The Perfumed Void https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/ Research, Feelings, and Life with Alyssa Gonzalez Mon, 23 Jan 2023 15:15:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1.1 https://i0.wp.com/the-orbit.net/alyssa/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2018/03/cropped-Screen-Shot-2018-03-30-at-12.31.50-PM.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 The Perfumed Void https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/ 32 32 134704142 Paludarium 2: Tragedy Boogaloo https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2023/01/21/paludarium-2-tragedy-boogaloo/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2023/01/21/paludarium-2-tragedy-boogaloo/#respond Sun, 22 Jan 2023 02:45:08 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7677 The post Paludarium 2: Tragedy Boogaloo appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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It’s the end of an era, and by era I mean a handful of months of trying something new and watching it not quite work. Today, I officially lay my paludarium ambitions to rest for the foreseeable future. It was okay while it lasted, but the test did not yield the desired results and it is over. I am pivoting.

So, what happened?

A few months ago, I built an enclosure for soil to place within a specific aquarium, turning that aquarium into a paludarium. This enclosure was made of leftover material from previous projects and whatever odds and ends I needed to purchase to make it happen, then filled with potting soil and moisture-tolerant plants. The design was optimized to maximize the available water area while still having the largest land area I could build with the available materials, and while it was working, it was beautiful. I added isopods and springtails to make it bioactive and I explored numerous options for making it the best possible version of itself. Full of plants and light, with tannin-yellow water beneath and a limb-mounted orchid for tropical flair, it stole the show from behind me in so many Zoom meetings and impressed visitors and viewers alike. It faced numerous challenges getting even that far, but it seemed to be holding. It looked like I could move forward with my ambitions for this setup, and I was eager.

And then it didn’t.

The original goal creatures for the land area, Bombina orientalis fire-bellied toads, remained unavailable for months. In the interim, I hemmed and hawed about how I would safely and economically house and dispense crickets in a home that also had two cats that get very excited around insects. A friend introduced me to black soldierfly pupae, a refrigerator-stable live food for insectivorous animals, and I was jubilant. So armed, I would be ready when the frogs at last turned up. But a deeper look into cohabitating these animals revealed a fatal flaw in my plan: their skin secretions are dangerous to other (semi)aquatic life. In a well-filtered tank with activated carbon to capture toxins, this danger could be managed, but this paludarium was anything but. By design, it relied heavily on the plants in its land area for nutrient export and thus had minimal, and eventually no, active filtration, with or without carbon. My frogs would be hazardous to everything else in the tank, in addition to requiring a specialty diet. With the existing inhabitants not easily passed to my other tank, the wisest course seemed to be to take aim at a different semiaquatic animal, and the one that seemed right was vampire crabs (Geosesarma dennerle).

A small boxy crab with bright purple legs, lighter purple claws, a dark body, and yellow eyes.
Purple with yellow eyes, you know, like a vampire.

For the majority of readers for whom this is an unfamiliar name, vampire crabs are a semiaquatic crab species from Indonesia. Their trade name comes from how the color variation initially most common in the pet trade is black with red eyes and becomes a bit strange when applied to other color combinations such as the purple-with-yellow-eyes form more commonly available at present. What I had built was ideally suited to this creature, so it became a matter of finding some…and the only place that had any I could even hypothetically access was a mail-order exotic animal vendor whose stock was inconsistently available. Live animal mail-order retail is eye-wateringly expensive, with shipping charges often double or triple the price of a single normal-sized order, so this was not a tempting prospect. My local aquarium society sometimes creates group orders to divide and reduce the impact of shipping costs, and I tried to get one started, but as a non-driver, I was the wrong person to receive the shared shipment and no one else stepped up, so the idea withered on the vine.

It was not the only thing withering. My crude egg-crate enclosure proved not quite up to the task I had assigned it. I built it to rely on the aquarium glass for support on three sides, and that technically worked, but it also meant that very little was preserving the shape of the bottom. It had none of the structural reinforcement that walls would have provided and, under the weight of its saturated soil, the unsupported edges were bowing. This lowered the soil farther into the water over time, which progressively drowned plant after plant. What did not die from insufficient light from my leftover “economy” aquarium LEDs died from having its water tolerance totally exceeded and even highly moisture-loving plants began to show signs of waterlogging. By today, a good half-dozen purchased plants had already died and others were in rough shape, even as a few of them did seem to do well in this strange, demanding environment. But I did not build this system to watch plants die, and I especially did not build it to sag in its middles and threaten to come apart under its own weight. I attempted to add additional supports and the new bend was so strong that the whole thing warped in other places instead, so, that did not help.

The water section of the tank was a bit more hopeful. For a while, my Tateurndina ocellicauda peacock gudgeons were every bit the delight I hoped they would be, establishing their pecking order and flaring their deliriously beautiful colors, every bit the match for coral-reef splendor, and I was enthralled. Then their hierarchy grew vicious and I took measures I took to stem their aggression, exchanging the most violent member of the all-male trio for a new, smaller fish, but that ultimately ended in disaster. The trio became a duo shortly thereafter, with one fish disappearing, and then only a single fish remained: the most visibly damaged of the original three. The cheeky little wonders had bamboozled me into keeping the problem fish, not the solution. That one lasted a few weeks longer and, as of about a week ago, seems to have also disappeared into the guts of my scavenging snails. My water parameter tests indicated nothing amiss, which left the cause of death a mystery. With the peacock gudgeons gone, that left a handful of small, low-energy, mostly nocturnal catfish and four species of snails as the tank’s aquatic inhabitants, far from an ideal basis for the aesthetic I had in mind.

Among those snails were recently-added rabbit snails, large conical creatures with downright goofy movement patterns whose presence I quite enjoyed, Unfortunately, the rabbit snails repeatedly wedged themselves in the space between the land area’s support struts and the aquarium glass, sometimes for days at a time before I realized they could not dislodge themselves and needed my help. I added berms of sand to all the places where this scenario could repeat, which helped keep them out of trouble, but the structure was clearly becoming a liability to everything in the tank, not just the plants within it.

A large snail with a narrow conical shell and a bright yellow body. It has large antennae.
Love these goofy little doofuses. I once watched one THBBBBBBBT in the bubbles of an airstone for 45 straight minutes after falling on its back, totally able to move but having too much fun.

In the end, it was for naught. This tank’s strange dimensions made it a perfect fit for its location in my home, but also made a properly sized hood impossible to find. I could find listings in catalogs, yes, but never in stock, anywhere, and one site has it backordered since July 2022 on my behalf with no end in sight. One last abortive effort elsewhere yielded a lid the right shape but the wrong size, useless as a solution to this problem, and I’m still hoping for a refund. No proper cover means no proper humidity control, heightened escape risk, and an elevated chance that my inquisitive cats would find movement in the land area far more exciting than they have found the tank up to this point. For an expensive prospective species in a hacked-together enclosure design that was well and truly showing its limits, that was a bridge too far. This experiment was over.

The land enclosure, made of egg crate lined with window screen. The egg crate is bent, warped, damaged, and filthy.
RIP.

I sought out some additional plant pots to rescue the remaining land plants. As houseplants, they would have a better shot at not drowning. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite the utterly still surface of the soil, my isopods and springtails were apparently thriving within it. With any luck, they will find their new lives in plant pots as comfortable. Then, I removed the land enclosure and surveyed it one last time. It was wet, filthy, warped, cracked, and a testament to the mental effort and dubious craftsmanship that had gone into it. It also absolutely reeked of the low-oxygen mud that had become its lower layers, so, that almost certainly contributed to the challenges of this system. Then I hefted it down my garbage chute.

A 46-gallon bowfront / "euro-style" aquarium partly filled with water. It has a dark sand substrate and abundant decorative wood. The water is turbid and mostly opaque.
This will calm down by tomorrow, especially now that it’s properly filtered.

The substrate, wooden décor, and aquatic plants and animals could stay. With a higher water level and a proper filter, this tank will become something close to a West African biotope, a different long-term dream. It will not as pure as that term implies, since its Asian snails, Asian plants, and South American catfish will do better here than in my main system, but the rest of its look and future inhabitants will fit that theme. I was even able to reposition some emergent plants at the new water level and keep them in the system. What’s more, a properly fitted cover in this sort of setup is optional, albeit helpful for controlling evaporation, as long as the water level is low enough to deter jumpers. I’m thinking Phenacogrammus interruptus Congo tetras, a Gnathomeus petersii elephantnose mormyrid, and my all-time favorite fish, so loved that it is inked on my body, Pantodon bucholzi, the African butterflyfish, one more time.

