Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pumpkin recipe-Heard It On NPR and Just Have to Make IT and my old favorite too.!

This sounds amazing. Of course  I plan to "Americanize" it. [Editor's note: I did make it with the rice and green chile flakes. Found some Gruyere/cheddar combo at Trader Joe's (of course) and used shallots. It was a big hit. I am definitely planning to do it again.][Did it again with arborio rice steamed first and chunks of Parmesan cheese and smoked pork from the Meat Shop downtown-also great]

It reminds me of our old favorite Pumpkin Pot Stew. The firrst is a French recipe, the second Argentine. As Dorie Greenspan notes in the NPR story we could use some culinary diplomacy in politics. The pumpkin could be the key.

The best part of both of these recipes is you can apply your creativity very easily.

Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good
Makes 2 very generous servings
1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment, or find a Dutch oven with a diameter that's just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin. If baked in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but may stick requiring service from the pot — which is an appealingly homey way to serve. Baked on a sheet, you can present it freestanding, but  take care in moving it. 

Cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween jack-o'-lantern) working the knife  at a 45-degree angle. Scrape away the seeds and strings from the cap and  the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot. Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled -adjust the amount of ingredients accordingly. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin to nicely moisten the ingredients.

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check after 90 minutes — or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid,  remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.
When ready, carefully, very carefully — it's heavy, hot, and wobbly — bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you'll bring to the table.

Cut wedges of the pumpkin and filling; or spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin into the spoonful; or n dig into the pumpkin with a big spoon, pull the pumpkin meat into the filling, and then mix everything up.. Served in hearty portions followed by a salad, the pumpkin is a perfect cold-weather main course; served in generous spoonfuls or wedges, it's just right alongside the Thanksgiving turkey. 

Greenspan's Stuffing Ideas
There are many ways to vary this arts-and-crafts project. Instead of bread, I've filled the pumpkin with cooked rice — when it's baked, it's almost risotto-like. And, with either bread or rice, on different occasions I've added cooked spinach, kale, chard, or peas (the peas came straight from the freezer). I've made it without bacon, and I've also made and loved, loved, loved it with cooked sausage meat; cubes of ham are another good idea. Nuts are a great addition, as are chunks of apple or pear or pieces of chestnut.

Pumpkin Pot Stew

2 1/2 T oil, divided use
2 lbs. Rump or chuck roast, cubed
1 clove garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1 t sugar
21 ounces beef broth
1 dozen pitted prunes
6 ounces dried apricots
2 sweet potatoes, cubed
2 new potatoes, cubed
10 ounces frozen corn
1 large pumpkin, cleaned.

Saute meat until brown in 1 T oil.
Separately saute onion, garlic and red pepper in remaining oil. Combine with all the other ingredients except corn and cook one hour.  Add corn and transfer to pumpkin (bottom trimmed to sit flat).

Cover with pumpkin top or foil and bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours or more. Serve in pumpkin. (see above for serving options)  (Do not store leftovers in pumpkin).

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

TMI in All the Wrong Places

I read a column by the great observer Peggy Noonan yesterday. In it she pointed out that for the last twenty years politicians have been telling us what a lousy group of losers they are through their use of negative attack ads. It appears that they have done a great job of applying the fundamental rule for marketing; that of managing expectations. And they all seem to be living down to them.
I was at yoga the other day and apparently someone passed gas because the instructor cautioned us not to worry as this exercise will cause such reactions from the most modest of us.
These two events, having occurred within close proximity of one another, got me to thinking about our social mores. We are completely embarrassed by the most human of bodily functions but we are unabashedly and magnetically attracted to the muddy side of the famous person--movie star and politician alike. And if there is a commercial reward involved there seems to be no boundary at all, at least in that most impersonal of mediums, the TV ad-we see folks holding hands in bathtubs and speedy acts of incredibly potent sexual climax on a regular basis. (See what you DVR’ers are missing?)
What is up with that?
The rules for polite society grew out of the Victorian era. Although on the surface people were most reserved, underneath it all they were amazingly human. Discretion, however, kept such things as homosexuality and extramarital affairs out of the public eye. These were not the topic of dinner conversation, much less the length of an erection, as they are now. No heart-wrenching revelations of the torture of carrying a sexually transmitted disease being revealed to the people who know you only through your role on reality TV and their interest in your ability to design things.
Why do we need to know the sexual activities of these people?
Yesterday I also read a very compelling essay by a gay army man about the burden of living with the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. The military, being more than just a job, puts people in close living proximity for long periods of time. Of all the places where it might be relevant to discuss these things, it is off limits.
Does this make any sense whatsoever? How is it that the one place it would be handy to know a person’s sexual tendencies-in the field barracks that you will be intimately sharing for months on end-you are supposed to have no clue, but if you were at home watching TV you have a ring-side seat at the sexual banquet of any number of people, including your own Senator. 
Too much information in all the wrong places!
This kind of thing gives me a headache. Especially when I consider that the means by which we pay for that dedicated army man to “protect” our national security is in great peril by the unprecedented and unsolvable deficit levels that threaten our national security in a very profound way..
Could we please leave the talk of bodily functions to the boudoir and get back to the business of running the country? If we don’t, my migraine will only increase. And with Obamacare on the horizon I fear for the ability to get quick, effective treatment.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Handy information; read all the way down

E-Mail Tracker Programs -- very interesting and a must read!!!
The man that sent this information is a computer tech.  He spends a lot of time clearing the junk off computers for people and listens to complaints about speed.  All forwards are not bad, just some.  Be sure you read the very last paragraph. 

He wrote:
By now, I suspect everyone is familiar with snopes.comand/or for determining whether information received via email is just that:  true/false or fact/fiction.  Both are excellent sites.

