Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Need Some Hope?

Link to the radio program, you can download it for free from iTunes or listen to it on the web

I frequently post links to the radio program This American Life on my blog. Why? Because they present radio pieces that strike a deep chord in me, sometimes sad, often hysterical, and at times, hopeful that individual actions can make a difference, large or small. I load podcasts of all stripes onto my iPod and listen to them on the subway.

This week's episode was entitled "Go Big" and explored stories of people who had blown up their notions of how things work and tried something completely different. The second and third story are forgettable but the intro and the first story talk about Geoffrey Canada, a long time hero of Central Harlem. It follows his reversal of personal philosophy around how to improve the lives of people in Harlem. He went from lifting a few out of poverty through intensive mentoring and supports to attempting to lift many, often unborn children, by applying cutting edge research on early childhood development and teaching parenting skills to the community.

In the public policy world, early childhood care and development has been shown to be a cost-effective way to address the achievement gap, high crime rates, the dropout crisis, high prison rates, and other chronic urban poverty ills. Geoffrey Canada's thesis is simple: teach poor people what wealthy and middle class people have know for years, investment in early learning is vital for raising a child. It also breaks down what appears to be a huge problem, the cycle of urban poverty, into small, teachable actions that are easy to understand and put into play.

The radio program does an excellent job of letting both Canada and a struggling young couple talk about the program and backs it up with interviews of researchers who actually know how to translate their work into everyday language.

In a time of great uncertainty and anger, who couldn't use a little hope to inspire you to believe that one person can really change the world?

Furry Guy III

I hope my mom doesn't mind me posting these emails about her adventures in nature, they're just too funny, especially since my mom lives and works in the heart of suburban NJ. She seems to be haunted this year by wildlife. I just hope another raccoon doesn't nest in the chimney or a squirrel doesn't scare Kate in the basement. Just for a bit of context, this happened at the Chamber of Commerce office in town (she's the ED).

cannot believe what just happened...get the "have a heart trap" back...

It started like this...I leave the office door open for air on nice days...
today I am working on the computer...head down....I hear thump...
thump...I think someone is coming around the corner to come into
the office....I look up over the computer ...and sitting in the conference
room...straight ahead...is a squirrel sitting on a chair ready looking up
at the big table....I jump up run in the room...saying "there will no
poop or dupe" in here today (caused I cleaned the office yesterday)
he looks at me and off he goes....

so...15 minutes later....I am now in a meeting in the conference room
and I hear thump...thump...I see this squirrel...walking under my desk...
I jump up...he is now sitting in my chair looking at the computer...like
he is waiting to answer the phone...get the trap ready...the other two
furry guys cousin's are on their way....

what is it with the animals today...they just make themselves at home...
now if we could get them to do house work and cook...this would be
thats it...I am going to get one of those baby gates for the door...
have a good one!

Oh Geeze

A big disclaimer: I'm a science teacher not an economist, this is my best attempt to figure this stuff out.

I didn't really want to get up this morning. I spent enough time trying to figure out the economic crisis last night and the
"bailout" bill to begin to form an opinion about the $700 billion bailout package. I couldn't explain it to you but Paul Krugman of the NY Times has given the best answers I've seen so far as to what is happening and why government action matters. The basic takeaway: Wall Street doesn't matter as much as the credit market (the ability to borrow money to keep your daily business going) and right now banks are afraid to give any money out because they don't know if they are going to get it back. Banks are afraid to lend to banks because they don't know how much "toxic debt" (mostly those subprime mortgages) that banks have nor do they know how much or how little that debt it worth. They are afraid of what could be there and like people during the depression want to figuratively stuff it under their mattresses where it is better safe than sorry.

This hurts the economy when a business goes to borrow money to keep its doors open. Commercial lending seems to be very different than personal lending and much more common. For instance, a construction company gets the contract for a big job to build a house. They get an upfront payment from the client but it won't be enough to cover the costs of materials, labor, insurance, and all of those things so they borrow money from the bank to cover the costs of the project until its done. I have no idea about the historical context of this type of financing but I know it allows the current economy to function. So if banks won't lend money, businesses can't make their payroll, purchase supplies, etc and that's how people get laid off. This comes back to the subprime mortgages by way of banks and investors (who give money to banks to invest with) who are now so afraid of risking their money they want the safest place to put their cash. So, the government doesn't really have to bail out wall street, it has to get the credit markets unstuck. The bailout seems to embrace the theory that the government would buy up these toxic debts and make banks less afraid of each other and more likely to lend money.

