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Archive for February 2nd, 2015

Kosher Soul Food Brings Together African-American and Jewish Cuisine

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A terrific story by Tal Kra-Oz in Tablet:

When Michael Twitty was growing up outside Washington, D.C., the treat in his house every weekend was challah—a taste his Lutheran mother developed during her childhood in Cincinnati, where the only baker open on Sundays was Jewish. When Twitty was 7, after seeing the film adaptation of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, he informed his mother that he was Jewish. She humored him for a week, before warning him that he’d need another circumcision if he really wanted to be Jewish. Twitty backed down, for the time being.

But his attraction to Judaism, and Jewish food, remained. At his Jewish friends’ homes, he would seek out the grandmothers, because they were the ones feeding him. Watching their hands, he would learn their recipes—and the differences between various Jewish communities. As Twitty grew older, he wanted to connect more deeply with Judaism.

After college, Twitty was working as an intern at the Smithsonian, and he was tasked with developing “Jewish foodways” programming for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. He approached Jewish cooking expert (and Tablet contributor) Joan Nathan for help. One day, she sent Twitty to a Sephardic synagogue—Magen David in suburban Maryland—in search of a recipe. The first person he saw there was a young African-American man like himself. “That was an ot, a sign,” Twitty told me recently. He didn’t initially intend to convert, but slowly became part of the synagogue’s community, which was particularly welcoming to people of color. About two years later, when he was 25, he went to the mikveh and completed an Orthodox conversion.

At 37, Twitty wears a yarmulke and tzitzit, and he’s taught at Hebrew schools across the religious spectrum. And he has carved out an idiosyncratic culinary niche for himself, concocting fresh fusions that bring together elements of African-American and Jewish cuisine, and sharing his ideas around the world. “I am so glad that Michael has had the strength to pursue his passion,” Nathan said in an email. “I am glad that he found his own voice.”

When I met Twitty in Israel last month, he was a guest of the Jerusalem Cinematheque’s Delicatessen Culinary Festival, where he gave a talk about “Afro-Sephashkenazi” cuisine and led a master class on kosher soul food. (This was before his widely reported, infuriating and humiliating experience at Ben-Gurion Airport security, when he was trying to board his flight back to the States.) This weekend, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he’ll prepare a Shabbat dinner of BBQ chicken and matzo ball gumbo for some 200 attendees at Congregation Beth Emeth in Northern Virginia, to be followed by Shabbat services featuring music by Joshua Nelson, the “prince of kosher gospel music,” who’ll give a full concert the next day. And in March, Twitty will give a lecture on “Kosher/Soul” at the San Francisco JCC. He also writes the blog Afroculinaria and has a book forthcoming from HarperCollins next year.

In addition, Twitty regularly holds cooking events at historical plantations in the South where, in full period dress, he recreates the food his enslaved ancestors once ate, demonstrating the huge debt Southern cuisine owes to African Americans. In Jerusalem, he told me about the unexpected Jewish parallels: “There’s not a thing that the Southern white folk did that black men and women did not touch, influence, revolutionize to the point that they did not know where they began and we ended,” he said. “And it’s the same thing withYehudim. You can’t throw a stone in Europe without finding the Jewish influence, or Jewish genes. It’s funny how people that are oppressed tend to end up being everywhere and everything. You can’t get rid of us, you can’t put us down. We use our food to empower ourselves. What I do with kosher soul food is combine the survival gene in the Jews with the survival gene in black folk, and I make it work.”

Combining Jewish cuisine with African-American cooking yields some unexpected recipes. “I just mix it all up,” said Twitty. “The Jewish and African diasporas are all around the world, so you have this amazing access to almost every cuisine the human race has to offer. I make Senegalese chicken soup with peanut butter and matzo balls. The spices give it the context of Shabbos or Yom Tov.” He rattled off more combinations: roast chicken with the Nigerian spice suya, fried chicken with matzo meal, black-eyed peas and kishke. For a larger meal, he makes a kosher spin on feijoada, the Afro-Brazilian stew. For dessert, he’ll bake sweet potato rugelach, or hamantaschen with teacake dough; instead of poppy seeds and apricots, he uses sesame candy, peach preserves, and blackberry preserves all mashed together.

“People will say, ‘I don’t understand you—you’re black and you’re Jewish, I don’t get it,’” Twitty said. “And then, when you feed them, they get you immediately. They understand you.”

