.

Rosas para Rosa. Roses for Rosa Nieves, beloved grandmother; matriarch of a family whose sheer scale escaped me until my uncles took count and showed us that she had 21 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren; benefactor in ways the me of 2014 could scarcely imagine; voice at the other end of weekly phone calls she apparently talked about to the others because none of them were as consistent.

My grandmother is dead and everything is worse now.

But before she died, she made so many things better.

A photo of Rosa Nieves my sister printed, framed, and displayed at her wake. Rosa is an old woman with a halo of graying hair, wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
RIP, Mima.

The post Rosas Para Rosa appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Operation Paludarium Tue, 26 Jul 2022 17:51:03 +0000 The post Operation Paludarium appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


For the past several years, I have known that I had space for exactly one more aquarium in my office and my tank-maintenance routine, bringing the total in my home to three. I have been hemming and hawing about what, exactly, to do with that space ever since. My original hope was to set up a marine system designed for a mantis shrimp, in fulfillment of a childhood dream, but my research into that quest showed it to be far more expensive and challenging than I was prepared to take on, especially as a third system. I ultimately settled on a different childhood dream to pursue: a paludarium.

What is a Paludarium?

For the many people who don’t recognize that word, including Microsoft Word’s spell checker, a paludarium combines a terrarium and an aquarium into a single habitat, with a land and water area joined together so that creatures can move between them as their anatomy allows. This kind of setup is typical for semiaquatic animals, including some turtles, newts, crabs, and frogs. It is wise to design any home habitat with its inhabitants in mind, and the centerpiece of this built is to be Bombina orientalis, the Asian fire-bellied toad, which until recently was one of the most common frogs in the North American pet trade and one I have excitedly imagined since childhood. More on that later. This species requires comparable land and water areas to thrive, as it spends much time both swimming and walking, so it can rarely be kept for long in anything but a paludarium.

A warty green and black frog with a red and black underside, held in a hand.
These precious little friends right here.
By The original uploader was Dawson at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 2.5,

The concept of a paludarium can run from the utilitarian to the ornate, comprising everything from a large rock in a wading pool to an elaborate sculpted background covered in epiphytes with a water feature beneath. Similarly, paludaria vary in how much land versus water they provide, with anything from a Styrofoam float in an aquarium with a basking light over it, to a terrarium with a large basin set into the substrate, getting the name. I aimed rather higher than the rock-in-a-pool image, but my dreaming of a SerpaDesign-level masterpiece collapsed immediately against the other imperatives my mind imposed:

  1. This build had to make as much use as possible of things I already had lying around, including leftovers of other builds and things I had purchased with my marine aquarium idea in mind before switching tracks. Similarly, the tank itself would be my 46-gallon bowfront from Miami, once it finally made the trip, rather than a tank purchased for this project. This would keep costs from spiraling out of control and would help declutter my collection of aquarium-related items by giving them new life.
  2. This build had to not impose permanent alterations on the aquarium I created it within. Many of the best construction methods for the land area of a paludarium rely on canned expanding foam and on affixing things to the aquarium glass with silicone sealant, both of which are difficult to remove from the tank afterward. Anything I would have to carve off the glass with a razor blade was right out. I was far too neurotic to accept processes that would render the tank unusable for anything else if the build did not go well, so the land area would have to be removable.
  3. This build had to have large water and land areas, rather than one being an afterthought, so that I could keep fully aquatic animals like fish in the water section and adequately house animals that required both areas to be substantial.
  4. The land area of this build would ideally water itself using the water area, rather than effectively be a potted plant that needed to be watered separately. This would make maintenance easier.
  5. The build had to look at least sort of pleasant and naturalistic, within the limits imposed by the previous strictures, rather than being a stark, utilitarian affair.
A 46-gallon bowfront aquarium partially filled with water, with a hose attached to it doing the filling.
Leak test: passed. I used that file cabinet as an aquarium stand for four years in the late 2000s, so I know it can handle the weight.

These were not simple parameters to fulfill, but I spent a long time with Microsoft Powerpoint moving shapes around to figure out how I would do it. When I was satisfied, and once the necessary pieces all came to my home, I could get to work.

The Best-Laid Plans

The easiest way to assure a substantial water area would be to have the water extend fully beneath the land, rather than having the land area be a wall or ledge all the way down. The land area would be supported or suspended above the water, in enough contact with it that the water would act like the saucer beneath a potted plant, keeping the land area hydrated. Curved sticks would provide paths for frogs to move between the water and land areas, if they proved unable or unwilling to simply climb the sides of the land enclosure. My existing stock of gravel, potting soil, filters, heaters, and more would fill out the rest. Even the plants in the water section could get their start as cuttings from my main aquarium rather than purchases on their own. Even more excitingly, a major storm in Ottawa had downed an abundance of tree branches, providing a smorgasbord of interesting sticks to try (as long as I avoided any from conifers, which are often toxic to reptiles and amphibians).

But what would be the structural basis of the land area?

Here, a purchase I originally made for my mantis-shrimp aquarium hopes found a new life. I had purchased several sections of egg crate, meant to be a safety layer to deter digging through the bottom glass and causing a leak. With some zip ties, I could connect them into a permeable structure matched to my tank measurements, which I could insert and remove as needed and which would even have supportive legs to keep it at the right height. Where possible, I left sides open to rely on the aquarium’s own glass as support, which reduced the amount of egg-crate material needed. Keeping soil inside this structure would be impossible without one more leftover from a previous idea: enough window screen material to make a multi-layer wrapper around the whole thing, with the edges hidden to avoid injuring sensitive wildlife.

A frame of egg-crate material and a roll of window screen. The frame is held together with zip ties.
Assembled and ready to wrap.

This was a more difficult thing to construct than I anticipated, with a few false starts and revisions. Getting the arrangement of zip ties right took a few tries, and the screen wrapper was even more involved. Eventually, I succeeded, using a measuring tape and a lot of zip ties to make sure everything was aligned correctly. The cut slits in the window screen to allow the legs of the structure to extend through it was one of the trickier parts, since they had to be aligned with my overall wrapping scheme. “Measure twice, cut once” proved its worth.

In place in the empty tank, before adding soil, substrate, and other items.
In place in the empty tank, before adding soil, substrate, and other items.

I was able to use leftover sand and gravel from two unrelated projects as the substrate here, thinner than I would have used in a dedicated aquarium but suited for the relatively undemanding aquatic plants I had in mind. A different heap of leftover gravel would act as a crude “false bottom” layer in the land area, helping moderate water absorption into the soil. Potting soil layered nicely above that, filling the land area, with space left for the soil that new plants would bring along. Ideally, I would have used dedicated paludarium substrate that could handle the water level better and used a deeper false bottom, but using leftovers was a priority.

An assortment of rocks used as a false bottom. It is not nearly enough rocks.
I added gravel after this, but it still wasn’t nearly enough. Ideally, it would have been a complete layer a centimeter or more thick. Live and learn.

My plan included setting up two airstones beneath the land area, providing aeration for the water and also, I hoped, lodging some air beneath the land area as a backup air source for my air-breathing frogs if they ever got confused down there. Beneath the land area, I set up a few old flowerpots that had previously been caves for kribensis cichlids, since the fish I had in mind would appreciate such environments to explore.

With woodscape and substrate added.
I am pleased with how the woodscape turned out. The substrate wouldn’t look this good for much longer, alas.

Go Oft Astray

That is where the dry-run success ended.

The first major hurdle was filtration. My original hope was to use the large canister filter left over from my previous aquarium, before I upgraded to a larger tank and filter to match. This would have been overkill of the highest order for the water volume and bio-load of this system, and that was the point: enough filtration to not have to think about filtration, and enough water volume within the filter itself to buffer the relative smallness of the water area. Tragically, despite all my tape-measure ministrations, this canister filter was not able to function within this build. The water level was not high enough to reach the intake, and even with workarounds for that, the head pressure was too low for the filter to operate correctly. I had to set aside this plan and use two smaller filters meant for low water levels, which had come along for the ride with the 46-gallon tank. These worked as desired.


The airstones proved nearly disastrous. Rather than properly aerating the water area, their constant bubble motion continually dislodged soil from the bottom of the land area, dusting the white sand with black dirt until I removed them. Whether because of the airstones’ transient presence or just because the rest of the setup was not optimized, the soil above soon became saturated with water, not dissolved into mud but far wetter than ideal for most plants. Seeking out plants that thrive in such conditions is likely the best solution, but others remain to be explored.

