Monthly Archives: February 2008

Spoiled. I Am SoSoSoSo Spoiled.

My daughter didn’t just make lunch for me yesterday, she put together a beautiful feast.

Look at this! Apple fritters! OMG, these were DE-licious. (And sparkling cider there on the left.)

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Two types of sandwiches! Egg salad and cucumber. Plus, a beautiful Polish (or Ukrainian, maybe) salad. And another (!) dessert—strawberries with Balsamic vinegar and mascarpone. Heavenly!

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And tulips for the table.

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Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Strawberry Mascarpone Dessert (alternatively, could be called Died and Gone to Heaven Dessert)

4 pints fresh strawberries
1 cup mascarpone cheese; or more
2 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream

Slice strawberries and place in bowl. Add the balsamic vinegar and sugar and toss to distribute. Let macerate about 1 hour.

Remove 1 cup (or more) strawberries and reserve. Put remaining berries in a food processor along with the mascarpone and process till smooth. Beat heavy cream till whipped and gently but thoroughly combine with the mascarpone mixture.

Divide reserved sliced strawberries among 4-6 footed clear goblets and top with the mascarpone cream. Garnish with a whole berry.

This recipe was found here. (I think it’s funny that it says “let macerate.” Ha! Makes me think of insects chewing. Oh, I guess that’s masticate.)

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Dear P’s dinner went all wrong. He was making a curry from one of my recipe books and there was an error in the recipe! How annoying. It called for 12 cups (CUPS!) of water—in a curry to serve six. Don’t think so.  But I have to say, the beautiful lunch more than made up for it!

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And after this morning, I can attest that heavy cream and oatmeal do not a delicious breakfast make. Wouldn’t’ve tried it, except we were out of milk.

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Filed under family, food, lifestuff

The Chicago 8 (er, I mean 10)

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I happened to catch part of Fresh Air in the car today, on my way to meet a friend for lunch. Terry Gross was interviewing Brett Morgen, director of the new documentary Chicago Ten. Now this sounds like an excellent movie. Listen to the interview, or read a little about it, here.

At the end of the interview Morgen says:

The film is set in sixty-eight, but I never thought I was making a film about 1968. I thought I was making a film about today . . . telling a story that is ultimately about the time that I’m living in and the war I’m living through.

What the film is ultimately trying to do is to put a mirror up to the audience and challenge them—to ask them—how far are you willing to go? We’re not suggesting that people need to get beat over the head to make a statement. Ultimately what the film tells you is that each person needs to make that decision for themselves and all we’re doing is asking them to take a moment to ask, Am I doing enough?

Am I doing enough? It’s a question we should frequently ask ourselves. A film that helps us do that is a good thing.

Background, from the NPR site (see link, above):

Outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, protesters rallied to show disapproval of the Vietnam War. They hadn’t been granted demonstration permits, however, and for a week, they were involved in violent conflict with Chicago police.

Less than a year later, eight of the protest leaders — the so-called Chicago 8 — were indicted by a federal grand jury on counts of, among other things, conspiracy and incitement to riot. All were eventually found not guilty on conspiracy, but five were found guilty of violating the 1968 Anti-Riot Act. In 1972, those convictions were reversed.

I know an ageless hippie chick who probably knows something about the Chicago Eight (or ten)!

And lunch? Dim sum. Yum. My friend was taking me out to celebrate my birthday and I realized, whilst listening to Terry on the radio, that we have known each other since I was pregnant with my daughter in 1985! How wonderful to have a friend who’s been around that long—we played volleyball together for a long time (until I injured my shoulder thirteen years ago), worked together for eight years, have celebrated one another’s birthdays every February and October. He watched my daughter grow up—in fact, tutored her for her SAT and also in physics. He attended her college graduation in December. He is a true friend! I am so blessed.

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Finally figured out how to add to the blogroll. Duh. At gartenfische, I use a separate page for my blogs and links, so I had to be really smart and use all my brain cells. I should’ve asked Scout, she could’ve told me. So I’ve got a blogroll! At least the beginnings of one. This is the non-religious blogroll, for the religious variety, see gartenfische.

