You don't need a "chef" to learn to cook

As I keep saying, cooking at home is much healthier and just as fast as many of the "convenience" foods available. Yesterday, for a party, I made a Thai-style green curry: tofu, bean sprouts, bell peppers in a basil-based sauce that I'd made in a huge batch frozen last summer. My friend, who drove down from Dallas, picked up a shrimp scampi box at Sam's to take to the party, so we made linguine to go with it. It took me 25 minutes from the time I started marinating the tofu to when I took the one pot (!) curry off the stove. It took us 15 minutes to make the shrimp scampi linguine. But boy ... was that shrimp scampi greasy! The glass dish we transferred it to was so greasy that it took two washes to get all the grease off. And that's the crap people eat day-in and day-out!

I've never understood people who say cooking at home is too slow. Because it doesn't need to be fancy. What could be faster/easier than a fish fillet rubbed with olive oil and lemon juice and stuck under the toaster oven? Toss a bowl of vegetables in the microwave with ground pepper and salt and you have a high-protein, high-fiber, low fat, full course balanced meal in under 15 minutes.

In a pretty good article promoting cooking (what use is growing your own vegetables if you can't cook 'em?), Amanda Hesser throws out a fact which astounded me:
According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.
and a recommendation which made me uncomfortable:
Mrs. Obama might want to expand her food message to include cooking. Just as she highlighted American fashion by wearing the clothes of young designers, she could call attention to cooking by bringing America’s talented young chefs to the White House for a food summit meeting. Then she could turn them into a national task force, asking them to reach out in their communities and give free cooking lessons to the next generation of cooks and eaters.
Of course, she's a food writer and she's thinking in terms of chefs. But restaurant cooking is nothing like home cooking -- and few chefs and food writers are able to make that transition. So, forget the chefs.

Folks have been making simple, fast food in their homes for millenia and it's that simple style that people ought to get back in touch with. If they start cooking, and then find that they want to take advantage of unusual flavors and exotic cooking techniques, then they should go look up chef's cookbooks and a more complex pantry.

But to start, all you need in your kitchen are olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. You don't need any equipment beyond a stove and an oven. In fact, you could get just as good results using a microwave and a toaster oven.

Sotomayor: too much letter of the law, not enough spirit

"So, what do you think of Sotomayor?," one of our neighbors asked me, hastening to tell me that she was impressed -- by the childhood diabetes, by a life of growing up in the projects, of placing second in Princeton, of being nominated by a president who's no slouch himself. So am I -- by the life story -- but something about Sotomayor gives me pause.

My first impression was favorable. One of the best gauges of a judge's intellect is the minority opinions she writes -- she is going against the safe consensus and sticking to her guns. You can see how she thinks by looking at dissents. And the dissent that I looked at was Croll v. Croll. Mom & Dad are American citizens living in Hong Kong. They divorce. The Hong Kong court grants Mom custody, but awards Dad visiting rights and says that Mom is not allowed to take the kid out of Hong Kong without Dad's permission. Mom grabs the child and comes to the US anyway. Now, the US is signatory to an international convention that honors marriages, divorces and custody agreements recorded abroad (otherwise, I wouldn't be married to my wife!). The majority rules that Dad didn't have custody -- that would be Mom -- and visitation rights are not covered by the international convention. Sotomayor disagreed and wrote a dissent that said that when the Hong Kong court imposed restrictions on the child's travel, effectively the court had custody of the child. When Mom violated those conditions, custody reverted back to the court. Since what Mom did (absconding with the child) was totally unlawful, her judgment is inherently more fair.

My second impression was lukewarm. This was the Ricci case where white New Haven firemen didn't get a promotion after they were promised that the top three test takers would be promoted. New Haven was afraid of being sued under the disparate impact doctrine that underlies much civil rights enforcement. The legal question before the court was whether New Haven could reasonably be sued -- they obviously could -- but the real question was whether the disparate impact doctrine was fair. Where she argued in terms of fairness in the Croll case, she ducked the real question in the Ricci case. Arguably, that's more conservative -- judges should not be making policy after all -- but it is certainly unfair to the white, dyslexic fireman who filed the case.

The third impression is decidedly negative. This was Jocks vs. Tavernier. Jocks tried to make an emergency phone call about an incident that could have tied up the New Jersey expressway. Tavernier was hogging the phone and refused to give it up. Finally, Jocks hung up forcibly and dialed 911. Tavernier turned out to be an undercover cop; he and another cop arrested Jocks. Jocks sued for malicious arrest. Tavernier claimed that Jocks hit him with the phone and that's why he arrested him. The jury believed Jocks and awarded him damages. This is a classic he-said-she-said case, and judges ought to defer to juries on who's more believable. But Sotomayor, a former prosecutor, convinced the other judges to throw out the jury's award. That, to me, is an activist judge.

