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Friday, May 31, 2013

Darwin's Ghosts by Rebecca Stott

The book is subtitled 'In Search of the First Evolutionists', and that is indeed what it is all about.  Ms. Stott opens the book by explaining that she grew up with creationists, that she did not come to the study of the evolution of Darwin's thinking on natural selection with a long history of love of biology.  She doesn't exactly explain how she did come to write the book, but she doesn't want us to think she was a life-long lover of all things Darwinian.  She also doesn't go into Darwin's personal struggles--that he was plagued by anxiety--panic disorder almost certainly, agoraphobia perhaps, and probably generalized anxiety disorder.  Two decades separated the voyages of the HMS Beagle, where Darwin did his primary data collection, and the publication of 'Origin of the Species'.  He may have had a bit of a perfectionist  personality as well as his anxiety--in any case, he almost got scooped on a discovery and a theory that was largely his to claim.

The author does go into the people who wanted to have all the credit, or at least share the credit for his discovery after the book was published and appeared to be the book of the century--which was an accomplishment indeed.  A decade later, evolution would be embraced by the scientific community in total, and Darwin remains a household name over a century later.  The earliest biologist and observer of the natural world was Aristotle, who closely studied sea life, and his book "The History of Animals" was closely studies by an early mentor of Darwin's.

Te bulk of the book is going over the various pieces of information that helped inform Darwin's final work, including people that he worked directly with.  One chapter is devoted to the work of his grandfather, who would undoubtedly have been very proud of the work that his grandson accomplished, but also goes to show that one's personal experiences and history can give one a great advantage.  The other advantage that Darwin had was financial support.  His father may not have thought much of what he was doing, but he didn't cut him off financially, and that was different from the situation that a number of scientists who went before him encountered.  They had great curiousity and ideas, but had to quit pursuing them in order to make a living.

Another ingredient of success for Darwin was luck--he had a fair amount of it, but most influential was his meeting Robert Edmond Grant one fine day on the beach.  Grant was the eminent comparative anatomist of his time, and Darwin met him as a teenager, and worked with him.  The book has a lot of details about the wealth of what was known prior to Darwin's epic book, and why it was that others might have chosen not to take on the church and religion in putting forth such a theory--that Darwin was not just a great observer but also that he was in the right place at the right time. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chili Rellenos with Chicken Picodillo


On my recent trip to Oaxaca I took a cooking class at the wonderful ranch of Susana Trilling.  The class breaks up into smaller groups, and chose which of the recipes we were having for our shared dinner, and I chose this one.  I love chili rellenos and this is a fabulous recipe, both for the batter on the outside, and the filling on the inside.

Chilies:
12-14 chiles de agua or 6-7 chiles poblanos

Picadillo:
2 Tb. vegetable oil
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c. chopped fresh tomato
pinch of sugar
1 1/2 c. shredded chicken, pork, or beef
1 1/2 Tbs. finely chopped green olives
1 1/2 Tbs. raisins
1 1/2 tbs. toasted and chopped almonds
1 Tbs. capers, chopped
1/4 c. finely chopped parseley
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. chicken stock--use if needed

To assemble the chiles:
24 fresh epazote leaves
1/2 c. flour, mixed with salt and pepper to taste
4 large eggs, room temperature (at least 30 minutes out of fridge)
pinch of salt
2 1/2 c. vegetable oil for frying

For the chilies:
Over a medium flame, char the chilies until their skins are black and blistered.  Remove from heat and put in a covered pot to sweat for 5-15 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, peel off skin, taking care to not rip the flesh.  Make a slit in the side and remove seeds, keeping them on the stem (this is important!).  Don't rinse--it will retain more flavor (even though you will be tempted to).

For the Picadillo:
In a frying pan, heat the oil, fry onion until transparent.  Add garlic and saute a moment.  Add tomato and sugar, cook for 5 minutes.  Add shredded meat, and stir, then add olives, raisins, almonds, capers, herbs, and cinnamon.  Add salt and pepper, then stock if needed to moisten filling.

To assemble chilies:
Stuff the cleaned chilies with the picadillo mixture, being careful to not over stuff.  Line the seam in the side with an epazote leaf--to prevent stuffing from falling out.  Dredge in flour.

Separate egg yolks and whites into two bowls.  Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  add yolks all at once and beat 30 seconds more.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large frying pan, heat oil until smoky.  Pass each chili through the batter, holding on to the chili by the stem, covering it completely in batter (it is amazing how well the batter adheres to the chilies).  Place the chili in the frying pan--with the back of a metal spatula, flick hot oil over the top of the chili to form it's shape.  Using two spatulas, turn carefully to cook on other side--if you rotate on all sides it will be rounder rather than flatter--your choice.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  Continue cooking, 2-3 at a time until done.  Heat in oven until ready to serve.
Serve over a simple tomato sauce and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Royal Affair (2012)

Danish films are fantastic in general and this film is no exception--it is the first of the Best Foreign Language Film nominees that I have seen from last year, and I only hope the rest are as good. 

The story is historically accurate--Christian VII is the Danish king who came to the thrown in the Age of Enlightenment.  He was not entirely right in the head--what the exact problem was is not known, but there is general agreement that he had physical infirmity and he could be cruel, paranoid, silly, and unpredictable.  He was almost certainly physically abused as a child, he most probably was verbally abused, and who knows, maybe there was some sexual sadism as well.  In any case, he came to the thrown at age 17, which irritated his step-mother to no end, and she never forgave him.

He married his English cousin, Caroline Mathilda, a 15 year old who came to Denmark full of hope, all of which she lost on her wedding night.  He was awful as a husband from start to finish, and they soon grew to detest each other.  Not much of a story, but then enters the good Dr. Johann Friedrich Struensée.  He is a country physician who attends to a crippled King while on a jaunt around Europe, and if the film is to believed, essentially did a little psychotherapy and the good King perked up enough to be able to travel home.  That is where the story goes from grim to interesting.

Struensée and the Queen share a love for the philosophers of their time--they believe that the behavior of the nobility is unconscionable.  They kill peasants with impunity.  The poor live very poorly indeed--no food, no rights, no justice--and the rich live richly.  Struensée uses his influence with the King to make marked changes in Denmark, and all the while he is bedding the Queen.  Having his cake and eating it too, at least for a while.  The King had an evil stepmother who eventually puts an end to all that, but not before significant changes have been made in the Kingdom in the North

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart (1999)

I read this book because I am on a trip to Andalucia.  My number two son is studying in Seville this summer, and we are spending a couple of weeks getting him acclimated to the language,the food, and having a little bit of fun ourselves.

