Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 27th, 2018

The Worst of Our Country—And the Best

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

Every society contains its monsters: people damaged or disturbed enough, or misdirected enough, to inflict cruelty on others. A central purpose of society—its families, its schools, its civic and faith organizations, its official and unofficial political leadership—is precisely to encourage the good, and buffer and limit the bad, in what is always the wide range of human possibility.

Thus the harshest condemnation of leaders and organizations is for those who do the reverse: egging on the worst in human instincts, which often come out as abuse of the weak and the other.

Of the weak: adults against children, rich against poor, men against women, the able-bodied against the  infirm, those with power against those without.

Of the other: In American history, the main and cruelest axis has been white against black and native inhabitants under pressure of colonizers, but there are many more. In Western history, notoriously, it has often been gentile against Jew. In Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Armenia, in Indonesia and Malaysia when ethnic Chinese were massacred there, in western China where non-Chinese minorities are under stress—in these and too many other charnel houses, outsiders, and history, reserve their harshest verdicts for those who could have made things better, and instead did nothing, or made things worse.

And now we have what appears to be the bloodiest act of anti-Semitic hate-violence in American history. My point for now is not to assess what factors or circumstances made this possible or egged it on. I will say that previous presidents have found it their duty to speak to the nation as a whole at times of cruelty or tragedy. In recent times this ranges from Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster, to Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City mass killing, to George W. Bush in his speech to Congress after the 9/11 attacks, to Barack Obama after the Charleston church shooting.

Donald Trump has never once, in his life, spoken in that vein—as bearer of the whole nation’s grief, as champion of its faith and resolve—so there is no reason to expect that he could do so now. America has usually had someone in that role before. If presidents didn’t naturally possess that register in their discourse, they learned the bearing and language that was expected of them. Harry Truman did so, after he unexpectedly became the leader of the post–World War II world. George W. Bush did, in his early remarks after 9/11. Even Lyndon B. Johnson, who fit no model of a natural orator, recognized what the country needed from him after history-changing assassinations: of the Kennedy brothers, Jack and Bobby, and of Martin Luther King Jr. Like his predecessors, he recognized what was expected of him, and tried his best.

Donald Trump cannot and will not do any of this, and the absence of such a voice in national leadership is palpable. It is as if George Wallace had been president when King was killed—or Theodore Bilbo, or Strom Thurmond. All of those figures, though, would have probably had a clearer awareness of what a president was supposed to do.

The worst of humanity is cruelty to the weak, and the other. The best is compassion for just those groups. This theme runs through all of the world’s faiths — the Torah and the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran, and their Asian counterparts all emphasize the obligation of kindness to the stranger. In practice, America has fallen grossly short of that ideal. But in concept, an openhearted inclusiveness is the idea of America: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

What is a group that exemplifies these ideals? The best of religious traditions, the best of American aspirations, the best of human possibility? One excellent example is hias—a group that started out as a relief-and-resettlement agency for Jewish refugees from Europe in the late 1800s, and has become a tribune for refugees, the persecuted, and the desperate from around the world. Its motto and mission statement now is:

         Welcome the stranger

         Protect the refugee.

Its site says:

We understand better than anyone that hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia must be expressly prohibited in domestic and international law and that the right of persecuted people to seek and enjoy refugee status must be maintained. And because the right to refuge is a universal human right, hias is now dedicated to providing welcome, safety, and freedom to refugees of all faiths and ethnicities from all over the world.

Starting in the 2000s, hias expanded our resettlement work to include assistance to non-Jewish refugees, meaning we became involved in the aftermath of conflicts from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Hungary, Iran, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Tunisia, Vietnam, and the successor states to the former Soviet Union. We began to work in countries where refugees fled to identify those in immediate danger to bring them to safety. We realized that there were many refugees who would not be resettled and that it was important for us to help.

Why mention hias right now? Because its Jewish background (and centrality in the family history of many Jews in America) and its current work in trying to deal with this era’s tired, poor, and desperate were apparently part of the motive that led Saturday’s murderer to gun down people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2018 at 7:23 pm

The kitchen is my workshop

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After that last post, I felt like cooking something, and I’m making a Savoy cabbage and black kale stew with chicken breast:

In 6-qt pot, put

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish (yellow) onion, chopped
1 bunch large scallions, chopped including leaves
1 green bell pepper, chopped

Sauté until onion is translucent, then add:

8 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced (not too small)

Sauté for about a minute, then add

1 carrot, diced small,
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, shredded
1 bunch black kale, chopped (mince stems)
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp dill weed

Sauté until the cabbage and kale are wilted, then add:

1 large can DOP San Marzano tomatoes (“Emma” is the brand, in a touching tribute to Jane Austen, I imagine; at any rate I got them at the local supermarket, probably counterfeit)
1 small can diced mild green chili peppers
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
good dash of Tamari
multiple dashes of Maggi
1/2 cup (approx) pitted Kalamata olives
1 pint bone broth from Farm & Field Butchers

Bring to brisk simmer, lower heat, cover, and let simmer 20 minutes. Add:

4 chicken breasts, cut into chunks

Stir in chicken, cover, and cook 15 minutes more.

