Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Great British Baking Show's Sarawak Style Cake--can I make a kek lapis?

Last week I watched the Great British Baking Show episode 7, "Festival Week" in which the contestants have to make a Sarawak style cake.  When the hosts announced that this was a cake in which the layers were grilled, my jaw dropped, wondering if they were going to have stove-top grills, or set up outdoors.

It turns out "grilled" is a Britishism for "broiled" (or else "broiled" is an Americanism for "grilled"--you know what I mean.) Even so, I'd never seen a cake broiled layer by layer, nor one that gets cut up and reassembled like a strip-pieced quilt to create colorful geometric patterns. It seemed such an odd way to create a thinly layered, colorful cake that of course I had to try the technique myself.

I had no ambitions to go the whole way and create a mosaic made of cake. I just wanted to make a colorful layered cake using this completely new (to me) method. So I looked up some recipes.

Quite a few of the recipes for sarawak kek lapis were not in English, which makes sense since it is apparently a Malaysian specialty. I did find one in English that didn't take a dozen eggs to make--only seven. (Kek Lapis--Indonesian Layer Cake.) The layers weren't colored and it seemed very mildly spiced, but I tried it, adding orange zest and cardamom and food coloring to make alternating layers.

Unfortunately, I was so nervous about overcooking the layers that I ended up undercooking them. When I tasted the edges, I realized that I hadn't flavored it enough either. It did have pretty layers, though, where they weren't gooey and underbaked.

Attempt at a sarawak kek lapis style cake with pink and yellow layersView of the layers of attempt at sarawak kek lapis cake

Something about the process of piling batter upon partially cooked batter made me think of pancakes. You know how the underside of a pancake shows where the first scoop of batter landed, and where subsequent additions of batter spread out from it? I decided to try making a version of kek lapis using pancake batter. I used an extra egg, thinking it would cook more quickly that way, and some extra sugar (pancakes aren't very sweet by themselves.) I divided the batter into four bowls and colored them brightly.

I did get layers, albeit very, very uneven ones, and I did cook it all the way through. However, the result was very eggy, like the inside of a popover, only heavier. While I like popovers, I don't like heavy, eggy cakes. The second try at a Sarawak style cake ended up in the compost like the first.

A four-layered attempt at making a sarawak style cake using pancake batter in green, yellow, pink and blue

Finally I decided to use a familiar cake recipe, a hot-milk sponge cake from the Better Homes and Gardens (1996) cookbook. It's a very sweet cake, but reasonably airy and light on butter, so I thought it might do. Also, it requires only two eggs and doesn't require that the whites be separated out and whipped, which makes it a lot easier that the first kek lapis recipe. I added orange zest, then divided the batter into four bowls and added cocoa powder to two of them and food coloring to the other two.

Oops--stirring in the cocoa and food coloring definitely took away some of the carefully fluffed up volume. As the bowls of batter sat waiting their turn in the oven, I could see bubbles appearing on the surface. Not good. Perhaps I should have waited to stir in the color of each bowl until just before pouring it into the pan.

After baking--I mean broiling--the layers, I put the cake in the center of the oven at a more usual 350 to finish baking. I didn't want another underbaked cake.

The result? Very uneven layers, but layers nonetheless. And with the orange zest, cocoa powder, and huge amount of sugar--a moderately tasty cake.

Hot-milk sponge cake with orange and cocoa layers, broiled like sarawak cake
I'm not sure when I would actually need such a cake, but perhaps I might want squares of colorful cake for some festive occasion.

Squares of hot-milk sponge cake with orange and cocoa layers, broiled like sarawak cake

Now that I've finally created an edible cake in the style of sarawak kek lapis--or at least the first stage of a kek lapis--I think I can move on to other baked goods. Time to watch some more Great British Baking Show!

Till next post.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Mini-Backpack, Round Two

Some time ago, I sewed a mini-backpack that was loosely based on the mini-backpack I use regularly as a purse. I always meant to have another try, hoping to produce a mini-backpack that was more attractive, less floppy, and lined. Finally, here's attempt number two.

