26 February 2008

Bah!

Politics again. I can't help myself. Skip it if that's how you roll.

I haven't been in the mood to say much lately. (I know - shocker!) I've been getting a lot of work done at the historical library (yay!) and some spinning (yay!) and also spending way too much time following election coverage and figuring out ways I can support the Obama campaign from afar (can't wait to get back home and get involved up-close and personal, but that's still a little ways off). I've also just been on such an emotional rollercoaster.

On the one hand, I think I'm seeing one of the most wonderful things ever to happen to American politics in Barack Obama's slow, careful, steady, brilliant climb to the nomination and then the Presidency. It's happening. It's not only exactly what we need, but the only thing, I think, that can save us. Not because of who we're going to elect (though that's im por ta nt), but because of how we're electing him. People are getting excited about politics, about progressive change, about literally, personally, doing something to help. People are getting involved. For the first time ever, in many cases (like mine - though I toyed with democratic politics in my teens and 20s, it was a cyclical exercise in disappointment and disillusion until I finally gave up on it when I went to grad school). What's so special about the Obama campaign is that he's winning not because he's the least of any evils, but because he actually represents exactly what so many of us want, and it's us, the supporters, who are making it happen. Obama doesn't take money from lobbyists or PACs - his money, which is a lot, has come in very small increments from almost 1 million people. It's unprecedented, and many are saying that this alone will change the way future campaigns are run.

How many of us said, as recently as a few months ago, that political campaigns suck but how can it ever be changed?

Then there's the other hand. Two people whom I have deeply admired, with reservations but sincerely, throughout my adult life, two people who have done an enormous amount of good in the world in their careers (along with some very questionable stuff, too, but undoubtedly there's a lot of good there)...these two people have horrified me over and over and over in the weeks since it began in South Carolina. And the worst part is that it's all utterly pointless, and they're plenty smart enough to have seen that. But they're doing it anyway. They achieve nothing, and the price we all pay for their blundering is a more difficult battle in November, and the loss from the future political landscape of two figures who could have continued to do so much more good, and to be a part of real, positive, grassroots, popular change for the better. But who have, instead, chosen to commit unnecessary political suicide while taking down as many innocent bystanders as possible on their way to an ugly flame-out.

But the worst part, really, is this.

This is the one factor that makes it unforgivable. This is the part that has been burning me up inside for weeks, that made me pretty much stop hanging out in the Ravelry forums (still love the Rav! just needing a break from some of the forums.) There are no excuses, and there is nothing left to be said (except maybe this), as far as I'm concerned.

While watching all this from afar, there's been one particular issue that I've followed with obsessive closeness. Since it's one that's not considered particularly big by other Americans, and which I have some (limited) expertise on, I also wanted to mention it here. It's about how Kosovo declared independence recently, how the US and most other major countries recognized their independence, while Russia and China were pissed off. Why should this matter? Well, for several reasons. First and arguably most important is that Russia and China should matter to us in general. Both countries have the potential to be very, very threatening to US security interests in the not terribly distant future. We ought to learn from past mistakes and pay attention before it's too late. Part of doing that is to notice when and how we piss off these people, and above all, why. Not because we need to pander our foreign policy to their wants, but because we live in a world with others, and a smart way to handle that is to find ways we can all live here without anybody getting so pissed off or desperate that they start blowing up other people. Another reason we should care about this latest kerfluffle is that the issue of independence in Kosovo intersects with just about every issue that makes the world scary right now: terrorism, ethnic/religious conflict, stability in developing countries, and separatism. Accurately understanding and responding to what is happening in Kosovo is a microcosm for what has to be done world-wide in the coming years. Finally, the Kosovo issue, because of its importance as a touchstone for the greatest security concerns of the coming decade, is one more way to help us decide whom we want to put in the White House. (One might also add that there's an argument for why foreign policy is a better means of comparing Presidential candidates than domestic policy anyway.) Here's an analysis of the statements made by Obama and Clinton in response to Kosovo. I don't claim to be an expert on Kosovo or on current US-Russian relations, but I do pay a lot of attention and, obviously, I'm accredited to teach, at the college level, the history of US-Russian relations (among other things). The analysis I just linked to NAILS IT. I link because I could not possibly say it better myself. I've been enthusiastic about Obama since '04 for many reasons, but even I was blown away by the brains and poise and diplomacy with which Obama and his advisors are thinking about Kosovo, and Russia. Blown AWAY. What Clinton said was not terrible[footnote] - it was merely utterly unsurprising and typical of how every American President has looked at Russia - there's been very little partisan difference in US foreign policy overall, really, and certainly not as relates to Russia. I never expected to see any, but I did hope that Obama would at least be seen and talked to differently by others - by foreign statesmen - because of his uniquely un-cowboy-like and un-insular background. Now I'm seeing so very much more than that.

