Thursday, December 27, 2007

mitt romney, or, when your speech writers are idiots and you don't know any better

I had thought that candidate Romney was merely a flip flopper to shame all flip floppers, but have discovered recently that he's got some pretty strange, and pretty scary, views on the role of government, the power of the executive branch, religion, and life in general.

In a Q&A sent to all the major presidential contenders and then published here in the Boston Globe last week, Romney had the following to say in response to a question concerning presidential powers and warrant-less surveillance: "Our most basic civil liberty is the right to be kept alive and the President should not hesitate to use every legal tool at his disposal to keep America safe."

Let me say that again, just slightly abridged. Our most basic civil liberty is to be kept alive. Liberty is to be kept alive. Not liberty includes the right to live, not liberty is life. We apparently, in Romney's world view, have the right to be kept alive. Something here just does not compute. Kept. Kept behind bars. Kept down. Kept in one's place. A kept woman. Kept alive. Possibly with a feeding tube.

This within a week or two of his so-called faith speech in which he claimed, apparently without irony, that "Americans do not respect believers of convenience." His speech writers might want to look into his track record on reproductive and gay rights, and the unmistakable shift in his so-called beliefs as governor of a blue state to his so-called beliefs as a presidential hopeful for the Republican nomination. Because he's right, and that makes it hard to respect him.

This also within a week or so of claiming, in that same speech, that "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." Huh? The teenage girl in Canada who was recently beaten to death by her father for not wearing a hijab might not agree with this. And some of our great country's original founders would have cringed at this.

Romney, clearly a man with a vision.

Monday, December 24, 2007

snippets of a heathen pre-christmas

Here I am in Anacortes again, beloved rainy city (town) by the sea. We had sunshine today, for awhile, and walked around Washington Park. It was beautiful, and I failed to bring my camera.

I arrived here around 3:30pm on Thursday, after taking a cab to Rong Li's apartment at 5:30 that morning (New York time, that would be 2:30 west coast time), a car service with Rong Li, her husband, and a friend of theirs to JFK, a plane from JFK to Seattle, a big Airporter bus to Mount Vernon, and a mini Airporter bus first to the ferry terminal and then back to the Shell station downtown, where Mom & Paul picked me up.

Pretty much I've been drinking ever since. Today, my first 'dirty martini' ever. I'm not quite sure I can honestly say I like it, but I like the second half a whole lot more than the first.

Friday was a night out on the town, first at the Brown Lantern Tavern with Mom & Paul for an early dinner and a couple beers (I got carded. The guy couldn't believe I was 31. Later, step-brother Erik called and thought I was his 9-year-old niece. I guess this is good?), then at the Rock Fish Grill with Evan, Brent, Dave, and various other people I don't actually know, for a few more beers as well as some coconut shrimp, and later yet at Brent's newly acquired, completely empty (except for a bottle of wine and a pair of wine glasses) house.

I actually slept in until 9 Saturday morning. Nate arrived that night, with Uncle Jim & Aunt Sharon, who brought wine and other Trader Joe goodies. Nate and I gave them some Samuel Smith beers and a Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure. The drinking continued. Have I mentioned how much I love Christmas? Not to mention my crazy, wonderful extended family.

Last night it was white wine and fresh, local crab for dinner, and then on to the Edision pub in the middle of nowhere, as far as I can tell, for a few more beers and the phenomenal Spoonshine. Jake, one of the Spoonshine trio, came over to chat with Evan during the break and I, being so overwhelmed with their greatness, gushed, "You guys are awesome!" I was slightly mortified by this. Nathan claims it was cute. And I stand by my statement.

This afternoon the dirty martinis, and then it's on to Step Grandmother Paula's house for dinner, and then on to Brent's still-empty house (except for a growler of some local brew, apparently).

And here, in closing, I quote Nate the Great: "Piggle Wiggle is a cat." Indeed, she is. A cat. And quite a lovely one.

night drive, skagit valley

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

texas gets even weirder

As if it wasn't frightening enough that Christine Castillo Comer, the director of science for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign earlier this month for allegedly "bashing" people's faith (she forwarded an email announcement about an upcoming lecture advocating evolution - oh the horror!). Now, a Texas panel on higher education is recommending that the state allow the Institute for Creation Research to offer online master's degrees in science education.

