HTTPSEverywhere: Don’t Stop at Facebook’s HTTPS Option

Switching Facebook to HTTPS for use on un- or under-protected public networks (some coffeeshops, e.g.) is a good idea, and I’m glad to see a spate of status messages telling people how to do it. But those using Firefox might also consider the extension HTTPSEverywhere, which forces a number of common sites (including Facebook) into the same behavior.

Besides protecting you across a far greater range of websites, one advantage of the extension is that you can switch it on and off pretty easily—both globally and for individual sites. I turn it off while I’m on my home network (much more secure, much less at-risk) or on a school’s network (typically much, much more secure), so that I can access non-secure content like the Facebook’s SCRABBLE app, and so that pages load more quickly.

Regrettably, there is no good equivalent for other browsers, as of the last time I checked. (There are Chrome and Safari extensions, but they don’t cover your HTTP transaction from beginning to end, as I understand it.) But even when I was mostly using Safari, I would only use Firefox—with HTTPSEverywhere enabled—when I was at the coffeeshop. As it stands, I enable it for anything less than WPA2 networks.

I’m certainly no security expert, but I think this is a relatively safe practice. WPA2 networks are also inherently insecure—maybe all networks are?—but I’m just playing the numbers that nobody willing to take all the extra steps of getting into my data on a WPA2 network is going to happen to be in my coffeeshop at the same time I am. It’s sort of like deciding to unbuckle your seatbelt while the plane is still taxiing to the gate. Sure, something could happen, but…

For the record, even though I do use HTTPSEverywhere, I’ve also enabled Facebook’s HTTPS option. I like that it makes transparent the difference between secure and insecure content, and allows you the choice of switching to a plain old HTTP connection when you try to access insecure content:

Facebooks Insecure Content Warning
Facebook's Insecure Content Warning (Click to view full-size.)

I also like the Facebook option as a backup for one of the most important sites covered by the Firefox extension, which I could easily forget to enable someday. After all, until I get to the coffeeshop, I haven’t had my morning coffee, and without it, let’s just say my memory’s not so useful.

Macchiato Cowboy: Starbucks & the Gourmet Movement

Starbucks’ Tribute to Itself

This morning, hat in hand, a cowboy ordered a drink: “Two-percent espresso macchiato, ma’am.” The honorific belonged wholly to the cowboy, but the precious phrasing came right out of Starbucks’ own system of signification, according to which the default milk is whole and the default macchiato includes syrups and flavorings and, as often as not, whipped cream.

To order what you might call—or might once have called—a “real” or a “proper” macchiato, Starbucks requires cowboys and the rest of us to throw “espresso” into service as a qualifier. An espresso macchiato, we are told, is a “European-style beverage” whose “just enough” may satisfy us—”sometimes.” (After all, any American who spurns sweet, sweet caloric density must be doing so only as an exception.)

This morning, to recap, I heard a cowboy who had some familiarity with the language of a coffee-shop chain’s menu ordering a European-style beverage using once-foreign words with no shame. Forty years after the opening of the first Starbucks, I should not have been surprised, and perhaps it wasn’t surprise that I felt, but the shock of recollection, of the past intruding on the present.

Notwithstanding our brief, post-traumatic regression in the “Freedom Fries” years, we have grown more accepting of foreign foods. I was raised vegetarian, and my childhood memories are pock-marked with incidents of derision over tofu, over aloo palak, over falafel. I grant you that we warm to European influence more readily than to Asian or Indian or Middle-Eastern, but still: To hear this macchiato cowboy place his order is my vindication. It is the moment when my inner Carrie burns down the whole fucking gymnasium.

This morning, on hearing the macchiato cowboy speak, I wondered whether Starbucks is not merely one beneficiary of this movement (as David Kamp might have it), but is rather the social lubricant that made possible its most recent incarnation.

Strange words make us feel strange, at least until some force comes along and rubs our bellies until our nerves subside. Our perception of French culinary superiority intimidated us until Julia Child made words like bourguignonne sound as familiar as they do now. Likewise for Martin Yan and wok, and James Beard and barbecue, perhaps.

In this context, it seems possible that had we not ordered espressi and cappucini and macchiati at the Starbucks counter in the very early 1990s, would we not have been prepared, a few years later, to watch a man swish his ponytail — not judging; I’ve had one, too — and tell us how to procure fennel pollen, which Batali introduced to his viewers in 1995 or 1996. Without being forced to learn the language of ventis and talls and grandes, which Starbucks has smartly memorialized in recent months (as in the photo above), I cannot imagine us supporting the rise of arugula—also featured in Molto Mario‘s first few episodes—let alone those of chipotle, kimchi, rooibos, and hummus.

It seems possible, in other words, that those of us who prefer things as they have become owe Starbucks gratitude for more than just the spread of decent coffee (if not so much their own), that we owe them for their influence on the boundaries of our everyday language, for insidiously softening American masculinity just enough to let gourmet food in the door.

Cocktail: The Spanish Ginquisition

With apologies to certain detractors, who (probably rightly) insist that spicy drinks are best made from a base of vodka or tequila, I offer you a new cocktail, the Spanish Ginquisition.

I faced the strong temptation to be standoffish and include a garnish of Serrano ham or a healthy dollop of paella, but this drink was too crisp, spicy, and clean for me to ruin.

UPDATE: For balance, add a teaspoon or so of simple syrup between steps six and seven below.