A different sort of surprise emerged from my use of ordinary dried-out sticks found outdoors or used previously in anole enclosures. These released large quantities of tannins into the water once they were submerged, turning it a deep yellow. Many fish and frogs prefer tannin-laced water, so I did not treat this as a problem to be solved. Boiling the sticks first would have removed a large portion of these tannins and may yet prove desirable.

Perhaps the most frustrating, and most unresolved, issue is that my parents did not send along the glass hood for the 46-gallon aquarium and no local stores have this size in stock, forcing me to seek out an online vendor…with whom this is back-ordered with no end in sight. I am making do with mismatched hoods right now, but the result is not ideal. I hope the new hood arrives before too long.

Ready and Waiting

With the land area mostly functional (albeit too wet for my original planting plans) and the water area working, I cycled the tank with some leftover bacteria-in-a-bottle. I rarely use this kind of product, but some came along from Miami with the tank, filters, and some other gear, and without the established canister filter to quick-cycle my tank, this seemed appropriate. I would not be stocking fish heavily from the beginning, so any deficiency in the long-expired bacteria solution would be made up by the fish themselves. I also planted with some Limnophila sessiliflora and Java fern from my main tank and threw in some of the untold masses of Malaysian trumpet snails that inhabit my main tank for good measure. Their service in keeping the substrate aerated would be extra appreciated here.

For purchased animals, I started with three peacock gudgeons, Tateurndina ocellicauda. These have been on my wish list for a long time, are ideal for small tanks like this one effectively was, and were in stock, albeit at a rather higher price than I had expected. They are beautiful, even if the tannins in the water make their purple background tone harder to appreciate. I can already tell I am going to adore their cheeky attitude, especially if they take advantage of the flowerpots to try to breed. The African aquatic frogs, Hymenochirus curtipes, I wanted to also include were present but not healthy enough to sell, so adding those would wait; the delay would contribute to adequate bacterial cycling. I had hoped to include cherry shrimp, Neocaridina davidi, but the pet store assured me that the Internet was leading me astray and co-housing peacock gudgeons and cherry shrimp would not end well for the cherry shrimp, so I skipped those.

Three peacock gudgeons, purple fish with yellow and red markings, in a pet-store bag before adding to the tank.
Fish friends! I may yet have to move one or more of them to deal with their, er, hostile behavior toward one another.

I also added a miniature Phalaenopsis orchid from Home Depot, anticipating that the humid air of the paludarium and wooden sticks would match the humid rainforest epiphytic lifestyle of these plants. So far, it is not going as well as I had hoped for the orchid, but transitions are hard and the orchid will yet adjust. Other plants are waiting on a friend who will be gifting me a goodly assortment, some of which should survive the overly wet soil. As a backup plan, I am drawing up a different list of plants that prefer wet soil.

Peacock gudgeons in situ with the aquatic plants.
Enjoying the tannins.

Tragically, there will not be Bombina orientalis in this system anytime soon. This species was once a North American pet store mainstay, but a disease has virtually wiped out wholesalers’ stock, making the local trade dependent on local breeders with less consistent schedules. I am keeping an eye on local stores that have relationships with these breeders, since the alternative is mail-order vendors with exorbitant shipping rates. In the meantime, my system slowly settles into itself, the peacock gudgeons have proven insistently charming, and I am proud of what I have created. I could have done without the white egg-crate material showing so clearly through the front of the land area, but this is a minor complaint. Everything else is working more-or-less as desired or shows a way I can make it better. I may yet be able to encourage some manner of moss or vine to cover that egg-crate material and render this whole issue moot.

And that is what I have been up to for the past few weeks. I am excited to see this tank grow, change, and reach its true potential as the weeks, and the improvements, roll in. I hope my experience proves instructive to other would-be paludarium builders, whether as a model to emulate or as a cautionary tale. It’s not perfect, but it’s me, and I’m proud of myself.

The "completed" paludarium, showing all elements in place: wood, soil, plants, fish, lights, filters, etc.
Current status: just about done, stabilizing, observing, until the land plants arrive.

The post Operation Paludarium appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Which Star Trek Should I Watch? Mon, 20 Jun 2022 17:17:59 +0000 The post Which Star Trek Should I Watch? appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


Star Trek is a rightful icon of televised science fiction. It was not the first televised serial science fiction property, but it was the one that catapulted the concept into the popular imagination, spawning decades of successors that keep it active to this day. The sheer amount of Star Trek that exists in the present moment can seem forbidding, and it certainly did for me. Even with the franchise’s long hiatuses and constant threat of permanent cancellation, there are no fewer than eleven entire series within the Star Trek umbrella at present, each with dozens of episodes and some with feature-length motion pictures mixed in. Watching them all in order might provide the greatest opportunity for recognizing references and keeping the continuity straight, but it also means that current Star Trek content fades into the distance, inaccessible until one catches up on decades of prior television. More than that, though, each Star Trek series has its own characteristic identity, marked by different writing style, storytelling focus, cast, and desired emotional impression. Landing on just the right Trek show to lure someone into the rest of the franchise is one of the better ways to manufacture new Trekkies, so, here is a rundown of the eleven Star Trek series, what makes them distinctive, and which episodes I liked, detested, or came to recognize as exemplifying what makes each series what it is.

The Original Series (TOS) (1966-1969)

Number of Episodes: 79 in 3 seasons, plus 6 movies

High Point: S1E25, “The Devil in the Dark”

Exemplar: S1E23, “A Taste of Armageddon”

Low Point: S2E23, “The Omega Glory”

This is where it begins. This is the original Star Trek, assigned the retronym The Original Series after other series were created to succeed it. This is where tropes were established, patterns set, and references born. It was, to put it mildly, contentious in its time, pushing hard for an inclusive, utopian vision of the future that challenged very current prejudices and ultimately featuring in the history of the US’s civil rights movement as a result. TOS leans heavily on plots and concepts taken from Golden Age of Science Fiction stories and on direct, sometimes heavy-handed allegories and references to historical events. Many stories involve philosophical deliberation on human nature and its relationship to freedom, discipline, contentment, and external control, or on the dangers of artificial intelligence, tasking the Enterprise crew with solving some manner of scientific or interpersonal puzzle along the way. Thanks to its age, it is surprisingly narratively straightforward, rarely making use of later decades’ innovation of having intersecting A, B, and even C plots in favor of single linear plotlines and rarely having past episodes’ events weigh on future ones.

TOS, more than any of its descendants, glories in the masculine energy and American sensibilities of its central characters. This is an episodic story about men placed in difficult situations taking charge of them by sheer cleverness, force of personality, and sometimes violence; women lusting after Captain Kirk and/or Spock and rarely, if ever, succeeding at seducing them; open admiration of the United States of America despite that country being an expired relic by this point in the show’s internal timeline; and relationships between male colleagues that unfold between tumbler glasses of whiskey, fitness tests, and chess games.

The Original Series is MANLY.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Your preferred American beer, served in a can.

The Animated Series (TAS) (1973-1974)

Number of Episodes: 22 in 2 seasons

High Point: S1E11, “The Terratin Incident”

Exemplar: S1E8, “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”

Low Point: S2E3, “Bem”

Star Trek: The Animated Series follows the same crew as The Original Series, but this time, their adventures are wildly, inventively strange. The Animated Series takes full advantage of the fact that it is not limited by either live action or period-specific computer graphics to show crew members and creatures with overtly inhuman anatomy or impossible scale. Plots unfold in TAS that feel like they were constructed over vats of LSD and/or dartboards with science-fiction tropes, resulting in a show that is never what one expects it to be and never as self-serious or intense as TOS. This is the only show in Star Trek canon with the gumption to have Satan escort the crew of the Enterprise to the secret realm at the center of the universe where magic exists and then lawyer him out of a witch trial, in the same show where Spock mind-melds with a planet-eating cloud to convince it to spare inhabited worlds. The shortness of TAS makes it a tempting place to start, but its tonal difference from the rest of Star Trek also makes it best appreciated after one has at least watched TOS first.

The Animated Series is BATSHIT.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Absinthe, served any way but how absinthe aficionados say to serve absinthe.

The Next Generation (TNG) (1987-1994)

Number of Episodes: 178 in 7 seasons, plus 4 movies

High Point: S3E26, and S4E1, “The Best of Both Worlds” parts 1 and 2

Exemplar: S3E4, “Who Watches the Watchers”

Low Point: S4E10, “The Loss”

The first of the “90s Trek” shows despite beginning in the 80s, The Next Generation is, for many fans, the archetypal Star Trek experience. Driven by the sheer ineluctable gravitas Sir Patrick Stewart brings to the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, The Next Generation is a generally high-minded, introspective, smart, serious show that takes full advantage of its cast’s particular talents. The generally consistent quality of TNG makes it difficult to select high and low points and there are many contenders for both; fans will certainly dispute the ones I have selected. TNG is also where many concepts and species that endure throughout Star Trek and go on to define arcs in other series are first encountered, including the Borg, Trill, Ferengi, Q, and Cardassians.

The Next Generation might be the Star Trek series most defined by the occupational and interpersonal competence of its crew members. There is little (but nonzero) friction between them compared to preceding and succeeding shows, turning most episodes into exquisitely constructed sessions of competence porn that places the focus squarely on the geopolitical, tactical, and scientific puzzles that visit them. Due to its length, TNG has room for most kinds of stories: dark, silly, scientific, militaristic, forgettable, legal, and more, but its heart is the kinds of complex science puzzles that require improbably charismatic galactic-scale super nerds to solve, and it is better for it. If TOS was almost violently American in its approach, TNG feels like it takes more cues from how 1990s Britain saw itself, presenting a cultured, mostly non-intrusive sort of interplanetary rapid-response team that helps less technologically endowed civilizations with their problems, and the fitness-test interludes are now replaced with stage plays and holodeck mishaps. This is also the last Star Trek show to be genuinely, unabashedly optimistic about how far humanity could someday ascend, until Strange New Worlds reclaimed this legacy.

The Next Generation is CONTEMPLATIVE.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Dry red wine, preferably something from Chateau Picard, served in the correct glass.

Deep Space Nine (DS9) (1993-1999)

Number of Episodes: 176 in 7 seasons

High Point: S6E19, “In the Pale Moonlight”

Exemplar: S5E13, “For the Uniform”

Low Point: S6E23, “Profit and Lace”

Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek series to aim to do something quite different from its predecessors, and it succeeded beyond its creators’ wildest imaginings. Unlike all other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine is focused on a Cardassian-constructed, Federation-run space station on the fringes of Federation space rather than on a Federation-built starship. Rather than focusing on the travels of a spaceship (a star trek, if you will), most plots in DS9 begin with someone or something visiting the titular Deep Space Nine. This change of premise means DS9 focuses more on space geopolitics than science puzzles (though it definitely has both). DS9 was also the first Star Trek series to be overtly serialized rather than episodic, and these two traits in combination mean that no series goes farther in developing the cultures and politics of various Star Trek species than DS9 does.

Deep Space Nine is much darker in tone than most other Star Trek shows, matched by the dark metallic gray of its space-station setting. Its narrative focuses on grim topics like the fallout of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, the people harmed by the Federation ceding regions of space to the Cardassian Empire, and the emergence of a new, organized, technologically and physiologically superior foe, the Dominion. With its serialized structure, DS9 forces actions to have consequences, characters to live with the fallout of their decisions, and events to weigh on future events. DS9‘s characters have individual goals and allegiances that occasionally put them at odds with one another, in contrast to the relative internal harmony of previous series’ crews, contributing to the overall milieu of fractious compromises and hard decisions. Deep Space Nine is a deep, hard-hitting war story that aims to show that, however admirable the Federation’s ideals might be, the whole universe isn’t ready for them yet. DS9 also has the interesting status of acting as a sort of hub between TNG and VOY, with characters from both of those shows visiting the station, making it a surprisingly natural starting point for an unsuspecting future Trekkie.

Deep Space Nine is BROODING.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Cognac, served in a glass tumbler.

Voyager (VOY) (1995-2001)

Number of Episodes: 172 in 7 seasons

High Point: S7E15, “The Void”

Exemplar: S6E16, “Collective”

Low Point: S3E7, “Sacred Ground”

Star Trek: Voyager is a divisive show in Star Trek. Few fans are lukewarm about it, and many either swear by it or regard it as an incompetent successor to the Trek mantle. VOY continues the trend established in DS9 of following a crew far from Federation support that therefore cannot act with the same certainty as that of The Next Generation. This time, the titular starship Voyager has been placed impossibly far from Federation space by plot contrivance and must journey home through the territory of numerous hostile species. This journey places Voyager in constant, immediate peril, and the show’s quippy dialogue style and frequent explosions amply sell the reality that, while TOS and TNG involve a ship venturing into and out of dangerous situations and DS9’s station is at the center of a war whose front lines are often elsewhere, it is the starship Voyager that is never truly safe.

One would expect a show like this to be weighed down with grim seriousness, but the opposite is almost always true. Almost everyone the Starship Voyager meets is an improbably unpleasant, violent jerk to the point of parody. The Voyager crew encounters aliens who keep entire sapient species as pets, harvest organs from whoever they encounter, airstrike peace conferences, go on genocidal rampages with minimal or no provocation, pollute with the gusto of a Captain Planet villain, and more, each addressed with totally unearned seriousness. VOY’s real trademark is that it is deeply unafraid to go hard on ridiculous premises of both the science-puzzle and wartime variety, where other Treks usually go in gently and often leave a lot unsaid in the process, resulting in stories in which the Voyager crew tangles with human-sized viruses, fends off the sexual advances of vampire women who milk men to death, and gets repeatedly embroiled in holodeck malfunctions based on an in-universe Flash Gordon homage. Furthermore, VOY has some very noticeable character tropes that make an excellent drinking game.

Voyager is FUN.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Fireball whisky, served in more shot glasses than you own.

Enterprise (ENT) (2001-2005)

Number of Episodes: 98 in 4 seasons

High Point: S3E6, “Exile”

Exemplar: S1E22, “Vox Sola”

Low Point: S3E17, “Hatchery”

Star Trek: Enterprise was such a disaster that it very nearly killed Star Trek entirely, and not just because of its needlessly confusing name. ENT is a prequel, set well before TOS and involving the first warp-capable vessels crafted by humans. Without a Federation to help them project power and with series mainstays like ship shields, transporters, and replicators either not yet invented or new and untested, ENT takes its crew on their first hopeful ventures into a galaxy that isn’t particularly happy to see them. The Enterprise interior feels ramshackle and claustrophobic, giving the whole show a seat-of-the-pants feeling that contrasts strongly with other Star Trek series. At its best, ENT shows us how humans became the interspecies bridge that helped found the Federation and got formerly fractious species like the Andorians, Vulcans, and Tellarites talking to one another, disconnected from existing interstellar politics and therefore able to mediate longstanding grudges. At its worst, it descends into a sickening, hard-edged conservatism as the Enterprise crew loads up on space marines and ventures into hostile space to respond to an attack on Earth.

Star Trek is no stranger to sex appeal, with all preceding series having their share of escapades for viewer enjoyment, but ENT leans into this in ways that its predecessors and successors do not. ENT’s camera work, unlike other Trek series, is visually objectifying to the point of puerility. ENT takes every opportunity to ogle its female cast members’ legs, busts, and midriffs in ways that stand out against the somewhat more mature sensibilities of its predecessors. The result is that this show, somehow, feels like every surface is either coldly metallic or wipe-your-hands-after-touching-it wet, or both, no matter what else is happening. It is full of scenes of characters massaging each other with “decontamination gel,” alien species with fluid anatomy, inexplicably well-oiled characters taking their clothes off or flirting uncomfortably at each other, a doctor who keeps a medicinal zoo full of slimy creatures, and that time a room-sized web of telepathic semen regurgitated several crew members drenched in sticky white goo. At its best, ENT is an interesting look at how the world of TOS got its start; at its worst, ENT makes one want to shower, punch their television, or both. It takes faith of the heart to get through it.

Enterprise is WET.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Pepto-Bismol.

Kelvin Timeline (2009-Present)

Number of Episodes: 3 movies, so far

High Point: “Star Trek Beyond” (2016)

Exemplar: “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013)

Low Point: “Star Trek” (2009)

Meant to introduce a new generation of viewers to the imagery and lore of Star Trek, The Kelvin Timeline is an alternative timeline for the Star Trek universe. By diverging from established canon at the moment of Captain Kirk’s birth, the Kelvin Timeline is able place Captain Kirk and his crew in new stories rather than simply repeating the events of TOS and its films. The Kelvin Timeline thereby acts as a sort of “What if?” and distorting mirror for TOS, as recognizable motifs and characters from elsewhere in Star Trek appear in new ways and contexts in a universe that is irrevocably distinct from the one that birthed it.

The Kelvin Timeline is not famous for this sense of possibility, however. With its first two films helmed by JJ “I said more lens flares” Abrams, the Kelvin Timeline is instead best known as a group of loud action movies that place Captain Kirk’s Enterprise at the center of one violent conflict after another. These scenes are treated with enthusiasm that is not characteristic of other entries in Star Trek, given sweeping camera angles, detailed views of ship damage, and action-movie style shots of phasers switching from “stun” to “kill” settings complete with loud clicks and color changes not seen in other Star Trek properties. All three movies out at time of writing feature extended dramatic shots of Federation starships careening into the distance, colliding with buildings or landscapes, or getting torn apart in battle, complete with the crews inside them getting pulled into space, framed as exciting rather than tragic. The divergence from what made Star Trek distinctive as a franchise feels almost disrespectful, and with it, the frequent references and homages to TOS can almost feel like mockery. It is not until the third entry, “Star Trek Beyond,” that the series moves away from fairly generic action movies set in the (a) Star Trek universe back into something that is recognizably Star Trek not just in visual language but in storytelling approach. In a big way, the Kelvin Timeline feels like it is for Star Trek what The Big Bang Theory is for general nerdiness: not for fans, but to repackage the subject matter for a more mainstream audience. That it is a whole alternate timeline, neither affecting nor affected by the events of most of the other series, feels apropos in that light.

The Kelvin Timeline is BOMBASTIC.

Suggested Drink Pairing: A-Bomb.

Discovery (DIS) (2017-Present)

Number of Episodes: 55 in 4 seasons, plus 6 Short Treks, so far

High Point: S3E4, “Forget Me Not”

Exemplar: S4E4, “All Is Possible”

Low Point: S1E4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”

Star Trek: Discovery is the first entry in the modern Star Trek renaissance, arriving twelve years after it seemed Star Trek: Enterprise had killed the franchise. Half prequel and half sequel, DIS starts a few years before TOS (placing it between ENT and TOS, for those keeping score) and then switches to the farthest future of the Star Trek timeline yet explored, giving it a disjointed sense of place that makes it feel almost like two different shows. Throughout, the titular starship Discovery is torn between its status as a science vessel full of scientists and the reality that its signature “spore drive,” which essentially enables teleportation around the cosmos, makes it an ideal rapid-response vessel for conflict situations. These tensions become a theme in the early seasons, with Discovery taking the longest of any Star Trek series to truly settle into its identity—and what an identity it is.

Star Trek: Discovery is a serialized Star Trek series that refuses to accept the possibility that a multi-episode story could have stakes lower than the fate of the universe. Everything in DIS is big, loud, and emotional and no one is allowed to face that crisis with stone-faced determination unless they are about to die. Cosmic forces of prophecy and fate are invoked and twisted in on themselves while galactic dictators poison all life in the universe, grasping AIs turn people into robo-zombies while working toward a gray-goo scenario, and beloved characters cringe into madness contemplating causality breaches they cannot yet understand. In four seasons, this show doggedly refuses to lower the volume of its keening from an insistent 11. If TOS and TNG have the pace of the safari ride at a zoo, slowly driving through subject matter meant to be savored, DIS is a maglev rollercoaster that will not rest until it has wrung every drop of emotion out of its audience. And all of this is with DIS, at its heart, being a show about the same kinds of science puzzles and interstellar perils that the crews of TOS and TNG faced, just with the stakes raised about as high as they could possibly go. DIS is also interesting in that its narrative follows a specific character’s career rather than its ship’s bridge crew, and that its ship experiences several changes of management along the way.

Star Trek: Discovery comes paired with Short Treks, a selection of 10ish-minute short films that provide bits of backstory for some episodes. Short Treks are streamed as their own series, and the first season of them (four episodes) plus S2E4 and S2E5 are associated with Discovery. These are fundamentally optional but increase enjoyment of the relevant events or provide backstories for some characters. Technically, S2E1, S2E2, and S2E3 of Short Treks also take place at this point in the timeline, but deal primarily with characters and settings more thoroughly explored in Strange New Worlds.

Discovery is APOCALYPTIC.

Suggested Drink Pairing: La Fin du Monde, served in a tulip glass.

Lower Decks (LDS) (2020-Present)

Number of Episodes: 20 in 2 seasons, so far

High Point: S2E8, “I, Excretus”

Exemplar: S1E4, “Moist Vessel”

Low Point: S1E9, “Crisis Point”

As much a love letter to Star Trek fans as a series in its own right, Lower Decks is an animated comedy taking place closely after the events of TNG, DS9, and VOY but before those of PIC. In keeping with its name, LDS focuses on a group of four ensigns rather than on the bridge crew of its ship, the Cerritos, and shows us what they get up to while the bridge crew is having TOS/TNG-style adventures. It often places its four ensigns at the periphery of the bridge crew’s adventures while keeping the focus on them, an impressive feat of storytelling. As a comedy, it relies heavily on bad decisions, slapstick humor, larger-than-life characters, absurd situations, and general silliness to power it through its runtime, and it absolutely delivers on the laughs. One does not watch Ensigns Boimler and Rutherford defuse a tense situation with Ferengi poachers with a PowerPoint presentation, or Ensign Mariner end the threat of a nascent space god by kicking it in the groin 20 times, without cracking a smile.

This show is so thick with references to previous events that old Trek is virtually a character in its own right. Lower Decks might well be the definitive text that unites and connects the events of the Trek universe’s past into a single cohesive history, as improbable as it sounds. Many, but by no means most, of its gags rely on viewers having seen all the pre-2017 Trek shows and it is wholly unconcerned with explaining the central conceits of the various alien species it reprises; this show is explicitly for existing fans. As such, even though a lot of its comedy value is still there for people who are not familiar with the references it makes, this is the one show I cannot recommend as an entry point for the overall series.

Lower Decks is SILLY.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Strawberry daiquiri.

Picard (PIC) (2020-Present)

Number of Episodes: 20 in 2 seasons, so far, plus one Short Trek.

High Point: S2E6, “Two of One”

Exemplar: S2E8, “Mercy”

Low Point: S1E5, “Stardust City Rag”

Like Lower Decks, Star Trek: Picard is thick with references to its predecessors. Unlike Lower Decks, it places at the center of its narrative a beloved character from The Next Generation: Jean-Luc Picard, now a retired admiral well into old age. Thematically, PIC takes on the idea of a person’s legacy, whether people like Jean-Luc Picard ever really get to settle into dotage when so many adventures are ahead of them, and lingering character flaws from characters’ previous appearances serving as opportunities for growth. If that makes PIC sound like a meditative, philosophical show, however, that is an accident: PIC is a deadly serious, serialized, brooding detective story. In PIC, people connected to Admiral Picard (re)appear in his life and pull him into complex plots that he and his old and new associates must unravel, only now, he does so mostly outside Federation auspices. In PIC, the Federation is curiously passive, absent, and sometimes even antagonistic, the result of various disasters dealt with in previous shows and some new ones, and Picard’s position with it counts for little.

The vehicle on the titular star trek this time is La Sirena, a civilian-owned freighter vastly smaller than the cruise-ships-in-space that are Star Trek’s more typical home bases. Taken together, these choices give PIC a personal, small-scale, us-against-the-world feeling wholly different from even other Star Trek shows with small casts, such as Prodigy, or that otherwise feature a crew acting without ready access to the Federation, such as Voyager. PIC is eager to establish itself as the harder, grittier Star Trek, even after Deep Space Nine already established itself as the harder, grittier Star Trek, and it does so with obscenities, oddly frequent scenes of characters retching offscreen, replacing all the sexualized content with lingering shots of women’s feet, and far more common and more visceral gore than other Star Trek shows would allow.

If anything truly sets PIC apart from the rest of Star Trek canon, however, it is its writing. Each season of PIC is ten episodes of a single mystery that any other Trek show would have resolved in one or two episodes. PIC makes up the runtime by adding ample slow filler scenes in which Jean-Luc Picard can sagely pontificate, subplots that don’t lead anywhere, events that stop making sense after even minimal examination, and well-liked characters from earlier shows reappearing only to be killed to establish stakes for other characters. Picard’s plots are convoluted tangles of three or four different agents, references, and premises moving with and against each other, some more relevant than others, each asking enormous forbearance from its audience as it establishes why it should be in the story at all. By time of writing, a member of Jean-Luc’s adventuring party (yes, I will call it that) is a young Romulan man raised by ninja nuns and an entire episode was devoted to a UFO cultist locking Picard in his basement until Picard convinces him to let him out. More than anything, what defines PIC is the overwhelming feeling that there was no point in the writing or editorial process where someone told the writers, no, that’s enough things. PIC provides an intriguing window into what Star Trek writers can get up to when they have permission to draw out, develop, and overact to their hearts’ content rather than even try to fit within their narrative confines, perhaps best appreciated as a cautionary tale.

One Short Trek, S2E6, acts as a prequel for the events of PIC’s first season.

Picard is INDULGENT.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Jägermeister, served in a brandy snifter so it looks sophisticated.

Strange New Worlds (SNW) (2022-Present)

Number of Episodes: 10 in 1 season plus 3 Short Treks, so far.

High Point: It feels unsporting to select highs, lows, and exemplars with only a short first season to examine. I will select some after two seasons or the show concludes, whichever comes first.


Low Point:

If most of the Star Trek shows since TNG have been efforts to expand the concept of Star Trek into new styles of storytelling set in the same universe, Strange New Worlds is a deliberate return to form, and it shows. Taking place between the second season of DIS and the first season of TOS (yes, it’s complicated), SNW takes the Star Trek chronology back down from the apocalyptic heights of its immediate antecedent toward something more familiar. SNW is upbeat, charming, fun, primarily episodic with a few narrative through-lines that help set up later events, and above all, optimistic. By virtue of being a prequel of sorts for most of the Star Trek that has ever been made, SNW takes place in a universe that is minimally charted, where all threats are new and mysterious and all space phenomena are similarly exciting novelties. SNW truly believes in the greatness of the human spirit and the idea that humanity’s drive into the stars will be driven not by conflict and conquest, but by exploration and curiosity, presenting itself as a cheerful counterpart to its own rather darker contemporaries DIS and PIC. In keeping with this brighter mood, the lighting in SNW is usually bright and clear and SNW features a return to the more distant camera work of earlier Star Trek iterations, helping recreate a sense of grandeur in its stories. With this as its baseline, the places where SNW ventures into darker or more emotional stories and moments carry more weight than they might in a story where every moment is urgent and heavy.

What defines Strange New Worlds most truly as the Star Trek for its cultural moment is the personalities its bridge crew bring to the show. Captain Christopher Pike is developed from a narrative footnote in TOS, to an intriguing crossover in DIS, to a full-on series lead in SNW. His charismatic, quietly powerful, carefully nurturing, occasionally humorous and above all gentle leadership places him as another example of a new class of man in charge, one who claims authority because everyone around him knows that disappointing him means they have failed not only in their duties to their captain, but in their duties to themselves, and even his antagonists feel its pull. If he is softer than the whiskey-slinging Kirk, Shakespeare-monologuing Picard, or war-running Sisko, it is in the way that an office chair is soft: comfortable, supportive, and with a backbone that could beat a man to death if it needs to, but it doesn’t need to, does it? It would fail at being what it is if it ever had to…but it could. This rather fatherly milieu also manifests in how, instead of the sophisticated concerts and holodeck misadventures of TNG or the hyper-masculine chat sessions over glasses of Scotland’s finest in TOS, the downtime scenes of SNW unfold first and foremost over bridge-crew dinner parties in the captain’s lounge, prominently featuring Captain Pike’s kitchen skills. Nearly every Star Trek captain assumes a somewhat parental role over their crew, and some of them are literal parents, but it is Captain Pike who seems to make that sort of presence the center of how he operates.

Strange New Worlds is very nearly an ideal entry point for new fans. It is part of the Trek renaissance, making it current and comparatively accessible, and its general mood and style capably evoke the best of what TNG and TOS have to offer. As a modern show, there is significantly less of it than there is of previous eras’ shows, making it easier for new fans to watch a large fraction of it while getting their bearings, and potential fans who might find the visible age of other shows distracting will not have that problem here. More than any other entry in Star Trek canon, Strange New Worlds has learned from the missteps of its predecessors and even its contemporaries, delivering one of the most consistently high-quality experiences of any Trek series to date and setting a high bar that even its most highly regarded ancestors will often struggle to clear. However, part of the setup for SNW takes place in the first two seasons of DIS, which can make some aspects of SNW’s larger narrative a bit mysterious for people who are not familiar with Captain Pike’s role in DIS.

Three Short Treks (S2E1-3) act as backstory and side-story for the characters of SNW, helping build their relationships. Technically, these take place at the point in the timeline where these characters are in DIS rather than SNW. Yes, it’s complicated.

Strange New Worlds is SATISFYING.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Grand Marnier, but put a Maraschino cherry in it to make it fun.

Prodigy (PRO) (2022-Present)

Number of Episodes: 9 in 1 season, so far

High Point: It feels unsporting to select highs, lows, and exemplars with only a short first season to examine. I will select some after three seasons or the show concludes, whichever comes first.


Low Point:

Star Trek: Prodigy was created in partnership with Nickelodeon, providing the first overtly youth-oriented Star Trek series since TAS. It also provides a first for Star Trek in that its starship crew is a group of former child slaves from well outside Federation territory who find an abandoned state-of-the-art post-Voyager Federation starship and commandeer it. This makes Prodigy very different from other Star Trek shows in a number of ways. For the first time since DS9, characters who are not Federation citizens are at the center of a Star Trek series’s narrative, and are viewing the idea of the Federation from the outside in. Here, the Federation becomes an aspirational ideal for them to seek as they escape their former captors, in a narrative familiar to many immigrants. This is a different and refreshing perspective to have at the center of a Star Trek series and one ideally suited to media intended for a younger audience than previous entries.

Prodigy is taking its storytelling cues from young-adult animated shows such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, combining serious subject matter with enough discretion, hijinks, and autonomy for its youthful cast that it never becomes overbearing or heavy. It capably manages suspense, character growth, and keeping characters with, er, loud personalities from becoming too frustrating or obnoxious to enjoy. With only one season to go off of for the moment and the promise of more to come, I’m excited to see where this story goes.

Also, apparently, it might have been loosely patterned on the Chinese epic Journey to the West, so, that’s neat.

An image of the Star Trek: Prodigy cast, likening characters to characters from Journey to the West: Zero to Tripitaka, Rok to Sandy, Jankom to Pigsy, Gwyn to Princess Iron Fan, Dal to the Monkey King, Hologram Janeway to Guanyin, the USS Protostar to the White Dragon Horse, and Murf to "a slut or something IDK."

Prodigy is ENERGETIC.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Pink lemonade.

With eleven entire Star Trek series to choose from, plus the Kelvin Timeline’s revisit, there has never been a more expansive time to get into the venerable Star Trek franchise. Few longstanding cultural landmarks can say they have been as committed to their own distinct formulae while endlessly reinventing themselves as Star Trek has, and few science fiction properties will ever be as overwhelmingly influential on their entire genre. Deciding to go all-in on Star Trek was one of my better decisions, and I hope this guide can help others decide exactly where and how to get started on their own treks into Trekkiedom. And yes, I will be updating it as I continue to complete my tour.


A selection of noteworthy Star Trek characters from various points in the overall continuity and their ships.


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Canadian Conservatives Scare Me More Than American Conservatives Thu, 02 Jun 2022 14:28:02 +0000 The post Canadian Conservatives Scare Me More Than American Conservatives appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


It is election season in Ontario, and for the first time, I’ll be voting. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, my citizenship is complete and my voter registration is in place. I can call myself “Canadian” with that much more conviction now, and the attention I pay to this country’s politics now weighs on a vote where it previously weighed on just my thoughts. In this unusually portentous time, I have been confronted not only with the mainstream parties, but with the tiny splinter parties trying to gain a foothold in real politics, as they litter public spaces with their signs and pamphlets. And they have reminded me that Canadian conservatives are pit-in-the-stomach terrifying compared to their American counterparts.

