Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Community Service comes a'callin'

I’ve always wanted to be called for jury duty: to have the chance to observe the court system and serve my community. I have friends who’ve been called for jury duty three and four times. They sit in the courthouse all day and miss teaching classes. But not me, not even once.

Instead I nobly serve my community by being a “Nielsen” family. You know, those people who record their television viewing so that advertisers can get the most bang for their buck? Four times in the last eight years I have been ‘randomly’ selected to represent my community’s television viewing habits.

The first two times I served with enthusiasm, recording every last minute of my TV viewing. The third time I declined when asked. Just said, “no, can’t help you this time.” I figured, geez!, how many times do you come to this well for data?

From this I learned that the Nielsen Company does not have to report to the Institutional Review Board of any university. They don’t have to take ‘no’ for an answer as would any academic researcher who tried to recruit a human subject. They can call you back after you decline, to ask again. And again.

And when you decline for the third time, resisting the hard sell on the other end, do you know what they do? They send you the TV viewing diary anyhow, with two bucks in it. Since I had repeatedly declined, I threw the diary away and spent the two bucks. That was a couple of years ago.

Now I am a Nielsen family yet again. This time I didn’t decline, mostly because of how easy it will be to keep the diary. I don’t have cable anymore, nor do I have satellite TV. For a while I had rabbit ears for my TV, and I got five stations, sort of: ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and PBS. But even with the rabbit ears I mostly got snow on my TV. For example, I couldn’t watch tennis at home: I could see the players running around, but I could not see the ball they were chasing. So I tossed the rabbit ears and now I get PBS and CBS, loosely speaking. I hardly watch TV at all.

So being a Nielsen family will be easy this time around. And they now pay five bucks!

In case you are wondering, I don’t have a ‘modern’ television and I don’t plan to buy the converter box for the big change to digital broadcasting after the Super Bowl in February. The next time Nielsen comes a’callin’, I’ll be able to honestly say that I don’t get television at all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Economy: Is the customer always right?

Turns out Murky Coffee, a local coffee place in Arlington, has 'policies' about its coffee:

"No modifications to the Classic Cappuccino. No questions will be answered about the $5 Hot Chocolate (during the months we offer it). No espresso in a to-go cup. No espresso over ice."

This ticked off a customer from Brooklyn (there's a surprise) who thought that if he paid for his expresso, he should get to do what he wanted with it including put it over ice. So after being denied his triple espresso over ice, he bought a triple espresso, requested a cup of ice and mixed his own, but not before throwing a hissy fit.

And then he wrote a scathing account of the whole thing on his blog. That was read by thousands of people and winged electronically around the world.

And now for some promised opinion:

In the end, the store decides if they are selling the thing you want. If they're not selling it, and that's their choice, then the option available to you in a free and civilized market is to take your business elsewhere.

Arguing and cussing and leaving profanity-decorated tips are uncivilized options. And by engaging the craziness, they subvert the market: The guy gave his money to the coffee house, including a tip, even though he was treated badly. Wrong incentive structure!

Oh, and note to the coffee house: Give the guy his espresso over ice, for God's sake. Life's too short.

It's a cliche but not a bad principle: 'practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty'.

Economy: Failing Banks

The FDIC presently has a list of 90 banks at risk of failure. They aren't naming names, however, accourding to Nancy Trejos of the Washington Post.

Reminds me, though, of a story in the Wall Street Journal last month about how the FDIC comes in and takes over a failing bank. You'd think this was pretty dry stuff, but it's not! This article makes the process seem more exciting that Crime Scene Investigation. Almost made me want to change careers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Politics: Is this Obama humor?

In Spring 2007, Chris Rock on Saturday Night Live: “Is America ready for a black President? I say why not? We just had a retarded one.”

Oh, that's not Obama humor: it's Bush humor.

Food: Cheesecake

A quick story about cheesecake.

When I was a freshman in college, I lived on a dorm that had 'study breaks', Tuesday night snack fests for everyone on the hall.