The subtitle of this memoir about moving from England to Andalucia is "The Optimist in Spain"--the author is not so much an optimist as he is naive.  He does have the sense that everything will work out, but it is not because of his sunny disposition--rather it is that he doesn't think that someone would cheat him, or fail to disclose the fatal flaws in the plan that he has for himself.

I did not know that the author was the first drummer for the band that became Genesis--he went to high school with Peter Gabriel, but apparently he was removed from the band for his lack of drumming talent (which seems like it is saying something, but perhaps they were a band with a high drumming standard).  At the time that he was considering buying a farm in southern Spain, he was an itinerant sheep sheerer, traveling around the northern part of Europe on an as needed basis.  He bought the farm without much thought, seduced by the beauty of the setting and the extremely affordable price.  It was a place that could not be sold to locals--so the fact that he was a foreigner was in some way to his advantage.  He was tricked, his neighbors thought, rather than that he wanted to take over.

The book delineates the way of life that he found himself in, and the things that they brought with them to the region, and the way the people who lived there responded to he and his family.  There are some good stories contained, but not much in the way of history of the place.  Still, if you are traveling to this region, it is a good travel memoir.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mitla, Oaxaca

Mitla is the second most important archeological site in the state of  Oaxaca, in the upper end of the Tlacolula Valley, one of the three that form the Central Valleys Region of the state. The archeological site is within the modern municipality of San Pablo Villa e Mitla. 


While Monte Alban was most important as the political center, Mitla was the main religious center. The name Mitla is derived from the Nuahatl name Mictlan, which was the place of the dead or underworld. Its Zapotec name is Lyobaa, which means “place of rest.”

The ruins at Mitla are really not ruins at all.  The buildings have been there since they were constructed hundreds of years ago, and they have resisted falling to ruin in that time, perhaps, because they are built with tousands of pieces of stone, woven into these wonderful patterns that represent the earthly elements that were important to the Zapatec people.

They are the main distinguishing feature of Mitla, these intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that profusely adorn the walls of the ruins (both around the church, which the Spaniards built on top of the site to impress upon the Zapotecs that there was a new god in town) and in the original site that stands behind the church). The geometric patterns, called grecas, seen on some of the stone walls and door frames are made from thousands of cut, polished stones that are fitted together without mortar. The pieces were set against a stucco background painted red. The stones are held in place by the weight of the stones that surround them. Walls, friezes and tombs are decorated with mosaic fretwork. In some cases, such as in lintels, these stone “tiles” are embedded directly into the stone beam. The elaborate mosaics are considered to be a type of “Baroque” design as the designs are elaborate and intricate and in some cases cover entire walls. None of the fretwork designs are repeated exactly anywhere in the complex. The fretwork here is unique in all of Mesoamerica.  It is a must-see stop in Oaxaca.




 



Sunday, May 26, 2013

Guilt Trip (2012)

This is a movie that is better when you think about it than when you watch it.  The script is crisply written and delivered in a manner that demonstrates good timing, if not a lot of comedy--especially Seth Rogan.  He is an impressive actor who is still looking for the perfect vehicle for his brand of talent.  But it is a little painful to watch.

Here is the deal--Andy Brewster is a talented organic chemist who has developed a revolutionary new cleaning agent that is 100% organic, extremely effective, entirely made of renewable resources, and safe.  What he lacks is any idea of how to market it--he gives it an unpronounceable name and packages it in the most uninspiring packaging imaginable.  Not to mention that he his sales pitch would put kindergarteners to sleep. 

He is about to embark on a cross country trip to find a buyer for his fabulous product.  He stops in at his mother's place.  His mother (played by Barbara Streisand, who looks remarkable for 71--it is not just the plastic surgery--she moves like a much younger woman) has a second sense about how to sell things, but he absolutely will not listen to her.  They are conflict laden from the out set,  he invites his mother to join him on the road trip, you can see it will be a disaster from start to finish.  His reasons stem from the best of intentions, but he and his mother are both ill-prepared to spend time together--the reason is that they really have not developed an adult relationship with each other.  She is fawning and he is dismissive, which is irritating to watch.  Over the course of the trip they manage to annoy each other to no end, have a verbal knock down drag out fight about the way they treat each other, and then to start to interact as adults.  That part is the good part, the part that you keep thinking about long after the credits have rolled.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Graduation Party Food--Dilemmas and Solutions

It is always tough to plan a party where you have no idea how many people will come, how much they will want to eat, and how to have something that goes beyond the usual chips and dip and a large sheet cake to celebrate an event.  There are many parties going on sumultaneously, so there is that added layer of complexity.  We have done a number of different things, but this year, in deference to our graduate, we did sandwiches and Mediterranean salads.
My graduate is a big sandwich fan--sometimes I think it is about the only thing that he eats, but that would be an exaggeration.  We did composed sanwiches rather than a deli tray for several reasons--one is that in a two-hour party, time is of the essense.  We chose to have ours over the lunch hour, so the possibility exists that people would actually want to eat lunch.  Whenever I am faced with a deli tray, I do one of two things.  I either take my time and compose the sandwich that I want--spreading the various spreads
and carefully building the ultimate sandwich--all of which occurs at the expense of the ever-growing line behind me.  The alternative is that I pitle things up on a piece of bread to be assembled later in a less than satisfactory mode.  So making the sandwiches ahead of time might decrease the choices that one person might have, but it allows for making an ideal flavor combination, a settling of the flavors into the bread, and a swifter pace for the line.

We used two sandwich books for ideas: 'Wichcraft:Craft a Sandwich into a Meal by Tom Colccio and Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book.  I recommend getting some tried and true ideas before venturing out on your own.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ethan Graduates!

My youngest son graduates from high school today, and I could not be happier about it.

It is always an accomplishment to finish a chapter in one's education, and that is reason enough to celebrate.  In the United States, the end of high school marks not just the end of publicly funded education but it is also the transition from childhood to adulthood.  Most kids leave home at that point--they are not necessarily financially independent, but they have a lot more personal autonomy.  So it is in and of itself a big deal.