In other news, Hilary's been feeling the heat from Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and Co., the men out in force, cackling over a woman of a certain age's crows' feet and laugh lines. And of course our dear Maureen Dowd had to get in on it this morning too, snidely arguing that it's "pretty pathetic" that at this point in her career, Clinton continues to have to try to prove she's "warm-blooded." The thing about this is, I think it's pathetic too, but not exactly in the way Dowd means. It's pathetic that we judge a presidential candidate on being "warm-blooded" at all, and I think it's ridiculous that Clinton has to try to soften her image. I want a strategist in the White House, a tough-as-nails fighter who's endured as much as Clinton has and come out on the other side. Even if Hilary doesn't win the nomination or the presidency, this remains a ground-breaking moment in American history, a woman playing the political game, and playing it well, at this level. Yet it seems that, embarrassingly for the rest of us, her wrinkles and lack of an all-consuming desire to bake cookies continue to be a detriment to her campaign.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

naive melody

The Talking Head's This Must Be the Place is, I think, my favorite song of all time, ever. Saw this version today and it made me smile:

home is where i want to be
but i guess i'm already there
i come home, she lifted up her wings
guess that this must be the place
i can't tell one from another

did i find you or you find me?
there was a time before we were born
if someone asks, this is where i'll be
where i'll be

Monday, December 17, 2007

it's official

This morning, Governor Jon Corzine signed a law abolishing the death penalty, bringing the state of New Jersey into alignment with much of the developed world. According to Amnesty International, 133 countries world wide have done away with the death penalty. Also according to Amnesty International, the top five executioners are China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the good old USA. Such impressive company we keep.

In other news, an interesting (yet simple enough for us lay people) take on the recent doings concerning federal sentencing in our judicial system.

And last but not least, the House of Representatives declared Christmas and Christians to be important last week. Really! Check out House Resolution 847 and try not to choke on your drink of choice. Now, I love Christmas. I love candy canes and sparkly lights and silver bells and Santa Claus and giving and getting gifties just as much as the next person. But seriously, don't these people have more important things to waste (I mean spend) their time on? Like the cost of a war, maybe, and the ever increasing national debt, or extreme weather, or teen pregnancy, or something?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

quote of the day

"My faith is my life -- it defines me. My faith doesn't influence my decisions, it drives them ... I don't separate my faith from my personal and professional lives."
-GOP candidate Mike Huckabee (A brief aside on Huckabee's issues: Why would someone so focused on the Sanctity of Life make it a point, in his notes on the 2nd Amendment, to explain that he never supported the ban on assault weapons? Even weirder, he seems to be advocating the potential use of assault weapons against our own government. And even creepier, he wears as a badge of honor the fact that he is the first governor ever to have a concealed weapon license. I find myself wondering what Jesus would do. Carry an assault weapon and reject all policies that promote or tolerate amnesty? Somehow I don't think so.)

I don't think this is what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had in mind when they wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom back in 1779, so I'd like to conclude this bit with a better quote:

"We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

Also in the news recently:

Crisis of Faith, an excellent editorial on Romney's faith speech

Boy Scouts Lose Philadelphia Lease in Gay-Rights Fight (damn straight! no pun intended)

The Episcopal split here in the good old U.S. of A. continues, with yet another diocese deciding that disliking homosexuals outweighs human rights, preferring to align itself with the infamous gay-baiting Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola rather than with the U.S. church. Oh wait, I stand corrected. This particular diocese has not gone over to Akinola because of the gays. Instead it's joined a conservative South American denomination because it disapproves of Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. Not only is she relatively liberal, but this California diocese is one of the last to refuse to ordain women at all, let alone allow a woman to head the entire U.S. Episcopal denomination.

Monday, December 10, 2007

on the couch

I've actually, strangely, been lying on the couch in Sarah's office these last few weeks, 3:30 to 4:15, or a little later, on Monday afternoons. I've been lying there, legs crossed primly at the ankles, hands folded on abdomen, staring, mostly, at the two black and white photographs hanging on the wall at the end of the couch, just a couple feet above my clunky black boots. One, the one on top, of rocks, huge boulders scattered, shattered, near the ocean. The other, just below, a close-up of water, perhaps even of that same ocean, surfaces rippling in shadow and light. This is the one that I often find myself staring at, in those spaces between one thought and the next, when I am not making light of something and craning over my shoulder to see if Sarah is smiling, between convoluted overthinking and semi-logical extrapolations, in those rare moments when I can just let my self breathe.