My roommates and I made cheesecake for our study break -- four of them. Our hallmates ate a two and a half of the cheesecakes, and then my roomie Karen went in search of a friend of hers to share the remaining pies. "Don't eat the cheesecake," she instructed me and Stephanie.

Well, Karen was gone a long time. A really long time. The cheesecake beckoned. Our will was weak.

Karen returned, with her friend Stephen, about an hour later. She found me and Stephanie, laying in the dark, moaning in discomfort as we had between us eaten the remaining cheesecake and a half. And I'd do it again tomorrow. That's how much I love cheesecake.

And it's why I particularly love the Friends episode, the one with the cheesecake. You know, the one where Rachel and Chandler end up eating cheesecake off the floor in the hall between their apartments. Get me a fork!

Nothing fancy in this cheesecake recipe. It's adapted from "Loaves and Dishes", a church cookbook from the 1980's (St. David's Episcopal Church in Washington DC).


3 packages of cream cheese (8 oz each)
3 tsp vanilla (2 tsp, 1 tsp)
1 cup sugar (3/4 cup, 1/4 cup)
4 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

This works best if ingredients, especially the cream cheese, are at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350. With electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy (2-3 minutes). Extra points if you manage to keep the cream cheese off the ceiling. Add 2 tsp vanilla and blend. Add 3/4 cup sugar and blend. Add eggs and blend until just smooth. Not much more, though, because overbeating eggs makes the cheesecake tough.

Pour into 9 inch spring pan with a graham cracker crust (see below). Bake for 50-55 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes.

Raise oven temperature to 450. Mix 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/4 cup sugar. Spread on top of cheesecake, after the cake has cooled for 15 minutes. Bake at 450 for about 10 minutes.

Remove and cool.

Optional items: Graham cracker crust and raspberry sauce

Graham cracker crust

1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, very finely crumbled
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Mix graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar well. Add melted butter and mix. Press dough evenly in the bottom of a 9 inch spring pan, maybe using a folded up piece of wax paper. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool before filling.

Raspberry sauce

1 bag frozen raspberries
1 T sugar

In a saucepan, cook the raspberries and sugar over medium heat until you have a syrupy, chunky sauce. Use to drizzle on top of the cheesecake, or decorate the plate.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Politics: Obama Not Funny?

Apparently Barack Obama is not feeding the late-night humor frenzy. The consensus: he hasn't done or said much of anything yet that can be mocked by the middle-aged, white, male comedy writers and monologists.

And attempts to date at satire have fallen flat. This week's New Yorker cover showed Obama "dressed as a Muslim fist-bumping his gun-toting wife" but nonetheless and shockingly, as Philip Kennicott argues, it missed its audience. Perhaps it would have been funnier if the depiction of Obama had been embedded in a daydreaming bubble rising up from Dick Cheney's head.

The best hope, according to Mike Sweeney who's the head writer for Late Night's Conan O'Brien? “We’re hoping he picks an idiot as vice president.”

Better that, I suppose, than making an idiotic choice.

Economy: Local Advantage

Starbucks is closing the doors of some 600 shops in the near future because of a slowdown in business. According to this Washington Post story, however, the slowdown hasn't hit local coffee houses which are thriving in DC.

I'm not sure how Bozeman's local coffee places are doing, but we still don't have a Starbucks. A couple of places -- Wheat Montana, Barnes & Noble -- are selling Starbucks Coffee, but no actual Starbucks stores have shown up yet.

Last summer, while in Portland OR, I stopped in at a Starbucks to buy a piece of crumble cake. Starbucks baked goods are powerfully attractive to those of us who don't have regular access to them. When the barista asked if I also wanted something to drink, I said: "No, thanks. I just love the coffee cake and get it whenever I can since I don't have a Starbucks in my town."

The guy behind me in line burst out laughing, and asked: "Where do you live where there isn't a Starbucks?" That is, it turns out the response of many people in large cities: Amazement that a civilized place exists that doesn't have at least one Starbucks.

We do fine without Starbucks.

