Thursday, November 27, 2008

Overheard in Retail

The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year in our business. It's followed closely by the day before Christmas, Mother's Day, and Father's Day. What do all of these days have in common? They are tied closely to family. Seriously, I cannot convey how many times I hear people come in who say that they are buying alcohol to "deal with" their family. It far outnumbers those who come in and tell me that they are sharing a joyful drink with the skelatives.

So, we were busy yesterday - extremely busy. On top of the crowds I had to take in a new truckload of merchandise and place an order for next week's truckload without the benefit of the report I use to do this accounting for the merchandise I was about to receive. It's a ton of sweat labor and poor programming adding to more stress on the day.

During these types of days I look for a moment that will bring joy to the day. It lessens the stress, adds the proper amount of cheer, allows me a respite from the chaos, and generally keeps me from looking down upon the nastier figures who come in. Such a moment was visited upon me around 4:30 yesterday. My junior clerk is a Native American. A customer she was waiting on was all a twitter about the holiday. The customer paused and said, "Oh, do you people celebrate Thanksgiving?" (Note the use of the phrase "you people", meaning "other", meaning, "not quite our people or my people" another person's world it could be considerably offensive, but my clerk is smart and kind enough to know this and yet forgive). Her reply, which lit my day:
We tried that once and look what happened to us. So, we don't do that anymore.
The customer smiled. I laughed, literally, aloud. My customer laughed, literally, aloud. As soon as her customer left, I turned to her and said, "That's fabulous." She made my day.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Glen Greenwald has a very good column in Salon regarding some early indications from the Obama presidency. Basically, he's criticizing Obama, the Democrats, and the Congress for continuing down the path to a stronger presidency. I expressed concerns about this during the campaign before we knew who the Democratic nominee would be. It's a bad model to follow. When Congress did this under Clinton they were voted out during the following election en masse. One of the frustrations of voters during the past election was that the Democratic Congress didn't take control properly and force more issues of change upon the administration. They had best not play toady with Obama and Obama should encourage them to take back their authority. Snippet:
Here's what Obama's transition chief, John Podesta, said about that:

There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that. I think that he feels like he has a real mandate for change. We need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set.

Podesta's infatuation with the power of executive orders recalls the infamous comment made by Clinton aide Paul Begala regarding the robust use of executive orders by the Clinton administration to make policy: "Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool."

That isn't actually how things are supposed to work. The Constitution doesn't vest the President with the power to make laws with the "stroke of the pen," and it's not "kinda cool" that we've allowed it to happen. It's actually quite dangerous and anti-democratic, as James Madison warned in Federalist No. 47:

The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

As Madison explained in that paper, it was only because the Constitution separated those powers among the branches -- with the legislative power (the power to make laws) assigned exclusively to Congress and the executive power (the power to execute those laws) assigned to the President -- was Madison convinced that the presidency created by the Constitution, deprived of lawmaking power, would pose no threat to republican liberty.

Go read the whole post. It's worth the time and it's nice to see someone on the left attempting to frame this.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

birthday accomplished

We began our evening with a pilgrimage to Jerry Traunfeld's new restaurant, Poppy. I didn't have reservations, but we were early enough to grab one of the 3 tables in the bar. The bar area actually has quite a bit of seating and they serve full menus there. The rest of the restaurant was booked until 10PM, so I'd say that Jerry is doing well in his post-Herb Farm incarnation. On our way in, we walked past the herb garden Jerry has set up for the restaurant. Four large beds filled with all sorts of herbs, gated to keep people out in off hours and secluded near the back entrance of the restaurant.

The interior is rather roomy. Brick walls remain on the outer shell. Nice wood beams throughout. Jerry took his inspiration for the place from an Indian manner of dining. To match it he has orange and yellow (poppy colored) color scheme. The bar and chairs have a natural wood color to them. The kitchen is rather large and it has a viewing window positioned so that staff can keep an eye on their customers.