A black fish with a narrow caudal peduncle, a back-swept dorsal and anal fin, and a long lower lip.
I really want to try this animal. They sense their world with electricity!

It is the end of an era, and the start of something new and, hopefully, beautiful.

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The Edges Build the Center: Transit You Can Rely On https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2023/01/05/the-edges-build-the-center-transit-you-can-rely-on/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2023/01/05/the-edges-build-the-center-transit-you-can-rely-on/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2023 22:00:17 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7674 The post The Edges Build the Center: Transit You Can Rely On appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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As someone who does not drive, should not be trusted to drive, and is not legally allowed to drive, I spend a fair bit of time on public transit. It’s not as much as other people I know—working from home within walking distance of most of my groceries is pretty great—but it’s enough to develop a lot of feelings about the ways that public transit can fail. Much ink has been spilled about things like making sure a system’s vehicles arrive at consistent times, go places where people want to go, are frequent enough to make looking at a schedule optional, and so on, and today, I want to focus on an underrated aspect of making a transit system upon which a person can truly rely: edge cases.

Many transit systems, especially in places whose overall design is overtly car-centric, focus on adding transit options to heavily utilized routes, typically those used during morning and evening rush hours. When transit systems struggle for funding against police departments that get blank checks from the municipal budget and highway networks that are treated as critical infrastructure in ways that transit systems rarely are, this makes sense. Heavily utilized commuter routes can build ridership to high levels quickly and can become the backbones of a transit network, so it makes sense to build them first. In the twisted logic of car-centric urban planning, these routes are among the few that have what it takes to justify their existence. Anywhere else in town will often be completely neglected by transit planners, deemed uneconomical to serve. If less-used routes are allowed to exist—perhaps the system is mature enough that even often anti-transit planners deem it worth the investment—they often have barely-adequate stop infrastructure (often just a sign with route numbers), low frequency, inconsistent arrival times within that low frequency, and limited hours of operation. How difficult a place is to get to by public transit varies wildly from one destination and trip timing to another, and often, it’s flat-out impossible.

A sheltered bus stop in Los Angeles, California, USA.
But is this place useful at 3 AM?

Compare this to how roads networks in developed countries work. Drivers can count on paved surfaces on which their vehicles can operate between virtually any two points in their city and most of the paths between cities. Only the farthest-flung, poorest, or most natural places will have roads that aren’t paved, let alone be completely disconnected from the road network, and most of these will be gravel roads that are good enough for low speeds. Whether a driver’s starting point is an industrial park on the edge of town, a remote exurb separated from its city by a stretch of greenbelt, a path running through a park, an urban nightclub, a cottage deliberately disconnected from nearby towns, or a university neighborhood, that driver can count on uninterrupted, accessible road surface from one end of their trip to the other, usable at any hour of any day, including weekends, holidays, the middle of the night, and when they’ve had too much to drink but will go ahead and drive anyway because how else are they getting their vehicle home tonight? Drivers rarely must answer the question “how am I getting there?” or “how am I getting home?”—their status as a driver is the answer, because the road network doesn’t care if your route is “heavily utilized” or “profitable.” It is treated as the public utility it is and is heavily subsidized to make sure even remote places in and around cities are connected. A road might be poorly maintained to the point of damaging cars that use it, but in the 21st century, it will rarely just not exist at all and it will almost never care about what day or time it is being used.

This is an unthinkable level of freedom to a transit user. Transit users must constantly compute whether they have enough time to get to the bus stop with enough cushion for an early bus arrival on pain of being late or worse, stranded. They must choose which outings they attend and people they visit based on what places have bus service when. They must time their departure from evening outings to make sure it’s before the last bus that gets them home. They must choose flight times at their nearest airport based on how early the bus system can get them there and whatever unthinkably huge time cushion the local security theater demands of air travelers. They must be extra careful about visiting friends who live in residential neighborhoods (you know, where most people live) because past a certain time of night, a visit to a residential neighborhood becomes an overnight stay.

And looming behind all these calculations is a perverse reality: I could ask for a ride.

The backstop behind every gap in transit coverage is the humble passenger seat. Whether paid for or provided as a favor, passage in someone else’s car opens all the paths that the transit network left closed and makes trips possible that the transit system decided not to. And it is a stark reminder to every single person who ever makes use of this backstop that they, too, could have this freedom, if they had a car and a license.

It is these cases that truly make the difference between a transit system that solves specific problems and one that a person can build their life around. If it is possible to arrive by public transit in time for all the security theater that precedes a 5 AM international flight, or return from a visit to a suburban friend that runs late into the night without sleeping over or importuning them for a ride, or visit a far-flung industrial park for an event without the path home involving a 20-minute pitch-dark no-sidewalk lope to the nearest transit corridor, then a person can truly rely on the transit network to facilitate the fullness of their life. A public transit network attains its true potential when the freedom of public transit users approaches what automobile users experience just from the fact that roads can be used whenever. A public transit network attains its most complete victory when the only people who need cab drivers are people who, for whatever reason, refuse to engage with public transit, not people public transit is failing to deliver to their destinations in a timely manner.

I should never have to take a cab to the airport or ask friends for a ride home.

It is the edges that build the center, not the other way around.

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Movement: Flash Fiction https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/12/31/movement-flash-fiction/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/12/31/movement-flash-fiction/#respond Sat, 31 Dec 2022 14:16:17 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7671 The post Movement: Flash Fiction appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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“Don’t you know it’s rude to turn up in a woman’s bedroom uninvited?”

The visitors quivered. It was hard to read that as an expression, taking place as it did on masses of slightly wet tentacles that occasionally flicked, waved, and rubbed against each other. There were six of them, including one perched on the railing of my metal-framed bed behind me, and they did not come any closer.

I felt a damp limb land on my collarbone, and suddenly my mind was full of music.

“We require your skin for communication,” the message chimed, feeling like a song but arriving as pure meaning.

“I understand.” The music was beautiful far in excess of its workday message. It was difficult to stay focused on the bizarre situation bringing it to me. “Do you understand that you should have alerted me first? By knocking, at least?”

“Your sensory modalities are new to us,” the next song said. “We must investigate them.”

The group approached me, each placing a wet limb on an ankle, forearm, or other bit of exposed flesh. Each added an instrument to the unfolding orchestra. Each note was sublime.

“This species can communicate over distance using pressure waves,” one song observed. “What a remarkable modality.”

“Is that not something you can do?” I asked.

“It is not. Our communication is as you experience it now.”

“Your world must be so different from ours.”

“In ways you cannot begin to understand.” The songs turned a bit sad.

“I’d like to.” I breathed a heavy breath. “But first, you need to get used to knocking.”

My alien visitors became a regular occurrence. They pounded on a window or door a few times each week, and each time, we showed each other something new. With their tentacular wire directly into my experiences, I could show them what a human feels while petting a cat, or eating beef rendang, or listening to music—not thought-music, but the kind that makes the air move.  They, in turn, shared their memories of their home planet with me, with all its mazelike spires honeycombed with holes and tunnels they navigated almost entirely by touch.

Each had a name in their language of thoughts, meaning as lost to antiquity as the deeper significance of John or Xinxin is to us, so I gave them all names of my own: Sonata, Minuet, Oboe, Contralto, Fugue, and to my favorite, Rachmaninoff. It took an evening to explain my choices to them, but I think I succeeded.

On the thirty-fifth day, Rachmaninoff sang into my mind: “Our time is concluded. We must return to Orchestra Prime.” They all felt the sadness in my mind-song. Rachmaninoff continued: “We are authorized to take you with us if you desire.”

I looked around, at a life that felt more and more hollow and quiet the more I took in what my alien visitors brought me. “I do.”

“Then let us travel.”

a musical note

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Plants Are Fucking Weird: A Video Presentation https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/12/10/plants-are-fucking-weird-a-video-presentation/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/12/10/plants-are-fucking-weird-a-video-presentation/#respond Sun, 11 Dec 2022 01:50:13 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7668 The post Plants Are Fucking Weird: A Video Presentation appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Folks who pay attention to the Perfumed Void’s Patreon know that, for the Friends of the Void tier on up, I offer a monthly informative video presentation. These are patterned on, or derived from, presentations I give at presentation parties or events like Skepticamps and full of my characteristic wit, thoroughness, and sass.