But for Ethan, every aspect of education has been an uphill battle.  He is able to learn, and to learn well,  but it requires a lot of time and tremendous effort--both for him and those who teach him.  He requires significant one-on-one teaching, which has become a thing of the past.  As a nineteenth century nobleman, he would have been an above average student and a pleasure to teach--unless you include fencing amongst the daily tasks to accomplish.  He took to rowing like a duck to water, but a summer course in fencing was not a success.  Sadly, for Ethan's sake, and I suspect many others who struggle in classrooms of 25 or more, the days of that sort of one-on-one education are far behind us.

Ethan had a brain tumor when he was 5 years old, and the surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy left him with numerous challenges.  So when he walks across the stage tonight, with his ribbon and medal signifying having been on the honor roll all 12 trimesters of high school,  it is a journey that he has more than earned.  We know that he did not do it alone, but it wouldn't have happened without his tenacity, his patience, and the fact that underneath all his gruff indifference, he is really pretty fun to teach.

I am very proud of his accomplishment, and I look forward to continuing to learn with him as he moves onto the next step, college.  I am privileged and honored to be his tutor--but also obliged.  So luckily I am getting really excited about learning along side him over the next several years.  The job of parent is the most emotionally exhausting in existence--it has the worst hours, the worst pay, and the benefits are what you make of them (and they certainly are not monetary).  You are on call 24/7, with no overtime, and your input might just as easily be ignored as followed.  Be that as it may, Ethan has been a pleasure to parent and may that continue to be true!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Life of Pi (2012)

I would love to know what Yann Mantel thinks of the movie that Ang Lee made of his book.

The story is this.  A boy and his family have a zoo in India.  Pi thinks that he has a special relationship with their Bengal Tiger, known by the name of the name who sold him to them, Richard Parker.  Pi's father wants Pi to never underestimate the power of a wild animal, and puts a goat within reach of the tiger and in front of Pi's eyes, the goat is killed.  Traumatic for a young boy.

The zoo falls on hard times and the family decides to immigrate to Canada, sell their animals there, and start a new life.  The whole thing goes terribly wrong, the ship sinks and in the end the only two survivors are Pi and Richard Parker--a vegetarian boy and a Bengal tiger.

The bulk of the movie is about their 227 days at sea in a small boat.  Pi spends a fair amount of time in a makeshift raft off the boat, as a life preserving technique, and while the tiger remains wild, they manage a sort of detente (more through the work of Pi than Richard Parker).  It is lushly filmed, gorgeous to watch, and the story is told at a very lovely pace.   Even knowing what happens at the end does not mar the suspense that you feel throughout the movie.   It is so well done, especially considering the story it began with and it's adherence to that story.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Teaching Crown Goes to Pat Schmidt

 Pat Schmidt is the teacher who spent the most time in my children's life, and this is her last academic year.  She is going to do something else with the rest of her life, and at a time like this, it makes sense to reflect on just exactly how great she is.  So here goes.

In the spring of 1990  we were looking for educational alternatives for my second son--he was born a bit too late in the calendar year to start school the fall he turned five, but he definitely needed something more structured than the pre-school program that he was in.  At the same time my eldest son was struggling with school in a different way.  When the work the class was doing was too easy for him he either made trouble, or worse yet, zoned out.  When he was moved to the next classroom up, he was engaged and happy. 
So what to do--the traditional school system was potentially  recommending that my two sons, who are 26 months apart in age, be 4 years apart in school--it just made no sense at all.

That is when we discovered Pat Schmidt and the fabulous school that used to be Willowwind School.  It was a small school in a large house in downtown Iowa City.  There were three classrooms, 50 students, and multiple teachers all engaged in helping each student reach their full potential at their own pace.  Older students helping younger ones--the very best of home schooling combined with a broad educational program, and an appreciation for nature and ecology and peace and harmony.

Our four children spent their grammar school years in this wonderful setting and all was good in their world until the spring of 2005.  There was a horrible bitter break in the school, which was marked by rumor, innuendo, hysteria, and lying.  Very ugly, and the magnificent Pat left the soul crushing atmosphere that Willowwind became and started her own school.  Luckily, I had only one child left there, Ethan.  Sadly, he was my most educationally challenged child, my cancer survivor, who desperately needed the small classroom size and the attention of a teacher who really cared that he succeed.

Initially we stayed in the old school after Pat left with the new people, but we were very unhappy, and gradually Ethan became miserable--the small classroom size was not enough to balance the loss of the great teacher. A month into the ordeal I was at a meeting out-of-town, and while I was there I had dinner with a favorite colleague.  I told my tale of woe to her and she said, "So, you think Ethan does well with a gifted teacher and a small classroom size--you have a gifted teacher who started her own school with an even smaller number of students that he could attend.  I really don't understand what your problem is."  Suddenly, neither did I. 

I left the meeting early, flew home, and called a family meeting.  After a decade, we were considering leaving a school that we had been actively and happily involved with, and we wanted our children's input.  When we posed the possible solution--that Ethan go to Pat's new school--one of my children responded immediately.  He said "Willowwind is just a building.  It the people who are important, and Pat is the very best teacher any of us has ever had.  Of course Ethan should go to her school."  Out of the mouths of babes.  So true.  Willowwind was meaningless to us without Pat.  Why had it taken so long to see that?

Well, once the truth had been revealed, we were once again on the right course, and for the next four years Ethan attended Pat's new school and he thrived, despite having to have neurosurgery (again).  She prepared him to enter high school on every level--emotionally, educationally, and spiritually.  He left a school with fewer than 20 children to attend a school with 100's of students confident that he would succeed, and he did.  He graduates with honors this week and he will attend the University of Iowa this fall.  There are many people who share in his success, but outside his family, no one played a bigger role than Pat.  Please give her a big round of applause for a career of gifted and memorable teaching.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Susana Trilling and Seasons of My Heart Cooking School


On my recent trip to Oaxaca I focused almost entirely on the art of the region, but the food is the other real highlight is the food.  So for one day I took a break from all the folk art and immersed myself in the food of the region by taking a class at the Seasons of My Heart cooking school, which is run by Susanna Trilling.  She is an American who fell in love with Oaxacan food, had a cooking program on PBS, and then succumbed to her love of the region and moved to Oaxaca permanently.  Her ranch and home and school are situated in the hills outside of Etla, and it is picture perfect.

