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Change We Can Believe In, XXII

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Institutionalize Bush civil liberty policies

Yes, I’ve touched on this theme before. But it’s time to circle back, thanks to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley’s op-ed piece in today’s LA Times. The article should be read in full. Here’s a sample:

Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

I have nothing to add to Turley’s conclusion that “the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties.”

Categories: Law, Politics, Torture

Whack-a-Hack

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

What can be more painful than having to read super-hacks* Thomas Friedman and David Brooks? How do they continue to be columnists at the country’s leading newspaper? Worse, how do the silly books they write become bestsellers? (Just two days ago, Friedman’s latest piffle entered the NYT bestseller list at #2. If it has to be that high, couldn’t it at least have done some good up there and taken the #1 spot away from the evil piece of —- whose name I won’t utter?)

Of course, no one has to read their columns, and so I don’t. But fortunately, the New Yorker’s Ric Hertzberg and the Center for Economic Policy and Research’s Dean Baker have been on the case, writing separate posts today on our two hacks’ latest columns.

On Sunday, Friedman was babbling yet again on the need for the two parties to compromise and strike a bargain. Hertzberg is so infuriated he can hardly contain himself. After stating that the column “damn near ruined my Sunday, Hertzberg goes through it in detail. I can’t do justice to Hertzberg’s analysis with a summary, excerpt, or “money quote.” It’s worth reading in full. Nonetheless, let me include a bit from near the end.

On the one hand, the Republicans are lunatics dedicated above all to destroying the Obama Presidency.

On the other hand, Obama didn’t endorse all the provisions of the Simpson-Bowles report.

See? They’re equally bad.

Which is another way of saying that they’re equally good. Which means that if they could just reason together in good faith, with a readiness to compromise their ideological preferences for the sake of the common good, all would be well.

Except that, as Friedman can’t help implicitly acknowledging, they’re not equally bad and equally good—not remotely. One side rationally understands (and fears) the consequences of inaction and is demonstrably willing to compromise. The other side irrationally dismisses (and might even welcome) those consequences and is demonstratively unwilling to compromise.

We don’t know whether, someday, “history” will hold Obama most responsible for what happens. What we do know—and on this point the “we” is everybody—is that, next year, voters will hold Obama most responsible. And we know that even among voters who think that Obama and the Republican leadership are both responsible but Obama less so, many will vote against him because he will be on the ballot everywhere. “The Republican leadership,” an abstraction both faceless and hydra-headed, won’t be.

The true, underlying, and presumably unconscious logic of Friedman’s analysis is that compromise between a side that is insane and unwilling to compromise and a side that is sane and willing to compromise is in fact impossible just now and will continue to be impossible for some time to come. For Obama, a Grand Bargain, which is to say a Grand Compromise, is not currently an option. His real choice is between a Grand Surrender and a Grand Fight.

I know which of the two I want him to choose. I hope Tom Friedman would have him make the same choice.

As for Brooks’ column today, Dean Baker (hat tip, Paul Krugman) gets to the heart of the matter regarding Brooks’ reasoning in his opening:

David Brooks is really upset, we may have a lost decade because he is sitting there being right, standing in the middle, and the two extremes who control public debate won’t agree with him. How do we know Brooks is right? Well, he is in the middle between the two extremes he just told you about, how could he not be right?

Baker focuses on Brooks’ criticism of the Obama stimulus plan as just another example of Democrats’ desire to increase government spending, doing the arithmetic to demonstrate that the stimulus was destined to be too small from the get go. This leads to the following comment.

So how is anything about stimulus disproved because a stimulus that could have been expected to create maybe 3 million jobs was not adequate in a downturn where we needed 10 million jobs? There are no tricks here, this is all arithmetic and it is all right there in black and white.

But, Brooks does not want to be bothered by arithmetic. He wants his readers to support his plans for tax reform, for cutting Social Security and Medicare. In other words he wants his readers’ support for doing all the the things that David Brooks always wanted to do, but he now says that we absolutely have to do because of an economic crisis caused by the incompetence of the people who always wanted to do these things.

Hacks. Just hacks.

*You might wish to review Alex Pareene’s list in Salon last November of the 30 leading hacks among political commentators. I mentioned it in a post at the time, giving special attention once again to Friedman and Brooks.