To celebrate this tier of my Patreon, I am offering one of my most talked-about and sought-after presentations as a free sample on YouTube: Plants Are Fucking Weird. Join me on this tour through plant reproductive biology and how absolutely wild it is when analogized into animal terms.

Unfortunately, due to its title and subject matter, this video is age-restricted on YouTube, so I cannot embed it here. You’ll have to follow this link to enjoy it.

Plants Are Fucking Weird – A Video Presentation

And a visual tease:

A slide from "Plants Are Fucking Weird" depicting a pollen-covered bee and some text.

Enjoy, and subscribe over at Patreon to see the rest of the series.

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The Power of Urban Planning https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/12/04/the-power-of-urban-planning/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/12/04/the-power-of-urban-planning/#respond Mon, 05 Dec 2022 03:20:30 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7664 The post The Power of Urban Planning appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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People act like urban design is just something that happens, a fact of nature that unfolds as passively as wind patterns and desire paths. Developers develop parcels, drivers drive roads, commuters take buses, and it all happens piecemeal, one step at a time, all of them disconnected from the others and together forming a city as an accidental, organic, wild thing.

That just isn’t how this works.

An enormous multiplicity of rules govern everything from street widths to allowable frontage materials to whether home businesses are allowed, decided upon by various bureaucracies that, often, have limited communication with one another. This is all further complicated by “grandfathering” rules that often leave plots, neighborhoods, or buildings exempt from new rules if they were already in place before the rules take effect. Urban fabrics are anything but organic: they are carefully, if sometimes chaotically, choreographed dances of numerous authorities, operating at national and developer levels and everything in between. There are people deciding every one of those details and thousands upon thousands more, and the sum of that reality is that urban design is social engineering.

The people who decide how wide the street is and where the highways are and where the rail lines will be and what kinds of businesses are allowed on a specific lot and what the lot sizes are and how many pedestrian deaths are “acceptable” versus how many call for some sort of intervention are creating the literal and figurative landscape of those forces. Those people are, in no uncertain terms, designing the incentives that ordinary people will weigh and to which they’ll respond when making their everyday decisions. The causality is the other way around. Those people are a mix of democratically elected, appointed by other government officials, and moneyed into existence in the capitalist economy, and their decisions literally shape the reality that the rest of us merely inhabit. And they have the data to do it very, very well.

The optimal courses have already been determined. The planners determined them. Individual people might be fiendishly unpredictable, but masses? Masses are trivial to understand. The planners know what most people will do when presented with a given set of options and incentives. They are choosing a world in which that response is what most people will do. Letting existing transit systems fall into disrepair, cutting schedules, preventing reliability improvements, not building new lines but always having the budget for one more highway lane, building a rail extension in a highway median because there is no plan to build transit-oriented development anywhere near it and thus reduce car dependency in the area, these are all decisions. Ordinary people have no choice but to respond to those decisions once they are made and implemented. Your optimal course has already been determined, and it was not you who determined it.

An image of a
Someone made the decision that this road would look like this. That person has a name.

Urban design is not a passive process. It is an active decision that the urban fabric will look a certain way and favor certain actions, and ordinary people act within that system. The fact that in Miami the least unpleasant option for getting from one place to another is always “drive your car” and in Amsterdam it’s usually not were both choices. Planners decided that that’s what the landscape of incentives would favor and people responded accordingly.

Anyone who talks about urban design like it’s a passive response to people’s behavior has it entirely backwards. Urban design is the active process of creating the incentives that will determine most people’s decisions. Induced demand is the result in every direction at once. Building transit projects, zoning codes, and more as if they can only ever respond to what people are already doing prevents them from ever being different. Urban planning takes vision, defiance, and an understanding that this role is power in its most literal sense: deciding what reality will be and what the population will have to acknowledge in its everyday decision-making. As the saying goes, you don’t build a bridge based on how many people are swimming across the river.

This can be hard to see, for people living under the tyranny of car-centric urban planning their entire lives, but that was a decision, and it was not you who made it.

Great transit cities are not built passively. That’s ridiculous neoliberal market-based thinking that effectively takes as a premise that whatever individual solution an individual person can hack together in an uncaring world is automatically the Only Way and the system’s role is to facilitate that individual solution no matter what it costs society at large. Great transit systems are active investments that create the incentives that make them retroactively obvious just as the railways of old became the retroactive justifications of entire towns. Great transit systems don’t respond to incentives, they create them. You do not build a bus rapid-transit corridor or a passenger rail line because a lot of people are already traveling on a certain path, you build it because you want to incentivize use of public transit on that path.

So, when I hear “there just isn’t demand for transit in my area,” my only response is “And?”

Urban design is not an accident, or an emergent property, or a fact of nature. It is raw, unadulterated power, and it is high time that people who care about how their cities work acknowledged this reality and thought about who is exerting that power and who is denied it.

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Elegy for the Ones Who Never Got to Be: Trans Day of Remembrance 2022 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/11/15/elegy-for-the-ones-who-never-got-to-be-trans-day-of-remembrance-2022/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/11/15/elegy-for-the-ones-who-never-got-to-be-trans-day-of-remembrance-2022/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2022 21:49:32 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7652 The post Elegy for the Ones Who Never Got to Be: Trans Day of Remembrance 2022 appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Delivered as a speech for Canadian Heritage on 16 November 2022.

We usually hold these events for ourselves. Trans Day of Remembrance is a somber occasion we mark with candlelight, elegies, and promises to the future. Every year, hundreds of us breathe our last in Brazil and Turkey and the United States and, yes, here in Canada, and every year those of us who feel safe all being in one place at a known time gather and make our sad pledge: remember the dead and fight like hell for the living. They died unloved and endure one more cruel indignity by way of obituaries and funeral services that don’t acknowledge who they really were, and we place one wholly inadequate bandage on that wound by insisting: they never saw your light, but we did. And we will not forget.

It is a strange thing to be here, presenting any of this for a group that, in all likelihood, does not contain very many attendees of the annual Trans Day of Remembrance vigil at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights. The grief of the marginalized is, too often, entertainment for the rest, and when I accepted this role it was with stern knowledge that I would not permit my presence before you all to be so. Instead, I am here to tell you all: what exactly are we remembering?

(Video as presented to the Department of Canadian Heritage.)

Trans Day of Remembrance was born in 1999. Transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, brutally killed the previous year in the US state of Massachusetts. She had lived a happy, if challenging life, largely accepted by her family and beloved of the community, cis and trans alike, that she had built around herself. Her death was a mere two months after the far more publicized death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man beaten to death elsewhere in the United States whose murder eventually led to some of that country’s most important anti-hate-crime legislation. Where Shepard’s death got all the breathless coverage it rightly earned, Hester’s passing was marked with silence, or worse, with retrospectives that used her former name and gender, including from the family members who had “accepted” her. That is the fate that awaits far too many of us: the nullity of unmarked graves, discarded names briefly resurrected to insult our memory, attackers facing no consequence for their evil deeds or even celebrated. And in the endless communion between the LGBTQ+ communities of our country and theirs, we, too, commemorate the 20th of November.

Image of Rita Hester, an African-American woman with long braided locks and a dense pearl necklace.
Rita Hester, 1963 – 1998

Every November, we remember the unmarked, unloved, and unknown. We say their names because, too often, their families and newspapers and legal documents will not. In life, we were the place of safety in which they could let their walls down and be their fullest selves, just as they granted us that same grace, and in death, we make sure at least one remembrance knows them as they knew themselves. If the ordinary funeral service is, far too often, a performance for bigots, we provide one for the truth of who they really were, that they may pass into oblivion known for something other than what they worked so hard to leave behind.

It is also a warning. Every name we recite at a Trans Day of Remembrance vigil is someone whose name was not on last year’s list. Every one of us lives until we don’t. The dangers that face us all might discriminate by home country and occupation and dozens of other ways that sociologists can catalog and we can embody—there are so many names from Brazil—but they nevertheless wait for us all. The list is a call to action: fix this broken world or we, too, might be next.

I remember 11 June 2016. A monster whose name I cast into the oblivion he had in mind for us brought a semiautomatic rifle to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on a night when trans women were performing and opened fire. Some of the 50 people he killed were on the next Trans Day of Remembrance list. For most of us here, it was another tragedy in the endless series of tragedies that the misbegotten country to our south vents into our news cycles like so much toxic air. But for me, it was a whole new breed of terror.