Advice from   VERY IMPORTANT!!
1) Any time you see an email that says "forward this on to '10' (or however many) of your friends", "sign this petition", or "you'll get bad luck" or "you'll get good luck" or "you'll see something funny on your screen after you send it" or whatever --- it almost always has an email tracker program attached that tracks the cookies and emails of those folks you forward to.  The host sender is getting a copy each time it gets forwarded and then is able to get lists of 'active' email addresses to use in SPAM emails or sell to other spammers.  Even when you get emails that demand you send the email on if you're not ashamed of God/Jesus --- that is email tracking, and they are playing on our conscience.  These people don't care how they get your email addresses - just as long as they get them.  Also, emails that talk about a missing child or a child with an incurable disease "how would you feel if that was your child" --- email tracking.  Ignore them and don't participate!

2) Almost all emails that ask you to add your name and forward on to others are similar to that mass letter years ago that asked people to send business cards to the little kid in Florida who wanted to break the Guinness Book of Records for the most cards.  All it was, and all any of this type of email is, is a way to get names and 'cookie' tracking information for telemarketers and spammers -- to validate active email accounts for their own profitable purposes.

You can do your Friends and Family members a GREAT favor by sending this information to them.  You will be providing a service to your friends.  And you will be rewarded by not getting thousands of spam emails in the future!

Do yourself a favor and STOP adding your name(s) to those types of listing regardless how inviting they might sound! Or make you feel guilty if you don't! It's all about getting email addresses and nothing more.

You may think you are supporting a GREAT cause, but you are NOT!

Instead, you will be getting tons of junk mail later and very possibly a virus attached!  Plus, we are helping the spammers get rich!  Let's not make it easy for them!
ALSO:  Email petitions are NOT acceptable to Congress of any other organization - i.e. social security, etc.  To be acceptable, petitions must have a "signed signature" and full address of the person signing the petition, so this is a waste of time and you are just helping the email trackers.

Also of note:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Contrary to News Reports there is something Great About Living in Arizona

Arizona's image is suffering lately. I had an East Coast friend call me the other day to make sure we are OK. Based on the news she was concerned that we might be experiencing intimidation or the victims of crimes. I assured her that although from the perspective of the outside world it might sound like things are really lousy here in Arizona, actually we are getting along just fine. What I didn't tell her is that on top of that we are eating better than ever.

Nationally we are in the midst of yet another food-borne illness scare, this time with eggs. I never have to worry about these alarming events because I purposely seek out locally grown fresh food and I tell you it is very easy to do, especially with eggs. Hickman's grows eggs right here in the West Valley and they have a great reputation. How [over] easy is that?

It is amazing to me that ANYONE could think it would be possible to properly control a farming operation of the magnitude represented by the TWO farms responsible for the nearly 1/2 BILLION eggs involved in the recent Salmonella event. While amassing such operations in fewer farms should certainly improve the statistical chances of getting an actual FDA inspection (fewer facilities in the agency's inspection universe) it is of little help when these operations are just a few of the thousands of operations spread nationwide that the FDA is responsible for.

The farms in question in this event finally got an inspection (well after the discovery of the evil molecules) and as one might expect they found a nightmare in these joints. Yes, it does happen with smaller operations as well, but logical dictates that the bigger the farm the bigger the management problem. The inspections uncovered "widespread safety problems, including barns infested with flies, maggot and rodents, ... overflowing manure pits, improper worker sanitation and wild birds roosting around feed bins." And that may not even be the root of the problem; I heard at least one report that hypothesized the source might be the feed given the chickens. Can you even imagine the volume of feed it would take to keep these millions of birds pumping out the ovulation?

If you want a realistic overview of how the food industry works, and particularly chicken operations and what can happen, I highly recommend you put Food, Inc. on your Netflix list. The movie points out the paradox presented by the industrialization of food. Although we are able to support a growing worldwide population on a smaller and smaller agricultural footprint, the real costs involved are immense. As with all things the law of diminishing returns kicks in but with government subsidies and global trade it is difficult to realistically grasp when the balance actually tips. This approach may be all well and good when manufacturing TV's or regulating smut over the broadcast waves but when it comes to food we should not have to wait until we are rolling down the other side of the manure mound to find out--when that occurs it simply be too late.

There are two things to be learned from the eggs and spinach and ground beef recalls that seem to be piling up over time. The lessons are themselves somewhat paradoxical and as a result not very obvious.

First, with government intervention in the agriculture markets, the corporatizing of American food became the norm gaining the economies of scale that allow us to have whatever we want whenever we want it. Not only is this not natural, it is dangerous, both from a microbial standpoint and an overall health perspective. We are suffering from too much food and it is allowing us to stuff ourselves silly, if the creepy crawlies don't get us first. Second, we have blindly placed all of our trust in the government to protect us from our own food, thereby over–tasking it (it is just impossible to properly police it all as evidenced by one recall after the next). In doing so we have assumed a level of complacency and trust that is wholly unwarranted given the political pressures that immediately come to bear on an ever under-sourced regulatory program.

But not to worry, all is not lost. With the growing recognition of these problems as evidenced by documentaries like Food Inc. and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (see my April 20, 2010 blog entry), combined with a growing think local movement (see!/LocalFirstArizona?ref=ts) not only is awareness being raised as to the options but more capacity is being gained. As farmer's markets become increasingly popular, access to the real McCoy becomes increasingly easy. We happen to have a burgeoning fresh food sector in Arizona. As an added bonus we also have a nearly year round growing season. Unlike those folks who experience hard freezes over the winter, our crops tend to wither only for a few weeks in the dog days of summer, but even then smaller operations are doing quite well thank you. Our bounty changes with the seasons and lasts through them all, providing an amazing variety of rotating eating pleasure and reliable quality.