My opinion on Congress is mixed. First, I'm a bit panicked and I want them to do something, anything that might free up the credit markets so that businesses can get the debt they need to keep functioning. But, once I move the panic aside I can think a little more clearly about it and I want the government to come up with the best possible solution to the current problem. From what I heard this was not this bailout bill. From what I heard from a wide political spectrum was the Representatives hated this bill and were fundamentally opposed to it. (Dems because it didn't have enough protections for individual people and Republicans because they believe for a capitalistic system to work you need a free market economy that is left to correct itself without government intervention). So while there was politicking and the entire government looked like spoiled children, everyone seemed relieved that it hadn't passed because no one, even those who voted for it, liked it. But there was a deep belief that something, anything needed to be done.

So while I currently hate politicians this one was less political that I originally thought. This one was, at its core, about beliefs about the role of government in your everyday lives, and while its not pretty, it is fascinating to watch.

Unfortunately, it's fascinating to watch like you slow down at the scene of an accident and like that accident, something needs to be done and done quickly to free up money. There are a number of smart people who have good ideas that are politically palatable but those ideas take a long time to get from idea form into problem solved form.

Monday, September 29, 2008

October Eat Local Challange

Alright, it's another eat local challange and this one is for the month of October. I enjoyed the One Local Summer Challange because it forced me to learn about my neighborhood and to fit what I cook to what I can find. Almost every recipe I have posted over the past few months has been made with local ingredients. Since OLS ended I've been much more lax about visits to the farmers market and cooking dinner.

The organizers wanted us to write up the answers to the following questions: What is your definition of local? What exemptions do you claim? What is your goal for the month?

1) What is your definition of local?
I have a relatively lax definition of local. I consider anything from NY, NJ and PA to be local and anything that I buy at the farmers market.
2) What exemptions do you claim?
I claim spices, tea, sugar (though I try to use more honey now a days), my flour is from Vermont, and chocolate.
3) What are you goals for the month?
I would like to personally eat one local meal a day which is really easy since I eat eggs almost every day for breakfast. I would like to make one new local recipe each week and attempt to have as much local food at my dinner parties as possible. The most important part of this is to expand my recipe collection which is easily done by foraging at the farmers market and going shopping without a plan.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rainy Weekend

Our Mess

An updated bathroom our "house of little creatures" that is decorated with preserved specimens

The new, cleaned and suddenly bigger tiny bedroom. It had been filled with our unpacked boxes is now a cosy spot awaiting Peter's dream massage chair.

This was my dad's poster. It had to live in the basement due to its crass nature but I've always loved it. It always confused me until one day I got it and realized that my dad was the funniest person I knew. Peter wouldn't let me hang it anywhere but my office so now I can look at it and think about my dad's sense of humor.

What's a girl to do on a rainy weekend? Compulsively clean the house of course. We've moved twice in the past 1.5 years and both times we basically had to shove everything (including the dust bunnies) in boxes and move out. When we moved into our current house we managed to unpack most of the boxes and get things shoved inside our closets and forget about them for six months.

I needed to get a few things done: vacuum, donate old clothing, clean fridge to get ride of grossness, and organize my desk. Somehow this turned into about 10 bags of trash and 5 bags of recyclable paper. We went through everything and managed to throw out a lot of stuff.

We also had a great dinner at Kate and Vic's last night. Kate and Vic really know how to throw a dinner party and weren't phased at all by the rain. It was nice to have Amanda back from her travels (South of France, Saratoga, London, Paris, Copenhagen, etc) and to given Sonny a chance to show us was a great kid he is. We've always had a wonderful time as a family but there is a closeness and familiarity since my dad died. There must be something about spending two weeks locked in a hospital room together on your way to hell that allows you to bring each other back. Amanda put it most aptly when she said we were shoveling each other along. Now that we've had some time to grieve, we are starting to define ourselves as a similar but different family. One that I suspect will be overrun with babies in the next five years.

Given that my sister Kate is such a great and super healthy cook, I wanted to give her a chance to post some recipes. Once I figure that out we should have our very own guest blogger.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Prospect Park

This weekend i dragged my husband along with me to take pictures. We were heading for the botanical gardens but didn't have time so we took some pictures around the park. He shot with the D200 and a 24-120mm lens and I shot with the D70 and the 70-200mm lens.

We walked from the bandshell past the dog beach and then over to the Prospect Park Boat house. Oddly enough there was a photoshoot for what looked liked children's clothing on the bridge so I didn't want to take too many pictures.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Puppies and Kittens

I've gotten into this little habit when people ask me about politics. I begin to talk and after a few words I break down and admit that I spend my days (when I'm not being a serious working girl) looking at pictures of puppies and kittens on the internets. That is a half truth. I follow a few blogs (those are the infamous left wing blogs to some people) about federal politics, watch the daily show, and have fallen completely in love with Rachel Maddow.

