Saturday, March 28, 2009


It's starting to look a lot like springtime...everything's now in bloom, even the nighttime temps will be above freezing from this point on. Question is, will such good news tempt to brave the crowds in town for the Cherry Blossom Festival events? After all, milling about in a beautiful setting, even in the middle of a crowd, can make for a peaceful outing.

Speaking of peace, this year's turn of events, in which we now have an intelligent President who is at least willing to talk with other world leaders before rattling a saber, make me reflect on how Washington's cherry trees were a present from another political leader, Yukio Ozaki, who was mayor of Tokyo in 1912 and was opposed to Japan's descent into militarism. His gift was part of his ethos of extending the cherry tree branch, so to speak, as well as an outpouring of efforts to improve his own city. As his daughter related a couple of years ago, "He always wanted to make a new Japan."

* * *

Certainly, Ozaki was well aware of nature's fragility; I am reminded of the same when listening to this song, Les Fleurs, from the late Minnie Riperton.

Turn off the lights? About "Earth Hour"...

Hmm, while I'm all for increasing environmental awareness, I'm not sure that some "symbolic" gesture, at a not particularly appropriate time, is going to be of any positive effect. Honestly, how can any businesses that function at 8:30 pm (and operate past 9:30) afford to turn off or dim lights? (Maybe restaurants, but many of them already have dim lighting!) Also, shouldn't any lights that such businesses have turned on be essential anyway?

And, turning off the lights at well known landmarks--is that even safe? I think the reason that it hasn't caught on in Washington is a very practical one--considering how close National Airport is to the national monuments, one can just see the blaring headlines if a jet crashed into one of them during such time, "Dark times in the city," and such. Oh, the horror.

Now, this symbolism would seem less silly if it were timed better, so as not to try to make people feel as if conserving energy is a type of deprivation. For instance, if Earth Hour was on Valentine's Day instead, folks would be willing to keep the lights out all night that night! (However, having the stereo on to hear the following music to swoon by would be considered essential electrical use!)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A warrior silenced...the death of John Hope Franklin

Eminent historian John Hope Franklin, most recently affiliated with Duke University, died today at age 94. This pioneer, noted for his seminal American history textbook, From Slavery to Freedom, broke barriers throughout his life. Although he grew up in a fairly prosperous black community in Oklahoma, its residents still suffered discrimination. Throughout his life, Franklin lent his considerable analytical skills to helping bring down the intellectual infrastructure of racial discrimination.

Recently, Franklin remarked on the significance of the election of another barrier breaker, Barack Obama, as our 44th President. He was as surprised as the rest of us by this political development, in a good way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Red meat!

With all that's going on in the world today, the most sustained gasping in the media concerned research published in the current Archives of Internal Medicine, "Meat Intake and Mortality." I suppose the brouhaha stems from the unusually large number of its participants, over 500,000 in all. It certainly can't be because the findings are novel, because there have been smaller previous studies which came to a similar conclusion, namely that consumption of red meat and processed meat notably increases people's risk of developing cancer. Also significant is that the study found that consuming "the other white meat," pork, increases one's risk of cancer, unlike consuming poultry and seafood.

What's unclear, and which can't be discovered by such a study, in which participants responded to a detailed questionnaire, are overall differences between the actual dishes consumed by heavy red meat eaters and those partial to poultry. For instance, what is contained in the "chicken mixtures" mentioned as a type of white meat consumed by some participants? Since so many people eat prepared foods and in restaurants, it's possible that many poultry and seafood dishes and sandwiches differ markedly from those composed of red meat--namely, I suspect that many white meat and seafood dishes contain higher amounts of vegetables, and a greater variety of them, than do red meat dishes.

The basic slant of all the panic is that doing without red meat is a hardship. Please, tell that to my taste buds. All they know is, insert flavorful seasoned food and enjoy!