The denim mini-backpack.

I think it came out pretty well, despite some problems during sewing. In the photo, it is stuffed to make it look better, but it retains some shape even empty. For one thing, I used plastic "string" from the string trimmer (e.g. Weed Whacker) to give the back edge some stiffness.

I did try a lining this time, though I didn't line the entire inside. Ideally, the lining would have pockets. Maybe the next version will.

View of backpack lining.

The problems I ran into varied from the difficulty of dealing with heavy denim (thank goodness for the sewing machine with walking foot!) to problems with measurements to getting the adjustable strap hardware to work.

Some of these measurements are wrong.

That last problem had a lot to do with the straps being made of heavy denim. I couldn't figure out a way to make them without a thick ridge running down the strap somewhere. I have an idea for next time, though. I think I'll try folding the sides in and having them meet in the middle without actually sewing them to each other. There'll be a thin gap running down the center of the strap, but if I zigzag the sides together, maybe it won't be constantly bending in half.

The other thing I want to say about this bag is that it is mostly reused material. The denim came from old jeans, the lining from an old sheet, and the zipper was salvaged from one of those plastic zip bags that bedding and curtains often sold in. The plastic "string" was from our old string trimmer. The new materials were the strap hardware, some seam binding to encase the "string", and the iron-on crystals decorating the front.

Till next post.

Friday, August 30, 2019

That Smells Good!--the changing appeal of scents, in and out of context

Windowsill display of lemon, rosewater, and peppermint candies
Peppermint, cinnamon, lemon--what do these scents have in common? Not much, considered strictly in terms of how they smell. One is minty, one is spicy, and the last one is citrusy. But they are all flavors as well, and I like them both as flavors and as fragrances.

That last connection isn't automatic. Not every delicious food aroma is also good as a fragrance in its own right. For instance, the smell of chocolate--of brownies baking--is heavenly when I anticipate that I may get to eat some of them. Chocolate-scented stationery, however, does nothing for me. I'd rather perfume it with bergamot.

Oddly, I feel this distinction even more strongly when it comes to vanilla. I like the smell of vanilla in cookie dough or pudding, but I really dislike vanilla-scented candles, air fresheners, and heavily vanilla-based perfumes. Given how many of these vanilla-scented items are out there, I am clearly in the minority on this.

Most people (including me) would be reluctant to perfume their clothes or hair with the odor of sauteed onions and garlic. Onion-scented air-freshener? Ick. And yet, when I walk into the house and discover that the kitchen is fragrant with sauteed onions and garlic, my mouth waters and I say, "Wow, that smells good!" And it does. But only in the right context.

There are other fragrances that are pleasant so long as they aren't in a food context. For some people, rose is one of these, while other people like rosewater-flavored desserts. I'm guessing that no one really wants their food to smell of lilacs or hyacinths, though, or Chanel No. 5. Bleah.

Is there any context that affects the appeal of a scent besides food? People do develop a familiarity with some scents in a cleaning context (lemon, peppermint), but nonetheless cleaning products do manage to be popular in a variety of other fragrances (floral, grapefruit, lavender, "sea salt",...) Maybe personal fragrance--do we really want our bodies to smell like peppermint candy? Peppermint soaps and lotions certainly exist, but I'm having trouble imagining a perfume called "Fresh Mint Seduction" or "Lemon Heat".

Can you think of any other contexts?

Till next post.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Decorating Boxes For Flashcards -- Zentangle and ZIA on tuckboxes

Two books on language learning that I've read in the past several years (or has it been longer than that?) recommend using spaced repetition with flashcards. "Spaced repetition" means that so long as you are getting a word right, you increase the length of time before you review it again, while if you get it wrong, you shorten the interval. The Leitner system is a spaced repetition system. It is a list of days and levels of words to review on that day. When you review a word, if you get it right the word moves up a level; if you get it wrong, it moves down.

There are lots of on-line flashcard programs, but I like actual cards. Actual cards take up space, though, and need to be contained so cards at different levels don't get mixed up. So I've been making tuckboxes for my flashcards out of cardstock and decorating them.
Tuck boxes for flashcards made from cardstock and decorated using Zentangle and ZIA
The earlier boxes.