So I do follow politics but for every minute of politics I have to spend at least 3 or 4 minutes looking at puppies and kittens on the internet, watching home renovation shows, or blogging obsessively about my garden. I just can't handle the reality of the situation so I bury my head in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening. I should warn those of you who are looking for a cure to your burn out reality blues that this method doesn't work. All is does is lead to excessive snuggling with anything furry, whining about wanting a dog, and rationalizations that you're really not that allergic to cats.

The funny thing is, as long as you don't go looking for it, you can basically ignore politics. After learning about John McCain's campaign suspension I turned on the local news to see what they would report. Fox 5 in NY had a 5 minute segment about the giants, 5 minutes on the Yankees not making the playoffs since 1995 (RIP), 10 minutes on the medical dangers of David Blaine's latest stunt, and a single sentence on McCain's suspension. I could easily have turned off the TV, gone to my dance class, and then fell asleep in my oh so pleasing narcoleptic slumber. But, I won't. I'll read the commie blogs, watch the lovely Rachel Maddow, and try to find solace in John Stewart's humor and then I'll go back to the puppies and kittens.

In case you need some puppies and kittens:
More pups, see the Daily Chuck

And your welcome.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Sad Farewell

Links to all of my pictures from the game

We were very lucky growing up that we basically stayed in the same place. We went to the same schools, stayed in the same town, and had a close knit group of friends and family. Like any family, especially one structured as ours was, we had our ups and downs (like you know, puberty). The one place that always brought us together was Yankee Stadium and last night was the final game held at the old ball park.

I'm not sure when my dad got his hands on season tickets but we've been going to games as long as I can remember. He had been going to games as long as he could remember and at each game we heard stories of his childhood and even his father's antics with the team in the 50's and 60's.

The list of memories is endless and doesn't just include our immediate family. We had four season tickets at the loge level on the first base side, section 13, box 447 and my dad loved to extend an invitation to anyone who would enjoy the ticket. "Meg I've got some tickets to the game this weekend, can you use them?" was a familiar question. He would also begin preparing for opening day right around Valentines Day. He'd call with the date and an offer of a "tube steak" and beer. There were opening days at the stadium where it snowed, rained, was 90 degrees, or something in between and he was always there with his Yankee hat not quite sitting correctly on his hat, a beer in his hand, and a two-handed high five when ever anyone got a home run. He discouraged booing and always tipped the beer man. He would make friends with anyone around him and talk your ear off when he wasn't sitting quietly, intently watching the game.

Perhaps the only flaw in the way he watched the game was that fact that we almost always left early due to the traffic and the long walk to the car over the Macombs Dam Bridge.

I was surprised, given the intertwining of Yankee Stadium and my dad that it wasn't a more emotional game. I should admit that I cried when we first walked in (and that I'm a bit teary now) but last night really felt like a celebration and a trip down memory lane. We really grew up there from when the Yankees were terrible and it felt a bit like taking your life in your hand to drive into the Bronx to last night when I dragged my husband on the subway all the way from Brooklyn. I had always hoped to bring my own children to a game with Grandpa Jim but I know Aunt Kate will fill their ears with tall tales of the glory years of the late 90's or the lean years of the late 80's/early 90's when you were lucky to get you car back with all of its hubcaps.

I hope that we can all bring our kids there and that I can be that kind of crazy aunt who tells stories of when I was a little girl and we used to eat tasteless salads at the Stadium club, when I bought my first legal beer with my mom sitting behind home plate, or went on the second date with my husband.

I think my favorite memory, probably one of the best in the world, is at the start of every season, turning the corner into section 13 and seeing, for the first time after a long winter filled with boring sports like basketball, the first hit of perfectly manicured green grass. So goodbye old stadium and hello new one. You've got big shoes to fill.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How Are Things in NYC?

I'm calling colleagues all over the country for a fact finding project at work. Inevitably they ask me how things are in NY. "Is it raining stock brokers?" seems to be a common, if not odd question during these times of financial implosion. All of this negative economic news (which can be countered with pictures of LOL dogs and cats) has left me aware of my ignorance of most things financial. If you too are feeling a bit financially illiterate these days let me offer you two informative pieces.

Michael Lewis's ""Let's Look on the Bright Side"

And probably the best, an hour long easy to understand radio program on how your mortgage connects to the global credit crisis

If you, like me had no idea how bad mortgages could lead to the global financial crisis, try to take the time to listen to the radio piece. It's well worth the time and will make you feel tech savvy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Linked Recipes. No Way!

I had a lovely dinner with a friend of mine from high school and she suggested that I figure out how to link the name of the recipe to the actual recipe. So, I crafted a somewhat clumsy solution that enables you to click on the name of the recipe and be brought to the actual recipe. As if in revenge, I now have to go through a find where each of the recipes are within all of those cryptically named blog posts. Meg, look at the pancake recipe!