The city where that shooter’s disgust with LGBTQ+ people took form? Miami, where my parents live, where I lived for eleven years, whose accent overwrote a little of the accent I had before arriving there. The city where his rampage unfolded? Orlando, where my family vacationed. The people whose crimes against his vision of sinless behavior he decided had to be paid in blood? They looked like me. They had last names like mine and favorite foods like mine and difficult relationships with their families like mine. The part that was not like mine was their fortunes. Mine took me out of that overrated, violent country and into this one. Theirs took some of them into the Trans Day of Remembrance list.

On Trans Day of Remembrance, we who are fortunate remember those of us whose dice were not so kind and declare our dreams of a world in which the consequences of a bad roll are not so hideous.

The interesting thing about the Trans Day of Remembrance list is that it is never complete. Many of us are erased so thoroughly that our deaths register to neither statisticians nor distant compatriots. Some of us arrive on the list unnamed, described but not identified. Many of us are recorded in distant presses and hidden by language barriers. Which kinds of death grant a person a line on this list is often contentious. Even with these absences, time and breath are not infinite. The list must often be abridged.

And there are whole categories who are often set aside, that I think deserve comparable billing. The people I most want to remember today are not the ones taken before their time by actively murderous bigots. It’s the ones that passively murderous bigots work tirelessly to make sure never find ourselves.

Most trans people have one fondest fantasy: that we could have found our truth sooner. Every year earlier that the realization comes is one year less of living a tragic and discontented lie. The younger we find ourselves, the earlier we can correct our hormones and the more anatomical changes we can outright prevent. Some of us even know what lies ahead before we experience puberty and can benefit from the modern top of the clinical line, which prevents the wrong puberty from taking hold at all and spares us physiological ravages that are expensive or impossible to undo in adulthood. To have been spared the widening of my upper torso, the deepening of my voice, the thickening of my androgenic hair…these are beautiful thoughts, too pure for the sullied world we all have the misfortune to inhabit.

Some people in this country want very much for this world to stay sullied. We see it in their outrage that any media depicts gender variance, acknowledges unusual pronouns, or recognizes that romantic relationships don’t have to involve one cis man and one cis woman. We see it in their outrage about “gender ideology” and their favorite turn of phrase, “shoved down our throats.” We see it in their repeated efforts to pretend that “desistance therapy” and “conversion therapy” are anything other than child abuse in medical guise. We see it in their invention out of whole cloth the idea of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” as some kind of social contagion rather than what it really is: children hiding their truth from unsupportive parents until it can no longer be hidden. We see it in the sadly necessary reality of any teacherly inquiry into a child’s preferred pronouns requiring a separate checkbox for whether that child’s parents should be allowed to find out.

If my parents were more attuned to the Anglophone internet, they would have been all over the idea of rapid-onset gender dysphoria. I look back on my tragic imagined boyhood and see sign after sign after sign of the woman I would become. Hindsight makes it all so obvious, but in situ, denial was so much louder. I took decades to recognize the course that became inevitable the moment I saw it before me, and I hid my reality from my parents a while longer. When I told them, they did not reassure me that I still had their love. They did not celebrate the milestone of self-recognition that this required. They did not acknowledge that disclosure of gender variance is an act of profound trust. They did not cheer the arrival of their new eldest daughter. They shouted, they wept for the son they never had, they accused me of driving my ailing grandfather to heartbroken death, they threatened to withhold my final tuition payment and derail my doctoral studies, they refused to use my name or pronouns for multiple years, and they tried to conceal my grandfather’s death from me so that my presence would not “disrupt” the funeral. And, they accused me of being my now-ex’s plaything, put up to all of this by her devious machinations. They could not imagine that I was learning a precious thing about myself that had always been true, and whose denial had caused me nothing but misery for more than twenty years. They treated the moment of my self-actualization as a crime for which I was both victim and murderer, and they sought to both punish and forget. If they had their way, there would be no remembrance.

There are people in Canada who dream of that being the inescapable fate of every trans person.

They fight against modernizing the sexual education curriculum because, among other updates, modern ones acknowledge that trans people exist and that the students receiving this education might be among us. They fight against depiction of trans people in media because those depictions help free us from the image of trans women as tragic sex workers who exclusively service men and who are doomed to violent ends. They fight against the possibility of puberty suppression for trans youth, despite this being a longstanding clinical practice far more often used to treat precocious puberty in cis youth, because this practice is only useful when it arrives before puberty. They concoct new talking points about “giving parents a say” because they know they can leverage this to prevent anything remotely progressive from ever happening in schools, lest bigoted parents not get “their say.” Their goal is, in no uncertain terms, to replace every incipient trans boy and girl and non-binary child with a miserable, confused, misunderstood youth who cannot ever be allowed to know how much better things could be. To those bigots, this is victory. Better a miserable pretend man than a happy trans woman. Better a sad pretend woman than a contented trans man. Better dead than trans.

They don’t want us finding ourselves. They don’t want us being able to act on that knowledge if we find it anyway. They don’t want our legal identities to reflect our realities. At every step, they want us disappeared through the cracks of ignorance, denial, and depression. They want the very possibility of someone like me, who found herself as an adult and who built a life that child her could never imagine yet would immediately recognize, to be too lofty a dream for today’s trans youth. They want the lives some of my friends’ children are living now, with puberty blockers sparing them the ravages of unwanted body changes and leaving them open to far brighter futures, to not only be impossible, but criminal.

When I imagine my friends’ children’s lives in those supportive homes, I weep. I weep because of how beautiful it is that today’s lucky eleven-year-old trans girl gets to go to her high-school prom in a dress. She gets to be seen as who she is in those precocious years in between when dating starts and everything is awkward and fumbling and nervous. She gets to explore girlhood with her peers at the same time that they are, in all its messy splendor. She gets to watch her body take its womanly shape in the same general part of her life that all her peers do. She gets to experience the warmth of friendship with other girls, the joyful intimacy of it, when it can become a formative memory. She gets to be a girl the whole time.

I weep because today’s lucky eleven-year-old trans boy doesn’t have to dread prom photos in the dress his transfeminine counterpart is eager to wear. He doesn’t have to worry about distinctive scars on his chest to remove features he never wanted. He gets to share the milestones of facial hair and voice deepening that his peers are living through. He gets to live the kind of life I can barely articulate because I was never a boy, not in the way he is, and I was a girl in all the ways he isn’t.

And today’s lucky non-binary people? They get to explore their possibilities on a scale that was scarcely imagined when I was small.

I weep for all the tears their parents aren’t shedding.

I don’t get to look at my prom photos or my university graduation photos or my old yearbooks the way they do. I was not allowed to see myself until long after it was too late to get an outcome like theirs. Possibilities were barred from me by a bigoted cultural milieu, by conservative parents, by documentaries that made trans people the objects of such sensation that their humanity never showed, and by the simple lie that being a trans woman required that I be attracted to men. I will carry to my grave the scars, literal and figurative, of that lost time. I will bury so many photos at the bottoms of file cabinets instead of hanging them proudly. I look at today’s lucky trans children and I feel hope that our future can be so, so much brighter, and a stab of sadness at the childhood I was forced to misspend, and confused wonder at the very idea that a relationship with one’s parents could be so honest and kind. I envy them.

In much of the world, even the developed world, a harrowing number of us never get to find ourselves. We slide into statistics about teenage depression, we self-medicate to oblivion with illicit substances, and we appear in the obituary pages before anyone could see our true light, even ourselves. Thanks to adults who have conservative morality where their recognition of their child’s best interests should be, untold multitudes of girls and boys and non-binary people never find out what they are and live with the preternatural sense of wrongness that comes with that denial, until they don’t. And if anti-trans ideologues have their way, every happy trans eleven-year-old looking forward to prom photos that reflect their true self will be replaced with one of these. Better dead, they say, than trans.

