samedi, novembre 29, 2008

savage consumerism

Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death
November 29, 2008

The throng of Wal-Mart shoppers had been building all night, filling sidewalks and stretching across a vast parking lot at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y. At 3:30 a.m., the Nassau County police had to be called in for crowd control, and an officer with a bullhorn pleaded for order.

Tension grew as the 5 a.m. opening neared. Someone taped up a crude poster: “Blitz Line Starts Here.”

By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless.

Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

Some workers who saw what was happening fought their way through the surge to get to Mr. Damour, but he had been fatally injured, the police said. Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.

Four other people, including a 28-year-old woman who was described as eight months pregnant, were treated at the hospital for minor injuries.

Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, who is in charge of the investigation for the Nassau police, said the store lacked adequate security. He called the scene “utter chaos” and said the “crowd was out of control.” As for those who had run over the victim, criminal charges were possible, the lieutenant said. “I’ve heard other people call this an accident, but it is not,” he said. “Certainly it was a foreseeable act.”

But even with videos from the store’s surveillance cameras and the accounts of witnesses, Lieutenant Fleming and other officials acknowledged that it would be difficult to identify those responsible, let alone to prove culpability.

Some shoppers who had seen the stampede said they were shocked. One of them, Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, said the crowd had acted like “savages.” Shoppers behaved badly even as the store was being cleared, she recalled.

“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ ” Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”

Wal-Mart security officials and the police cleared the store, swept up the shattered glass and locked the doors until 1 p.m., when it reopened to a steady stream of calmer shoppers who passed through the missing doors and battered door jambs, apparently unaware that anything had happened.

Ugly shopping scenes, a few involving injuries, have become commonplace during the bargain-hunting ritual known as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The nation’s largest retail group, the National Retail Federation, said it had never heard of a worker being killed on Black Friday.

Wal-Mart declined to provide details of the stampede, but said in a statement that it had tried to prepare by adding staff members. Still, it was unclear how many security workers it had at the Valley Stream store for the opening on Friday. The Green Acres Mall provides its own security to supplement the staffs of some large stores, but it did not appear that Wal-Mart was one of them.

A Wal-Mart spokesman, Dan Folgleman, called it a “tragic situation,” and said the victim had been hired from a temporary staffing agency and assigned to maintenance work. Wal-Mart, in a statement issued at its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said: “The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families at this tragic time.”

Wal-Mart has successfully resisted unionization of its employees. New York State’s largest grocery union, Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, called the death of Mr. Damour “avoidable” and demanded investigations.

“Where were the safety barriers?” said Bruce Both, the union president. “Where was security? How did store management not see dangerous numbers of customers barreling down on the store in such an unsafe manner? This is not just tragic; it rises to a level of blatant irresponsibility by Wal-Mart.”

While other Wal-Mart stores dot the suburbs around the city, the outlet at Valley Stream, less than two miles from New York City’s southeastern border, draws customers from Queens, Brooklyn and the densely populated suburbs of Nassau County. And it was not the only store in the Green Acres Mall that attracted large crowds.

Witnesses said the crowd outside Wal-Mart began gathering at 9 p.m. on Thursday. The night was not bitterly cold, and the early mood was relaxed. By the early morning hours, the throngs had grown, and officers of the Fifth Precinct of the Nassau County Police Department, who patrol Valley Stream, were out in force, checking on crowds at the mall.

Mr. Damour, who lived in Queens, went into the store sometime during the night to stock shelves and perform maintenance work.

On Friday night, Mr. Damour’s father, Ogera Charles, 67, said his son had spent Thursday evening having Thanksgiving dinner at a half sister’s house in Queens before going directly to work. Mr. Charles said his son, known as Jimmy, was raised in Queens by his mother and worked at various stores in the area after graduating from high school.

Mr. Charles said he had not seen his son in three months, and heard about his death about 7 a.m. Friday, when a friend of Mr. Damour’s called him at home. He arrived at Franklin Hospital Medical Center an hour later to identify the body. Mr. Charles said he was angry that no one from Wal-Mart had contacted him or had explained how his son had died. Maria Damour, Mr. Damour’s mother, was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but was on her way back to the United States, Mr. Charles said.

About the time that Mr. Damour was killed, a shopper at a Wal-Mart in Farmingdale, 15 miles east of Valley Stream, said she was trampled by a crowd of overeager customers, the Suffolk County police reported. The woman sustained a cut on her leg, but finished her shopping before filing the police report, an officer said.

Anahad O’Connor contributed reporting.

mercredi, novembre 26, 2008

the first american thanksgiving

Op-Ed Contributor: A French Connection
November 26, 2008

TO commemorate the arrival of the first pilgrims to America’s shores, a June date would be far more appropriate, accompanied perhaps by coq au vin and a nice Bordeaux. After all, the first European arrivals seeking religious freedom in the “New World” were French. And they beat their English counterparts by 50 years. That French settlers bested the Mayflower Pilgrims may surprise Americans raised on our foundational myth, but the record is clear.