Melissas soyrizoIn that spirit, I decided to try a new product that I spied at a new Giant Food, Melissa's soyrizo (vegan chorizo). It looked promising, and even had an enticing garlicky, peppery aroma as soon as I broke open the casing to prepare dinner...

soyrizo being preparedThe bright red (paprika) color and crumbly texture were the clues that told me that this "sausage" follows The Rule of All Good Food--namely, that good food is messy. The red goop all over my hands as I was making small patties confirmed that the soyrizo conforms to this rule, as did the fantastic smell wafting all over the house as I pan fried them in a bit of oil in a nonstick pan.

This preparation was to get the patties ready to top homemade pizza--homemade dough, topped by spaghetti sauce and mozzarella slices, ground fennel, thinly sliced onion, Italian seasoning, with the soyrizo. As this "sausage" is not a lowfat dish, there's no need to, say, sprinkle olive oil over the pizza after you remove it from the oven. (Although I still added a bit of oil to the pizza's naked edges.)

The (admittedly blurry, but decidedly tasty) result:

pizza slices topped with the soyrizoHomemade pizza dough is quick to make; in fact, the entire pizza can be in your mouth in an hour! Heeeeeerre it is...

Homemade Pizza Dough (enough for six slices of one large pizza)

1/2 cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast

pinch sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. olive or canola oil

~1 1/2 cups whole wheat or all purpose flour

favorite pizza toppings--sauce, cheese, etc.

In a medium bowl, place the water, yeast, and water, and stir with a fork. Cover the bowl with a plate, and let sit in a warm spot for 5 minutes. Grease the pizza pan with a bit of margarine.

After five minutes, the yeast mixture should be bubbly. Stir in the salt, oil, and the flour a half a cup at a time, stirring after each addition. Add a bit of flour to the counter, and knead the dough for a couple of minutes. Then, return the ball of dough to the bowl, cover with a plate, and let rest for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 415 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare topping(s).

The dough should have risen some and be soft, but not sticky. If it's sticky, add a bit of flour to your hands, and pat into the pizza pan. Add the sauce, cheese, toppings, and bake for 10 minutes. When the cheese is well browned and the crust lightly browned, remove the pizza from the oven, cut into slices, and serve.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

HIV in DC (or, a woman's worth)

The periodic ritual of hand wringing, head shaking, and teeth gnashing is taking place about the catastrophic rate of HIV infection in Washington, DC. To be fair, the current D.C. government is trying to get back on track in combatting the disease, but has had its hands tied--for instance, until recently, there was a congressional ban on local tax dollars being used to fund needle exchange programs. (Another reason that DC needs real congressional representation, but that's another rant.)

There were glimmers of good news in the gloom--that only one infant was born with HIV in 2007, contrasted with 10 in 2005. Moreover, 70,000 residents were tested for HIV as part of a campaign, compared with 40,000 four years ago.

However, horrifying are the stats on heterosexual sex--according to Donald Blanchon, who runs the Whitman-Walker Clinic, ..."70 percent of them said that did not use condoms..." Sadly, I'm not surprised. While the phrase that the AIDS infection rate is comparable to that of West Africa, we say that as though the attitudes of men in America are different from those in Africa. If we don't deal with what a refusal to use condoms represents--a blatant disregard for one's own life (suicide on the installment plan?), a clinging to the plantation-era myth that one's manhood is based on one's reputed sexual prowess, and disregard for the lives of others--the infection rate will continue to skyrocket.

Interestingly, Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy mentioned the high rate of infection of the STD chlamydia in DC, which weakens the immune system and makes HIV infection more likely, as a sign of how vulnerable DC's black female population is. I agree with him that any AIDS public service campaign needs to be in-your-face, because, sad to say, we are numbed to the gravity of the situation, and need a visual face slap to wake up.