Categories: Journalism, Politics

The Affair

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I mentioned at the beginning of the month that Lee Child’s 16th Jack Reacher novel would be coming out on September 27. That day has come. Janet Maslin did me no favors by writing a rave review of it in the NYT a full week ago. I was doing my best to get on with my life, keeping my anticipation under wraps, but after learning from her that this edition is something of a prequel, I have been desperate to plunge in.

Maslin notes that “some (like ’61 Hours,’ the 14th) are much better than others (‘Worth Dying For,’ the 15th),” an assessment I share, adding that whatever the quality, “they played by the same rules.” She then explains that “Mr. Child’s 16th book, ‘The Affair,’ shakes up the status quo by delivering the Reacher creation myth.” [Gotta love that NYT style, with the “Mr. Child”, no?] Have we not all hungered for the creation myth? This news was too much to bear.

And now, I am in possession of the book, but not time to read it.

Take tonight. There’s tomorrow’s NYT crossword to do. (I’m printing it right now.) There’s NCIS to watch. I got a new New York Review of Books in today’s mail that I’m eager to look at, plus the latest issues of the American Math Society’s Bulletin and Notices. Pasta by Design, which I wrote about just two nights ago, arrived today.

Tomorrow is no better. It’s the first day of classes, so I’ll be off first thing in the morning to teach. It’s the first monthly meeting of a board I’m on following a summer off, and I have remarks to prepare. And don’t forget, Rosh Hashanah starts tomorrow evening.

What’s a poor Jack Reacher fanatic to do?

By the way, my favorite Language Log linguist, Geoffrey Pullum, wrote a post today about Reacher. He points out, disappointingly, that some comments Lee Child puts in Reacher’s mouth in one of the novels are entirely wrong. But with regard to The Affair, Pullum writes:

Jack Reacher will really get you through a tedious flight. If you don’t mind reading a few descriptions of fairly brutal physical violence, that is: Child’s novels are testosterone-charged thrillers about a murderously tough yet ultimately morally-inclined drifter, Jack Reacher, formerly a special investigator in the US army’s military police, now a sort of lone ranger. The stories start with a bang and soon become unputdownable. I’m not exactly proud of reading these novels, but they are well crafted and exciting, and I will read more. Flying back to Edinburgh on Sunday night after a trip to Paris, with only a quarter of the current book to go, I barely noticed takeoff, and finished the last gripping page just as we began our approach over the Firth of Forth. Perfect trip.

Unputdownable. That’s exactly the problem. I don’t have time to read it straight through, but I know that once I start, I will want to. I differ with Pullum on one point. I’m a proud Reacher fan.

Categories: Books

Pasta by Design

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

What do I love most in the world? Well, yes, Gail. But forget about people. And sports. Let’s try again.

What do I love most in the world? Tough one, right? Is it pasta? Is it math? Let’s just say they’re tied. Guess what? There’s a book about them: Pasta by Design, by George L. Legendre.

I might have missed this book if not for yesterday’s WSJ, whose Saturday Review section devoted most of a page to illustrations from it. I didn’t have to look for long before deciding to order a copy.

The publisher’s website provides the following description of the book:

The pasta family tree reveals unexpected relationships between pasta shapes, their usage and common DNA. Architect George L. Legendre has profiled 92 different kinds of pasta, classifying them into types using ‘phylogeny’ (the study of relatedness among natural forms).

Each spread is devoted to a single pasta, and explains its geographical origin, its process of manufacture and its etymology – alongside suggestions for minute-perfect preparation.

Next the shape is rendered as an equation and as a diagram that shows every distinctive scrunch, ridge and crimp with loving precision. Superb photographs by Stefano Graziani show all the elegant contours.

Finally, a multi-page foldout features a ‘Pasta Family Reunion’ diagram, reassembling all the pasta types and grouping them by their mathematical and geometric properties!

I love the idea of a pasta taxonomy.

If you follow the WSJ link, you’ll see some of the photographs and diagrams. More can be found in this announcement of a book giveaway competition by Dezeen magazine, which explains that the book “includes photographs, 3D diagrams and parametric equations of 92 different pasta types, grouped and analysed according to their mathematical and geometric properties.”

Check out this example, included in the WSJ:

Or this, from Deneen:

I can’t wait to see them all.

Categories: Books, Food, Math

Wine and WSJ

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal]

I don’t know much about wine. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy reading the Saturday wine columns in the Wall Street Journal. I considered it a major calamity when the wife-and-husband team of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher were dropped without explanation at the end of 2009, but I’ve since grown accustomed to their alternating replacements, Lettie Teague and Jay McInerney.