If I Seem a Little Crazy...

Photo stolen from http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com/ (the funniest bad cake site ever)

Please forgive me. I'm going to a new sleep doctor in NY (for the record I loved my old sleep doctor in DC but well, she's in DC) and discussed with the team (yes I have a whole team because my condition is "quite unique in a female your age" and my tests results were "strikingly abnormal", so I have a team) the fact that I was dissatisfied with one of my medications because it made me gain weight.

Me: So, I've put on like 10-15 pounds since going on it a year ago.
Team: What are you doing to control your weight given the side effect.
Me: No, I just want you to put me on something else, I can't afford to buy a new set of pants, it will financially and emotionally break me to have to buy new pants.
Team: The medication works exceptionally well.
Me: But the pants.
Team: Given the fact that there are few medications to treat this and the other ones will make you grow chest hair or sprout extra digits, why don't you just try to better control your weight with diet.
Me: You're not listening to me about the pants.
Team: Just watch what you eat. Can you really fall asleep in 4 seconds?
Me: Technically, yes.

So, in an attempt to not look like a whiny 15 year old I'm trying to watch what I eat. A few years ago I went to see a nutritionist (a free perk of being a grad student at Columbia) and her advice was simple: cut the carbs.

Me: Seriously? But the scones, chocolate, and tortillas that I eat in my sleep.
Her: Yup, it's pretty simple. Wait, you eat tortillas in your sleep. Is that in your food log?
Me: Yup, can't have them in the house.
Her: What department are you in?
Me: unintelligible babble about education and saving the world...
Her: Nevermind. Just cut the carbs.

Cut to present day.

It's been a lowcarb week and I'm beginning to think I'm a bit schizo. Where did these voices come from that tell me to eat the cookie? Why does the chocolate cross that a friend gave me scream "Eat me!" Why did my mouth turn into a nan bread vortex last night? It's starting to effect my work. The last strategy memo I wrote simply said:

To: LJG (my boss)
From: MPG (Me)
RE: NYS Stem Cell Foundation

Are there carbs in stem cells? Do they taste sweet? Why do the cookies talk to me?

Luckily my office mate assured me that the voices go away but only after 10-12 days. I'm also not supposed to drink any alcohol (1) 'cause there's carbs in the swill (2) it will mess with my sleep log. I may have to take up smoking. If not, I may have to get a second job to pay for new pants.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sheep Station Park Slope

Sheep Station's Web Page with Directions

I'd sort of given up on bars. They're noisy and I'm old and I usually can't find a place to sit. What I liked about Sheep Station is that it is mellow, has a great menu, and isn't overpriced. I had walked past the place a few times on my way to work and had a friend tell me that they had the best meat pies she had ever eaten.

What is a meat pie you ask? Its a stuffed puff pastry with meat, veggie, and sauce filling. Think pot pie without the little tin thingy that they come in. I had the vegetable curry pie, which was a mild curry with a lots of peas, potatoes, and carrots while Ab had the meat pie. She ate it so fast I didn't get a chance to get a bite. I also had a nice big rocket salad (translation: arugula) with pickled beets and a hard sheep's milk cheese on top.

Ab termed their menu "Aussie Bar Food" and it was a lot of grilled meat and potatoes with a nice mix of sandwiches, appetizers, and entrees. Their only dessert: sticky toffee pudding (damn you low carb diet, damn you straight to the Gowanus Canal). They had a small but nice wine list of NZ and Aussie wines with what looked like 10 beers on tap with some fruity drinks listed as well. The service left something to be desired but being nice but assertive (a nice change up from the usual passive but aggressive) worked well enough to get us our food and some really big pours on the wine (it's nice to have a cute blond friend).

The crowd minded their own business, appeared to be having interesting conversations, and were happily munching on various meals. There is a front room with the bar, some small 2-person tables, and a large table with a back room that contained more small tables and one large picnic table that appeared to be hosting a D& D game. They may have had a fireplace but I'm not sure. I was thinking it would be a great place to have book club.

My favorite parts: the large windows looking out onto 4th ave and our $50 tab for a full dinner and drinks.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

And the Theme of the Day... Terrified Horses

I hopped on the F train and headed out to Coney Island for what I hope will become a Sunday photography ritual. I realized that I had a lot more great pictures than I could put on the web and am trying to figure out what is the best way to share them so that anyone can look at them. I tried flickr but it doesn't want my money to upgrade to their professional account. I'm trying Picasa right now so maybe I'll be back with a link in a few minutes.