So, in this time of bad economics, challenging statewide politics and an iffy national image, know that Arizona is THE place to be for fresh, delicious and healthy food if you take the little bit of time required to find it. But don't tell anyone--we can't afford to have the rest of the country move down here just to eat.


Monday, August 16, 2010

True Confessions: How Eat, Pray, Love Challenged My Preference for Non-fiction

    Amid the EPL mania of this past weekend, we also enjoyed the video of the JetFU "take this job and shove it" moment. I readily grasped how these two events are indelibly connected. They illustrate what, at the core, is a major symptom of the erosion of our American culture and perhaps even our financial well-being.

    My girlfriends bristle and wrinkle their noses when I tell them that EPL made me angry. Of course, they are caught up in the romantic aspects of Ms. Gilbert's world search for self, like most of the fans who mostly consist of young women raised in the Pocahontas era, at whom all the EPL merchandising is directed. I think my gals are at least not jumping on the consumer bandwagon with this thing. As for the younger set, I can hardly blame them; who can resist an EPL tea cup and yoga mat? Rationalizing the retail aspect of the EPL craze I heard one commentator explain that this is not just consumption for consumption sake, which is so 20-aughts; rather, it is strategic consumption in that it has a psychological purpose so it must be OK. Whatever. But my older friends should not take it personally. Even Ms. Gilbert was quoted in my favorite magazine THE WEEK as saying that she is open to honest criticism, just not the kind where people diss her without reading the book. I guess she will gladly take their harangue after she takes their money.

    With EPL I could never suspend disbelief long enough to rationalize her behavior. It seemed so put up and phony to me-so much so that her angst and the need to assuage it seemed premeditated from the get go. The basic reason for that, I suppose, is that rather being a cynic as many surely suspect, I am in fact a "benefit of the doubt"-type and I presume that most people are a bit stronger than portrayed on TV, even as I watch aspiring chef's and costume designers well up with tears week after week on their respective competition shows. (My affinity for quality reality shows no doubt comes from the same place as my affinity for non-fiction.)

    So when I finished reading EPL (ironically I read it while traveling in Europe) I wondered what was the redeeming quality of Ms. Gilbert's extended excursion? In my view she had not learned a damn thing, so what was the point? Short of making a fortune with a catchy gimmick the obviously had great appeal to the average American woman, I could not ferret out at moral to the story. Especially since the end consisted of her direct return to the exact same situation that set the whole thing in motion in the first place. She practically leapt at the first guy who came along.

    After some rumination I now see that this book hits home with so many people because it is a mirror on the contemporary American self. In short, it is completely consistent with the "All About Me" (AAM) mein. Greed, we try and convince ourselves by musing aloud in news reports, is relegated to the corporate world; the rest of us mere victims of capitalism. But who are the corporations but us? Stockholders consist of more middle Americans today than ever in history. And as part owners of these companies we demand a consistent and immediate profit. Meanwhile, on a micro-level we pursue retail spirituality by going green and attending hot yoga atop the finest felted wool mat any third world villager can weave. What this superficial quest for oneness cannot mask is the fact that our number 1 concern is above all things our own egos and needs. Sounds greedy to me.

    EPL was purportedly a healing expedition-just what the doctor ordered after an emotionally devastating divorce. Now, I am as emotional and sentimental as the next gal (I admit I cry at radio commercials) but I was truly embarrassed for Gilbert as I read her pathetic inability to drag herself off the tear soaked bathroom floor after being dumped buy her supposed spouse. I was reticent that anyone could possibly be so utterly clueless that her marriage was less than idyllic so as to be so caught off guard when the hammer came down. Her reaction was of one who was entirely unprepared and bordered on psychosis. And she apparently so ingrained herself in the (now obviously hollow) marital relationship that she had completely aligned her identity with it. Ironically, by doing so, she sunk the final nail in the coffin of that coupling because she apparently completely lost any sight of the fact that there was, indeed, another person involved.

    Having been married over 30 years and surrounded by people who have amazing longevity in their union by today's standards, I can say with some authority that a marriage is the most fatal context within which to be greedy. I even think the standard 70/30 rule people advocate falls short. Marriage, for each person, only works when it is not all about you but in fact all about the spouse. That said, a key component to achieving that is to never take your partner for granted, which means you must become self reliant and self confident enough to actually be all about the other person. Paradoxical perhaps, but true, nonetheless. This follows what in at least one book was called the Prayer of Jabez which reveals that Christian doctrine actually holds that it is OK to take care of yourself first for failure to do so will deprive you of the ability to take care of others-which is, of course, the one true aspiration of those who do not condone greed.

    So failing to recognize this, Gilbert apparently transferred her identity from herself to her status as a married woman. So without that framework she needed to go out and find herself. I totally get that part. The problem I have with the rest of the venture is that it was entirely superficial. I think she really may have been trying to achieve something but she never got out of herself long enough to truly do it, hence my suspicion that it was really the premise for a book from the outset and that is why it appears to have no moral; she repeats the same behavior in the end by self identifying with a new man and missed the truly spiritual boat.

    The same AAM fatality played out beautifully when a certain flight attendant, responding to the accumulation of disrespectful AAM detritus that piled up in the aircraft aisle to the point where his shovel could remove it no longer, demonstrated that he could take AAM to an even higher plane. His dramatic exit was the height of disrespect for himself and everyone else within even a remote orbit, exponentially topping that of more grounded mortals. And our collective reaction was to deify him. Next week look for JetFU teacups.