Leaf and Bean is one of our original coffee houses dating back to the seventies (and opened, the story goes, by Glenn Close's sister). They have two locations, both comfortable, friendly and local. They also have a wonderful coffee-and-circus-themed mural in their original location downtown.

Rocky Mountain Roasting in our local coffee chain, with outposts all over town. In addition to the standard coffee offerings, they do portable hot pots which I rely on for parties so I don't have to make coffee myself.

The Daily Grind has a shop up by Montana State's campus, and a new storefront on North Rouse on the way out to the 'M' trail and Bridger Bowl. They have fabulous baked goods. The absolute best.

The Coop has a coffee bar upstairs, and it too has wonderful baked goods both upstairs and downstairs in the main store. They are located at 9th and Main, across the street from Safeway.

On either end of downtown we have Rockford Coffee (at Main and N. 7th) and the Home Page (on Main near Rouse). The Home Page has free wireless access. And Wild Joe's, our newest entrant, has shops right downtown and also won the competition to open the coffee house in the new library on the east side of town.

And I have to mention our 'mud huts' -- little buildings in parking lots around town where you can get coffee. My favorite here is Mountain High Coffee, which had three huts around town at last count. They make the best tasting Chai Tea in town, and are owned by a graduate of the sociology program at Montana State University. Just goes to show that we do put out graduates with the skills to be successful!

My personal favorite, however, is the International Coffee Traders. They never have a line, they make fine drinks and they are located in a former laudry mat behind the Conoco gas station up by campus. They carry New Day donuts (as does, I believe, Rocky Mountain Roasting), and I am particularly fond of any donut that comes with chocolate frosting. They have free wireless and a couple of computers for customers. Ironically, however, they do not have a webpage!

Who needs Starbucks anyway?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

reduce, REUSE, recyle: Trick my bike!

Summer is finally here – this is Montana, people! – and with the advent of mild weather, clear blue skies and concomitant sky high gas prices, I have been longing to join the legions of Bozemanites toodling around town on bike. Oh, the freedom to peddle over to Borders to read a book or to the mall to catch a flick or to the grocery store to shop for dinner. Most of all, I daydream about hopping on a two-wheeler and using Sue-power to pick up my weekly vegetables from Towne’s Harvest.

Did you know the average American opts to drive at somewhere between four and five blocks? (When I find the link for this research, I'll post it.) For me, I nearly always walk if the distance a mile or less. If it fits into my daily 5-6 mile walk, I’ll walk to more distant destinations. This morning a friend and I hoofed it to the Saturday Farmer’s market, probably about a mile and half away. But the kinds of places I want to go on bike are further than that, often by roads that do not have good sidewalks the whole way. They are made for biking.

But I had a conundrum. Although I want to bike, I don’t want to ride my bike, a 16-year old Giant 10-speed. Don’t get me wrong: I love this bike. For about 3 years, I lived without a car in California and biked everywhere I needed to go: to Stanford’s campus, to work at the Menlo Park VA, to shop, to meet friends for breakfast anywhere from Redwood City down to Mountain View. Transportation-wise, it was the best three years of my life.

In April of 1992, as I was biking on Stanford’s campus, an elderly man who had just finished playing tennis rolled through a stop sign and hit me square on, looking at me all the way. When I realized he wasn’t going to stop and I couldn’t get out of his way, I started screaming wordlessly. My life did not flash before my eyes, but I do remember thinking, “I’m going to die.”

I did not die: He was only going about five miles an hour. I wish I could say, “I did not die because I was wearing a bike helmet.” I can say, however, that it was the last time I rode without a helmet. I will not tempt the gods.

I ended up half under his vintage 1960-era’s Corvair. Later he told me that he saw me and just couldn’t find the brake. Although I had the right of way, I was not able to summon much anger at him. He never evaded responsibility and was terribly sorry. His tennis partner gave me a ride home, and later the police called because the driver had reported the accident.

