Deliberately created suffering

September 9th, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

Okay, one more on New Orleans, and then I’ll try to stop: Here’s a hideous account of how local police deliberately sabotaged many survivors’ efforts to leave the city on foot and provide food, water, and shelter for one another.

The Fox News clip that’s linked from that article is one of the most astonishing pieces of television I’ve ever seen. When even Fox is railing against the government like this, you know things are grim.

Learning to love fruits and veggies

September 9th, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

Today’s most promising culinary trend isn’t raw food, small plates, or sous vide. It’s the growing number of school lunch programs that feature healthy but delicious meals, locally-grown produce, and, on occasion, schoolyard gardens. The New York Times has an article today about a particularly deluxe version at a private charter school in Harlem:

Ebony Richards, a confirmed hamburger and Tater Tots girl, knows the rules of the lunch line at her school, the Promise Academy in Harlem.

When confronted with whole-wheat penne covered with sautéed peppers and local squash, she does not blurt out “That’s nasty.” If she does, she goes to the end of the line.

Although seconds on main courses are not allowed—someone has to show children what a reasonable portion is—Ebony can fill her tray with a dozen helpings of vegetables or bowls of Romaine lettuce from the salad bar. Any time in the school day, she can wander into the cafeteria for a New York apple.

Free, locally-grown apples all day long! Brilliant. Every school should be doing that. And although this school’s lunch program is more expensive than most, other groups, including Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard, are working to put similar programs in public schools.

In England, there was recently a documentary series in which Jamie Oliver overhauled a British school’s terrible lunches. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be released in the US anytime soon.


September 8th, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

For reasons known only to himself, Michael Brown, the pathetic, incompetent excuse for a FEMA director who’s supposed to be running the Hurricane Katrina response effort, is still not allowing rescue personnel to enter New Orleans:

[Brown]—who is under fire for the agency’s slow response to the flooding—said Wednesday that scores of police and volunteer firefighters from around the nation, as well as trucks loaded with donated water, were even now being prevented from entering New Orleans while troops conduct house-to-house searches.

“They can’t just yet,” Brown said during a briefing in Baton Rouge. “There is going to come this natural time when we will release this floodgate of cops and firefighters who want to help. It’s the same for anyone who wants to volunteer—we have over 50,000 offers of donations from the private sector. It has to be coordinated in such a way that it helps.”

Does that make any fucking sense to anyone? The city is filled with corpses, people are still in need of supplies and medical help, and Michael Brown is keeping the relief out of the city?

Meanwhile, Congress is merrily allocating tens of billions of dollars to FEMA for reconstruction, even though FEMA’s proven itself to be unqualified beyond all comprehension (and even though reconstruction is not FEMA’s job).

Also, keep in mind that I’m only posting about the absolute worst aspects of the relief effort. If you want a fuller picture of how America has failed its neediest citizens, read Making Light (my source for the first link), Talking Points Memo (my source for the second), and This Modern World.

UPDATE: It gets even better. Not only is FEMA keeping rescuers out of New Orleans, it’s apparently paying a private security firm to patrol the city instead.

After the storm

September 4th, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

Hurricane Katrina would have devastated Louisiana and Mississippi even if the federal government had been prepared to clean up the damage. But it clearly wasn’t. Now, as a major American city lies beneath 20 feet of water, filled with the rotting corpses of thousands of its residents, with tens of thousands more just now getting supplies and escaping their wretched surroundings, our nation’s government is responding with its usual furious spin. As Josh Marshall notes:

…[T]his whole conversation we’re having now is not about substance, but procedural niceties, excuses which is it is beyond shameful for an American president to invoke in such a circumstance. We don’t live in the 19th century. All you really needed was a subscription to basic cable to know almost all of the relevant details (at least relevant to know what sort of assistance was needed) about what was happening late last week. The president and his advisors want to duck responsibility by claiming, in so many words, that the Louisiana authorities didn’t fill out the right forms. So what they’re trying to pull is something like a DMV nightmare on steroids.

Look at New Orleans today. The severity of the flooding and the plight of its residents are the result of administration policies that diverted money and troops to Iraq and away from a city that has long been a disaster waiting to happen. (Note that the last article was published in October 2001.)

This is what happens when you put government in the hands of people who hate government.

Budget organic

August 24th, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

UC Berkeley NewsCenter, the campus’ unusually journalistic publicity site, just published an interview with the owner of Caffe Strada, whose location (across the street from hundreds of architecture students) would guarantee its success even if its espresso drinks weren’t as good and reasonably priced as they are. The owner, Daryl Ross, also runs several cafés and restaurants near campus that are all much better than they need to be, including Adagia, the only restaurant on the south side of campus that might conceivably qualify as fine dining. Ross’ businesses use lots of organic and sustainably-grown ingredients, and apparently he’s planning to open an über-sustainable café in the MLK Student Union next year. Good stuff, sir, and thanks for helping me stay well caffeinated for the past couple of years.

How Jefe got his groove back

August 18th, 2005 § Five comments § permalink

I should have mentioned sooner that my cooking troubles are behind me, and that I ended them not with a sure thing but a gamble: a rosemary sorbet, the recipe for which I found in The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. My anemic little Cuisinart ice cream maker (on loan from a friend) even yielded somewhat better textural results than usual, though not nearly good enough to stop me from lusting after a much fancier machine.

Anyhow, the rosemary sorbet is easy to make: Put 2 1/4 cups of water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped fresh rosemary and remove from the heat. Steep the mixture until the rosemary flavor is fairly strong, 20 to 40 minutes. (Remember, it will taste less strong after you freeze it; just don’t let it get too piney-tasting.) Strain the mixture and discard the rosemary. Put the liquid in the fridge for a few hours, then run it through the ice cream maker and put it in the freezer until it’s firm.

I suspect this would be lovely with some buttery, bready thing like pound cake. Jack Bishop suggested pairing it with strawberries and pineapple, or with a warm apple tart.

My cooking woes continue

August 11th, 2005 § 10 comments § permalink

At the time, last week’s failed pickling attempt seemed like a minor setback. It has since grown into a full-blown New Recipe Slump. Yesterday, I attempted to make hummus, but I was doomed from the start by my lack of a food processor. After a great deal of effort spent on breaking up chickpeas with a fork and mashing them with an improvised mortar and pestle, I created a beige substance with decent flavor and a revoltingly chunky texture. This morning’s cooking experiment was a recipe for quick pickled carrots, which turned out to be edible but rather dull.

Now I need to get my confidence back up, so I think I’ll look through my recipe binder tonight and see if I can find a sure thing—perhaps a refreshing summer beverage of some sort. I can still toast bagels and boil pasta without difficulty, so at least I won’t starve.

An open letter

August 6th, 2005 § Four comments § permalink

agnès b.:

You, madame, are one foxy French corporation. Most of your men’s clothing is a perfect match for my own aesthetic (although I wouldn’t have guessed it from your current website). Even your store in San Francisco suits me—simply appointed, with early-vintage Cure songs playing from overhead speakers. Also, since I have the build of a Frenchman, I can only assume that your shirts would fit me properly rather than billowing out like sails.

Your prices, though, give me pause. As much as I would like to exchange $180 for one of your fine shirts, I simply do not, as we say in the States, have that kind of scratch. I’ll let you in on a little secret, though, one that your market research may not have turned up: In America, we have never had a royal family, so the grandchildren of former viscounts who apparently comprise your target market are unlikely to materialize. Might you be willing to offer, say, a 75 percent discount to those of us who are not descended from nobles?

By hoping that this solution will appear interesting to you, I remain, agnès b., sincerely yours,


Peter Franus, you’ve done it again

August 5th, 2005 § Seven comments § permalink

As if to compensate for the recent margarita-swilling escapades, my leisure activities this week have been distressingly wholesome. For example, I bought Kirby cucumbers at the farmers’ market and tried, but failed, to make fresh pickles; alas, my brine proved insufficiently briny. I’ll try again next week, possibly with green beans rather than cucumbers. (This experiment was the first in a new series, in which I will try to stop being lazy about purchasing things at the store that can just as well be made at home. Next up: hummus. And there might be some canning before I’m through. Look out, people.)

Oh, but the virtue doesn’t stop there. I also got a card for the Oakland Public Library; sold a few unneeded possessions on eBay; attended a going-away party for an old friend; and cleared away the piles of paper in my office. What’s going on here? I’m a young, city-dwelling, single male who can pass as a hipster in dim light, and yet I’m sitting at home on a Friday night, updating my weblog and sipping a minerally Sauvignon Blanc with a pronounced note of grapefruit. Shouldn’t I be drinking Jack Daniels and trashing a hotel room somewhere instead?

Well, I suppose that wild abandon has never really been my métier, as evidenced by my use of the word “métier.” For this week, at least, I’ll have to settle for the simpler pleasures of responsible adulthood.

I put the smash down, I put it down

July 31st, 2005 § Four comments § permalink

Okay, okay, so I haven’t been posting enough, or indeed at all, for the past month. I’ll try to do better.

Last night, I joined a couple of friends in the Mission for dinner at an unusual slice joint—each slice is really a miniature pizza, since it’s made fresh for its buyer rather than taken from a whole pizza and reheated. We then attended what may have been the city’s all-time worst short film festival, which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. Let’s just say that there were two films of a performance artist who described her work as “outspoken-word poetry.” After one particularly excruciating entry, one of my friends turned to me and said, with a poker face, “This is a totally authentic experience.” We left early to cleanse our heads with some of the Latin American Club‘s infamous margaritas, which come in pint glasses and give one a sense of what it would be like to get hit in the head with a tequila-filled baseball bat.

Today I’m having a relaxed morning at home, reading the New York Times and listening to one of my strange neighbors playing quasi-Eastern-mystical banjo music in the building’s courtyard. I need to leave soon, though, so I can go see a movie about adorable penguins, who I trust will keep the outspoken-word poetry to a minimum.

Where am I?

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