Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Super Tuesday


Self-Portrait
Originally uploaded by The Marmot
This morning’s LA Times had a column by Steve Lopez talking about next Tuesday’s primary election. It was titled “Figuring out who's the better candidate.” Its theme was much the same as mine last Monday – how should a black person choose between Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama. It should be easy - vote for the candidate who will make the better president. But, that is hard to figure out and there is a lot of pressure to vote for the candidate’s gender or ethnicity.

It never made a difference to me in past primaries who was on the Democratic ballot as I have always been registered in a minor party (anybody remember the Peace and Freedom Party of the 60s) or as an independent. However, this year the Democrats are allowing “Non Partisans” to vote with them if we choose to do so. I am inclined to take them up on their offer.

I am inclined to vote for Obama. Now this might worry his supporters somewhat as in the forty years that I have been a registered voter – I have only voted for one presidential winner, Bill Clinton. Does this prove that I am a man who sticks to his principles or just totally out of touch with America, I am not sure.

There was a time when I felt that it did not really matter who was elected president. There is an old joke that goes something like – ‘they told me if I voted for (Senator Barry) Goldwater for President we would become involved in a land war in Asia. Well I did and we are.’ I thought that this was pretty much on the mark until the incumbent used September 11 as an excuse to involve us in a war that has proved to have no justification at all, continence torture, and throw billions of dollars to his cronies. (I will save his domestic policies for another screed.)

But, as long as Huckabee does not make to the White House, I am not too worried that things can get much worse in our country. So I am willing to cast my lot with another long shot. I say this because while conventional wisdom says that the Democratic nominee is likely to become the next president, in my heart I am not convinced. I think that when the chips are down, Americans are not yet ready for a woman or a person of color to be the national leader. I hope to be proven wrong, but only time will tell.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Quandary


Purple Cauliflower
Originally uploaded by The Marmot
I have been thinking some more about framing since my last post. Wikipedia tells that a frame in social theory consists of a schema of interpretation that individuals rely on to understand and respond to events.

Seemingly, a person constantly projects into the world around them the interpretive frames that allow them to make sense of it; we only shift frames (or realize that we have habitually applied a frame) when incongruity calls for a frame shift. In other words, we only become aware of the frames that we always already use when something forces us to replace one frame with another. An individual can effectively set an agenda by consistently invoking a particular frame. The framing party may then control discussion and perception of the issue.

Of course as I write this the South Carolina primary is well behind us, but in hindsight, framing was well illustrated for me in an NPC piece a few weeks ago. A reporter questioned three black women, high up in the Democrats political machine, about their preferences for Clinton or Obama. They all admitted to being in a quandary, ‘do I vote for Clinton because she is a woman like me, or do I vote for Obama because he is black like me?’

You call that a question? It falls in to the trap of choosing the language to define a debate and, more important, with fitting individual issues into the contexts of broader story lines. [The Framing Wars. New York Times July 17, 2005]. The question should be - “Who has the most potential to be a good president?” The rest is merely commentary.

By the way, how does purple cauliflower grab you?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Storytelling


Arborday Visitors
Originally uploaded by The Marmot
Stories, such as narratives, myths, and fables, amount to a strong medium of exchange in human relationships. Stories speak to both parts of the human mind - its reason and its emotion. They can inspire and motivate people as they provide a tool for putting vision in to words. Stories can serve as a means for learning and communicating. They provide a powerful mechanism for capturing and leveraging knowledge, one that is complementary to logical thinking, or what we think of as "just the facts."

Fairhurst and Sarr(1996), in their book on framing, further explain, "Effective leaders present the world with images that grab our attention and interest. They use language in ways that allow us to see leader-ship not only as big decisions but as a series of moments in which images build upon each other to help us construct a reality to which we must then respond."

It has long been a practice of mine to mix personal or humorous stories in to almost all my presentations I make for work. Actually, I have become somewhat famous (or infamous) for this and frequently someone will call out for me to tell an “Aunt Dagmar” story as I get up to speak.