When you take a Wednesday class, you get picked up in central Oaxaca and taken out to the market in Etla.  I thought that the reason would be to shop for the meal that we would cook later in the day, but I was wrong.  It was so we could learn about the food that is native to the region and sold inthe market.  We learned about the fresh fruits and vegetables on sale--what you can find only in Oaxaca and what you can find beyond.  We then tried prepared foods--tamales of all sorts, moles, chocolate, ice creams, different kinds of breads, different cheeses, and for each and every one we smelled it, tasted it, and learned about it.  It was like having a personal shopper.  I bought some dried chilis, some red mole paste, some black mole paste, and best of all, I bought a bag of the seasoning that is served with shots of mescal that is a mixture of ground gusano (the worm that is found on the agave plant), chili, and salt.  The one thing that I tried that I was pretty sure that I would not before I went was grasshoppers.  They were surprisingly unexceptional.  They tasted of lime and salt and chili and not at all of bug.  A pleasant surprise.

The second half of the day we cooked a meal--each of us collaborating with another student or two on a dish, and then we ate them in a wonderful dinner before riding back in Oaxaca--I loved the cooking lessons, but surprisingly it was really the morning in the market that I learned the most.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Backstrap Weavers of Santo Tomas Jalieza, Oaxaca

I had a wonderful time in this village of backstrap weavers.  All the weavers I met were women who are native Mexicans.  In Oaxaca about half of the people speak something other than Spanish as a first language--mostly Zapotec and Mixtec, but there are a dozen or more other languages--none of which I will ever speak in the slightest because they are tonal languages, and while I have a good ear for language, I apparently have a terrible ear for the tonal differences when people are speaking.  I discovered that when I was trying to learn a little bit of Thai and found that it was impossible for me to hear the differences, even though the narrator assured me they were there.

When I am with people who speak another language at home than the one we are communicating in, I find that my 4th grade vocabulary in Spanish takes me a lot further.  We are both trying to communicate in a language that is not our own, and we are very forgiving of each other's mistakes.

These women can weave some very complex patterns--the animals and people are things they have undoubtedly been weaving these patterns for literally thousands of years.  It requires them to hand finger where they put the weft as they weave these wonderful patterns.

I spoke with Nicoleta at some length--she told me that she had been weaving for 72 years--she started when she was 6 years old.  She was weaving one of these complex patterns while she talked with me, laughing out loud at me and some of my questions.  When she looked up at me, I noticed that she was blind in one of her eyes--she nodded when I asked her about weaving and her eyesight--she weaves with her hands and she visualizes the pattern in her mind.  It is a sort of motor memory, where she isn't even conscious of what she is doing, even as she does it, and it makes her lack of eyesight less of a problem for her when she is working than it is when she is trying to get home.

She was so talented and funny and friendly and proud of what she makes--I brought home some of her work, but the time I sat with her was the best of all.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)


Recently there have been a series of articles about how you might never leave your high school self behind--well, I am here to say that it is more or less possible to not play the role in adulthood that you did in your youth.

The story, set in the early 1990s, tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), who has had some sort of serious trauma that he is getting over or around, we are not sure what.   He enters high school tremulously and without confidence, and is faced on his first day by that great universal freshman crisis: Which table in the lunchroom will they let me sit at? Discouraged at several tables, including the table with his sister, he's welcomed by two smart and sympathetic seniors.
They are Sam and Patrick, played by Emma Watson who is moving beyond her Hermione role, and Ezra Miller.   Charlie makes the mistake of assuming they are a couple, and Sam's laughter corrects him; actually, they're step-siblings. Charlie is on the edge of outgrowing his depression and dorkdom, and is eerily likable in his closed-off way. One of the key players in his life is the dead aunt  he often has imaginary meetings with.

Patrick is tall, girlishly handsome, gangly, and gay; Sam is friendly and lovable.  They are all three of them damaged in some way--which we find out as the movie moves on (Patrick is really not so much damaged as he is trying to live an authentic life as a gay man within the confines of a bullying environment, but the other two have hidden pasts that are haunting them).  They provide each other the emotional cover needed to get through high school and move on.  Very nicely done.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ancient Lights by John Banville

John Banville is exactly the sort of author that one thinks of when contemplating the typical Man Booker Prize author.  The quality of his prose is impeccable, almost breathtakingly beautiful.  The pace of the novel is leisurely, the tone is reflective, and it is easy to get swept away in the telling of the story without thinking much about what exactly is happening.

The book centers on Alex Cleave, both his past and his present.  He is preparing for a film about a disgraced academic and reading an account of his downfall.  The process makes him nostalgic about his own past, specifically a scandal that he was at the center of when he was a 15-year old boy.  He had a protracted affair with his best friend's mother, Mrs. Gray.  The man looking back on the boy's affair does not shed adult eyes on the affair--he does not come to terms with what might have been had he not been in a torrid sexual affair with a woman who had problems that he cannot begin to comprehend even when his adult eyes reflect upon her seduction of him, and his obsessive and possessive affair is no more than a sexual maelstrom rather than a turning point in his ability to form adult relationships.  He is able to see the danger and the loss that happened to her when the affair came to light.  He is sorry and sad about that, but is unable to see that her behavior as both whore and mother set him up for a big fall when he entered into relationships with women his own age.  It is very beautiful to read, and yet there are important things missing from Cleave's reflection on his past and what effect it had on his life going forward.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Loss of a Sibling

Today would have been the 52nd birthday of my brother Charles, had he not died when he was 8 years old.

Death of a sibling in childhood is one of the recognized 'big traumas', along with death of a parent and divorcing parents at a young age.  I don't know about the trauma of the other two--my parents are still alive well into my middle age and they are still married--to each other, no less.  But I do know that losing a sibling is a very big loss.

My brother had polio as a baby and was in a wheel chair as long as I can remember.  A wheelchair-bound sibling is one that is home a lot.  I have always been a home body myself, and so I spent much of the 8 years of my brother's life that was not spent sleeping or in school in his company.  So the losses were many fold in my case.  First is that someone you love dies.  Second is that your parents have lost one of their children--which does not improve their parenting skills.  I should know.  Not that I had a sense of it at the time, but when my own son had cancer I became a very marginal parent--I was so upset that I couldn't get any more upset.  What that meant is that I was unable to respond normally to normal things.  That change in personality in a parent is very distressing to children, who like their lives to be predictable and stable.  So a little bit of the parent dies.

