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Subject:An open letter on the newest debt ceiling deal.
Time:11:37 pm
A letter I sent to my legislators, and to the President. Please feel free to plagiarize, modify, and send it to your own legislators. Only do so quickly. Tomorrow it may be too late.

Dear ------,

I apologize that my letter is so impersonally addressed, however I cannot contain my disappointment at the news I am hearing tonight.

How can it be that we as a nation have sunk so low that we have sent a cohort to Washington D.C. that would choose to balance the nation’s accounts on the backs of children, the elderly, the indigent, and the infirm, for no better reason than to spare the pennies of the wealthiest among us? How can we have elected a cohort that, in the face of the demands of its right-most fringe, have chosen capitulation, complicity, over even the last frayed ends of principle?

What you, Democrats and Republicans, are being asked to vote for in this deficit deal is morally reprehensible, needlessly cruel, and makes a mockery of exactly the Christian values that so many of you espouse in your election-year rhetoric. And what is worse, you have traded your consciences for a pittance, for a deal that does little more than kick the can down the road, as Speaker Boehner is so fond of putting it.

By failing to raise the debt limit in a fashion that will last more than just a few months, you abdicate your responsibilities as stewards of the nation. By installing unreasonable power in intercameral super-committees, you abdicate your responsibilities as legislators beholden to your constituents. And by agreeing to a deficit-reduction plan that is so uncharitable, especially in this time of rampant unemployment, you abdicate your responsibilities as human beings.

I want to see the debt ceiling raised. I find the prospect of a Federal default viscerally chilling. But you, Democrats and Republicans, can do better than this. Look at unemployment, and do better. Look at health-care and education inequality, and do better. Look at our sick, our poor, our old, and our young, and please do better.

Sincerely,

-------- ---------.
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Subject:A Semi-Farewell (and a shameless plug for my new blogging space)
Time:10:28 am
Hello to all of my Livejournal friends. I regret to inform you that, in part because of the DDoS madness that has struck the LJ servers, I have decided to relocate my blog elsewhere. I have set up a WordPress installation over at Twice Cooked -- formerly my photography site -- and will be blogging from there. There are a few things you should know about this move, if you care:

1) I am not giving up my LJ account. I will still be reading my friends page and commenting (as much as I ever have). So please don't go and un-friend me or anything like that.

2) I am in the process of trying to get my posts at Twice Cooked to syndicate to this space, so that I can have my cake (a stable place to blog) and eat it too (the satisfaction of being part of this community).

3) For folks who had photographs hosted through a subdomain of the old Twice Cooked, most of those photos are still there. I cleaned out some of the very old ones, and some of the ones that seem to have become corrupted over the years. But if you know the name of your gallery, you can likely still get to it.

4) I have sort of formalized over there what I have informally been doing here over the years. Rather than a general-purpose blog, Twice Cooked will be devoted to four things: cooking, brewing, (some) photography, and politics. It isn't as though I've ever made that many personal posts, so it isn't as though this is going to be a huge change. But I figure it's going to go like this: if a post is related to one of those four topics, you'll find it at Twice Cooked. If it is about something else, I will probably continue to post here.

5) I will be posting links to entries from the new blog over at Facebook, and Google+. And I am considering posting links here, too, until I figure out how to make it syndicate.

6) If you have a blog you'd like me to link to on Twice Cooked, leave me the URL in a comment here, and I'll get right on it. I'm trying to build a nice links list, but it's looking pretty anaemic right now.

7) That's all for now. I would urge you all to go and check out Twice Cooked. My hope is that it will be the sort of project that is interesting to other people, rather than merely personally gratifying.

Enjoy!
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Subject:Chili-Garlic Sauce -- Inspired by Tuong Ot Toi.
Time:05:53 pm
garlic-chili-sauce

1 pint of mixed hot green chili peppers (I used some Thai peppers, some Serranos, and some Portuguese)
4 cloves of garlic
1.5 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1.5 tsp white sugar
Fish sauce (or salt) to taste

Chop and stem the peppers, then add all the ingredients to a food processor, and blend until you have a coarse paste. Transfer to a container, and refrigerate for 24 hours before using. The result will be similar to Tuong Ot Toi: very hot, but very flavorful, and an excellent condiment for everything from grilled meat to mango. It should last, without a problem, for at least a week.
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Subject:Dear Mr. President.
Time:01:21 pm
Once again, it's Friday. Which means that it's time to write to my national elected officials. Here is my letter to President Obama (a version of which also went out to my senators and representative). Please feel free to plagiarize, adapt, and distribute to your own elected officials. Please.

