Helping Things Get Better

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Life will get better.

Most of my posts on the Fodder’s domestic issues are borderline rambling and have to do with recent Congressional bills, political happenings or a hot-button issue that has taken control of the most recent news cycle. Today will be different. It will be short and to the point. Today, all I want is to draw your attention to a YouTube initiative started by author, activist and media pundit Dan Savage:  The “It Gets Better Project

Founded before the nationally covered, tragic suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, It Gets Better is a forum for happy, openly gay adults to post their own stories of bully-filled, persecuted childhoods (not that all LGBT childhood are by any means) and to deliver one message: “It gets better.” Life gets better. Narrow, close-minded, spiteful people will try to wear you down; but do no, do not,t let them take away your spirit. It gets better. In a time where suicides in the LGBT communities are increasingly prevalent, the testimonials on the itgetsbetterproject channel are touching, powerful and necessary.

In ways, it’s a shame that Mr. Savage and his fellow contributors had to turn to an internet/social media campaign, circumventing the “traditional” media sources, to bring a message to a population of vulnerable teenagers. In other ways, it is a fitting venue considering some in this society would still consider this a “subversive” message.  Either way, all I ask of you is to log on to YouTube and watch a video or two or three. You will be so happy you did.

Listen to a NPR interview with Mr. Savage here.

To add some star-power (so I can tag it an increase some hits!), watch Project Runway’s Tim Gunn‘s testimonial here.

Finally, please “like” the project on Facebook!

The Afghan-Pakistan Conundrum

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Pakistan: the regional powder keg.

Our armed forces and their NATO allies are now plodding into the tenth year of the War in Afghanistan. After a decade fighting in remote, inhospitable terrain against a foe that is constantly bolstered by widespread public discontent in the civilian government; a policy tipping point is fast approaching. Since June, the Obama Administration has publicly confirmed that it will tentatively begin the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan in the Summer of 2011. (I will quantify this by saying that 10 months is a long time; the Administration and the Department of Defense are not soothsayers and have no idea if the timeline will be adhered to.) But as that political line-in-the-sand creeps closer, constituents, policy wonks, talking heads and law makers will be scrutinizing the gains made in Afghanistan in the past ten years and the prospects of the war succeeding in its goals. The consensus will likely follow the views of the general public: that the war cannot succeed based on an opposition to American involvement and disillusionment with the mission.

A quick analysis of the War in Afghanistan will reveal a myriad of facts that will establish one truth: that Afghanistan is almost unwinnable because of truly impassable terrain, a civilian government racked by corruption, a continually active insurgency and a lugubrious economy. The facts leave little doubt in this conclusion. These seemingly insurmountable developmental challenges are inextricably linked by a common factor that has been, until last week, missing from the collective American consciousness: Pakistan.

Realistically, I cannot sit here and claim Pakistan is an actual “lost factor” in America’s discussion of the war. We have, for a year(s), heard about the Pakistani Taliban, cross-border drone strikes and the country’s shady, if obviously visible, links with Islamist extremism. However, these negative topics about our strategic ally have always been brought to light by independent organizations, pundits and policy groups. That is to say, US government officials are not usually the derivation of maligning conversations about Pakistan. This has been the case since the Bush Administration’s buddy-buddy relationship with ex-Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf (yes, strongman) to the Obama Administration’s working friendship with the venerable Benazir Bhutto‘s corrupt widower Asif Ali Zardari. That is, until last week.

Last Wednesday, the White House produced a report on Pakistan and delivered it to Congress. The game changing factor of the report comes in the frank language the Administration uses to describe the very real, lack of veracity that permeates the Pakistani Government’s attempts to tackle Islamist groups within its borders. This is the first time that a recent American administration has charged the Pakistani authorities with not actively combating extremist groups that it can, in most likely scenarios, handle. So why does Pakistan do this? Why has it not throttled the groups that are detrimental to Afghanistan’s and its own security? Ironically, it has nothing to do tacit religious complacency or desired influence in Afghanistan. It has everything to with its looming neighbor of 1.1 billion.

India, the unseen influence in Afghanistan.

Understanding this, I want to draw your attention to the one integral issue that will be the eternal hurdle to winning the War in Afghanistan: Pakistani-Indian relations, more specifically, Kashmir.