Long before the Pilgrims sailed in 1620, another group of dissident Christians sought a haven in which to worship freely. These French Calvinists, or Huguenots, hoped to escape the sectarian fighting between Catholics and Protestants that had bloodied France since 1560.

Landing in balmy Florida in June of 1564, at what a French explorer had earlier named the River of May (now the St. Johns River near Jacksonville), the French émigrés promptly held a service of “thanksgiving.” Carrying the seeds of a new colony, they also brought cannons to fortify the small, wooden enclosure they named Fort Caroline, in honor of their king, Charles IX.

In short order, these French pilgrims built houses, a mill and bakery, and apparently even managed to press some grapes into a few casks of wine. At first, relationships with the local Timucuans were friendly, and some of the French settlers took native wives and soon acquired the habit of smoking a certain local “herb.” Food, wine, women — and tobacco by the sea, no less. A veritable Gallic paradise.

Except, that is, to the Spanish, who had other visions for the New World. In 1565, King Philip II of Spain issued orders to “hang and burn the Lutherans” (then a Spanish catchall term for Protestants) and dispatched Adm. Pedro Menéndez to wipe out these French heretics who had taken up residence on land claimed by the Spanish — and who also had an annoying habit of attacking Spanish treasure ships as they sailed by.

Leading this holy war with a crusader’s fervor, Menéndez established St. Augustine and ordered what local boosters claim is the first parish Mass celebrated in the future United States. Then he engineered a murderous assault on Fort Caroline, in which most of the French settlers were massacred. Menéndez had many of the survivors strung up under a sign that read, “I do this not as to Frenchmen but as to heretics.” A few weeks later, he ordered the execution of more than 300 French shipwreck survivors at a site just south of St. Augustine, now marked by an inconspicuous national monument called Fort Matanzas, from the Spanish word for “slaughters.”

With this, America’s first pilgrims disappeared from the pages of history. Casualties of Europe’s murderous religious wars, they fell victim to Anglophile historians who erased their existence as readily as they demoted the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine to second-class status behind the later English colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth.

But the truth cannot be so easily buried. Although overlooked, a brutal first chapter had been written in the most untidy history of a “Christian nation.” And the sectarian violence and hatred that ended with the deaths of a few hundred Huguenots in 1565 would be replayed often in early America, the supposed haven for religious dissent, which in fact tolerated next to none.

Starting with those massacred French pilgrims, the saga of the nation’s birth and growth is often a bloodstained one, filled with religious animosities. In Boston, for instance, the Puritan fathers banned Catholic priests and executed several Quakers between 1659 and 1661. Cotton Mather, the famed Puritan cleric, led the war cries against New England’s Abenaki “savages” who had learned their prayers from the French Jesuits. The colony of Georgia was established in 1732 as a buffer between the Protestant English colonies and the Spanish missions of Florida; its original charter banned Catholics. The bitter rivalry between Catholic France and Protestant England carried on for most of a century, giving rise to anti-Catholic laws, while a mistrust of Canada’s French Catholics helped fire many patriots’ passion for independence. As late as 1844, Philadelphia’s anti-Catholic “Bible Riots” took the lives of more than a dozen people.

The list goes on. Our history is littered with bleak tableaus that show what happens when righteous certitude is mixed with fearful ignorance. Which is why this Thanksgiving, as we express gratitude for America’s bounty and promise, we would do well to reflect on all our histories, including a forgotten French one that began on Florida’s shores so many years ago.

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of “America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation.”

dimanche, novembre 23, 2008


"The bar of a café is the parliament of the people."
- Honoré de Balzac (20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850), was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte in 1815.

so many sheep, so little time

Yesterday, Leo and I caught Cook's Corner (America's Test Kitchen) on KPBS during brunch. The episode featured oven-baked mac and cheese and kept us enthralled as we watched the process of making the perfectly creamy entree.

Today, we read about the finer points of a sheep's milk gouda and enjoyed some grated gruyere and asiago on our eggs. So it's only fitting that I should stumble across this article this afternoon.

And, yes. They are all my favorites.
Explorer: Nibbling Through Spain’s Cheese Country
Published: November 23, 2008

THE only words of caution were, “Just be careful you don’t wake up the bats.” I was in a pitch-black cave following a 44-year-old woman wearing tight jeans and a small light strapped to her forehead. While my eyes refused to adjust to the blackness, I could hear thousands — O.K., dozens — of little bat bodies shifting in slumber inches above my head. At last, we arrived.

“These are my babies,” said my guide, sweeping her arm toward a few hundred small wheels of hard, blue cheese resting on a stack of shelves. “You would like to try?”

