Friday, October 31, 2008

Yes We Can!

That would be "Oui, on peut!" in Cajun country:

And here's a fantastic call from the Latin American community to "Respondele a Obama":

It seems that all cultures are responding to the powerful message of Obama:

Didn't you know O'bama was Irish?

Check out the psychedelic Barack OBollywood!

And even white southerner males make a showing in this phenomenal radio ad by the absolutely incomparable Ralph Stanley.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


The election night drink of choice: a gin martini garnished with one cool cucumber (a cornichon or gherkin--pickled or not depending on your own condition).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Making Change Happen

As we approach Election Day, I've been thinking a lot about real superheros from our political history. One name which keeps resonating with me during these times of economic crisis is Eleanor Roosevelt. This month, she would have celebrated her 124th birthday.


Friday, October 24, 2008

A Little Doom with Your Morning Tea?

Now that a "once-in-a-century credit tsunami" has hit, "those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief," says Alan Greenspan.

"We've reached a situation of sheer panic," says Nouriel Roubini in a Bloomberg article. Roubini is a leading economist who predicted the current financial crisis in 2006. "There will be massive dumping of assets" and "hundreds of hedge funds are going to go bust." Roubini continues, "Don't be surprised if policy makers need to close down markets for a week or two in coming days. " He goes further: "Things will get much worse before they get better. I fear the worst is ahead of us." (UPDATE 9AM: It has started happening.)

Brilliant thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggested on PBS's NewsHour that we might be entering the "most difficult period since--not since the Great Depression; since the American Revolution. He continues, "I hope I'm wrong. I wake up every morning--actually, I don't wake up every morning now. I've started to wake up at night the last couple of weeks hoping that I'm wrong, begging to be wrong. I think that we may be experiencing something that is vastly worse than we think it is." (Video here.)

Time for another cup. Make it a strong one.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Separated at Birth?

James Taylor

Michael Pollan

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Living in Booths

Laura Ingallstein from Little House in the Shtetl joins me this week in the Green Phone Booth to cook a meal made entirely from stuff my family grew in our backyard. We also talk about the meanings and practice of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

This mission requires me to transform my green superhero cape into an apron. It also requires the Green Phone Booth to become a sukkah. Luckily, this is not a difficult prestidigitation since the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is also called the Festival of Booths.

Ma Ingallstein Preparing the Evening Meal in the Family's Green Booth
(Who would have thought that Jews have been pioneers for millenia?)


Sunday, October 19, 2008

We had a lovely and interesting lunch today, served on our bento trays. We made miso soup with a vegetable-peelings stock (mostly tomatoes and apples) and added some julienned broccoli stems, pea shoots, and scallions. The snow peas are just steamed and the mushrooms are sauteed with mirin and sesame oil then sprinkled with chives. There are also some pickled radish shreds. The entree is asian rice with smoked sardines and soy sauce. For dessert we had some canned rambutans sprinkled with a few black sesame seeds. (Son and I use Singapore Math which constantly has word problems about rambutans, so we had to try them. They are very similar to lychees.)

Delicious--and the meal made us feel very special. I love the peace of eating a late lunch on the weekend!

Friday, October 17, 2008

"McCain Loses Hastily Convened Fourth Presidential Debate With Lifesize Cardboard Obama"

reads the title of this masterful blog post. Thanks to TPM for the great catch!

* * *

And don't miss the real Obama with what sometimes looks like a Lifesize Cardboard McCain. If somehow Obama does not win the presidency, he has real potential as a comedian!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rubbernecking the Economy

What is it about a wreck that requires us all to look?

I always watch the crash of the Dow, the rising numbers of foreclosures, the increase in unemployment, the horribly nasty implosion of McPain, even the paths of hurricanes toward our homes, with great despair...


but, strangely enough, also with a secret shameful hope for the worst. There is some vicarious pleasure in watching a disaster unfold. Even during the collapse of the Twin Towers and during Katrina, I was shocked to realize that some part of me was almost wanting these events to be stunning and awesome and terrible.

What is it in me that craves this kind of display? Sometimes I wonder if at root these awful feelings is the same thing that makes so many people want to believe in an all-powerful god. We want something more powerful than we are, something that can destroy the world, something strong enough to clear the slate and make us start anew.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To Everything, There is a Season

...and it is now our turn.

This is a photo of a victory garden in front of San Francisco's City Hall, taken in 1943.

Sound like an outdated idea? Think again. Slow Food has created it anew.