I expect few here truly understand how painful that experience is. To be trans and not know it yet is to feel everything through layers of fog. We recognize the wrongness of every sensation, every emotion, every movement of a body whose shape is mismatched and it bellows its unending chorus into our minds, “wrong, wrong, WRONG, everything is WRONG,” and feeling anything becomes less and less possible. The mind shields itself against the sheer visceral body horror that the endocrine system is unleashing with its unwanted puberty, and having a body at all becomes something to resent. The whole personality gets reshaped around not being seen, because the punishments for transgressing the boundaries of this unwanted gender are swift and often violent. Community with the people who are truly like us, who match our inner shape, is fleeting, hesitant, and difficult, when the outside refuses to comply. I spent years, literal years, barely able to recognize my own reflection because it felt like looking at a stranger. My body was a prison I carried with me and I had no hope of ever feeling different. Were I less driven by routine and ambition I would have been like so many others: taking drugs in a futile attempt to silence that mental chorus of “wrong, wrong, everything is WRONG,” watching the rest of my life barely hold together, until the last, most final silence started to sound better and better.

And if I had, I would never have made it to the Trans Day of Remembrance list.

That is the cruelty that anti-trans ideologues crave for us: to bury us so thoroughly in denial and self-loathing that we never find ourselves or each other. They want the very idea of people like us to be so utterly expunged from our collective sense of possibility that the next girl who could grow up to be me, the next boy avoiding chest scars via puberty blockers, and the next non-binary child who finds a name for what they are and smiles at the recognition that they aren’t broken, is instead another case of “untreatable” teenage depression and another line on the obituary pages. They want us to die unseen, unknown, unloved, and unwanted.

They kill us because they find us both titillating and shameful. They kill us because they hate what we represent. They kill us because we show them that this world is so much less fixed and unchanging than they wish it was. They kill us because our existence upends the tidy order of their universe. They kill us because their reputation will abide them being murderers more than it will abide them letting us live. Every one of those is a horrific crime we have no choice but to remember. Their brutality reminds us that acceptance is fragile, life is fleeting, and progress remains to be made. And the crime atop all those crimes is that they don’t just want to kill people, but possibilities. The ones who died their tragic deaths after finding themselves, choosing their new names, and living a life that crossed the edge of safety one time too many are only the opening salvo of their firing squad. To do justice to this day, we must remember more than the ones who died visible enough to arrive on our sad, sad list. And today, I make special emphasis for the ones we never got to meet because this world, and the same people killing us directly, took them from us before they could even know themselves.

I want to remember those people because, more than the anti-trans violence that finds too many of us every year, it is this fate that our haters want to impose.

We have all seen the famous photo of a Nazi book-burning. The heap of books, the flames, the crowd tossing more onto the pyre, it is etched into our memories through every history book. Far less commonly known is where those texts came from. The place that the fascists looted that day was Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, or Institute for Sexual Studies, and the documents on that pyre included pioneering research on transgender people. As early as the 1920s, Hirschfeld and his colleagues had data on the power of hormone replacement therapy and gender-affirming surgery. The loss of Hirschfeld’s archive set the science about us back decades. Like all right-wing monsters, the Nazis saw these archives as a threat. They wanted us, not just us the people but us the idea, us the possibility, expunged. It was the worst kind of funeral.

A Nazi official tossing books and documents onto a raging fire while others stand nearby.
The worst kind of funeral.

I want us all to remember that underneath the bootheel of every conservative demanding that gender-affirming content be removed from school curricula or put up to bigoted parents’ “personal choice” are untold multitudes of gender-variant children who will, with that loss, never learn the facts about themselves that will enable them to see life as worth living. I want us all to remember that the price of denying puberty blockers to trans youth is measured not in dollars saved but in newspaper snippets full of the phrase “taken far too soon.”

I want us all to remember that part of the reason conservatives get to pretend that being trans is some newfangled cultural contagion is that their ideological compatriots destroyed so much knowledge about us that we are only now ascending past what was on the pyre in that book-burning photo.

And I want us all to remember, not just the ones who met violent ends in the past 365 days, but the ones we never got to meet because an anti-trans world succeeded at hiding them not just from us, but from themselves.

Trans Day of Remembrance is a funeral for the unloved subaltern of this world, and some of them died so unloved that they themselves did not know the community who could have held them close.

It is also a call to action, a demand bellowed into a thankless sky: no more. No more deaths, and no more denial. Not one more child struggling to express that she’s a daughter, not a son, lacking even the language to articulate why this is her last day. Not one more child told that, thanks to the results of some election, that the puberty he thought he could keep from twisting his body beyond recognition is now inevitable. Not one more that we never get to meet because the last trace of them on this earth is an obituary under a name that isn’t theirs.

That is what this day is. This day is our annual reckoning with those we have lost, those we never knew, and those we demand have the chance to know us someday.

We will remember, and we will be remembered.

They burned Magnus’s archive. They’re still fighting the new sex-ed curriculum. They’re still killing us in the streets and in our bedrooms.

But ideas are tenacious things.

Trans Day of Remembrance is something we usually hold for ourselves. But this time, you’re here to remember with us. I hope you remember for eons to come. I hope you never forget.

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Mapo Tofu, Alyssa Style https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/10/28/mapo-tofu-alyssa-style/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/10/28/mapo-tofu-alyssa-style/#respond Fri, 28 Oct 2022 20:24:29 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7648 The post Mapo Tofu, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Chinese cooking is an underrated home-cooking option outside of its original home, and it’s not difficult for this Western-educated home cook to see why. With its different sensibilities about what kinds of cookware and tools are critical for a well-stocked kitchen, its reliance on ingredients that are likely unfamiliar to people used to food with other origins, and its characteristic sensibility about food pairings that can make it difficult to combine with food from other traditions, Chinese cooking often feels like a wholly separate discipline from other culinary affairs. It isn’t—all cooking is connected—but the feeling is hard to shake when every recipe calls for a wok and mentions spices that are rare in non-Chinese spice cabinets. Chinese-American cooking is what it is in part because of how Chinese foodways adapted to both American palates and American ingredients, creating a fusion cuisine as beautiful as any of its influences. It only takes a little ingenuity to make classic Chinese dishes work with the tools this Puerto Rican home cook has at her disposal in a kitchen that really doesn’t need one more pot or pan in it, and today’s success is the much-loved Sichuanese classic called mapo tofu.

Often translated as “pockmarked grandmother’s bean curd,” this unappetizing name hides culinary splendor. Mapo tofu is perhaps the preeminent example of the Chinese málà (“numbing spicy”) flavor profile. This spice combination mixes red chili pepper (originally native to the Americas) with the dried berries of the Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum bungeanum), an unrelated plant native to central China. Where the red chili peppers provide the fiery heat of capsaicin, Sichuan pepper’s biochemical claim to fame is hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, which causes a mild numbing sensation that synergizes beautifully with the capsaicin’s heat. This flavor profile is a sensory seeker’s dream.

Conveniently for the Western chef, much of the flavor of mapo tofu is contained within one of its key ingredients and a cornerstone of Sichuan cooking, doubanjiang chili bean paste. This is a paste made of fermented broad beans (fava beans to Americans), chili peppers, oil, and a blend of spices that varies from place to place and manufacturer to manufacturer. This paste can be made at home by a determined chef with access to some ingredients that might be hard to find outside of the best-stocked Chinatown markets, but can also be purchased from grocery stores that sell prepared Chinese foods, which is how I get mine. When looking for doubanjiang, make sure it is the spicy kind (marked with the characters 豆瓣酱) rather than non-spicy varieties of bean paste meant for other dishes. Sichuan peppercorns can be purchased from Chinese markets in most major cities or mail-ordered without much fuss as well; for best results, get intact peppercorns rather than ground pepper.

There is no substitution for either doubanjiang or Sichuan pepper in this recipe. Both are essential to the flavor of mapo tofu and, without them, whatever has been made might or might not be a pleasant experience but definitely isn’t mapo tofu.

Tofu is, by now, familiar to most Western cooking enthusiasts. Tofu is made by soaking and blending soybeans into soy milk and chemically coagulating it into cheese-like curds. Different varieties of tofu have different levels of firmness, different amounts of the original soybean flavor persisting, different chemical coagulants, different subsequent processing steps, and different culinary applications, much as there are an infinite variety of cheeses. Unlike cheese, however, tofu is primarily protein, with comparatively little fat content, making it a popular meat alternative for vegetarians. Mapo tofu is traditionally made from blocks of soft tofu, but I have had the most success with what is sold as “extra firm tofu” at my local Costco.

