Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Third Jihad

A few years back, my husband compared his life experiences to mine, making the argument that because we come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, we had similar life experiences. After living with me for a few years, and seeing what I see, he knows this is not true. In most cases, that is true. The most glaring difference however, is that he is white, and I am brown. 

I am fully American inside and out, my parents have achieved the "American Dream" when they moved here from India, yet I have been, and unfortunately will probably always be, treated differently than my husband because of my skin color.  

Before I even open my mouth, it is what you see on me. Some assume I am hispanic, other assume I am Muslim, others still assume I am vaguely middle eastern, and some get it right, Indian. Most of the time, the assumption leads to nothing, other times, it reminds me that no matter how integrated I am in the country, no matter that I was born here, no matter that I went to school here, went to college, am teaching the next generation--I am viewed as other by plenty. 

Like all the times I am followed around a department store, or the times I am told that clothes are "quite expensive" when I ask for help, or the times that people will ask me a question in restaurant and their friend will say "Don't bother, she probably doesn't speak english," or the times I am told I am less of a person because I am brown, or the times that people ask me if I am Muslim im an accusatory tone, or the times...well, I could go on. 

This came to my mind because of a NYT article about the NYPD showing a movie to over 1,000 of its police officers called The Third Jihad. This movie, which they had playing on constant loop for up to a year in some departments for 3 months to a year, conveys the extreme message that most American muslims are out to deceive Americans and infiltrate the country from within. It implies that American Muslims are something less than American. 

Showing this heinous movie over and over and over to an individual, no matter how devout they are in trying to remain unbiased or unprejudiced, would get into their brains. It just does, you know that, I know that. It's worse that it was forced on the people that are supposed to protect all Americans. 

I not even mad anymore, I'm just sad and disappointed that a group as large as the NYPD was stupid enough to propagate this stereotype. Shame on you, NYPD. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lemon Cur...oh darn, Newt Gingrich Spoke Again

So this was supposed to be a post about lemon curd. But nope, Newt Gingrich spoke again, so now it's going to be about that. 

At the most recent debate, Gingrich's comments on the poor black work ethic were brought up. If you missed that, he said, 

Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash,' unless it's illegal.

How lovely, no? Anyways, when questioned about whether he thought this was downright insulting to poor black Americans, he respond that he absolutely did not. 

What's his suggestion? Well, because they have no role models that actually go to work, their parents must just sit around watching their big-screen TVs and and get welfare checks to fund their drug and drinking problem, the children should go to work! As janitors! In their own schools! 

Yes, that makes perfect sense, put children to work for money. It will show them from a young age what a job actually entails, put money in their pockets legally, and give them a sense of pride in their school. Child labor laws? Who needs them? In Newts words, '...for the price of one janitor in New York, we can hire 37 kids!'

Wonderful idea Newt, really top-notch. Afterall, black people should demand jobs, not food stamps.

Annnnnnnd...then reality hits. 

The idea of the "welfare queen" was created by Ronald Reagan (also known as Emperor Reagan to the conservative party). Does it exist? Maybe. Is it the majority? No. 

It is an uncomfortable thought that hard work and walking the straight and narrow in life will no longer pull you up the socio-economic ladder in this country. It is easier to assume that people on food stamps and getting welfare checks are simply bums that are too lazy to work. Not that they already have a job, or two, or three, and still can't make ends meet or can't find work. 

The truth of the matter is that most poor people work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. If not, all of my students' parents would be at home all the time, instead of at home for a few hours a day in between their jobs. At the age of 16, my students are not excited to get their drivers license like most kids in this country, they are excited to be able to get a job and contribute to their family's income, or have income of their own (though most start working at much younger ages). 

To say that poor kids have no one to look up to that works except for drug dealers and gang bangers just illustrates how out of touch the conservative movement, and specifically Gingrich, is with reality. 

What do my students see? They see their parents work a few jobs very hard, come home tired, with worn health, make a minimal amount of money, with very little left over in the end. Most do not turn to selling drugs or other illegal activities, but some do...they see easy money, and go for it, and it's unfortunate. But that's the anomaly, not the norm. The idea that it is the norm is rooted in racial prejudice, fear, and ignorance that festers with the words of people like Newt Gingrich.

Just by virtue of being born poor, you should not have your childhood taken away by being forced to work as a janitor in your own school. School should be a place where students can learn to aspire for bigger and brighter things, more than working class job in the ghetto they grew up in. We have child labor laws for a reason. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Commentary: The Value of Teachers

"Our faltering education system may be the most important long-term threat to America’s economy and national well-being, so it’s frustrating that the presidential campaign is mostly ignoring the issue. Candidates are bloviating about all kinds of imaginary or exaggerated threats, while ignoring the most crucial one."
This is one of several quotes that resonated with me in Kristof's latest Op-Ed piece in the NYTimes. As a high school teacher working with Teach for America, my sole job for the past 1.5 years has been to hold my students to a high expectations, create a warm, welcoming classroom environment in which they can learn, and educate them to a degree above the pitiful level they are held to.

My students are all poor, some homeless, and are accustomed to the drug violence, rampant illiteracy, and teen pregnancy that plagues "their side of town." Because of that, most people write them off as un-helpable, or worse, hold them to lower standards because "that's all they can get to."

Kristof makes an interesting and poignant argument that, in my experience, has shown to be true: even in the poorest of schools, better quality teachers have a stronger impact on their students.

It seems obvious, but how do we get a better quality teacher? How do we ensure that our students are not being educated by someone who can't even spell the words "trial" and "manager" properly? We pay them more.

Teacher, contrary to popular belief, are more than just baby-sitters who happen to impart students with a passing bit of knowledge. Teachers are meant to equip the next generation with the knowledge and skills necessary to either tackle the workplace, or move on to college. To do that, they need to themselves be highly educated (going to college does necessarily immediately make you highly educated, I'm sorry to say), and need to be held to a high standard.

The solution? Part of it is to pay teacher more. If you pay teachers more, you will get more individuals that are highly qualified and highly educated looking into the field. If you pay teachers more, more people will be likely to respect the job instead of seeing the profession as glorified baby-sitting. Moreover, if you pay teacher more, you can expect more: you expect excellence in their classroom, in their planning, and in their execution. People say that teaching is a noble profession, and indeed it is, however nobility, sadly, does not pay the bills. If you want better teachers, and a better future for your students, start paying them more.

It is scary to me that education is not more at the forefront of our national discussion. The United States has fallen in the last half century from the leader in education. Many of our students, mostly the poor, are getting cheated out of a future because they are not learning how to read properly, write properly, do basic math, or think critically. Education is the foundation of a strong nation, and we must focus our attention on our disintegrating public education system soon, or we will feel the devastating effects of our disregard in the worst way. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Sacketts and the Clean Water Act

If it hasn't become obvious yet, I'm a bit fed up with the ridiculousness. What ridiculousness you ask? Oh just open up the New York Times and read a bit. Soon you'll be tearing out your hair and saying things like, "It's the Environmental Protection Agency!" to your dog, you will simply respond by trying to eat the oatmeal out of your breakfast bowl.

Selfish mutt.

This one is a short blog post/rant. A blant if you will. There's an article in the opinion section of the New York Times today entitled, "The Sacketts and the Clean Water Act"

Basically what's happening is that this couple, the Sacketts, wanted to build a house on a piece of land they owned, which also happened to be wetlands. As you probably already know, wetlands are rapidly disappearing and are federally protected by the EPA.

So the EPA was like, "You need a permit to build a house on that land, because you're polluting the wetlands."

So the Sacketts were like, "Sorry, this is our land, we're going to build on it no matter what."

So the EPA was like, "Sorry, you knew it was a wetland when you bought the house. We're telling you you can't build their and pollute the area."

So the Sacketts were like, "Pfft, you can't tell us what to do. You need to go to court and get a court order before we fix our hot-mess of pollution. We're going to sue! SUE SUE SUE!"

So they did. And now it's going to the supreme court, and the Sacketts, unsurprisingly, have supporters in the form of GE and other large companies that would like a way to get around the Clean Water Act.

Basically, this seems really silly. To tell the EPA that they cannot enforce the Clean Water Act, or any other act, until they get a court order to do so not only weakens the agency's ability to enforce rules, but also allows the potential polluters to continue polluting while the litigation battle wages on.

It seems much more reasonable, obvious, and appropriate to have the EPA enforce its orders, and if the people disagree with them, take them to court. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Take Back America?

In the last few months, with the Republican Primary race sucking up all the commercials in your area if you're an Iowan, we've heard a lot of talk about, "Taking Back America."

When the potential Republican nominees say this, they mean a few things:

First and foremost take back American from our current Democratic President, Barak Obama

Second, "Fix" his left wing, job-killing, American-hating, communist-regime like policies (how many adjectives can one use in a sentence? LOTS!)

Finally, bring America back to a simpler, happier time...when we were undoubtedly big-dog on the playing field and no one could say otherwise.

I most definitely agree that the Republican party right now is trying to take back America...but not in any of the right ways.

The policies over the past two years that the Republicans in congress have brought up legislation that will significantly curtail social services that the people, from the poor, to the old, to those that just need a little help in the country depend on (nope, not just the "black people" as Rick Santorum thinks, but the poor people of any ethnicity). Two glaring examples:

A) Cutting WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) a program started by Bob Dole and George McGovern to help provide adequate nutrition to, you guessed it, Women, Infants, and Children. But clearly, to the right-wing, that's a giant money drain. Damn those little babies for being born poor. They should pick themselves up by their own bootie-straps (get it, booties?)

B) Completely getting rid of Medicare (the insurance people qualify for when they turn 65 I believe), and instead replacing it with a voucher system! Yep, that's right, when you turn 65, and you've served your country for your entire life, paying your taxing, stimulating the economy by buying that extra big-screen TV, they want you to now navigate the confusing world of insurance! By yourself. Instead of just covering you because you deserve it, the right-wing wants you to take a voucher (that is worth less than the cost of most insurance), and buy it yourself. Yeah, they really care for the average person like that.

Additionally, over the past two years that have also pushed to undermine agencies and policies that are important to protect the well-being of the average American. I won't even go into their extreme, and unfounded opposition of the Affordable Healthcare Act, why you ask? Because I don't give lying students the time of day, why give lying politicians the time of day (another reason why I'm anti-Mitt Romney). Anyways, one examples of this:

A) The act that prompted me to write this post in the first place, the opposition of Richard Cordray as the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Basically the CFPB was brought into existence to protect consumers from the acts of predatory lenders in the future, you know...those same lenders that ushered our way into the mortgage/financial crisis we're in now.

Why did they do this you ask? Was he unqualified? Nope, attorney general of Ohio, Treasurer of Ohio, pretty darn qualified for the job. They blocked him because they don't want the agency in existence. Without a head, the agency has limited legal power to act, meaning it can't actually do it's job...protecting consumers. That's excellent for Republicans, because they don't want that! Their stated purpose was not to find a good head for the agency, but instead to block any nomination because they didn't want the agency in existence. Ahhh, politics.

So what did they do? Instead of recessing like they were supposed to on December 23rd. They've kept congress "in session" by opening up pro-forma sessions with one guy, saying there's not enough people to hold a session, and closing it. This, by awkward definition, keeps Congress in session, and was meant to prevent President Obama from recess appointing Mr. Cordray. Childish, I know.

Epic fail. He did it anyways, saying that Congress was basically on recess and that

“When Congress refuses to act, and as a result, hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them.”
And the point goes to the sane President Obama!

I could go on and on, but then I would be late to teach my first period class, and things would just go downhill from there. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I don't want some guys saying they want to "Take America Back." Nope, because clearly, the back they're looking for is pretty messed up. I want a guy who is smart, capable, and has a track record of pushing America into the future, even though clearly many Americans have a short-term memory (hello, stimulus anyone?). I want President Obama for a second term to take America into the future. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Favorites with an Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cocoa Nib Cookie

I haven't posted since last year.

It's 2012! January 2nd, 2012 to be specific [well, when I first started writing this it was January 2nd]. A day of birth for my mother, the day before I go to work for me, and just another day of break for my graduate-student husband. Ahh, life. 

I haven't posted in a little while since I was enjoying break by indulging in a few books, a few glasses of wine, and a few interesting recipes. One of which is this oatmeal chocolate chip cocoa nib cookie, which is my new favorite I believe. 

So what happened this last year? 

