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.