Soon I will be taking my leave of them. They’re not going anywhere; I am. I have decided to stop taking the WSJ once my current one-year commitment comes to an end.

Why? Rupert Murdoch. Need I say more? I can’t stomach contributing to his enterprise. Yes, I know. That means I should also stop watching any and all shows on FOX television. And avoid all other Murdoch-based intrusions on my life. Maybe I will. One step at a time. And the first step is, no more WSJ.

It’s not like I read all that much in the WSJ anyway. I try to remember to look at the daily book reviews. Once a week, this is a problem, since the book review occupies the same page as some of the op-ed contributions, and that one day a week I need to avoid letting my eyes fall on the column by, well, I dare not say his name. That man of evil who is an anagram of Vorr Lake. Not that there is a Vorr Lake, but that’s the best anagram I could come up with. Maybe you can do better.

I look at the sports coverage, the arts and culture coverage. On Fridays, there’s the Friday Journal, a culture section. On Saturdays, another weekly culture section was recently expanded and split in two, resulting in what’s now called Review and Off Duty. I have to say, I will miss them. I think they are extremely well done. I always make it a point to read the contributions of Dan Neil, the automotive columnist and a fine writer. Terry Teachout always has informative pieces on regional theater throughout the US. And then there are Lettie and Jay.

Which brings me to Lettie’s piece yesterday. Off Duty was a special issue devoted to Italy. Accordingly, Lettie wrote about Italian wines:

The wine world is rife with clichés (wines are “made in the vineyard” or “express a terroir”), but the most persistent cliché is that Italian wines go well with food—perhaps better than any other wines in the world. Is it possible that this is one cliché that might actually be true?

There are several reasons why I think it could. First of all, the Italians put the two together quite often, perhaps more often than anyone else. Wine is an important, even inevitable, part of an Italian meal.

Second of all are the wines themselves. An Italian wine has a lot of acidity. Italians love acidity the way Americans love sugar or the way the French love a wine that only they can pronounce properly. Acidity is a critical component in a wine paired with food. It can cut through the fat of a Florentine steak or the richness of a plate of pasta Bolognese. A wine with low acidity becomes tiresome to drink, while a wine with a brisk acidity keeps the palate stimulated. Or as Tuscan producer Giovanni Folonari put it, “Acidity makes you want to eat and drink more.” (Who knew acidity was also an Italian sales tool?)

That’s the start of the article. In the end, after a tasting of 40 or so wines, she recommends five. Regarding the tasting, she explains, “I chose wines from all over the boot—from the Valle d’Aoste, in Italy’s extreme north, to Sicily—and concentrated on examples that had the characteristics that would make them good companions to food. They weren’t necessarily the showiest wines—Barolos and Barbarescos or Super Tuscans (though such wines from the right producers can go well with food, too). Instead, they were the earthier, less exalted (and less expensive) wines—the kind the Italians themselves most commonly drink with meals.”

Follow the link to see what she suggests. There’s a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for just $11 that I’m thinking we should add to our cellar, since we’re always happy to drink Montepulciano.

Wines aside, you might enjoy the accompanying slide show from around Italy.

Ciao, Lettie. Ciao, WSJ. I wish things could have been different.

Categories: Newspapers, Wine

Delancey

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[Delancey, from their website]

Another day, another restaurant. It’s not my goal to turn this into a food blog, but we keep eating at interesting restaurants, so what can I do? Last night, we ate at Delancey, which I’ll get to in a bit.

When I moved here thirty years ago, it was difficult to find pizza like what I was accustomed to in New York and Boston. Pagliacci had opened its first place near the university a couple of years before. Piecora’s, which styles itself as a Brooklyn kind of place, opened a year after. I wouldn’t get to Piecora’s for years. I met Gail and was introduced to two of her favorites, Northlake Tavern and Italian Spaghetti House. Northlake, being a bar, was filled with smokers, and I couldn’t bear eating there. When we took out, I thought its product the anti-pizza. It was all about toppings, with a mediocre crust. The Italian Spaghetti House’s pizza was mediocre in a more all-around way.

Funny thing is, my tastes changed, adjusting I suppose to what was available. We bought a home on the same street as the Italian Spaghetti House and in our last couple of years there, I would routinely and happily drive over the hill and down to take out their pizza. As for Northlake, well, it would eventually become my favorite Seattle hangout, thanks in part to the banning of smokers and in part to my growing friendship with their number one customer. I could eat their pizza every night.