I think I grew in to this as I see storytelling as a performance rather than a mere act of narration. Thus when I tell a story I assume a persona that has no fear of public speaking, obviating the fact that I am really a shy person. I am extremely awkward when confronted with one or two people tête-à-tête as it were. But, put me on a stage and I am in hog heaven. This has led to some misunderstandings. Most people seem to feel the exact opposite about these situations. So when they come up to chat afterwards, or even worse during an obligatory rubber chicken lunch, and find that I am no longer my sparkling self; they assume that I am arrogant or aloof. This is not a good thing. But, if I have not changed by now I probably never will so I just have to deal with the fallout.

I use a form of storytelling when I give tours at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden as well. I think that people appreciate a plant more if rather than just giving them its name and then moving on that I tell them why I relate to it, why it has the name that it does, or how it can be used for food, fun, or fabric. This has been quite rewarding for me as at least once a season I will garner applause at the end of a tour. That is quite a boost to my ego.

Now, some educators fault me for being more of “sage on the stage” rather than a teacher. But I feel that my storytelling is interactive and does not create an imaginary barrier between me and the group. This is part of what distinguishes storytelling from the forms of theatre that use an imaginary “fourth wall.” The NSN says "that the interactive nature of storytelling partially accounts for its immediacy and impact. At its best, storytelling can directly and tightly connect the teller and audience."

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Challenge

Gentle Reader (if indeed there is one of you):

Blogging is a challenge for me. Part of it is I seldom know if anyone is actually reading it. Pearls Before Swine is one of my favorite comics. Sometime back Rat suggested to Goat that more people would read Goat's blog if he posted it on the refrigerator door instead of the internet.

That is probably the case with me as well. I have no one but myself to blame. My content is really nothing to write home about and, in any event, it has no focus. I chalk this to the fact that I have not found my voice, if I have one. So far I have just written what ever comes in to my head as I see some Monday, Wednesday, or Friday start to slip away without a posting.

Today is one of those days. It was a day off from work, but I tried to get around to some of the chores I have been putting off or waiting to around to it. Well one of those literally blew up in my face. So after I scheduled an electrician to come and set things tomorrow, I ended up running errands with Susan, my wife. So tonight I am rather zonked.

Ergo, I am faced with a dilemma post something that lacks any depth or substance, or not post anything - forgoing my three times a week schedule. Obviously, I went with the first option. I made this choice as I know that regular posting is one of the things that attract readership. If I broke my sting today it will be easier to do it in the future. I want to better with this blog than I did on my first and second attempts.

Thus, in a small way, I have faced this challenge for today. Now, I offer you a different one:



Friday, January 18, 2008

Motivating Yourself and Others


Not All Work
Originally uploaded by The Marmot
This past Wednesday I attended a class on "Motivating Yourself and Others." My boss strongly suggested that it would be better for the both of us if I did. It is true that my fervor for work has cooled off quit a bit. But , cynic that I am, I doubted that any class the job was paying for could actually give me a kick start.

Much to my surprise, the class was very good. We covered the challenges we face by having four generations in the workforce at one time. I am an "early boomer" and most of the people that I work with are, shall we say, quite seasoned. So it was interesting to see how the members of the "x" and "y" generations are motivated by things that might be anathema to many of us. This theory, of course, uses broad generalizations or stereotypes. So we also discussed personality types (I am a "High Achiever") and what was likely to motivate them.

Let it be known that I am not the type of guy who can be motivated by a pretty picture and a clever saying. However, I was excited when I left. Then after sleeping on it, the feeling passed.

I would like to note that the next day my boss was to attend. When she got to the junction of the 605 and the 60, she had a choice - continue straight to get to class or bear right and go home. She went home.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Continued Sunny


Cucamonga Peak
Originally uploaded by The Marmot
A typical Southern California view. The weather where I was standing, in front of the Corner Bakery in Victoria Gardens, was about 80 degrees.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Eat Fresh, Eat Local


Sweet Corn
Originally uploaded by The Marmot
My wife and I have frequented the local farmers market for years. We have done this for several reasons. There is a commitment to support the local economy (albeit no one will be sending their kids to college on the amount we spend). The products seem to be fresher and tastier than those at the mega marts. Then there is the ability to find items that are, for one reason or another, not available in the markets around here, but seem to be better than those that are.