One way I have innovated on traditional recipes is that I have added Filipino spicy longganisa sausage, a chorizo-like sausage available in the same Asian markets where I buy most of the other ingredients. Mapo tofu is traditionally flavored with a little minced pork or ground beef, which adds an additional savory element to the overall dish. I buy and freeze ground beef in quantities meant for dishes in which it is a dominant ingredient, so setting some aside for this dish is not a simple matter for me. I have found that using longanisa adds a little jolt of flavor that ordinary ground beef or pork would not, plus it is easier for me to partition and freeze in appropriate quantities and thaw as needed. I also find that the addition of frozen mixed vegetables provides a little extra time for adding seasonings at a critical step while also putting more mixed vegetables in my diet, which is always welcome.

This mapo tofu recipe serves four when provided with its customary accompaniment, white rice. I include instructions on making rice that is an especially good match for mapo tofu’s flavor profile. This recipe reheats well, but the spring onion garnish should be withheld from stored portions and added as needed for best effect.

Mapo tofu, white cubes stained red and served with red-brown sauce on white rice and garnished with scallion greens.
Glorious.

Equipment

To make the tofu and sauce, you will need your preferred cutting and measuring tools, a mortar and pestle, a cutting board, a large saucepan, a large spatula, and your preferred source of bottom-up heat. The way I’ve done it here also involves a Thai lucky iron fish, but this is firmly optional.

Mapo tofu is traditionally made in a wok, the roughly conical style of pot that is emblematic of Chinese cooking. I have found that, in the quantities in which I make mapo tofu, my trusty aluminum caldero is sufficient. It’s not a perfect match to the wok’s properties, but it gets me close enough.

To make the rice, you will need either a second caldero or a rice cooker.

Ingredients

More than most recipes I write, this recipe relies on ingredients encountering each other in a specific order or joining the main dish at specific points in the overall cooking process. This table groups the ingredients accordingly. Make sure all ingredients in a given table row are ready at the same time before moving on to their step. Some of these combination steps are more flexible than others.

  • Water, 4 cups and then a little more.
  • Lemon juice, 1 squirt
  • Salt, to taste, for rice
  • Rice, 2 cups
  • Sichuan peppercorns, whole, 1 tablespoon
  • Spicy longganisa sausage, 75 g. Substitute ground beef or minced pork.
  • Extra firm tofu, 400 g. This is the size of one block from Costco.
  • Water for simmering
  • Salt, 2 tablespoons, for tofu
  • Cooking oil, as needed
  • Asafoetida/hing to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon
  • Water, 1 cup
  • Beef bouillon powder, 1 tablespoon
  • Frozen mixed vegetables, 1 cup
  • Vinegar, 1 teaspoon. Dark vinegar is best, but white vinegar seems to work well enough.
  • Cornstarch, 1 teaspoon
  • Water, 1 tablespoon.
  • Sesame oil, 1 tablespoon
  • Scallions / spring onions / green onions (green part only) to garnish

 

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: Note that asafoetida/hing, longganisa, and doubanjiang may or may not contain wheat flour depending on how they are prepared. Use gluten-free variations where necessary.
  • 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. The use of fermented items such as tofu and doubanjiang reduces the FODMAP risk relative to their non-fermented counterparts.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan:  The meat content of this dish can be removed entirely or substituted with a different savory flavor addition such as mushrooms, textured vegetable protein, or vegetable stock without compromising its essential character. Substitutions may require an adjustment to the cooking time.

Preparation

Rice

  1. Boil 4 cups of water with a generous squirt of lemon juice. I add my Thai lucky iron fish as well. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. This water will be used for the rice.
  2. When the water has cooled enough to touch without pain (usually around Step 7 or 8), re-measure it and make up the difference from the desired 4 cups with more water. Add it, the rice, and some salt to the rice cooker and cook rice per package instructions. Leave on the “keep warm” setting until serving.

Tofu and Sauce

  1. Toast the Sichuan peppercorns by placing them in the caldero on medium-low heat and moving them around until their fragrance dramatically increases in intensity. The textured bottom of the caldero may make the other sign of successful toasting, small oil spots on the pan, difficult to see. Remove the caldero from the heat before the peppercorns burn.
  2. Crush the toasted Sichuan peppercorns from Step 3 in the mortar and pestle until they are a coarse powder. I find that the presence of some larger pieces adds pleasant texture to the final product, but grinding them finely is also suitable. Use a spice grinder instead if desired. Set aside.
  3. Drain the tofu and dry it on all sides with paper towels to remove excess surface moisture. Set aside wrapped in paper towels.
  4. Extract the longanisa from its casing. Discard the casing and mince the filling finely. It will likely not cleanly separate into bits yet, but this step helps it do so later. Set aside.
  5. Place the doubanjiang on the cutting board and finely mince it with a knife. This cuts the large beans inside it into smaller pieces, which is important for the final texture. Set aside.
  6. Slice the drained tofu block from Step 5 into 1” cubes. For mine, that means slicing the block into an array 2 high × 5 long × 5 wide.
  7. Check on the water from Step 1 and complete Step 2.
  8. Fill the saucepan with water, add 2 tablespoons of salt, and add the tofu cubes from Step 6. Simmer gently for about 2-3 minutes and then remove from heat. The tofu should be slightly swollen compared to its previous appearance. Set aside as-is.
  9. Add cooking oil to the caldero and raise heat to medium-high. Add the minced longanisa from Step 6 and cook until it is visibly done, which should only be a few minutes.
  10. Add the minced doubanjiang from Step 7 and lower heat to medium. Cook until the oil takes on the red color of the doubanjiang, which should only take another 1-2 minutes, stirring often. Doubanjiang burns easily, so pay attention at this step.
  11. Add asafoetida and Cayenne pepper and fry for another 1-2 minutes.
  12. Add 1 cup of water, beef bouillon powder, and frozen mixed vegetables.
  13. Add sugar, soy sauce, and cooking wine.
  14. Drain the tofu cubes from Step 10 and add them to the Make sure they are at a strong simmer and move them gently around the caldero to keep them from sticking or burning. Do not stir or they will break. Continue simmering for 3-4 minutes to reduce.
  15. Add crushed Sichuan peppercorns from Step 4 and vinegar.
  16. Mix the 1 teaspoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water to make a slurry and add the slurry to the This enables the cornstarch to remain suspended in the water while it mixes with the sauce, preventing it from clumping and causing it to instead thicken the sauce.
  17. Cook for a few more seconds, then add the sesame oil. If a thicker sauce is desired, cook a little longer to reduce a little more or add more slurry, but be wary of burning the sauce.
  18. Remove from heat and serve with rice from Step 2 / Step 9.
  19. Chop green onion greens for garnish.

 

This is the dish that convinced me that tofu could taste like something other than cold scrambled eggs. I tried it once, at a friend’s home, and immediately fell in such love with it that it became a regular part of my culinary rotation. It has also inspired me to make small, so far abortive forays into adapting its flavor profile for other dishes. I don’t like having things in my kitchen that are reserved for one specific use, but for mapo tofu, keeping longanisa, doubanjiang, Chinese cooking wine, and tofu on hand is worth it. I hope my variation, a little easier on the kitchen budget than the exemplary version I used as a model, serves you well.

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It Is Time – A Love Story For Clocks https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/10/21/it-is-time-a-love-story-for-clocks/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/10/21/it-is-time-a-love-story-for-clocks/#respond Fri, 21 Oct 2022 14:29:06 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7645 The post It Is Time – A Love Story For Clocks appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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“Time…to DIE!?” the pendulum clock gasped. She had never had a large novelty d20 inside her before and the sensation was altogether more than she had imagined was even possible.

So hot.
“Nothing so dramatic, Tempralina. Before the grand mort, I think we all deserve a little petit mort. Doesn’t that…ring true?”
The pendulum clock chimed involuntarily. She was always so bad at concealing the rhythm of her thoughts.
“I do so enjoy how your wheels turn, my little timepiece. The precision, the grace, the…swinging.”
She vibrated. If there’s anything clocks like, it’s anticipation.
“Let’s take this elsewhere, Tempralina. I think it’s…time.”

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Time Travel in Dragon Ball Z and Super, Now with Cladograms https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/10/05/time_travel_in_dbz_cladograms/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/10/05/time_travel_in_dbz_cladograms/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2022 01:09:10 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7620 The post Time Travel in Dragon Ball Z and Super, Now with Cladograms appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Cladograms are a versatile diagramming tool for tracking changing events with heritable consequences. They were developed for biology and are used primarily to track evolution and speciation, showing how different organisms, genes, or populations are related to each other and which events caused them to become distinct. Although cladograms are best known for their increasing prevalence in biological literature, their logic is flexible enough to be used in numerous other fields as well. In particular, linguistics, archaeology, and computer engineering all have roles for cladograms, because all these fields have something in common with biology: an interest in tracking shared past events through future divergence.