At least that’s what I’m thinking now. I’m still in the process of chopping (with this knife, a delight of which I learned in this video).

And I’m happily working away in the kitchen, totally absorbed in what I’m doing in peeling and chopping garlic (we’re back now that terrific giant red Russian garlic that shows up a few weeks starting around Hallowe’en: a clove the size of a hen’s egg is not uncommon, and it’s a fairly sweet garlic), peeling and chopping the onion, dicing the carrot—when it occurred to me that the way I was feeling was the way guys who are handy in their workshop feel when they’re working on a project there. It’s the same sort of thing: choosing from various excellent tools you’ve collected over the years, knowing the basic prep so well that you don’t have to think about it so you’re more focused on what the end product (bowl, cabinet, or dinner) will be like: putting together combinations in your mind to decide. Their only disadvantage is that when they’re done, they can’t eat what they made. I can. 🙂

Part Deux

As that thought occurred to me, I decided to have a Martini on the rocks. I’m still liking the combination of Imperative dry vermouth and Empress gin and Twisted & Bitter orange bitters. So I filled my birthday Waterford crystal old-fashioned glass with ice cubes that I made myself, poured in some vermouth, poured in the gin, dashed in some orange bitters, and stirred.

I was about to take a test sip when I noticed that the blue color of the Empress gin tapered off well above the bottom layer of liquid, which was clear. So my little stir had done nothing to mix the gin and vermouth. Properly chagrined, I stirred properly, and once all was blue, took that test sip. Wonderful. And I wonder whether that’s why it’s blue. The Wife thinks it’s just because it’s cute, but…

My own personal way of relaxation and regeneration.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2018 at 3:36 pm

This set of headlines reads like the elevator pitch for the fall of the US

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This is an email I just got from The Hill. Just read the headlines from the point of view of a producer—a big-budget producer—of action/adventure, political thriller, edgy and (of course) dystopian (going for Oscar) blockbuster movies. With that mindset, read the headlines below, in that sequence, and picture the scenes, movie-wise.

The Memo: Bomb attacks expose festering divisions
Partisan enmity, incendiary rhetoric and polarization were under a more intense spotlight than ever this week after crude explosive devices were sent to several leading Democrats and to CNN, Niall Stanage writes.

Hollywood donors flood Dems with midterm cash
Hollywood Democrats are pouring money into the midterm elections, infusing races with cash in a last-ditch push to flip control of Congress, Judy Kurtz reports.

Racial animus moves to the forefront in midterm battle
Race has moved to the forefront of this year’s midterm elections to an extent unprecedented in recent decades, Reid Wilson writes.

Dems lower expectations for ‘blue wave’
Democrats are tamping down expectations for a “blue wave” just days before the midterm elections as key races in the House tighten and winning back the Senate majority looks increasingly out of reach, Lisa Hagen and Max Greenwood report.

Experts say latest Russia case exposes US election vulnerabilities
The indictment of a Russian national accused of trying to interfere in U.S. elections shows that not enough has been done to stop the country from launching a multimillion-dollar effort to influence American voters, Jacqueline Thomsen reports.

YouTube winning race to clamp down on misinformation
YouTube is outpacing its social media rivals when it comes to curbing the spread of misinformation during breaking news events, Ali Breland writes.

Trump faces litmus test in Florida
President Trump faces a crucial test of his political influence in the Sunshine State, where several key races could serve as early referenda on his political brand in a major swing state, Max Greenwood reports.

Dems hold active discussions on 2020 debates
The Democratic National Committee is undergoing a series of internal and external discussions on how to handle primary debates during the 2020 presidential election, Amie Parnes reports

Sessions seeks to expand power on immigration cases
Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be exploring a rule that would expand his judicial power, and that some say would allow him to drastically reshape federal immigration policy, Lydia Wheeler reports.

Corker’s imminent departure puts Saudi sanctions in doubt
Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) departure as Foreign Relations Committee chairman could make it more difficult for him to press the Trump administration on its Saudi Arabia policy, which is under increased scrutiny following the death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Alexander Bolton writes.

Update within minutes:

And, this just in: “11 killed and six wounded by gunman at Pittsburgh synagogue, city official confirms” – Washington Post email

You can see the direction this movie is going. “Dystopia” ain’t in it.

Update: I wonder what a novel John Dos Passos could have made from those headlines if he wrote a new USA Trilogy.

