Monday, 18 February 2008

Signs of Spring

I awoke suddenly this morning with a palpable sense of dread. I did not know the time, but I had the feeling that I was very late. I was supposed to be teaching at 9:30, and I felt I had already missed this. Why? Because there was sunlight in my room. The actual time was 7:40, and I was not late at all. But England is so freakin' depressingly dark in the winter that any hint of sunlight must mean it is nearly noon. A typical UK winter's day: dawn at 9, dusk at 3:30, and dim gray wetness inbetween. So waking up to sunlight must mean Spring is just about here! Thank you! My vitamin D reserves are most grateful!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Recipe: Lentil Loaf Supreme

I enjoy cooking, especially when it involves completely making up a new dish of some kind. My lentil loaf supreme has been fairly popular and had many recipe requests. I always made it up as I went, but I finally wrote it down today to go into a cook book some friends are putting together.

Lentil Loaf Supreme

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 120 minutes

1 cup brown lentils
1 cup puy lentils
1/4 cup aduki beans
1/4 cup wild rice
1 cup couscous
3 bell peppers
2 onions
1 tube tomato puree
handful black olives
handful mushrooms
cooking oil
4 stock cubes
2 tablespoons dried chopped rosemary (or 4 fresh)
2 tablespoons dried chopped sage (or 4 fresh)
1 teaspoon chilli flakes

FYI... there is some general confusion about lentil nomenclature. When I say brown lentils, I mean the mostly flat, tan coloured lentils that are most commonly available. When I say puy lentils, I mean the dark green mottled lentils that are smaller and not as flat.

Put lentils, aduki beans, and wild rice in water, and simmer for 1 hour. Check every 10 minutes to stir, and add water if needed. The microwave is the easiest (and greenest) way to boil pulses like this. Once cooked, drain off cooking water, put in a large mixing bowl, and mash. The brown lentils should turn mushy, while the puy lentils, beans, and wild rice should hold their shape.

Chop peppers and onions finely into squares. Shallow fry in cooking oil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add pepper/onion mix to lentil mix.

Bring 2 cups of water to boil, and add in the 4 stock cubes (crumbled), rosemary, sage, and chili flakes. Make sure the stock cubes are fully dissolved. Turn off heat, and stir in 1 cup couscous. Leave for 10 minutes to absorb water. After this, stir in couscous with lentil/pepper/onion mix. Also stir in 1/2 tube of tomato puree (100 g).

Grease a large, deep cooking pan (or two if they are small) with cooking oil, and add lentil/pepper/onion/couscous mix to fill the pan(s) evenly. Put the remaining 1/2 tube tomato puree in a bowl, and mix with 1/2 water. Spread this tomato sauce evenly over the lentil loaf in the pan. Put chopped olives and chopped mushrooms on top of this tomato covering. Bake for 50 minutes at 200 degrees. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing into squares. Keeps well for several days.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Best Campaign Video Yet

This is by far the best presidential campaign video I have seen:

FYI, that was made by a guy named William Adams (he's the first guy you see in the video), not the Obama campaign itself. You can watch Obama's speech here. Transcript here.

Now, if you are like me, you've suffered from low-level clinical depression that mysteriously appeared in November of 2000, that you expected to clear up in November of 2004, but then didn't, and now you expect it to clear up in November of 2008. In fact, if you are like me, you might suspect that GWB is on the payroll of anti-depressant manufacturers seeing as he has done such a great job of drumming up business.

Obama does something here which is so simple but so effective: he shares emotions with people. And the emotion people need the most now is hope. Obama is a master orator, and his speeches absolutely resonate with hopeful emotion (he's not so hot as a debater, to be fair.) If you watch some of MLK's and JFK's old speeches, you will find a very similar style. America is broken, most Americans know that, and we need hope. We need our leaders to understand that.

In polls over the last several years, the US Congress (and Vice President) have had an approval rating in the teens, while the President has been in the 30s, "peaking" at 29%. For reference, when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, his approval was in the 60s, and in July of 1973, when the Watergate scandal was in full force, Nixon's approval was 39%. America, when compared to the rest of the developed world, has one foot in the crapper, and people don't feel very good about that. Aside from the normal big issues of bitter partisanship, Iraq, the economy, and the environment, we've got a whole lot of other crap going on. Our infant mortality rates are worse than every other developed nation in the world, with the exception of Latvia. Americans consume more cocaine than any other developed nation. We have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs in the developed world (16 times as high as Sweden!) We imprison more of our own citizens by far than any other nation in the world, including Russia and China (both by proportion and absolute figures), and imprison seven times as of our own citizens as most developed nations (by proportion.) Educationally, we are dropping internationally, in K-12 comprehension, college enrolment, and university research output. Only 20% of Americans think the nation is on the right track. As a nation, we are getting downright grumpy.

But Americans are generally good people. I would say overwhelmingly so. And to see all these bad things happen to our country makes us sad, and yearn for hope. Obama sees that, and empathizes. Gore and Kerry saw it, and offered facts and statistics. (Bush doesn't see it at all -- he thinks we're all doing "a heckuva job.") Unfortunately, facts, figures, and policy plans don't win elections, and Democrats are big on presenting statistics and policy minutia. Do you know the only Democratic president in living memory to win re-election? Bill Clinton. Why? He could empathize with people, even if he was a slimeball in certain other regards. But this isn't just my opinion; there is a raft of empirical research showing that leaders (whether they be Presidents or just your boss) who empathize are the ones who are considered successful, facts be damned. The results are always the same: for most people, politics is all about emotion, and particularly emotions tied in with social groups. This has been demonstrated in countless studies conducted in the field, lab studies, and through fMRI scans (when thinking about political candidates, the logic parts of our brains don't light up -- the emotion parts do). Drew Westen, a psychology professor at Emory, has published extensively in this area, and has a good review of the research in The Political Brain (2007) for those who are interested.

Personally, I like facts and figures. Probably a little too much. So when I vote, it comes after a lot of time looking up statistics, checking on old senate votes, and comparing policy proposals. I do this for state elections in states I don't even live in. I realize that makes me about as lame as a two legged horse, but it's how I am. So trust me when I say policy is important. To me, it is all about utilitarianism. But policy does not win elections. Emotional intelligence does. It's a relief to finally see a candidate who can articulate and embrace the nation's feelings, and has a solid policy platform. Fingers crossed for Tuesday!

(Something else that needs to change: I received my absentee ballot just this week -- at least two weeks too late to guarantee arriving in time for Tuesday's primary. You guys will have to vote for me since mine won't be counted.)

I'm Back!

Hello again! Sorry to be gone for so long. Life has been busy. There's the usual workload, and on top of that, I've had colds or the flu for about 75% of the time for the last five months. Seriously, my body is not made for England's cold and wet climate. In college in Georgia, I would almost never get sick, and never miss work/class because of it. But in the UK, I often have a cold for months in the winter. Some of my Australian friends here have had similar experiences. But I'm back now, and feeling better. I'll aim for at least one or two posts a week, but no promises just yet!