Somehow, I escaped serious injury – cuts and bruises aside – but I wondered if for him it might not be a painful wake-up call: How much longer could he drive if he was mowing down bicyclists on quiet roads in broad daylight? Maybe he should not be driving, but the loss of that profoundly American form of independence seemed sad to me even then. Today, having seen my grandfather and father swear off driving, it still leaves me a bit melancholy.

And my bike? It was crushed, unrepairable. The driver called me later, and we made arrangements for him to replace my bike with another just like it. And that is the bike that has lived in my garage since I left California in 1994.

Despite painful moments, this bike connects me to a beloved time in my life. I don’t want to throw it away. But it’s a road bike that forces me to hunch over the handlebars and its tires are too delicate for some of the roads I want to travel. So while I don't want to toss it, I also don’t want to ride it.

What’s a girl to do?

When the longing became too great, I took my confused self down to my local bike shop – Summit Bikes – located a couple blocks from my house. A nice young man named Ben, apparently the only sort who’s allowed to work at Bozeman’s bike shops, asked if he could help me.

“Well, I don’t know what I want but maybe you can talk me through it,” I responded. “I want to be able to ride about three to five miles from home, just to get around. I need to be able to ride on some unpaved roads. I have an old road bike but I don’t want to ride it. Do you sell used bikes?” I asked, revealing my distaste at buying a new bike.

He said they did not sell any used bikes. Then he showed me their lowest end mountain bike, which cost $319. And he said, “What kind of bike do you have?” When I described my 16-year old ten-speed Giant road bike, he said: “We can change that bike out for you, if you want.” My ears perked up.

Turns out, they aren’t selling as many new bikes these days as they are converting people’s existing bikes to something they can use today. They can change out handle bars to give you a more upright ride. They can switch brake levers and gears to work with the new handlebars. They have more comfortable seats for an upright ride.

I was sold! I brought my bike back this morning and left it with Ben. A different Ben. I wasn’t kidding: Apparently only nice young men named Ben are allowed to work in Bozeman bike shops.

Ben and I worked up my wish list for my bike: handle bars that will let me ride upright, new brake levers so the bike will stop when I want it to, a new saddle, low-end toe clips, knobby tires and a bike rack upon which I will be able to bungee cord a milk crate to carry vegetables home from the farm. Ben described the milk crate as ‘ghetto’, but I told him I loved it. The more makeshift, the better, as far as I am concerned.

And all of this, on the base provided by dear bike. Trick my bike!

I spent a good part of the morning gathering pieces for the bike project. Summit didn’t have the gear levers in stock. But Ben called Ace Hardware’s bike shop, where he used to work (continuing the theme of bike shops only hiring Bens), and they put them on hold for me.

Summit also did not have the 27 x 1 ¼ knobby tires in stock and Ben worried that they were on backorder. So I after I picked up the gear levers and learned that Ace didn’t have the tires, I walked to a couple of other bike shops and found the tires at Bangtail. I forgot to ask if Ben worked there too but I was more aware than ever of how wonderful it is to have four local bike stores within about 6 city blocks.

My bike should be ready later this week, in time for me to pick my veggies up from Towne’s Harvest on Friday afternoon. I’ll let you know how it turns out. But I am hoping for a transformation of a dear memory into something my middle-aged body can use today.

Friday, July 11, 2008

UPAFTC: I'm not alone!

Here's a link to 'stop buying crap' -- a blog after my own heart. In this installment: Things I'll never buy (my still unmaterialized) kids.

Note his car advice. He's going to buy his kid of a piece-of-crap, 23-year old used Japanese car. Well done! As I recommended earlier, it's something your kid can probably afford on his first salary after college.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Food: CSA's in the news

The New York Times has a story on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). They frame it as buying a share of a farm. I like that idea, but I think it means I need to go volunteer at Towne's Harvest (my CSA).

Last week we picked up arugula, spinach, mesculan greens, cilantro and a thyme plant. It's still early in the growing season in Montana!

The arugula and mesculan greens made an excellent salad, and the spinach found its way into an egg bake. The cilantro went into fajitas and will also go on a Pad Thai I'll make tomorrow.

Sueism: When in doubt, read.