So what do I think of Sotomayor? Impressive life story; a not-very-good writer and a judge who can sometimes rule based on the spirit of the law, but more often than not sticks to its letter. The worst rulings of the supreme court in the past few years have been gross miscarriages of justice that happened because the justices stuck to the letter of the law. I'm referring to decisions like: deciding that eminent domain could be used on behalf of private developers; turning down a claim of gender discrimination because it was too late even though the defendant could not have known about it earlier; of turning down an appeal because it was filed a day too late (even though the court told the defendendant the wrong deadline); of deciding that strip-searching a 13-year old honor student was a reasonable use of a school's discretion.

We don't need one more justice using the letter of the law to perpetuate unfair outcomes.

UPDATE: One more case where this happened:
she not only didn’t let her sympathies get in the way, but she may have gone too far in ignoring human “emotions and sympathy” to rule based on hyper-technicalities. By “emotions and sympathy,” I don’t mean bias; I mean the fact that discrimination cases are inherently about whether a supervisor made an employment decision based on an emotional, rather than an objective, assessment of an employee. And that requires a judge to let herself empathize at least a little with the situation the case presents.

A free kite

S1 had made a kite in school and wanted very much to try it out. So, off we went to a nearby park.
Another father was also there trying out a kite. He couldn't make the kite stay in the air and his little person wasn't into it at all. After about an hour of trying, he came over and gave me the kite.

"The kite's good," he told me, "but my son is not interested. I saw your son playing with a kite earlier, so it's yours if you want it."

Have I ever turned down something free? "Thanks," I told him and promptly went over to see if I could get the kite up. It was a little weighted on one side, but nothing that looping the tail over the neck couldn't fix.
The other father was watching, so I asked him if he'd like the kite back. "It flies well," I suggested to him. He waved off the offer.
Our nice new kite.
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A new face to the world

The Oklahoma sun had caused our front door paint to start peeling off in multiple places. Fixing this was my honey-do project for memorial day weekend.

The door masked and lightly sanded.

Removed, placed on the grass and painted. I used enamel paint with a color that approximates a wood stain, so the door looks stained but will stand up to the elements.

A few hours later, dry enough to put back on. Looks wonderful!

The weatherstrips are still off. Perhaps in a few days once the paint is completely dry.

Not really cramped

Tata, an Indian conglomerate (the same guys who built the $2000 car), is generating headlines by building apartments of about 400 sq. ft (see plan on left) and selling them for about $10,000.

Much of the commentary seems to indicate that this is too small ("even for Manhattanites") and that it would be impossible to squeeze a family of four in these.

But here is the thing: this 400 sq. ft apartment is bigger than the one that we lived in when I went to high school (albeit a family of 3, not 4). My parents rent out parts of a house they own in Chennai; those units are also around 400 sq. ft. and are typically occupied by families with children.

I remember when we'd just bought our (first) home in the USA and my dad asked me how large it was. "1800 sq. ft.," I told him to total silence on the other end. "Isn't that a bit extravagant?," he finally asked.

Once they'd visited us here, they realized that it was a quite reasonable size. For America. 400 sq. ft apartments are also a reasonable size. For India. The expectations of sound, cleanliness, privacy, neighbors, etc. are completely different in the two countries. So, yes, it is certainly possible to live a good, fulfilling life in apartments that "cramped".

I've lived in both a 300 sq. ft. home in India and a 3500 sq. ft. home in the US. I don't think one's inherently better than the other -- it really comes down to the way home life is organized in the two countries.

Climate change: polluters do not pay

One of the major obstacles to addressing climate change is that as far as CO2 emissions are concerned, polluters do not pay. Holland and Mauritius may be equally impacted by a sea-level rise, but the Dutch will be able to build better pumps and dikes whereas the Mauritians will probably have to evacuate their islands.

A recent study has a "density cartogram" of CO2 polluters and who will be impacted by global warming. (In a density cartogram, countries with greater impacts are shown bigger -- these are used to depict the impact of votes for example so that Western states don't appear disproportionately bigger than their electoral impact).

The biggest polluters are the United States, Western Europe, India and China. The countries that will experience malaria, malnutrition, diarrhoea and floods are predominantly in Africa and the Indian subcontinent. The US, Western Europe and even China get away relatively scot-free. India and South America are probably the only major polluters who will also pay, but even there, it is the poor who will pay and the urban rich who will pollute. (India gets affected more than China because it is somewhat poorer and much more tropical.)

Ah ... the snark!