I am discovering that I really like this breathing thing.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

peanut stew with rice

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 head garlic, minced
fresh ginger, minced (about 2 tablespoons, maybe)
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup peanuts, crushed with mortar & pestle
1 box chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup peanut butter (preferably natural, just peanuts)
1 bunch scallions
1 lime

Cook the onions and red pepper flakes in half the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. I used my 5-quart orange Creuset, pretty much the best soup pot on the entire planet. Add the garlic and ginger after 5 minutes or so, and also the potatoes, red bell pepper, and peanuts. (Please note, I am very fond of ginger -- you might want to start with less and add more). Add more butter if things begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Continue to cook for awhile longer, maybe 10 minutes, just until the potatoes start to soften a bit. Add the box of chicken broth, remove from heat, and blend briefly with a stick blender just to thicken the broth, but keeping the soup pretty chunky. Put back on the burner, add the tomatoes (with juice) and the peanut butter. I ended up adding another couple cups of water and a boullion cube, and some ground cayenne pepper and black pepper, and then I just let it simmer for 1/2 an hour or so. Towards the end I added the juice from one lime, and chopped up the scallions to serve over the top.

I served this over jasmine rice:

Bring 1 cup water, 1/2 cup white wine to a boil, along with 1 tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt. Stir in one cup rice, lower heat, and let simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let rest for another 10 minutes.

This was delicious last night, when first eaten with Marianne (and with the apple cranberry sauce with vanilla ice cream for dessert!), but I think I'm looking forward just as much to enjoying the leftovers tonight.

apple cranberry sauce

1 bag of cranberries
5 apples
juice of a lime
1 cup apple cider
brown sugar
candied ginger
ground cloves
cayenne pepper (really!)
caramel sauce

This has become one of my favorite things to make, served warm over vanilla ice cream. Rinse the cranberries, pick out the bad ones, and dump in a 3-quart pot over low heat. Core and chop the apples (very coarsely, into biggish chunks), peel if you want to but it's not necessary. I usually use an assortment of apples and peel the granny smiths but leave the red-skinned ones alone, just because I think the granny smith peels are tougher and not as nice to eat. Sprinkle some lime juice over the apples at first just to keep them from browning. Pour the apple cider in, cover, and leave alone for awhile, still over very low heat. I've also used hard apple cider, water, and apple juice at various times. Oh, and also mango juice. Anything works, really, but I like plain old cider the best.

Stir occasionally so that all the fruit gets simmered in the cider, and start adding your spices to taste. Since I've been using this as a dessert, I've been kind of heavy-handed with the sugar and caramel sauce, but hold back and it could be breakfast instead. I made up a batch of this last week to bring to Nick & Sarah's post-Thanksgiving turkey dinner party, and was scrounging through the cupboard for something else, though I wasn't sure what exactly I was looking for. I found the remnants of a jar of honeyed ginger that I'd brought back from New Zealand last year, and added that. Delicious! So this time I chopped up a few tablespoons of crystallized ginger and added that along with some honey, and it was pretty much just as good.

I made this at Arielle's house a few months ago, sans cranberries, and she very strictly instructed me to not add any cloves, due, I believe, to an unfortunate incident in high school involving too much alcohol and a clove cigarette. I laughed, given that we were cooking in her kitchen, and so presumably, also given her rather strong distaste for cloves, there were none around to be added. She laughed too. And seemed to like the sauce.