Ronit Vered, food writer for Haaretz and artistic director of the Delicatessen festival in Jerusalem, attended Twitty’s presentation at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery in 2010. As soon as she heard his opening line—“My name is Michael Twitty, and I’m a nice Jewish boy”—she was hooked. “I’ve been keeping tabs on him ever since,” Vered told me. When the Cinematheque approached Vered with the idea of a culinary festival, she thought of Twitty. “The topics he deals with—culinary justice, multiculturalism—are very relevant here,” she said. “He’s a very complex man: African American, Jewish by choice, gay. Certainly, the issues he raises in his talks are not easy to for many audiences to digest. In a world that has a clear preference for the easy-to-digest, his complexities are very interesting. People who meet Michael end up asking themselves hard questions about how identity and community come into play in the kitchen, questions that aren’t usually raised. So if people were left with more questions than answers, then I got what I wanted.”

The centerpiece of Twitty’s master class at the Jerusalem festival was hummus made from black-eyed peas, a staple of his kosher soul food. Volunteers helped him mash the West African peas into the quintessential Middle Eastern street food. But this wasn’t the first time black-eyed peas connected African-American and Jewish traditions. Sephardi Jews traditionally eat lobia—another name for the peas—on Rosh Hashanah, while in the American South, black-eyed peas are prepared on New Year’s Day, for good luck. “When I was a little boy,” Twitty said, “my grandmother gave me the job of placing dry black-eyed peas in everyone’s wallet or purse just before midnight on New Year’s, so that they would always have money. This little plant has both Jewish and African-American symbolism.”

At the Jerusalem master class, he explained to the Israeli audience the reasoning behind the events he holds on American plantations, stressing the importance of celebrating a people’s heritage on the site of the greatest crime committed against them. . .

Continue reading. It’s a fascinating article.

Written by Leisureguy

2 February 2015 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Religion

BATF stings target weak, mentally challenged, and drug-addicted

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We really need to monitor law enforcement agencies vigorously. For the BATF, Congress is supposed to provide oversight, but Congress seems unable to do that function—cf. the way the intelligence agencies and the CIA were allowed to run wild and to shield their operations from Congressional oversight, up to and including hiding information from Congress and lying to Congress. (It does not help that Congress itself has become so dysfunctional with many members who simply do not seem to understand the law or the Constitution.) This is a bad sign that those agencies are (literally) out of control: no one is controlling them, and they do what they want.

Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

In December 2013, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was conducting ridiculous sting operations in several cities in which agents preyed on people with mental problems and low IQs. Among the findings of that investigation:

  • ATF agents befriended mentally disabled people to drum up business and later arrested them in at least four cities in addition to Milwaukee. In Wichita, Kan., ATF agents referred to a man with a low IQ as “slow-headed” before deciding to secretly use him as a key cog in their sting. And agents in Albuquerque, N.M., gave a brain-damaged drug addict with little knowledge of weapons a “tutorial” on machine guns, hoping he could find them one.
  • Agents in several cities opened undercover gun- and drug-buying operations in safe zones near churches and schools, allowed juveniles to come in and play video games and teens to smoke marijuana, and provided alcohol to underage youths. In Portland, attorneys for three teens who were charged said a female agent dressed provocatively, flirted with the boys and encouraged them to bring drugs and weapons to the store to sell.
  • As they did in Milwaukee, agents in other cities offered sky-high prices for guns, leading suspects to buy firearms at stores and turn around and sell them to undercover agents for a quick profit. In other stings, agents ran fake pawnshops and readily bought stolen items, such as electronics and bikes — no questions asked — spurring burglaries and theft. In Atlanta, agents bought guns that had been stolen just hours earlier, several ripped off from police cars.
  • Agents damaged buildings they rented for their operations, tearing out walls and rewiring electricity — then stuck landlords with the repair bills . . .
  • Agents pressed suspects for specific firearms that could fetch tougher penalties in court. They allowed felons to walk out of the stores armed with guns. In Wichita, agents suggested a felon take a shotgun, saw it off and bring it back — and provided instructions on how to do it. The sawed-off gun allowed them to charge the man with a more serious crime.

Now the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports similar problems at the ATF outpost there. Agents recently engaged in an operation they dubbed a “surge,” which they described as a campaign targeting the “worst of the worst” criminals in the area. But it doesn’t appear to have worked out that way: . . .