Food security in this time of economic fragility is becoming an increasingly important issue. It is time now to take the Victory Garden beyond the SF City Hall--to our own yards, and also to the White House.

Did you see Michael Pollan's marvelous and detailed article in the New York Times?

Here is some of what he said:

When Eleanor Roosevelt did something similar in 1943, she helped start a Victory Garden movement that ended up making a substantial contribution to feeding the nation in wartime.... By the end of the war, more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America.

The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking “victory” over three critical challenges we face today: high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population. Eating from this, the shortest food chain of all, offers anyone with a patch of land a way to reduce their fossil-fuel consumption and help fight climate change. (We should offer grants to cities to build allotment gardens for people without access to land.)

Just as important, Victory Gardens offer a way to enlist Americans, in body as well as mind, in the work of feeding themselves and changing the food system — something more ennobling, surely, than merely asking them to shop a little differently.

...As deeply as Americans feel about their lawns, the agrarian ideal runs deeper still, and making this particular plot of American land productive, especially if the First Family gets out there and pulls weeds now and again, will provide an image even more stirring than that of a pretty lawn: the image of stewardship of the land, of self-reliance and of making the most of local sunlight to feed one’s family and community. The fact that surplus produce from the South Lawn Victory Garden (and there will be literally tons of it) will be offered to regional food banks will make its own eloquent statement.

* * *

I love this photo-shopped pic of Pollan, courtesy of Kitchen Gardeners International:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The City that Care Forgot

I just returned from a long weekend in New Orleans where I was attending my favorite annual conference. I spent much of my time there going to sessions where scholars presented their preliminary works, touring the exhibit of academic books, and spending time with old friends from graduate school and new friends from all over the country.

I did get out to explore New Orleans a bit. I have not been to the city since right before Katrina hit and I was stunned at how much even the touristy areas are still suffering from that hurricane and others:

My father and brother, also academic historians, attend this same conference. Every year is a family reunion. This time we got together for an absolutely delicious meal at one of my favorite restaurants. Delicious. If you are ever in New Orleans, try it for brunch. (Go on a gorgeously sunny day and sit in the courtyard.)

Walking back from the restaurant to the conference hotel, I stopped in at the French Quarter's local yarn shop:

In this store, you can never forget where you are. I love going in shops that sell locally-dyed fiber or the yarns of local spinners, giving them a real sense of place. While the Quarter Stitch has mostly national commercial yarns, the whole store nevertheless embodies the spirit of New Orleans--the magic of Mardi Gras, the glitz of colors and textures and shine. Lots of fun, even for this Plain Jane.

* * *

My annual southern history conference has been held in New Orleans very regularly since the 1930s. Every time I come to the city for this meeting, I feel saturated by the ghosts of the past all around me and moved by the immediate relevance of history in our present lives. This year seemed especially resonant with these thoughts. There were sessions on the destruction and the rebuilding of New Orleans, conversations about race and politics and poverty, songs about anger and despair.

There were also talks about glimpses of that well-handled, smooth-hewn stone of hope--the one we are all searching for.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Place to Change (Clothes)

Knits faster than a speeding Metro train!

Strong enough to write her dissertation while breastfeeding!

More melancholy than your average endangered species!


Able to prepare a complete meal from her tiny backyard garden!

She's a recycler!
She's a composter!
She's the Green Raven!

* * *

Thanks to the inspiration of three wonderful women, I have entered the Green Phone Booth and discovered my inner superhero. Enjoy our community blog where the Bulk, Olive S. Oyl, the masked Green Bean, and my own alter ego the Green Raven don capes and plan how we can save world.

Our introduction is up now and we'll start posting daily on October 20th. You can put us on speed dial right away!

* * *

When you take a turn in your own phone booth and morph into your personal superhero self, who do you become? And what are your special superhero talents?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Time of Renewal

For Jews around the world, Yom Kippur falls at the end of a month of contemplating our sins during the year and then apologizing to each other, to ourselves, and (at least metaphorically) to God.

This is the time of year when I put down all the guilt I have about all the mistakes I make in my life. My load is light. I walk into a new year, unburdened by my past and facing the new year full of fresh potential. I'm always amazed at how strong I feel during these moments. My needs seem small. My ability to do for others is magnified.

This year, I think of JFK's famous line:

Ask not what your country can do for you--
Ask what you can do for your country."

--John F. Kennedy, 1961

* * *

In the first debate when Jim Lehrer asked the presidential candidates what they would have to give up in the face of economic crisis and the costly rescue plan, both candidates shied away from any real answer. Obama said something might have to be delayed. McCain said there were some cuts we could make that we should make anyway.