Coney Island is always a fun, sort of wacky place to visit. I haven't been back for a while but I was excited to take some pictures of it when it wasn't overrun with the summer crowds. I took two lenses out with me, the 24- 120 mm zoom and the 70 to 200 mm zoom. Both are wonderful and are a really nice addition. I did shoot some pictures at night with it so I'm getting there. I have also been shooting with the 55mm which basically gives you a 1:1 ratio in terms of magnification. The two that I used today shot nicely through a range, from a wide angle to a zoom of 20 feet giving me the freedom to shoot faces and a kite surfer.

So back to Coney Island. The boardwalk area is in the middle of redevelopment. I don't know the particulars but I know a lot of people in Brooklyn aren't happy with the pace or the level of committment by the developer. There are for rent/for sale signs everywhere and many tarped off areas and places that had been left for dead. The area has always had such areas but these new ones are in the heavily developed park spots.

As always the place was crawling with people fishing, swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the rides. I finally figure out how to get over my shyness and take pictures of people, bring a really big lens and shoot from a far.

So here are a few pics and I hope to have a link to all of them up in a bit.
As promised, a link to many of today's shots

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Molecular Gastronomy Explanation

Ok, I wanted to write a post about something I didn't hate and I can't say that I hated wd~50 but I can't really say that I loved it. In fact, I can only give a lukewarm reaction to it. Let me start with a bit of background. wd~50 is Wylie Defresne's (pronounced dufraine) restaurant on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side. The style is molecular gastronomy which to the best of my ability means taking a representation of a flavor or dish and transforming the method of delivery. I sort of think of it as jelly belly jelly beans, it may not look like toasted popcorn but it sure tastes like it.

Molecular gastronomy also uses science to cook food to exacting specifications. We ate some in this style in Spain and had such dishes as cod mousse and tune and chocolate and we enjoyed the heck out of it.

The space is very dark with a large slab of back lit marble on the wall. It's well lit and there is a window that exposes the kitchen to the dining room. I was an idiot and didn't peak in.

We had really high expectations for our birthday/anniversary meal and knew that we would have to pay a pretty penny for the tasting menu with wine pairing. I'll try to describe the menu that we had:

Amuse: Chick Pea fries with pickled cucumber. Very tasty and something to play around with at home.
First: Rouget (a fish), garlic, cucumber, molasses- I don't remember this dish at all (sorry!)
Second: Grilled Corn Pebbles. These looked like corn pops and tasted like liquid smoke. They had a nice lime mayo on them but the overpowering smoke taste didn't allow for the sweetness of the corn to come through. Apparently these pebbles are a staple of the restaurant but we too smokey to enjoy.
Third: Knot Foie- This was a thin tube of foie gras, tied in a know and covered with spots of gel kimchi and some sort of crunchy ball. Tasted all together this was excellent. Peter's response "this tastes exactly like Velveeta and cheerios", apparently a favorite of his from childhood.
Fourth: Hamachi tartare, sake tahini, and a grapefruit-shallot jam. This was almost inedible for us. The very fishy hamachi overpowered everything and the sake tahini and grapefruit jam only made it taste fishier and more bitter. Our neighbors, who had eaten there many times loved it, so if you like fishy fish this may be right up your alley.
Fifth:Eggs Benedict: A square of egg yolk, fried square of hollendaise sauce, and thin crisps of Canadian bacon. This tasted exactly like eggs Benedict so it was delicious. It was cute and they did a meat less option using spinach for the couple at the next table.
Sixth:Crab tail and soybean noodles- This was like a little pillow. The noodle and crab were very thin and floating in a light broth. The cinnamon was the main taste but the texture was the star of the show.
Seventh: Chicken liver spaetzle- This was a great dish and I think represents what MG is all about. The spaetzle was rich and the pine needle oil was nicely offset by the bitter chocolate. The dish was a bowl with the spaetzle in the bottom and the rim of the bowl was rubbed with the pine needle oil and had the raw chocolate on it. It was distinctively piney and good.
Eighth: Peter had a beef tongue dish and I had a rabbit dish but I can't really remember anything about it other than it was perfectly cook and not seared.
The last few dishes were the desserts and were by far the best part of the meal. The best dish was the brown butter sorbet. I'm not sure how it was a sorbet but that's the magic of the style.

So, we had a huge tasting menu and wine pairing and it was good. It didn't come close to our molecular gastronomy experience in Spain not did it compare to the tasting menus at many other restaurants. I was also a bit disappointed that many of the dishes on the menu were staple items. I think of tasting menus as a flight of fancy for the chef and for him to try some new and exciting things.

So if you want a fancy tasting menu and wine pairing and have $350 a person to spend go ahead. For my money I'll probably go somewhere else.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Anniversary Flowers

We recently celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary and were greeted by lovely flowers from my mom and stepmom. I thought I'd post some pictures to brighten my day!