I've discovered that you need more boxes for the later levels, as those cards accumulate while waiting to be moved up or down. Cards in level 1 get reviewed every day (if you're being consistent about the system, which I admit I am not) and rapidly move to box 2, and fairly quickly to box 3. Cards start really piling up at level 4, which is only reviewed once a week or so.

Tuck boxes for flashcards made from cardstock and decorated using Zentangle and ZIA
Later boxes.
Although I've been using patterns from Zentangle (R), these designs are really Zentangle Inspired Art (ZIA) mixed with ... whatever. I do use pencil guidelines for a number of these, especially the scrolls. I also use a lightbox so I can draw guidelines where the edges the template are on the other side of the paper. That way, I can decorate the box before I cut it out (especially helpful with watercolor.)

Decorated template of tuckbox for flashcards.
I already erased the pencil outline that shows me where the edges are.
Decorated template of tuckbox for flashcards.
A different box, cut out.
 I've been trying different media for coloring--Prismacolor pencils, watercolor pencils, and watercolor. One of the boxes is coated with ModPodge and glitter, which gives it an interesting feel.

Box for flashcards decorated with ModPodge and glitter
ModPodge and glitter.
For three of the boxes, I wrote across the cardstock in calligraphy, then cut out the box. Can you identify the quotations?
Tuckboxes for flashcards decorated with calligraphy.
Boxes with calligraphy.
The template for these boxes was generated using Craig Forbes' tuckbox template generator. (I am having difficulty getting to the webpage now--hope that changes.) You can choose the dimensions of your box to suit the size of your flashcards. Be careful to select "actual size" when printing them, or your boxes may be unexpectedly too small.

Box (tuckbox) for flashcards decorated with tangle patterns

Happy vocabulary practice!

Friday, June 7, 2019

Reflections on the book "The Circle" by Dave Eggers--transparency versus privacy

When I first read The Circle by Dave Eggers, I expected it to become the 1984 of our time. It took to the logical extreme a number of problems that were already visible—reduced privacy, an increased sense of insecurity resulting from too much social media, and the constantly increasing requests for feedback from every quarter. Instead, as far as I can tell, the book just disappeared in the ever-growing flood of new books.

I’m of two minds about recommending it to other people. On the one hand, I thought it raised the issues very cleverly. On the other hand, I wouldn’t exactly call it a fun read—though it is much more entertaining than 1984, The Jungle, or The Grapes of Wrath, all of which I’m glad I (was forced to) read, and none of which I enjoyed.

I’m going to focus on privacy versus transparency for this post, setting aside the mostly separate issue of too much emphasis on feedback (really, there are areas in which asking for feedback is just a terrible idea!). There is a moment near the beginning of the story in which our main character, Mae, tries to wring clever changes on a trite phrase and ends up saying something she never meant to say. Ouch. But

“it didn’t matter. He was laughing now, and he… made her trust that he would never bring it up again, that this terrible thing she said would remain between them, that they both understood mistakes are made by all and that they should, if everyone is acknowledging our common humanity, our common frailty and propensity for sounding and looking ridiculous a thousand times a day, that these mistakes should be allowed to be forgotten.” (p. 34)

Mae is new at the company when this happens, and hasn’t yet absorbed the company’s view of things, expressed by one of their founders as “All that happens must be known.” And by “known”, he pretty much means accessible to anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It isn’t Big Brother that’s watching you, it’s your peers—everyone with an internet connection.

One of the things that kept me caught up in the book was the way the company’s spokespeople somehow managed to make the most outrageous claims seem not just plausible, but positively progressive. (I spent a lot of time mentally shouting at Mae to get a clue and realize why they were wrong.) The founder in question, Bailey, gives two main reasons for promoting transparency.

The first is that people behave better when they know they are being watched. He thinks the only reason people have for wanting privacy is that they are ashamed, either because they are doing wrong (in which case we should know about it) or unnecessarily (in which case we should all just get over it.) If we know we are watched, we will be our best selves—and don’t we want to be our best selves?

