Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Case This Doesn't Make the Paper


> Sent: Mon, 24 Mar 2008 8:55 pm

> Subject: We are being railroaded

> Editor: We are being railroaded

I had the pleasure recently (March 24th) of hearing a speech at a meeting of the Urban Land Institute given by one of the Valley s most renowned architect/planners, Vern Swaback. What a breath of fresh air he was. With respect to getting around he advocated things like alternative vehicles that allow for individual choice in time of travel and route. He said heretical things like planners attempt to serve rapidly changing 21st century urban forms with an inflexible, 19th century technology such as rail. He went on to say in his new book Creating Value: Smart Development and Green Design such radical things as proposing rail transit as a regional transportation solution usually requires that commuters accept significantly less convenience on a daily basis and that rail transit is the most expensive and least flexible regional transportation mode.

He continues with comments like The sooner we acknowledge that mass transit will never eliminate our desire for personal mobility, the sooner we will get behind innovations that do more with less especially more mobility with less bulk and greater fuel economy with less pollution. Or how about this: Experience shows that it is not realistic to expect people to give up personal transportation in favor of public transit that starts and stops nowhere near people s multiple points of departure and arrival.

At last, someone understands the needs of real people, and does not genuflect to all the socialist central planners. I think everyone involved in transportation planning in Arizona, from Governor Napolitano to ADOT director Victor Mendez to community transportation leaders like Marty Shultz should read Vern Swaback s book. Maybe there is still time for some sanity in transportation planning. We do not need any more 19th-century solutions to our 21st century problems.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Take a Survey and Help Keep Us Informed at the Market

There is a great opportunity to take a survey on the Downtown Phoenix Market to help us gather information to make things great[er]:

Your opinions are needed!!!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot

On more than one occasion the lament “Every cool thing we have ever had here has been ultimately torn down” has passed my lips. Now there are some books of Phoenix then and now where can compare photos and observe some of the things I miss. For such a young city you would think the prospect of having these things hang around a while would not be so novel. Frankly, I am shocked that the Tovrea Castle is still standing. That is one thing the City actually acted with foresight on.

Well, they are up to no good again. This time it is not a point of architecture. It is a phenomenon that is on its way out for no good reason. Seems there has been some activism on the part of a few who are looking to wipe out the sidewalk scene at the monthly First Fridays events on Roosevelt Row. Of course there are regulations about every breath we take in this free country of ours and it seems that the regulations applicable to these ne’er do well street hawkers having come up once or twice over the years, were just let pass in favor of the atmosphere created by their presence.

Ironically, I strongly believe that but for the hubbub and festival like fun generated by the street-side buzz this event would have died out long ago. Now they are out to kill it and I can feel the sad lament welling up in my throat even as I write this.

The City of Phoenix is working out the bugs on licensing and corralling the street vendors. The reasons given are public safety and fair business practices. Also, the regulations do not contain an out for this event so technically they should be enforced.
These reasons are just a load of hoo-hah.

First, the public safety issue while well meaning is dopey. Somehow I have missed the reports of the major car pedestrian accidents occurring as people fall off the curb of an overcrowded street. Besides, it would be much less administratively complex and more community oriented to simply block off the streets off for a couple of hours one evening a month than it will be to chase down starving artist to get their $35 license fee and prosecute those who violate the regulation. At least one property owner has fenced his space and that is his prerogative; the exercise of those private property rights does not require the city to set up some arcane program. They approve the fence and it is done.