Michael Steele, the GOP chairman, finds a way to combine opposition to gay rights and universal healthcare:
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- Republicans can reach a broader base by recasting gay marriage as an issue that could dent pocketbooks as small businesses spend more on health care and other benefits, GOP Chairman Michael Steele said Saturday. . .
To which Andrew Tobias, a gay financial columnist, responds:
☞ He’s spot on, which is why the GOP should come out against marriage generally, not just same-sex marriage. Married workers cost more if you provide family health insurance. So the smart hiring order is: single people first; and then married gay people (who are less likely to have kids needing health insurance and more likely to have working spouse’s with their own health insurance), and then, if you absolutely must, married heterosexual couples. It’s just good business.

Indian elections: a reward for good governance

Indian voters are notorious for rejecting incumbents. So much so that political parties often decide that they do not need to keep their campaign promises or try to be non-corrupt -- after all, they're going to lose the next time around, and come back into power the time after that!

Five years ago, the right-wing BJP was the first party to try to actually campaign for re-election on the basis of its performance. "We've delivered 8% growth," they said, "put us back into office." But the Indian electorate threw them out anyway -- it turned out that the 8% growth rate was misleading. Cities had boomed, but the rural areas were stuck in a cycle of poverty and rural voters turned out enmasse to vote the city-favoring bums out of office.

What would the left-wing Congress party, now in power, do? Would they go back to a state-planned, "Hindu" rate of 2% growth that yielded plenty of opportunities for corrupt patronage? Congress decided to keep priming the business pump (growth averaged 9% the last 5 years) while targeting development funds and job-creation schemes at rural areas.

The results are now in, and:
Dr. Singh will be the first Prime Minister since Jawaharlal Nehru to be voted back after a five-year term.
Amazingly enough, even dysfunctional state goverments like West Bengal have gotten a kick in the rear end. Indian parties now have a blueprint -- balancing growth with social justice -- for how to stay in office.

This might just change the incentives for politicians in India: growth in India has come in business sectors that can thrive inspite of poor governance. Perhaps, now, India will start to get businesses that will thrive because of good governance.

Hyenas or tornadoes?

We went to see Lion King, the Broadway musical, yesterday. This was the kids' first full-length musical. We'd read the story to them earlier in the week, so they knew what to expect.

S1 liked the show overall, but his main reaction during the show was:
"Why do they keep singing and dancing instead of acting the story?"

S2 got a little concerned when the hyenas came out. She sat on my lap for the rest of the show, asking me every 10 minutes or so when Simba would fight Scar and win.

When the show finished and we were trooping out, there was an announcement on the PA system that downtown OKC was under a tornado warning. There was a TV on in the lobby, and the radar showed storms right along I-35 (our way home). It looked as if we were stuck.

So, I called K. He looked at radar data on Google Earth and told me a route that would steer us through the storms and enter Norman from the west. There were lightning flashes on either side of us, but we encountered nothing more than a drizzle.

Men dressed like hyenas had made S2 a bit nervous, but tornadoes and lightning didn't faze her one bit. She fell asleep as soon as she got in the car.

An inspiring young man

From a Tulsa paper, an article about David Moran (a student employee at NSSL who graduates next weekend):
But becoming the first college graduate in the family and mastering math aren’t the only obstacles he has faced. Shortly after birth, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Moran has maintained a busy schedule while at OU. In addition to attending classes and studying, he works at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in the National Weather Center on a project involving better forecasting of flash floods. He also manages an online weather station – the Oklahoma Internet Weather Center – for which he also served as chief meteorologist.
One of the most inspiring things about the story (something that I didn't know) is that, in spite of his cerebral palsy, he didn't go easy on himself. Instead of just skating through his hardest subject -- mathematics -- he worked hard enough at it to get a degree in mathematics.

Celebrating after a bridge game

"So, what do you think the average age of the people in this room is?," asked my bridge partner. We were playing in a bridge tournament in Oklahoma City.

"65 at least?" I guessed, and he nodded sagely. "We are a couple of decades early," he suggested.

Tournament over, we were heading out of the rather dark parking lot when he noticed the activity in a car parked nearby.

"Did you see that couple having oral sex?," he marveled.

"Was it the over-65 crowd?," I asked. He nodded morosely. I am glad I was driving and not gazing out the window at parked cars!

Image: Kimberly Faye

They grow up so fast

The four-year old gave me some friendly, daughterly advice on the phone.

"You should get something special for Amma," she advised me, "because Sunday is Mother's day."

"What do you think I should get?"

"You can get anything you want, but it has to be special."

