Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rants. Rants Rants Rants.

Of course I'd never use this platform to rant. Who, moi?
Unless something RIDICULOUS pops up in the world and one simply cannot ignore it. Or unless, heavens to betsy, several somethings pop up.

RANT ITEM #1: British teacher imprisoned in Sudan
DOES THIS LOOK LIKE A HARDENED CRIMINAL TO YOU? I didn't think so. Me neither. The photo features Gillian Gibbons, a sweet British lady who traveled to Sudan, Africa to teach there. Recently, at the highbrow school at which she taught, she had her pupils name - note, her pupils performed the action - a teddy bear. And they named the toy after an apparently popular kid. Named, as luck would have it, Muhammed. Now Gillian is going to spend over two weeks in a Sudanese prison. Why? Because the conservative Muslims have convicted her of "insulting religion," and "inciting hatred." Because the prophet Muhammed does not take kindly to having teddy bears named after him. That's a no-no. But I thought the kids named the bear? you might ask. Yes, but they weren't westerners. But I thought the kids named it after a boy? you might ask. Yes, but the boy shared a name with the prophet of Islam. The key tenet, of course, is belief "in Allah and his prophet Muhammed." So Sudan (which might ring some bells - you know, the country also home to Darfur, where the genocide has been taking place?) has sentenced Gillian to jail, after threatening her with a possible 40 lashes as well.
Britain has expressed its outrage, and diplomats are scurrying back and forth trying to keep the Sudan from mistreating their citizen. In fairness, it should be noted that many British Muslims are scoffing Sudan's actions as well.
Don't take your freedom of speech and expression for granted. In this country, if someone wants to name their hamster Buddha or their goldfish Jesus, they have the freedom to without fear of imprisonment or beatings. Our nation certainly isn't perfect, but my outrage at an African country who needs volunteers and foreign aid treating a woman so despicably makes me grateful that while some ridiculous things occur in the U.S. of A., at least we don't have that.
The Darfur region is a mess, UN peacekeepers have been wounded trying to protect Sudanese citizens from raping and injuring each other, and this is how Sudan thanks one of the UN power players. While 90% of me sides with the nameless literally millions of people suffering in the Darfur region, a scant percentage of me wants to say fine, Sudan, don't come crying to us when you're in an economic crisis a few years from now.
So, Gillian, our sympathies, while you spend two weeks in dank, corrupt Sudanese jails, facing heaven knows what indignities, abuses and violations.

RANT ITEM #2: Leaping Reindeer, Batman!