Now, you may ask, “how does that perpetual conflict affect the Taliban and Afghanistan?” Unfortunately, the two are much more closely linked than any official of the United States, Pakistan or India would likely admit. Pakistan, since the beginning of the decades long conflict, has been fighting a proxy war with the Indian administrators of Kashmir through the training of Kashmiri (doubling as Islamic) extremist groups. Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI, have been involved in the preparation of militants aligned with Lashkar-e-Taiba (which gained international notoriety for their attacks on Mumbai) and a myriad of other jihadi groups. Mr. Musharraf, just this past week, confirmed this oft debated fact. Because of the volatility of relations between the two regional powers, Pakistan decided that it would be in their best self-interest to promote these independent, violent actors (mostly in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions) in case any conflict were to combust. The result has been better than intended. Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore; all have experienced violence committed by groups linked to the lawless tribal regions. The infamous Wazirstans, the stronghold of every group from the Pakistani Taliban to al-Qaeda, are now in the grip of extremism that is dauntingly difficult to loosen. In bolstering supranational organizations, the Pakistani authorities unintentionally (maybe intentionally unintentionally?) created the forces successfully hindering NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Now this is all fairly rudimentary knowledge for any one who has studied the region; most have not, however. What I want to stress is that all of these policies were introduced and acted upon under the auspices of competing with India; it was unequivocally the motivating factor. THIS is the part of the Pakistan conversation that is missing in the American media though is integral in understanding Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

We cannot discuss all the intricacies of Pakistani-Indian relations here; there is just too much to cover. We can say, however, that since partition, India and Pakistan have used one another for justification of dangerous land disputes (Kashmir), nuclear pursuits and regional power brokering. It has been 63 years. Religious tensions, power politics, bitter history and pure hate (for some, sadly) divide the two powerful nations. Until there is a normalization and warming between the two neighbors, the one-upsmanship and twisted reasoning for shady dealings will absolutely continue. We all have to hope that the day will come soon. If not, Afghanistan may be the least of the international community’s worries in South-East Asia.

SAVE THE DATE!

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Cocktail Fodder is back. But a little different. Photo by Hector Garcia.

Cocktail Fodder is back! Save the date! One week from today, on October 11th, your favorite conversation-starting, fun-fact generating, snarktastic blog will be back, producing new content.

Yes, the Fodder has been on hiatus for a little longer than expected. Yes, we’re officially down a founding member. Yes, we’ll have to slim down content for the time being before we find a bright young mind to join the cause. Yes, Captain Adam is still churning out the good ole alcohol related humor. No, we will not waver from our goal or stop rocking your world with brain-stimulating, morally challenging opinions and espresso machine fodder tidbits. No, you won’t get those 30 minutes back each day you spend on Cocktail Fodder. Sorry.

So mark you calendar. Put it in your Blackberry. Throw it in your iCal on your iPad or iPhone. Do what you need to do. Just remember, we’re back and better than ever. Get ready.

A Hiatus

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

A hiatus.

Well as you can all probably tell, our conversation with our blog has taken a lot longer than expected. Due to some internal strife and constraints, we’ve been forced into a prolonged hiatus. We’re doing what we can, as fast as we can, to get the Fodder back on it’s feet. We’ll be back up, in some shape and form, in September. Thanks for your support and we will see you then!

The Week in Fodder

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s Friday… and what’s this… a Week in Fodder posted on the correct day?!!! WEIRD. Well, we did it, got it out in time. A lot of good stuff in this week’s edition… Hezbollah and Lebanon, Catalonian independence, the ESB, Warren Jeffs, mandatory minimums, alcohol and arthritis, crazy Philly fans and SO much more. Enjoy!

World Views:

Hezbollah: Creating tension in Lebanon.

Pakistan Air Blue Crash: Early Wednesday morning an Air Blue flight from Karachi to Islamabad crashed in the hills of Northern Pakistan just minutes before landing. Sadly, all 146 passengers along with 6 crew members perished in the accident. In a remote area, the crash site is near unreachable due to a lack of any form or roads and rough jungle terrain. Rescue workers immediately found a flight recorder; officials are hoping that the recorder will provide insight into the cause of the crash; beyond the weather that was the most likely cause.