I am in the midst of writing a book with two colleagues. We tentatively entitled it: Religion Implicated - What Sociology Teaches Us About Religion In Our World. Doesn't that title make you want to run out and buy it?

I'm responsible for four chapters, maybe five. The first two went really easily: An introduction to the sociological study of religion and a chapter on religion and science (I co-teach a seminar on that). The third chapter mystified me, however. Religion and the environment: What to say?!

So I started by reading a research literature I barely knew existed: How religious belief is linked, or not, to environmentalism; how Judeo-Christian religion shaped the technological and scientific advancements that have left us in an environmental mess; how Native Americans and other indigenous peoples respond to the appropriation of their religious traditions by environmentalists.

And the chapter wrote itself.

So I have a new Sueism: "When in doubt, read."

Its corollary: "When stuck, read."

I hope this strategy works as well for the Religion and Politics chapter. Right now I am reading about 'theocracy'.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Budgeting: Really simple budgeting

Pear budgets calls itself 'really simple budgeting' and they are not kidding. I use Quicken for my financial stuff, despite Bessie's efforts to the contrary, but one thing Quicken does not do well, at least not in the old version I have, is handle irregular expenses (e.g., property taxes, insurance, car registration).

I saw a link for Pear Budgeting at the Get Rich Slowly website (also highly recommended), paid a quick visit and in less than 15 minutes had a budget laid out where I saw my monthly expenses and also what I should set aside monthly for my more irregular expenses.

I especially recommend these sorts of tools for my neices and nephews who are now young adults. Oh, the things I would have done differently! Saved $50 a month, no matter what, from when I got my first paycheck at age 15. OK, that's most of what I'd have done differently. But these websites give some nice tools for those new handling money. It's a nice headstart.

Food: Two more ways to eat vegetables


This is based on the Gazpacho recipe in the Joy of Cooking, but substantially modified over the years. I keep a big bowl of it in the fridge through the summer. It’s a good way to eat more vegetables and a variety of them, it doesn’t have many calories and it’s very filling.

2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 sweet bell peppers, yellow and/or orange, seeded and diced
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
3 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
1/3 cup each of fresh basil, tarragon, chives, dill (any 2, 3 or 4 will do), chopped
2 cups cold water
¼ - ½ cup olive oil
Juice of two lemons
Salt (to taste)

Mix the bell peppers, cucumbers, green onions and herbs in a large bowl. In a blender, puree 1 can of tomatoes, along with half the olive oil and 1 cup of water. Add to vegetable and herb mix, and repeat for the second can of tomatoes. Add lemon juice and salt (to taste).

This keeps nicely in the fridge for up to a week.

Summer-time Egg Bake

My friend Paula and I made this for ‘breakfast at Wimbledon’ this year. If you watched the men’s final, you’ll know that it extended well into ‘lunch at Wimbledon’ as well, but this kept us going for about 4 hours!

1 T olive oil
2 bell peppers (red and orange look best), seeded and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, torn into small pieces
¼ cup chopped green onions (green and white portions)
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
6 eggs
2 T water
¼ cup fresh parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375.

In a small pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the peppers until they just begin to soften.

In a shallow oven-proof dish, sprinkle the cheddar cheese in a thin layer. Top with spinach, sautéed peppers and green onions. Top with 6 eggs, distributing eggs evenly. Just break the eggs into the dish and lightly disrupt the egg yolk. Sprinkle water over mixture, and then parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until egg is set.

We had this, along with berry muffins, for breakfast. The berry muffins use the Joy of Cooking muffin recipe, but we used whole wheat instead of white flour. In my experience, whole wheat flour is fine for making baked goods provided you will eat them in a day or two. And it’s much better for you than white flour.

Health: Ways we die

Here's an entry in the "New Old Age" blog at the New York Times. A geriatric medicine specialist asks people: "How many of you expect to die?" Slowly, reluctantly, the hands go up.