Where does this amazing vision come from, btw? One of the things I like about Obama is that he recognizes talent when he sees it, and knows how to inspire that talent to want to work with him. One of the people on his foreign policy team is this really brilliant and knowledgeable woman. You can get to know her better through her extensive interviews on Charlie Rose.

(BTW, I recognize that at this point in the proceedings we should really be comparing Obama to McCain, not to Clinton. All I have to say there, relating to Kosovo, is that here's what McCain's party has managed so far, and McCain himself is so irredeemably and irrationally hawkish in all matters - and he seems to think there really isn't any difference from one international issue to another - that the prospect of his Presidency literally makes me want to build an underground bomb shelter. Literally.)

[Footnote: What Hillary Clinton said about Russia that is "terrible" is this. Putin's response is here. I am not remotely a fan of Putin - in fact, that's kind of my point here - but he is right in that a President sure as heck ought to be smarter than that. Honestly, that comment was so out-of-whack, uncharacteristically stupid, and pointless that I get this weird, creepy feeling that Karl Rove figured out how to possess Hillary Clinton's mind and body with George W. Bush's soul (to speak of souls). There's really no other way to explain it. In fact, that theory would explain quite a lot of things lately. UPDATE: another "terrible" note and still more evidence that Hillary Clinton has been possessed by the soul of George W. Bush: watch this clip from the most recent debate, in which Clinton utterly fails to remember the name of Russia's next President (Medvedev) and seems to be confusing him with Lebedev. And she's supposed to be the hard-working, wonky one who knows every detail? WTF? It was embarrassing in 2004 when John Kerry called Lubyanka Square in Moscow (headquarters of the KGB and site of a prison where many political prisoners were tortured in the 1930s, especially) with "Treblinka Square" (there is no such thing, but Treblinka was a WWII concentration camp). But that's nothing compared to this flub. Hillary expects to be President in 2008 and doesn't know the NAME of the Russian President she'd have to deal with? Honestly, this is a W moment, and I couldn't believe my eyes. Yes, it's true, Putin will continue to pull the strings, but Medvedev is no stooge (he's intelligent, competent, and entirely capable of going on his own if he decided to - Putin seems to have chosen him because he trusts him to be loyal, not because he's an idiot who wouldn't know how to be otherwise), and the fact that Clinton doesn't remotely have a clue even what his name is and clearly hasn't bothered to learn anything else is deeply disturbing. If we can all use Wikipedia, why can't she? Finally, because I can't resist, this made me laugh out loud. Put it all together and: what a bloody embarrassing way to destroy a legacy.]

Now, so that the post is not all politics, I'm officially going to try inserting a video for the very first time. This was taken this morning, when the snow was blowing so hard that we not only couldn't see the University building, but hardly anything else, either.

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Here's hoping you're all warm and snuggly and surrounded by wool (unless you're allergic, in which case I hear bamboo, silk, tencel, hemp, and cotton are also nice).