    As the truly prayerful person soon discovers, there is a reason that all the major religions of the world share a basic tenet-the Golden Rule. The ultimate paradox is that the more you give, the more you get. How is it that just like Ms. Gilbert and Mr. Slater we all seem to have overlooked this simple lesson yet are so quick to embrace unsatisfying superficiality? I am sad for these two and the rude air travelers. If only they/we knew how to truly love them/ourselves they /we would be so much better off.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

No Book Clubs Allowed

Now, I am in no way claiming to be an artist. However, I did have art lessons as a child and used to do some fun things with pastels. I have always been interested in making things and in visuals and I have been in dozens of museums in the US and Europe. I have a crafty mother and we were always doing arts and crafts as kids. We had some artistic ancestors mixed among the whacky ones, but that is another story. But it did just seem natural when my daughter Melanie started drawing around the age of 5.

My most recent art foray was the mural in my backyard. I spent about 2 years gluing recycled stuff to the wall. In the "every cloud has a silver lining" category, my shower door broke-twice-providing ample material for the ocean. It has its issues, but I like the way the glass sparkles off the water at night. I did have the help of my friend Martin, who is himself an artist with heavy tools.

So I was absolutely delighted when my high energy friend Julie Pace invited me to join the summer art challenge with "a bunch of friends." Some of the folks are the real McCoy, which could be intimidating but I am doing the yoga position 'ego eradicator' on a daily to allay my fears.

This all started when Jim and Tim (real artists ) recognized that they needed some motivation to keep making art during the heat of the summer. They decided to do a sort of Bobbie Flay- like throw down with one another. But being artists they got creative with the idea and it morphed into the Summer Art Challenge in which I now participate. Among the other members are a May graduate of the ASU MFA program, a couple of artist/teachers, an architecture-trained artist, a photographer/business person and three lawyers (including me) who long to use the other side of the brain. An eclectic bunch, certainly.

The idea is that for each 3 week round, a member selects a core image that the others must interpret. The first, an iconic NO SMOKING sign, drew out an amazing range of things. But the best part was talking about the process behind each work and providing one another with a sort of round table Q&A/critique.

It was a gas. A great group of people, including in some cases the significant others and/or parent, all participated in the repartee.

As Julie noted at evening's end, "This is so much better than a book club!" I agree and suggested we change the name to Book Clubs Suck, but that got no votes for creativity.

To check out how much fun we are having, go to the website which is hosting us: Leafdogpress:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Irish Rock Buns

Recipe adapted by Margie McGrath


Margie, my cousin, discovered these in Ireland this past winter. True confessions: they did not stick around long enough for me to take a picture; they are pure delicious evil.




4 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup brown sugar

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup raisins (I like to use ½ cup each golden raisins and craisins or 1 cup Trader Joe's, "Golden Berry Blend")
1 cup shredded coconut
4 medium eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 T+ 2 t milk



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray baking sheet.

1. Mix baking powder with flour and then mix in the sugar.

2. Using fingertips, rub butter into flour until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

3. Add fruit and coconut.  Mix in evenly. 

4. Whisk eggs.  Mix in the milk and vanilla.  Pour into flour mixture and combine using a large spoon, until moist dough is formed.

5. With spoon or a ¼ cup measuring cup, shape dough into rough heaps or cone-shapes on the prepared baking sheet.  Optional: Sprinkle with white sugar before baking. 

6. Bake for 15 minutes or until done.   [It took my oven longer to bake them to a deep, golden brown.]

7. Cool and serve at room temperature.

8. Do not cover with Saran wrap or put them into plastic bags.  The crunchy crust will soften and they'll lose their rockness!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Respect and Humility: Commodities Currently in Short Supply


He that respects himself is safe from others. He wears a coat of mail that none can pierce.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)


In every country we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)



This morning at the YMCA the topic of respect came up after an anecdote about the members dragging their weight lifting equipment across the beautifully finished wood floors to their exercise space. Of course, the floors don't stay beautiful or finished for long when people treat them that way. But then, who thinks of such things anymore?


Several times a day of late it seems we are subjected to another public "apology" as people in the political arena make a statement and, when criticized, rather than stand behind it they start with the mea culpas or, worse, personally attacking the critic. Take General Stanley McChrystal who today is being ripped for quotes in a magazine article that attributes criticism of his Commander in Chief. Despite the reporting, he now professes to have the utmost respect and admiration for the President and his staff. Reputations don't stay intact for long when people throw themselves under the bus.


These are two diverse examples of a problem that has become endemic in our culture—lack of respect. We are not lacking for respect because everyone in our society has developed an acute sense of self respect. But we don't seem to take the respect beyond our own auras.


From those folks working out at the Y who are so enthralled with themselves for actually exercising to the General who, at least from the Rolling Stone article, exhibits the highly developed ego that usually goes hand in hand with high flying military positions, we all seem to have an acutely developed sense of self importance and hold no one in higher esteem.


This fullness of self knows no bounds. The blow back from the anti-illegal immigration measures that have flooded recent headlines is predominantly expressed by folks who have so much self respect that they have elevated themselves above the law. The enormously wealthy oil company responsible for recklessly polluting one of our major oceanic resources while simultaneously wasting vast amounts of one of our most coveted natural resources was so full of itself it took for granted that it could do no wrong and failed to put a proper contingency plan in place for just such a disaster.


To be sure, as a society we have much to be proud of. We are more civilized and have the best quality of life in human history. But as progress has improved the standard of living for the vast majority of the citizens in the West, it has also brought with it unprecedented challenges.


And let's face it, right now the negatives are reaching epic proportions: two majors wars and dozens of potential hot spots across the globe that the US cannot ignore, together with tanking economies, natural and human made disasters popping up in rapid succession, a series of large scale health threats from our food supply chain or super resistant biotins, the undefined impact of the ubiquitous chemicals on the human body, rising energy demand with serious environmental consequences, porous borders, drug cartels gone wild, overburdened and under-resourced governments, an ultra-expensive and questionably effective health care system-- the list goes on and on.