Sure, great, now let’s get out of here.

We were in Asturias, a sliver of northern Spain that rests on the Bay of Biscay, and I had been drawn there by the region’s tagline: “The Land of Cheese.” I am, by any measure, a cheese person. While other people go to Tuscany for brunello or the Pacific Northwest for salmon, I follow cheese. Not just any fromage. I want the stuff I can’t get at home, the magic recipes that seduced the palates of the ancient Romans, the sharp ones, the stinky ones, the delicate artisanal ones that taste like little white flowers. When I found out there was a place in the world called the Land of Cheese, it was like the great cheese mothership calling me home.

My pilgrimage had led me to the bat cave last September where I was following Raquel Viejo, a local woman whose family has lived in Asturias for generations. The specialty of the region — and what was stored on those shelves — is Cabrales, a blue cow’s cheese named after the town in Asturias where it was first made. We were in the foothills of Picos de Europa, where everything is vertical: the sheer mountain faces, the steep pine trees, the skinny roads dotted with tiny cars nervously hugging the shoulders, flocks of sheep perched on the rocky lands, lone goats standing expertly on their hind legs munching from a thicket of low-hanging leaves, a cacophony of cowbells and beams of sunlight warming it all. Cheese country.

There are thousands of caves hidden in the hills here, and for centuries residents have been using them to age cheese. The specifics of each brand of cheese in various regions of Spain are regulated by a denomination of origin, or D.O., and Cabrales’s says it must be stored in cavelike conditions for at least two months so the good bacteria can kill off the bad. But recently, the craft of making Cabrales has suffered “because so many young people are leaving Asturias,” said Ms. Viejo.

A few years ago, the Spanish government created new regulations for the cheese makers in this area. Some of the old methods, like straining the milk with horsehair sieves, were done away with in favor of more modern technology, like metal strainers and mechanical devices. But the most important requirements — the dairy breed, the aging process, the lack of pasteurization — remain.

Back in her home, amid the intoxicating (some might say rancid) smell of sour milk, I tasted a slice of Ms. Viejo’s cheese, named José Antonio Bueno García after her husband. It was drier and saltier than the blues I was used to, but it didn’t taste overly blue, as some softer cheeses can. Delicious, but I couldn’t shake the image of the bats taking a few nibbles. (Do bats even eat cheese?) So my search continued.

Through another farmer in the area, I tracked down a cheesemaker a few villages over who was famous for resisting modernity. This sounded promising. Oliva Peláez Amieva, a squat woman with a wrinkled face, greeted me outside her small stone house in a purple muumuu and clogs.

“You can tell how long a family has lived here by how they make cheese,” said Ms. Amieva, who has been at it for 60 years. Her cheese isn’t Cabrales because she ignores the D.O. guidelines; in fact, it doesn’t have a name. She only makes about 200 wheels a year and most of it goes to friends and family members. For the moment, I was in the inner circle.

“The health department wants me to put in all sorts of regulations, but it wouldn’t be as good,” says Ms. Amieva, 70. “I used to sell it at the market, but I got in trouble with the police.”

Her cheese was a wonderfully sharp, dry, crumbly blend of goat and sheep milk that tasted slightly of salt and soil. And it’s labor intensive. Without modern equipment, all of Ms. Amieva’s animals are milked by hand. Once the cheese is poured into molds, she rubs each mound with salt and turns it over daily to ensure that it ages evenly; by the end, over 90 percent of the original milk volume is gone.

This isolated nook of the country has spawned hundreds, if not thousands, of artisanal cheese makers for generations. The cheese is cruder than French fromage and not as recognizable as Italian counterparts, but here, each wheel is as idiosyncratic as the person who makes it. The cheese of northern Spain is, like the land that produces it, rough, coarse and sharp, and there’s no way to taste it without traveling there.

I worked my way through a quarter of a wheel as we sat in Ms. Amieva’s modest living room, and realized, too late, that the cheese was so dry, my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. Ms. Amieva offered me homemade cider, the gently effervescent, lightly alcoholic beverage that always accompanies a piece of cheese in this area. It was the perfectly sweet balance to her defiantly unnamed snack.

“The reason my cheese is so delicious,” said Ms. Amieva, without a trace of modesty, “is my hands.” She turned her meaty, callused palms over for inspection. “The natural bacteria in my skin makes the cheese more flavorful.”

To travel from village to village is to string together a perpetual cheese-and-cider festival, each farming community fiercely proud of its own, certain its concoctions are the best. Several people asked me if I thought Cabrales was superior to Basque cheese. The correct answer, of course, is “Of course.” But I had never tried Cabrales’s rival, and I was getting curious, so I steadily made my way east, until finally I crossed over into Basque country.

The first thing you notice about Basque country is that the cars all have the same bumper sticker: a cute, puffy sheep, who is the symbol of the region. Again, a very promising sign.