Of course, provocative public service campaigns urging condom use, increased testing and surveillance, needle exchange programs, will probably prove to be of great help if implemented with gusto. However, to quote Elizabeth Pisani, "The belief newly empowered women would be more likely to refuse sex or use condoms than already empowered men rests on the questionable assumption that women care more about staying alive." While Pisani was speaking of African women, the same could be said of African American women--whether we, though newly empowered (another shaky assumption) care enough about our own survival. What is a woman's worth?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day surprise(s)...

I surprised myself yesterday as I finished preparing dinner, as I realized that I had prepared a St. Patrick's Day meal, of sorts--vegan scalloped potatoes (half a recipe), "beef" (Gimme Lean mixed with The Wizards worcestershire sauce) with gravy, and cabbage. The last dish turned out to be more like a quick sauerkraut.

I cut the (whole, without the core) cabbage into thin strands (better to cut cabbage with a knife than to fool with a shredder, unless you're using a food processor), placed it in a large cast iron saucepan with canola oil, added salt and pepper, and stirred occasionally, until "shiny." I then added water (about a cup), more salt, then added a lid and cooked for about a half hour. I then finished off cabbage with a couple splashes of balsamic vinegar, and let it sit a few minutes on top of the stove. The result...

quick stovetop sauerkrautDinner was extremely tasty and filling, but was all "brown," from the potatoes (even with the yummy and colorful pimenton [Spanish smoked paprika] sprinkled on top) to the cabbage. Though drab looking, it was nutritious, filling, and tasty, and only took slightly over an hour to prepare (the potatoes and cabbage cooked from scratch, and the "beef" with the assistance of the microwave). Lazy me, I cooked enough so that I only need heat it up today. It should be even better, as I added a bit of ground coriander to the cabbage to it earlier, so it should have soaked up the extra flavor by tonight, a bit more like a choucroute.

* * *

The green-tinged water at the White House fountain is a fun, fitting touch to today's activities and makes the day feel more inclusive.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Metal Monk nails it...

The world's been a topsy-turvy place these past few years, for good and bad. Obama is president (who'da thunk it a few years ago?), taking over from a president who took the American economy and good name and put them in the sewer, and doing a decent job, with all he has to deal with.

Just when I thought I'd seen everything comes word of the Capuchin monk from Milan who is the lead of a heavy metal group! Brother Cesare claims he got the idea to "sing" metal after attending a Metallica concert; his group has released several albums and recently performed at a metal concert with such acts as Iron Maiden. Strangest of all, he's actually not bad in that genre of music (not that it's my favorite), as he wails and screeches his laments about life on this existential plane along with the loudest of them...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Glimmer of good news for the 13th...

That a hospital CEO makes the news for being decent is good news, although it should not be so rare. Well, it shouldn't be unusual either that a person in that position actually bothers to exhibit mental creativity, instead of lazily firing people, but in today's world, Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who asked for input from staff on cost cutting measures to avoid firing people, is a rarity indeed, a mensch.

Paul Levy CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterWonder what his views are on universal healthcare coverage, which might make his patients smile as well?

* * *

Ridiculous ideas are being suggested by conservatives regarding healthcare reform, such as taxing some healthcare benefits (what!?!). Whatever else Obama does, he needs to get a wider perspective on universal healthcare--perhaps he'll hear those opinions during his upcoming European visit. Let's hope he gets a chance to speak in depth with such people as the Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, who told journalist T.R. Reid in the documentary Sick Around the World (in response to the question, "Could a 100 percent free-market system work in health care?"): "No, I don't think so. If you do that, you will lose solidarity and equal access for everybody."

Wow. When a conservative Swiss politician admits that a completely free market system won't work in health care, perhaps America should listen.

In the meantime, concerned Americans such as Michele Swenson struggle to inform the rest of us about possible healthcare options, letting us know how other countries provide healthcare for their citizens. For instance, common features of health coverage in the five countries visited by documentarian Reid include:

  • Everyone is accepted by the insurance companies, with no exclusions.
  • There's a mandate to buy into the system, and government subsidizes the poor.
  • Doctors and hospitals negotiate yearly for fixed-rate payment.
  • Most utilize electronic medical records systems as well as individual smart cards with medical history.