The third emotional challenge in having a sibling die when you are a child is that you are not an emotional adult--so every year or two you change dramatically in terms of emotional maturity, but does your grief grow more mature with you?  Not in my case.  Every new emotional skill that I gained growing up meant that I relived the grief I felt about my brother dying.  I was well into my 20's before I finally got old enough to stop starting over again with my sense of loss.

I have another brother, one who is much younger than me--which makes it look like I might have been an only child for a very long time and suddenly got saddled with a little brother.  That was not the case at all.  While I am sure I played the irritated elder sister role to perfection when he was a child, he saved me from being an only child, which would have been yet another loss.  Every life is filled with triumphs and losses--it is not so much the things that happen to you, said Emerson, but what you do about them.  The ultimate Romantic, which is not exactly my world view, but that sentiment does resonate with me.

If I am lucky, I will live long enough to have many more losses, but in some ways my brother's death gave me an armor that I carried with me through adolescence and beyond.  I felt like I understood surviving loss, that I was less vulnerable for having made peace with myself and the loss of my sibling.  I was completely wrong about that--I discovered when my son was diagnosed with cancer that no amount of loss prepares you for the next one.  But I was able to be fooled about that for many years, and it helped me through the growing up process.  I wish I could see my brother, know what he would have been like as a grown up, have him as a sibling once again, but since that is not possible, I remember him and thank him for the things he taught me and the strength he left me with.  Happy Birthday in the hereafter.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

George Gently (2007-2010)


I really like this BBC crime drama, which is set in Northumberland in the early to mid 1960's.  George Gently (superbly played by Martin Shaw) is a man who was on the brink of retirement when his wife is murdered.  He initially comes to town tracking a bad guy, and decides, for a variety of reasons, to stay.  His side kick is Detective Sergeant John Bacchus (played by Lee Ingleby), a man using the methods of detecting that cops were known for at the time--intimidation, jumping to conclusions, and wanting to quickly wrap up a case rather than solve mystery.  He is unhappily married, given to overspending, a bit full of himself and vulnerable  in a number of ways.  Gently is part boss, part role model, part parent to him.  Gently is more methodical, careful, reflective, and stubborn.  They make a good pair, as it happens.

I have a self-admitted addiction to this genre--the BBC does crime dramas like no others, and there are very few that are not worth watching.  George Gently is a cut above this very good fray--the character himself is very good, there are many fewer resources at hand to solve cases with, and the stories are really nicely written.  It is very nice to see the 1960's in England portrayed through the lens of law enforcement--that was the brink of big social change, and it wasn't always easy on the police--nor did they always put their best foot forward.  Finally, the generation gap between Gently and Bacchus allows for a demonstration of some of those changes over time.  Gently is a kind and humane man, portrayed next to some compatriots who may have less patience for their fellow man.  If you like this genre, this is a great series.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cream of Asparagus Soup

I had some roasted asparagus that I had not paid quite enough attention to when it was in the oven, so it came out a little crispy in some areas and altogether overcooked--not inedible, by any means, but not fabulous even when it was brought to the table.  Needless to say, there were leftovers, and while I usually really enjoy cutting up the vegeatable side dish from the night before into my salad for noon the next day, that was not the fate of this particular asapagus.

So, what to do?
Throwing perfectly good food away is not in my usual repertoire as a cook (it happens, but I go out of my way to avoid it), and I am not want to serve myself something that I would rather not eat.  So the solution to this problem (and many others!) was to make soup.


10 oz roasted asparagus, heads set aside
2 small onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 c. stock (I used chicken, but vegetable would work well)
2 medium potatoes, diced
1/2 c. milk
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions until they are sweating, then add garlic, and saute until soft.  Add potatoes, asparagus stalks (I cut them into 2 inch sections, but you are going to puree this, so it is not necessary), and stock.  Simmer until potatoes are falling apart.  Puree in a food processor until smooth.  Add milk, salt and pepper to taste.  Serve soup with the tops of the asparagus in each bowl (or skip this part and puree them up with the rest, if that suits you better).


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli


This book largely takes place on a ranch in Central California, a place that reminded me very much of Fresno.  Claire is a woman who is slow to warm up that the lifestyle of solitary living.  She is more suited to city living and academic pursuits, but she falls in love with Forester, a man who inherits a fruit tree ranch from his parents.  His mother expresses a great deal of skepticism about Clare.  She judges her by the way she looks, not her potential--but she changes her tune soon enough.  Forester is the one who could give up on the land.  Clare becomes determined to die on it.

Which almost comes true.  Clare and Forester split up--she is so intensely tied to the land, and he realizes that they need to sell it, and their relationship can't survive the difference of opinion.  Then, when Clare is diagnosed with breast cancer, she still can't compromise.  She loses her marriage, her relationship with her daughters, and she almost loses herself.  It is a shyster, a woman who wants something that she is not revealing and who is telling lots of lies to hide that fact to teach her that she really has to let go of it after all.  It is a cautionary tale.  Never value things and places over people.

 It reminded me of when I was struggling with a decision about changing schools for my lasty son.  All of my kids had gone to this small wonderful school, but then it changed--all the people who mattered to us left the school, and my son was miserable, but we still weren't sure about what to do.  I had an eye opening conversation with a professional acquaintance and flew home to have a family meeting about ending our relationship with the school, after more than a decade.  I was heartbroken about it, but my kids didn't understand it at all.  One of them said, "Mom, the school is just a building.  It is the people who matter, and the very best person there left.  So there is nothing left there for us."  Just a building.  They were so right.  I had my priorities completely mixed up.  I could have ended up just like Claire if I hadn't been set straight.  Don't let that happen to you.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lincoln (2012)

This is the best 2012 movie that I have seen (in the interest of full disclosure, I have only watched 3 of those nominated, but amongst those three was Argo--so once again I disagree with the powers that decide these things).

The movie deals with a very short period of time in Lincoln's life (it should really be called 'Lincoln 1865' because that is about all it covers).  Lincoln has been re-elected and he felt like it was the time to deal the death blow to slavery once and for all.  He was war weary.  So was the South.  So was the country.  It was a war that left no family untouched.  Lincoln toured battlefields full of dead soldiers and he met with the wounded in hospitals.  He was not shielding himself from the widespread misery that his decision to go to war had caused.  But there was a lot of opposition to an Amendment to the Constitution banning slavery.  Some thought that the Emancipation Proclamation would be enough.  Others openly feared giving former slaves full citizenship and the right to vote. 