Meanwhile, over the last decade, more and more small pizza places have opened that make thin-crust pizza of the sort one might find in Italy. Even before the last decade, there was Cafe Lago, with their near-perfect thin-crust, wood-oven-baked pizzas. We discovered them soon after they opened, then moved to within walking distance of them, or a short drive. More recently, we began to eat at Tutta Bella, Via Tribunali, and Tom Douglas’s Serious Pie, each superb in its own way. We aren’t lacking in thin-crust pizza places here, that’s for sure.

And then there’s Delancey. It opened two years ago to some fanfare. I read about it, made a note to eat there some time. The problem is, it’s in Ballard, not all that far from our neighborhood, but far enough that I’m never motivated to drive that far. Ballard, as it turns out, is Gail’s home turf. It was once an independent city, annexed by Seattle in 1907. And it became the home of a large Scandinavian immigrant community, including many fishing families. When I first met Gail, that hadn’t changed much, but it would soon. With easy access to downtown, by car or bus, and modestly priced houses, it has become home to many young families, with older Scandinavians selling or dying while their children moved on. (Gail’s family is an example of this process.) And home to many new restaurants that are regularly praised in the local and national press. My unwillingness to get over that way means we don’t get to try all these restaurants.

One more strand. Seattle is home to one of the most widely read food bloggers in the world, Molly Wizenberg. Gail subscribes to her blog, Orangette. I never have. I knew of her. And I knew she started some restaurant recently. But that was about it, until we went to a huge fundraising luncheon last March for a local cancer care organization at which Molly was the keynote speaker. She spoke not about herself but about her mother, whose bout with cancer brought Molly to Seattle. That’s when I finally put all the pieces together and realized that Molly was the well-known food blogger who had started a pizza place in Ballard — Delancey — with her husband and that we really should go there.

It’s a bit of a puzzle that I entirely missed the piece about Delancey just two months ago in the NYT travel section. As Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan explains,

On a quiet street in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle sits a cozy little restaurant on the verge of being thrust into a rather public life.

Delancey, a chic yet unassuming pizzeria whose décor makes you feel as if you’ve walked into your hipster neighbor’s dining room midmeal, is the love child of Brandon Pettit, a former New York music student, and his wife, Molly Wizenberg, one of the Internet’s most widely read food bloggers. Ms. Wizenberg has been detailing the daily rhythms of her kitchen and life on her blog Orangette since 2004, so it’s not surprising that this restaurant will soon be part of her material. In April she signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster to write “Delancey,” a memoir about the trials and tribulations of opening the restaurant with Mr. Pettit, scheduled for publication in spring 2013.

[snip]

The idea for the restaurant grew out of Mr. Pettit’s longing for the pizzas he grew up with in New York and New Jersey. (Ms. Wizenberg said he spent two years working to replicate New York-style doughs to his satisfaction. This included chatting up the makers of Di Fara Pizza in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, whose pies he missed the most.)

Four weeks ago, we were at a party at our friend Paul’s house and got to talking with Brooke and Robin about never getting to Ballard because driving there is such a pain, agreeing that as a result we never get to try restaurants such as Delancey. A pact was made. We would go to Delancey together. Last night was the night we agreed on.

Now that I’ve managed to explain what brought us there, the rest will be anti-climactic, as I don’t have a lot more to say. We were anxious about being able to get a table. Reservations are taken for parties of six or more. It would be crowded on a Saturday evening. But we got lucky. A four-top opened up when Brooke and Robin arrived. We drove up just after them, parked, and as we reached the front door where they were waiting, we were seated. Which was a good thing. There’s no bar or other area to wait in. One simply stands outside, amongst the diners availing themselves of the outdoor seating. Had there been a long wait, we might have moved on in search of one of the other Ballard restaurants we had never tried.

The menu is limited. The NYT article notes that the “appetizers change seasonally but a constant is a mound of shaved cabbage and romaine modeled after the chopped salads Mr. Pettit loved in New Jersey pizzerias.” That’s called the Jersey salad, described on the menu as having Romaine, red cabbage, Grana, housemade “Italian” dressing. The other two options were heirloom tomatoes with feta cheese and a meat plate with prosciutto and salami. As we studied these, we ordered a bottle of Austrian rosé, with Robin and Brooke’s recent trip to Austria in mind. Ultimately, we chose to share the Jersey salad and the tomatoes. Not being a feta fan, I can’t say much about the tomatoes, but the salad was first rate, a great way to start the meal.