The second, lesser reason is that we owe it to others to share with them experiences that they may not have an opportunity to have for themselves.

To take the second reason first, no, we don’t owe that to others. Furthermore, sometimes part of what makes an experience special is that it is unrepeatable or rare. Sometimes the fact that an experience is shared with only one or a few people is what makes it special. Recording the experience wouldn’t really convey what made the experience special to anyone else, and might take away from it for those who were there. There are plenty of people happy to create logs of interesting places and events, and  enough places and events to fill several lifetimes, without having to record everything.

The first reason Bailey gives for transparency is more interesting. People almost certainly do behave better when they know they are being watched. But people can have good reasons for wanting privacy. As Mae noticed early on, we are terribly prone to making mistakes and we hate having everyone know about them and judge us based on them. People who don’t know us well may take our mistakes for character traits, and people who are malicious may use them as an opportunity to pounce on us and malign us to others. When we know we are being watched, we are likely to play it safe. Not only do we avoid doing wrong, we also won’t say or do anything risky, that might be taken wrong or go badly. Unfortunately, making mistakes is a large part of learning, and taking risks is how we (sometimes) make progress. So if we are constantly watched, we won’t be our best selves, we’ll just be our most conformist selves.

The other reason for wanting privacy is that we don’t necessarily want to be judged even in areas where there are no “mistakes.” I don’t want to hear what the world has to say about my taste in paint colors. It’s none of their business if I want to live in a house decorated in Easter egg colors. Some of them might think the color scheme enchanting, but others will not, and as Mae discovers when only 97% of fellow Circlers think her awesome in a silly quiz, “she could only think of the 3 percent who did not find her awesome.” (p. 405) Negative evaluations are disproportionately upsetting.

On top of that, some people are mean and will say nasty, critical things about your paint colors (or whatever) just to make you feel bad. Who needs that kind of unsolicited comment?

So we should have some control over what is offered up for public comment. Things I post on this blog are fair game; things I say to my family over dinner are not.

Other times, the benefit of producing better behavior does outweigh the value of privacy. Security cameras, open meetings, proctored tests… sometimes these are worth it. But there is usually some cost to be taken into account.

I won’t say how the book ends.

Till next post.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Reflections on the book "Good Omens" --and the importance of shared hobbies

The other day, passing the newspaper rack, I saw a shiny, colorful paper titled The End Times. It turned out to be an advertisement wrapped around The New York Times. It was for a television series (is it television if it’s Amazon Prime?) based on Good Omens, a novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Of course, I had to find my copy and reread it. It was as good as ever, despite showing its age. (Who has an answering machine anymore, besides my mother? And between GPS and cellphone apps, it’s a lot harder to get effectively lost on the road any more.)

It’s the kind of book that has a lovely narrator's voice, one that offers comments on the proceedings, such as this one on the relationship between two main characters, an angel and a demon:

“The Arrangement was very simple, so simple in fact that it didn’t really deserve the capital letter, which it had got for simply being in existence for so long. It was the sort of sensible arrangement that many isolated agents, working in awkward conditions a long way from their superiors, reach with their opposite number when they realize that they have more in common with their immediate opponents than their remote allies. It meant a tacit non-interference in certain of each other’s activities. It made certain that while neither really won, also neither really lost, and both were able to demonstrate to their masters the great strides they were making against a cunning and well-informed adversary.”
Why do I single out this particular bit? It makes me think of several things: unifying influences, an article on friendship that I read long ago, and politicians.

I’ll take politicians first, since that is the simplest and shortest to discuss. Where the quotation reads “agents”, substitute “politicians.” For “remote allies”, “superiors”, and “masters”, substitute “constituents”. The result suggests the reasoning: “If you let me pass this bill, I’ll stay out of your way on that bill, and we’ll both get re-elected, after which we can go after the robo-callers, since they are universally detested.”

And that’s all I wanted to say about politicians. Onward.