Perhaps we have so much respect for ourselves, much of it rightfully earned, that we are taking ourselves for granted. We know there will be someone out there who will come up with the answers—they always have. Meanwhile we play Little League without keeping score, spend countless hours on video games, watch mass appeal movies that are invariably all the same plot dressed up with some special effects and buy IPads to enhance our distractions.


Now, I am not advocating that we start hacking away at the precious fiber of the tenuous network of our self esteem; but when you have Generals publically dissing their Presidents and lawmakers grilling CEO's just to play for the cameras, it becomes very unclear how any of these big issues can be seriously addressed.


We have no leaders because we are all so cock sure of ourselves. According to the polls at any given moment we all have a specific opinion about everything. With that ammo the politicians just set their navigators for that course and if they mess up along the way there is a quick apology and we are on to something else.


But how can we be so confident? And sure about what? That we are Americans, so naturally it will all get taken care of because it always has?


A very small example of this phenomenon recently affected my campaign for Justice of the Peace. Because my decision came so late in the game, some great friends of mine spent chunks of their own time circulating petitions in their immediate areas. I am certain that these diligent people did their best to explain the rules, the most basic being you had to be a voter. Thirty one people were so self confident about this that without hesitation they signed. Later we found that indeed they were not registered. And since it takes several Presidential election cycles without voting to get dropped from the rolls it is most interesting that a person would not know this basic fact about themselves.


How did this happen? Lack of respect. Yes, I just went through a whole litany about how people are suffering from an abundance of respect. But it is self respect gone wild. And just like Wordsworth said, all these folks are emotionally insulated by their own self respect. So much so that there is no respect left for each other, our politicians, our community or the wood floor at the YMCA.


The lack respect for others goes hand in hand with having too much self respect. The Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"--which really is the only thing you need to know-- has the perfect balance of self respect. But in order to live by it one needs a good dose of humility.


Those who aspire to be our leaders by definition need a raft full of self respect. But most often we see that abundance of self respect is offset by a complete lack of humility. Case in point: Maricopa County recently had a County Attorney who I know personally to be an intelligent and compassionate individual. This makes my disappointment in his performance all the greater. The thing I cannot get past is that while he was true to his ideals, he seemed to lose all contact with humility. This caused him to go to extremes that manifested as a complete lack of respect for the very system he claimed to be so adamantly protecting. It culminated in his unprecedented attack of members of the judiciary. His self respect, I surmise, had overcome his sense of relativity. Later, under the pressure of public scrutiny, the cases he brought against the Judges and elected officials crumbled beneath their own weight. So his over confidence clearly overshadowed his intellect.


Humility, which is the essence of respect for others and which if you think about it is embedded in the Golden Rule, would have served him well. I once read that "[h]umility distinguishes the wise leader from the arrogant power-seeker". Stepping back and checking yourself is never a bad idea, but if you are so self important it is not likely to cross your mind very often. Carl Sagan nailed it when he observed that learning the scientific method instills humility. That is because the method is intended to ensure a certain amount of objectivity.


He rang another bell with his suggestion regarding the Bill of Rights, which as Americans it should be our duty to learn. Ironically, the first 10 Amendments were designed to protect the individual, but it works much like the Golden Rule, by providing an internal correction mechanism.


But civics is no longer taught in country. Perhaps after nearly 250 years we became so self-sure that we finally got it right that we forgot it is necessary to keep reminding people what it is and teaching the ensuing generations so that they never forget. But somehow that became derailed and the masses swoon after each new apology.


One should not, however, confuse apology with humility. True humility would restrain the impulse that generated the need to apologize in the first place. But this, too, apparently must be taught.


Lessons can be learned two ways, easy or hard. In my humble opinion we should waste no time in getting back to teaching civics in school rather than wait and relearn this lesson the hard way.



Monday, June 21, 2010

Independence and Justice: Peace, not so much

My recent foray into politics played out better than I had anticipated. Having been a sidelines politico for most of my life (it has been years since my last active participation in a campaign, mostly because I either held positions which would make it unseemly or because it is unethical for my husband to do so given his vow of objective journalism and since our funds are community property, there is not much I could do that does not involve giving money) I recently decided, too late in the game it would seem, to take a run at the Justice of the Peace. I figured this would be the least political of the offices I could run for given the above-mentioned constraints, and one for which I am certainly well qualified. After 13 years as a Judge Pro Tem, I am thinking I could easily handle the job. 

The Justice of the Peace heads up "the people's court." As such, it is intended that the person be a community member but not necessarily a lawyer. Because the job entails all civil cases under $10,000 and small claims court, in addition to restraining orders, state highway traffic tickets and misdemeanors, including DUI's, signing search warrants and the like, it can get quite legally arcane, especially in this day and time. Having had several cases in Justice Court of late in other precincts I was concerned that the speedy adjudications were not happening and in fact the 60 day time limit for decisions was falling by the wayside. A man whom I have the utmost respect for became a JP and later a pro tem and he was assigned to go around and help these courts get back on track. Although not law-trained he is an exceptional person. Given this anecdotal evidence I concluded law training is certainly a plus. So I was a perfect fit for the job.