Dear President Obama --

I am writing, once again, to urge you not to allow the extreme Right Wing of the Republican party to set the terms of national political debate. Deficit reduction, as you have said repeatedly over the last few months, is important. But it is not as important, in the short term, as creating jobs, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and preventing the Federal Government from defaulting on its current debts.

I would urge you, Mr. President, to resist the attitude that government cannot create jobs. It can, as you have pointed out on many occasions, in the form of spending on infrastructure, on research and development, and on funding initiatives that will end the environmental and national-security disaster that is our dependence on foreign oil.

I would urge you to resist the notion that what the Republicans are calling for, when they call for an end to Medicare and Social Security, is "entitlement reform." Those programs are hardly entitlements -- we as taxpayers fund them. And I, at least, would like to get my money's worth out of them when my turn comes to benefit.

And I would urge you to stand up for a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling. You called for it earlier this year, but seem to have done little -- publicly at least -- to resist unreasonable Republican demands for deficit-reducing accompaniments.

In all of these cases, the progressive position is in the right. Recent polls show that voters, overwhelmingly, care more about jobs than short-term deficits; Medicare and Social Security, across age bracket and political allegiance, are extremely popular (and understood to be effective); and as to the Debt Ceiling, there is nothing either morally or fiscally responsible about violating the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and allowing the Federal Government to shirk its responsibilities to its creditors.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sincerely,

...
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Subject:Squash-blossom pasta sauce
Time:06:59 am
I've posted a recipe for squash-blossom pasta sauce before, but I've done some revising, and wanted to post it again. This came out perhaps better than any other iteration I've tried. I would highly recommend it, especially if you are like me and have some overly enthusiastic summer squash dominating your garden.

2 yellow squash, cut into small-ish cubes
2 Dozen squash blossoms
1 cup stock (I used chicken, but veg would be just as good)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 heaping tbsp parmesan cheese
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of saffron, steeped in 1/4 cup warm water
salt
pepper
nutmeg
olive oil

Heat a pan with some olive oil over medium heat, and saute the squash until browned. Add the garlic, squash blossoms, paprika, cayenne, and cook for about two more minutes, then add the stock, bring to a boil, and cook for a bit less than 10 minutes more.

Move the whole thing to a blender, add the cream, parmesan, and saffron (with its water), and blend until smooth. Then move back to the pan (now over low heat), and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Serve with an extruded pasta like ziti, perhaps garnished with some dark red tomato cubes.
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Subject:X-Men: First Class
Time:08:45 am
Know ahead of time that this is a really tough topic for me. But I'm going to try to explain it as clearly as possible, here...

Okay. So, there is this way in which it is difficult for American Jews (and by American Jews, I mean me) to speak critically of Israel, or to hear criticisms, because in the American cultural landscape, even valid criticisms sound like antisemitism. Part of this is a kind of rhetorical move made in some quarters of the Left to say that the Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians makes them just like the Nazis. It does not. Just because both situations are atrocious does not make them equivalent. And saying it does seems to reveal an underlying current of a suggestion that the Jews, perhaps, got what they deserved (or deserved what they got).

And part of this is another move, largely made on the Right, to say that because the Jews suffered, they have impunity in their own land to "protect it" -- as in, to decide how, and how much, the Palestinians will suffer too. This is less openly antisemitic, perhaps. But it rests on two premises that are no less problematic: 1) that, like the first move, there is some sort of direct connection between the behavior of the Nazis then and the Israelis now, and that (even more offensively) Israelis acting like Nazis is justifiable; and 2) that because of the Holocaust, we are obliged to pat the Israelis on the head like good little children and tell them that their actions are okay because, after all, they have already suffered so much.

I go on about this at such length as a preamble to my point: that in its treatment of Magneto, X-Men: First Class seems to promote both of these positions in a really insidious way.