Oh yeah, I began my second year of teaching, took a road trip up Highway 1 and saw the beauty of the California coast, turned in my application for medical school, worried over medical school applications, got accepted to medical school (!!!), planned a vacation with my best friend, got a second dog, oh yeah, and married my most wonderful man <3 

2011 was awesome. I feel lucky, I am lucky. 
So anyways, enough about me, let's talk about favorites...I figured my end of 2011 tribute would be a list of my favorite STUFF that I may or may not have found in 2011, but I did devour in 2011...enjoy! 

Favorite Blogs
Joy the Baker -- by far, she has the most beautiful pictures of food, and a very true to self voice in her writing. It always makes me smile.

101 Cookbooks -- Heidi Swan is awesome. She's got an awesome cookbook that I bought, Supernatural Everyday, and her blog is just that, supernatural. Filled with awesome, easy to do, vegetarian recipes. 

David Lebovitz -- He lives a life I dream of, in Paris. Also, he's a genius. Amazing black pepper chocolate ice cream. Amazing. 

ReadBreathRelax -- I love this blog. It's a woman who reads an obscene number of books, in the young adult, fantasy genre and reviews them. It's what stops me from looking around confused at the library :-) 

Hyperboleandahalf -- hilarious online comic strip, I love this woman.

Favorite Books
Most of the links are to a book review of these books

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini -- basically a high school girl finds out she's a greek demi-god and awesomeness ensures.

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross -- basically a girl finds out she's the daughter of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and awesomeness ensues.

The entire Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare -- basically a girl finds out she's part of an ancient, mysterious group of superhumans that protect the regular world, and awesomeness ensues.

The entire Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare -- prequel to the Mortal Instruments Series, and awesomeness ensues.

Catching a pattern? Awesome female leads, and awesomeness always ensues. But sadly, nothing has come up to par with my all time favorite, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Series. 

Favorite Discoveries of the Year (or things I really used a LOT this year)
Google Reader -- Helps you compile all the detritus you read on the interwebs into one, easy to access place. LOVES it. 

Dropbox -- discovered this a while ago, but used it SO much this year to share resources with my other co-teachers, or even to make sure all the work I did on one computer was accessible from anywhere

iPhone -- I was late to this game but boy oh boy, I definitely see what all the hype is about. I thought I wouldn't need it or use it. Wow, I was wrong. 

The New York Times Op-Ed page including Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, and Gail Collins -- In the craziness that has been the 2010/2011 congressional elections and primary run, these wonderful op-ed contributors remind me of the sanity left in the world, and make me smile with their witty, and awesome commentary.

My Favorite Recipes/Posts
December -- Lemon Olive-Oil Kale Salad
November -- Pumpkin Pie Bars with a Hazelnut Almond Shortbread Crust
October -- Not So Slow Food 
September -- Homemade Sugar Scrub
August -- Shortchanging our Students. Shortchanging our Future.
July -- Raspberry White Balsamic Fruit Tart
June -- Weiner's Bride: An Example of Sexism in Politics
May -- Two of 'em! A Nice Guy and Should Gays Boycott Straight Weddings?
April -- President Obama 2012
March -- Springbreak + Chocolate Scones
February -- Lemon Curd
January -- Sweet Potato Pie

And of course, my first recipe of 2012, oatmeal chocolate, cocoa nib recipe below!

 Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cocoa Nib Cookies
Adapted from Joy the Baker

1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
0.75 tsp salt
2.5 cups rolled oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
0.5 cups cocoa nibs

Preheat your oven to 350 F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Turn it off and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then turn the mixer onto medium and cream in the two eggs. Then add in the vanilla. 

In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well, turn your stand mixer to low, and add in the flour mixture in until just incorporated. It's okay if there are little bits that aren't incorporated yet, you'll get to that later.

Then combine the oats, chocolate, and cocoa nibs in a bowl. Remove the stand-mixer bowl from the stand, and then using a spatula incorporate the oats-mixtures until it's all well mixed and there are no more extra bits of flour.

Then use a tablespoon to scoop out balls onto your baking sheet and bake for 10-13 minutes, or until the edges are brown and the middle looks only mildly goo-ey. Let them cool, and then eat 'em! 

Hope you had a wonderful 2011, and I really hope these cookies help you have an even better 2012