The white and green flowers come from GRDN on Hoyt Street (http://www.grdnbklyn.com/about/) and the colorful ones are the spring mix from Blooms on Fifth (http://www.bloomsonfifth.com/). Both are lovely options for your sending us flowers needs.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11

There was a noticably quiet air about work today. I think grieving means that we shift between living our normal life and flashing to memories that unplug holes in our grief. After 7 years my life has been consumed by other griefs but just a few minutes ago I opened up cnn.com and watched their photographic retrospective of 9/11.
There are millions of stories like mine but I want to write it down, mark it, and encourage everyone to share not only their memories of that day but the ways in which it changed the way you think about life.

September 11, 2001 was my first day teaching. I was filling in for the spanish teacher and teaching in one of the basement classrooms (Mr. Dixon's old room). I had been at the school as a substitute teacher for a few days but this was my first actually in control of a classroom, in this case 7th graders. I taught the first period and then went upstairs to the library to hang out with the other teachers when someone turned on the TV. At first we thought the burning building was hit accidentally by a commercial jet. The french teacher called her husband on the phone. He was in the other tower and screamed at him until he hung up and left the building. He kept insisting that it was the other tower but finally relented and went downstairs. This may be the first ever recorded life saved through nagging.

The planes feel like they fly really low over the city so that seemed plausible and then while we were watching another plane, that looked teeny tiny on the screen flew into the second tower. It looked like a Cessna or some other small private plane and we thought that it had flown into the building as it was trying to help people.

It never occured to me what was going on nor did I remember that my dad was supposed to be in downtown brooklyn, right across the water and my mom was supposed to be at the Wintergarden, across the street.

I went to my next class and the kids had a sense that something was happening. Anyone who had a parent who worked in lower manhattan was pulled out of class and picked up by a parent and while neither the kids nor I knew the extent of what had happened, it felt like it made a much bigger impact on our small school.

I could hear the screams from down the hall. The administrators were slipping the teachers slips of paper to read. When I got mine I read it to the class and they didn't really know what to do. I'm not sure what happened after than but we kept the classes running through the next few periods.

At lunch, I walked into the teachers' lounge and heard "I can't believe they came down". I had no idea that the buildings had fallen though I had a sense that they were probably burned to a crisp. I couldn't really imagine buildings just being gone.

At some point, I realized that my parents were both around there. My mom hadn't gone in and my dad was alright hunkered down in a hotel room with a cooler of beer, all the food he could buy at the 711, and a ton of his workmen. They were laying low until the smoke cleared and then would wind they way home through Long Island and Rockland County.

Like most people I sat in silence searching for any piece of news I could find. I went home and my step-mom and I freaked out when a plane roared overhear because we thought it must be another attack. It was mostly speculation and stories but I still couldn't believe that the buildings were gone. I drove up to the lookout point in Ridgewood and saw the smoke for myself.

For me the biggest impact was in the coming weeks. While it has initially seemed like a lot of kids would be affected, the final numbers were much smaller. Three kids lost a parent and I, being a staff member that floated a lot, we assigned to watch the youngest and moniter him for any signs of distress. The kid never missed a day of school, never said a word about it, and acted as if nothing happened.

Now that I've lost my dad I get that but at the time it totally weirded me out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Do We Know What Their Policies Are?

One of the things that learned when I was introduced to public policy was that there is a big difference between political ideology, politics, and actual policies. My point of view is very simplistic but it helps me understand what candidates actually want to do beyond all of the bluster.

While I have made my political point of view clear on the national level, it becomes a lot more policy oriented at the state and local level since there is a much more direct connection between the two. I view political ideology as the philosophical point of view and that it can be overarching (I believe in small government) to smaller (The government has no right to regulate our guns). These are our core theories about how the world should work and how we want to see the world changed in a way that we consider "better". Politics are really more of a strategy of how to get votes and seem to get less and less away from substance and closer to theater. If you've ever worked in an office where there are a lot of politics you experiences are pretty transferable to what we see on TV. There are a lot of favors, score keeping on respect or disrespect, and general bluster for the sake of showmanship. You may have seen Mike Huckabee (one of my favorite politicians and no I'm not kidding) make a fiery speech at the RNC and then turn around on the Daily Show and talk about how all the piss and vinegar thrown at community organizers was just about "exciting the base". It's not that republicans hate community organizers, they probably love them and rely on them heavily to implement their programs, but it's that when they say they hate community organizers, it makes very specific segments of our population excited and vote for McCain.

I should say that despite how it appears, the vast majority of politicians that I've met and worked with (granted this is at the gubernatorial level) genuinely care about making the world a better place and I imagine that they die regretting all of the things that they have to do to get elected.