This connection to the ideas of past and future gives cladograms another, surprising purpose: they can be used to map the mess of time-travel-related parallel universes in the Dragon Ball franchise.

Spoilers ahoy for the second two-thirds of Dragon Ball Z and the first half of Dragon Ball Super as presented in their anime adaptations.

Kaio-What?

The Dragon Ball franchise starts as a fantastical exploration of Shinto mythology and martial-arts shenanigans, featuring a core cast strongly themed on characters from the Chinese epic novel Journey to the West. Protagonist Son Goku is patterned after Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, and various quests take Goku on a path of martial-arts prowess that culminates in defeating magical demon kings bent on global conquest. The sequel series Dragon Ball Z is more grounded in theme and less grounded in scope, setting aside a lot of the martial-arts mysticism in favor of turning the series in a more science-fiction direction with space travel, aliens, robots, and genetic engineering and cranking characters’ personal power and ability to launch energy attacks at each other to a planet-destroying scale. In third installment Dragon Ball Super, the spacefaring and technological elements are retained and an additional emphasis is added to the Shinto-inspired cosmic hierarchy of gods and angels that supervises and maintains the cosmos. Throughout, the Dragon Ball franchise maintains a tradition of giving characters names with specific silly patterns: Saiyans are named after vegetables, members of the galactic tyrant Frieza’s species are all named after devices or concepts associated with cold, destroyer gods are named after varieties of alcohol, the billionaire inventor’s family surname is “Brief” and every member thereof is named after some sort of undergarment, and so on. It is an epic, deeply silly, thrilling, high-spectacle show that in no way deserves the seriousness with which I will treat it today. And it adds time travel about halfway through Dragon Ball Z.

In order to avoid time-travel paradoxes but still enable travel into the past, the Dragon Ball franchise ascribes to a version of time-travel multiverse theory. In time-travel multiverse theory, a time traveler arriving in the past (but not the future) effectively spawns a parallel timeline. The result of time travel into the past is two distinct timelines: one in which the time traveler arrived in the past, and one in which they did not. Each timeline contains a complete cosmos, including realms not directly affected by the time traveler’s arrival. In this way, causality is kept intact. This means that a basic map of time-travel-related timeline creation starts with the timeline in which no time travelers from the future ever arrive and grows ever more time-traveler-laden from there, with all branches persisting thereafter. It’s a cladogram! What’s more, where a biologist could mark traits that appear at specific points in a lineage’s evolutionary history, we can mark events that define each timeline as they continue to split and multiply.

What’s interesting about time travel in the Dragon Ball franchise is that it is possible for characters to migrate between specific, known timelines once they become aware of their existence and to carry information between them. In the cladogram analogy, this is the same kind of thing as horizontal gene transfer in biology, loanwords and sprachbund effects in linguistics, trade in archaeology, and so on: ways for timelines to influence each other without being each other’s immediate antecedent. These make identifying the exact points of divergence between timelines a little complicated but do not fundamentally prevent a cladogram from demonstrating the general layout of the Dragon Ball franchise’s timescape.

Note that, in the Dragon Ball franchise, “universe” is used to refer to each of twelve discrete realms, all of which exist in every timeline unless destroyed somehow. Because this becomes relevant later, this article maintains a strict distinction between universes and timelines, the term “multiverse theory” notwithstanding.

Since this exercise deals with time travel and most events in Dragon Ball canon have canonical (if not always exact) dates, it feels natural to turn this cladogram into a chronogram / ultrametric tree, with a list of years marking the noteworthy events.

Our Travelers

Our four time travelers are Trunks, Cell, Whis, and Zamasu.

Trunks is hero traveling from an apocalyptic timeline he hopes to avert. As the time traveler who makes the most trips into the past by far, Trunks is responsible for most of the timelines observed in Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super and those postulated here but not directly seen.

Cell is a genetically engineered cyber-being combining traits and abilities from all the most powerful beings to inhabit or visit Earth within the lifetime of the evil scientist Dr. Gero. Cell makes one trip, but it is momentous enough to affect multiple timelines.

Whis is an angel who is empowered to travel through time to a limited degree to assist the destruction god Beerus in his duty to preserve the divine order of the cosmos.

Zamasu is a Kai, part of the divine hierarchy of the Dragon Ball franchise, who turns to omnicidal evil and uses time travel to attempt to achieve his goals. Zamasu is from the Tenth Universe.

A detailed cladogram depicting the diverging timelines of the Dragon Ball franchise and discussed in detail in this article.
Small lines crossing the thicker lines mark events. Red arrows indicate travel to the past which precipitates new timelines. Blue arrows indicate travel to the future which does not.

First Principles

One might expect the divergence points in the Dragon Ball Timeline Cladogram to relate to the specific years in which past-bound time travelers arrive, but that does not appear to be the case. Instead, the divergences appear to happen in an order related to those time travelers’ departures. In particular, even though Cell is the first of these time travelers to arrive chronologically, the branch his arrival creates seems to presuppose Trunks’s subsequent arrival.

The six timelines that have appeared so far will be called the Prime Timeline, Remote Timeline, Black Timeline, Cell Timeline, Doomed Timeline, and Refuge Timeline in this article. Prior to their divergence, the as-yet-unsplit timelines will bear hyphenated names. For example, the segment that the Cell, Doomed, and Refuge Timelines share before each timeline diverges is called the Cell-Doomed-Refuge Timeline.

A Trunk Full of Time

The first divergence point in the Dragon Ball Timeline Cladogram is whether Trunks makes his earliest time-travel arrival in the in-universe year 764. There are three timelines on either side of this question, precipitated by later events, but this single moment fractures what was, as far as we the viewer are concerned, a single timeline and starts the cascading evolution to come. The timeline in which no Trunks arrives in the past is the Cell-Doomed-Refuge Timeline and the one in which he arrives is the Remote-Black-Prime Timeline. Prior to this divergence, all of Dragon Ball and the first two sagas of Dragon Ball Z unfold, including main character Goku defeating the galactic tyrant Frieza on the dying planet Namek and Frieza, now a cyborg, arriving on Earth to seek revenge. Also shared between all timelines at this point in the continuity is the beginning of Zamasu’s moral downfall, in which he becomes disillusioned with mortals’ ability to live upright lives and begins to think the cosmos would be better off without them.

A teenager wearing voluminous black pants, yellow boots, a tight sleeveless shirt, a cropped purple jacket, and a sword belted across his torso. His hair is lavender and his expression is intense.
This man is responsible for so many timeline breaks that his name is a curse word among the gods.

Because the Cell-Doomed-Refuge Timeline is, at this point in the process, not yet affected by time travel, it provides a baseline against which to understand the events of its counterpart. In the Cell-Doomed-Refuge Timeline, Goku defeats Frieza a second time but later succumbs to a virus that damages his heart. A few months later, two cyborgs named Android 17 and Android 18 destroy most of human civilization and kill most of the other named characters. It is this apocalypse that Trunks heads into the past hoping to avert. Tragically, multiverse theory means that he cannot prevent these events in his own timeline, but he can precipitate another (the Remote-Black-Prime Timeline) in which they do not happen. Unbeknownst to Trunks or anyone else, Cell is also present in the Cell-Doomed-Refuge timeline, looking for Android 17 and Android 18 so that he can capture and absorb them into his body.

In the Remote-Black-Prime Timeline, Trunks defeats the restored Frieza himself, brings Goku medicine for his oncoming heart virus, and warns the other main characters of the incoming cyborg threat. This time-travel interference results in the androids that appear on the appointed day not being 17 and 18, however, but new threats named Android 19 and Android 20, who are summarily defeated. Late-coming Android 17 and Android 18 (both much more powerful than their iterations in the Cell-Doomed-Refuge Timeline) and an additional new Android 16 then join the fray, severely challenging the heroes even with Goku and Trunks present and healthy. With the help of schematics looted from the laboratory in which the cyborgs were created, the team creates a remote that can cause Androids 17 and 18 to self-destruct if it is used close to them.