The Birth of a Cocotte – Staub cast-iron

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I have two Staub cocottes (2.25qt and 3.5qt), along with a 1.25qt saucepan, and they are valued. I have cooked many a meal in them. This article by Nik Sharma in Taste describes the making of them.

The first piece of cast-iron I ever cooked on was a wide, circular pan on which I fried my first egg. Like every new pan that entered my childhood household, this one was christened with a seasoning. My mom grabbed an onion and sliced it in half, stuck the prongs of a fork into the curved end, and dipped the flat side of the onion into a small bowl of oil, which she then painted across the surface of the hot cast-iron pan sitting on the stove. This became the pan in which I would not only fry countless eggs but also learn to make chocolate pancakes and paper-thin dosas made from a fermented rice-and-lentil batter.

A little over a decade later, I moved to America. For my first Thanksgiving in the country, at age 20, I took a classmate up on an offer to dine at their place with their family. The meal itself was exceptional: The creamy green bean casserole smothered with a topping of crunchy fried onions, the warm cornbread stuffing with cranberries, and the bright orange-pecan-crusted sweet potato casserole were all new to me.

But the most unusual part was that they were all cooked and served straight out of the oven in large pieces of the most gorgeous, shiny, dark ruby-red enamel-coated cast-iron cookware.

One of these—a large round pot—was called a cocotte, or Dutch oven, and from what my host explained, it was a highly coveted piece of cookware in her family. It was heavy to hold, but that added to its sturdiness and its resilience—after all, it had endured years of heavy abuse in the kitchen. It still looked as pretty as the day her husband bought it for her, she told me.

Years later, on our first Christmas together after marriage, my husband got me my first cocotte. A round pearly white pot, it was wide enough to hold a large chicken or make a boule of sourdough. It quickly became my most prized possession in the kitchen, so much so that for the first few months, I wouldn’t let anyone else cook with it.

The use of iron to create cookware is not new—iron pots like the one I learned to cook with have been used for centuries in countries like China and India. But in Europe and America, iron cookware arrived a little bit later in the 17th century and became more common after the Industrial Revolution as cheaper methods for mass-producing the iron were developed. Born out of a desire to create a safe cooking surface, enamel coating began to be applied to cookware around the later part of the 17th century.

A few months ago, I got to visit the Staub factory, located in a little town called Merville in the north of France. Francis Staub originally started his company in 1974 in the Alsace region of France, where he began making his own version of the iconic round cast-iron pot called the cocotte. A protective enamel coat eliminated the need to season the pan and also allowed modern cooks to wash the cookware with soap—a convenience that normally leads to rusting in cast-iron cookware.

The pots are made from a combination of new raw iron as well as recycled material, like railroad tracks. The iron is melted in hot furnaces and then poured into various casts to set into their familiar shapes. Once the metal cools, the cast is removed and then subjected to several levels of polishing to remove any jagged edges before it can be sprayed all over with enamel and finally paint.

Each piece of cookware is boiled in acids and heated at high temperatures to test its resilience under the elements. Heavy weights are dropped on the lids to ensure they can resist being shattered, and whatever doesn’t make the cut gets recycled and added back to the furnace. The final result is a shiny, gleaming pot that’s once again inspected, packed, and sealed before it sails off to a home or restaurant.

Because you can cook with cast iron directly on fire, electric burners, or induction surfaces, you can use it for just about anything, savory or sweet. You can even pull a casserole straight from the oven and use it as a serving dish, as my friend’s mother did at Thanksgiving all those years ago. My own growing collection of cast-iron cookware has been used to make stews, roast vegetables, seared steaks, and even cakes.

But to me, the promise of durability and reliability is what’s made me a better, more confident cook. Even that first cocotte that my husband gave me has withstood the intense heat of the stove, the clatter that comes with the slamming of lids, and the occasional mishaps of my kitchen and become my favorite and most treasured pieces of cookware. Sometimes all you need to learn how to fry a perfect egg is the reassurance that you’re probably not going to ruin your mom’s favorite pan in the process. . . .

Continue reading. Photos and recipe at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2018 at 9:53 am

Women rising—good campaign ad

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Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2018 at 9:00 am

Phoenix Artisan shave, with KC6 and DOC

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I had to get more of that KC6: very, very slick when I rinse after each pass and leaves my skin feeling very nice indeed. The Green Ray brush (from Phoenix Artisan as well) made a superb lather, and the PA DOC is a very nice little razor indeed: very comfortable, very efficient. The ball end of the handle works a treat when doing the against-the-grain pass. Altogether I’m quite happy with this razor. I have the aluminum version, but it also comes in stainless steel (currently sold out of both versions).

Three passes, perfect result, and a good splash of the Doppelgänger Orange Label aftershave. A great way to start the weekend, I must say.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2018 at 8:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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