New York gets even more patriotic

New York is quadrupling down the patriotism. The NYSE building now sports four flags, not just one:
Of course, this may be only office district in the country that has dozens of jewelry shops ... I suppose it's the way the Masters of the Universe used to mollify their women. However, in a nod to the present climate, the jewelry shop does offer a layaway plan.
The "custom-made" suits shop, on the other hand, has branched off into the alterations business.
There is a still a brisk sale in flowers. Compared to diamonds and custom suits, flowers are a bargain.
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Adopted "orphans" may have been stolen

Remember my post last year about the market for adoptions in the US? It was the turning point for my thinking on adoptions.

International adoptions are problematic too. Apparently, there are not many healthy, orphaned infants available for adoption outside the United States either. Many of the children adopted by Western families have been "manufactured" i.e. they are not really orphans or in need of adoption. Instead, there is fraud involved:

Consider what happened to Padam Bahadur Shahi, a 32-year-old Himalayan forest guard who enrolled his son in temporary care while his wife was ill, according to articles published in March 2007 by Britain's Daily Telegraph and the Nepali Times. When Shahi returned to Kathmandu, he learned that his child had been adopted in Spain. For more than six weeks, he "haunted" the Kathmandu's District Administration Office's Child Welfare Council, demanding that his son come home. Told that the orphanage owner could face criminal charges, Shahi replied, "Maybe they can punish [him], but that isn't justice for me. I want my son back." That won't happen. The adoption was final.

My question is: How can that Spanish family who's keeping his child live with themselves? Or the behavior of this Australian family when they heard that the child they'd adopted had been kidnapped:

She was snatched from the street by a woman travelling in an auto rickshaw and the traffickers changed the child's name. They claimed she had been surrendered by her mother. Jabeen was adopted by an unsuspecting Australian couple who are now aware of the truth, but have chosen to maintain their privacy and the case is now before the courts.

The three bald guys didn't go to church

I met up with two classmates (from undergraduate days) at a bar (tagline: "we were here before you were born") in downtown New York City.
The bar is right opposite a church, which has probably been here since the 1850s too. Needless to say, this sort of "live-and-let-live" won't fly in Oklahoma. Oklahoman churches don't trust their parishioners: they want bars to be at least half a mile away and for alcohol to not be sold on Sundays.
Enroute to the bar, I walked by Chinatown. This is a statue of an imposing looking Chinaman, although the bird crapping on his shoulder kinda lowers the intimidation factor. The farther-away white building is City Hall.
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New York goes all patriotic

For all the times that I've been in New York since 9/11, I've never felt the slightest need to go to see Ground Zero. Yesterday, though, I had to cross the Hudson to New Jersey and so, took the commuter train. Since it leaves out of the World Trade Center site, I visited the World Trade Center spot for the first time.

Lots of construction going on; the PATH train is fully operational even as construction goes on at the site. Pretty impressive:
This kind of resilience is quite common to big cities -- New York, London, Mumbai have all had their share of fanatics. But the cities go on.

When I came to New York in October 2001, I was struck by the complete lack of American flags anywhere. This was just a month after 9/11 and in Oklahoma, every pickup truck was flying flags and expressing solidarity with the New York City. But in NYC, everyone had already moved on.

Enroute to the PATH train, I walked through the financial district. So I found it kind of funny that the New York Stock Exchange building is draped with a flag and a Lincoln exhibit is going on at the old Federal building.

What 9/11 couldn't do, a trillion-dollar bailout has managed to achieve.

Pulled to port

There is something magical about a busy waterfront. Here's a container ship being towed to harbor:

Governors Island with Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the far background:
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The best Midsummer Night's Dream ever

By my count, this is the third time I've seen Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream staged. The one currently running at OU is by far the best.

Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that the other two were "Shakespeare in the Park"-type performances.

There is something to seeing Shakespeare on a professional stage, with lighting, sound and enunciation. That's when you get the genius of Shakespeare -- the amazing interplay between fast-paced dialogue, physical comedy and immaculate plotting. What also helped that the director of the OU staging has fixed the weakest part of "Midsummer Night's Dream" as far as a modern, rationalist audience is concerned -- he moved the woods scenes with fairies to a nightclub with hip pranksters.

Go see it if you can. You'll never think of Shakespeare comedies the same way again.

Country Living

I like people and the amenities of town far too much to live in the country. But I sure am glad for friends who invite us to their country homes. This is B's 40-acre ranch in East Norman. He has a trail that winds through his property, past a couple of ponds and a ridge from which you can see the city far, far away.
The recent rain has helped -- it's not always this verdant here in Oklahoma -- but is there anything more soothing than this sight from his back porch?
The kids had fun running around and climbing trees. But what really made S1's day was this deer horn:

He could not believe that B. let him keep it.
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