If I remember the article on friendship correctly, it claimed that shared activities have a significant role in who your friends are—more so than shared interests or values. Sharing activities isn’t exactly the same as having similar roles in different organizations, but I find myself envisioning opposite numbers from feuding governments commiserating about long and pointless meetings, superiors who don’t really understand what’s going on, insufficient resources, and, of course, the poor work ethic of today’s youth. (That last is an especially safe bet, since people have been complaining about “the youth of today” since the start of recorded history.)

This leads to the third thing I mentioned, “unifying influences.” Commiserating about similar problems is one activity that brings people together. There are a lot of other activities people can have in common: knitting, basketball, cat ownership, video games, and so on. People meeting other enthusiasts want to know: can this person demonstrate a S-S-K (slip, slip, knit)? Can this person make a foul shot reliably? Does this person know why a cat might start pulling out its own fur, and more importantly, how to stop it doing so before it goes completely bald?

In the process of discussing these important matters (move this loop to the other needle… is the cat feeling stressed or itchy?), people have a chance to discover each other’s strengths before discovering each other’s weaknesses. We all have a mix of good and bad qualities, but perhaps we are at our best when we are sharing our preferred activities with others.

This is important because we have differing mixes of beliefs and ideological positions as well. If, instead of getting to know each other through shared activities, we start by mentally sorting everyone according to one particular quality—political party, say—we risk losing sight of all the diversity of character that exists. We also risk dismissing people out of hand without really knowing anything about them.

Now I’ve really gotten far away from the book I quoted—or have I? When I think about it, one of the other charming things about the book is the unlikely alliances that form.

Probably the filmed version of the book will be very different. Certainly the narrative voice is unlikely to be there, and no doubt they’ll have changed the plot quite a bit as well. I’m still looking forward to it, though. I think it could be really fun. Time will tell (today, in fact).

Till next post.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Reflections on "The Crying Game"

I saw the movie, The Crying Game, when it first came out in 1992. The plot twist caught me by surprise, as it did most people at the time (though not my apartment mate.) Since then, I have only seen the movie once or twice. Recently I found myself trying to figure out what it is about the movie that struck me and makes me want to see it again, since clearly it can’t be the surprise factor.

“I know you. You’re the kind one.”

That’s what Jody says to Fergus, one of his abductors, and that’s the line that always comes back to me, the core of the movie for me. Fergus is the Kind One.

Jody tells Fergus the story of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion begs a ride across the river on the frog’s back. The frog refuses at first, saying, “You’re a scorpion. You’ll sting me.” The scorpion responds, “If I sting you, we’ll both drown.” The frog thinks about it and says, “All right.” Halfway across the river, the frog feels the scorpion’s sting. As they both sink, he cries, “What did you do that for? Now we’re both going to die!” And the scorpion says, “I can’t help it. It’s my nature.”

Jody is more realistic about the likely outcome of his abduction than Fergus is. He insists that Fergus look at the photo of his girl, Dil, which is in his wallet. He gets Fergus to agree that if anything happens to Jody, Fergus will go and… here I forget the details. I think maybe he just has to buy her a drink, but maybe he is to say that it is from Jody, or say something about Jody. It isn’t huge request, but it would require Fergus to go to London to the pub where she works. And remember, Fergus is one of the men who abducted Jody in the first place. They aren’t even on the same side.

But Jody has identified Fergus as someone who can be relied on, someone he can charge with looking in on his girl. Moreover, he believes Fergus will not make matters worse for Dil, as sending the wrong person might.

Things go badly and Fergus ends up in London. He looks up Dil. He finds himself alternately fascinated, puzzled, shocked, and afraid. Keeping his promise has landed him in a very confusing and eventually dangerous situation. I remain uncertain how to interpret his relationship with Jody’s girl—I’m not sure Fergus himself knows—but one thing is clear. He stays true to his nature throughout.

Of course, this is a movie. There is a school of thought that suggests how real people behave has more to do with seemingly irrelevant details of our circumstances than with any stable character traits. One of the studies often cited is "Helping for a dime." People who found a dime in a phone booth were much more likely to help someone else gather spilled papers than people who found nothing. To take a personal example, I must admit that how generously I tip often has a lot to do with what happens to be in my wallet at that moment and whatever has been on my mind recently, rather than with the quality of the service or some innate generosity or stinginess.