Favela Makeover: On Tuesday, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes announced that slums (favelas) surrounding the city will be receiving a facelift before the 2016 Summer Olympics. Affecting over 200,000 households, the renovations and clearing of the favelas will cost over $4.5 billion. With over 600 communities receiving the “facelift,” the action-plan is audacious. The 13,000 families from the 123 communities that will be displaced by the actual destruction of the most decrepit areas will be relocated. This is the latest move in the ongoing struggle between the Brazilian government and the favela residents. After deadly landslides killed over 200 in April, the Rio government signed a decree into law that would allow the forcible eviction of favela residents. In May, a report by a non-governmental group found the official justification to be standing on shaky legal ground. The bottom line is that the Rio government sees the favelas as a hinderance to modernization for a handful of different reasons. The Olympics provide the municipal powers with the perfect rationalization to make a significant change. It all smacks, disturbingly, of Beijing’s attitude and tactics in the days and months leading up to the 2008 Games.

KGB Redux?: Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law a bill that will expand the powers of the ESB; the descendant of the Soviet KGB. The bill passed both houses of Parliament but sparked major debate. In a country where dissent in relation to the Kremlin’s preferred policies is – let’s say – frowned upon, the fact this bill has been so strongly opposed raises red flags about the danger of the new law. The controversy revolves around specific language in the new law. ESB agents will now have the power to “warn officially an individual about the inadmissibility of actions that create the conditions for the commission of crimes.” That is terribly vague and dangerously usable language. In country where freedoms are shrinking, opposition journalists are murdered and Vladimir Putin casts a ever-present shadow, the ESB’s new powers are a disturbing development.

Bullfighting Ban: The Parliament of Catalonia, the semi-autonomous southern region of Spain, voted to ban bullfighting this week. With the vote, Catalonia becomes the first region of Spain to outlaw the historic national pastime. The measure made it to Parliament on the back of a petition signed by over 180,000 persons. While the decision can be seen within the scope of an animal rights campaign, many Spanish political experts believe that this was a power move by Catalonian nationalists to separate themselves from the rest of Spain; proof of a different historical identity. If it was, it was tactfully done. Keep an eye on this story.

Lebanese Tension: After a round of groundbreaking talk between Lebanese, Saudi and Syrian officials in Beirut, there has been a united call for maintained stability and piece in the volatile Mediterranean country. There are signs of a renewed conflict within its borders. After years of turmoil following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, a unity government was finally formed in 2008. This, of course, included the politically powerful Hezbollah. As the UN investigation into Mr. Hariri’s death wraps up and it becomes more and more likely that it will condemn Hezbollah members, tension is rising. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, stated in a television interview this week that he would not stand for the defamation of his organization; a warning shot across the bow of the UN. After the 2006 War with Israel, Lebanon cannot handle another step backwards. Keep an eye on this story when the UN report comes out.

American Matters:

As his followers stay true, Warren Jeffs gets a new trial in Utah.

SB 1070 Blocked: On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton struck down some of the most controversial aspects – the ability of police officers to detain persons the believe to be “removable,” the pressing of all officers to determine immigration status in any kind of routine encounter with citizens and the requirement for all legal and illegal residents to carry proof of residency/legal immigration – of Arizona’s hot-button immigration law. Issuing an injunction against those facets, Judge Bolton cited the laws usurpation of the Federal Government’s sole right to make immigration law in the United States. Arizona immediately launched an appeal. Reaction has been varied. (Here is a little sampling.) SB 1070 is undoubtedly on a fast-track to the Supreme Court.

Jeffs’ Verdict Overturned: The 2007 conviction of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophetical leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*** (FLDS), was overturned this week by the Utah Supreme Court. Found guilty of facilitating the rape of a 14 year old FLDS member, Mr. Jeffs was sentenced to two concurrent 5 to life terms in prison. Citing a misrepresentation of legal facts by the judge in the 2007 case, a unanimous decision by the Utah Supreme Court means that further legal action against Mr. Jeffs in Utah is highly unlikely. Luckily, there are charges pending in Texas and on the Federal level against the FLDS leader. Mr. Jeffs ideology and church are immoral, dangerous and unacceptable in our modern United States; I only hope that he stays in prison where he belongs.