  • Three ounces of gin (I used Indigo, a Spanish gin, to be cheeky, but an even less obtrusive gin like Plymouth might taste better)
  • A small serrano chile
  • One half of a lemon
  • A pinch of saffron
  • A pair of toothpicks


  1. Over the flame of your gas stove or plumber’s torch, burn the serrano chile thoroughly, as if it were a non-believer several decades into his eternal damnation. You want the outside black and the inside steamed. Use a thin skewer or metal tongs to keep your hands heavenly.
  2. Let the chile cool, then cut it in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and pale rib-flesh, imagining the scourging for inspiration. Take care not to let too much of the blackened skin flake off of one half, but scrape it off the other half completely.
  3. (Note: The picture at bottom shows the final result of steps three through five.) Cut or peel a long twist of lemon, fold one end over the other like a ribbon, and poke one toothpick through the point where the ends of the twist meet.
  4. Gently curl the half of the chile that still has its skin, widthwise and skin-side out, and poke one toothpick through the curl about a third of the way down the length. Leave as much room between the toothpick and the top of the arc formed by the curl.
  5. Thread the other toothpick through the semicircle formed by the first toothpick and the chile, and, finally, through the chile from inside to outside, near the bottom. Meditate briefly on this transsubstantiated chile, who died for your gin, then place Him in a chilled cocktail glass.
  6. Place the skinless half of the chile—or some portion of it, depending on how sinful you feel—into a tall glass, and squeeze the lemon over it. If you’re feeling very indulgent, add a some saffron for color. Muddle well.
  7. Shake the gin and chile-lemon mixture with ice, vigorously enough to cloud the drink, but remembering Aquinas, not so vigorously that your passion leads you into sin.
  8. Strain the gin over the chile, and float the saffron on top of the drink like so many tongues of fire.
  9. Serve immediately, whispering a benediction on behalf of your guest.

Nobody expects the Spanish Ginquisition.
Nobody expects the Spanish Ginquisition.

The Truth as Stronger than Fiction

In this week’s New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn has a fascinating look at the ancient and recent histories of the memoir genre. Naturally, he can’t help but address what might now be termed a subgenre, the “fraudulent memoir.” Wrapping up the section, he notes:

When readers defended Frey on the ground that his book, however falsified its “memories” were, had nonetheless (as he had hoped) provided them with the genuine uplift they were looking for, they were really defending fiction: an uplifting entertainment that can tell truths but cannot tell the truth.

Mendelsohn provides insightful evidence that James Frey’s own defense of A Million Little Pieces was indeed a defense of the role fiction has traditionally played. (“‘I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require,’ Frey explained.”) But the claim that Frey’s third-party defenders take up the same argument doesn’t quite fit, because we don’t process fiction in the same way that we process non-fiction.

That is, I would bet that a recovering addict reading Frey’s book would only be so inspired if she thought that the book were true (in the “the truth” sense Mendelsohn mentions, not the “truths” sense). Her awareness of the book’s falsifications would interrupt the particular kind of attachment to the narrative that’s necessary for “uplift” to obtain. “If I can’t hang my hopes on somebody actually having made this kind of turnaround,” she might think, “what good is it?”

In other words, what we think we’re reading greatly affects how we feel about reading it—and this emotion, formed at the time of reading, cannot be erased from the history of our experiences once reading is through. Even now, we don’t read Frey’s book as fiction, exactly; it would no doubt make for a lousy novel, composed too far outside the structural and linguistic conventions of that form.

Instead, we read Frey’s book and others like it as partially made-up memoirs, as ruses that didn’t hold up, as fodder for our amateur detective sensibilities. That’s an entirely different experience—and, as I mean for my title to suggest, a weaker one (on affective terms)—than reading a novel for its “truths,” or than reading a memoir for its “the truth,” as it were.

Reality TV and Parasocial Bonding

In a post at The Frontal Cortex on television’s ability to stave off loneliness, Jonah Lehrer writes:

I imagine we’re even more likely to form attachments to characters on reality TV shows, since the characters are purportedly “real.”

It’s a minor point in his post, but prompted a lengthy comment from me, which I repost here, slightly edited:

Against what was then a common thread in media studies, I’d argue that the real allure of reality TV is not voyeurism, as the old guard of the discipline would have had it, but parasocial relationships [which, as Lehrer notes, are “the kind of one sided pseudo-relationships we develop over time with people or characters we might see on TV or in the movies”].

The problem with the voyeurism account is that it doesn’t require narrative to function; it can work even without sound (as in hidden camera footage on all the shows that feature a bunch of housemates).

However, every “docusoap” from The Real World forward has focused on narrative and conflict above all, with moments of voyeuristic appeal merely intruding before commercial breaks, or appearing only in order to heighten narrative tension. (“I can’t believe those two hooked up!”)

The parasocial model, though, does require narrative to function. We don’t get to know people without understanding how they make choices in tough situations; any writer of fiction or screenplay would tell you as much. So, the ways that reality shows construct narratives serve to heighten our knowledge of and attachment to certain “characters” or personae.

(And the narratives are heavily constructed, as indicated by industry terms like “frankenbiting”—faking sound bites out of a hodge-podge of shorter phrases.)

In short, from a paper I wrote addressing the topic:

Social actors in the shows are not (or not primarily) objects of a distant, pathological gaze emanating from the viewer, but instead are involved in a perceived friendship bond, one which on an experiential level contains moderated versions of the highs and lows of normal, two-sided social relationships.