I chose to run as an Independent against the advice of my politically experienced friends. For one, I really think the judiciary should be independent and had dreams of emphasizing the words Independent and Justice in my printed material. Also, I just couldn't see myself hanging around with party oriented folks. That just comes with too much baggage. But there is also a downside. Without a party and without a pile of cash one cannot get access to the voter lists, which makes it nigh on impossible to do any door to door work that is efficient. Second, in the Encanto precinct there are actually more Independents than Republicans and together they outnumber the Democrats. Finally, the opposition consisted entirely of Democrats: the 3- term incumbent, who is a lawyer and has been doing a fairly good job if the lawyers I know can be relied upon to judge him (on the other hand, I did hear from several non-lawyers that he was kind of tough on the unrepresented, so there is probably a bias there); a 16-year veteran of the legislature who needs 4 more years in the system to avail himself of the retirement offerings; and the very late comer, who I believe is a bankruptcy attorney. I figured these guys would all duke it out in the primary and I would lay low until the fall, when I knew which one would be left standing.

That all hinged on getting the 380 signatures to qualify for the ballot. I had just over 3 weeks to do it by the time I decided to jump off the cliff. I wrangled two friends into chairing my committee and acting as treasurer over lunch the day I took out my paperwork. We knew going in it would be a very grass roots effort. My strategy, which turned out to be fairly effective, was to identify people spread out all over the precinct and ask them to get their friends and neighbors to sign petitions. The Democrats had already been combing the precinct for months with the precinct lists so it was going to be up to my friends to ferret out the Dem's who had probably already been hit up. Under the rules one can only sign one petition for each position.

I sent my first email to a wide ranging and diverse group of people, one of whom was already working for that Dem soon to be former legislator in this race. Unfortunately for him he hit the "reply all" button with this response:

Hi Kim, Thanks for the update.  As you may know, our mutual friend Ken Cheuvront announced his candidacy for this seat several months ago.  Ken is working very hard, going door to door educating folks about the Justice Court and why he is running.  I have endorsed Ken, have already walked door to door with him, and will be hosting a fundraiser soon.  I applaud your commitment to our community, but hope you will reconsider your decision.  You are one of the most creative, passionate, and thoughtful people I know, and I would like to support you in some other capacity.  Tom
My single reply indicated my appreciation for the accolades and emphasizing my qualifications. Needless to say, my other friends who received this email were a bit taken aback by the suggestion that I should change my mind because my other "friends" were otherwise engaged. C'est la vie, but I don't think Tom (who was once a Republican) did himself many favors in my group. Given that he is a City Councilman that could be bad, but this is, after all, politics and memories, as we shall see by the number of people who had already signed a JP petition before signing mine, are short.


I am truly humbled by the amazing response I got from so many people who were willing to commit their time and energy to the petition circulation process. In that short period we collected a remarkable 434 signatures. As late as 24 hours before the deadline I was sure I was not going to make it. But encouragement kept coming and unexpected signatures flowed in from truly dedicated folks. Along with a couple of young but able friends, good success came as we staked out the polls on the date of the Proposition 100 election to raise the 1 cent sales tax rate. In the heart of the precinct we had a great response. On the edges it got very complicated because people were voting from outside my precinct, but we got a few that way. Another couple of friends whom I had not even seen in quite a long while were extremely diligent and dedicated and I was so happy to reconnect with them and so humbled by their enthusiasm. One of them was a former Arizona Governor and long time friend of my family. Her 7000 name rolodex is nothing to sneeze at and she had 15 signatures in about a split second.

On the final weekend I was able to walk a voting precinct. This was the result of a kindness of some Republicans who were also engaged in the collection process for their own campaign and were gracious enough to share their data for the local voting precinct. This made a huge difference. I met some interesting people in those two days going door to door. And God was smiling on me because that was the weekend when the weather was unusually cool.

So, filing day came and I showed up for my appointment in a very crowded County Elections foyer. I only had to wait about ½ hour and I got in and my petitions were checked in personally by the elected County Recorder and her able staff. They did their counting and I was well over my minimum; I had made the ballot.

I must stop right here and say that if all of government were as well run as the Maricopa County Elections Department we would be living in utopia. In each contact with that department, these were the most efficient, skilled and happiest group of people I have ever encountered. Even those I did not know were absolutely top notch. I am truly impressed.

As if we did not already have our allotted dramatic moment; I got notice (June 10) that I was being sued by the incumbent; and so were the other two contenders. This almost never happens in JP races; it was just my luck to be running in the one with the most sophisticated and controversial competition!

He was challenging 100 of my 434 signatures. I started furiously researching the signatures. I knew that I had 63 extra and that in the challenge about 10 or so were technical contentions that could have easily been remedied. But what I felt worst about was the fact that allegedly almost 20 folks signed for me even though they had already signed for one of my opponents, 31 were not even registered to vote and 29 were not registered at the address where they currently live. There were another batch whose address is outside my boundary (some of these came on that Election Day I mentioned)-it got kind of crazy sorting through all the questions with each person to rule out the things that could disqualify them. The other interesting part was when I did ask people if they lived east or west of Central, to a person they had to stop and think about it. This was awe-inspiring to me: Phoenix is the easiest town in the world to get around-it is laid out in a grid with Central Avenue being the split. From there the roads start at 1 and go up to the East where they are named Street and Place and likewise on the West but they are named Avenue and Drive. How hard is that? Someone who goes there every day has to stop and think? But I digress….)

Bottom line, this meant I had to call the wonderful folks who had already worked so hard back to the drawing board. Could we figure out if any of these challenges were in error? I also had to consider hiring a lawyer (I have had no fund raisers yet so that was not an option) or read up on the law of challenges myself. Meanwhile I was hoping my circulators could track down the signers and get back to me so I could figure out a theory and how to prove it --all by 1PM June 16 when the case would be heard in the Superior Court.

Ironically, the Judge hearing the matter was Richard Gama. His wife, a fellow YMCA denizen, signed my petition and her signature was challenged. Turns out she is a couple of houses outside my boundary (this is truly a gerrymandered boundary in that area). I could have made a big deal out of that and gotten the hearing delayed, but I needed to know first if I even had a valid argument I could make on the other signatures.