One last reason to love this stuff (as if there needed to be another): it smells really, really good, and you can cover it up and cook it pretty much all day long if you want to.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


I've lost my hat. My favorite hat, the prettiest, sweetest, best loved hat in this entire big cruel world. Cindy made for me this hat last winter, beautifully burgundy and sparkly but not garishly so. I left it behind on the bus the other day, 7:45am and not quite awake yet, spacing out to the Oliver Mtukudzi tune seeping from my headpones. It was cold that morning, and I was nearly in tears by the time I stumbled my way in to the library, both from frustration with myself for losing my hat and from the biting wind on my poor, exposed, naked ears. Erica, later that afternoon, reminded me of the MTA Lost & Found, looked up the number for me, called them. Turns out that particular office closes at noon most days. She emailed the phone number to me, with strict instructions to call first thing the next morning. I called first thing the next morning. Again and again. Turns out on that day they didn't open until noon. I called the next morning. Again and again. Never got anything but a busy signal. Complained to Manley. He said, "What, you thought that number actually goes somewhere?"

I've been putting off and putting off telling Cindy that I've lost the hat. Elizabeth very kindly loaned me her hat to wear on my way home from work that night. I dug out my ratty old green hat from the back of the closet, and have been wearing that all week. The green one is fine. It's warm. But it's not my Cindy hat. Elizabeth has been encouraging me to confess.

"Just tell her," she's been saying, "She'll find out eventually, you have to tell her! Maybe she'll make you another one."

"But she's got a baby now, and a husband, and a house! I can't believe I lost it!" I've been whining.

And then, revelation.

I was complaining to Nate and Jill over margaritas last night about the loss of my beloved hat and Nate turned to me and said, "Em. I work with the MTA. Send me a picture. I'll get your hat back."

I'm not entirely convinced that he'll be able to retrieve my hat. Given how truly lovely and wonderful it is, I can only imagine that someone had a very lucky day after I got off that darned bus. But I am stealing a picture of it from Rabid Knitter (who, by the way, is blogging again!) and will dutifully send it on to Nathan, fingers crossed, in the hopes that soon the hat will again be mine.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

mid-week news roundup

First, there was that great little article yesterday in Salon about the soon-to-be-released film The Golden Compass, and from a Catholic's perspective, no less.

Here, finally, is an argument supporting global warming that perhaps even the Bushes can understand, being all about the bottom line.

Poor Larry Craig just can't seem to get a break, at least as far as the Idaho Statesman is concerned.

Christine Castillo Comer, the director of science for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign recently because she didn't remain neutral enough on evolution. I kid you not. Her crime? Forwarding an email about a lecture being given by a philosophy professor who was an expert witness in the Kitzvmiller vs. Dover Area School District case a few years ago, and who had testified against intelligent design.

I'm sure most people were as relieved as I was yesterday to see that Iran in fact does not have a nuclear weapons strategy at the moment, at least according to the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, which says in part, "Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously."

You'd think that, given the no nukes thing, maybe Bush & Co. would ratchet down their scary WWIII rhetoric. But no. Bush, as we all know by now, is not a man at ease with new ideas. As he so eloquently explained yesterday morning at a press conference, "And so I view this report as a warning signal that they had the [nuclear weapons] program. They halted the program. And the reason why it’s a warning signal is that they could restart it.”

So let me get this straight. Bush has been claiming that the Iranians have nuclear weapons, or are on the verge of having nuclear weapons, and are thus dangerous. Turns out, they not only do not have nuclear weapons, but they haven't really been trying to get them since late 2003, perhaps in response to our invasion of Iraq. But nothing has changed, because Iran could still, some day in the future, again try to get nuclear weapons.

And also, a warning signal, kind of by definition, happens before the thing itself. That's what a warning is. That's even often what a signal is. So this new report cannot be a warning signal that Iran had, in the past, a nuclear weapons program. That's just dumb.

What was it that Stephen Colbert said at the White House Press Dinner a few years back?

"The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will."

All righty then.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

unmitigated violence

We all know violence. We read the headlines, or watch the news, or just go to the movies or play video games. We are, after all, sentient beings, and cannot be unaware of the prevalence of violence in our culture and our lives. But we, for the most part, know it in the abstract. We keep it at a distance. This is how we survive. We thrust it as far away from ourselves as possible, out of our particular framework, and insist on imagining that certain things do not happen in our country, our city, our neighborhood, our circle of friends and family.

Two men died on Sunday, just two days ago. Two particular men among hundreds, thousands. I should specify that two men were killed, gunned down; we are not talking here about heart attacks, or cancer, or car accidents, or even suicide.