As I sit here listening to the classic, old-school "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," I am reminded of the special Shrek Christmas special last night. I am a Shrek fan, at least the first one. The second one was okay, still haven't seen the third. But the first was really funny and cute and original and had lots of puns I enjoyed, particularly the muffin man sequence.
Enter Shrek Christmas Special, which aired on ABC. While scribbling out invitation addresses, one of my roommates and the six year old from down the hall gathered with their suppers to enjoy Shrek's Christmas. Now Shrek, being an ogre, didn't know how to have Christmas. So a helpful shopkeeper gave him a book on keeping the perfect Christmas, replete with gathering the family around for the Christmas story. *Surprise*, I thought, the Christmas story? Surely not, on national television. I wondered if there would be a twist.
There was.
For those of you ignoramuses - ignorami? - who don't know what the Christmas story is, I'll tell you. Apparently, it's the "Twas the Night Before Christmas" poem.
"Twas the Night Before Christmas"?
I like that traditional old yuletide poem as much as the next nutcracker, but to label it ubiquitously as "The Christmas Story"? What...wha...I'm speechless. What do they think the POEM was based on? A holiday? Then what do they think the HOLIDAY was based on? The poem? Way to instill circular reasoning into our young. They'll be primed to be liberal television commentators.
I'm no Don Wildmon. I know some people who say "holidays" instead of "Christmas" with no political agenda, I understand that. "Holidays" does, after all, derive from "holy days," so the joke's on the pundits. But to call, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" the CHRISTMAS STORY? No manger, just eight tiny reindeer. It's like scrubbing the Menorah out of Hanukkah, to make Hanukkah more palatable to the Yuletide Police. Merry Christmas, kids, the holly jolly gestapo will be sliding down your chimneys making you goosestep your way to the dinner table.
Well, I've gotten those things out of my system. Meanwhile, I'm tempted to send an anonymous shipment of about 10,000 teddy bears with "Muhammed" embroidered on their hearts over to Sudan as a nicely wrapped Christmas gift. I may not have liked Shrek's Christmas, but as least we have the freedom to televise it and publish subsequent rants!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I think I'm still digesting Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, the season has come. It's cold outdoors, and indoors the furnace continually battles the drafts. One thinks of comfort foods among the available nest of creature comforts. Fuzzy socks, fuzzy robes, fuzzy gloves, all help keep the icy frost away from lungs and toes. Of course, so does hot chocolate, fried chicken, and baked potatoes.
I had a nice helping of gravy last week at a table-groaning, where's-the-extra-leaf Thanksgiving Dinner. Gravy is something I never make at home but always eat when a relative makes it. My Northern Grandma makes a brothy gravy, brown and rich and oniony. My Southern Grandma makes thick, white gravy waiting to surprise you with pepper and asking to be ladled over something, anything on a nearby plate. Both gravies make it onto my dish when I'm holiday-ing in South or North. I know how to make gravy; I can make good gravy; but I seldom indulge, seldom make a bird or piece of meat big enough to warrant gravy.
Yesterday I fried the best chicken I have in a long time. I'm convinced it wouldn't have turned out nearly so well had it not been rainy and cold outside. As it was, chilled precipitation had been dripping down all day, and the kitchen needed an excuse to warm up. I obliged, doing something completely new: making fried chicken for one. With John at work, and roommates off on their own tasks and errands, I thawed a chicken breast, dredged it in the only available flour (organic whole wheat), and placed it lovingly in a small skillet with a pool of oil in the bottom. I liberally snowed salt and pepper down on to it. And waited. And waited.
I think success came from several sources: A) I didn't keep turning it over impatiently. Letting it sit didn't make it burn, but it did allow the surfaces to get nice and crispy. B) I put enough oil in to begin with. Sometimes I have to add oil part way through, and I think adding cold oil messes up the skillet's groove. C) For some reason, the whole wheat flour worked really well at staying on the stupid bird. I have a frequent problem of most the flour falling off. This stuck. D) I didn't hold back on salt and pepper. Hallelujah.
It was lovely. I accessorized it with two small baked potatoes and some corn. What a feast.
I think this year I'm thankful for gravy: gravy to pour over potatoes, and gravy in the form of extras that season and salt life. Extras like red Christmas socks, extras like really good lip balm in cold, biting wind; the gravy of having a fiance willing to drive into the city just to print off invitations so they're just right; the gravy of a mom who enjoys Harry Potter, a dad who enjoys Scrubs, and a brother who enjoys Family Guy. Extras like the six year old down the hall who still gets excited at Spaghetti-o's, extras like having something you're nervous about go right, extras like a friend excited to hear from you. And extras, yes, like gravy, and hot Assam with a splash of milk and sugar, and lasagna straight from the pan.
For life's gravy, and my grandmothers' and mother's, I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spare The Cod, Spoil The Child?

Green is in. Now, I know this, being a lover of the color green and therefore quick to pick up mention of it in magazines, advertisements, and general public service announcements. That being said, if you haven't noticed, everybody in the whole entire world is "going green." In fact, green is the new black, to paraphrase fashionistas burrough-wide. Today, I am clothed in a cosy green cable-knit sweater, a wise choice, given my (intimidatingly stunning) green eyes. Maybe it's because of my childhood love and implicit trust in Kermit, but green is our friend.
At least if you're a pseudo-intellectual celebrity. I am only allowed to bandy about "pseudo-intellectual" because a colleague at college (say that five times fast) once referred to me as his "favorite female pseudo-intellectual." That one backhanded compliment spurred more academic achievement than was probably proportionate.
So not only do celebrities chain themselves to trees (though I do intensely dislike urban sprawl), but now a quick glance at your local circular's headlines will reveal that Wal-Mart, Ford, and McDonald's are all "going green."
Caveat: I fully support any company that will reduce its waste, become more efficient, and will easily aid consumers in make wise purchases by providing products that will save us from living atop landfills within the next decade.
It began to grate on sissy's nerves, however, when NBC injected environmental themes into their hit fall Thursday night lineup. Nobody, but nobody, messes with my Office. Yet here they marched, one right after another. 30 Rock, My Name is Earl, The Office all had "green" themes. Al Gore even showed up. Would that they would have a Darfur night, or a Human Rights in China night.
Carrying on about using efficient lightbulbs and reducing emissions is a worthwhile cause, though my lightbulb is getting burned out on strident, skeletal celebrities harping about it. But it strikes me that complaint about the environment is a luxury of the wealthy. I remember feeling shocked at the thick, soupy layer of smog that quilted Ulaan Bataar, capital city of Mongolia. I had forgotten that clear skies are still a luxury in many parts of the globe. Many working families with whom I am acquainted don't mind recycling but simultaneously worry about paying for new shoes for their kids, whether they're going to get laid off, and how to afford prescriptions during flu and cold season. Survival for the Gores may mean preserving the planet. For many, survival is still as immediate as the next mortgage payment or tank of gas.
Let's put a little more green in the pockets of working families this holiday season, bask in the glow of green holly, ivy and mistletoe, and let a few other matters rest quietly in peace for a while. The Greenpeace-ation of the world can be put on hold. Serve green beans at a homeless shelter or stock them in a food pantry instead.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Snap Crackle Pop Culture