EDITED: one last time (sorry) to add two important links: this blog post about the grassroots aspect of Obama's campaign and how he's offering real tools for collective action, not just rhetoric (though let's all remember that rhetoric is vastly important in politics and that there's no universe in which Hillary Clinton could have done any better than Gore or Kerry before her (and probably worse, since half the country violently hated her even before this campaign) because she just doesn't have the charisma and rhetoric that moves people to vote), that post references this very important article about the nature of Obama's fundraising. Also, to those of you who liked my links - yay! It makes my swollen bookmarks folder worthwhile. If you want more, there's always the "shared items" in the Google Reader box in my sidebar. I read a lot of Obama and Leftist blogs every morning, and share the best posts there. Also, there's a link in the sidebar to my del.icio.us bookmarks - click on "politics" there and you'll get more than you bargained for. With a slant, of course! I'm going to try to go back to just knitting and spinning in future posts here, really!

18 February 2008

Fair Isle and Food

I've been knitting and knitting and finally I have something other than a black blob to show you:



It's my modified Fair Isle 101 pullover and it's actually pretty far along - the sleeves are already done. I did most of the colorwork part yesterday, during what Hubbster Hubbus and I declared our "khoziaistvennyi den'" or designated day for not leaving the house, instead doing things like laundry, cleaning the stove, and resting. This was partly because it was -22C with windchill yesterday. Brrr. Saturday we'd been out in the burbs with Hubbus' family and while it was a really nice time, I think we're still not quite warmed up from that long wait for the bus in the freezing wind. So, between laundry loads, I knitted fair isle and listened to history podcasts. Very satisfying.

Also satisfying has been my recent trips to the historical library. It's so much more pleasant a place to work than the archives, let me tell you. I positively like the babushki who work there - it's a miracle. Oh, and I've been finding really good material, too. I'm starting to hit that phase where I'm no longer obsessing about procedures and whether anything they're offering in the buffet (pronounced "boo-FYET") is edible, and instead panicking about how I'm going to copy everything I need before it's time to leave. Oh, plus I'm supposed to be writing an article and co-organizing a conference and revising the diss and making up syllabi for the fall and...oh, crap.

Before I leave you for today, though, I offer a few more "travel" pictures that I've had saved up here for a while.

One of my professors once said that she "likes everything about Russia except for the government and the food." I actually kind of like the food. The trick with Russian food is to not eat it in restaurants. If you're going out in Russia, you have to have Caucasian or Central Asian food, which is ubiquitous and delightful. But for Russian food, it should be homemade. We just had an awesome feast on my in-laws' yesterday, with golubtsy and fried potatoes and my two favorite salaty (salads) - vinagret and oliv'e (see below). You haven't really tried any of these dishes until you've had them homemade.

Most of what we eat here is really simple, because we're usually too tired to deal with cooking, because the oven has to be lit with a match and it scares us a little, because our budget is very tight this year, and because while you can get just about anything in Moscow, there's not all that much variety in what we can get easily and affordably in our neighborhood. But while I do miss the variety of relatively cheap ethnic restaurants we have in NYC and while I did have a dream about peanut butter one memorable night, for the most part I really like these temporary periods of eating almost exclusively simple Russian food while I'm here for research trips. Here are a few things we've had lately:

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This is the vinegret salat I mentioned. Beets. I love beets.

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This is Oliv'e, or Olivier. Probably presumed to be based on some French salad, but somehow it doesn't say "French" to me. It's tasty, though, I have to admit. Here's a recipe - it's the third one down. The last recipe on that list is also a favorite of mine.)

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One simply doesn't go without one's kolbasa around here. At least, not if one is married to Hubbus, who can't go three hours without some kolbasa. He has to go to the fancy store to get it, too, even though there's perfectly good kolbasa sold everywhere (but then I'm an American cretin who can't tell one kolbasa from another).

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Okay, so chocolate cheese spread is not a Russian food, but...who wants to take bets on whether this stuff will turn up in a dream or two when I'm back in NYC, like the peanut butter does now?

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You can't get more Russian than bliny with red caviar.

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Just as Russian but not as famous: syrniki, made from tvorog (farmer's cheese), with sweetened condensed milk on top. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm, breakfast.