“You won’t find anyone here who likes Cabrales,” said Patxi Baskaran, a farmer who lives in the hills not far from Guernica (Gernika to Basques), the town infamously bombed by the Nazis in 1937. He was speaking with disdain about rival Asturias that I soon discovered was common among the Basques. Mr. Baskaran is a tall, lively man with a red face who has a way of yelling everything he says. His family has been making the same cheese for over a century on his farm. He learned the method from his father, but in order to stay competitive, Mr. Baskaran has had to teach himself how to work with modern equipment.

Mr. Baskaran makes Idiazábal, a hard sheep’s cheese with a strong, earthy flavor. Idiazábal is to Basque country what Cabrales is to Asturias — that is, there are thousands of small-scale farmers who think they make this delicious and individualistic cheese the best. And the only way to know for sure is to nibble your way through the wooded terrain of Basque country.

Mr. Baskaran was quick to tell me that he didn’t deserve credit, his sheep did. Soon it was time to meet the flock. He drove his Toyota 4runner up a deathly steep dirt road that led us above the clouds. Baht, the border collie, jumped out the window and rounded up the sheep for inspection, and hundreds of black faces paused momentarily before resuming their dinner of wild flowers. We stood on the summit of the mountain in the damp, white air, jagged cliffs looming like giant shark fins piercing the fog. “Big farms don’t make cheese like we do in Basque country because the sheep eat grains and they’re more stressed, so the milk is weak,” he said. “My sheep live peaceful lives.”

BEFORE I left Basque country, I met the least stressed sheep in all of Spain. Just west of San Sebastián, above the small town of Zumaia, there were hundreds of the puffy, four-legged cheese makers mowing a verdant field, mouthful by mouthful. They had trees for shade, a brook for water breaks, and 30 acres overlooking the dark, roiling Atlantic.

“My sheep live better than I do,” said the owner of Agerre Berri farm, José Manuel Etxberria, echoing a common sentiment in Basque country. Mr. Etxberria is 39 years old, with light eyes and skin browned from a lifetime outside. “They live very calm — they have a nice view of the ocean. In Basque, we say farmers love their sheep more than they love their women.”

And they make the cheese to prove it. Mr. Etxberria’s version, Itxas Egi, is a hard sheep’s variety with a sharp bite and the fragrant taste of clovers — strong, milky and grassy. This, he claims, is his secret ingredient: Keep the sheep happy eating nothing but sweet green grass and they will return the favor with delicious cheese “that goes perfectly with a glass of red wine and a beautiful girl.”

So did I ever find the world’s best cheese? Mr. Etxberria’s came awfully close, but I had to stop short of calling it perfect because of something he said.

“Cheese is like sheep; they all have a different personality,” said Mr. Etxberria, who has actually named most of his sheep. “And I could never choose my favorite sheep. They are all my favorites.”


The best way to get to cheese country from New York is to fly into San Sebastián. A recent online search found tickets around $500 on Continental and Iberian Airlines (both stop in Madrid). From San Sebastián, rent a car (; and drive east on the coast to any of the seaside towns in Asturias — Llanes, Ribadesella, Caravia or Lastres.

All have affordable hotels and great cheese shops. Try Hotel Sablon (34-985-401-987; or El Habana (34-985-402-526;, two cozy inns just outside Llanes. Hotel Sablon closes Dec. 14 to Feb.2; El Habana is closed until March 14. Doubles start at 42 and 118 euros, respectively. Casa Gaspar (Calle de López Muñiz, 6; 34-985-860-676) is a good restaurant in Ribadesella. To buy cheese in Llanes, visit Casa Buj (Calle Mercaderes, 13; 34-985-401-072;

In Basque country, the lovely Hotel Iturregi (34-943-89-61-34; is in Getaria. High-season doubles start at 230 euros. Aitor Lasa (Calle Aldamar, 12, San Sebastián; 34-943-430-354) is a good local cheese shop.

vendredi, novembre 21, 2008

i'll be glad to see the back of her, too

Reason #2,398 that we dodged a bullet.
The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla
Dick Cavett
November 14, 2008, 10:00 pm

Electronic devices dislike me. There is never a day when something isn’t ailing. Three out of these five implements — answering machine, fax machine, printer, phone and electric can-opener — all dropped dead on me in the past few days.

Now something has gone wrong with all three television sets. They will get only Sarah Palin.

I can play a kind of Alaskan roulette. Any random channel clicked on by the remote brings up that eager face, with its continuing assaults on the English Lang.

There she is with Larry and Matt and just about everyone else but Dr. Phil (so far). If she is not yet on “Judge Judy,” I suspect it can’t be for lack of trying.

What have we done to deserve this, this media blitz that the astute Andrea Mitchell has labeled “The Victory Tour”?