Cut for SpoilersCollapse )

You can disagree with me if you want. I recognize that the way I've described it here, it sounds an awful lot like I am over-reading a more-or-less vapid movie. But I think it sounds that way more because I have such trouble talking about antisemitism than because I am in fact over-reading. It is there, I tell you. All you have to do is watch.
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Subject:A couple of bits of news:
Time:03:51 pm
  • As of now, on a probationary basis, I am officially among the ranks of the Kubuntu faithful. I upgraded to Ubuntu 11.04 this weekend, and I found their break with the Gnome UI so distressing that I ... broke with Gnome myself. For KDE. And though it is weird, and though there are certain things I don't like, what I do like is the sense of relative stability -- the fact that for better or worse, KDE is KDE is KDE, and the folks at Canonical / Ubuntu aren't likely to make me choose between Gnome Shell 3 (which I find unintuitive) and Ubuntu Unity (which doesn't really actually work very well. At all). So among other things, you may consider this a test post for KDE's blogging utility, Blogilo, which seems to support Livejournal, but only just.
  • This weekend was also the first real grilling weather of the season. There were pork chops, brined in something resembling jerk seasoning, and served with home-made guacamole and mango salsa. I'm excited to get back to cooking outdoors. This might be the summer of experimenting with, say, making pies on the grill, or even perhaps baking bread.
  • After a longer hiatus than I intended, the dissertation word-counter will soon be making its return. It is not that I haven't been working on my dissertation. But I have been back in research and planning mode. A bit more than a month ago, I had a sort of moment of clarity about my dissertation, and why it didn't seem to be working. It breaks down to two things: problems with structure, and problems with focus. So I've been working to correct both. I've changed the organization of my dissertation in a way that will allow me to keep most of what I have already written, while also allowing me to keep my focus on what this thing is actually about: a methodology for working with folklore in literature. Right now, I've begun working on an introductory section that identifies, in a nutshell, why literary folkloristics has made itself irrelevant since the 1970s, and how one might go about fixing it. And the rest of the dissertation, including all the nittpicky historical details, *will be in the service of demonstrating my revised methodology.* It couldn't be simpler when put that way. We'll see how the writing goes.
  • It isn't as though there has been no dis-related writing going on at all. I wrote and delivered a paper at PCA/ACA about the place of nostalgia in understanding Joel Chandler Harris' work, and the folk-group-building that went on around it. It was very well received. And before too long, a version of it will end up somewhere in my newly-rethought manuscript.
  • And finally, speaking of PCA/ACA: I am undecided whether I am going to go next year when it is in Boston. But if I do, I think that my paper will indeed be titled "The Care and Feeding of Folklorists, or: How to Ensure That Your Folklorist Doesn't Bite." There was enough folklore-ignorance going on in the so-called "Folklore" and "Fairy Tale" tracks that something like that is surely needed.
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Subject:Cheddar-Scallion Scones!
Time:04:56 pm
P4130566

When writing wasn't going well this afternoon, I gave up and made scones. They're loosely based on Mark Bittman's super-fabulous scone recipe from the New York Times, only they're not at all the same. They are just as easy, however, and take no more than 45 minutes from mixing bowl to plate. So check it out:

1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
6 Tbsp. very cold butter, cut into small cubes.
1 egg
3/4 cup yogurt
4 scallions, chopped finely
1/2 - 3/4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, plus some for topping the scones
black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, pepper, cayenne, and butter in the work-bowl of a food processor, and pulse the mixture gently until the butter has disappeared and the flour looks sandy. Don't over-pulse. As with pie crust, you don't want to develop gluten.

Beat your yogurt and egg together briefly, then add it to the work-bowl along with the cheddar and scallions, and pulse just a couple more times, until you have a gooey mess.

Turn the mixture out on a floured board, and use a rolling pin (or, really, your hands) to roll it out until it is about a bit less than a half inch thick. Then use a cookie cutter (or drinking glass) to cut out rounds, placing them on a lined cookie sheet.

Finally, top each round with just a little bit more shredded cheese, and place them in the oven for 24 minutes, or just until the cheese on top has gone from melted to crispy.
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Subject:Remembering the Civil War.
Time:03:47 pm
On this day in 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, effectively marking the beginning of the Civil War.