Meanwhile the attorney for Cheuvront and the other candidate were calling to see how we were going to coordinate our hearings. And the County Elections people were doing their verifications to determine if the challenges were based upon the correct data. I really needed to wait for that report as it would distill down just exactly how many I was short. 

During this time I learned that many people take advantage of the internet service provided by MVD when they move at to comply with the 10 day deadline for updating their mailing info on their driving record. But, because of the motor/voter law many people presume that doing this automatically updates their voter registration record as well. This is an incorrect assumption for one must access a separate screen inside the website to do so. Once this was brought to these folks attention many of them went immediately to make the change. I figured I could make a colorable argument on those if these people would be willing to sign an affidavit to that effect. But this is an arduous task; getting people to take this much interest in your campaign, much less getting them to a notary, all in the allotted time. And how many of my wonderful circulator friends even had the time for this? So I chose to wait and see what the official tally was.

The County Recorder report came out the day before the hearing. There in black and white was my fate. 25 signatures short. No way were there that many motor/voter errors or even any way to get that many people before a notary in the few hours we had before the hearing. 

My hopes were dashed. And adding insult to injury, that evening, after I finally made my decision to withdraw before the hearing I got this from the incumbent's attorney:

As you know from the Certification of the Elections Department, you are 25 signatures short of qualifying for the election.  My client is interested in resolving this matter amicably by your voluntary withdraw from the election, thereby negating the necessity of litigating your case.  If you voluntarily withdraw we will not seek any court costs or fees.  Please advise immediately if you are agreeable to filing your voluntary withdrawal with elections prior to the hearing tomorrow.  If you would rather not make the trip to elections or the court, just advise and we can simply take a injunction judgment without costs.

I don't have to tell you my response. 

In the end this was a very gratifying experience. People truly rose to the occasion and many of them went above and beyond. I am forever grateful and humbled by their encouragement and support. You really do know who your friends are in these situations, so I am all the richer for the experience. And as my official paperwork terminating my campaign shows, I only spent $18 in the whole process!

Thanks to you all you circulators and resource persons who made this such a fun thing to do despite the ultimate outcome:

Kurt, Theresa, Evelyn, Rose, Eamon, Mary, Jesse, Stevi, Stephanie S., Stephanie A., Don, Warren, Bob, Sonya, Ivan, Luane, Rhonda, Tirza, Susan, Kim, Jake, Cassie, Jay, Casey, Dan M., Dan D., Cathy, Michael G., Michael M., Janice, Elaine, Barry, Sarah, Reed, Susan, Zachary, Frank, James, Bev, Ben and everyone else who provided moral support!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oil , Oil, Toil and Trouble

Finally the President and I agree on something-government cannot do it all. And the fact of the matter is we don't really want them to.

As much as the tragedy with BP in the Gulf of Mexico makes me crazy with sadness for the damage being inflicted, I am almost as distraught at the political response as I was in the Katrina situation. Although George Bush was a bit quicker on the draw than Barak Obama to go running down there, I am not sure it really makes any difference in the long run. The water kept flowing as does the oil.

As a former environmental regulator I have been there. Sure, our situations were not anywhere near this level of mega-disaster, but we had some pretty tough challenges: algae blooms in Lake Havasu, sewage gushers across the international border at Nogales and false reports from the Scottsdale drinking water quality lab. In all of these cases the government was at least partially at fault. In Lake Havasu thousands of septic tanks were permitted; in the Nogales and Scottsdale cases the local governments were the permittees, the Nogales case being complicated with the fact that the broken sewer line actually crossed the border.

These are complex issues for which a substantial amount of expertise and resources are required. Government can't afford either the former or the latter. But it sure can pretend that it does. There is such a fine line between the practical and the political when government is involved.

The environment is an area where it makes sense to regulate. The impacts, as we can see so vividly in the Gulf mess, are directed at the community. It is more than prudent to hash these issues out in a public forum and debate them in depth, even though we can never quantify all of the true costs. Despite best efforts no regulatory program is fail safe, yet the fact of government regulation gives the public the false sense of a kind of guarantee. Therein lies the crux of the political danger.

There are several reasons why these programs can never really work.

First, we think we know more than we do. We take the expert's word for it because we have no way to counter him. And for sure the worst case scenario cannot be fully vetted because airing the real potential problems is a huge risk if you ever really want to get a permit and as the permittee you are probably the only party with that information.

Second, there will always be human error. No one is perfect and under extreme conditions even less so. I just find it hard to believe that BP would risk this kind of nightmare to save a few bucks on mud or a few parts. Somebody just blew it--big time.

Third, we don't understand the larger picture. It has been said that the reason BP is operating around out there in 5000 feet of water is because the government banned drilling closer to shore in response to concerns about the environmental impacts. At least they have lots of experience in 1400 feet which is by implication a much less risky place to conduct this kind of business, thus proving the adage "be careful what you wish for." Had this potentiality been considered in making the decisions to ban drilling hither and yon (which decisions seem to get made and reversed with an almost knee jerk frequency) and a more comprehensive approach taken with the government serving as the ultimate coordinator to efficiently manage the resource, the proper role for government would be achieved. As it is the politics seem to drive these basic needs determinations.

In its zeal to be on top of it all, the government's failure to put the practical above the political can often be seen as making things worse.

This brings to mind the statement to Congress from the CEO of the West Virginia mining company that recently exploded. The company posits that the government regulators' required changes in the ventilation system, against the advice of the company's own experts, contributed to, if not flat out caused, the gas build up that resulted in the underground devastation that killed so many and closed a facility with a wide economic devastation.