For my American readers, one of Canada’s peculiarities is that provincial and federal parties are nominally distinct. In practice, provincial parties tend to be aligned with a specific national party, but they often do not share names. I will highlight this wherever it is relevant.

Canada, and each of its provinces, has a mainline conservative party, in this case the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, whose general ideology straddles the line between the least objectionable US Republicans and the most objectionable US Democrats. This election also features a number of right-wing splinter parties, mostly founded since the last provincial election, and it’s these splinter parties that illuminated some dark truths about Canadian politics for me. Something I have had to get used to about the right-wing splinters is that they, unlike the mainline conservatives, are basically just the US Republicans with a coat of local paint. There are multiple such parties running candidates in Ontario’s provincial election with nearly identical platforms, sometimes even two or more in the same ridings (districts), all pitching themselves with variations on “the conservatives aren’t conservative enough, vote for a real conservative with us!” They quote Q-Anon conspiracy theories, they wear merchandise inspired by Donald Trump’s cult of personality, and their followers often seem to forget that Canadian laws and history are not the same as those of the US, citing nonexistent “First Amendments” and other Americanisms in their rants.

The most initially obvious difference between these arch-conservative factions and their inspiration in the US is that, while imitating the US Republicans in most ways, they swap out US-specific phrasing for Canadian phrasing, and they use different colors. However, there’s another, more fascinating and more insidious difference. US Republicans are often clever enough to bury their racism in law-and-order sophistries, but one can figure out the truth by watching them openly court white nationalists. Canadian conservatives, mainline or splinter, would never be so bold as to design a debate stage in the shape of an odal rune. Canadian right-wing parties are much subtler.

Image of New Blue party flyer delivered to Ottawa-Vanier resident, which includes a list of typical right-wing talking points. I highlight "removal of critical race theory and gender identity theory from our schools."
From the “New Blue Party,” one of the two major right-wing splinters in Ontario at present. Behold the list of talking points only lightly different from what many US Republicans present, and the specific targeting of trans people as well as “critical race theory.”

The Canadian ultra-right pitch has two key planks: courting would-be Christian theocrats and courting big business, especially natural resource extraction in Canada’s vast interior. Their candidates are frequently former police officers running in part on “law and order” rhetoric, they are almost always deeply religious Christians from right-wing denominations who passionately detest the level of acceptance and institutional support that queer people have in Canada, and they are usually both. Most of their professed desires only seem dangerous if one knows what lurks beneath their carefully anodyne rhetoric: enthusiastic support for “free speech” means attacking Canada’s hate-speech laws and trying to prevent consequences from ever reaching bigots for the bigoted things they promote. Fostering “energy independence” and “reducing energy costs” means more fossil fuel drilling, often on unceded indigenous land. “Creating jobs” means reducing labor protections and tax burdens on capitalists to expand low-wage sectors. “Protecting children” means destroying trans youth services, eroding Canada’s fragile protection for abortion services, and committing to a posture where any orientation but straight is seen as innately predatory to mention to children. “Choice in healthcare” means introducing for-profit options to begin the dismantling of Canada’s vaunted single-payer healthcare system, an immensely popular point of national pride that is very inconvenient for those who dream of US-style healthcare profits. Against this backdrop, the fact that all the splinters also pledge to end “woke politics” in schools or eliminate “critical race theory” from curricula feels like letting the mask slip, because it is. They have done everything they can to create a race-neutral version of conservatism, focused on anti-queer sentiments to satisfy theocrats and pro-business policies to satisfy the well-heeled.

Screenshot of Ontario Party's "conscience" platform, highlighting how it aims to gut Ontario's public education, protect bigoted speech, and target trans people and "critical race theory" for elimination.
A selection of Ontario Party talking points, all pointing at extreme hostility to Canadian values and in particular to their hatred of trans people.

That’s what makes them so chilling. The fact that they have so successfully branded themselves this way means that, in ways that are less true in the US, they explicitly and successfully garner both voting support and candidates to run from well-off, religiously conservative people of color. Even more than the mainline conservatives here (who are also frightfully good at this), these arch-conservative splinter parties that otherwise do everything they can to imitate the US Republicans have figured out how to present themselves in a way that resonates with gay people who think that oppressing trans people is their ticket into the mainstream, and people of color whose economic success means that their primary gripes with how Canada works are that their taxes are too high, their paths through the city have too many unpunished beggars on them, and their children are not compelled by law to adhere to their conservative Christian vision of what possibilities are allowed.

And those are the “lunatic fringe” of Canada’s right. Those are the people too rabidly conservative to see a future for themselves within the major, well-funded, well-recognized conservative party in their province. Those are the people who look at everything about the US that the rest of Canada prides itself in being better than and think, “we should do that.” Those are the people whose voters wear Canadian variations on Trump gear to rallies and occupy downtown Ottawa with bellowing big rigs for weeks at a time.

Door-hanger flyer from the mainline conservative party, showing a selection of achievements during this candidate's incumbency.
Not pictured: how “built new roads and highways” is bad, actually, in a world that needs more passenger rail and less car exhaust, and how “support for the local career college to train PSWs and nurses” did not include any attempt to make the working conditions of personal support workers and nurses even slightly more bearable. Conservatives here are tricky.

Canada’s mainline conservatives are still more discreet. Ontario’s mainline conservative party, the Progressive Conservative Party, combines its oxymoronic name with a deliberately mysterious pitch. It released no platform for the 2022 election and all prognosticating about its future activities is based on the budget they, as the incumbent majority, released for the year. The lack of a platform obscures their unpleasant history of equivocation and hedging on a variety of important issues, including trans issues, abortion access, racial discrimination, policing, and queer rights in general, where they do everything they can to be neither overtly hostile nor actually supportive. They expertly present themselves as holding Canada’s cultural line against the overweening idealism of the social democrats in the New Democratic Party and the preening duplicity of the centrist Liberal Party. They do most of the same things as the fringe parties but more quietly, less thoroughly, and/or with more vaguely positive things like funding retirement homes admixed. Their rhetoric is disciplined, effective, and tightly controlled by party leaders, an approach made institutional by former federal conservative leader Stephen Harper, who himself based it on things he learned from American political strategists.

Canada does not, most of the time, elevate numpties like Louis Gohmert to office. Doug Ford, current Progressive Conservative party leader and premier of Ontario, is one of the most clownish figures to ever hold the position, and he is a luminary compared to the sheer mendacious sociopathic incompetence of figures like George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump. The Canadian public, by and large, does not respond to that kind of foolishness positively the way much of the American public does. This is a society that still expects its leaders to be genteel, sophisticated, and rhetorically skilled, and Canada’s conservatives, even the ones so extreme that they feel rejected by the mainline conservative party, deliver on that. Even the most unhinged Canadian ideologue, who wants to sell this country piecemeal to American corporations if it means trans people suffer and his family can buy a yacht, can make that vision sound beautiful.

As an American far too acquainted with how the US Republicans’ biggest strategic failing is that their open courtship of white nationalists has made a lot of religious-conservative and/or economically-advantaged non-white groups leery of what Republican victories would mean in their districts…this is terrifying. I do not have to resort to lurid speculation to find out what level of horror could visit US communities of color if more of them felt safe among their ideological compatriots in the US’s arch-conservative party, because the platforms required to make that happen are already here, showing up at my door and scattered on the grass around my neighborhood. The conservative incumbent for Ottawa West is gay and the arch-conservative splinter candidate I’ve most recently been confronted with is the patriarch of a big Black Pentecostal(?) family. Canada’s right wing has a public-relations savvy that the US Republicans lost generations ago and a policy-crafting skill that the US Republicans mostly outsource to shadowy background figures like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. Republicans have gotten away with stoking McCarthyist terror, pretending to be everyman buffoons for so long that the lie became the truth, and manipulating the workings of the government itself to give them a nigh-insurmountable electoral advantage no matter how few people actually want them in office.