Second, the fairness of the business practices. Holy hypocrisy, let me count the ways this argument makes no sense:
1) But for the fun atmosphere people would not be attracted to come down to this less than pristine area at night-ever! Because they do come they learn of the galleries and are perfectly capable of returning at any time to make a serious art purchase. So rather than interfere with the “serious” gallery operations, they are actually promoting them.
2) The “art” that is offered on the street is a different art than that which is offered in the gallery. If you ask me most of what I have seen on the street and in the galleries is weird crap. But that is just my taste which is wholly irrelevant to this discussion. The fact is that there are all sorts of potential buyers and for the most part the street dude and the gallery are going to playing to different audiences as far as actual purchases are concerned.
3) Most of the gallery people are part of the buy-local movement. How much more local can you get than the man on the street?
4) Once these regulations get adopted someone is inevitably going to get screwed. With government intervention, at any level, there will be losers. Very often everyone ends up losing because the intervention in the name of some great sounding cause always follows the law of unintended consequences, which has great potential to ricochet back onto the original complainant.

Finally, they could continue to just look the other way on this. Don’t they have crimes to quell and public pools to open? If we have no budget for senior centers, how do we have the resources to pursue this silliness?

No wonder our economy is in the tank and everyone is miserable and cynical. Its fairly easy to see why every cool thing we ever had ultimately gets torn down. We’ve regulated it all right out of existence. Lots of luck First Fridays; I will remember you when.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Flip Me Pink, This is Heaven on Earth

Beer Cupcakes!

Despite the addition of Guinness, these cakes are not at all bitter; instead, the beer adds richness and moisture, and balances the sweetness of the sugar. Working from another Nigella recipe, this one the Guinness Cake from Feast, I substituted brown sugar for white to add depth of flavor, and made tiny cakes instead of a large one in a springform. Topped with a cream cheese glaze, these are a crowd-pleasing, not-too-sweet dessert (and, if you call them muffins instead of cupcakes, and play up the beer angle, you can easily pass them off to guys). They’re also super-easy.
1 cup Guinness
1 stick, plus 1 tb, unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tb vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350; butter a muffin tin.
Combine the Guinness and the butter, chopped into 1-inch chunks, in a large sauce pan, and heat to melt the butter. Remove from heat, and whisk in the cocoa and sugar. In a bowl, whisk the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla, then add to the beer mixture. Sift together the flour and baking soda, and fold into the batter. Pour into muffin molds and bake for 25 minutes, or until inserted cake tester comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes, remove from muffin tin, and cool completely on a rack.
Using a mixer, whip cream cheese until smooth, sift in sugar, and beat. Add milk, and beat until smooth. Spread glaze over cooled cupcakes.
*To create a thinner glaze, use a tablespoon or two more milk; for a topping more akin to icing, use less milk, and perhaps more sugar. In either case, add a little sugar or milk at a time, mix, and check for desired consistency.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Johnny Can't Lead

Holy flip me pink! I thought I was losing it. I had gone a whole week without getting exorcised just reading the newspaper. Turns out, I am fine, but education in America is in deep trouble. Of course, this has been a matter of debate for some years. And it is something my husband has taken a keen interest in, editorially speaking. In addition to our own careers as students, both of us have had the experience of being in front of classrooms full of “learners” to use the current vernacular. And we are in the final throes of shepherding our child through her own educational career. I have even done a bit of school law from time to time. In short, this is a subject on which I am amply qualified to opine.

I suppose the English teacher contributor to the AZ Plugged In in yesterday’s Arizona Republic Viewpoints section feels the same way about his credentials and opine he does:

Farcical AIMS Fails To Pass Logic Test Another round of AIMS high-school testing ended last week. …The writing assignment? Contradictory directions, of course….And the reading test? How about 18 different passages for 64 questions? Passages that jump from poetry to non-fiction, to short stories, to manuals, to essays. Try keeping your concentration with that. …[Y]ou seniors out there who haven’t passed…math…no tutoring. The [state]ran out of money.

Contrast that with this statement from a student on a 2007 spring evening after having taken the AIMS test: “Are you guys always talking about how some people can’t pass the AIMS test? [We nod.] Well that means that those people cannot read at all!” Well, yes, Melanie, we kind of thought so, too, but other people don’t seem to think that is such a big deal, was our learned reply.