Yep, those armchair pencil pushers know more about this stuff than the folks who do it for a living. I have personal experience with well meaning employees imposing baseless and unsupportable requirements on unsuspecting facilities, in an effort to prove they are doing something important. But many times the obsession with insignificant detail overshadows the larger issue. It takes a well-seasoned professional to appreciate that nuance, a rarity in government—save for the occasional personally dedicated individual, the real experts are making the big bucks in the private sector.

Apparently Obama recognizes that there is not a whole lot the government can do in the BP case. It simply does not have the tools. This is a political reality that it takes a lot of guts to admit; especially with James Carville calling you out on it. (Policy wonks are always at the ready with a criticism but never have a plan in hand.)

How is the President supposed to have a plan? He and his minions are more like the policy wonks than the businessmen, engineers and scientists who work these projects. I applaud Obama for admitting he is not IronMan. That is just a movie. This, sadly, is real life.



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Just Say No to School Lunch or How to put National Security at Risk in Three Easy Lessons

When I was in grade school (public) I loved my school lunch. Maybe it was nothing more than being used to it but I really thought the food was pretty good. And I came from a home where my Mom baked every day and cooked everything from scratch. So I tend to think that I had a pretty highly developed palate. Likewise, my husband, who went to a parochial school where his Aunt was a cook, has fond memories of the lunch food.

But in the last 40 years something horrible happened. I remember being totally disgusted whenever I got anywhere near my daughter’s public school cafeteria. The odor was a noxious plume of chemicals, some in the “food” and some used to clean up after it. They did make a stab at some fresh stuff--the obligatory salad bar which contained bins of “fresh” veggies subject to being mucked around with and breathed over by everyone who came down the line (picture little tykes with runny noses too short to even reach the germ shield) and punctuated with vats of slag parading as “dressing” consisting of more chemistry.

As Jamie Oliver has discovered in his ABC reality series The Food Revolution, the government is apparently at the bottom of this acrid turn of events. And it looks like the government might have the most to lose as a result. Today a number of retired generals are pointing out that the vast majority of our public school students are simply too fat to be admitted into the military. This, they note, is a national security hazard.

I think we are beginning to discover that the government school lunch program has gone the way of government programs in the USSR. Hopefully we will soon have the same sort of epiphany that Gorbachev had and will break up the government monopoly and liberate the school lunch program, relegating it back to the local community where we can integrate eating policies that are derived from common sense and local food.

Ironically, the current school lunch program, which had been evolving since the early part of the 20th century principally as a means to match the rural hunger with the government’s supply of surplus, subsidized foods up until the Great Depression took care of the glut, got its genesis from the same military institutions that are now scared of it. During World War II, military leaders … report[ed] that many recruits were rejected because of stunted growth and inadequate nutrition…and pushed Congress to establish the national school lunch program ….
So where did we go wrong? Just follow Jamie Oliver through his visits with the elementary and high school cafeterias and you will get a good idea. First, there are a set of standards for food service issued by the USDA that are so voluminous the school district coordinator has to use a rolling bin to cart them around. Those standards are derived by people with an agenda that is part and parcel of our national penchant for rearranging every ounce of topsoil in this country to manipulate supply and demand in the agricultural commodities markets both locally and worldwide. So obviously the goal is to move certain foods. What else could be behind the mandate that each meal have not one but two breads? This school lunch standard is clearly derived from the government’s famous food pyramid, which we are finding out now, like most programs cooked up by the politburo, is literally upside down. It calls for lots and lots of bread.

Compare the old one above with the new one below (in classic revisionism this new one provides not an ounce of sensible direction). At least you could read the old one.

Now see the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Pyramid (contrast with the original USDA

Obesity is the cause célèbre among the public health gurus, the news media and, now, even the military. Here are some current stats on childhood obesity:
• 4% overweight 1982 16% overweight 1994
• 25% of all white children 33% African American and Hispanic overweight 2001. [FN1]

What do all these children have in common? The vast majority of them are in public schools where they eat breakfast and lunch defined by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards daily requirements which have more to do with what food should be moved through the system than any concepts of health. As Jamie discovered (and I witnessed through my own child’s experience) under that standard it is perfectly acceptable for the little darlings to eat pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch (and many of them will have the same thing for dinner when they get home). I almost barfed when the school food czar told him that they were putting the pink and brown milk back in the school from which he had it removed because the USDA standard says it is more important for them to get the calcium than to even consider what all the sugar in that crap is doing to their little brains and adrenal glands.
It is not an unbelievable thing that year after year nonprofits organizations like the local Community Food Connections have to return to the legislature to direct the Departments of Agriculture to authorize the use of food stamps at Farmer’s Markets. Traditionally there are no subsidies for Farmer’s Markets and many of these same obese school children eat at home based on what the food stamps will buy.

When you think about it, why in the world is the school lunch program run by the USDA? One would think that the Department of Health would be the more appropriate location. But remember, we started this effort to find places to put subsidized crops. The same problem is at the root of the food pyramid. It is about the supply, and has no consideration whatsoever for what is the appropriate demand.
This is a classic example of how well intentioned massive programs promoted by the government almost always fail under the weight of unintended consequences. Never is the full panoply of variables considered in creating such policies for they are debated by the special interests that coagulate around a particular problem which may or may not have a direct relationship to what is the real consequence.
Perhaps if the Tea Party people started with taking back school lunch, the rest will follow. You never know what unintended consequences will crop up.

FN1: It is always interesting to me that while we are supposedly striving for equality in our country, the government persists in dividing us up by race on everything. What difference does it make when you are measuring kids obesity? Is there a scientific reason for this distinction? If so, is the genetic difference the same for Hispanics and African Americans? I doubt it. This is another example of nonsensical politics distorting the facts. If you group all kids together at least 1/3 of them are porkers. The info, by the way, can be found at: