Monday, April 30, 2007

Get it straight, Mr. Cheney

And so titles a recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times (Opinion, April 24, 2007) authored by none other than George S. McGovern, former U.S. senator from South Dakota and Democratic nominee for president in 1972 (he lost to Nixon).

The piece is a straightforward chastisement of a Cheney attack on the Democratic Party. McGovern provides a concise and relevant comparison of the Iraq War with the Vietnam War, the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush-Cheney administration, the truth-challenged path we were offered to justify invading Iraq, and the morally corrupt team currently occupying the White House.

McGovern also has an interview in the current issue of Rolling Stone Magazine (Fortieth Anniversary). While McGovern lost the 1972 bid to become president, peace and the Vietnam War was a major platform issue of his campaign. Like the Iraq War, the Vietnam War was a civil war and our participation in it was immoral since that country posed no threat to us.

A telling quote from the Rolling Stone interview is
“I take a lot of satisfaction in the fact that, even though we lost [the 1972 campaign], we helped end the war in Vietnam. My campaign made it impossible for that war to continue.”
Of course, not long after his re-election Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment. Offering us a comparison between the Nixon administration and the current administration, McGovern writes
“It is my firm belief that the Cheney-Bush team has committed offenses that are worse than those that drove Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew and Attorney General John Mitchell from office after 1972. . . . I expect to see Cheney and Bush forced to resign their offices before 2008 is over.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Patriotism and Peace

Washington D.C. is a city you can get around in. I used a combination of the Virginia commuter train from Fredericksburg, the metro, and my own two feet. As I strolled downtown Washington D. C., I turned the corner on G Street and saw Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace billboard beaming out from the Verizon Center. It will be on display through April 29.
Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Billboard in Washington D.C.Washington D.C. makes me patriotic. I decided to visit the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum, both housed in the Smithsonian Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. The building has been recently renovated. It is the original Patent Office Building and said to be a “masterpiece of Greek Revival design.” It was constructed between 1836 and 1868. You can read more about this amazing building and its history here.

This is two museums in one, and as such, demands multiple visits to absorb all that it has to offer. Here is a sample from the Smithsonian American Art Museum entitled 'October' (1867, artist John Whetter Ehninger).
'October' 1867 artist John Whetter Ehninger, Smithsonian American Art Museum Like many D.C. museums, this one is free, although its hours, 11:30Am – 7:00PM, are a bit odd. (Okay, I admit it. I showed up at 9:00AM thinking I could perhaps visit a second museum later in the day.)

The building itself is stunning, with a sweeping staircase and an upper floor with vaulted ceilings.
James Monroe, National Portrait Gallery, 1816, artist John VanderlynGraceful stairway in the Smithsonian Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture

My first interest, however, was the America’s Presidents exhibition, the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House. Each portrait also includes a plaque telling you something about the president. Here is a portrait of James Monroe (1816, artist John Vanderlyn).

It’s interesting to go through. You realize there are some presidents you don’t think about very much—when’s the last time you thought about Millard Fillmore (13th, not nominated for a second term) or William Henry Harrison (9th, died in office and served only one month) or even Chester A. Arthur (21st, not nominated for a second term)?

Things change a bit when you get to presidents who served during your lifetime. Everybody remembers where they were or what they were doing when Kennedy got shot (okay, if you were alive you remember).

You remember the disgrace of Nixon (“I am not a crook!”) and the fact that he is the only president (so far) who has resigned. His portrait in the gallery is admittedly small, but tasteful and certainly flattering. He is credited for opening relationships with China. His successor, Gerald Ford, is the only president not elected either vice president or president (he was appointed vice president when Agnew resigned and succeeded Nixon when Nixon resigned). Ford pardoned Nixon and gave amnesty to the Vietnam War resisters.

What kind of portrait and what little tidbit are “they” going to write about the current Bush? (One website kindly noted that he once owned part interest in the Texas Rangers baseball team. Is that an accomplishment?) And if Buchanan is signaled out as being a contender for Worst President Ever because he helped start a civil war . . . wait! Didn’t Bush start a civil war in Iraq?

Let’s not belabor the obvious. On a more patriotic note, here is a license plate speak mural in the American Art section that displays the Preamble to the Constitution (Preamble, 1987, Mike Wilkins, sculptor). You can see the real thing (the real Preamble and the real Constitution) in the National Archives.

'Preamble', 1987, Mike Wilkins, sculptor, Smithsonian American Art Museum God Bless America.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Stop and Smell the Ranunculi

Rows and rows of yellow and red ranunculi dazzle the eyes
Close-up shows the delicacy of barely pink ranunculusOver 50 acres spread across a coastal hillside above Interstate 5 in Carlsbad (southern California) erupt every spring into splashy ribbons of color. The Ranunculus bulbs bloom early March to May. Actually, very few of the flowers are sold—these plants are primarily grown to harvest the bulbs (approximately 200,000 bulbs per acre).

I see these fields every year and every time I drive by I tell myself, "Gee, I should go walk among these blooms and take a few photos."

The coastal area around Carlsbad (site of the Ranunculus flower fields) and Encinitas (self-proclaimed flower capital of the world) boasts greenhouses and flower fields to rival The Netherlands. Property values, however, have put a strain on the maintainability of flower growing. I have seen more than a few greenhouses in my area leveled to make room for new housing developments.

Classic white ranunculus contrasts with red
And again I tell myself, "Gee, I should go walk among these blooms and take a few photos."

Human form gives perspective to the ranunculi population
This multi-colored frame shows the range of colors possibleFortunately, the Flower Fields in Carlsbad have evolved into a tourist attraction—they charge admission if you want to walk the fields, admire the blooms, and take pictures. If turning the fields into a tourist destination (hey, Legoland is right around the corner) saves them from becoming housing slab, I’m happy to pay.

And so I did walk among these blooms and take a few photos.

When you visit, you'll get a brochure explaining the history of these flowers, the history of the fields, and more than you'll ever want to know about Edwin Frazee and his Ranunculus flowers. Through selection and breeding by said Frazee, the flowers today are multi-petaled and boast 16 different shades—before today I did not know that.

Rich gold color stretches forever in the Ranunculus field
But don't stop and smell the ranunculi—these beauts have no fragrance.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sassy Sorrel

Sassy Sorrel in my gardenI confess that I had never heard of sorrel until I picked up a couple plants at my local nursery to add to my nascent vegetable garden. Sorrel has a lemony tartness that startled me and I started searching for interesting recipes. I currently have two favorites: Sorrel Soup and Sorrel Salsa, both from Rosso and Lukins New Basics Cookbook. I modified the Sorrel Soup to make it vegan (substitute olive oil for butter and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock), but the salsa recipe is already vegan-friendly. The soup includes onions, garlic, sorrel leaves (of course), stock, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. It’s a purée and can be served hot or cold (I prefer hot). The salsa is great for a party appetizer (serve it with crackers) or to accompany fish (uh, sometimes I eat fish). It is simply made with sorrel leaves, chopped tomatoes, red onion, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

And for a literary reference, in Émile Zola’s Germinal: ‘Oh, the soup!’ said Maheude wearily, ‘that means picking sorrel and pulling some leeks . . .’ (’Tis incubating in the Book Club Possibility Bin.)
Recipe: Sorrel Soup

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Boobarry Night at PETCO

My own Padres jersey--a gift from son Kellen Compared to last year’s flying syringes, Boobarry Night this year was rather tame. Low scoring, low hitting, it was all about executing the baseball script. With a strange mixture of ex-Padres (Bochy, Flannery, Roberts and others) and traditional Giant foes (Durham and Vizquel both made hit-robbing plays, as well as Roberts’ amazing running catch to the wall in center field), the night took on a “Who are we” and “Who are you” feeling. Barry was a non-factor, even watching him rattle about the left-field corner chasing down Greenie’s double in the 7th (it was a solid double even without the rattling). Kahlil Greene’s long hit proved to be the start of the lone run of the game, helped along by Russell Branyan’s walk and Jose Cruz Jr.’s sacrifice bunt to move the runners up a base, putting Greene on third. Jeff Blum, frequently good for game-shaping offense, delivered a sacrifice fly to score Greene. His long-out fly ball was barely foul, but perhaps too close to let drop by Winn in right field.

Padre starter Chris Young went seven innings (good for the win) and the Padre bull pen continued their scoreless innings stretch (20 2/3 innings and counting), with Cla Meredith and Trevor Hoffman posting zeros each for an inning. Giant pitching was also excellent, with Giant Cain throwing a two-hitter but taking the loss.

For me, two moments stand out from last night. One, it was really nice (really, really) to have a manager call for a bunt (note: non-pitcher up at bat) with two on and no outs: a game-winning decision, no doubt. Bud Black is not Bruce Bochy. Two, long-time Padre player, coach, and announcer Tim Flannery coaching third base for the Giants, seemed uncomfortable during the raucous Trevor Time, a celebrated Padre home field tradition before Trevor takes the mound in a save situation. Our seats just on the left-field side of third (and aided by binocs) revealed a bit of pacing and squirming from Tim during Hells Bells.

The other nicety about this year’s Padres? Two sets of brothers populate the roster: Marcus and Brian Giles and Glenn and Trevor Hoffman. From the right field bleacher seats where I was sitting on Sunday (thanks for the tickets, Rob), a very cool site line shows Giles number 24 in the foreground and Giles number 22 at second. I wish I had carted a long lens on Sunday to frame that image!