Still, some people are consistently better to be around than others. They are like the frog, willing to help you across the river on their backs. Other people, alas, are like the scorpion. You can be pretty sure that if you are around them long enough, they will hurt you--even if in so doing, they harm themselves as well. (See "Words and Character.")

So that’s it. I like the movie because I like seeing Fergus negotiate situations and relationships for which he has no clear rules, all while remaining himself. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it—maybe twenty years—and it will be interesting to find out if it strikes me the same way after another viewing.

Till next post.

Friday, May 17, 2019

"You Need to Forgive Yourself"--why does this phrase set my teeth on edge?

In an episode of a television show I watched recently, one character advised another that "you need to forgive yourself." I think this phrase gets thrown around too easily and too often. Whenever I come across it in fiction, I brace myself for plot twists that may be saccharine or implausible. When I hear it in real life, I get fidgety. Why does this phrase bother me?

In the first place, it seems too facile. Has this person actually done wrong? In that case, do they really have the authority to forgive themselves? It seems that the forgiveness they should be seeking is that of the person they have wronged. Granted, even if that person forgives them, they have to accept that they are forgiven, which I suppose involves forgiving themselves. But the other person's forgiveness should come first, or at least be sought simultaneously.

Of course, the wronged person may not be able or willing to forgive them. I'll agree that at some point, wrong-doers who have sincerely done their best to make amends may let themselves off the hook. They should forgive themselves. But only after they have done their best.

In the second place, "forgive yourself" is sometimes the wrong expression. Suppose this person hasn't done wrong, but blames himself for things that were never really up to him in the first place. In the episode I am thinking of, another character said, "Don't blame yourself for things that weren't in your control." Now that is true. People do blame themselves, and feel guilty, about things that are not their fault. However, telling someone that he shouldn't blame himself and telling him to forgive himself are two different things. The results may feel similar--an easing of guilt (inappropriate guilt in the first case). But you can't "forgive" yourself unless there is a wrong to be forgiven.

Finally, there is one area in which "forgive yourself" does seem appropriate. As human beings, we inevitably make mistakes. We step on people's toes, say and do things we shouldn't, and basically mess up. Repeatedly. This tendency, as opposed to the specific wrongs that result from it, isn't our fault. We can't help being human. At the same time, it does lead us to wrong others. So maybe it makes sense to say that we should "forgive ourselves" for our tendency to make mistakes, even as we try to avoid making them and try to make amends for the ones we have already made. We shouldn't feel guilty for not being perfect. We should only feel guilty if we are not trying.

So maybe the character in the episode did need to forgive himself, as well as ceasing to blame himself for things out of his control. Maybe the phrase irritated me because I knew he also had a lot of forgiveness to seek as well--amends to be made, apologies to be offered--and that wasn't explicitly addressed. Given his history, "forgive yourself" sounded more like a feel-good platitude and less like a real resolution to the problem.

But I think he got it right in the end.

Till next post.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Christmas Carols and Klezmer--people can always surprise you

Just this morning I was looking at a schedule of events for my area and I was surprised to see a klezmer band listed. I noted down the date and time, and remembered a conversation with my father several years ago, a few years before he died.

He wasn't doing well, either physically or mentally, and I was thinking about making him a music mix CD. I reasoned that he might not be able to play with his computer or get around much, but he could still listen to music. But what music would he enjoy?

I thought about all the music I could remember him enjoying during my childhood. Show tunes, maybe, or folk songs. Maybe Gilbert and Sullivan? The Firehouse Five?

So I asked him, "What kind of music do you like?"

I don't remember the first kind he listed, but the second was klezmer.

Klezmer? Not only did I not know he liked it, I didn't even know what it was.

"It's Jewish jazz," he said.

Eventually I made him a CD with selections of Christmas carols that he had always liked, and two klezmer pieces that I chose somewhat arbitrarily off iTunes. I played the CD for him once, and I don't know whether he ever listened to it again. He probably forgot that it existed. But it made me feel as though I'd done something for him.