To listen to an American conservative is to come away appalled, confused, disgusted, amused, and angry, but listening to a Canadian conservative, one comes away chilled to the bone. American conservatives make only the barest attempt to conceal how overtly hateful they are of the people their policies harm, mock the very idea of intelligence and knowledge being valuable traits in a leader, and have all the tact and grace of a mayonnaise-and-gelatin salad from suburban Michigan. Canadian conservatives are masterful, efficient engines of slow regression, and they know just how to convince people to go along with it, and they happily accept the help of parents of color who cannot accept that their children might be queer whenever it is available. Canadian conservatives are the most intense object lesson in how the very worst, most dangerous people are not the frothing fools who think the world was created in six days, but the men and women in suits cooing sophistries about freedom and children while the rest of us sound an alarm that they are so very good at making seem overblown.

It isn’t. And Canada has only to look southward to find out what happens if it isn’t heeded.

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A Quick Tour of Alyssa’s 125-Gallon Aquarium Thu, 19 May 2022 12:29:55 +0000 The post A Quick Tour of Alyssa’s 125-Gallon Aquarium appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


I’m trying something a little different today. By popular request, I’ve filmed a video going over the contents of my 125-gallon (473-liter) aquarium. Come for the aquarium insight, stay for my clothes, leave knowing more about turtle penises than you ever wanted to know. Have fun!

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Cuban Pulled Pork, Alyssa Style Tue, 26 Apr 2022 23:58:09 +0000 The post Cuban Pulled Pork, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


As promised, here is how I make pulled pork into something Cuban-American.

Pulled pork might be best known as a staple of southern USian barbecue, part of the “holy trinity” of barbecue staples (the others being brisket and spareribs), but it is far from unique to this cultural area. I grew up with special occasions being marked by caja china roasts, with whole suckling pigs being roasted and served from specialized barbecues. Once the fresh experience was over, there was inevitably a lot left over, even after splitting it between select attendees. One of the easiest ways to store and serve it was as shredded or pulled pork. This version was not as consummately sauced as southern-US pulled pork and usually served differently. Hispanic Americans will serve anything with rice, but Cuban-style pulled pork would often be served in various other ways: as filling for tamales, as a component of Cuban sandwiches, or…yes, with rice. With its distinctive citrus flavor and heady aroma, this is a pork preparation one does not soon forget.

A key ingredient in Cuban-style pulled pork is naranja agria, or bitter orange, juice. This juice is made from a specific citrus cultivar, Citrus x aurantium, also called the “marmalade orange,” “Seville orange,” or other names. Its flavor is distinctively sour compared to orange juice meant for drinking and, as the other names suggest, they are most often reserved for making marmalade and other culinary preparations. Naranja agria juice can be difficult to source outside Hispanic enclaves, but it can be substituted with ordinary orange juice and additional acid. Note that naranja agria has properties similar to grapefruit when it comes to pharmaceutical interactions and many commercial “naranja agria” products are actually blends of orange and grapefruit juice rather than true naranja agria.

A bottle of Badia-brand naranja agria.
This is the good stuff, and by “the good stuff,” I mean I thought it was the good stuff until I checked the ingredients and it turned out to be an orange/grapefruit blend.

This recipe serves far too many. It capably provides the amount of filling needed for my tamal recipe, which is enough to serve at least eight people. Freeze whatever you will not be consuming within three days.


You will need a your preferred cutting and measuring tools, a blender or food processor, a slow cooker (preferably an Instant Pot), a large bowl, and two forks. You will also need a small bowl and a tool for mixing inside it, such as a chopstick or small fork. You may also need a large frying pan and your preferred source of bottom-up heat and a saucepan and wooden spoon.


Metric and imperial units used here do not match 1:1 for convenience to the home cook. I used imperial measures while cooking; feel free to vary ratios slightly to suit one’s palate.

  • Fennel bulb, ½
  • Dried oregano, 1.5 tablespoons
  • Salt, 1 tablespoon
  • Ground black pepper, 1.5 teaspoons
  • Ground cumin, 1 tablespoon
  • Naranja agria juice, 594 mL / 20 fl oz. Substitute with 1 cup grapefruit juice, ¾ cup lime juice, and ½ cup orange juice.
  • White vinegar, ¼ cup
  • Extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup
  • Asafoetida/hing to taste
  • One pork shoulder, approximately 12 pounds or 5.5 kilograms.
  • Cornstarch, 1 tablespoon
  • Water, 3 tablespoons

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: As written, this recipe is gluten-free. Note that asafoetida/hing may or may not contain gluten depending on how it is prepared.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe is primarily a protein preparation and is therefore low-carb.
  • Low-FODMAP: This recipe makes several digestion-friendly substitutions and should work on a low-FODMAP diet.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan:  A similar flavor profile can potentially be deployed with a meat substitute, but other details will vary extensively.


The Night Before

  1. Chop the fennel and blend it with the dried oregano, salt, ground black pepper, ground cumin, naranja agria, and white vinegar.
  2. Marinate the pork shoulder in the result of Step 1 If the pork shoulder is not completely enveloped in marinade in your container, flip it approximately halfway through the marinating time. The recommended marinating time is 12 hours.

Pulled Pork

  1. Heat the asafoetida/hing in olive oil on medium heat. If using an Instant Pot, the Sauté setting is ideal.
  2. Remove the pork shoulder from the marinade and sear on all sides in the result of Step 3. If using an Instant Pot, the Sauté setting is ideal.
  3. Add the marinade to the slow-cooker, which should now contain the asafoetida/hing oil, the pork shoulder, and the marinade, and slow-cook for at least six hours. If the marinade does not completely cover the pork shoulder, flip the pork shoulder halfway through.
  4. Remove the pork shoulder from the marinade and place in a large bowl. Shred the pork shoulder with two forks. There should be few or no large pieces left. Any portion that was outside the marinade will be harder and drier.
  5. If you are using pulled pork as tamal filling or as a component of Cuban sandwiches, it is ready and can be so used now. If you are serving pulled pork directly, consider making the remaining liquid in the slow cooker into a sauce for it using the steps below.
An image of pulled pork in a bowl with two forks
Ready for tamales or sandwiches.


  1. Drain the slow cooker into a saucepan on medium-high heat. If using an Instant Pot, switching to the Sauté setting works instead.
  2. Make a slurry of cornstarch and water and add it to the pan or Instant Pot. Stir while boiling until the sauce reaches one’s desired thickness. Depending on the amount of drippings, the desired thickness, and the desired ratio of sauce to meat, it may be necessary to boil for longer or shorter, or to add more cornstarch slurry.
  3. Combine the sauce with the pulled pork and serve.

This version of pulled pork always seems to be a surprise to people, providing a hearty, tangy flavor experience quite distinct from what usually comes to mind for this meat. It is always a hit and I hope it serves you well. Happy cooking!

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Lessons from an Aquarium Upgrade Tue, 12 Apr 2022 14:27:48 +0000 The post Lessons from an Aquarium Upgrade appeared first on The Perfumed Void.


I made a big decision recently. I replaced my 55-gallon (208 liter) aquarium with a shiny new 125-gallon (473-liter) beast that now defines the layout of my home office. This was no small task, and I offer this series of thoughts as guidance for anyone else attempting a similar upgrade.

The Price Is Right

I considered this upgrade first and foremost because I found a price for a combined tank, stand, hood, and light set that was shockingly affordable. A kit with all the aforementioned items could easily run more than CAD$1600 together, plus taxes and delivery charges, but the price I found was a little over half that. I was not prepared to spend nearly $2000 on just the base of what would have to be a much larger project, but $900 plus tax was doable. The deal was further sweetened when a friend alerted me to a tool for accessing potentially sizable discounts on items from this pet store, which would take another $250 off the post-tax price. With this purchase taking place shortly after receiving my annual income tax refund, there was an opportunity to be a little extravagant, but that was no excuse to spend more than I had to.

The aforementioned kit did not come with a suitable filter, heaters, and other necessary items for aquarium success, so I made use of my preferred aquarium specialty store and its mail-order annex to fill the gaps in my existing inventory. Additional planted-aquarium substrate and décor for the additional floor space would also be necessary for making this project shine. My discount for being a member of the Ottawa Valley Aquarium Society (OVAS) took the edge off some of these purchases. This would still be a pricey adventure, but it did not have to sting as much as it could have.

Hypothetically, patrolling local second-hand sites, including Kijiji and local aquarist fora, might have yielded deeper discounts. However, particularly for large or heavy objects, the need to retrieve the items myself as a user of public transit and rideshares would rapidly eat into the cost savings, particularly for the tank itself, which was too large to transport in anything but a van, pickup truck, or larger vehicle, while making the whole adventure that much more logistically complicated. Paying a little extra was worth it to save that much time and effort.