Well, there are only a few ways most people die, and none is ideal. You can die from cancer, probably relatively young but having lived an otherwise pretty healthy life. You can die from heart or lung disease, on average ten years older than the typical cancer death, but after sporadic serious illness -- ups and downs -- for a number of years. Or you can live into your eighties and beyond, and die of 'frailty and dementia': that's what's left for those who elude avoid cancer and heart/lung failure. It's a long slow decline.

I understand the urge to cure cancer, end heart disease and forestall other major organ failures. But we seldom ask what we are saving ourselves for: No one cheats death.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


That's short for Unsolicited Parenting Advice From The Childless: What We Wish You Knew. It will be a best seller, once it has content to match the title.

Tip #17: High school students should not drive cars that are nicer than what they'll be able to afford on their salary from their first job after college.

By Request: Bessie

Bessie is my 13-year old tortie, eight pounds of black and orange cat, her claws sharpened on my bedroom walls. She’s full of opinion, often expressed with operatic precision at two in the morning.

She’s easily surprised: I can walk up behind her, talking away, but she doesn’t notice me until I pet her. Then it’s off to the opera. One night, as she yowled in the bathroom (all the better for echoing), I thought: “Oh my God. Can’t she hear herself?” Ah, insight. That’s when I realized she is a tad hard-of-hearing. Deaf, some might say.

Bessie is the only cat I know who eagerly approaches kids. She’s a big hit with the youngsters, most of whom have never seen a cat up close lessin' it had got a slow start running away. And then all they see is its patoshie, skeedaddling around the corner.

She does not like visiting the vet. The last time I brought her, she tried to escape by clawing to the top of the exam room window screen. We had to wrap her in a towel to give her shots. When released, she leapt at the vet assistant's torso, claws out, screaming like something out of Steven King’s Pet Cemetery. The vet decided to forgo further physical examination, settling instead for a visual scan from a safe distance. Then, with a straight face, he asked me: "So, does she have any problems?”

Bessie likes to sleep on my keyboard in the winter. Settling in, she has renamed files: I have icons on my desktop that I don’t recognize (-O(%29jfmp0?lod, anyone?). A few years ago, she permanently deleted my Quicken software. And on one particularly slow news day, she picked the r- and f-keys off my keyboard and played soccer with them. I never found the r-key.

Did you know that you cannot replace the r-key on your laptop keyboard without installing a whole new keyboard? That’s another story.

Health Policy: Universal Health Care

The New York Times has an in-depth story on a cancer drug, Avastin, and its positive but largely marginal benefits to patients. The problem: It's a really expensive drug.

What's a doctor, a patient, an insurance company to do?

From the article:

"Dr. Winer says that when he is not sitting in front of a patient, he thinks about whether drugs like Avastin are worth it to society. But when facing a seriously ill patient, who, based on clinical trial results, might benefit — even if only a little — from Avastin along with chemotherapy, he has to think about his patient’s needs.

“I can’t say, ‘Let’s not use Avastin; it’s a very expensive drug and I am worried about the cost to society,’ ” Dr. Winer said."

And here's one of the problems with rushing into 'universal health care' before we figure out and communicate to the public what that means in practice. What will be covered and what will be excluded? Who will decide?

You can think about health care, for society as a whole, as having three desirable characteristics: Ideally it would be of low cost, high quality and accessible to all. The problem is that you cannot independently maximize each of these dimensions: there is no such thing as low cost, high quality health care for everyone. You have to give on at least one of these dimensions.

So: You can have cheap health care for everyone, but it's quality will not be maximized.

Or: You can have high quality health care for everyone, but it's going to cost you big bucks.

Or: You can have cheap and high quality health care, but you are going to have a heck of a time delivering this to everyone.

So, before I am willing to go for 'universal health care', I want us to face up to this reality and articulate what it means.

A society where so many are convinced that they should never grow old, should never die, no matter how they neglect their basic health, is not the ideal spot to implement universal health care.

Baseball: Doug Glanville, the writer?

Nothing is more boring than listening to someone talk about her fantasy baseball team. So I'll spare you.