I suppose it will be recorded as among political history’s ironies that Palin was brought in to help John McCain. I can’t blame feminists who might draw amusement from the fact that a woman managed to both cripple the male she was supposed to help while gleaning an almost Elvis-sized following for herself. Mac loses, Sarah wins big-time was the gist of headlines.

I feel a little sorry for John. He aimed low and missed.

What will ambitious politicos learn from this? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?

And how much more of all that lies in our future if God points her to those open-a-crack doors she refers to? The ones she resolves to splinter and bulldoze her way through upon glimpsing the opportunities, revealed from on high.

What on earth are our underpaid teachers, laboring in the vineyards of education, supposed to tell students about the following sentence, committed by the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High and gleaned by my colleague Maureen Dowd for preservation for those who ask, “How was it she talked?”

My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.

And, she concluded, “never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or a continent, I just don’t know about this issue.”

It’s admittedly a rare gift to produce a paragraph in which whole clumps of words could be removed without noticeably affecting the sense, if any.

(A cynic might wonder if Wasilla High School’s English and geography departments are draped in black.)

(How many contradictory and lying answers about The Empress’s New Clothes have you collected? I’ve got, so far, only four. Your additional ones welcome.)

Matt Lauer asked her about her daughter’s pregnancy and what went into the decision about how to handle it. Her “answer” did not contain the words “daughter,” “pregnancy,” “what to do about it” or, in fact, any two consecutive words related to Lauer’s query.

I saw this as a brief clip, so I don’t know whether Lauer recovered sufficiently to follow up, or could only sit there, covered in disbelief. If it happens again, Matt, I bequeath you what I heard myself say once to an elusive guest who stiffed me that way: “Were you able to hear any part of my question?”

At the risk of offending, well, you, for example, I worry about just what it is her hollering fans see in her that makes her the ideal choice to deal with the world’s problems: collapsed economies, global warming, hostile enemies and our current and far-flung twin battlefronts, either of which may prove to be the world’s second “30 Years’ War.”

Has there been a poll to see if the Sarah-ites are numbered among that baffling 26 percent of our population who, despite everything, still maintain that President George has done a heckuva job?

A woman in one of Palin’s crowds praised her for being “a mom like me … who thinks the way I do” and added, for ill measure, “That’s what I want in the White House.” Fine, but in what capacity?

Do this lady’s like-minded folk wonder how, say, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, et al (add your own favorites) managed so well without being soccer moms? Without being whizzes in the kitchen, whipping up moose soufflés? Without executing and wounding wolves from the air and without promoting that sad, threadbare hoax — sexual abstinence — as the answer to the sizzling loins of the young?

(In passing, has anyone observed that hunting animals with high-powered guns could only be defined as sport if both sides were equally armed?)

I’d love to hear what you think has caused such an alarming number of our fellow Americans to fall into the Sarah Swoon.

Could the willingness to crown one who seems to have no first language have anything to do with the oft-lamented fact that we seem to be alone among nations in having made the word “intellectual” an insult? (And yet…and yet…we did elect Obama. Surely not despite his brains.)

Sorry about all of the foregoing, as if you didn’t get enough of the lady every day in every medium but smoke signals.

I do not wish her ill. But I also don’t wish us ill. I hope she continues to find happiness in Alaska.

May I confess that upon first seeing her, I liked her looks? With the sound off, she presents a not uncomely frontal appearance.

But now, as the Brits say, “I’ll be glad to see the back of her.”


PS: Lagniappe for English mavens: A friend of mine has made you laugh greatly over the years. David Lloyd is a comic genius (I can hear you wince, David) who wrote for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Cheers,” “Taxi,” “Frasier,” Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and me, not necessarily in that order. As a language fan, he has preserved many gems for posterity in his prodigious memory bank. Here comes my favorite:

A Navy lecturer was talking about some directives on the blackboard that he said to do something about, “except for these here ones with the asteroids in back of.”

Even David couldn’t make that up.

mercredi, novembre 19, 2008

mardi, novembre 11, 2008

spread happiness

Keith Olbermann's commentary to those who voted for Prop 8 is beautifully simple and heartfelt reasoning. Take six minutes of your time to listen to this in its entirety.

If you are even the slightest bit moved by this statement, please send it on to everyone you know who voted yes on 8. It just might make them think again.
Via Jerry, James, and Ophira

lundi, novembre 10, 2008


When Al Gore lost his bid to be president for a few reasons. One of the biggest was because the American people wanted a president they could have a beer with -- and not a brilliant man who usually came off looking like a pointy-headed policy wonk.

There are many things I admire about our new president. His intellect, his curiosity, and his clear grasp of nuance are near the top of the list. And I'd gladly have a drink (and a conversation) with the man.
Op-Ed Columnist: Obama and the War on Brains
Published: November 9, 2008

Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.