She hunched over, tugging the blanket tighter around her chilled feet, ankles, calves, knees. Leftover Halloween gummy candy lodged in her teeth - no wonder she'd given up "dots" years ago. The warbling voice of a friend of a friend serenaded the office space from a small grey box on the desk. MySpace music warmed the air. She pushed her glasses up her nose, glancing at the metallic red sheen of the latest cell phone upgrade. No calls.
Her throat still raw from recent illness, she paused, testing her spirit. How was she feeling? How was she feeling? Weary. Pleased. Happy. Adrenaline-fused. Tired. Achy. Excited. Only two months, and she would be one and another, not simply one, the loneliest number. She considered the planning and work between the two points in time, and sighed. Christmas seemed like a minor blip on the radar compared to the monumental event a week and a half afterwards. She didn't want to minimize Christmas. But she also felt that a wedding somehow represented a lot of what Christmas was for, or why it was celebrated, as if Christmas itself were nodding enthusiastically as she unwrapped new joy.
She had intended to type about her pseudo-anarchy. How she'd watched "V for Vendetta" on the 5th of November, a movie recapitulating Guy Fawke's famous attempt to blow up parliament. She'd finished the epic Harry Potter series, pulsing with the thuds of fictional battle between good and evil. In a snap, an instant, she had reawakened to the reality of voting day, and felt the good, clean revolutionary Scotsman lurking in her blood come raring out. Completely fed up with her party's positions, stances, and behavior, she marched out of the voting booth triumpant, having finally wielded what little power she had left in the political process. She had finally threatened her politicians with what they understood: the dangling prospect of loss of power. She had voted, completely, thoroughly, and fiercely for the opponent. Not to support the opponent. But to communicate her displeasure. She remembered feeling proud of her "I voted" sticker that she'd later ripped off, bemused.
Bemused because her little act of defiance had wilted, shriveled, curled up and paled in a self-aware manner several hours later at lunch. Sitting across the table from her was a man with deep, dark skin, a broad smile, and happy, if haunted, eyes. He spoke about the war. How the rebels had entered Monrovia. How he had run from checkpoint to checkpoint. How he never picked up his wedding clothes from the launderer. How he had escaped onto a ship at the port after squatting with friends who were eating grass because there was no food. How his brother had been killed by the rebels, like soldiers nearly killed him, til someone whispered urgently, "run for your life." How he spend days and weeks not knowing what had happened to his fiancee. How, now that they'd been married for years, they were raising nine children: four of their own, five the orphans of his slain brother. How Liberia still doesn't have direct flights to New York the way it used to Before. Before the war. How Liberia has escaped the worst of the AIDS devastation, its population only measuring 10% infected. How people in the West don't take spirituality seriously, skeptical of his stories, of many stories, about possessed people.
The "I voted" sticker landed in the trash can, along with her sense of pious burden carried in preparation for the wedding. What could possibly be more important than being with the groom when it was all said and done? He had escaped chaos - missiles, gunfire, upheaval - but didn't know where Ruth was. His plans, his finished education, what did they mean now?
And there she sat, certain that finding just the right ribbon for bouquets no longer seemed quite so pressing. Her curtained, sheltered voting booth anarchy, held in the safest of places - a fire department - now sanitized, even homey. Courage is born anywhere we let it be, she reasoned, knowing that moral courage can appear big or small. But pretending to be courageous when there is no cost is usually called, on most American playgrounds, showing off. It didn't mean she didn't have courage. But it did mean that it was still a young courage, only tested in fires she didn't understand, but that increasingly grew with time and experience. She had not fled a burning city; she had fled spiders. She had not lost a close family member; she had missed them when she didn't get to see them all the time. She had no echo of gunfire ringing in her ears; she had only the violence portrayed on the television screen, easily paused, easily muted.
She sat across from the dark-skinned man, face to face with her own self-importance. When she stood up from the table, her shoulders were lighter, face more carefree. She left the burden of herself with the wadded up napkins and left, liberated by the man from Liberia.