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This is not Russian at all, but I made it up while here, out of readily available ingredients, and we've been having it at least once a week, so I suppose it counts. It's basically a ham and bean soup. A small chunk of smoked ham which is sold everywhere here ("sheika"), with lentils, frozen green beans and mushrooms, red beans, onions. Mmm. The Russian word for soup is the same as the English, but when you really like your soup, and it's cold outside so you're feeling even more affectionate about it than usual, you call it "supchik." This is supchik.

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Speaking of Russian strategies for battling the cold. Food is not the only one. This is a balzamchik of which we have become particularly fond. It's similar to this famous one, but slightly different in spices and a lot cheaper. There are actually many, many different kinds of balzam, all of them delightful and dangerous.

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Especially when combined with drop spindling.

And this Wednesday, we're off to the 17th annual All-Russian Honey Fair at an exhibition hall right next to the kremlin. The fair is also held outdoors in the fall, and I've been to that one twice, but we weren't here for it this year, so we're going to this indoor, downtown one instead. The honey fair is one of my favorite things to do in Moscow - you try a little plastic spoonful of each kind of honey until you're sick to your stomach and a little dizzy, and then you lug home enough to last you the next year. Except it never actually lasts more than a few months. Which is my theory as to why there's an annual fair every fall, and then again every winter.

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Finally, here's my recommendation for an English-language Russian cookbook. And a Georgian one, too, because...well. Much as I like Russian food...have you tried Georgian??

05 February 2008

Today is Super Tuesday

And I'm so excited I can't sit still.

I can't even knit.

This is all I have to show you, in all the time since I last posted (or the time before that, and before that, when I think I last showed any knitting):

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On the left is the soy yarn I found here. 100% soy. It's cute. Thinking I might make socklets. Or something. Don't really know. On the right is the hem of the Fair Isle 101 - I got a replacement needle, then realized I could possibly fix the KnitPicks one. The cord simply pulled out of the tip, and once I got it free of the knitting, I put it back in and it stayed. I have to be veddy careful, though.

Anyway.

As I think this picture suggests, I haven't really been knitting much. I have been doing a *little* work, and lots of errands, but mostly I've been *excited*.

About the most exciting election of my life (and I'm a political junkie who likes to follow these things even when they're depressing), and the first candidate ever who I am completely, unreservedly *behind* in every possible way. The whole thing has this weird *fate* vibe about it, to be honest.

I don't like the idea of trying to tell anyone how to vote. Too much like proselytism to me. But I'm a really, really big fan of voting, in general, and I know that everyone can use a timely reminder and maybe a little information/inspiration. So I hope everyone can take this post in that vein, and if it squicks you out in any way, please just move on - I'll be back to regularly scheduled programming soon.

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If you don't know whether you're supposed to be voting today, check here for the list of state with primaries/caucuses. Check your candidate's web site (like this one) for reference details - they are usually very anxious to help. :-) Party organizations and campaigns usually have people on call to offer rides, even, as well as directions and details on what you need to bring with you for ID, etc.

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Why vote for Obama? The image above kind of represents everything for me. So does this one:

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But you might want some more information, if you're still deciding.

First, yes, I'm a feminist, and yes, I was thrilled to see a woman - any woman - win New Hampshire for the first time. But I'm also in favor of human rights, in general, and I'm every bit as thrilled to see a black man about to win the Democratic nomination. But more than anything else, I believe in voting for the right human for the job, and that their genitals and skin color are irrelevant. I also believe that a responsible vote is not for the candidate who most resembles me, but for the candidate who I believe can best represent and serve everyone.

It's not a matter of who they are, it's how they see others.

But I understand that many of my fellow feminists have waited all their lives for a woman Presidential candidate, and they're having trouble voting for anyone other than Hillary. I understand, and I've been a strong Hillary supporter since 1992. Personally, though, I think that - for reasons beyond Senator Clinton's control - her candidacy would actually set back that cause by many years (sad, but true). I think a successful Obama Presidency is actually the best possible recipe for opening up the field for future diversity in candidates. I've been convinced for a decade that the first woman President would come in my lifetime, and that she would be from a generation following the boomers. I still think that's true.

Still hesitating? This Ravelry post by the Kitchener Bitch does an excellent job of summarizing a whole lot more reasons, more concrete ones, with good links, too.