Our favorite find this past year was Reed avocados. The Reed is a large, round avocado that slips easily from the peel, and has very good flavor and texture. It will stay firm even when ripe, so it's perfect for sandwiches and in salads, but not as good for guacamole.

The photo of sweet corn was taken at the farmers market about a year ago. Yes, I know it was winter. But, in Southern California, where the land ranges from the deserts to the sea, the seasons have little meaning. We are still harvesting tomatoes from Susan's garden, even though we have had a couple of nights of frost. But, I digress. The point is that when we first moved out here we could buy corn and strawberries from farm stands next to the fields where they were grown. These were only a few minutes away from home. Sadly, most of these have been forced out by housing development. One of these developments, not far from us, has assumed the unlikely name of "Sycamore Grove". Rightfully, it should be called "Strawberry Fields".

But, strawberry fields are not forever. Just before we arrived, an agricultural preserve had been established on a large tract of land to the southeast of us. It was to have lasted for perpetuity. It turns out that perpetuity is only ten years, not time without end as my thesaurus would have it.

Anyway, we are now buying further removed from the fields, but as local as possible. Little did we know that we have become part of a growing (no pun intended) trend. Seemingly, “eat local” has become a mantra of the environmental movement. It makes sense that buying crops that are not transport hundreds, if not thousands, of miles has a lesser impact on the planet. Being organic as most of the growers at the farmers' market is also a positive thing.

We are not hardcore in our commitment. Apples from Washington state are fine with us, those from New Zealand are not. We still shop at the supermarket when we feel the need. But, we have resolved to only eat what is in season and avoid imports, except for bananas. It remains to be seen how this works out for us.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Moleskinerie

moleskinerie

Moleskinerie is a blog dedicated to all things Moleskine, a brand of notebook manufactured by Moleskine srl, an Italian company.

I am not sure how I first discovered these notebooks. But, I own several and admit to being a bit taken in by the hyperbole about the legendary writers like Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin used them. But, actually they are very cleverly designed. They are bound, not in moleskin, but in oilcloth-covered cardboard. They also have an elastic band to hold the notebooks closed. A sewn spine allows them to lie flat when opened. They come in a variety of sizes and can be put to many uses.

Moleskine notebooks seem to be an obsession of many people, as witnessed on the pages of Moleskinerie. I am not obsessed, but I do recommend them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cooking


My Old Cook Book
Originally uploaded by The Marmot

I no longer remember when I began to learn to cook, but by the time I was twelve, when called upon, I could prepare a meal for the family. Once on my own, during collage and working I continued to cook, although nothing I made was very involved. When I moved in with the woman who was to become my wife we split duties in the kitchen about evenly. That was when I purchased the cookbook pictured here. I can not vouch for the current edition, this one is from the 70s, but I still feel that it was one of the best on the market. However, as I began getting increased responsibilities at work, putting in more hours at the office and sitting longer in traffic - I stopped cooking.

A few months ago, after a year or so of watching the Food Network, I announced that I was going to begin cooking again when I retired. Then, a short time later, I decided there was no need to wait and started to prepare meals on the weekends, a small step to be sure, but quite enjoyable.

The act of cooking is quite pleasing in itself. I actually get excited when I can successfully transform ingredients into food. Mainly, I depend on recipes to do what I do. But, I am also able to make successful departures from time to time. My goal is to learn is to learn how to put things together, rather than carefully proceed through a list step by step, with confidence and aplomb.

It would be wonderful to be able to stroll through the famers’ market some Sunday, pick up a few things that look first-class, and come home and fix something that tastes good. I have a lot to learn about flavors, textures, and balance before this happens. I think I can do it with observation and practice. Then, maybe by the time I retire I will actually have my own repertoire and really cook up a storm.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Jambalaya with Shrimp, Ham, and Andouille Sausage

I cooked this back in October. It was the first dish that I had prepared in a long time. Luckily, my affinity for Creole and Cajun cooking stood me well. As it has tomatoes this is a Creole version (red jumbalaya.)

Thinking about this tonight prompts me to give a shout out to The Southern Foodways Alliance . The SFA documents and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. Quoting from their web site "We set a common table where black and white, rich and poor -- all who gather -- may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation."

Sounds good to me, check them out: SFA