We can’t solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.

Almost half of young Americans said in a 2006 poll that it was not necessary to know the locations of countries where important news was made. That must be a relief to Sarah Palin, who, according to Fox News, didn’t realize that Africa was a continent rather than a country.

Perhaps John Kennedy was the last president who was unapologetic about his intellect and about luring the best minds to his cabinet. More recently, we’ve had some smart and well-educated presidents who scrambled to hide it. Richard Nixon was a self-loathing intellectual, and Bill Clinton camouflaged a fulgent brain behind folksy Arkansas aphorisms about hogs.

As for President Bush, he adopted anti-intellectualism as administration policy, repeatedly rejecting expertise (from Middle East experts, climate scientists and reproductive health specialists). Mr. Bush is smart in the sense of remembering facts and faces, yet I can’t think of anybody I’ve ever interviewed who appeared so uninterested in ideas.

At least since Adlai Stevenson’s campaigns for the presidency in the 1950s, it’s been a disadvantage in American politics to seem too learned. Thoughtfulness is portrayed as wimpishness, and careful deliberation is for sissies. The social critic William Burroughs once bluntly declared that “intellectuals are deviants in the U.S.”

(It doesn’t help that intellectuals are often as full of themselves as of ideas. After one of Stevenson’s high-brow speeches, an admirer yelled out something like, You’ll have the vote of every thinking American! Stevenson is said to have shouted back: That’s not enough. I need a majority!)

Yet times may be changing. How else do we explain the election in 2008 of an Ivy League-educated law professor who has favorite philosophers and poets?

Granted, Mr. Obama may have been protected from accusations of excessive intelligence by his race. That distracted everyone, and as a black man he didn’t fit the stereotype of a pointy-head ivory tower elitist. But it may also be that President Bush has discredited superficiality.

An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity.

(Intellectuals are for real. In contrast, a pedant is a supercilious show-off who drops references to Sophocles and masks his shallowness by using words like “fulgent” and “supercilious.”)

Mr. Obama, unlike most politicians near a microphone, exults in complexity. He doesn’t condescend or oversimplify nearly as much as politicians often do, and he speaks in paragraphs rather than sound bites. Global Language Monitor, which follows linguistic issues, reports that in the final debate, Mr. Obama spoke at a ninth-grade reading level, while John McCain spoke at a seventh-grade level.

As Mr. Obama prepares to take office, I wish I could say that smart people have a great record in power. They don’t. Just think of Emperor Nero, who was one of the most intellectual of ancient rulers — and who also killed his brother, his mother and his pregnant wife; then castrated and married a slave boy who resembled his wife; probably set fire to Rome; and turned Christians into human torches to light his gardens.

James Garfield could simultaneously write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other, Thomas Jefferson was a dazzling scholar and inventor, and John Adams typically carried a book of poetry. Yet all were outclassed by George Washington, who was among the least intellectual of our early presidents.

Yet as Mr. Obama goes to Washington, I’m hopeful that his fertile mind will set a new tone for our country. Maybe someday soon our leaders no longer will have to shuffle in shame when they’re caught with brains in their heads.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog,, and join me on Facebook at

dimanche, novembre 09, 2008

god hates shrimp

But don't take my word for it: Leviticus 11:9-12 (King James Version)
9These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.

10And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:

11They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.

12Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.
Yesterday, Leo and I walked from 1st and University to 30th and University -- and then on to our home with Ruby. We were just a few among a crowd of 10,000 people marching to show our outrage at the passage of Prop 8. We saw several signs that said it all, among them:
  • "Welcome to California, where chickens have rights but people don't"
  • "Mormons: Latter Day Taliban"
  • "California fucked me without a condom"
  • "The Mission Gathering Church is sorry for the judgemental, unchristian hate that passed Prop 8. Our community stands with your community in fighting this injustice."
  • "Kiss my second class ass"
It's disheartening to see the pain, bewilderment, and shock that Prop 8 has created. While I am not a fan of violence or of hate, I am outraged at the outcome of Prop 8.

It floored me to learn that 48% of the donors to Yes on 8 disclosed that they are Mormon. It also concerned me that so much of the money supporting Yes on 8 came from out of state -- after all, we have serious concerns when residents of other countries give large amounts to our federal candidates, because it creates the impression of a real conflict of interest. But the biggest surprise of the Yes on 8 folks was the fact that my own mother gave them an ungodly amount of money.

I learned about it by opening a link sent by a friend on Monday, Nov. 3. His comments were on the role of the LDS church and out-of-state donations. I glanced through the document and saw that it listed donors by city. I looked for my hometown and saw one entry. I did a double-take when I saw that the $1,200 donation had my mother's name next to it.

I called Leo, outraged. He asked if I'd spoken to my dad yet. (I hadn't).