We ordered drinks. The co-signer got a Bourbon Sour (and it lived up to the Sour part!). I got "The Elite" which was a cocktail made with Finlandia vodka, St Germain liqueur, Clear Creek Distillery's Framboise (a dry raspberry liqueur unlike the sweet stuff so often found), and a dash of lemon. My drink was perfectly balanced and refreshing, so I had another. ;-)

To start, we ordered some eggplant fries. These really are julienned eggplant strips that are deep fried in oil, then topped with blackberry honey and a touch of salt. And, man oh man are they good. It's a small plate that we split. The honey lightens the flavor of the eggplant and the salt adds another savory layer. The food blogger for the Seattle Times said that these were not to be missed and she was right.

We then moved on to the main meal. Poppy is designed around the Indian concept of Thalis. Basically, you get little samples or small portions of a lot of items. With Jerry managing the menu it's a bit like getting a small version of an Herbfarm meal that doesn't take 4.5 hours to consume (typical time for The Herbfarm), doesn't come with wines, and comes at a fraction of the cost. It's a prix fix experience, however there are options. So, the main set of Thalis costs $32 per plate. There is an option to by one Thali which comes with a few side dishes and that runs $22 per plate. There's also the bar menu to munch from which has things like the eggplant fries, but also offers up tandori chicken with slaw and naan for $12 or spiced berkshire pork ribs with smashed chickpeas for $16. Nothing is cheap, but compared to the Herbfarm, which is charging $150 per person for the 4.5 hour 8 course meal with wines, it's a big savings. Plus, the last time we were at the Herbfarm, with Jerry in charge, I think things were slipping. Jerry's meal was fabulous, but the wine pairings were not nearly as sophisticated. So, we were here for the full Thali experience.

We order the Thali flight of wines to have with the meal. Each glass came with 2 ounces of wine. There were 3 wines: a white Bordeaux, A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon, and a Malbec from Chile. All were excellent choices that paired well with a variety of foods from the Thalis. We began the meal with the carrot coriander soup. God, is this good, warming stuff for a fall evening. The nice thing about the THali concept is you get just enough to feel you've had a real taste and enjoyed some of it, but there's still room for more. Next up was a salad of persimmon, fresh huckleberries, and shaved fennel. It was divine and I mean amazingly so. The sweet huckleberries were tempered by the fennel which also added some crunch and allowed the persimmon to shine through. This was followed by a spiced beet-yogurt salad (delish and so homey).

The co-signer next had the spice rubbed duck with red cabbage and Pomegranate. Baked in the Tandori oven, the duck had a slightly charred skin, but was moist on the inside. The cabbage was done, but crisp and the co-signer said that the whole thing worked really well (and paired nicely with the Malbec). There were 2 areas on the Thali menu where you could substitute what was being served. I chose to opt out of the duck, but I kept the scallops. In other words, you could make it a vegetarian outing if you wanted to do so. Instead of duck I had chanterelle and borlotti bean gratin. This was covered with fresh toasted and seasoned bread crumbs. The mushrooms were a very nice pairing with the beans and the earthy flavors melded well with the Pinot Noir.

Our next course was butternut squash puree made with ginger and rosemary and topped with a surprisingly spicy toasted coconut. The rosemary is a subtle addition, but once you find it in the dish you really appreciate it in the background. It's one of those sublime dishes that demonstrate how Jerry has mastered the art of cooking with herbs. Next was a dry chutney of roasted cauliflower, apple, dill and celery. Nicely done and tasty, but it didn't jump out at me. Then we got to the B.C. scallops with celery root cider sauce and shallots. The celery root cider sauce added a nice fall feel to this preparation. The shallots were fried crisp. Take a bite of scallop, swirl it in the celery root cider puree, get a shallot on there and munch down for a very satisfying moment, then wash it down with that white Bordeaux. That's good eating! Now, I could have opted out of the scallop and ordered the chestnut, leek, and porcini blintz, but I wanted that small sample of seafood.

Also served with the meal was a small piece of fresh naan, saffron rice, and a chutney made with fennel, lemon, and black mustard seed (sweet and delish).

The wait staff gave us a moment to come up for air (terrific staff, by the way...very relaxed and friendly...everyone wearing jeans and black shirts with aprons). We each took a turn in the bathroom. When I came back (I went first) I said to
the co-signer, "And they've got the coolest hand dryers in the entire world. In fact, paper was not an option. Wave your hands in this thing and it warms them, dries them, and collects the water blown off of them. It's motion controlled, too.