Policies are the actual strategies that will be employed to put the theory into play. Its easy to use a sports metaphor and think of the policies as a playbook and the politician the coach. When they talk about executive experience this is the core of why that discussion is so important. As a governor, mayor, president, dictator, etc you have an opportunity to put choose what plays you think will solve the problem. As opposed to a senator or a congresswoman who basically just funds stuff. There is certainly decision making but there is generally little impact and seemingly no accountability. If you take a governor who has been in office for 2 years and a senator who has been in office for 2 years, the governor is generally going to have made a lot more plays and been held directly responsible for when those plays fail.

So, I thought I would dissect a bit of policy for you! Eduwonk.com, an education think tank in DC, which is run by a friend of a friend, did a mccain vs. obama run down of their policies. The original post is here:


So let me go through them and give you a sense of what they want to do.

From eduwonk:

OBAMA proposes, in addition to making large investments in early childhood education, college affordability, and teaching quality improvements for high-need students, substantial increases for public schools in extended learning time and quality after-school programs, effective use of technology, improved middle and high schools, and drop-out prevention programs.

My comments: Obama's policy here is basically all politics. Why, he just talks about throwing money as something without saying what strategies he would use. Increasing federal funding without any specific policy is basically just political appeasement. He uses some buzz words - extended learning time which is basically afterschool - (a hallmark of politics) without actually talking about how he would actually use afterschool time is basically pandering to a specific group of voters. (FYI, we in the afterschool world are a small but powerful force! and need a lot of pandering to secure our votes).

MCCAIN has proposed an increase of just under one percent of the federal education budget. Nearly all of that would go to states that expand online education and help low-income students “pay for online tutors or enroll in virtual schools.” The remaining $7 million would expand the school voucher program in Washington D.C. He has also proposed reallocating $500 million of existing federal funds to “build new virtual schools and support the development of online course offerings.”

McCain is a little bit better. Don't be fooled by his use of numbers. Just using numbers is an attempt to look smart. Like Obama, he uses key words, in this case "online education" without talking about how he would do that. He tries to sound especially smart here by doing some multiplication (Less than 1% of the federal education budget = X -$7 million dollars). Notice that the answer to this one is "Not enough information given".

Personal rant on top of soap box: THIS MY FRIENDS IS WHY MATH LITERACY IS IMPORTANT SO THAT POLITICIANS, not matter what their stripe, CAN STOP USING MATH TO FOOL US!!!

Sorry, I hate when people try to use math and words that only mean things to insiders (extended learning time). I am very guilty of it and just as an FYI, generally use it to sound smart.

BUT McCain actually gives us a bit of policy. Vouchers are a policy and are when you take tax dollars and give them to families to spend only on schools. So they can be a tax rebate which can only be spent on school tuition or an actual check that you use to pay tuition at a school.

Here's how a real policy statement would read:
Obama proposes to reauthorize the federal head start bill, offer grants to state to fund innovative college tuition reduction plans, and create an office of alternative teaching certification to create a universal system of teacher certification.

McCain propose to provide infrastructure block grants to states to secure broadband access for all citizens so that they can access online tutors. He will also mandate that the all federal agencies must used only education strategies that have can demonstrate their effectiveness using actual, honest to goodness proof.

The most agrivating thing is that the candidates hardely talk about education but that's because very few people are going to use education policy as a litmus test for the candidates. So while John McCain may want to dismantle the Federal Department of Education and Obama may want to pay for kids to get credit for their science classes in Museums (which would be awesome), the next presidency is going to be about making do with no money. So maybe dismantling the DOE would be a cost saving measure?

Why I Won't Vote For Palin

One of the things I learned when we lived in DC last year was that most policies and political ideology has a rational and theoretical basis. They may get distorted and politicized but I was able, with the help of my friends who hold those ideologies to see where they were coming from in their support. This "ability to see the other side" was hard fought since I grew up in a part of the world where mostly everyone believes something similar and votes the party line. Actually, it's not that everyone votes the party line it's probably more that the dissenting voters got sick of explaining their positions to people who weren't listening anyway.

My point is I know a lot more about politics than I did two years ago. I also learned where exactly my own politics are in relation to elected officials given that I had to analyze how those policies worked, sort of worked, or didn't work.

-I learned that I would love to vote for a candidate who was not necessarily fiscally conservative but fiscally responsible. For me that means balancing the budget. I don't believe in a small government. I do believe that the government has an important role to play both in infrastructure, safety, education, and stewardship but I don't believe we should pay for those things if the money simply isn't there. I also believe that money is incredibly misspent and inefficiently used.

- I believe that the government shouldn't tell me what to do with my body, my house, my savings, etc. This makes me strongly pro-choice and strongly pro gay marriage. Why should the government care? I can see why a family unit might care or why a church might care but why would I want a government, who I entrust to build roads and administer schools have a say in what happens to my body. And why should they say who can be a couple or not? Again, I can see why a church might care but the government is not a church. If you want to live in a country where the religion is the law you should move to Iran or someplace else where Sharia, or islamic law, rules the land. Good luck if you're a woman and want to drive a car.