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Filed under film, politics

Gil Scott-Heron: Cooooool

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Listen to this:

Okay, I admit it—I grew up isolated from reality; in my whitebread SoCal suburb, the outside world may as well have been the moon. Not surprisingly, then, musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron didn’t find his way onto my record player. I hadn’t even heard of him until recently. Makes me wonder: What else have I missed?

Obviously a precursor to rap, which I’ve never gotten into, but this—this—is awesome:

Wow.

What was I hearkening to in high school? Whitebread teenage music of the day: Led Zeppelin, Boston, Heart, Queen (we don’t want no education . . . hmmm, that’s good cuz we didn’t get one [oops, that was Pink Floyd]). Oh, and I went through a serious Beatles obsession when I was 17/18. Black artists? Not in my whitey-white world. Stevie Wonder was the one exception, but I didn’t get into his music until later.

I’m gonna have to buy me some Scott-Heron, get me some soul, man. And yeah, I get it that he was protesting exactly the world I grew up in—what can I say? We can’t help where we come from, only where we’re going.

And speaking of the seventies and insular white folk, I wonder how many conservative whites, other than my dad, loved Archie Bunker and All in the Family, not getting that it was a farce? That it was making fun of them? Or did they not care, reveling in the audacity of a fellow bigot?

If you have time, watch this, and stick with it, cuz the end is priceless:

And reading some of the comments at this video, it’s clear that some people still don’t get that AITF was a farce.

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Curves: A Student’s Best Friend

I finally read Doris Lessing’s Nobel lecture. I had been intending to for months, but kept getting sidetracked; you know how it is (yes, it’s that attention thing mentioned by Jacoby in the We Are Idiots post of a couple of days ago). My belated reading resulted in a timely convergence because Lessing reiterates the point made by Jacoby, that we live in a time in which education is not valued—even worse, according to Jacoby, is derided by a society that has become anti-intellectual. (Of course, Lessing’s speech came first; had I been up on my reading, Jacoby would have been reiterating Lessing‘s point.)

You might say that more young people than ever are graduating from college, but I would argue that education is generally not valued; what is appreciated is the income-enhancing benefit that degrees afford.

As the parent of a recent college graduate, I can honestly say that most students don’t have to do a lot to earn their degree (grading curves are a wonderful invention for those who don’t study and teachers are as loath to fail a college student as they are a high school student). I’m not talking about my daughter, who did work hard; I’m talking about the high percentage of her fellow undergrads who ended up collecting the same piece of paper she did, but who coasted right on through, never missing a party, relying on those beautiful curves.

It seems to be accepted now that kids go off to college to have fun. This is a very prevalent attitude—college is the big fling before you have to settle down and get serious about life. Students who are interested in learning, not just drinking for a few years and collecting a pair of initials at the end, are being cheated. It seems there was a time when education was the objective and parties the well earned perks.

Here is a portion of Lessing’s speech:

We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.

What has happened to us is an amazing invention — computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution. This is not the first revolution the human race has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked, What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print? In the same way, we never thought to ask, How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by this internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc.

Very recently, anyone even mildly educated would respect learning, education, and our great store of literature. Of course, we all know that when this happy state was with us, people would pretend to read, would pretend respect for learning. But it is on record that working men and women longed for books, and this is evidenced by the founding of working men’s libraries and institutes, the colleges of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Reading, books, used to be part of a general education.

Older people, talking to young ones, must understand just how much of an education reading was, because the young ones know so much less. And if children cannot read, it is because they have not read.

She talks about poor, poor Africans who are desperate to read—who crave books—comparing them with Westerners, who have access to an incredible cornucopia of knowledge and literature and cannot be bothered to read, turning their backs on the feast laid out before them.

A young African man, eighteen perhaps, in tears, standing in what he hopes will be his “library.” A visiting American seeing that his library had no books, had sent a crate of them. The young man had taken each one out, reverently, and wrapped them in plastic. “But,” we say, “these books were sent to be read, surely?” “No,” he replies, “they will get dirty, and where will I get any more?”

How spoiled we are.