Continue reading.

Do you hear of any Congressional hearings about this misbehavior? Neither have I.

Written by Leisureguy

2 February 2015 at 5:46 pm

Police, unbound

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Radley Balko has a catchall of the current situation regarding police in the US:

Written by Leisureguy

2 February 2015 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

The corruption of Tom Ridge

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Interesting article by Ken Silverstein in The Intercept:

Tom Ridge was not a rich man when he resigned as the chief of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004. His financial disclosure from that year showed he had investments worth between $100,000 and $815,00 in companies. Though modest by the current standards of senior government officials, those investments included companies “with contracts with his department and others who want to profit from homeland security,” a CQ story said at the time.

Yet soon after leaving government service, Ridge bought a property in Chevy Chase, Maryland worth about $2 million. His home, which was featured in Home & Design, aka “The magazine of luxury homes and fine interiors,” boasts custom interior decorations, including a table designed by the brother of the late Princess Diana, a dining room paneled with “native Sweetgum” and artwork “representative of the Tudor period.”

So how exactly has Ridge made all his money?

Ridge was assistant to the president for Homeland Security under George W. Bush between 2001 and 2003, and then the first DHS secretary, from 2003 to 2005. Prior to that, Ridge had a long career in public service: He was an assistant district attorney in Erie County, Pennsylvania for two years, held a House seat for more than a decade, and served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001.

Ridge was best known at DHS for creating the threat level codes, with Code Orange warnings causing Americans to rush out to buy duct tape and build bomb shelters. In August 2004, days after the Democrats nominated John Kerry, Ridge raised the terror threat level to Code Orange for several big cities. The threat only receded to Code Yellow on November 10, 2004, which purely by coincidence came a few days after Bush defeated Democratic presidential contender John Kerry.

Soon after leaving government in 2004 (and boasting of “more than 22 consecutive years of public service”) Ridge cashed in on the homeland security gravy train.

Like Louis Freeh and many other former government officials, Ridge has been well paid to speak on behalf of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States between 1997 and 2012, and before many other outfits. Other post-government speaking gigs include the North American Commercial Real Estate Congress. (“Tom Ridge is uniquely qualified to discuss the threats facing real estate,” said a promo.)

Ridge has also netted huge fees by sitting on the boards of companies likeExelon, the nuclear power giant, and various DHS contractors, among themTechRadium Inc, which markets a color-coded “threat alert system” to public schools, utilities and the military.

But Ridge has made most of his money by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 February 2015 at 5:37 pm

Fighting government secrecy: The James Risen story

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Steve Coll in the NY Review of Books reviews a recent book by James Risen:

In early 2003, James Risen, an investigative reporter in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, prepared a story about a covert CIA effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Before publishing it, he informed the CIA of his findings and asked for comment. On April 30, 2003, according to a subsequent Justice Department court filing, CIA Director George Tenet and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice met with Risen and Jill Abramson, then the Times’s Washington bureau chief. Tenet and Rice urged the Times to hold Risen’s story because, they said, it would “compromise national security” and endanger the life of a particular CIA recruit. (The agent is referred to in the Justice filing as “Human Asset No. 1.”) Eventually, the Times informed the CIA that it would not publish Risen’s story.1 Abramson said recently that she regrets the decision.

The following year, Risen and a colleague, Eric Lichtblau, learned of a National Security Agency surveillance program that collected details of Americans’ telephone and e-mail communications without reference to a search warrant. Some of Risen’s sources inside the NSA thought that the program was unconstitutional, because it violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unlawful search. Risen felt that he had come across “my biggest story of the post-9/11 age,” as he puts it in Pay Any Price, his revealing, diverse collection of investigations of greed, incompetence, and mendacity in the American national security state.

In October 2004, Risen and Lichtblau drafted their NSA story. They again informed the Bush administration of what they had discovered. The White House launched “an intense lobbying campaign” to persuade senior Times editors that the story “would severely damage national security,” Risen recalls. The decision about whether to publish fell to Bill Keller, then the Times’s executive editor. Risen, Lichtblau, and Rebecca Corbett, their editor, argued that the paper should go forward, but Keller ultimately decided against them. [Keller is a sanctimonious cowardly shit and a lickspittle of the powerful in general and the government in particular. So far as I can see, his main motivation was to ensure that George W. Bush be re-elected. – LG] That left Risen, as he writes, “frustrated and deeply concerned.”

