Double Oven Dreams

Lately, when I go into our kitchen, I am drawn to the shiny, aluminum-clad appliance in the far corner, next to the outside wall.  I look at it, and think about possibilities.  Happy, hopeful, heated, holiday possibilities.

It’s the double oven, of course.

IMG_7516_2A double oven may not be a big deal for those who’ve always had  one, but I’m not in that category.  I’ve only had a single oven, which has been . . . sufficient.  There aren’t many times when you really need two ovens.  But the holiday season is one of those times.  And now, with Thanksgiving only two days away and the Christmas cookie season right behind it, I think of what I might be able to accomplish with deft use of the double oven.

For Thanksgiving, the benefits of a double oven are obvious.  The turkey can be cooking away in one oven, perhaps with one or two other dishes, and the other oven can be used for warming pies, candied yams, rolls, a green bean casserole, and on and on.  No more desperate attempts at oven space management, trying to jam every course into the nooks and crannies around the turkey in a doomed bid to get everything hot and ready to serve at the same time.  In short, the double oven affords the luxury of ample space.

For Christmas cookie baking, the potential benefits are different.  The double oven should allow me to maximize efficiency and eliminate the down times, when I’ve got a sheet of cookies ready to bake but I’m waiting for those in the oven to finish.  I look at the shiny aluminum facing and I think of Dutch spice cookies turning a rich golden brown in the top oven as I’m loading a tray of Cranberry hootycreeks into the bottom unit.  An efficiency expert would undoubtedly be able to calculate how much time I might save by deft use of the double oven options.  It will require careful planning and sequencing, of course, but I’m eager to tackle the challenge.

And now I wonder — do I have enough counter space for all of these cookies?

Full Avoidance Mode

There was a football game played on Saturday, but I’d rather not talk about it.

It’s kind of embarrassing, really, but when it comes to unfortunate results in the sporting events that I care about I take a child-like, total ostrich approach.  I go into full avoidance mode.  I don’t read about it, I don’t want to see anything about it, and when people start to talk to me about it I feel like putting my fingers in my ears and saying “blah, blah, blah” until they go away and leave me to my sports solitude.

fingers-in-earsIt’s embarrassing behavior, because it’s juvenile.  An adult should be able to cope with a sports team loss, reading the different analyses of the game, listening to the pundits explain why things went sour, and so on.

I guess I’m just not an adult.  I still lose sleep over the bad losses and feel crushed by the dashed expectations.  If I go into full avoidance mode, at least I can prevent the news reports from exacerbating my distress.

So I’ve got my head in the sand for a few days.  The fact that Thanksgiving is this week will help — not because giving thanks for good fortune puts a sports loss into its proper perspective, which should be the case, but because a holiday always is a point of focus that makes things that happened before the holiday seem remote.  It’s the calendar equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going “lah, lah, lah.”

Strangers In A Strange Land

Do a majority of Americans really feel like “strangers in their own country”?

That’s one of the provocative conclusions of a recent Ipsos poll.  According to the poll, 53 percent of Americans surveyed — 62 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Independents, and 37 percent of Democrats — agreed with the statement “These days I feel like a stranger in my own country.”  An even larger percentage of respondents agreed with the statement “More and more, I don’t identify with what America has become.”

arrival20usaThe poll designers believe these results expose “neo-nativist” sentiments in America and help to explain the mystifying, continuing popularity of Donald Trump.  They state:  “Simply put, Trump’s candidacy taps into a deep, visceral fear among many that America’s best days are behind it. That the land of freedom, baseball and apple pie is no longer recognizable; and that ‘the  other’—sometimes the immigrant, sometimes the Non-American, and almost always the  nonwhite—is to blame for these circumstances.” In short, they apparently view the statements posed by the poll and quoted above — which don’t explicitly refer to race or immigration — as nevertheless exposing racist and xenophobic attitudes among Americans.  (At the other end of the spectrum, they view the statement “More and more, America is a place that I can feel comfortable as myself” as exhibiting non-“nativist” sentiments.)

I’m skeptical of this kind of armchair analysis of the American psyche generally, and particularly in this instance where the two purportedly “nativist” statements seem to tap into a less sensational sentiment — the view that America is heading in the wrong direction.  For decades, pollsters have asked whether respondents think America is heading in the right direction; last week the Rasmussen poll found that only 28 percent of Americans say yes to that question.  I don’t recall reading that the right direction/wrong direction question is supposed to expose “nativist” views, and I don’t see its phrasing as materially different from the statement that “More and more, I don’t identify with what America has become.”  Both statements are broad enough to encompass a wide range of dissatisfactions — with political developments, with economic issues, with cultural and social changes, with security issues, and with America’s position in the world, among many others — and therefore can’t be directly tied to “nativist” attitudes.

I have no doubt that there are racists in America and that at least some of the anti-immigrant sentiments are rooted in racist xenophobia, but I think the notion that a majority of Americans are “neo-nativists” is silly.  It is, perhaps, easier to rationalize a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with our country’s direction as rooted in ignorant, racist views, because it allows people to avoid evaluating whether there are less inflammatory, more substantive concerns underlying the sense of unease with our position in the world.  I don’t know why, for some people, the bumptious blowhard Donald Trump seems like a solution to our nation’s perceived problems, but I think the conclusion that he has tapped into a previously hidden vein of racism in America just allows people to avoid tacking the tougher question:  what is it, exactly, that is motivating people to express support for this guy?



The Art Of Hands

IMG_7470I remember reading once about the difficulty that artists have in presenting hands in drawn or painted portraits.  Many portraits feature only the head and shoulders of the subject — perhaps because including the hands is so darned difficult — and in full-body portraits the portrayal of the hands is often just a bit . . . off.  The fingers are too smooth, or the thumb looks weird, or the hand is put in an unnatural pose.  It takes a true master to draw or paint hands that actually look natural.

I think that is because the hands are among the most expressive parts of the human body.  You can learn a lot about someone by looking at their hands, and for others the hands are as eloquent as a face or a voice.  One of my grandmothers joked often about her “stubby fingers,” but her hands were essential to her interpersonal communications, as she patted cheeks and clutched elbows.  Even after she had a stroke and could not speak, she would hold your hand and squeeze.

IMG_7474So I was fascinated by a show at the gallery at 9338 Campau, during our visit to Hamtramck last weekend, that was all about hands.  Called The Visibility of Labor by Tsz Yan Ng, it featured plaster casts of the hands of the people who helped to create a single dress at a factory in China — from the pencil-holding designers to the fabric cutters to the sewers to the folders to the hands that ultimately display the finished dress.  The hands are so perfectly cast that you can see every wrinkle, vein, knuckle, and ring; it’s easy to tell the hands of the older workers from the hands of the younger.  You half expect that the hands will move before your eyes.

The Visibility of Labor has moved on from the 9338 Campau gallery, but keep an eye out for it at an art gallery near you — and if you’re lucky enough to catch it, pause for a moment to think about the art of hands.

The Real Season Begins

The Ohio State Buckeyes have played 10 games this college football season and have won them all.  Every Ohio State fan knows, however, that the real season begins today, when the Michigan State Spartans come to town.

It’s been an interesting season for Ohio State, filled with twists and turns but with one, overriding theme:  the Buckeyes’ failure to be as dominant and impressive as the pundits expected them to be.  With Ohio State’s run to the National Championship still fresh in everyone’s minds and preseason expectations sky-high, anything other than a 60-0 drubbing is seen as a disappointment.  Last week’s win over Illinois is a good example.  The Buckeyes beat a Big Ten team with a winning record, on the road, 28-3 — and the talking heads kept talking about what was wrong with Ohio State.

22-bosa-connor-cook-crIf Ohio State can pull off a win today such talk should stop, because everyone knows Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country.  The Spartans are ranked in the top ten and would also be 10-0, save for a flukey loss to Nebraska that turned on a questionable no-call by the refs.  They’ve fought titanic battles with Ohio State, on even terms, the last few years.  They’re an experienced team led by a probable first-round draft choice at quarterback in Connor Cook, and their coach, Mark Dantonio, has turned the Michigan State football program into a powerhouse.  For the Spartans, this is a chance to avenge their loss to the Buckeyes last year and to take a further step toward cementing their status as one of the elite teams in the country.

This will be a tough, hard-hitting contest — but it also will be an opportunity for Ohio State to answer some of the critics and questions.  Can Ohio State finally gel on offense, avoid the frustrating breakdowns and penalties, and reach the same level of execution that made them close to unstoppable in last year’s National Championship Game against Oregon?  Can Urban Meyer and his coaches get Braxton Miller, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, and the Buckeyes other offensive weapons to fully mesh against a stout defense?  And can the Silver Bullets get pressure on Cook and avoid the big-play breakdowns that have made some of the Buckeyes’ wins this year too close for comfort?

The quarterback controversy is behind us, and the big games are finally here.  Everyone in Buckeye Nation wants to see a win for a great Buckeye, Braxton Miller, on Senior Day.  In Columbus, where the forecast is for rainy game-time conditions, the real season starts today.


Freeing A Spy

Today Jonathan Pollard was freed.  Pollard, a former analyst for the U.S. Navy, was a notorious spy who passed classified secrets to a foreign government before being caught in the 1980s and sent to jail for life.

So why isn’t Pollard mentioned in the same breath as the Rosenbergs, or Benedict Arnold, or other notorious spies in American history?  Could it be, perhaps, because he was an agent who spied for Israel, that long-time U.S. ally?

jonathan_pollardWeird, isn’t it, that Israel would spy on the United States?  Not really.  I’m quite confident that the United States regularly collects data on friends and foes alike — remember Angela Merkel’s cell phone? — because intelligence gathering is what intelligence agencies do.  If America thought that finding out what was going on at 10 Downing Street was essential to its national security, America would figure out how to get that information out of Great Britain, by hook or by crook.

That’s not to diminish what Israel did in the Pollard case, or Pollard’s betrayal of his country.  He purportedly thought the United States should give more information to Israel, and he provided Israel with huge amounts of classified data.  After he was arrested in 1985, Israel initially denied that he was an agent, but they eventually ‘fessed up and began to quietly lobby for Pollard’s release to eliminate a source of tension between Israel and America.

Now, after 30 years, Pollard has been freed.  His parole conditions require him to stay in America for five years, wearing a GPS bracelet, and submitting to inspections of his house.  His lawyers say the conditions are onerous and oppressive.  Of course, they beat being in jail for life.