- Foreign policy is kind of a maze to me but I can see why countries keep out of wars and conflicts. I'm going to leave this one up to the experts. I should say that in all of my time in DC no one was able to give me a single good reason that was based in reality over why we invaded Iraq. This is one of those areas where there is a theoretical base for the idea that has no real practical application. Now if someone could tell me why we haven't spent all that time, money, and blood rebuilding Afghanistan I'd be really happy to listen. So, in a nutshell, war can be a necessary evil and when justified, and important element of foreign policy.

- Energy. This one is a no brainer. Basically everyone believes that we should be less energy dependent on other countries. Energy independence is a wonderful uniter in my mind can only be accomplished through a combination of conservation and innovation to shift us from an oil based system.

- Evolution. As a scientist, policies that support alternative theories to darwinian evolution should be welcome in the classroom but they shouldn't be taught as science. They're not based upon science. As an educator I support a discussion based that allows kids to understand the notion of the nature of science and the nature of religious belief. I've had the discussion many times but do not believe that creationism or ID should ever be presented as an alternative scientific belief but that is should be presented as another way of looking at the world. I'm going to go back to my feelings that the government shouldn't tell individual educators how to teach this subject and stop trying to mandate it.

- Sex Ed. I've taught sex ed, its a pretty strange thing for anyone other than a school to mandate. I'm a big believer in giving kids information so as an educator I teach abstinence, relationship skills to allow kids to learn how to negotiate not having sex if they don't want to, anatomy, disease prevention, etc. That is in an ideal world. When, on your first day of teaching in a new school, the principal rushes up to you and asks you to deliver a talk about what sex is to sixth graders because she has another 11 year old impregnated by her uncle, all bets are off the table for how to legislate against that.

All of this leads up to the fact that I finally and definitely made up my mind about Palin. I'm intrigued by the choice and think she's pretty feisty, I shudder at the idea of her governing mostly because it will comes from a place that I disagree with on a practical level.

I also wonder who I could vote for given the current mash up with the two major parties. I have to say the New England libertarians look really great right now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sleepwalking? No Not Me Silly

As some of you may know, I have a rather serious sleepwalking problem. I also have a serious "This American Life" problem. TAL is a radio program where excellent storytellers spin wonderful yarns about perfectly ordinary things. Through the magic of radio, they come out sounding interesting.

A few weeks ago they did a show on the fear of sleep and featured a piece by a guy with the same diagnosis that I have (a REM behavioral disorder though not the narcolepsy which I suspect is undiagnosed in him due to his reports of excessive daytime sleepiness). While I have never jumped out of a 2 story building I have had my share of wacky experiences.

So the point is, the guy has a good website and is coming to NYC to do a show about his sleep issues. So, please join me in empowering REM behavioral disorder sufferes all across NYC and listen to his story,

Link for the Original TAL Show

Sunday, September 7, 2008

In the Nook

I really want to take the time to write about what I'm reading but I'm pretty busy and I read books like people make meals so my entry to book ratio is pretty small. I had to write something about my latest read because it was written by my incredible brother in law. Yup he finished it and gave it to a few very special people (us!) to read and give him feedback. I can't write a lot about it since its still in process but I can say that it was a very enjoyable read with great characters and beautiful writing. Its been his baby, heart and soul for most of his life and I was so very pleased to find that it was incredible.

But, when it does come out, I probably won't recommend it to you. Why? Unless you like stories about characters who use severed human (and elfin) heads as weapons, this one probably isn't for you.

Just One More...

This is so Ikea.

Cows? In Red Hook?

Here's another tip for taking pictures in an economically downtrodden neighborhood, do it on your bike. I drove down to Red Hook in my car and drove around for a while trying to find good shots on the street. No on really likes it when you, a white girl pops out and snaps a bunch of pictures of your house. So next time I should just take my bike, maybe I'll even throw it in the back of my fancy car and then ride around (we live at the top of a big hill with a lot of traffic between us and Red Hook).

Here are just a few shots of the neighborhood. I've written about the Red Hook Community Garden before so there's why there are street signs warning people of tractors and cows. I didn't see any cows but the farm was shut down for the day.

Sweet Jesus, no more pictures...


Taking pictures of sports, okay, of people even when they're sitting still, is really hard. Its hard like playing golf well is hard. Like playing golf, one has to practice, a lot, to even begin to play with the big boys. So, I take refuge in my usual subjects. Animals and plants. Here are just a few of the neighborhood creatures living life in the industrial slow lane and letting strange mutations make their way through their chromosomes. I was just happy that they stood still and didn't kick anything soccer balls near my head.