He then took a leave of absence from the newspaper to write a book. In the summer of 2005, he finished his manuscript. He included in it his reporting about the CIA’s Iran operation and, with Lichtblau’s consent, their discoveries about the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program. Risen found a willing publisher at Free Press. When he informed his editors at the Times about his book-publishing plans, he recalls, “They were furious.”

Rather than be scooped by their reporter and Free Press, the Times’s executives reconsidered their decision not to publish his story about the NSA’s warrantless surveillance. According to Risen, the deliberations culminated in an Oval Office meeting between President Bush and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., then and now the Times’s publisher. In December 2005 the Times printed Risen and Lichtblau’s account. It caused an immediate sensation and later won a Pulitzer Prize. Yet the Times did not reverse its decision to withhold Risen’s reporting about the CIA’s covert operation to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.

On January 5, 2006, Free Press brought out State of War, Risen’s first book, which contained, in Chapter Nine, a critical account of “Operation Merlin.” In this covert action of the Clinton administration, according to Risen, the CIA recruited a Russian scientist to provide flawed nuclear weapons designs to Iran, in hopes of delaying the country’s progress toward constructing a bomb. Instead, the scientist pointed out the design flaws to the Iranians, which may have helped them.

From this tangled history of investigative reporting and espionage has arisen one of the most consequential confrontations between the government and the press in a generation. The Obama administration inherited the case from the Bush administration. The Obama administration then pressured Risen aggressively to reveal the sources he relied upon in describing “Operation Merlin.” The result, as his book and other evidence make clear, was that the Justice Department’s actions damaged the First Amendment and the rights of journalists.

In mid-January, however, after several years of expensive litigation, the Justice Department reversed itself and conceded in federal court that Risen could avoid testifying about his confidential sources. Risen will not be going to prison. Justice’s concessions marked a significant advance for the cause of a freer press after many reversals during the Obama years. In this age of terrorism fears and digital surveillance, the protection of journalistic sources is becoming more difficult and more contested.

The story of how, exactly, the Obama administration went after Risen bears examination in some detail. After State of War came out, the Justice Department launched a grand jury investigation into how he had acquired his scoops. In 2010, a grand jury issued a ten-count indictment against Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, a former CIA operations officer who had left the agency in 2002. The indictment accused Sterling of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 by providing state secrets to Risen for his Iran chapter.

At the time, the Obama administration’s resort to the draconian provisions of the Espionage Act against Sterling was just one case in a series of overreaching prosecutions of journalistic sources carried out by Eric Holder’s Justice Department. In more than one instance, the Justice Department took positions that came close to criminalizing the act of professional reporting on classified subjects. In a pretrial filing in the Sterling matter, for example, prosecutors in the US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia argued vehemently that Risen was an important eyewitness to a felony because the reporter had allegedly interviewed Sterling, who had given him classified information. Although the Justice Department did not indict Risen, this theory of the case cast his reporting as a form of co-conspiracy in a serious Espionage Act felony.

The Justice Department also took the position that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 February 2015 at 5:28 pm

In the US today, whistleblowers must be careful—and here’s how

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Very interesting article by Dj Pangburn in Motherboard:

There’s no playbook for leaking evidence of state and corporate wrongdoing. But with the uptick in whistleblower prosecutions by the US government, there probably should be.

For now, studying past whistleblowers, from Daniel Ellsberg to Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, is a good place to start. Some whistleblowers, like former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake and former US Department of Justice ethics adviser Jesselyn Radack (now Snowden’s lawyer), have shown themselves willing to offer instruction.

Drake and Radack, who appeared at the Berlin Transmediale festival’s CAPTURE ALLevent to discuss the documentary Silenced, spoke to me about the challenges facing future whistleblowers and journalists. While they didn’t lay out a precise playbook, they did offer advice on how whistleblowers and journalists can better protect themselves.

For Radack, it starts with understanding the Espionage Act. While the 1917 law was initially designed to protect against spies, not whistleblowers, the US government has taken to claiming that the leaking of classified information is equivalent of espionage. Espionage Act prosecutions under President Obama, in Radack’s estimation, have created a “backdoor war on journalists” and an “unofficial way to create an official secrets act,” which exists in the United Kingdom but not in the US. Educating whistleblowers and the journalists who work with them is of the utmost importance to Radack.