(Via the Huffington Post.)

To restate--the reason that EVERY other industrialized nation has lower healthcare costs while providing health coverage for everyone (although they use differing payment mechanisms) must be that, inherently, universal coverage itself is a prerequisite to being able to keep healthcare costs responsible! The very fact that everyone is covered and must be provided necessary, reasonable healthcare is incentive to keep costs manageable, given that these countries do not have infinite budgets any more than the United States does.

* * *

Regarding personal health, the weather rollercoaster we've been riding recently has given folks the sniffles, and made me feel creaky. I don't sound as creaky (I don't think!) as this fluffball, however...

Friday, March 06, 2009

Still standing...but what a week!

Whew! A good but tiring week, in more ways than one. First the snow, then the shoveling, etc. The last snow of the season turned out to be the real one, and just around the corner comes daylight savings time this weekend (springing forward and all). With a loss of sleep to boot! No more days like this to tempt you to sleep just a bit later...

snow on hollyI imagine it's been a busy, tiring week for Obama as well. The various proposed provisions of Obama's economic agenda--the stimulus package, its funding, the healthcare summit--amidst British PM Gordon Brown's visit, and fending off potshots from Senator McCain, who scorned efforts to fund research as pork (umm, didn't that backfire during one of the debates, when he scoffed at funding for a planetarium?) and wealthy people who claim to be fearful of his tax increases for them, even going so far as to deliberately decrease their income.

Times like these probably make O wonder whether he bit off more than he could chew, or climb over...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Republican Wamp (wamp, wamp?) thinks healthcare is a privilege!

President Obama continues with his ambitious agenda, today's healthcare reform summit. Wish I could have made it there (although Ezra Klein's highlights are probably the next best thing), as there seems to have been a reasonable representation of the public. However, it doesn't appear that there are any commentators on health care from countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Japan, France, or any other industrialized country invited to attend. That's kind of a shame, because it's always good to consider a variety of options on this potentially complicated issue.

In any case, one reason (which even progressive folk seem scared to voice outright) that universal healthcare systems offer reasonable quality healthcare at lower cost than ours is that covering everyone is cheaper than only covering some people. Unfortunately, our current healthcare "system" is built on the opposite assumption, voiced by Republican congressman Wamp of Tennessee, who stated on MSNBC that healthcare is a privilege. Unbelievable.

More offensively, Wamp kept mentioning that half of the people without health insurance "choose" not to have it. Where does he get that figure from? I presume that these people are choosing to eat and have the heat on instead of paying medical insurance premiums or medical bills. Even if it were true that half of the uninsured are voluntarily doing without coverage, the other half is not, and half of 45 million is over 22.5 million people, a frighteningly large figure in itself. Not that he seems overly concerned about that fact.

Like other Republicans, he'd like to fiddle with the tax code to provide incentives for health insurance. Lame. Ineffective. Obstructionist. The Republican way.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Such a pretty mess...

You'd think that the D.C. public schools would be closed this once, as a bit of snow did actually fall yesterday, before today's big one, and weather reporting has become much more accurate since the 1980s, when I distinctly remember a forecaster saying that the area would get a dusting of snow, and a few inches came. Today's snow is not only a half foot, but that wind is whipping it around, making it hard to see when walking/driving. But, in the meantime, it sure is making things pretty...

little tree big snow
The D.C. schools' being open might not be so bad, if the responsibility for clearing snow off sidewalks belonged to the D.C. government, and not to landowners, because they can be lackadaisical about cleaning off snow (and this in commercial districts of the city), making getting off the bus, subway, out of a car, or simply walking down the street hazardous endeavors.

In any case, all this dry fluffy stuff, while fun for kids, is work for me, so I'm trying to stave off thoughts of the shoveling that I'll be doing in a few hours. Makes me wish I had a dog trained to follow this unusual command apres snow...