Technically, Trunks makes two trips here (one to provide warning and a second to join the fight against the Androids), but his second trip appears to have had no consequences for the timeline that his first trip is not sufficient to explain.

It is from here that two more events calve off two more timelines.

A Fated Pair

The key divergence event is the arrival of Cell. Technically, Cell arrives a year before Trunks’s first visit to the past, but the timeline only makes sense if this is where Cell begins to affect the course of events and this is where he appears in the narrative. As before, it seems to be the order of departures, rather than arrivals, that matters. Cell, as stated earlier, is a time traveler hailing from the Cell-Doomed-Refuge Timeline, just as Trunks is. Cell’s arrival splits the Remote-Black-Prime Timeline. In the Remote Timeline, cell never arrives, and Trunks takes the remote back to the Cell-Doomed-Refuge Timeline. In so doing, Trunks creates the Cell Timeline as a branch of the Cell-Doomed-Refuge Timeline.

In the Cell Timeline, Trunks destroys that timeline’s Android 17 and Android 18 with the remote (or by other means; canon is unclear and Trunks was strong enough to defeat them on his own, but the remote is highly likely). This ends their rampage across the planet and unwittingly thwarts Cell’s plan to absorb them. Cell retaliates by killing Trunks and stealing his time machine. His arrival marks the Black-Prime Timeline.

A bright green insect-like being stands behind a capsule-shaped vehicle with its hood open.
Trunks’s time machine caused THIS divergence, too.

The Cell Timeline and the Remote Timeline are not explored in any detail in Dragon Ball franchise canon. It stands to reason that the Cell Timeline might involve the people of Earth rebuilding civilization, since in this timeline the various cyborgs are dead, departed to other timelines, or never created. The Remote Timeline is a greater mystery. Without the absolutely massive effect Cell has on the Black-Prime Timeline, how the defeat of Android 16, Android 17, and Android 18, as well as other future events, transpires is hard to predict with any certainty. One fact is certain, however: thanks to an action the destruction god Beerus takes soon, neither of these timelines has to deal with the appearance of Goku Black.

Similarly, the next timelines to diverge again do so because of a paired event.

Prime Time

In the Black-Prime Timeline, the heroes defeat Cell and also destroy his fetal form gestating in the same laboratory that spawned the other cyborgs, preventing the Black-Prime Timeline from having its own Cell to manage. Now more powerful than before, Trunks returns to the Doomed-Refuge Timeline, removing him from subsequent events in the Black-Prime Timeline for several years. In this span, the main characters of the Black-Prime Timeline defeat various threats, including the supernatural weapon Majin Buu and a resurrected, newly empowered Frieza, and also form an ersatz friendship with Beerus, the destroyer god assigned to their universe.

In the Doomed-Refuge Timeline, Trunks was able to deal with Android 17, Android 18, and Cell and prevent the appearance of Majin Buu with his now far-greater strength. Eventually, a new threat emerged to ravage his apocalyptic timeline, appearing to be this timeline’s long-dead Goku dressed uncharacteristically in black and wielding unusual divine powers. Unable to deal with this “Goku Black” himself and without powerful allies thanks to the Androids’ rampage, he has come to the Black-Prime Timeline to ask for some of its powerful fighters to return with him to help. In so doing, he split the timeline again, into the Black Timeline and the Prime Timeline.

In the Prime Timeline, Trunks’s arrival enables Beerus to notice something about Goku Black that gets him thinking. The team visits the Prime Timeline’s Tenth Universe to check in with its cosmic leadership, the Supreme Kai Gowasu and his apprentice Zamasu. This investigation reveals that Zamasu is definitely connected to Goku Black in some way. Whis and Beerus watch from hiding as Zamasu kills Gowasu. Satisfied that this divine crime must now be averted, Whis uses his ability to travel backward in time to restore the moment before Zamasu killed Gowasu and Beerus uses his abilities as a destruction god to destroy Zamasu in all timelines. Or rather, most.

Zamasu, a green-skinned humanoid wearing purple and blue clothing, stands motionless while Beerus, a deep purple anthropomorphic sphinx cat, eliminates him and all but two of his timeline counterparts. Goku, a muscular man in orange with wild hair, observes.
Close, but no cigar.

Unfortunately, in the Black Timeline, Trunks never arrived with his warning and Beerus never destroyed Zamasu. Without Beerus to destroy him, Zamasu used a magic item (the Black Timeline’s Super Dragon Balls) to steal Goku’s body for himself and another magic item (a Time Ring) to travel to the Doomed-Refuge Timeline, render himself immune to timeline meddling, and ally with that timeline’s Zamasu. This second Zamasu uses the Doomed-Refuge Timeline’s Super Dragon Balls to render himself indestructible even by divine means. The two Zamasus implement “Project Zero Mortals,” aiming to destroy every mortal being in the Doomed-Refuge Timeline as well as the cosmic hierarchy of all twelve of that timeline’s universes, trying to create a timeline completely devoid of life. These two events meant that, when the Prime Timeline’s Beerus purged every version of Zamasu from across the timelines, these two iterations of Zamasu were unaffected. The Prime Timeline would be free of Zamasu’s betrayal, but thanks to the Black Timeline’s existence, the Doomed-Refuge Timeline would still be subject to the two Zamasus’ omnicidal onslaught and they might yet emerge to threaten other timelines. Nothing else is known about the Black Timeline, although since it, like the Prime Timeline, does not have a Zamasu or a Goku Black in it, it is probably very similar to the Prime Timeline.

In the Doomed-Refuge Timeline, Goku, Trunks, and the other main characters face off against the Black Timeline’s Goku Black and the Doomed-Refuge Timeline’s Zamasu, eventually killing Goku Black. Zamasu’s divine indestructibility ultimately means that their only option is to call for help from the Doomed-Refuge Timeline’s Grand Zeno, the Omni-King and the sole being in the cosmos to which no rules apply. Grand Zeno erases the entire Doomed-Refuge Timeline from existence, including Zamasu, and Goku and the other heroes escape only through divine intervention.

As an additional act of divine justice, Whis and Beerus travel to before the Black-Prime Timeline split and eliminate Zamasu then. Since the versions of Zamasu and Goku Black that the team battled in the Doomed-Refuge Timeline are still immune to such destruction, this splits the timeline one last time. One timeline, the Doomed Timeline, is the one that Grand Zeno ultimately erases, while the other, the Refuge Timeline, is one whose Zamasu was destroyed before he could rebel and into which Goku Black never arrived. The Refuge Timeline would provide a familiar home for the handful of survivors of the Doomed Timeline, in particular Trunks the incorrigible timeline-splitter. The Doomed Timeline’s Grand Zeno, however, migrates to the Prime Timeline to reign alongside the Prime Timeline’s Grand Zeno. (The events that precipitate the Refuge Timeline in the manga are different.)

Two childlike beings with blue and purple skin hold ands and smile while a muscular man in orange stands self-satisfied behind them.
Thus does timeline tomfoolery yield two supreme beings in the Prime Timeline, one hailing from a cosmos that never existed. Thanks, Trunks, I guess?

The End?

This is as much time-travel tomfoolery as my current watch of the Dragon Ball franchise has shown me, and my limited reading of fan wiki entries tells me there is relatively little more in what remains. The result is a surprisingly symmetrical set of diverging timelines that matches the number of Time Rings (canonically one for each timeline) seen on screen in Dragon Ball Super. It is also an interesting exercise in how the logic of cladograms is sufficiently robust to analogize to even very unlikely subject matter, up to and including tracking a multiverse of timelines full of people with names like “King Cold,” “Piccolo,” and “Garlic Junior.” Here’s hoping I can find even sillier examples to test out in the future.

And none of this even acknowledges that the 12 Dragon Ball Z movies effectively exist in a separate continuity whose relationship to this cladogram is best described with a noncommittal shrug. Gotta love time travel.

The post Time Travel in Dragon Ball Z and Super, Now with Cladograms appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Mexican-Inspired Oatmeal Cookies, Alyssa Style https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/09/16/mexican-inspired-oatmeal-cookies-alyssa-style/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2022/09/16/mexican-inspired-oatmeal-cookies-alyssa-style/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2022 01:08:01 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7617 The post Mexican-Inspired Oatmeal Cookies, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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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.

Equipment

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

Ingredients

  • 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.

Preparation

  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.

 

The post Mexican-Inspired Oatmeal Cookies, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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