***This link is to the FLDS website run by the FLDS. Take it for what you will. OR, as they say, with a grain of salt.

Mandatory Minimum Victory: On Wednesday, after almost 25 years of injustice, Congress finally passed legislation to change the disparity in crack cocaine-powder cocaine mandatory sentencing on a national level. Since 1986, in the midst of the crack scare, Congress passed a law that put the mandatory minimum sentence of a first time crack cocaine offense at a level of 100 to 1 to the same first time offense of powder cocaine. Because of the cheapness of crack compared to powder, the issue quickly became socioeconomic; this inevitably led to a racial disparity. I won’t get into a lecture here. All I will say is this: it’s about damn time Congress.

Blago Trial: Illinois is officially on verdict watch in the Rod Blagojevich trial. After a controversy over Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyer’s closing argument, the jury started deliberation on Thursday. Facing over 20 criminal charges, Mr. Blagojevich is in the midst of one of the most prolific political corruption trial in recent memory. As in all high profile cases, the jury will most likely pontificate for a longer period of time before returning a verdict. Look for one early next week. Until then, however, you can place your bets on when they will come back, here, on Chicagoist.com.

Arlington Controversy: Earlier this year, John Melzer – the former superintendent of the Arlington National Cemetery – was forced to retire over a scandal involving the mislabeling and lack of labeling of at least 600 graves in the national resting place. Yesterday, Mr. Melzer and his right-hand man, Thurman Higginbotham, testified to a hostile Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), citing her own investigation, stated that the errors in labeling, in reality, affected somewhere between 4,000-7,000 graves. Senators on both sides of the aisle attacked Mr. Melzer and Mr. Higginbotham’s handling of the situation. The latter ended up pleading the 5th in response to a myriad of questions; the former blamed most of the errors on his staff. Let’s hope this unfortunate disrespect of our nation’s heros can be fixed sooner rather than later.

Off the Beaten Path:

Feeling arthritic? Drink it down, baby.

Alcohol and Arthritis: A study by the University of Sheffield released this week has found a direct link between drinking alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis relief. The study concludes, using two different test groups, that people who frequently drink alcohol, on whole, have less joint pain and swelling. It’s a victory for all college students, winos and arthritis suffers all over the world. I can already see it. A cop walks up to a car in a suspected DUI stop… “Have you been drinking tonight?” “Sory ociffer, my artritis was flaring up today…(insert hiccup).”

Paul the Octopus… the Great Satan Incarnate?: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave Islamist groups everywhere another reason to hate the West this week: Paul the Octopus. Claiming the octopus represents “decadence” and “decay” among his Western enemies, Ahmadinejad stated that people who believed in soothsaying octopi could not possibly aspire to the “human perfection” that the Islamic Republic does. Let’s call a spade a spade here… Ahmadinejad is a hater. Pure Haterade. He’s just jealous Paulie Boy didn’t pick Iran to win the World Cup. I’ll raise a drink to Paul the Octopus tonight. Will anyone else join me?

Apache on Main Street: This week, an Apache helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing on a street in Kershaw, S.C. due to mechanical problems. The Apache landed on the nearest, safest road when the crew decided it was too dangerous to continue on. The Army left it parked on the street overnight until it could send a truck to pick it up. I can only imagine that AAA call. “What kind of car is it?”…. “It’s actually a $56.25 million Apache…” “You know we only cover the first 20 miles of towing… right?”

The Northwest Passage: Over 150 years ago, the HMS Investigator traveled toward the Arctic searching for the legendary Northwest Passage and a quick link to the Indian silk routes. After getting marooned on the Arctic ice, the crew abandoned the ship. This week, an archaeological team found the ship’s remains. There may be some controversy over this discovery, however. Since the Investigator was found in Canada’s Western Arctic, there will probably be a turf war between Canadian and British authorities as to where the ship’s final resting place will be. I, personally, think it should stay where it is. It’s a testament to the explorers that opened this world for the rest of us; let it sit!