After a few moments of consideration, I settled on a dessert. It's my birthday weekend and I get to choose. One of the options was a pear clafouti made with maple syrup and rosemary. Jerry has that in The Herbfarm Cookbook and I've made it several times. It's a favorite, but sticking to my rule that it needs to be something I can't or won't make at home, I decided against it. So, I got the dark chocolate terrine with roasted pistachios, creme anglaise, toasted sesame seeds, and candied ginger strips. It sounds like a lot (and after all of the Thalis, it is), but the portion is quite small - perfect for 2 after the large meal. I got a 10 year old tawny port to pair with it and they went very well together.

The bill? With drinks and tax the whole thing came to $134 plus change and tip. We ate there for less than half what it would have cost us to eat at The Herbfarm. It's not some place that we would stop into every day, but it was perfect for a special occasion. If I lived in Seattle proper, I wouldn't hesitate going to the bar once in a while and munching on appetizers and exploring their drink list.

After the meal we picked up
the co-signer's car in Bellevue, then drove to Woodinville for the new Bond film. We were there an hour before show time, so it allowed us the opportunity to get a coffee nearby and hang out. The theater was packed before the movie. It was a good film. Not in the top 5 of Bond movies, but I like the new style a lot. The film is a character study. The plot is very vague. Daniel Craig makes a very good Bond. The director and/or the writers do the audience a favor and treat them intelligently. For instance, we learn that a main character saw her house burned down with her inside when she was a child. We later see her having a traumatic reaction to a building that is burning with her in it. No dialogue was necessary to convey that reaction and observant viewers picked up on it. Nor did we need to have explained to us the scars on her back which came from that original house fire. That's good film making and I like to see it rather than having everything pointed out for me. But not to get bogged down in that stuff. It is a Bond film, after all, and it's filled with car, boat, and plane action scenes as well as torture and rape. There's also Judy Dench as M and she's wonderful. Her scenes with Craig are amongst the meatiest in the movie. Definitely worthwhile to see this film on the big screen.

Monday, November 10, 2008

And the floodgates of fear open

Yesterday I was having a conversation with my mother. It was the first time that we have spoken since the election. As I suspected she wasn't thrilled with the outcome. FWIW, she also didn't care for McCain, though I'm pretty sure she voted for him. She's nervous about what President Obama will do and, at the same time, she expects more of the same ("They're all just politicians.")

However, it was the following line that was most telling of her mindset:
I don't think we'll have another white president.
The line was casually dropped. There was a sense of foreboding in her voice. I asked her, "I don't believe that will be the case. Whites will still be the majority in this country for a number of decades and they are bound to vote another candidate in at some time. Also, minorities don't vote strictly on racial lines. Even so, the Senate is almost all white and the House mostly so. What I have to ask is, so what if we don't?"

Silence. Change of topic. Say goodbyes quickly.

I suspect that a large number of people share my mother's obsession/concern. These next 4 years shall be interesting. Despite her concerns expressed above, she also asked in an equally anxious tone if I thought Obama might face an assassination attempt. Let's be clear, she wasn't for such a thing. In fact, she's appalled and scared at the idea. However, she brought up the subject and it's one that I've heard discussed in a number of circles. As if it were comforting, I pointed out that Reagan and Clinton both faced assassination attempts. Oddly enough, it did seem to calm her. Like I said - interesting.

Now playing on Windows Media Player: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings - Humble Me
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Good read

From the Wall Street Journal, no less.

I always respected the William F. Buckley wing of the Republican party. Like the Barry Goldwater wing it had it's base in reason. To be sure I disagreed with them on numerous issues, but I appreciated their intellectual prowess and their adherence to principles. Why do I use the past tense to describe these things? Well, read the article which, I think, makes clear that by the 1980s these things were being tossed aside for the shallow mess that we have today. Snippet:
Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues -- indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Adding to the Prop 8 discourse

A good article in The Nation. It's short, but I'll give the shorter version: Anti-Prop 8 folks were outmaneuvered on their organizing efforts.