Neither candidate seemed to have the nerve to address the actual belt-tightening Americans are having to do--and the increases in that belt-tightening that are ahead of us.

Both candidates failed to understand that the call to sacrifice--if it is worded correctly--can signify both great strength as a leader and great respect for the citizens of the country.

We often think of America as a country of people who absolutely cannot accept a call for sacrifice. As Cheney crystallized, "The American way of life is non-negotiable!"

Perhaps there is some truth in this. Although he did not word it elegantly, sacrifice is exactly what Biden stated when he asked those with more than they need to be patriotic ...time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut." The Republicans and many Americans just seemed to laugh off these comments as yet another Biden gaffe.

But sacrifice and responsibility are words with deep resonance for almost all Americans.

Sacrifice for the greater good is at the core of Christianity, the religion of the majority of US citizens. Judaism does not orient itself around the concept of sacrifice, but both responsibility for the community and the healing of the world are central ideas to the faith. Almost all world religions teach some kind of similar lesson. And even for those of us who do not feel personally called by God to religion, we have grown up with the golden rule--and the heroic models of a generation who sacrificed during the Great Depression and the WWII era in order to give more to their country and their communities.

A member of that "greatest generation"spoke up during the town hall debate. She asked (via email): "Since World War II, we have never been asked to sacrifice anything to help our country, except the blood of our heroic men and women. As president, what sacrifices -- sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we're now in?"

McCain answered that he would "ask the American people to understand that there are some programs that we may have to eliminate,"mostly those that are not working anyway.

But Obama, finally, started channeling JFK. Here is his answer:
You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11 and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country.

And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, "Go out and shop."

That wasn't the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for.

And so it's important to understand that the -- I think the American people are hungry for the kind of leadership that is going to tackle these problems not just in government, but outside of government.
Obama did not stop there.
And let's take the example of energy, which we already spoke about. There is going to be the need for each and every one of us to start thinking about how we use energy.

I believe in the need for increased oil production. We're going to have to explore new ways to get more oil, and that includes offshore drilling. It includes telling the oil companies, that currently have 68 million acres that they're not using, that either you use them or you lose them.

We're going to have to develop clean coal technology and safe ways to store nuclear energy.

But each and every one of us can start thinking about how can we save energy in our homes, in our buildings. And one of the things I want to do is make sure that we're providing incentives so that you can buy a fuel efficient car that's made right here in the United States of America, not in Japan or South Korea, making sure that you are able to weatherize your home or make your business more fuel efficient.

And that's going to require effort from each and every one of us.
I have my doubts about drilling and so-called clean coal and the like--but he's saying something here in a very public forum that is seldom expressed these days. Although he's talked a bit about conservation in his written materials and in his campaign stops on the response to the developing energy crisis. I am thrilled to see him do at least a bit of Carter-"put-on-a-sweater"-channeling here.

Obama was not finished.
I think the young people of America are especially interested in how they can serve, and that's one of the reasons why I'm interested in doubling the Peace Corps, making sure that we are creating a volunteer corps all across this country that can be involved in their community, involved in military service, so that military families and our troops are not the only ones bearing the burden of renewing America.

That's something that all of us have to be involved with and that requires some leadership from Washington.
Hear, hear!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Who is Holding this Handbasket?

Sometimes I wonder how long the entire nation--no, our entire world--can be held underwater, all waiting for that moment when we can finally gasp for breath again.

I know I'm inherently a worrier, inherently one who assumes the worst, one inherently prone to depression (the clinical kind, not the financial kind).

But this time, it is not just me.

The economy is collapsing in ways that could be tremendously more relevant than the hit our 401ks may have just taken. (For more information about what I'm referring to, check out Sharon Astyk's amazing new book, Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.Review coming soon.)

The frustration and anger that the American people are experiencing is making their partisan politics be voiced in derision and hatred, and it is starting to seem really dangerous. I want so much to believe that this kind of talk is just people's anxieties speaking--and that it will go nowhere else. But honestly--I don't have that faith.

It is this kind of talk about hating other people, about killing other people because of their politics, that can lead to Nazism and the like.

And I don't know what to do other than ... with the real-life SPEWING OF SEWAGE from our basement drain....

Now here's that kind of immediate tangible crisis that I can deal with in my life, if I absolutely must be tested. Let's stick to that. Do you hear me?!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

MOM knows best



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