I called my dad, asked him if he knew that she had donated more than $1,000 to political campaigns. (He didn't.) We had a brief conversation where he gave me one-word answers and then told me that he was at a Vietnamese restaurant with her. I asked to speak to her and then she giddily told me that she had, in fact, given the Yes on 8 people $100 a month for a year. I ended the conversation by telling her that that was the last conversation I would ever have with her. (Clearly, this break was years in the making, but this was the final straw for me.)

Nearly a week later, I'm thinking about the pleas for understanding and calm in the wake of last Tuesday's election.

I'm working with my LGBT and straight friends to become active in the Repeal Prop 8 movement.

But most of all, I'm searching for a reason to hope and wondering if our new president can demonstrate the same courage that the fictional Jeb Bartlett did. As Anne Lamott said, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

Barrack Obama campaigned on the platform of hope and change, yet his victory Tuesday was sullied by the passage of Prop 8 here in California, which was one of the darkest moments of my adult life. Ever the optimist, I cannot sit and simply curse the darkness. While I hope for an end to the dark ages, I'm doing my best to create some light as we wait for the sun to rise.

yes we did

Leo informed me that the fist bump is technically called a "dap." I call this cartoon genius.
Via Nuray

rooting aroung

Very cool. Too bad our California garage is too warm to cellar produce.
Food Storage as Grandma Knew It
Published: November 5, 2008

IN a strictly technical sense, Cynthia Worley is not transforming her basement into a time machine. Yet what’s going on this harvest season beneath her Harlem brownstone on 122nd Street, at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, is surely something out of the past — or perhaps the future.

The space itself is nothing special: Whitewashed granite walls run the width and depth of the room, 16 feet by 60 feet. A forgotten owner tried to put in a cement floor, but the dirt, which takes a long-term view of things, is stubbornly coming back. “It’s basically a sod floor,” Ms. Worley said.

What’s important is that the shelves are sturdy, because Ms. Worley and her husband, Haja Worley, will soon load them with 20 pounds of potatoes, 20 pounds of onions, 30 pounds of butternut and acorn squash, 10 heads of cabbage, 60-odd pints of home-canned tomatoes and preserves, 9 gallons of berry and fruit wines, and another gallon or two of mulberry vinegar.

The goodies in the pint jars and the carboys come from the Joseph Daniel Wilson Memorial Garden, which the Worleys founded across the street. The fresh produce is a huge final delivery from a Community Supported Agriculture farm in Orange County, which they used all summer. Packed in sand and stored at 55 degrees, the potatoes should keep at least until the New Year. The squash could still be palatable on Groundhog Day, and the onions should survive till spring. Ms. Worley, who counsels and teaches adults for the New York City Department of Education, and Mr. Worley, a neighborhood organizer and radio engineer, will let their basement-deprived friends store vegetables, too.

The Worleys, like a number of other Americans, have made the seemingly anachronistic choice to turn their basement into a root cellar. While Ms. Worley’s brownstone basement stash won’t feed the couple through the winter, she said, “I think it’s a healthy way to go and an economical way.”

According to a September survey on consumer anxieties over higher fuel and food prices from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames, 34 percent of respondents said that they were likely to raise more of their own vegetables. Another 37 percent said they were likely to can or freeze more of their food. The cousin to canning and freezing is the root cellar.

“I’ve been doing local food work for a long time,” said Rich Pirog, associate director of the Leopold Center, who conducted the study. “And I’m seeing an increase in articles in various sustainable ag newsletters about root cellaring.”

According to Bruce Butterfield, the research director for the National Gardening Association, a trade group, home food preservation typically increases in a rotten economy. In 2002, the close of the last mild recession, 29 million households bought supplies for freezing, drying, processing and canning. Last year that number stood at only 22 million — a figure Mr. Butterfield said he expects to rise rapidly.

Root cellars have long been the province of Midwestern grandmothers, back-to-the-landers and committed survivalists. But given the nation’s budding romance with locally produced food, they also appeal to the backyard gardener, who may have a fruit tree that drops a bigger bounty every year while the refrigerator remains the same size.

While horticulture may be a science, home food storage definitely can carry the stench of an imperfect art. According to the essential 1979 book, “Root Cellaring,” by Mike and Nancy Bubel, some items like cabbage and pears do best in a moist environment below 40 degrees (though above freezing). To achieve this, a cellar probably needs to be vented, or have windows that open. Winter squash and sweet potatoes should be kept dry and closer to 50 degrees — perhaps closer to the furnace.

Other rules of root cellaring sound more like molecular gastronomy. For example, the ethylene gas that apples give off will make carrots bitter. As a general principle, keeping produce in a cool chamber that is beneath the frost line — the depth, roughly four feet down, below which the soil doesn’t freeze — can slow both the normal process of ripening and the creeping spread of bacterial and fungal rot. These are the forces that will turn a lost tomato in the back of the cupboard into a little lagoon of noxious goo.