When it came to the pizzas, we decided to share one Margherita (Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, basil) and one Sausage (tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, grana, housemade sausage). The one special for the night was the availability of Padrón chiles as a topping or side dish. We ordered them on the side.

Everyone makes a Margherita, of course. How does this compare? I don’t really know what to say. Driving home, I mentioned to Gail that it was very close in taste and texture to Cafe Lago’s. In a blind taste testing, I might not know the difference. But that’s a good thing, since I don’t think there’s a better Margherita pizza in the city than Cafe Lago’s. The crust is thin, burnt at the edges (also a good thing, though perhaps not in the mind of one of last night’s diners); the cheese, tomato, and basil each was distinctive and excellent. I couldn’t have been happier. The Sausage was a good contrast. The housemade sausage was fabulous, making the pizza itself fabulous as well. And those Padrón peppers were pretty darn hot. They went well with everything.

We still had a little room for dessert. There were three: a plum galette, figs with a honey mousse, and a chocolate chip cookie. Gail and I had the galette. Brooke and Robin shared a galette and the figs. The galette had a crust that was just right. Gail loves Italian plums and wasn’t disappointed. (Neither was I. It was excellent.) As far as I could tell, the fig dessert was pretty good too.

I would have liked to try one of those chocolate chip cookies. For that matter, I’d like to try several of the other pizzas. I know — reason to go back. But next time we get over to Ballard for dinner, we should try another of the exciting restaurants over there. Staple & Fancy Mercantile perhaps.

Categories: Restaurants

Another Rover’s Lunch

September 23, 2011 1 comment

Rover's

[From their website]

Perhaps I’ve written enough about Rover’s, but it’s hard to pass up a short note about today’s marvelous lunch. As I have explained many times, Rover’s is the French restaurant not far from our house that is among the best restaurants in Seattle. For too many years, despite its convenient location, within walking distance, we eschewed it. But then they opened for Friday lunches, and two summers ago we ate their regularly.

Unfortunately, we’ve eaten at Rover’s only a handful of times since, partly because I have a habit of working on Fridays. But summer is more flexible, which is why we made it a point to start the summer with lunch there. Today, in effect, was the end of summer and my last day of flexibility for months to come. So when our friend Russ suggested last Friday that we join him at Rover’s today for a belated celebration of his milestone birthday, we wasted no time saying yes.

The menu currently posted online appears to be a faithful representation of today’s in-person menu. That makes it easy for me to tell you what we ordered. We had three different appetizers. For me, the Polenta, Summer Squash Succotash, Arugula; for Gail, the Dungeness Crab, Haricot Vert, Mango, Citrus Vinaigrette; for Russ, Seared Scallop, Peas, Mushrooms, Seafood Nage. My polenta, prepared with goat cheese, was superb. Gail’s crab, mixed with mango, was shaped into a disk that sat atop a disk of finely cut haricot vert, with a small arugula salad on the side. The presentation was beautiful.

We all settled on the same main course: Wagyu Beef, Lentil, Wild Mushrooms, Thyme Sauce. The beef was thinly cut and delicious. The lentil and mushroom mix was lovely both visually and in the mouth. We also all had the same dessert: Chocolate Bavarian, Cherry, Pistachio. It was light, fluffy, and perfect. Oh, I didn’t mention the toasted hazelnuts on the polenta. They added just the right crunchiness.

We began the meal with sparkling wines. Gail and I had glasses of a French rosé. Russ had a glass of champagne. I don’t remember what any of us had specifically. Russ chose the wine for dinner, DeLille Cellars2003 Syrah. According to the website, it “is blended with two percent Viognier which gives its floral, orange blossom notes. Deep black purple color. Concentrated chocolate, raspberries and pomegranates are combined with espresso, white pepper and a floral nose. It is dense and dark with a wonderful plush mouth-feel and expressive balance.”

Just so. Well, what do I know? And anyway, I only tasted it. But it was wonderful, and it did have an expressive balance. Russ chose well.

Maybe we can squeeze in a Rover’s lunch in December. And there’s always dinner. That might be something to think about.

By the way — thank you, Russ!

Categories: Restaurants