If you'd like still more information, there are two threads in Ravelry that discuss at length the differences between Hillary and Barack. This one, in the "Stitching Liberally" group, and this one in the "Knitters for Obama" group. There's also the introduction thread in the Obama group, where I and others explained at length why we're supporting him.

Worried about disturbing rumors you've heard about the candidates? Check out the facts at Snopes.com or FactCheck.org. Both are independent organizations. (Hint: don't believe everything that arrives in your inbox =] )

I've come across some other Obama-supporting posts in the knitblogosphere that I'd also like to recommend. Here's Go Knit in Your Hat and Welcome to My Closet, Here's a Black Dress. (Both blogs well worth checking out for the knitting content, btw, if you don't already subscribe.)

And, of course, there's the Raffle (prize list and details on Ravelry, here). I've donated money to the Obama campaign, which marks the very first time ever that I've given money to any political entity. I wasn't able to give much - we're driving on fumes until my new job starts in the fall - but every bit helps. Unlike Hillary, Obama didn't take any money from lobbyists. Unlike {cough} others, he's not a personal billionaire. Obama's campaign has been financed by people like me and you (okay, and a few movie stars! =] ). It's a real, old-fashioned grass-roots campaign, and it's *working*.

I know that for many Americans of my generation, it sort of feels like nothing really ever changes, except for the worse. That has been our experience. But I'm also a historian - my profession is the study of change over time. And it's always interested me to pay attention to how *good* change comes about. I think there are two ways. The first happens gradually - the slow change of attitudes and mentalities - and the mechanism for that is the dissemination of information and experience. Education. The second kind of change for good can happen overnight, or at any rate quickly. What brings that kind of change? It's a tricky combination of leadership - which can come in different forms - and *collective action*. Collective action with no driving force tends to disintegrate. Leadership without the tiny contributions of many, many people who make the effort can't accomplish a thing. It's the combination of the two that can accomplish just about anything.

It's the combination of the two that brought us all the rights and privileges that we mostly take for granted today: democracy, political independence, civil rights for all adult humans, the social safety net that (increasingly less frequently) allows old folks to die with dignity and cancer victims to not go bankrupt and laid-off workers to survive through the few months it takes to get a new job.

We have more resources than any other country on earth, which should make it easy to do these kinds of (much cheaper) things for our collective good without even hurting our pocket books. If we can afford Iraq, we can afford *productive* campaigns to actually help our own people instead of obliterating other people.

We have some problems facing us right now that require major, progressive change. And the sooner the better. The environment. Our dependence on oil which is crippling us politically, economically, and environmentally. A healthcare system that profits insurance company executives and screws over *everybody else* - all non-executive employees, medical professionals at all levels, and above all, every one of us who could, at any moment, need medical care that the insurance company might lose money on. And let's not forget our tanking economy, the middle class that is slipping rapidly into financial no-man's land, the thousands dying in Iraq for no reason whatsoever and the thousands of future terrorists being generated in the Middle East every day by this irrational, destructive and pointless war.

I think it's safe to say that there is more at stake in this election than there has been in any other except Lincoln's, in the middle of civil war, and FDR's, in the midst of Depression. Both of those times, Americans chose the person who we now know to have been uniquely capable of bringing us out of crisis. Big parts of the reason we are so often arrogant in our patriotism, now (or were, until the current administration) is because of the great, difficult choices made by these two Presidents. In both of those elections, the choice was incredibly difficult to make and both candidates were very unpopular with the political establishments of the time.

I would also add that both Lincoln and FDR had less experience in public service than Barack Obama has now, and when they took office, Lincoln was 51, FDR was 50, and Obama will be 49 (Bill Clinton was 46 when he took office, and Teddy Roosevelt was 42).

Barack is ready. And we need him.

Back to knitting, next time. Promise.

Edited to add: Here are a couple of fine assessments of where Obama is right now in the race and what we should expect from the results today.

Edited to add (2): Okay, if you watch nothing else, watch this video by Lawrence Lessig.