But I will direct you to an occasional series of New York Times columns by former big-leaguer Doug Glanville. He's smart, articulate and literate.

"The problem with being pre-ordained" is a case in point. It's about the collapse of the Cubbies in 2003. High hopes, shattered dreams, and all. But read it, and try to convince me that it isn't an allegory for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid!

And "Lovers not fighters", well, you'll never look at a baseball brawl in quite the same way again.

I look forward to seeing what Glanville comes up with next.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Favorite Quote: Langston Hughes

“Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books – where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas.”

In the News: July 4, 2008

Barack Obama returns to Montana. What unexpected words! Obama spent the 4th of July in Butte, MT following up on very successful trips here before our June 3 primary.

Butte and Missoula are Montana's two biggest Democratic strongholds, but they are very different kinds of places. I have often thought of Missoula as Seattle/Portland-East, with hippies and health food and dred locks. Butte, in contrast, is a gritty working-class town orbiting around mining and labor unions before the decline of that industry.

The Post also had a story on a big, and secretive, land deal outside of Missoula, which will open up a significant amount of forest land to McMansion-style development: "Most are the second, third or even fourth homes of wealthy newcomers who have transformed the local economy -- 40 percent of income in Missoula County is now "unearned," from, say, dividends -- and typically visit only in the summer."

They're not building those houses outside Butte, MT. Enough said.

Health: Diabetes is serious

The New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope reports on a recent study that shows people regularly underestimate the severity of diabetes as a health concern.

When I was in grad school in the early 1990's, I worked one summer doing intake interviews for a low-vision study at a VA Hospital. I remember two things, in particular: Of the low-vision patients I interviewed, most had diabetes and many were missing limbs (typically feet and legs). Turns out diabetes damages your body in all kinds of ways.

So, when I came up a couple of years in a row with blood sugar numbers that were 'pre-diabetic', you can believe I took it seriously. Here's a helpful site from the American Diabetes Association. It's good food and lots of exercise, not rocket science!

Food: Bruschetta

I made bruschetta for a dinner party earlier this week. I used a recipe that our long-time family friend Ray shared with me. The ingredients are the same as his, but I'm sure I have modified relative quantities over the years:

6 big ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
1 T minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
dash of salt
1 baguette, sliced

Combine everything but the baguette. Let sit for a while (minutes, hours, days). This is a no-cook sauce! Ray puts this on freshly cooked pasta (indeed, he probably puts it on freshly
made pasta). But if you put it on baguette slices, you have bruschetta. If you are ambitious, you can dip each piece of bread in a little bowl of olive oil and toast for about 5-6 minutes; then put the tomato sauce on it.

My dinner hosts asked where I got the tomatoes: "From the salmonella farm, where else?" The good news for Montana: We haven't had a single reported case of salmonella since the 'outbreak' began. Bring the tomatoes back!

Sueisms: A new feature

On making good food choices: "They'll still be making Oreo Cookies next week."

"If it's not enough, it's enough." (Actually that is a mom-and-dadism. But my corollary is "If it's not done by midnight, it's done." After all, "sleep is my friend.")

Silver Linings: The Beginning of the End of the Obesity Crisis

The Washington Post reports that the American Family Association (AFA) is going to boycott McDonalds because it is insufficiently unfriendly to gays and lesbians: "McDonald's joined the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce several months ago and placed an executive on the group's board of directors, in addition to donating to the chamber."

The upside is improved health of AFA adherents. The downside is an increased likelihood that I will run in them in the locally-owned places I frequent.

In case you missed it, here's a review of Fast Food Nation.

Supersize Me, where Morgan Spurlock gains 20 pounds after a month of grazing through the McDonald's menu, is also worth a look. But only if you plan to swear off fast food until you forget what the film was about. Check out the review by Christianity Today, an evangelical publication. It provides a quick dip into the evangelical worldview and mindset.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sociology in the News: Liberal profs retire?

According to the New York Times, there is a sea change in sociology: Old Marxists and conflict theorists on the way out, replaced by young and apolitical quant jocks. Just a note from the field: Sociology faculty are still pretty liberal.