It also reminded me that people are full of surprises. Always.

Rest in peace.

In case you are curious, here are the carols (not necessarily the same version) available on Youtube, and links to the klezmer pieces.

"Still, still, still"

"Suber die glocken nie klingen"

"Il est ne, le divin enfant" 

"Approchez mes enfants"

"Entre le boef et l'ane gris"

"Un flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella"

"Doina" (The Klezmorim)

"The People's Dance" (The Klezmorim) 30-second sample

Friday, March 22, 2019

The TV Show "Lucifer" and the Difference Between Real Evil and Stage "Evil"

Recently I’ve started watching the series “Lucifer” on Netflix. Lucifer Morningstar is the devil, and he is on vacation and running a nightclub in Los Angeles. I’m only on the third episode and it’s clear that he’s being influenced (for the good) by some of the people around him, but even apart from that influence, this character isn’t very devilish. He isn’t evil; he’s only “evil.”

That is, there’s a difference between real evil and stage “evil”, rather like there’s a difference between being a ballet dancer and simply wearing a costume of tutu and ballet shoes. I’m not complaining. If the character were truly evil, the show would be unwatchable. Who wants to watch a show with a totally unsympathetic main character?

(Note: I did just finish watching “Deathnote”, but the main character started off thinking he was pursuing justice, even if he was wrong about his methods. He became increasingly evil as the show went on, but he was opposed by some good characters and it made for a fascinating battle of wits. As long as you have equally important good characters in opposition and the main character isn’t completely evil, you can still have a very watchable series.)

Stage “evil” is the fun kind, the trappings of evil without the substance. Lucifer has devilish good looks and charm, a bold disregard for rules and authority, and a penchant for causing trouble. But let’s notice that the people he causes trouble for are usually themselves either troublemakers or really irritating people. He scares a school bully and terrifies a fraudulent street preacher. If he really wanted to increase the misery in the world, he should have encouraged them, not scared them. But the audience wouldn’t like him then, because that would be real evil.

He also runs a nightclub with scantily clad dancers and is often found in bed with a number of individuals of either gender who are equally scantily clad (and would be wearing even less if this weren’t a TV show.) But notice that it is strongly implied that all these individuals chose to be there, and that there is never the slightest hint that the nightclub dancers might be exploited or working for him only reluctantly. He’s sleeping with a psychiatrist, but there’s no suggestion that she might be married or otherwise attached. No one gets hurt.

I said that he does cause trouble for troublemakers, and Lucifer rationalizes his selectivity by saying that he is punishing evil-doers, and isn’t punishing evil what the devil is supposed to do? 

 That’s curious, because punishing evil doesn’t itself seem evil (though it isn’t merciful either.) If the devil is supposed to be evil, presumably he would encourage evil-doing in order to cause more misery. The devil is supposed to tempt people in ways that twist their souls and ruin their lives and the lives of other people as well.

But again, a main character who was truly evil wouldn’t make for an entertaining show. If you want to learn about real evil, there are plenty of documentaries, but I wouldn’t call them “entertaining.”

Why make a big deal about this distinction between evil and “evil”? Because real evil doesn’t come with labels, and people sometimes mistake stage “evil” for the real thing.

I’m thinking, for instance, of people I have known who find dark, occult-looking things appealing. Or maybe they’re into vampires. Stage “evil.” They’re playing with props. They aren’t really evil at all. But some people don’t seem to realize that. They take the appearance of stage “evil” as a desire for the real thing.

Granted, there are some people drawn to stage “evil” who really are kind of twisted, and others who do so in order to shock and offend (not exactly a kind motive). On the other hand, there are people who are drawn to exactly the opposite symbols (of goodness and light) while behaving in a genuinely evil manner. You really have to look at people’s deeds, not their outerwear or outer attitude.

So, I’m enjoying a TV show about the devil on vacation in Los Angeles. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’ve been drawn to the dark side. I know the difference between “evil” and evil.