Vomit and the Phillies: Anyone who knows sports knows that Philadelphia fans are a special breed; intense, passionate and mostly crazy. Well this story – and what a story it is – would only happen at a Phillies game. Last Friday, Matthew Clemmens – a native of the Dirty Jerz, that’s a whole different story – intentionally vomited on a spectator and his daughter as the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. That spectator was actually an off-duty police officer; talk about karma. Anyway, Clemmens was sentenced to three months in jail and two years of probation. I mean, are we serious here? When was the last time you went to a sporting even, heckled the person in front of you for an hour and then pulled the trigger and puked on them? Oh right, never. Get better Matthew Clemmens.

Oh, and here’s some Phillies fan action for you…

Quotes of the Week:

LOVING the yacht controversy...

“If you guys think that John Kerry doesn’t have enough sense of either propriety or common sense, that I’m going to be sailing my boat around Massachusetts where I’m highly recognizable but it’s going to somehow stay in Rhode Island and I’m going to avoid a tax . . . I’d be crazy to think that I’m going to be doing that, and that was never our long-term intention here.’’ – Sen. John Kerry in a Boston Globe interview concerning the controversy surrounding his new yacht. New $7 million yacht and referring to himself in the third person? NBD.

“I’m working every day to clear this black mark from me and my family. Give me the opportunity to show you who I am and not who I was that one afternoon.” – Matthew Clemmens at his sentencing. Good luck with that, kid.

Idiom of the Week: To be a bundle of nerves.

This week’s Idiom of the Week describes someone who is nervous and uptight.

Example #1: John was quite a bundle of nerves when his name was called on to read a passage of Hamlet aloud in front of the class.

Example #2: John Kerry was a bundle of nerves when he realized he didn’t pay taxes on his new yacht.

Song of the Week:

This week’s Song of the Week comes from the New Jersey band Real Estate. It’s a great chill, summer tune to put on in the background. Enjoy!

That concludes our Week in Fodder. Hope you got something for your weekend shenanigans. Thanks for tuning in. Until next week, keep living the good life!

Food for Thought: Chayote and Hearts of Palm Salad

July 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Hearts of Palm: mysterious and delicious.

If you work at a trendy wine shop in the East Village, you are bound to brush shoulders with some of the movers and shakers of the city and beyond. Matt Dillon once graced the store and proceeded to lick cheese off my coworker’s knife while his girlfriend strolled around the store looking for something “with a lot of fruit and some kick to it.” One of the more interesting and fulfilling encounters I’ve had at the shop has been with Food Network chef Aaron Sanchez. Restaurant owner, author, consultant and co-star of Food Network’s popular, Chefs vs. City, Chef Sanchez is one of the leading contemporary Latin Chefs in NYC and a regular shopper at Alphabet City Wine Company. We began talking about food and I eventually asked him to give me some simple, yet refined, recipes to impress and make one’s heart happy. He got back to me last week with three recipes. All of them, fittingly, use ingredients indigenous to Latin America.

Chayote

The first one I will share is Chayote and Hearts of Palm Salad. You might be asking yourself (as I did), “what the heck is a chayote?” Chayote is a tropical trailing vine which produces fruits. Although, it is treated more like a vegetable than a fruit; think of it as the summer squash from Latin America. Also known as Mexican Squash, vegetable pears, and Christophine – among other names – chayote can be enjoyed both cooked and raw. When lightly cooked it retains a nice crispiness; while raw chayote is usually added to salads or salsas. For this particular recipe the chayote is lightly cooked and then added into a salad. Enjoy!

Chayote and Hearts of Palm Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 2 pound chayotes (also called mirlitons; 4 medium)
  • 2 (14 to 15 – ounce cans hearts of palm, not salad-cut), rinsed well and drained
  • 2 large celery ribs, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Print a shopping list for this recipe

Preparation:

Mince garlic and mash to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt using side of a large heavy knife. Whisk together lime juice, oil, and garlic paste in a large bowl, then add onion, tossing to coat.

Halve chayotes lengthwise, then peel with a vegetable peeler and scoop out pits with a spoon. Cut chayotes crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices then halve slices lengthwise to make 1/3-inch-thick sticks (sticks will not be uniform). Cook chayotes in a 4 to 6-quart pot of boiling salted water until crisp/tender. It should be about 6 minutes. Drain well in a colander, then, while still hot, toss with dressing. Cool to room temperature.

Cut hearts of palm diagonally into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then add to chayote mixture along with celery, parsley, cilantro and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently toss.

Enjoy!