Food: 4 for 11, not bad

From Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times, 11 best foods we're not eating.

I've got four of these in the house.

1. Cabbage. I buy it already shredded, purple and green, mixed with shredded carrots. It's packaged by "Duncan" from California in a little plastic bag with a twistie tie. It feels like it is something between fresh and sealed in an airtight bag. On the advice of Mark Bittman, I put it in a bowl and mix in some olive oil and rice wine vinegar, and let it sit an hour. Great cole slaw.

2. Cinnamon. I put it in the egg batter for French toast. I'm not sure that's the best way to eat it, though!

3. Tumeric. This doesn't have much flavor but adds a nice yellow/orange glow to a pork curry dish that I make. Again, I may be cancelling out its benefits with how I eat it.

4. Frozen blueberries. In the freezer, to mix with plain yogurt and granola.

Pomegranate juice? I don't drink any juices -- too sweet. Haven't eaten a pomegranate since high school.

Sardines? Do anchovies count? I love anchovies.

And I expect my CSA to deliver swiss chard, beets and pumpkin this year. Little Heathens has instructions for how to make pumpkin for pie from scratch. I plan to try this.

Vacation Reading: Animal Vegetable Miracle

This memoir of a year of eating locally is on my list of favorite books, because it is the most memorable of the recent books I've read.

I admit: I have never read one of Barbara Kingslover's novels (are her books about bounty hunters?!). But I recently joined a CSA (Towne's Harvest in Bozeman, MT) and I am taken with the idea of eating locally, as quioxitic as that idea is in a small isolated community where the summer growing season is about 3 1/2 months long. We received our first week's harvest on the 27th of June. Since I split it with three other people, I brought home a handful of lettuce (delicious) and one-yes, one-beautiful and not at all sharp tasting radish. The radish ended up on tuna salad.

A friend of mine told me that she'd only gotten about 1/3 of the way into AVM, because she found it preachy. I concur: Kingslover has her moments of self-righteousness. But those moments are balanced by humor, and the enormity of the task she and her family undertook perhaps entitles her to a bit of preaching.

I particularly appreciated her defense of meat-eating, provided you know your meat and how it lived and died. It was a deft balance of gory detail, righteous defense of eating turkeys your kids had actually named, and good humor.

I have considered vegetarianism in the last year or so, not so much out of empathy for animals as concern for how inefficiently we produce meat. I had arrived at the plausible option (for me) of 'vegetarianism plus bacon' (because by the time it is bacon, it is hardly meat anymore!).

But I am relieved to see that if I can eat locally produced meat, then I can elide many of the inefficiencies of meat production. It doesn't make me eager to go find a Hutterite (or as a student once wrote: 'Hooterright') chicken this weekend, of course. I'm still not much of a meat-eater. But I think I'll put vegetarianism on the back burner.

I was also struck by Kingslover's well defended ethical decision to pack her family up and move them to southwestern Virginia so that they could undertake this adventure. (Local eating is apparently less of an option in the desert Southwest.) I decided this spring that I could not move to exactly that part of the country, and for what to me are ethical reasons. That is, I could not see moving from a place where I can essentially walk everywhere I need to go in order to move to a place where I would have to drive my car for miles every day. Just goes to show, I guess, that there are lots of different kinds of ethics.

In the news: July 3, 2008

I was a little surprised to hear that Barack Obama has come out in favor of faith-based initiatives receiving governmental support. In addition to the news story, the Washington Post published two opinion pieces on this development: Michael Gerson likes it, as does EJ Dionne.

Of course, I'd have fewer objectives to government support of faith-based initiatives if any of the initiatives so supported grew out of non-Christian (or Judeo-Christian) traditions. As far as I can tell, the Bush administration has limited the understanding of 'faith-based' to Christian only. That, to me, is a real problem. I hope Democrats do better.

But, I remind myself that I am unlikely to agree with every position my preferred candidate takes. In my book, this does not rise to the level of declaring war. But it is not a policy I'm jumping up and down in support of.