The business of politics is a messy one, and passing the 13th Amendment was no exception.  Lincoln openly buys votes with patronage jobs for those leaving Congress.  He personally lobbies Congressmen for their votes.  He works on having Thaddeus Stevens, an acerbic and outspoken abolitionist who led the Radical Republicans, to tone down his rhetoric in order not to scare votes off (Stevens was widely thought to be sexually involved with his mixed race widowed housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith--and he did formally adopt two nephews of her deceased husband who were orphaned, so the personal ties with African Americans were very real for him).  Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens is fantastic, but Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln is truly astounding--he really makes you want to go back in time and have dinner with the President.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Making Chocolate the Oaxaca Way

 On an En Via tour we visited the home of a micro loan recipient who has a chocolate making business.  As is true of so many things in Oaxaca, chocolate is not made the easy way--and it is very important.  Two women who are making the chocolate here are sisters.  One of them is grinding the sugar, and the other one is grinding the cocoa beans, as well as the cinnamon bark.  They both agree that there are three things that you absolutely must be able to do to be considered ready for marriage--you must be able to make tortillas, you must be able to make a mole, and you must be able to make chocolate.  This is a community that lives in a simple manner, but chocolate is considered not a luxury but a staple of life.  Families in the Teotitlan de Valle region of Oaxaca would traditionally have chocolate on Wednesdays and Sundays.  The traditional way to have chocolate is in a hot chocolate form--mixed with either milk or water.  The wooden tool to stir Mexican hot chocolate is both beautiful and functional--not to mention distinctive.

Watching chocolate being made is rather tiring--making it is surely harder still! 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke (1790)


This spring I have been reading books on change and government since the Age of Enlightenment.  The thing that has been most surprising to me is that the work that speaks most to me is this one by Edmund Burke.  He is thought of as the father of modern conservatism, which is not exactly a line of politics that is entirely up my alley.  But it turns out that a conservative in Burke's time was really more of a moderate in todays' terms.  Today conservatives seem to want to go back to a previous time.  Burke felt that change was important, but that it had to be done within the context of the existing regime.

He wrote in the late 18th century, which was a time of revoultion.  He was an early supporter of the American Revolution--he felt that the English form or government was failing the colonies and that the proposed changes were well within the context of the way things had been done.  The American colonies had an extensive form of local government prior to declaring their independence, and what they were proposing was that they continue their existing government but that they be treated more fairly.

The French Revolution was another story altogether.  They were proposing a change of government that had no footing within what existed.  They were advocating something that was entirely theoretical rather than something that they knew.  He felt that a change in goverment had to be more gradual, that people did not do well with big change, things that they couldn't understand.  It turns out he was quite right about the French--the revolution devolved into complete chaos, and France, after lots of death and destruction, they ended up pretty much where they started, with what was a dictatorship rather than democrasy.  His ideas have a lot of revelance for us today--how to keep the government in line with what is fair and what is acceptable and the way for the two to meet.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hitchcock (2012)

 Alfred Hitchcock is the acknowledged master of the suspenseful thriller.  He was never the recipient of a Best Director Academy Award (although they did honor him with a Lifetime Achievement award shortly before his death).  He was well known for sleeping with his leading ladies, for blacklisting them if they defied him, and for ruining careers.  Not a very nice man, all in all, but a very talented film maker.

This movie is about the making of the movie 'Psycho' in 1959.  He owed Paramount Studios one more movie on his contract, and they wanted to tell him what to make--he didn't take kindly to young actresses going against his will, but he was no happier when it was studio executives trying to wield power.  He ended up financing the movie with his own money, and with the full support of his wife, Alma.

This movie is equal parts Hitchcock and the obsession he had with this particular movie with the part that his wife played in his success.

Alma was in the film business when she met Hitchcock and she had a genius for editing--editing scripts, but most of all for editing movies.  The story goes that Hitchcock screened 'Psycho' for the studio executives and they hated it.  Worse yet, he hated it too.  So what to do?  Alma rolls up her sleeves and goes about editing the film scene by scene, frame by frame at times, and no surprise here, it worked.

What probably did not happen in real life (though it is depicted in the movie) is the thanks.  She was seen by people in the know as being the great woman who was standing behind the great man.  But how much of his greatness would have laid fallow without her--so part of his talent was to see what she brought to his work, and  kept her involved with him for his entire career.

This is not a magnificent film, but it is an enjoyable one.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Kidnapping, Rape, Captivity, and Rescue

I will grant you alive, but safe is going to be a long time coming. 
Three women were rescued this week from a captivity that spanned more than a decade.  They were kidnapped  at different times, and from disparate locations, but they have been chained up in a house in a lower income neighborhood in Cleveland for many years, undetected by neighbors.  Their captor was known to the neighbors who thought nothing of him.  He was uninteresting.  Except that he imprisoned and raped these women over many years, resulting in children who have never known anything but captivity.


They were rescued by a man who did what so many do not--he rushed into a situation that he thought was a domestic violence scenario.  Charles Rawlings has matter-of-factly described his rescue of one of the women, but in truth, it was brave of him to aid in her escape.  He said with great humor that he knew something was quite wrong 'when a pretty little white girl rushed into the arms of an unknown black man'.  He knew something was up with that.  The woman he rescued was miraculously clear about who she was, what she had been through, and that she needed the police--immediately.

So that is all good news.  But what comes next?  The book 'The Room' by Emma Donaghue was published in 2010 and nominated for the Man Booker prize.  It is a work of fiction, but it is a similar scenario--one woman, not three, but a child born into a room, raised by his captive mother.  When they escape, it is not the end of a nightmare.  Surviving unimaginable evil does not prepare you to re-enter the world.  Especially not a world that has you in it's spotlight.  The psychological road to recovery and safety is a long and arduous one, for the women themselves and their offspring.  Mothers and children born of rape have overwhelming attachment issues--imagine how this compounds that.  We should all just go away and leave them to their years of therapy in peace.  Wish them well, but pay no attention to them so they can get on with the impossible task of peicing their lives together again.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon

This is the first of the five New York Times Best Non-Fiction Books of 2012 that I have been able to read.  The subtitle is "Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity", but that is only a slight sliver of what he covers in this book, which he has been writing for over a decade.

I think the impetus to write the book was his relationship with his parents and his search for identity.  In the first chapter he divulges that he has a personal history of depression, and that he is gay.  His parents were very unhappy to learn that their son was gay.  So unhappy that it made him wonder if there was a genetic test for gayness and they had gotten that information that he might have been aborted in utero.  He was getting in touch with what it might be like to be an unlikable child.  On top of that, he considered the challenges of raising a child that was different from yourself in a significant way.  Every couple has one member who is a different gender from their child--in my case all of my children are a different gender.  But that wasn't the sort of difference that interested him--he was looking at more unusual differences, things that wouldn't appear frequently that parents had to cope with.  He did extensive interviews with families of children with 6 different medical conditions--deafness, dwarfism, Down's syndrome children, autism, schizophrenia, and then children with multiple and severe disabilities rendering them unable to care for themselves in a serious way.  These chapters deal with issues about love, connectedness, making decisions about child rearing and transitioning children into independent lives.  He asks them questions like what have you learned, what have you gained and what have you lost, and would you do it over again if you had a choice. Very disturbingly, there were parents of autistic children who had murdered their children, feeling like it was their only option--the desperation is palpable in some stories, and the wells of resiliency are equally compelling in other stories.

The next four chapters deal with issues that are different--one of them is transgendered children, which the author has an intense interest in.  One is based on raising a child prodigy, which comes across as being just as challenging as raising a child with a disability and in some ways less rewarding, because so many of the children end up being estranged from their parents.  The other two chapters are on children born of rape, and children who become criminals.  There is a lot of emotion in this book, but the stories are compelling, well told, thought provoking, and you do not walk away from this book unscathed.  You look at yourself, your parenting, and the results of that parenting in a different light as a result.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Django Unchained (2013)





Only Quentin Tarantino could do a movie that was about slavery (at least as a backdrop to the story in the movie) that was at once brilliantly scripted and a spaghetti Western.  It is very challenging for me to describe his film style, but I know it when I see it, and it just keeps getting better.  I loved 'Inglourious Basterds', despite thinking that I surely would not, and I loved this movie even more (again, not having learned from 'Inglourious Basterds', I though this one would be out of my wheel house, but it most certainly was not).

So you should definitely see this one.  I watched it one early evening, and that was a mistake.  It is quite lengthy (2 hours and 45 minutes, with the last 45 minutes being almost non-stop action), but I thought starting at 6:00 pm would combat that, but no, it is really quite a revved up movie, and I felt like I had just downed 2 espressos in rapid succession once the credits were finally rolling.  Admittedly, I am someone who is completely emotionally available for movies.  If you are supposed to cry, I cry.  If you are supposed to be scared, I am scared.  I have no ability to filter when it comes to films. 

I am not going to run through the plot of this movie--which almost seems extraneous to its melllfluous dialogue.  The writing is brilliant, really impressive, and in the hands of Christoph Waltz it is brilliantly and deftly delivered.  He is the Jack in the Box, the man who pops out of nowhere with all knowledge that sets the film in motion, and who equally unexpectedly exits it, leaving Jamie Foxx to finish his job alone.  But Waltz is the stunner in this movie, the man who leaves you slack jawed, open mouthed that he could be so silver tongued.  The script and the actor both won Oscars for this film and they are wildly well deserved.  Brace yourself for the signature Tarantino blood splattering--it is excessive, even by his standards, but the film is so well crafted that even though the blood is improbably and the movie goes on forever, you won't be dissuaded to stay with it until the very end and leave hyped up but satisfied at the end.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Joy of Reading


Today is my sister-in-laws' birthday, and I am reflecting on all the things that I value about her--the first and foremost is that she is the very best of friends to have.  She is fun, friendly, funny, talented, kind, generous, and she would do anything you needed without hesitation.  The older I get, the more I realize just how unusual this array of talents and characteristics are.  When you are related to somebody, you really don't get much in the way of choice about them, and my SIL is a great example of when that really doesn't matter, because anyone would be lucky to have her in their family.

In addition to all of that she gives one of the very best of presents.  She sends me 4 books that she has read that she thinks that I would like.  There are several things that I like about this gift.  The first is that a good book recommendation is always appreciated, and even more so when the book is actually provided.  I am always looking for an interesting book to read!

The very best thing though is that a book from someone tells you something about what they like, and what they think you would like--it is a gift that tells you something intellectual about the giver.  That is something that is very nice indeed.  So thank you so much, Tonie, and have a wonderful birthday!


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Republican Strategy--Don't Let Young People Vote

Ohio may welcome you, but please don't vote if you are 18-22 years old.  In a budget amendment filed  by Republicans in the Ohio House, state universities that provide documents enabling students to register to vote in their college town, rather than in the state where their parents reside, will be forbidden from charging those students out-of-state tuition.  This is the second GOP attempt to restrict college students from voting in just the past month. About a month ago, a North Carolina Republican lawmaker filed a bill that would raise taxes on families with college students if the student registers to vote at school rather than in their parents’ hometown.

Two thoughts--other than the one whereby in order to remain in office you have to impede people's ability to vote--what about the concept of democrasy did you miss in school? 

The first is that universities are in the business of transitioning students into adulthood.  They are encouraging them to make their own decisions and to move away from having their parents control them.  Any parent of a college student knows that except for being responsible for the bills, you have no rights.  You get no information about grades, classes selected, housing, you name it.  The kid is over 18 and that is the way it should be.  Voting is a small part of all of this, to be sure--but it has a role.  A democrasy needs people who vote and encouraging college students to vote--either at school or at home--is important for our country.  And since most elections take place in November, college students are in the place where they go to school, not the place where their parents live when it comes time to vote.  They live a majority of the year where their college is, and encouraging them to register gets them invovled with their community.

The second thought is that it is unconstitutional.  The aim is to dissuade universities from providing information to college students about voting, and the Supreme Court decided in Symm v. US in 1979 that discouraging college students to vote where they attend school violated the 26th Amendment.  What were the facts of the case?
At the time, Waller County, Texas was a small rural county west of Houston, and had a population of approximately 15,000, of which a slight majority was African American. Prairie View A & M University is a state-supported, predominately black university located in Waller County. Symm was responsible for registering voters in the county. Persons personally known to Symm or his deputies as county residents, as well as persons who were listed on the tax rolls as owning property in Waller County, were routinely registered upon filling out the state registration form. Those who fell within neither of these categories were required to complete a residency questionnaire, which asks whether the applicant is a college student and, if so, inquires into the student's home address, property ownership, employment status, future plans, and so forth.  Not okay, the Appellate Court said and the Supreme Court agreed.  So cut that out.  Considering how many lawyers we have in government, you would think they would know better.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Adaptation to Life

I first became aware of the Grant Study when the book by George Vaillant entitled 'Adaptation to Life' was published.  The study is a project that started in 1938.  They interviewed 268 Harvard freshmen and then proceeded to follow them longitudinally for years to come.  They looked at all sorts of factors that they thought might be associated with a successful life, including physical features, family relationships, financial resources, intelligence, drinking habits, personality traits, and a host of other factors.  They defined a successful life in a number of different ways.  They tried to include various aspects of 'success'. including happiness, building and sustaining a successful marriage and friendships, fame and fortune, and so on.  True, this is a very select sample, and true it is only men, but there have been some very interesting lessons learned.  There have been various publications over the years but now that the project is 75 years old, it might be coming to an end.
 
Vaillant has shepherded the project over the past several decades and has published a book "Triumphs of Experience" to delineate the major findings of the study--the condensed version of which were published in 'The Atlantic' and the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in old age--so live generously. Some of the other outcomes include the following:
 
Above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t matter. There was no significant difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110–115 range and men with IQs higher than 150.
 
Aging liberals have more sex. Political ideology had no bearing on life satisfaction—but the most-conservative men ceased sexual relations at an average age of 68, while the most-liberal men had active sex into their 80s.
 
Freud was right--a good relationship with your mother matters long into adulthood. Specifically:
  • Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.
  • Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.
  • Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers—but not with their fathers—were associated with effectiveness at work.
  • On the other hand, warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment of vacations, and increased “life satisfaction” at age 75—whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.
Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.  Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce; it was strongly correlated  depression ); and—together with associated cigarette smoking—it was the single greatest contributor to their early morbidity and death.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Butter (2012)

This movie is set in Iowa and the central part of the story is based on an Iowa State Fair tradition, so while it gets most of the facts wrong, I couldn't watch it and not write a review of it.  It just wouldn't be right.  The movie is about an Iowa State Fair tradition of carving butter--which sounds both odd and unattractive, but in person it is really strangely cool to see, and amazingly, the movie really does convery that (all of the butter carving that is depicted is spectacular).  There is always a cow, constructed on a chicken wire frame, that is a marvel to see.  Butter turns out to be a nice medium to sculpt in--and readily available in a farming state like Iowa.  The things about the movie that are irritating from the stand point of an Iowan are that the Johnson County fairgrounds are absolutely wrong--way too big and completely unlike what our community looks like. What is entirely accurate is that there is pretty much everything you can think of that is fried and on a stick--including, rather improbably--butter.

I think there is an interesting thing to think about that runs through this movie --it is to what extent do we nurture and value children in our society.  The competition is between a rather unlikable woman, Laura Pickler (played nicely by Jennifer Gardner), and a nine year old child named Destiny.  Destiny has been in and out of foster care, abandoned by one family after another, but she is finally in a house that genuinely appears to want her.  She discovers that she has an artistic side, and that sculpting butter comes naturally to her.  Laura has absolutely no mercy in her pursuit of winning the state prize--she stoops to cheating and lying in order to try to beat Destiny.  Barely a grown up in the crowd says anything about this ruthless approach to the competition--we really need to value and nurture our children if we want to succeed in the future.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Economic Austerity's Lynch Pin Paper Used Bad Data

This falls into the category that the magazine The Week would call "Boring But Important".  Paul Krugman has been saying this for a long time, but a 28-year old economics graduate student just showed that the classic paper upon which economic austerity as a solution to debt crisis is the way to go made a fundamental error in calculculation, leaving it's conclusion equally flawed.  The paper is Reinhart and Rogoff's 2010 paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt,".  Grad student Thomas Herndon picked the papaer to analyze for a class on econometrics in part because it has been one of the most politically influential economic papers of the last decade. It claims, among other things, that countries whose debt exceeds 90 percent of their annual GDP experience slower growth than countries with lower debt loads — a figure that has been cited by people like Paul Ryan and Tim Geithner to justify slashing government spending and implementing other austerity measures on struggling economies.
 
Herndon was able to get the data used for the paper from Reinhart, and when he pulled up an Excel spreadsheet containing it, he quickly spotted something that looked odd.
"I clicked on cell L51, and saw that they had only averaged rows 30 through 44, instead of rows 30 through 49."  Oops.
 
What Herndon had discovered was that by making this error error, Reinhart and Rogoff had forgotten to include a critical piece of data about countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios that would have affected their overall calculations. They had also excluded data from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia — all countries that experienced solid growth during periods of high debt and would thus undercut their thesis that high debt forestalls growth.  Double oops.  So maybe we should try to fix some of the things that are broken about our current system, but worry less about the debt and more about what we need to do to be competative in the future.

 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Green Grocer

The question is whether having your groceries delivered is good for the environment and the answer is yes--and if you allow for the deliverer to pick the time of delivery, then it is a huge savings.  There are a number of services available on-line to have groceries delivered--Amazon and Google are just two, with grocery stores getting into the act as well.  This doesn't have to be a luxury--it can be a reduction of our carbon footprint.

This falls into the 'have your cake and eat it too' category.  Researchers Anne Goodchild and Erika Wygonik in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington published their findings in the Journal of the Transportation Research Forum.  They
 compiled data in Seattle and the outlying areas (urban and rural households) and assumed that every household was a possible delivery-service customer. Then, they randomly drew a portion of those households from that data to identify customers and assign them to their closest grocery store. This allowed them to reach across the entire city, without bias toward factors such as demographics and income level.

They used an Environmental Protection Agency modeling tool to calculate emissions at a much more detailed level than previous studies have done. Using factors such as vehicle type, speed and roadway type, they calculated the carbon dioxide produced for every mile for every vehicle.
Emissions reductions were seen across both the densest parts and more suburban areas of Seattle. This suggests that grocery delivery in rural areas could lower carbon dioxide production quite dramatically.

“We tend to think of grocery delivery services as benefiting urban areas, but they have really significant potential to offset the environmental impacts of personal shopping in rural areas as well,” Wygonik said.

Work commuters are offered a number of incentives to reduce traffic on the roads through discounted transit fares, vanpools and carpooling options. Given the emissions reductions possible through grocery delivery services, the research raises the question of whether government or industry leaders should consider incentives for consumers to order their groceries online and save on trips to the store.