Lesson: Although aquarium-keeping can be an expensive hobby, there are ways to defray those costs and they should be pursued.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The next barrier this adventure had to cross was whether my home could handle having such a large aquarium in it. I had to measure the space it would inhabit. Some quick checks with a tape measure revealed that it absolutely would fit, with room to spare, in the space previously occupied by the 55-gallon aquarium and the adjacent cat tree. I could put the cat tree elsewhere in my home and the old aquarium and stand could go into my basement storage locker until and unless I had need of them again. With that, space was assured.

A related concern was whether my floor could handle the weight of the aquarium. A full 125-gallon aquarium weighs more than 1300 pounds (almost 600 kg), which is a considerable load and a big reason why keepers of large aquaria are usually homeowners with basements. As a dweller on a high floor of a residential tower, I could not be so certain of the capacity of the ground beneath me to support my ambitions. Mercifully, some research into the material of my floor and the loads it could bear set my mind at ease. Not only was the weight of this aquarium less than 1/100 of the most conservatively estimated strength of my floor, but the pressure exerted by the new tank was only marginally greater than that exerted by the old, its greater weight apparently almost fully countered by its greater floor area. I would have no concerns with the floor caving in under my new box of water.

Lesson: Concrete can hold up cars in parking garages; you’re fine.

A Little Help from My Friends

With all the preliminary math done, and once mail-ordered items were in hand, it was time to acquire the beast. This was something I could not do on my own. The empty tank weighted more than 200 lbs (91 kg), far beyond what I could hope to bring home on a hand-truck and more than I could realistically so much as lift safely. The store would not deliver it, so I had to enlist some helpful friends with a suitable vehicle.  They did not take as long to find as I feared they might, and I ended up with an excess of volunteers to help make this purchase happen. With three experienced lifters, one van, a second vehicle in case the van could not fit the tank and its stand at the same time, and a prearranged service elevator, getting the aquarium into its space in my home proved to be the easiest part of this entire process.

Lesson: Asking for help does not have to be as fraught as it often feels for this fiercely independent aquarist.

The Best-Laid Plans

And that’s where things started to go a little sideways.

I had big ideas about how to get the contents of my old aquarium into the new one. I spent the night before rinsing 28 kilograms of Flourite Red substrate to minimize its complement of dust. I spent the morning before the tank purchase capturing all my fish and shrimp and putting them in a heated, aerated bucket. I set up similar buckets for my Java ferns, since these plants could be moved without massive disruption to a deep root system. I brought two large scoops I could use to move the old substrate, remaining plants still in it, as non-destructively as possible, between and atop the new Fluorite completing the greater floor area of the new tank.

And then the Flourite dust hit.

Flourite is always dusty. It was dusty the first time I used it in Miami, it was dusty when I first used it with my 55-gallon aquarium when it was new, and it was dusty after adding more a few years later. The package warns of dust from the clay particles in the Flourite rubbing together in transit and smaller sizes come with porous bottoms so that they can be rinsed in the bag. The least surprising thing that could have happened was the hours spent rinsing out dust the night before turning out to not be enough, and yet, there I was, in water so dusty I could not see the bottom, trying to plant plants and add substrate without burying anything I wanted to save.  My old plants could survive only so long out of water and would lose their leaves, at a minimum, if this process took too long, but frantically removing dusty water and replacing it with fresh or trying to work in reduced water depth led nowhere. Only time would help.

With the help of one of my assistants, I gave it a few hours by heading to pet stores and procuring as many of the new fish I had in mind as were available, hoping that this time would be enough to at least enable the rest of the aquascaping. It was not. Those fish, and the fish I already had, would wait several more hours while I transferred as much as I could as painlessly as I could from the old system. It was a time-consuming, anxious, frightening, emotional, laborious, and so very dusty process. It ended only with a crying jag, acceptance that I would have to tidy the aquascape in the morning, and deciding that I needed to get my fish in there now before they had more time to soil their temporary containers. I had promised my helpers pizza if they stayed until dinnertime and fussing over this situation pushed dinnertime past when the last of them was able to linger. I would have to reward them another day.

Lesson: If you can, set up a new tank with minimal destruction of the old. Use new Flourite, rinse it thoroughly, and arrange for at least 24 hours between putting it in the tank and whatever happens next. If possible, don’t buy new fish while a tank is still equilibrating after a major shift like this.


The dust cloud was short-lived, in the end. By the next day it was clear enough for me to tidy most of the aquascape issues, and by the day after it was almost gone. In the interim, I could adjust how various plants’ roots were buried, make sure my lotus seeds were in the right places since the fish were moving them a little, and otherwise switch from setup to refinement.

One amusing side effect of this whole adventure was confirming that I have five Amano shrimp, not the four I had previously thought. One I had not seen in months and concluded was dead turned up during the teardown of the old tank.

Another amusing side effect was the reappearance of numerous plant weights from plants that failed to thrive, revealed by the upheaval of the old substrate. Some of them have since been reused for new plants.

One less amusing side effect was that three glass/ghost catfish, Kryptopterus sp., that I purchased from the only store in town to be carrying them are currently missing in action, present and exploring their new home on Sunday but nowhere to be found on Monday. Given the Amano shrimp’s ability to hide from me, it remains possible that the fish are simply out of sight, but signs are inauspicious. The other new and old fish are happy. If indeed the glass catfish have died, I have additional tank capacity to share with a different species, in addition to what remains held in reserve for fish that were not in stock.

A school of glass catfish, Kryptopterus bicirrhis, showing their transparent bodies and long barbels.
RIP, fated attempt.

Either way, I now have twice as many fish, so I must feed more, and I am very pleased to have this problem.

Lesson: Patience has ever been my finest virtue, and my every failure to exercise it is a reminder.

What’s Next?

I intend to ascend into the planted-aquarium stratosphere that I see displayed in aquarium specialty stores, on YouTube, and in the homes of other OVAS members in the monthly web calls the club hosts. In the not-too-distant future, I will be replacing the lights currently on this aquarium with specialist planted-aquarium lights with the ideal 6500k color temperature. Depending on how that goes, I will consider a CO2 injection system, and this combination will enable me to grow more demanding plants at greater densities. I have sensibly avoided harder-to-keep plants such as the beautiful Madagascar lace plant (Aponogeton madagascariensis) before this step, but they are where my heart is headed and I shall follow when my setup is ready. One of my other target plants is Aldrovanda vesiculosa, the waterwheel plant, whose claim to fame is that it is an aquatic carnivore that feeds on planktonic crustaceans using traps similar in mechanism to those of its close cousin, the Venus’s flytrap. Aldrovanda is famously difficult for houseplant and carnivorous-plant enthusiasts to maintain due to needs that align closely with what a properly lit, CO2-injected planted aquarium provides, so this, too, is a possibility I can explore once my system is ready. My fish and Aldrovanda alike will benefit from how the space in my new, larger aquarium stand allows me to set up a smaller tank for raising live foods like brine shrimp, freshwater ostracods, or scuds, as well.

A 125-gallon aquarium showing many Java fern and other plants and some tropical freshwater fish from all over the world.
Three days later. I am no longer sure how much is lingering Flourite dust, how much is a potential post-transfer bacterial bloom, how much is the spectrum of the economy-grade lights that came with this kit, how much is condensation on the hood…but it’s clear enough to enjoy.

I have other fish acquisitions in mind, depending on what is in stock in local stores. As above, I have tank capacity to spare even after an overnight doubling of the number of fish and crustaceans in my care, and some ideas of how to fill it. I might even consider something more dramatic like a vampire shrimp (Atya gabonensis, a harmless filter feeder). In the immediate term, however, the best course is to let this system get used to itself and let the existing plants settle and grow some more, while my wallet likewise heals.

I have similar plans to set up one more, final aquarium, most likely a marine setup optimized for an Odontodactylus scyllarus mantis shrimp, but that is waiting on a delivery that should be mere weeks away by now. Time will tell.

Lesson: My ambitions are thought-out enough that I can usually get around any difficulties I might have with them, and I can pursue them at my own pace.


So there we have it: I now have a 125-gallon tank I intend to grow into a powerful testament to my green thumb and fish fingers alike, and I have plans. I hope my experience can be instructive for those of you who are pursuing similar goals or might like to.

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