I have a friend from Zimbabwe, a Black writer. He taught himself to read from the labels on jam jars, the labels on preserved fruit cans. He was brought up in an area I have driven through, an area for rural blacks. The earth is grit and gravel, there are low sparse bushes. The huts are poor, nothing like the well cared-for huts of the better off. A school — but like one I have described. He found a discarded children’s encyclopaedia on a rubbish heap and taught himself from that.

We cannot imagine. How very much we take for granted.

And, as Jacoby pointed out, education is not merely a luxury that we can take or leave: “Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.” Very low expectations.

Lessing’s speech can be found here.

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We Are Proud To Be A Bunch Of Idiots

I don’t post entire articles here, out of respect for the limited time (and attention!—ha!) of my readers (all two of them), but this is so important that I am posting the entire article. Please, please read it. And share it. I think it will hit home for you as it did for me.

The Dumbing Of America
Call Me a Snob, but Really, We’re a Nation of Dunces

By Susan Jacoby, The Washington Post
Sunday, February 17, 2008; Page B01

“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today’s very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble — in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an “elitist,” one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just “folks,” a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.”) Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country’s democratic impulses in religion and education. But today’s brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans’ rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book — fiction or nonfiction — over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing and video games.

Does all this matter? Technophiles pooh-pooh jeremiads about the end of print culture as the navel-gazing of (what else?) elitists. In his book “Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter,” the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their “vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen.” But these zombie-like characteristics “are not signs of mental atrophy. They’re signs of focus.” Balderdash. The real question is what toddlers are screening out, not what they are focusing on, while they sit mesmerized by videos they have seen dozens of times.

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time — as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web — seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events. It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.

No wonder negative political ads work. “With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information,” the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in the New Yorker. “A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching.”

As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible — and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University’s Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate — featuring the candidate’s own voice — dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.

The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping “I’m the decider” may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio “fireside chat” so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, “they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin.”

This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning and complexity than today’s public. According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it “not at all important” to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it “very important.”

That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it’s the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism — a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. (“Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture,” Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a “change election,” the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.

Susan Jacoby’s latest book is “The Age of American Unreason.”

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Found this one at PoodleDoc’s blog.

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Filed under Eyes Wide Open, lifestuff

Cat and Crow

 You’ve gotta watch this.  I know, there are so many gotta-watches, but this one really is neat:

And here’s another If This Doesn’t Just Take the Cake contender. This one would make even the most spoiling parents feel better about themselves:

Oh, she feels sorry for those of us who aren’t gorgeous. What compassion!

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If This Doesn’t Just Take The Cake . . .

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SALEM, N.H. — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was about to deliver a line that has become a centerpiece of her campaign since her loss in Iowa.

“Everybody in this race is talking about change. But what does that mean?”

“Iron my shirt!” yelled a man, who stood up in the middle of a jammed and stuffy auditorium at a high school in Salem, N.H., and held up a yellow sign with the same text. He repeated it over and over.

Mrs. Clinton asked for the lights to be turned on, and the shirt man was removed along with another man who had stood up too.

“Oh, the remnants of sexism are alive and well,” Mrs. Clinton said.

When everyone had settled down a bit, she said, “As I think has just been abundantly demonstrated, I am also running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling.”

Her words were drowned out by a cheering, now-standing crowd.

“That’s one of the things I love about it,” she said. “It’s never predictable.”

NY Times

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Melissa McEwan has amassed quite a collection of misogynist attacks against Hillary. Frankly, it seems that plenty of people don’t like her simply because she’s a woman. Few will come out and say it—instead, they say its because she’s a Clinton or she grates on them, whatever. She is right, this is the highest and hardest glass ceiling—in a country that touts itself as the most advanced in the world. Plenty of other countries have elected women leaders, why haven’t we? Why is there still so much sexism lying just—-and I mean just—under the surface?

Linda wrote about the Democratic contenders the other day. Ever the one to put together interesting posts, she included a bit about Shirley Chisholm, a black woman who ran for president in 1972. Here are some Chisholm quotes:

Of my two “handicaps” being female put more obstacles in my path than being black.

I’ve always met more discrimination being a woman than being black.

The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: It’s a girl.

1972. 2008. A lot has changed. Or has it?

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