Here is a short excerpt from Walt Whitman's Specimen Days, that I think sums up everything we need to remember about that war, or any war. The Civil War is not a historical event. The relevant facts are not the locations of battles, or who won, or who marched where, commanded the army, or wrote a Proclamation. Rather, it is a small conflict, not in terms of its overall scale, but in terms of its intimacy for the people who lived it.

Whitman was an abolitionist and a supporter of Lincoln. But of his time as a battlefield nurse, it is moments like this one in 1863 that he chooses to recount:

I saw the lieutenant when he was first brought here from Chancellorsville, and have been with him occasionally from day to day and night to night. He had been getting along pretty well till night before last, when a sudden hemorrhage that could not be stopt came upon him, and to-day it still continues at intervals. Notice that water-pail by the side of the bed, with a quantity of blood and bloody pieces of muslin, nearly full; that tells the story. The poor young man is struggling painfully for breath, his great dark eyes with a glaze already upon them, and the choking faint and audible in his throat. An attendant sits by him, and will not leave him till the last; yet little or nothing can be done. He will die in an hour or two, without the presence of kith or kin. Meantime the ordinary chat and business of the ward a little way off goes on indifferently. (Specimen Days. 1883: 45)

However laudable the cause, the story of the Civil War is not that of armies, but of individuals who bled to death or did not, of people who witnessed for them, and of people who conspicuously could not.

As an aside: I really think that we remember Walt Whitman for the wrong things.
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Subject:Clucking my tongue at the President.
Time:02:18 pm
Here is the unexpurgated text of the letter that I sent to President Obama this afternoon. Unfortunately, the 'contact us' portion of the President's web site restricts letter-writers to 2,500 characters. And so I had to cut out the second to last paragraph. Nonetheless ...

Dear President Obama --

I am writing to register my disappointment not in the fact of a budget compromise for 2011, but in the Democrats' starting position in that compromise. The fact is that in the midst of economic peril, when unemployment is so high and the private sector is doing so little to create new jobs, there is no utility in cutting the non-military portion of the Federal budget at all. And in fact, as economists like Paul Krugman and Dean Baker have pointed out repeatedly and publicly, such cuts are likely to hurt the economy. In the face of divided government, I understand the necessity of a compromise that would have made some cuts -- caved, as the television media puts it, to Republican demands. But why give away the store before the negotiations even began? Why start from a position of cutting?

It seems to me, and to many of the progressives around me, that it is increased revenue, rather than decreased spending, that is necessary to balance the budget -- that in a time when the gap between rich and poor is so broad, and when the actual taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans and by corporations doing business in America are so low, we should be balancing the budget on the pennies of the wealthy rather than the pounds of the poor. But watching the Democrats' position in recent days, it seems that we are headed in the opposite direction. Democrats, in equal measure with Republicans, are calling for cuts to funding for public education, for child nutrition programs, for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Cuts like these provide easy opportunity to stand in front of the cameras and say, "look what we're doing to shrink the government" (if one believes that government needs to be shrunk). But they do not address the problem, which is that the Government seems to work for the rich rather than for all of us, and there is therefore not a lot of reason to have faith that the government is capable of doing anything at all.

One of the consequences of pursuing this course is that you are alienating your base -- the millions of Americans like me who donated our time and our money to your campaign in 2008 because we thought that you were heading to the White House to speak, at least in part, for the little guy. And so I, and folks like me, are left to wonder: have you forgotten us? Is it that you take the progressive wing of the Democratic party for granted now that you are in office? Or is it something more sinister: is the Democratic establishment so far in the pocket of large corporate interests, of people like Jeffrey Immelt, that it is hard to hear the rest of us from in there?

My point, in any case, is that the fight over Federal spending is hardly over. And in the future, I implore you to change tack. Stand up for programs that benefit the many over the few. And stand up, especially for higher taxes. Paying taxes (like, say, military service) is a sacrifice that we make for our country. And decrying a tax burden that is hardly excessive is not only selfish and unpatriotic, but a slap at those of us who pay willingly, because we believe in the transformative potential of good government.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Adam David Zolkover.


Please, plagiarize freely if you wish to send a letter of your own.
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[icon] Cloaca Maxima
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