This is a problem endemic in the gay movement (well, to society in general which is reflected in the gay movement). Leaders in the gay community like to talk about diversity, but they've all too often portrayed their community as overwhelmingly upper middle class and white in order to project a vision of "normality" to the straight community. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Drag Queens, Leather folks, transvestites, transexuals, bisexuals, working class, lower class, and so on are a crucial part of the community and are indeed some of it's most ardent supporters. Yet, when it comes to pushing the image of homosexuality in a positive light, it's predominantly "We're just like you - white and upper middle class."

Now, part of this is just folks working in our particular media environment which is dominated by white and middle to upper middle class imagery. But this critique is hardly new and it's been ignored and dismissed for years. If there is validity in the position put forth in the article above, then it appears as if such bias penetrated deeply into the No on 8 organizers. Hopefully in defeat they will have learned a much needed lesson. Too bad it had to come about this way.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Damn, am I so happy about this. In 1975 I was one of the among the first students to participate in court ordered desegregation in Louisville, KY. I recall the morning that my bus left my middle school for the school in downtown Louisville. Our bus driver was a black woman named Rosie and she was one of the bravest people I had met to that moment in my life. As we pulled away, parents - all white - lined the side of the road. Police pushed people from being in front of the bus. The parents and protesters screamed, shouted things like "Save our children", "Don't do this to our future!", and "Keep the niggers away!". They pounded the side of the bus with signs, hands, fists. They were angry and there wasn't a person on the bus who wasn't scared - of the anger, let alone what images their parents put in their minds about what was happening.

My parents weren't happy about the busing, but not for stated reasons of racism. It would be a few years before my mother's racism would yield it's ugly head and almost 20 years before I heard my father tell me, quite casually, "Martin Luther King was nothing but an uppity nigger until he got shot and they martyred him." But at this point in my life they chose not to indulge those thoughts. Their argument was that they moved to an area with good schools and that the inner city schools were inferior. Of course, that was part of the point of desegregation.

The inner city school was inferior in many ways. It was downwind from the slaughter house across the street. The stench would reach such portions on hot, sticky days, that the officials would not allow the kids to play outside and would order the windows closed, which only mitigated matters slightly. The text books were not in proper supply - we often shared - and were out of date. The band program and teacher was 3 years behind my suburban middle school. The food was marginal and most of the white kids brought their lunch. In every academic way the school was playing catch up.

Yet, there was one important lesson that relied on none of that, for me. It was the interaction in that environment. I became comfortable around black folks. Until that time, I hadn't met any...only seen them on television. I learned to empathize with poverty and to loathe it. I learned about the disparities of our society and how far from fair we really were. I also learned that a powerful bus driver like Rosie was someone to not only respect, but hold in high esteem. These lessons would later inspire my mother to say, "You always take the side of the underdog."

I cried yesterday when the results were final. My friend hugged me and asked why. Never in my life could I have imagined seeing a black American elected to President. Oh, sure, my liberal roots would always talk about the possibility, but it was always theoretical. My past experiences just wouldn't let me believe that it would happen. I'd seen too much racism. From those early days of school busing programs to my parent's revelations to other revelations from family and associates to the suffering felt in almost every inch of the Detroit area - suffering caused by heightened racial tensions - it was just too big a dream. Now that dream has come to pass.

I've seen history in my life. I can recall the news of King's assassination. I recall the news of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. Man on the moon, the Nixon impeachment, the Berlin Wall falling, Russians standing peacefully for their freedom. Yesterday, I saw the most moving and perhaps greatest event so far. The fact that it also comes as an end to the worst 8 years of politics that I have seen in this country - the devolution of human rights, the attempts to shred the Constitution, the hatred and fear and anti-spiritual meanness makes it all the more poignant. But even without the worst period in America that I have seen, this is still one great fucking moment. I am happy that I was around to participate and see something so immensely beautiful.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Politics and music

Three political topics today. First, a judge has ordered Bush's Justice department to produce the memos that underlined the basis of Bush's wiretapping. That's some possible good news for the public. The judge didn't buy the Justice Department's claim of attorney-client privilege, calling it "too vague".

Secondly, CBS reports that the National debt soared another $500 billion in under one month. Thanks, fiscal conservatives! For the record, that's a dig at both parties.

Finally, a music video from Amanda Fucking Palmer. Note the pink coat hanger if you're questioning the political nature.