I did not know either of them, and yet, even second hand, even just in the details, if not the personal knowing, it is difficult to keep these particular acts of violence abstract. It is difficult to hold on to the idea that this cannot possibly happen to me, or to people dear to me.

The first, a Brooklyn man, someone's brother and son, was shot late Saturday night on the sidewalk outside Radio Perfecto, a restaurant and bar on Amsterdam Avenue between 118th and 119th streets, here in New York. This is half a block away from my quiet, insulated, basement library.

The other, a graduate student at the University of Alaska, in Anchorage, was shot in his car, in his driveway just outside his home, early Sunday morning. He was the friend of a friend of mine, Maia, of Own the Sidewalk, whom I often mention here.

I remember last winter, when I was beginning to be social again after Chris had left for good and Nate had moved in with Shanna, Mom would sometimes worry aloud about me going home by myself, late at night. I would worry sometimes, too. I was afraid, sometimes, of the idea that there was no one to notice if I made it home or not. But there are only so many preventative measures that we can take, so much care we can handle, before becoming overwhelmed by the possibility of harm. At a certain point we must believe that we are safe, if only to go on functioning in a world where we are not.

Maia, in the midst of her grief, has a handle on this notion in a way that I can only imagine. I hope she will again truly feel this some day as much as she can so beautifully write about it now:

Every once in a while I am reminded that it takes a tremendous amount of faith to live in this world. For some people it's faith in God - but you also have to have faith in humanity. You have to believe that most people aren't going to hurt you, that the kind of person who would murder a man who worked with the mentally ill and wrote incredible stories, or the kind of person who would shoot a woman in the back, also for no apparent reason, or who would murder a child or hijack a plane, is not the norm. You have to believe when you walk out your front door in the morning that most of the people you're going to encounter are going to want the same thing you want: to walk back into their own homes at the end of the day, safe and whole and happy. Classmate Jason had that faith. He must have, to have sought out the kind of work he did - with developmentally disabled adults, with deeply disturbed children - and to write the way he wrote.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I read Candy, by Luke Davies, back in my brief tenure working for not much more than minimum wage at the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore. We saw a lot of books come and go, we shelved and arranged and looked up and ordered from our little information kiosk in the middle of this vast store. We all kept a couple books tucked away, hidden, so that we could sneakily read them on our lunch breaks instead of buying them, despite our 35% employee discount. This was one of those.

It really wasn't very good.

I rented the movie this weekend anyway, partly because of Heath Ledger, partly because I have an inexplicable soft spot for junkie pop culture. I think I'm the only person in the world to have both read and watched Permanent Midnight. And like Permanent Midnight before it, Candy in film form caught something that the book was sorely lacking. I found it captivating, and endlessly human, in its predictable druggy way. And I often find myself amazed at the breadth of Ledger's performances (Brokeback Mountain, Monster's Ball, this) when for some reason I've never wanted to like him much. Abbie Cornish, in the title role, has a delicate, yet iron-laced, beauty that seems perfect for the character. And then there's this weird poem bit at the film's center, silly and yet somehow I found myself close to tears watching it. Turns out there's a kind of video of it in the DVD extras, and online.

But it's gotten late, at least for this gyrl, and time for bed.

first snow, 12.2.07, 7:30am

Saturday, December 01, 2007


musical snapshot

I listened to Radiohead's Kid A somewhat obsessively during the summer of 2001, and recently pulled it out again, and Idioteque still gets to me almost as much as it did back then.

Somehow during the five years that I spent with Chris, a lot of my music didn't get played much. I liked most of his music, and perhaps cared less than him about what we listened to, and the stuff of mine that he loved, Mike Doughty and Beth Orton and Mirah and the rest, became somehow his, in a weird way. He never quite got my more angry / depressive / raucous music, my beloved PJ Harvey's Yuri G,Tool's H, Underworld's Dirty Epic, Tricky's Hell is Around the Corner, the Cure's Jumpin' Someone Else's Train. And I didn't trust my tastes enough to force the issue. But it's been fun, rediscovering some of this music that I loved so much back in college, even in high school. Nate came over for dinner one Sunday evening a couple weeks ago and the poor boy was forced to listen to the newly unearthed Pre-Millennium Tensions not once, but twice. His patience, at least for his adoring sister, seems to know no bounds.