“A lot of people come to me after they blow the whistle and are being retaliated against,” Radack said. “My advice would be seek a lawyer, get lawyered up, before you blow the whistle. Also, there are now encryption protocols [like SecureDrop] that let you blow the whistle in a much safer way.”After being shrugged off by NSA superiors, Drake contacted the Baltimore Sun’s Siobhan Gorman in 2010, eventually blowing the whistle on the NSA’s violations of Americans’ electronic communications privacy with the Trailblazer project. And, back in 2002, Radack revealed an FBI ethics violation that occurred when John Walker Lindh—an American citizen captured in Afghanistan as an “enemy combatant”—was interrogated without a lawyer present.

Drake said he would have gone to the press a lot sooner instead of running into NSA stonewalling tactics. But he cautioned that publicizing state crime is no simple task for whistleblowers and journalists.

“It becomes absolutely crucial for the press and media, when they have a very sensitive source, that they must absolutely protect that source at all costs,” Drake said. “I know what mechanisms I went through. I actually had to instruct a particular reporter in how to even set up encryption, how to use encryption, and all of the means I had to use to protect the encryption I used.”

As Drake sees it, journalists still don’t fully appreciate the extent of surveillance. “They’re actually putting their sources in danger,” he said. “And, as we’ve seen in the United States, the government is more than willing to use incredibly heavy prosecution, up to and including the Espionage Act, to go after the sources for the very critical kinds of information the public needs to know.” . . .

Continue reading.

Our government is becoming increasingly secretive about what it’s doing, and taking increasingly aggressive steps against those who inform the public. It’s a shame but it’s a reality, and knowing how to but combat the restrictions is important.

Written by Leisureguy

2 February 2015 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Government

Breaking telecom’s attempt to strangle municipal internet service

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Telecoms have lobbied (that is, given money to state legislators) to get laws passed in some 21 states that make it illegal for municipalities to provide internet services. Not that telecoms want to provide good internet services. They don’t. But they want the exclusive right to offer such service so they can charge premium prices for poor service without having to worry about customers going elsewhere.

Now the FCC is pre-empting those (corrupt) laws for two cities, Chattanooga TN and Wilson NC. It’s not a slam dunk—there’s no movement to end the practice in general, since the FCC must consider such requests city by city. But it might show citizens that the corruption in their legislatures can be fought.

Here’s the story.

And the good news: net neutrality has won. That must really gall the telecoms.

Written by Leisureguy

2 February 2015 at 5:12 pm

Today’s timed shave: 5 minutes exactly

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SOTD 2 Feb 2015

On Groundhog Day, I try to remember to time my shave, but the last year or two I’ve sort of ignored it. After some years of gradual improvement, the time required seems to have leveled off at 5 minutes, and I really don’t think I will be improving on that time. I never try to rush or shave in haste, but rather take my time and focus on what I’m doing. (I also don’t dawdle, of course.) The result is that my shaves all seem to take (subjectively) the same amount of time, regardless of what the clock shows: the time for one good shave. The fact that the time steadily dwindled over the first few years always came somewhat as a surprise each time I timed it. But now it’s been 5 minutes for a couple of years at least.

I washed my beard first with MR GLO and rinsed partially (25 seconds), the loaded the S-Series brush shown (I think it’s my favorite of the S-Series because of the nice beechwood handle: $8 from from the tub of Latha (10 seconds, and the loading time is quite stable: I have timed that repeatedly, each time someone describes a very extended loading process—I want to verify that it really is 10 seconds). At that point I was into the shave and not checking the clock. The first lathering, working the lather up and into the stubble, took 25 seconds, I think: a little longer than the later latherings.

The Shavecraft #102 slant did a fine job. It was a BBS result, somehow helped by the fact I was shaving a two-day stubble.

A splash of Latha aftershave completed the job. I realized when I used it that the pop-up cap saves a few seconds over a screw-off top. I do, however, prefer an alcohol-based aftershave: the fragrance of Latha is nice but the feeling of the aftershave is too bland—it feels like lukewarm soapy water. But it did the job.

I encourage you to time your shaves annually. I picked Groundhog Day, but any day is good. It’s interesting to see the time shrink and then gradually level off.

Written by Leisureguy

2 February 2015 at 11:01 am

Posted in Shaving

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