But if you leave that green tomato on a vine and drape it upside down, it will gradually turn red in three or four weeks. “I’ve had fresh tomatoes for Thanksgiving,” said Jito Coleman, an environmental engineer who practices the inverted tomato — which should be a yoga pose — in a root cellar he built in the house he designed in Warren, Vt.

People who squirrel away vegetables tend to be resourceful, and they do not limit themselves to the subterranean. Anna Barnes, who runs a small media company and coordinates the Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture in Champaign, Ill., says squash hung in a pair of knotted pantyhose stay unspoiled longer than others.

Here, the cold is optional, too. It’s the bruising that comes from a squash sitting on a hard countertop, she said, that speeds senescence. (“You wouldn’t want to do it in the guest closet,” Ms. Barnes said. Or, presumably, wear the pantyhose again.)

Taken to a do-it-yourself extreme, lots of places can become stockrooms. Margaret Christie has surrendered countless nooks in her 1845 Federal-style home in tiny downtown Whately, Mass., to laying away the crops she grows in the family’s half-acre vegetable plot. Ms. Christie, 44, a projects director for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, a nonprofit that supports community farming in western Massachusetts, also feeds her husband and three children from their milk goats, laying hens, pigpens and lamb pastures.

This year, she swapped a lamb for 40 pounds of sweet potatoes, 40 pounds of onions and 40 pounds of carrots from a neighbor’s farm. This cornucopia has colonized the basement, along with the family’s own potatoes. “They’re sitting next to the Ping-Pong table,” she said, in “five-gallon buckets with window screens for the lids.”

Onions, garlic and pumpkins dwell in an uninsulated attic — except in midwinter, when that space drops below freezing. Then the vegetables move into the guest bedroom. If that space has already been claimed, they occasionally hide out under the bed of her 11-year-old son. Their homegrown popcorn kernels have a way of turning up everywhere, courtesy of the neighborhood mice, who have developed their own taste for locally grown year-round produce.

The contemporary American, for whom a pizza delivery is seldom more than a phone call away, is an oddity in the annals of eating. Elizabeth Cromley, a professor of architectural history at Northeastern University, said that at one time, “just about every house had special facilities for preserving food.”

Professor Cromley has finished a book called “The Food Axis: Cooking, Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses,” which is to be published by the University of Virginia Press in 2010. She said that understanding food preservation is not a frivolous pursuit. More than 400 books instructed 19th-century Americans on how to plan a functional house, with a practical larder, basement and outbuildings, she said. “You’re not going to die if you don’t get a new dress,” she said, “but if you don’t know this, it will kill you.”

Harriet Fasenfest, 55, who lives in Portland, Ore., has been playing with her food for a long time. A semiretired restaurateur, she started “hacking up” her small city lot in the Alberta Art District to grow food. (Her husband asked, “Where will we play Frisbee?” and Ms. Fasenfest replied, “The park.”) She also teaches classes on canning and created the Web site

There is no digging a dry refuge from the seep and suck of a Portland winter. So in lieu of a traditional cellar, she applies the scientific method. “Last year I tried an experiment with four different varieties of apples,” she said, “to see how long it took them to rot. So I put them in a box in my shed and then they rotted. It worked!”

When she’s not filling her 10-foot-by-10-foot shed, she experiments in the cubbyholes that sit alongside the outdoor cellar stairs. Copra onions, Ms. Fasenfest has found, store better than Walla Wallas. An indoor heating vent can cure butternut squash so effectively that it can probably last in cold storage until the economy turns around (whenever that is).

Nevertheless, even those who rhapsodize about the pleasures of eating locally grown food year-round have to admit that the effort doesn’t always seem worthwhile. Ms. Fasenfest has been forced to conclude that the labor that went into growing and storing the 30 pounds of russet potatoes now beneath the stairwell was not really adequate to the reward. “If we had to survive off of those,” she said, “we’d be dead.”

dimanche, novembre 02, 2008

7,000 reasons to hope

Diana and Ophira, together 10 years.
Dan and Kevin, together 18 years.
Lynne and Cindy, together 22 years.
Geoff and James, together 5 years.
Micki and Mychal, together 7 years.

These are just some of my LGBT friends who got legally married this summer.

Leo and I joined Diana, Ophira, Maria, and Healy (and nearly 7,000 other people) at the No On 8 vigil tonight in Hillcrest. I couldn't speak as we rounded the corner and saw thousands of people, lit candles, and signs all coming together to rally against Prop 8.

Here's my classmate Michael's wedding to the love of his life, Andrew.

Do your part and vote next Tuesday. And while you're there, please please please vote no on 8. Hate has no place in the California state constitution.