Let me digress for a moment. I am a total product of Arizona public schools. Back in my day we did not have kindergarten. I went from first grade through law school in the public education system with a ten year break in between high school and college. My sister married a guy who had the same education as he went through high school in the same district. He and I had one thing in common-a high school diploma. Only thing is, he was totally and completely illiterate. How can this be you may ask yourself?

As a parent of a child we tried the public school system but moved to the private sector in sixth grade, having given it our best shot. But the quality of the education was just not there. I did not want my child going through all those years of school and coming out like I did—feeling cheated and like I missed something so irreplaceable that I am forever scarred. What I mean is that I really never learned anything. By the time I got out of high school I was so bored out of my mind that the thought of going to college was tortuous. Then I got out into the world and found out about all the great things I had been missing! History was not about wars and border drawing-it was about relationships and personalities and greatness and evil. Reading was not boring when you could read something that was well written and had some relevance to your life. And math is really logic; it can be thought of as a game but that actually provides a means to an end. Wow! I had a lot of catching up to do. Unfortunately for my brother-in-law catching up was not an option--starting over would have been his order of business.

I once did a stint teaching at the University of Phoenix. After a couple of years I simply could not take it anymore. I was relegated to instructing most of these people how to write a simple sentence even though I was not teaching an English course! This was too big a distraction and I just could not keep doing it. One thing I felt was apparent--feedback had been lacking for this group during its time on the way up to this level. The other thing that drove me under was that this was a vociferous crowd. Give them anything less than a B and they went into full attack mode (because their employer was not about to pay for less than that). If only they had put as much effort into absorbing the red ink I had just spent hours spilling on their papers.
This experience and Mr. English Teacher’s comments above illustrate the basic problem: (it has been stated over and over so many times that it is almost becoming a cliché) it is not the poor darling students fault if they don’t learn-we simply have failed to provide them the proper resources and when we do provide the resources the validity is suspect because the little darlings have such a delicate attention span.

This teacher is apologizing for his student’s inability to concentrate because of having to hop from genre to genre. Hello! Do you watch your students EVER? Don’t they skip from cellphone to IPod to text message to lap top to TV to Youtube and back again 400 million times a minute? They seem to master all that crap with no detriment to learning every lyric to a thousand songs, memorizing all the lines from movies like Superbad and keeping track of a gazillion one-hit band names without taking a breath (my friend’s kid sent 7,000 text messages in one month without missing a meal) , all while flirting with the comely teachers! It is a lame statement to say that answering 64 questions after reading 18 passages of a few lines each should be terribly taxing for these kids.

This is not to say that I don’t think they have a tough time concentrating. Sure they do. We do everything in our power to keep them distracted from the things that have meaning and then make excuses for them. Poor educational performance, in my view, has everything to do with the structure of the system. Money is not the issue. What goes on at school is. And from I have seen what is going on has less and less to do with learning.

The best thing we got from private school was the policy of no nonsense. Discipline is alive and well there. It is the flooring for a proper learning environment. It does not tolerate misanthropes and therefore eliminates a major source of distraction. With discipline comes respect. I cannot tell you how many people come before me in court without a clue about how respect buys you validity. It is a sad commentary. With respect comes decency. We are more likely to be tolerant of legitimate differences in such an environment. And the folks that aren’t are out, plain and simple.

To be sure, there are a number of things in private schools that are lacking in the public sector, chief among them are parental involvement (another key that often translates into financial backing) and dedicated educators who are there to teach rather than serve as pawns in some political jockeying. All of this adds up to expectations. At all stages of life a key to sound thinking and success comes from managing expectations. If we expect people are losers, they will more than likely meet our expectations. If we expect to get rewarded for doing a good job, the chances are much better that our expectations will be met. This applies to teachers, students, carpenters, lawyers, parents, spouses, just about anyone.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not an advertisement for private school. Rather, this is to point out that this teacher, who represents himself and everyone in his profession by signing his column with his profession, is doing a great job of managing the public’s expectations and doing a severe disservice to his student’s expectations. Rather than focusing on how to make his students better performers on the test, at once making his job the priority and thereby the kid’s performance an intrinsic reward for his dedication, he is publically acknowledging that either he cannot perform or will not perform his chosen profession adequately. If he feels so strongly that the system is keeping him from performing, rather than damn the system, he should rise above it. Instead of admonishing the seniors who have not passed the math for not working hard enough he laments that they were not given enough crutches. This sends a totally retarded message.

This is the plight of public education in this country today. As with most public sector activities, it seems to be just about to have run its course. This is the system that gave us the people who are running the show and making the mess out of everything that is happening in greater America. People, people, people, no wonder we are no longer capable of winning wars, balancing budgets, responding to crises and controlling our own spending. We never learned how to read a few passages and answer a few questions! If only someone had taught us how.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kara Vita comes to Phoenix

This line of skin care products uses the science of nanotechnology to deliver. This is the only nonsteroidal product I have found that is helping my psoriasis.

Check out the website:
For local distribution contact Michelle Anderson at

West of Western Culinary Festival

Yours truly will be working the crowd on behalf of Community Food Connections and the Downtown Phoenix Farmer's Market on Sunday March 16 at the Phoenix Art Museum.
Hope you can join us:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Read food. Not too much. Mostly Michael.

Just moments ago I finished reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Michael Pollan. I first discovered his writing a number of years ago in an article that ran in Harper’s Magazine. An avid gardener, Michael was tending to his poppies when he has this epiphany: if he were to think to himself, after having loving tended a poppy garden for the sheer enjoyment of the flowers for some time,” I will sell these poppies,” he would be committing a crime. For now, he would be growing the poppies with the intent to sell their opiates. But if he did not have that thought, well, he was just a flower gardener.

The next epiphany o f Michael’s I shared in was his theory, so beautifully articulated in his book The Botany of Desire, that plants are not so much tamed by man to do our bidding, rather they make the parts of themselves that are desirable to humans more prevalent in an attempt to prolong their existence. While this theory comports a certain consciousness to plants that we, as humans, have always celebrated as setting us apart from them, the book certainly makes a great case and is a wonderful read. It basically outlines the history of apples, tulips, potatoes and marijuana, each a fascinating story in its own right.

What is so tremendous about his style is that he presents his ideas and findings in such a way that you can almost see him sitting back and audibly emitting a “WoW” every time he finishes a paragraph. He lives totally in our world and is on a mission of discovery. He definitely exposes the downsides to things but he is not preachy and does not try to sell this as much as tell it. He is sharing his experiences with the information he discovers in as nonjudgmental a way as I have ever witnessed. He accomplishes the amazing feat of journalism with himself as the main subject, objectively reporting on how he reacts to the information he collects, slices, dices, sautés and digests. It is a cooking alright, but not in the usual sense.

Today’s interaction with Michael was the book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This traces the contents of four meals from the plate back to their genesis, presumably in nature. But as this journalistic endeavor shows, nature is becoming less and less involved in the process. The thing that becomes so crystallized in this book is that every aspect of our lives is impacted by so many things—economics, politics, technology, nature –the synergistic effects of which are totally unpredictable and in retrospect often incomprehensible. This is no less true in the context of the most basic of human needs which in this country appears to be enjoyed in the ultimate state of liberty-eating. Paradoxically, this is simply not true.

Timing, as they say, is everything and the coincidence of reading this book just after joining the Board of Community Food Connections is another example of the tremendous synchronicity that is ever present in my life. Along those lines, as I was reading the section about corn I was thinking to myself that it would be a perfect text for an anthropology class. Sure enough, my daughter Melanie just finished reading that excerpt as an assignment in her college intro to anthropology class.

Now I see that just last month Michael’s latest treat is now in print. Good timing! I am looking for my next book. I can’t wait to pick up a copy of In Defense of Food. I totally love the tag line that comes from this book that should be the new American mantra: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Check him out at